Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lost in Paradise (Still Manages to Be Walt Disney World)

It was around 9 pm at the Beach and Boardwalk World; or I suppose that's where I was, given that I took the wrong turn, after having been intrigued  by a shop with the same Dooney &Burke retro-Disney designed messenger bag I had purchase a few weeks earlier at disneystore.com.

Was the amount I paid online the same as in the store? I was gratified to see that the pricing was consistent.  I contemplated purchasing a few bags of the same design, but then thought better of it. I’m not necessarily a hoarder, but I do seem to have a difficult time letting go of vintage bags and designer items. In theory, I could sell them on eBay, but it’s tedious and frustrating to do so. Perhaps if I had an assistant who would deal with all the mechanics of it, I’d feel comfortable, but as it is, I just feel a sense of dread.

Walt Disney World opened in 1971. The retro views and art evoke the late 60s and early 70s fascination with the Space Age, and an affirmation of values that differentiated us from our Cold War obverses. Instead of Mao suits and a “Great Leap Forward” we embraced fairy tales and frontier homilies that suggested that if you ground yourself in early American values, your fate would be a certitude of prosperity, joyous family relations, and above all, a validation of imagination and creative reach.

These were some of the thoughts I contemplated, so it was not too surprising that I took the wrong turn. With a start, I realized I missed the bus back to the Contemporary Resort, where I was staying, and the Boardwalk was many worlds away.

But, perhaps I had willed it this way. Walt Disney World offered me various options; I chose a combination of boat and bus.

The weather was glorious and cool, and standing at the back of the boat, breathing the humid air, the smell of swamp, I looked at the American flag flapping at the back. My uncle in Lake Placid has a boathouse filled with vintage mahogany Chris-Craft “cigar boats” he restored by hand.

A surgeon by profession, he also had a talent for surgicating wood, and so had, in addition to his meticulously restored wooden boats, an entire Adirondack “Camp” (a 14-bedroom lake house), outfitted in faux-Stickley and other Craftsman-vintage furniture. He told me the key was in the fittings. They needed to be authentic. I had questions, but he did not like to listen to or answer my questions. He preferred the role of seed-sower and scatterer of wisdom. It was my job to harrow my heart and mind so that these seeds would sprout and not be carried off by an adventitious bird.

He took me for a spin in one of his boats. He mentioned that it was leaking, but not to worry, he had a good bilge pump (although it was on the fritz at the moment). As we slowly settled deeper in the water, and the shoreline receded, he regaled me with “fun facts” about Lake Placid. It was the deepest lake in the Adirondacks, and the coldest. Did it have a creature as did Lake Champlain?  A lake monster of sorts? The sound of the engine drowned out my words, which were not projected with any sort of confidence, so it was less than surprising that they sank somewhere in the depths.

As we tooled, lower and lower in the water, across Lake Placid, he pointed out the Gilded Age “Camps” – some no longer extant having been burned to the ground by reluctant heirs who found, to their dismay, that the Township of Lake Placid relied exclusively on property tax for the maintenance of their schools, fire department, police, water and sewage, road salt – in short, everything.

I would have preferred to see someone turn a “Camp” into a church of sorts, and use it for a renewal of the utopian experiments that so characterized upstate New York during the 19th century. A “New Oneida” anyone?

But, no one was listening to me, and, the grand utopian experiment that was Walt Disney World, was, at least in terms of physical security, much more benign, although there are those who would argue that ideologically, it was not so. I like utopias, and don’t much care for dystopias, so it probably is more likely that a “better world” is more feasible in central Florida, the 1980 Lake Place Olympic Games notwithstanding.

I had no idea of the name of the central Florida lake, and wondered how many alligators the park might hold, and if / when any escaped Burmese Pythons made their way here, and if they found it to be the pristine Edenic habitat that they found the Everglades to be. I would think that unless they could subsist on dreams and air, there would not be much to forage for. There was precious little trash, and it was hard to find stray pets or unattended toddlers.

We docked at Hollywood Studios, and so I made my way to the bus destined for the Contemporary Resort. I was impressed to be surrounded by impeccably groomed and comported young children, who either slept noiselessly or quietly conversed with siblings, discussing math facts and maps. One 6-year-old girl waxed eloquent about addition to her younger brother, who clutched a box containing Star Wars action figures. They seemed so beatifically calm that I wondered if they piped in some sort of happy gas, or did they put it in the water? I would consider living here if this is truly how people behave.

Social engineering on a large scale is not easy; change is never easy to manage, at least when it comes to the hearts, minds, and attitudes.