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Authors: Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir

Tags: #Journalists, #South Atlantic, #Walt Disney World (Fla.) - Employees, #Walt Disney World (Fla.), #Entertainment & Performing Arts, #General, #United States, #Photographers, #Personal Memoirs, #Disneyland (Calif.), #Amusement & Theme Parks, #Biography & Autobiography, #Travel, #South, #Biography

Chris Mitchell (9 page)

BOOK: Chris Mitchell

Radio Disney was playing at full volume from speakers hidden behind the pipes and insulated ducts overhead. A little boy from Toronto was trying to answer the day’s quiz. “What letter comes between R and T in the alphabet? Here’s a clue: it begins words like ‘spaghetti’ and ‘Snow White.’” There was a pause and then the little boy took a wild guess. “Is it an S?” The DJ went wild, as did Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and at least one chipmunk.

I kept going, nodding at Cast Members along the way. Baloo and Dale turned down a corridor toward Toontown, temporarily leaving Minnie to struggle with an immaculate four-fingered white glove. Belle rolled up her sleeve to place a Nicoderm patch on her arm, smoothing it with one hand before carefully replacing the sleeve and pulling her underwear out of her butt.

Just ahead, Mary Poppins was pacing in her Jolly Holiday outfit, holding a cell phone in one delicate white-gloved hand. Prim red lipstick accented the ribbons in her white summer dress. Her pink parasol leaned against the wall beside her. “And they have no clue,” she was saying. “Those motherfuckers. If they try to stick me in Pluto again tonight, I’m walking out. I’m serious. Fuck that! I haven’t done fur in two years, and I’m not starting now.” It was a miracle that she could get service down here. I made a note to set myself up on her phone plan.

There was nobody interesting in the Mousketeria, and only a handful of people loitering in the hub by the Zoo, so I kept walking toward Frontierland. I was just about to climb one of the stairways into the park when I saw Pooh shuffling down the hallway with a familiar limp. I caught up with him at the break room door.

“This is
a good day,” Brady moaned. “I am
feeling the sparkle.”

“Forest fire in the Hundred Acre Wood?” I quipped.

He tossed the bear head into a corner and slumped down into an armchair. “I was supposed to be in Mike Wazowski all week,” he said. “Instead I got screwed into doing Pooh sets.”

“I see.”

He pointed a threatening yellow mitten at me. “I’m not just being a diva. This suit is heavy. No performer does a whole week of Pooh without a break. Or restrictions. Normally, I wouldn’t complain, but I specifically requested—”

Suddenly the door opened, and a grim-faced manager entered the room. He was Jafar height with thin lips and a crooked nose. He had the complexion of a pallid autumn squash. “I was told you wanted to talk to me,” he growled at Brady.

Brady spread his furry paws. “Why did my schedule change?”

“Schedule’s not written in stone. Sometimes it changes.” The way he said it reminded me of my brother Michael telling me to stop playing make-believe.

“I understand that, Sam, but couldn’t you just run it by me first?”

Sam sighed as if the question was causing him great pain. “Why?”

“It’s my schedule.”

“Actually,” Sam said, glancing at his watch, “it’s
schedule. It’s your job.” As he was about to walk out, he noticed me. “Who are you?”

I didn’t like his tone. He sounded like a security guard on a power trip. “Name’s Travis.” I figured he wouldn’t know the Motocross Champion. “Travis Pastrana.”

“Well Travis, you’re not supposed to be here.”

I drifted across the room and sat down on the edge of the sofa. “How about here?” I said.

Sam blanched. “Give me your Cast Member ID.”

I made a big show of patting my pockets. “Shit. Left it in the carriage with my glass slippers. Will you take a Dave & Buster’s gift card?”

A bead of spittle was frothing at the corner of Sam’s mouth. He drew himself up to his full stature and leveled a finger at Brady. “One reprimand.”

“What!” we said in unison.

“And you’re in Pooh until June.” He turned to me. “You have a choice. You can leave now, or I can have security escort you out. Your choice.”

“I’ll wait here,” I said. “I hate leaving a building without an escort.”

The manager narrowed his watery eyes at me, then turned on his heel, and stormed out.

“Cunt,” Brady said under his breath.

“That was totally my bad,” I said. “I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll get out of it.” He struggled against the tight neck of his costume. “You always carry that chip on your shoulder?”

“I have issues with power trippers.”

With great effort, Brady pushed himself out of the armchair. “Well, get used to it. It’s, like, the official psychosis at Disney. Here.” He offered his back. “Can you rip this open for me?” I undid the Velcro at the back of the Pooh suit, then sat down on the sofa while Brady stripped down to his basics. “Since you’re in such a dogmatic mood, how would you feel about helping me with a little project tomorrow night?” he asked.

“I owe you one. What do I have to do?”

“It’s nothing dangerous. It just requires a certain—finesse. I need someone who’s willing to color outside the lines a little.”

“Is it illegal?”

“Possibly, but it’s not unethical. Is that a problem?”

For the first time in weeks, I felt a natural, nonregulation smile tug the corners of my mouth. “That’s my favorite combination.”

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow night at seven. Wear something dark and bring a pair of construction gloves.”

The next day was one of those rare, perfect days like you only get after a spring snowstorm in Banff or a sunrise session in Malibu. The air tasted as clean as a blown glass ornament, ripe with ripples of fragrant blossoms that you could almost see on the soft breeze. A little crop of clouds hung in the blue sky, inert like a perfect, painted backdrop. The parks were packed with crowds, every ride decorated with a line that coiled around itself like a conch shell, but still the guests smiled with neighborly joy.

It was my day off. My body was on a sunrise schedule, so when I woke at dawn, I jumped into my Jeep and drove to New Smyrna Beach. There were shark warnings posted on wooden signs in the sand. I rented a board from a Rastafarian in a hut and paddled out to where a handful of surfers were bobbing on shortboards. It felt good to do something familiar, to connect with nature again, and to contemplate the direction my life was headed. Since moving to Florida, I hadn’t spent a single hour at a skate park. I hadn’t even thought about doing a guerrilla art project. No stencils. No spray paint. For some reason, I was no longer considering the world in an expressive or artistic framework. Was this Disneyfication?

As I often did in the water, I thought about Michael. My brother and I had never been close. He was born eight years before me, so I got the “benefit” of his counsel more than his fraternal love. Some of his sage bits of wisdom: grow up; get a life; you’re too young to understand. Still, it didn’t stop me from worshipping him.

When I was twelve, Michael gave me my first surfboard. It was an eight-foot Robbie Dick gun with triple thruster fins, signed by the man himself. I woke up one morning, and there it was at the foot of my bed, wrapped in toilet paper, with a note: “Happy birthday little brother. Michael.” It didn’t matter that it was a hand-me-down or that it wasn’t my birthday. I loved it. While Michael warmed up the Volvo, I attached a leash and put a Peter Pan sticker on the deck where I’d be able to see it as I paddled out.

I usually stayed inside where the waves were smaller, but I figured, now that I had a gun, I deserved to ride with the older guys. The waves were big that day—in later stories they would grow to be double overhead—but on this special unbirthday, Michael was urging me to catch the sets on the outside, and I was determined not to let him down.

It took me about fifteen minutes to paddle out, but I wouldn’t have stopped if it took me all morning. When I finally set up on my board, at my brother’s side, I felt like I’d achieved Nirvana. On the outside, the water sparkled like a bottomless wishing well. Pelicans skimmed the glassy surface, patrolling for leftovers from the preening seals. Michael put his finger to his lips and pointed to a pod of dolphins playing in the swell around us. Following his lead, I dipped my hand into the water and one of the sleek creatures brushed against my fingertips. It was the first time I can remember feeling the physical pain of beauty.

He caught the first wave of a big set. I watched him ride in and paddle back out to me. “Don’t turn your back on the ocean,” he admonished, pushing my nose so that I faced Catalina Island. “Turn your board around and keep your eyes open for the next set.” But there’s something about a thing as big and beautiful as the ocean. You get charmed by it, dazzled, and you kind of lose your self-awareness. Another wave came and again Michael took it. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he rode all the way in.

I felt the suck before I saw the wave, and suddenly, I was inside the washing machine, my face being dragged across the sandy bottom. I struggled to stay calm, but I was running out of breath fast. Just as the panic started, the wave released me and I clawed my way to the top, gasping for air. My leash was still attached to my ankle, but the board had been snapped in half, severed just beneath the Peter Pan sticker. The nose was twenty feet away, skating along the shore, taunting sandpipers as they hunted sand crabs beneath the foam.

“What did I tell you?” Michael shouted, more angry than was necessary. “Never ever turn your back on the ocean!”

As Michael and I got older, we grew more and more distant. He went to college and medical school and settled down with his own family, whereas I fell in love with the beach, the skate park, and any place that nurtured a Lost Boys lifestyle. I was a fast learner, and I had a natural gift for finding shortcuts that would reduce the stress factor in my life and allow me to chill. We quickly learned to ignore each other.

Now that I had moved across the country, it seemed that I had become a priority to him again. I spent a minute questioning his motives, then gave up and let myself get lost in the moment. I was out of shape from a month without surfing; just paddling out made me winded, and by the time I caught the first wave, I felt my shoulders burning. I spent the morning chasing a decent left, then found a burger place and slept on the beach for a while. It was exactly what I needed to bring balance and perspective back into my life. By the time I was back in my Jeep, crossing the swampy marshes of Central Florida, I was recharged and determined to fight the process that was sapping my individuality. Johnny handed me a beer the moment I walked in the door.

“Ah got two steaks on the grill,” he announced. “And ah Tivo’d Talladega. What do you say?”

“I hate to eat and run,” I said. “But…” I gave him the short version of the last couple of day’s events, wrapping up with Brady’s invitation. He took the Mousenapping in stride, and my misgivings about allegiance to the Corporation. But when I got to the part about my acquaintance in the Pooh suit, his expression froze, and he didn’t say anything for the rest of the story.

“How well do you know this guy?” Johnny said when I finished. He was still wearing his trademark pleasant expression, but it looked forced. He poked at the steaks with uncharacteristic violence.

“I wouldn’t call it a friendship,” I backpedaled. “I met him at PI. He works in the character program.”

He nodded, his Disney smile pinned securely in place. “Ah see. So you don’t really
him.” He continued to nod, while he sipped his whiskey. “You know, ah’m not one to judge, and people are people, God knows, but…Sometimes, people aren’t exactly who they appear to be.”

Johnny never uttered a critical word about anyone, so this tepid ambiguity rang out as a resounding warning bell. “What do you mean?”

“One hears stories about certain Cast Members. Especially the ones in the character program. Especially if they’ve been around a while.”

“Okay.” I waited for something more, and then when nothing came, “Am I supposed to distrust every Cast Member with a retirement plan?”

“Now, you have to understand, Disney’s a small community…like a family. And like any tight-knit family, we have skeletons.” Johnny’s smile was slipping. He drained his glass, and went to the bar. When he reappeared, he seemed to have regained his composure. “You’ve worked here long enough to know how it works. People in the character program are just…how do ah say this? Wired differently than you and me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ah’ve heard a lot of stories about CMs in the character program,” he said.

“True stories?”

He shrugged. “Ah’ve never worked in characters so it’s hard to know for sure, but everybody tells the same stories…”

“Tell me one.”

Johnny swirled the ice in his glass, then his face lit up. “There was this one guy who must have been working there for ten years. He was the pride of the character department: Chip, Dale, and Quasimodo. He brought Roger Rabbit to life in a way that no one else could match. But, by far, his favorite was Winnie the Pooh with his bashful smile and his honey-colored fur and his potbelly that was just big enough to jack off inside.”

“Excuse me?”

“This was the late nineties, when Pooh wore a honey pot on his head with bees flying around it. A performer could pull his arms inside the costume to wiggle the bear’s nose and then push them back into the paws to sign autographs. Or, at least that was the costume designer’s original plan. This guy liked to pull his underwear down around his thighs and have at it.”


“How could he?” Johnny interrupted, now at full speed with his story. “Is that what you were going to ask? ‘How could he masturbate
sign autographs
pose for photos without losing focus or breaking character? Surely, that kind of multitasking requires supernatural concentration.’ Simple. He could do it because he was, above all, a professional. He knew the choreography by heart and was able to do the dance steps in his sleep. He could sign souvenir books with one hand, grab his pecker with the other, and wiggle Pooh’s nose with his elbow. Since Pooh is a right-handed character, he just had to learn how to jerk it with his left. After all, it wasn’t like there was a whole lot else for him to do inside that suit for thirty minutes straight.

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