Eva Knott 7:03 p.m., May 17
A Kingdom No Longer Magic (a short story)
I was censoring boobs for The Mouse. Seems like something they would’ve had to hire someone for back in the less uptight 70’s or 60’s, or the insane 2000’s, not the Reagancrap preppy 80’s. But they didn’t have cameras on the Matterhorn or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride back then. Splash Mountain, however, changed all that. It had the first camera of its kind at the park, so when you get off the ride after being soaked on the final plunge, you get to see, and maybe purchase, a photo of yourself at the moment of maximum descending excitement (or terror, depending on your personality). It was just another way to make the Mouse more cash, as if they didn’t already make enough on parking, admission and crappy overpriced food and trinkets.
But then the problem started. The boob problem.
Shortly after the ride opened a year earlier, an increasing number of women began flashing their boobs at the camera on that final descent, which led to many uncomfortable moments at the photo booth for parents with their little kids in tow. Mommy, why is that lady not wearing a shirt? And why do her boobies fly like that? Daddy, how come her nippies are so big and weird looking?
It became a mini-epidemic, and thus I was transferred from working the raft on Tom Sawyer Island to being a boob monitor deep in a secluded office area near Pirates of the Caribbean. You’d think I would’ve been stationed at the actual Splash ride, but space limitations had me in the bowels of New Orleans Square. The transfer was fine with me, as I found the boot-like moccasins I had to wear as part of my Tom Sawyer uniform to be terrible on my feet. I could barely stand up after an hour in them, and if I accidentally kicked my toe into something, damn, it felt like an anvil had dropped onto it. Not to mention how hot they were, my legs perspired and shriveled all day in them. And when told of my exact assignment at Splash Mountain, as a healthy young man, I had no problem with it at all, there were certainly worse things to be tasked with finding than naked boobs; they could’ve transferred me to janitorial or It’s A Small World. The thought of hearing that disgustingly cheery Small World song all day was horrifying; I could imagine being driven to injure myself because of it. Still, I was curious how I’d been selected for this new and nubile assignment. My chubby and unkempt boss paused, puckering his mustached lips into a hairy fish, thinking.
“Well, first, you have the best attendance record and reviews in the entire park, in case you didn’t know.” I certainly didn’t know these facts, and I must say they brought me zero sense of satisfaction. “And when I asked about you, everyone on Tom Sawyer said you were gay,” added my boss, surprised when I told him I wasn’t, that they were just getting back at me for winning the bonus the last three months. “Oh well,” he continued. “It’s too late now, I don’t wanna bother rescinding your transfer, so…lucky you. Don’t let me catch you jerking it on the job or trying to pilfer any pictures. Now get outta here and catch those tits. The Disney family is very concerned about this.”
I’d heard Walt Disney had a nephew still alive, that must have been the family my boss was talking about. I’m surprised this nephew didn’t want to try the job himself. It’s the rare man who would turn it down.
* * *
For the next few weeks, I toiled in the darkness, hitting the “cut” button whenever I saw a naked pair of breasts hurtling down that waterslide in those giant logs. The women and their breasts came in all shapes and sizes, but most were young, well under thirty I guessed. It’s a youth thing, the flashing game.
One lady in particular, however, broke the mold: she seemed older, what I could see of her, and she was a repeat offender. She was making a mockery of the photo system, hitting us a few times a week, sometimes a few days straight, one time twice in the same afternoon. And it was my job to identify her. What made the assignment difficult was her boobs were such that every time she flashed them, on steep descent, they rose up like a pair of wide flapping neckties and obscured her face just enough to make her unrecognizable. She was also changing her hairstyle and color with each visit, or else she was wearing wigs that must have been rubber cemented to her head. The mystery flasher of Splash Mountain continued her spree for almost a month.
* * *
“How can you not have caught her yet? Do you know what this is doing to our image with families?” My boss barked at me as I relayed to him my frustration in being unable to make a positive I.D. “We’ve gotten calls from families, that they won’t come back until we apprehend this pervert.”
“I didn’t think women could be perverts,” I replied.
“Jaysus, you are a cherry, haven’t you ever seen a porn?”
I had, of course, but if eagerly performing sex on guys much less attractive than they were was perverted, well, sign me up, just keep the camera at home.
“She’s doing this several times a week,” he said with disgust. “So she has to be an annual pass-holder. I really wish we had photos with those things. Keep trying. Harder.”
* * *
And try I did. But for a few days, I didn’t spot her, and I was relieved simply to be able to peruse my usual random assortment of boobs in peace, without the pressure of nabbing our serial flasher. Truthfully, none of the other breasts really did much for me, I’ve always been more of an ass man. Soon, though, with enough of a sample size, I managed to find a few pairs that got me going. Right into the men’s room on break for a little quick relief. Luckily, I never got caught. Shaun, the guy in his twenties who worked the shift before me, he did get caught, but he was stupid and pulling his taffy right there at the desk. He didn’t get fired though, his uncle was a big-wig, and so they just transferred him to parking lot duty. There was nothing in the parking lot to get anyone sexually excited, or so they thought, until he was fired for having sex with a gal who drove one of the trams that ferried you to the entrance to the park. They did it on a slow day, the parking lot emptier than usual, way out under the last Goofy sign, behind other parked trams. But one of the tower guards caught them. That’s why those guys are up there, after all. The Mouse must keep his house pure.
* * *
Continuing for the next week, I caught sight of my lady three times and made harried walkie-talkie calls to security guards at the site, but they could never nab her. How was she sneaking out so fast? And who was this lady? The mystery deepened, and my boss, ever the “investigator,” demanded all of her photos be delivered to his office for inspection.
“Christ, if she had a normal pair, we might be able to nab her. But I’m guessing she’s in her forties from the shape and condition of them. Breast-fed at least one kid for sure.”
“And you can tell this how?”
“Remember when I asked if you’d ever watched a porn?”
“Well the ones I watch are a little different. If you get my drift.”
My boss was into lactation flicks. I left, telling him I had to take a dump, when in reality I needed to hurl.
* * *
Back at my dark station, keenly watching the monitors for exposed mammaries, my eyes began to hurt, and a week passed before I spotted her again. Her face was still obscured by those fleshy streamers, her hair now red and shorter than I’d ever seen it. I wondered if she had once worked for the CIA, she was so skilled at changing her look. Her boobs, however, she couldn’t change, they were as good as fingerprints to me. Unfortunately I needed a face print.
“Look,” my boss said, practically salivating as he looked over the latest snap of her, “if you can’t do the job in the next week, I’m going to have to find a new set of eyes, maybe my own.”
I had no doubt he was serious. I surmised this had been his plan all along.
* * *
Then it happened. While eyeing the screen for suspicious breast activity, I caught sight of her again, but much more clearly than previously. This time, in the captured freeze frame, one of her boobs didn’t flap up as high as the other one, and half of her face was exposed. I didn’t care about the physics of why that one breast stayed down, I only cared about the face I could finally see. And I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was Todd’s mom.
Todd was my best friend from high school, and we’d graduated two years earlier, both now attending Cypress JC and meandering into adulthood. Though not as close as we had been in high school, we still saw each other and hung out sometimes. We saw each other because Todd worked food service part time for The Mouse, selling candy and other junk from an old timey cart. At night, or most nights, he performed in the Main Street Electrical Parade, and he was one of the few who worked it who didn’t get high as a kite pre-performance. Acid, I had heard, was the trip of choice. I tried to imagine being fried and working that parade, but I couldn’t fathom it. The one time I’d tried acid, I’d ended up naked and attempted to stuff myself into an empty Hi-C can. But not Todd. He was a church boy, after all, a good kid, save his very acute lust for Madonna. And he worked that psychedelic parade as straight as a glass of room temperature tap water.
I looked back at his mom’s image, that exposed half of her face, the wild smile of joy she displayed in displaying her own wares. Now I had a dilemma. I didn’t want my best friend’s mom busted (not the best word choice), but I also had to do my job. It had been a relatively easy job up to that point, all things considered, I was even getting paid a little extra for this boob duty, and I couldn’t stand the prospect of going back to Tom Sawyer Island and those moccasin boots or, worse, Pic-n-Save, where I’d worked before Disneyland. Retail is bad enough, discount retail is like working in an endless hurricane of cheap gauze socks, twenty-five cent jerky, and dollar spatulas that break the first time you slip them under an omelet.
But what to do about Todd’s mom? My addled brain smoldered. I finally figured the best thing was, somehow, to break the news to Todd so that he could approach her and ask her to stop. That would work, I thought. Otherwise, they were going to arrest her for indecent exposure and ban her from all Disney theme parks. But I couldn't fathom why she was doing this in the first place. She and Todd’s dad seemed happily married, they were Methodist churchgoers, what had gotten into her? I was dreading having to tell my friend about it. How do you comfortably say, “Oh by the way, your mom’s been flashing her rack at Disneyland for all to see, and she’s going to be arrested if you don’t stop her.” I didn’t know how I was going to say it, but I knew it was my only feasible option. Approaching his mom myself? Not a chance. I would be blushing like a cranberry.
Growing anxious, I didn’t want to wait or think about it more than necessary. I knew Todd was working the parade that night, so I decided I’d break the news to him at our basketball game inside the Matterhorn after the parade was over. We had a game scheduled against the squad from Autopia. I figured it would be a quick game, the Autopia team wasn’t very tall, and they spent their days sucking down exhaust fumes from those little cars, their lung capacity had to be the worst of any group of park employees.
* * *
Yes, there really is a basketball court inside that fake concrete mountain, up in the hollow peak of it. It was empty for many years, then the company decided to use the space for employees, so they held a vote about what to put in there and a basketball court won. It’s surreal playing hoops inside the summit of an artificial Alp. You can hear the bobsleds outside and below you, and the echo of the ball is sometimes too much to bear, it can make you a little crazy if you’re shooting around by yourself. It was like being in the rec room of a bizarre Swedish prison.
When Todd arrived, however, and much to my surprise, he had obviously, for the first time, imbibed before the parade. Not acid, just a few tokes of pot, I could tell he was good and stoned when he showed up, smiling and laughing with another parade worker, and he reeked, which surprised me more because that alone could easily get him fired. And Todd loved working for the Mouse, more than anyone I knew. Why was he risking it now, I thought? What was up with this family? Were they all losing their marbles?
“What’s up, my man?” I welcomed him, his curly mop misshapen from the silly tight cap he wore during the parade. Normally he'd have brushed it out.. “You look a little, uh, happy.”
He moved to me and whispered in my ear.
“I really think I love pot,” he said with a giggle.
I didn’t think it was the best time to broach the subject of his mom exposing herself on one of the rides, so we started the game, and I hoped he would be less stoned and giggly with a little exercise.
The Autopia team, as expected, were terrible. I swear I heard a few of them wheezing and saw puffs of exhaust smoke come out of their point guard’s nostrils. The game echoed on for about a half hour, until we’d all lost our energy and called it a night We’d won by at least twenty points. At the water fountain, I asked Todd if we could talk about something outside. That’s when I noticed his stoned humor had turned to sadness. He was suddenly choked up with emotion, eyes watery.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Or is it just the pot?”
“I dunno, I never tried it before. Is this what it does to you? Make you laugh and then cry?”
“No, I never did the crying part.”
“Don’t tell my mom, okay?”
Considering what I wanted to talk to him about, mention of her from his half-weeping lips threw me for a serious loop.
“I would never tell your mom.”
“Good, she’s, I dunno Jake, she’s just not doing very well. No one in my family is.”
There were only he and his folks, so his father was the only one left unmentioned. Was there something the matter with dad, too?
“I tell you, my friend,” he tried to continue, but got more choked up and his words wouldn’t come out. I could feel the overwhelming expression of concern tense my face.
“Slow down,” I told him, putting my hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. Tell me what?” He took a deep and difficult breath, gathering himself for a moment.
“My dad got some girl pregnant.”
I was shocked. Silence hung there like a dead body. His dad was assistant pastor of their church, but he paid the bills teaching adult school, air conditioning and refrigeration, mostly to new immigrants. He seemed as righteous as they came.
“How do you think?”
“I mean, I know how, but with who, why?”
Asking him why was as stupid as asking how, but it just slipped out in my surprise, and I wished immediately that it hadn’t.
“Why? Because he’s a big phony. Giving a sermon once a month.” I could see his anger coiling in his body as he reached for words to describe his dad, and then he cursed, which he never did. “Fake as sh-t motherf-cker!”
He punched the wall, which was concrete, and I could tell right away that he’d hurt himself, probably broken his hand. But he didn’t flinch or react, his anger and betrayal too acute.
“That’s why I said don’t tell my mom about the pot. She’s kind of losing it about my dad and the whole situation. I mean, really, she’s already lost it. I think she’s going out of her mind from it, for real.”
I had no doubt that she had already made it there.
I gave my friend a hug, and he apologized for unloading his family saga on me. I said that’s what I was there for, that I loved him, and his folks, they’d always been great to me. I just couldn’t understand how his dad could’ve been so stupid.
“Because he’s full of shit and always has been. I never told you, it’s just too complicated.”
I could sense, at that moment, what I never had, that this family had secrets that I had never been aware of, that I never would’ve even come close to suspecting. My family had them, too, just nothing like this, nothing that would bring me to tears.
“She’s some girl from his adult school class,” he told me, wiping his eyes, the gym in the mountain now empty except for us. “She’s from someplace I’ve never even heard of, close to Russia or something. I guess a chick with a can of Freon in her hand gets him off. He says he’s in love with her. F-cking as-hole.”
It was so strange hearing him cuss, it just didn’t fit him. None of this fit anything I had previously known, or thought I knew.
“He hasn’t been living with us for a few weeks. Mom tried to be patient, hoping that he’d take care of it, even though she didn’t believe in that, but she was still hoping, you know? I mean, you know what I’m talking about, right?”
I said I did know. Principles are easy until they hit you in the face.
He took another gulp of water from the fountain and paused, wiping his sweaty brow, then his arms, legs, nervous energy enveloping him.
“Screw it,” he summed up, composing himself unconvincingly. “I got it off my chest. That’s what I needed to do, right? Life goes on and all that bullshit?”
I looked at him for a long moment, concerned and waiting. Waiting for what, I wasn’t sure. More emotion, another confession, but neither were forthcoming. He dried his eyes and seemed to sober up almost instantly, as if he’d been slapped by God.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?” he fake laughed through his sorrow. "You see a good pair today?"
I shook my head. “I can’t even remember. Not important. Look, if you need to talk more, please, go ahead…you wanna go get something to eat?”
I was sure that he couldn’t eat a thing, nor had he been able to, but I had to ask. He was, after all, his father’s only child, only son. His sole pride and joy. Now his dad and some stranger were taking that away. Stepping on it. There was no way he could swallow any food. Reality was enough to get down.
“Not right now,” he replied. “I just wanna take a drive by myself.”
He gave me a quick hug, then turned and exited, gently shaking his broken hand, which had already started to swell. But I don’t think he could feel that pain right then, the other wound was too serious.
I was alone inside the echoing Alp. I bounced the basketball a few times, then hurled it against the wall in frustration.
* * *
A half hour later, I was wandering the dark and deserted grounds, as dozens of feral cats darted about and away from me, spooked by my presence. Disneyland, as the story was told to me, had a problem with wild cats early on. They would flood the place after hours, making it their home. At some point, however, rather than try to get rid of them, the park decided to use the cats for pest control. So they built a few areas for them to sleep and eat during the day, then at night hundreds of them descend upon the park and keep it free of the mice that The Mouse cannot tolerate. Pairs of their iridescent eyes glowed all around me, eerily, unsettlingly, like the midnight eyes of hungry lions on the African savannah I’d seen on PBS nature shows.
I sat at a table in Tomorrowland, cheesy space-age décor in shadows surrounding me. At first it was hard to see the paper, but my eyes soon adjusted to the darkness. With the pen I’d swiped from my workstation, I wrote the note to his mother as carefully and respectfully and sympathetically as I could. It was the only way I could think of to take care of the situation. I was never going to tell Todd at that point, that was certain. So I wrote the note, making sure she had no idea that I’d actually been the one to see her flasher act all those times, that I’d merely gotten word of it. I folded up the note, put it on the table, pen atop it as a weight, and I wondered whether I’d really have the nerve to deliver it to her.
As I sat there and pondered, I saw a feral cat dart into the bushes, a small scuffle ensuing, until the cat emerged with the still living mouse between its teeth.
Bye bye, little rodent. Life was brutal. We were just lucky most of the time, modern people, not to feel it more often. Dumb luck, that’s all it is.
* * *
The next morning, when I knew Todd would be at school, I sat at the curb in front of his house for at least an hour, trying to work up that nerve. His mom’s car was out front, so I knew she was home. But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t face her, not even simply to hand her a note. So I got out of my car and sneaked over to hers, leaving the letter on the windshield, securing it under the wiper blade. Then I hustled away, back to my car, hoping no one had seen me. I started to drive away, but then stopped at the end of the block and parked again at the curb. And I waited again.
It wasn’t too long after that, maybe ten minutes, that I saw her, in my rearview mirror, walk out of the house toward her car. She looked unfamiliar; I hadn’t seen her in an everyday context in some time, only on that Splash Mountain monitor in my astonished state. Her disheveled hair looked like she had just gotten out of bed, her short legs moved stiffly in her mom jeans. I slumped down in my seat and watched her remove the note from the windshield. My stomach churned as she unfolded it, then began to read. I’d tried to keep the note simple, warning her that she had to stop, that they were going to have her arrested the next time she did it. And did she really want to embarrass Todd that way? I wrote that I understood things were tough right now, awful, but I just didn’t want her getting into trouble on top of it. Todd needed her, I emphasized. They needed each other.
“Life is very long,” I wrote at the end. “We never know why people do certain things, or what’s going to happen. So we can’t think the worst is all we have to look forward to. Todd and you have meant the world to me since we became friends in ninth grade. I hope you’re feeling better about things soon, including yourself. You’re a beautiful woman with so much to offer the world, you deserve better, both of you do, and it will happen. Your friend, Jake”
I felt weird, inappropriate even, giving his mother a written pep talk about her looks and future prospects, but I just wrote what I felt, it was all I could do. Now, as I watched her finish reading the note and look around suspiciously, as I saw her get into the car and weep harder than her son did the night before, as I sat slumped behind my steering wheel, I realized that I knew nothing, and I thought maybe I should’ve just minded my own business, let happen whatever was going to happen with her. But I couldn’t have done that, I knew I couldn’t have. Whether I’d been right to leave the note, whether I’d written the right things, or the best things anyone could in that situation, it didn’t matter. She and her son were hurting, badly, bleeding from the heart. Their pain shot right through me, caved in my chest. A gun could not have done a better job. I drove away for good, feeling no better about anything. I got lost on the way home.
* * *
Todd and I didn’t see much of each other for a few months, while the situation with his parents settled into whatever it settled into. Divorce, for one. I knew that much, and that his mom started drinking, but we really didn’t see much of each other. Mostly we didn’t see each other because I quit working for The Mouse the week after I left his mom that note, and I returned to Pic-n-Save almost gladly. Now I’m a regional manager for Big Lots, the east coast company that bought them out. Another Mouse rules my life today. I haven’t talked to Todd in almost ten years. The baby his dad had with his student would be twenty-five. Did they have any relationship? Would either of them even want one? Could a relationship actually grow from such ground, so trampled and rocky and shadowed? It was too complicated, and too melancholy, to consider. The last I’d heard of him, from a mutual friend, was that Todd had gone to seminary to become a pastor, but then dropped out. It didn't surprise me. When we talked on the phone briefly a decade ago, I remember him asking me why I'd quit that plum assignment at Disneyland. "Beats looking at anything else in that place," he said. I probably tried to change the subject.
That lousy night, however, back in 1986, as the note for his mother sat on the table in front of me in Tomorrowland, I couldn’t imagine searching for boobs anymore, or sitting in that dim room, or being in the park at all. The only way I could’ve stayed there, I remember thinking, was if I became one of those feral cats, eyes glowing brightly in the darkness, roaming the midnight grounds not like I punched a time clock in a silly costume, not like I was simply another attraction or ride or facade, but like I owned the place, like I was wild and brutal, and free of it all.