Monday, June 30, 2014

Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA, Part 3: "What You’re Good At"

One of the things I have to constantly remind myself is that the Internet is not real. Twitter is not real. Facebook is not real. These things are reflections – and sometimes distortions – of our reality. Quite often, I go to Facebook and rattle off my accomplishments of my day, because I enjoy accomplishing things and because I like to see the things I do quantified. I think it’s a Type-A thing. Or maybe it’s just a consequence of my desperate need for affirmation. Of course, affirmation has a dark twin.

Look, saying, “the Internet isn’t real” is some great advice, but more often than not, I’ve found it difficult advice to take. Way back when I was lonely and living on my own, I discovered the Internet and it fixed things, at least temporarily. I fell in with faceless people who seemed to understand me … or at least to understand the things I’m into. I know I’m more than the sum of the things I dig, but for much of my life, the things I dig have been the things that have gotten me through, have kept me sane, have helped define who I am. That’s why I have the tattoos I do; they all describe the stuff that, put together, makes up some of the more interesting parts of who I am. My friend Duncan put it most succinctly: “Kevin, you have a lot of jams.” Indeed I do, and when I take to the onlines, I try to find other who share my jams, and who want to talk about them.

But there’s that dark side. There’s a turn. I’ve been both its victim and its perpetrator. What happens when the awesome thing you and your online friends share starts not working for them? What happens when they start feeling betrayed by the thing they love? What happens when they use the forum with which you became friends to start decrying that thing that still means so much to you? When you’re me, you take it personally – the exact opposite way you should react. Way back in 1996 I took it personally when some tool on my Stephen King message board said that the new King book looked like nothing but a “laugh-out-loud joke” (you never forget your first troll). More recently, I took it personally when the rampant negativity of the Disney fan community started to affect how I was seeing the parks. Suddenly, it wasn’t, “Oh, this is awesome” or “this needs some help” or “wow, I can’t wait to go back.” My enjoyment became defensive. My tweets started with an implied “here’s why you’re wrong” and ended with quotes I’d mock.

I began to look forward to Disney articles so I could pull out choice ideas that were stupid, to pick apart rumors that were dumb. I’d go on Twitter feeds … no. No. I’d fucking troll Twitter feeds, looking for awful comments, so I could hold them up for derision. It seemed fun to me. I was good at it. And I was on the side of the light, so what I was doing wasn’t wrong.

Did it all come to a head when I was “outed,” and the community at large figured out that the nice guy behind my Kevidently Twitter handle was also the ubersnark dick WestCotCenter? Or when people started using my regular Twitter name as a hashtag in the hopes that it was somehow get under my skin? Or when someone created a fake Twitter account based on mine, specifically to call me an asshole? Maybe yes to one, maybe yes to none, maybe yes to all three.

I don’t know when it got too much to bear, but I know when I decided I wanted it to stop. It was at the Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure. I’d had too much to drink. I was surrounded by friends and feeling something I never allow myself to feel: calm. I was surrounded by friends, real friends who liked me, and I’d been drinking, and my friend Dave was talking about theme parks, because he works for theme parks, and I was hanging on his every word. I realized then that this was what I wanted out of my Disney experience. Friends. Calm. And to be awed by these worlds I’d fallen into.


* * *

Joe sleeps in.

One of the things Joe and I figured out over our previous fourteen trips together is that while our personalities meshed well, our personality types sometimes clash. I like to do stuff. Like, always. Constantly. I sleep because it’s a necessity. Joe sleeps because it’s vacation.

“You know you don’t have to wait for me, right?” Joe asked on our fifth or sixth trip.

“How’s that?”

“I don’t want to wake up at the crack of way too early. You do. When we’re together for these, why don’t you get up early and I’ll join you when I’m ready.”

Paul, on a different finger of the same hand, also likes to sleep in, but more on the, “hey, I’m getting up at a sane time, cool?” tip. It was cool, because while I don’t think I’d be as fired up for solo trips as I used to be (that one trip I went on to cure my depression kind of just ended up curing my desire to be at Disney parks alone), a few hours? Especially when it was Extra Magic Mornings? Oh, I could do that.

Which was how I found myself on California Screamin’ with my new buddy Chester at quarter of eight in the morning on my first full morning at Disneyland. Chester’s wife was also sleeping in. We hesitate longer than normal at the launch before that first big hill. The California sun hadn’t yet risen high enough in the sky to make the air oppressive, and boy howdy does Paradise Pier look lovely first thing in the morning. The Fun Wheel turns lazily, seeming to dip below the water, and the faraway Silly Symphony Swings and Golden Zephyr do their perambulations in sweet circle circuits over the water. The Boardwalk is empty this early, no lunatic lines yet at Toy Story Midway Mania. The air jostles with good smells: axle grease and cotton candy, churros and the smell of the water of Paradise Bay. It’s not quite the smell of the water at Pirates because nothing is. We hold in stasis, strapped into our cars, calliope music wafting over us like its 1914. Maybe it’s 1914. Maybe this is a dream.

Then we’re off, speeding like light into that first hill, and man oh man it’s great to be alive.

* * *

I texted Joe after tooling around California Adventure by my lonesome for an hour or so. Grizzly River Run had both managed to reopen after a brief refurb and soak me to the bone, all in the course of an hour and a half. Good thing I’d put my shoes and socks in a big plastic bag and ridden barefoot, even though you’re supposed to keep your shoes on the whole time, which is a rule I totally did not know and further did not willfully ignore until the cast member at the ride exit noticed and barked at me to put my sneakers on.

“Hey, Joe,” I texted, “are you awake yet?”

“Ohai, at Matterhorn with Mike Tupper!” I blinked. Did I know Mike Tupper? Joe was at the Matterhorn? Joe was awake?

One of those things that’s sort of better in Disneyland than in Disney World is you can be at the back of one park and get to the center of another park in like 10 minutes. Going from, like, Morocco in Epcot to Expedition Everest takes two maps, a Sherpa, three camels, and a universal translator. I caught up with Joe and Mike a little after nine and a little more than three-quarters through the line at the Matterhorn. It was a good thing, too. I was willing to share Joe’s first time on this mountain, but I’d introduced him to Everest in Florida and I was damned if he was going to ride this first without me.

After: “So! Did you like it! Did you love it! Was it the best!”

Joe: “Yes, I liked it.” Joe is inscrutable.

Me: “Yes! Disney history! Walt! My back hurts!”

As it turned out, I did know Mike Tupper, sort of. I think. Look, LiveJournal was awhile ago. You ever meet someone who’s all like, “by the way, the reason I’m this hot is because I go to the gym like 3 hours a day,” and you’re all, “well, I go two hours a day, that counts, right?” and he’s all, “I don’t really eat cupcakes.” At some point, you either have to accept who you are or go crazy trying to be someone you’re not. PS I had a cupcake at lunch. And a churro.

By that point, Paul had joined us – the only time he’d slept in later than Joe – and we did the whole thing straight up. Radiator Springs Racers. The Mark Twain Riverboat. Tower of Terror. “it’s a small world,” where we all pointed out the characters and continued to hum the song for the remainder of the day. At one point, I went back to the room to “rest,” by which I meant put on my Animal Kingdom shirt without the sleeves because in no way did I need to prove that I also go to the gym every day, and wow when you’re honest about your motivations sometimes you sound really shallow.

Mike took off as the night came down, and Paul went to go get his fiancĂ©e Steven settled into the room. Left to our own devices, I decided to take Joe on one of the quaintest rides in Disneyland, the Storybookland Canal Boats. There isn’t really anything comparable to it in Disney World, and I wanted Joe to be amazed at the miniatures and see how pretty they were all lit up at night.

Then something amazing happened.

“All right, passengers,” the perky cast member said from the captain’s seat at the back of the boat. “We’re going to be stopping here for just a little bit while the fireworks go off.”

I blinked. “Wait, the fireworks are going to go off … above us?”

She nodded. “Yes. We’ll be able to hear some of the narration if we’re very quiet, too.”

We were quiet, me and my buddy Joe next to each other on the Storybookland Canal Boat, sitting in the water as those lights exploded above us, like a celebration of our enduring friendship, and of our fifteenth Disney trip together. The fireworks show is called Magical, and no matter how corporate or how synergistic or how anything that is, when it comes to sitting in the water on a boat and watching fireworks go off above your head, that’s a pretty apt name. I was happy to be there with someone I like. All that online negativity seemed so far away.

* * *

Dave arrived early the next day, and it’s always good to see Dave. Especially when it’s your third day and so far you’ve been the only Type A. Dave takes charge of a Disney trip swiftly and happily, and no one ever complains, because Dave doesn’t just bring the party; Dave is the party.

We ended up at the Carthay Circle Restaurant, Dave’s last thing with us until he had to take off. It was cool. He’d be back the next day. Now, if I’d had a meal like the one I had that afternoon a few years ago, I would have gone stir crazy and antsy and probably ruined everyone’s good time. But years and experience have mellowed me. The Pimm’s Punch didn’t hurt, either.

We talked of things – cabbages, kings, sealing wax, I don’t remember exactly – but at one point, I brought up something that the world of online was going nutso over. Some hot-button topic that had all the tempests in all the teapots. Dave leaned back, cocktail in hand, and went about explaining the motivations, the reasons, the ideals, the concepts. He regaled us with tell of Big Picture Thinking, and This Too Shall Pass conceptualizing. “Disney is doing fine,” he said.

Something broke in me, right then. Hearing it all spoken out loud, calmly, as fact and not rumor or reaction, changed something in me. Something in the back of my mind whispered, I don’t have to be that guy. Don’t I know that? I don’t have to mire myself in the negativity in order to fight against it, because it’s not my fight. It has never been my fight. There’s no reason it should be my fight. All this will take care of itself. All I have to take care of is being happy, and that’s great, because I’m really good at being happy.

Do what you’re good at, right? Do what you’re good at.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA, Part Two: "How It Begins"

I went to Chicago a year ago to see Drive-By Truckers. It was my first time there. It was a lovely city, and the trains were fairly easy to understand. Local eye-candy didn’t hurt, either, and there are plenty of Starbucks. But I was going there sort of on the cheap, and the hotel room I stayed in was … well, it was a dystopian little hellhole, not to put too fine a point on it. It was like someone took the very concept of Dickensian, made it manifest, and then shaded layers of suburban thrift bazaar on top of it. A mass-produced painting of a dog in a field hung disconsolately over my bed of many springs, and the closet-bathroom’s hot water worked intermittently, grudgingly. It was as if I was being punished for traveling across time zones to see a three-hour concert. I quite honestly didn’t mind. The things you do for rock and roll.

But it’s not as if hotels like that are my first, fifth, or even eighteenth choice. I lived 5/8 of my life in a room exactly like that, and I don’t feel any pressing need to relive the drear realness of my misspent youth. In one of my more honest moments, I said to Joe, “I am impressed by wealth.” This was in relation to having seen the Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World and just being bowled over. I think Joe may have taken what I said wrong at the time. I think – and this could just be me extrapolating – that he thought I was more into being around rich friends. Friends that could treat me to stuff like the Bay Lake Tower when I was on my Disney trips.

That wasn’t it, though. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to treat my friends to this stuff. I wanted to be the guy who makes the Bay Lake Tower happen. Some of it’s my superhero complex. Some of it’s my need to be liked. Some of it’s trying to scrub off the poor from my early years. And quite a lot of it is just because I like nice stuff and it’s fun to do nice stuff with your buddies.

All of that is to say that I’ve been spoiling myself. Last year, I stayed at my first deluxe resort, the Wilderness Lodge at Disney World, and I brought my friends with me. Earlier this year, I stayed at the Contemporary, a long-held dream. It’s a twelve-minute walk to the Magic Kingdom, guys. And when I was last in Atlanta and I handed Joe the Disney Packet of Awesome, one of the best parts is where I was able to turn the page and say, “see this? This is a picture of the Disneyland Hotel. Where we’ll be staying. We’re going to stay there, Joe!”

I thought nothing about this trip was going to top that moment; the planning is almost always the best part of the trip. But you know what’s actually more exciting than looking at a picture of the Disneyland Hotel? Being inside the Disneyland Hotel. I mean, the chairs in the lobby are in the shape of teacups! The headboards light up in LED fireworks and play, “When You Wish Upon a Star”! Oh, and also this happens in the freakin lobby:

Things were off to a great start.

* * *

I should note right here at the very start that my co-conspirator for this whole endeavor was my friend Paul, who I’d first met at my very first trip to Disneyland in the faraway year of 2009. You know, it’s interesting. Paul and I had known each other through LiveJournal, but we weren’t what you’d necessarily call close-close. We’re close-close now. You never know where your best friends are going to come from, or how long they’re going to stick around. One of the best things about Disney is that it provides a place to hang out with all of them. My best friends are all scattered – Atlanta, Washington DC, San Diego, New York, New Jersey, right here in Boston – but a lot of us have Disney in common, and it makes it easy to pick a place to be together, and to have something to talk about. It can’t be the only thing, which is a lesson I keep learning.

Because I’m all about the rituals and milestones and narratives, Paul and I used the time between my arrival and Joe’s to ride the teacups (which we did first thing last time we were here alone) and grabbed a snack at the Bengal Barbecue (where we first ate when we were last here alone; my brain is like the middle section of a John Irving novel when the patterns start to emerge, usually after the bears but before Amsterdam). Then Paul helped me set up Joe’s gift spread on the bed (which, I swear to God, has nothing to do with buttcheeks) and when Joe walked in after traveling all day I kind of leapt at him and made him enjoy everything. Because my enthusiasm only counts if everyone matches it! I’m not hard to know!

Then with all the whirlwind excitement, we ushered a weary Joe into Disneyland! The main reason I’d chosen to go now was so Joe could see the Mechanical Kingdoms exhibit on Main Street, an impetus I’d entirely forgotten until we actually got there and then I super-smooth covered my surprise and made it seem like it was all part of the plan.

“Hey guys! Let’s go see that! It’s all part of the plan!” Super. Smooth.

If you’re any sort of Disney fan interested in visiting parks on both coasts, one of the fun things to do is to compare and contrast the same rides. Like, Space Mountain in Disney World has a better queue and track layout, but the one in Disneyland has a smoother track and on-board music. The Tower of Terror in California has some really neat ghost effects, but the one in Florida has the fifth-dimension room. Take a lifelong Walt Disney World man to Disneyland, and you’re bound to have interesting opinions … and, for some reason, Abbott and Costello conversations.

“Points to California,” Joe said, as we climbed off of Pirates of the Caribbean, that wonderful musty smell lingering everywhere, as if joy had an aroma.

I thrust out a finger and smiled. We were in California. How do you point to it?

“No,” Paul said. “Points to California.”

I was baffled. Was this a reference to the fact that we were in New Orleans Square? Like, was I supposed to be pointing west or something?

“Oh,” I said, because when you don’t get the joke, you just agree. “Yep.” Do you have any idea how dumb I feel writing this out?

We rode the Matterhorn, and as silly as it seems, that’s my connection to classic Disneyland. I wasn’t there. Walt Disney died before I was born. But when you’re surrounded by living history, it’s almost impossible not to feel echoes of the past. Especially if you’re a conscientious fan, someone who not only loves Disney as it is now, but as it was then. There are plenty of people who go to Disney and it’s just fun and that’s about it. And that’s fine. But when you’re people like me and you read books about the parks, when you visit them four times a year, when you listen to Disney history podcasts, some of that stuff sinks in. It becomes part of your experience when you’re there.

What’s harder is when that history becomes definitive, when things like “Walt originalism” and the concept of the past being static is used as a detriment rather than an enhancement. Here’s where I get into some trouble. See, part of my desire to learn everything about the parks led me to a number of websites that offered weekly reports on the goings-on at Disneyland and Disney World. That stuff is thrilling to me, a way of keeping up with my park love back home. There are usually pictures of things being worked on and new stuff being developed, of special events and flowers in bloom. One of the things I began running into was the initialism, “WWWDD,” or What Would Walt Disney Do? It’s both a noble question and an idiotic question. Noble, because the Disney parks exist for a reason, and the ideals and gumption that got them built are laudable, all these years later. Idiotic because the man is dead, and has been for years. We don’t know what Walt would do.

Accompanying this notion was an odd, prevalent sort of negativity. It was easy to notice in the forums. Forums on any topic in any fandom are redolent with the stench of lunacy and the culture of “used to be better.” According to the Springsteen forums, The Boss hasn’t done anything of worth since 1978. According to Apple forums, the iPod was the worst thing Steve Jobs ever did. And according to Disney forums, letting cast members wear beards is “just like putting a roller coaster on Main Street USA,” and letting guests wear fancy clothes proves that “Disney is nuts,” and putting a Starbucks in the parks is a sign that, “the real fans have lost. This is no longer our park, or Walt’s. The best we can hope for is that when we die, Uncle Walt will be in heaven, and take us on personal tours of that once glorious place.” That’s a fucking actual quote. I am not kidding you.

But then the negativity spread, and the actual reports – the ones that purport to be just relaying the news – started to seem angrier. More resentful of everything Disney was doing. Weasel words began to crop up. “Disney is working on this ride” became “Disney still isn’t finished working on this ride.” “Disney is expanding its fancy private club” became “Disney is destroying part of the park and taking more space away from regular guests.” The Twitter accounts from the writers I followed got even worse. Nasty. For every “I like this” tweet, there were fifty, “everything is terrible” tweets. It became this constant cycle of anger, of rage, of “Disney is for real screwing up my life.”

When you’re an optimist, and a positive thinker, and … no. Better. When you’re an actual critic (which I am, paid and everything), reading nothing but terrible reviews about things that are, on the whole, not terrible … well, it rankles. One of the first things you learn as a critic is that it’s more fun to write bad reviews. It is. You get to break out the thesaurus and go on rants and people eat that up. People love that. It’s harder to write good reviews. It’s more work. Convincing people that things are great is far, far more difficult than convincing them that things are awful. What I found was a lot of lazy reporting. A lot of empty rage. A lot of bizarre contradictions that I couldn’t even fathom (Disney fixing up a mall-like embarrassment into something more classic and impressive on one coast is the best thing ever, but on the other coast is the worst idea no one should care about).

Did I snap? Did I decide to lead a crusade against negativity? Did I say, “Someone has to take a stand?” No, none of that. It all started so small, so inconsequential. On my WestCotCenter Twitter handle, I just started copying choice quotes and pointing out why they were wrong, or ridiculous, or overly negative for negativity’s sake. I had followers by then – followers who had no idea I was Kevidently on my main account – and a lot of them thought my jabs were pretty funny. And I love attention. I love being liked. It’s addictive. And I thought it would be neat to have a persona completely separate from who I am, some place to go to be a little more snarky and a little more pointed in how I feel about the “foamers,” the people who were taking the concept of criticism and perverting it into something uglier.

I never really asked why I was doing it. Not really. Did Disney need me to defend them? Nope, no more than Stephen King or Bruce Springsteen does. As it went on, a part of me tried to justify it as standing for the fans who would read the negativity (and sometimes outright lies, like the one about how Walt Disney World doesn’t do real maintenance and everything is falling apart), but that wasn’t really it, either. I came up with reasons later – with some awesomely disastrous results – but I think at first, I was fed up with the bullshit and having some fun at bullshit’s expense. Pure motivation? Maybe not. But it sure was fun.

* * *

We got drunk that night at Trader Sam’s, the enchanted tiki bar. I got a kungaloosh, the drink of the now-defunct Adventurer’s Club – the steampunky club that used to exist in Downtown Disney. We’d ridden a lot of rides and done a lot of stuff, and Joe and I were feeling jetlagged but happy. The night had closed in, and as Paul pointed out, nights in Disneyland tend to be cool and humidity-free, unlike nights in Florida. We were discussing our first ride on Haunted Mansion, which Joe had judges as being better in Walt Disney World.

Oh!” I shouted, after draining the last of my kungaloosh. “Points to Disneyland. Because they get all the points!”

That was day one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA: Part One, "Here We Joe!"

I have this dream. I’m on my bicycle, my fine Schwinn, and I’m cycling up the street. Shopfronts whiz by in a blur. Light music plays from somewhere, and I almost grasp the melody. I’m not wearing a helmet, but that’s okay. It feels safe here. I feel safe here. Only gradually, as I pedal faster, do I realize I’m cycling up Main Street, USA. This is Disneyland. None of my thoughts coalesce: everything I’m feeling is deep but vague. Comfort. Happiness. Peace. I think at some point I know it’s a dream, but I don’t care. I’m pedaling up Main Street and it’s pure joy.

I have this dream every night I’m in Disneyland, and for the next two days following. It’s the first dream in the last five years I remember that’s not a nightmare.

* * *

Let’s get down to realness. Late last year, I fell into a second job that paid me … just stupid money. Like, questionably generous money. I was functioning as a temp, but the way the manager set it up, I was getting paid directly by the company, and not going through a temp agency. The money poured in. And look, I’m not saying I was rich, but for the first time in my adult life, Christmas was easy and fun to shop for. All of my friends got stuff. I went out to eat without worry. If I wanted to go to a movie, I just could. It wasn’t rich-guy money, but it, combined with my regular day job and my job as a columnist, kept me in an elevated state for months. And in that elevated state, I spread some money around. Some went to bills. Some went to clothes. And a bunch went to Disney. Look, I knew the money was going to end. It was right there in my job description: temp(orary). So I went ahead and did everything I could to secure my Disney year in advance. And one of the things I decided to do was take my buddy Joe to Disneyland.

Let’s catch you guys up if you’re unfamiliar: Joe is a buddy I met at a bear run way back when. We

all went out to eat at Mr. Sushi and then Chuck Norris was there. Yes, that Chuck Norris. We all got a picture with him, which is kind of awesome because we’re all big burly bears and Chuck Norris is a tiny little guy. True facts! Long story short: while Chuck Norris and I never hung out again (his days are filled with sushi and spin-kicks, leaving little time for bro-ing out), Joe and I remained friends. Then I discovered Disney and Joe was all, “Hey, I’ve been going to Disney World my entire life, want to know some shit?”

Indeed, I wanted to know some shit. Joe was like a walking atlas of Disney World. He showed me videos of defunct rides (Horizons! Yes! You knew I was going to bring up Horizons! SHUT UP I LOVE HORIZONS!) and he introduced me to The Crystal Palace and this one time we went to the record shop on property and bought the Springsteen album Magic on opening day because the synergy is real. We don’t go to the parks together every time we go to the parks, but it’s often. Fourteen times often.

And here’s where we lean that oh my dear God, Kevbot always needs a narrative.

That’s right, meta-commentary in the third person! Joe’s and my next trip was to be our fifteenth together. Well, that’s cause for a celebration, isn’t it? Of course it is, because symbols and milestones and narratives are the only way to live in the real world! Only way! I might have a problem!

One of my life credos was that if I ever had stupid money, I would spread it around. I had done that at Christmas, and now it was time to carry that through before the money ended (which it did, far more abruptly than I’d anticipated, by the way. One day it was like, oh, Kev, b-t-dubs, we just realized that you working here for as long as you have at your rate is within sniffing distance of illegal, so leave now, okay?) So I did what any sane and normal friend would do. I took Joe to Disneyland.

Now, back the truck up. Have I mentioned that Joe’s never been to Disneyland? That’s right. Been going to Disney World in Florida since he was a zygote, and had never had a chance to visit the mother country. (Yes, mother country. Look, I’m a stunted manchild talking about my dream of riding my bike through Disneyland, let me have my florid prose.) In my process of discovering Disney World, Joe was there every step, pointing me toward books and podcasts, websites and references. For me, Joe was a walking history of Walt Disney World, and I can earnestly say that without him, I would not have become the fan I am so quickly or so thoroughly. Without Joe, I might not have been able to see the depth behind the rides and the cartoons, might never have delved into the history of it, might never have considered Walt Disney one of the three most important creative mentors of my life (Stephen King and Bruce Springsteen, for the curious). I wanted to figure out how to transfer my love of Disney into something richer, something deeper. All that stuff was there, waiting to be unlocked; Joe had the key. I owed him.

* * *

Now, I won’t presume to tell Joe’s story here. I’m pretty sure he has his own stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to reading them. What made me want to pick up the pen for this short series was the change that happened in me when I was in Disneyland, how my perception altered, and what I took away. Occasionally, you need to take yourself out of your routine and put yourself in a whole different place to learn some stuff about yourself. I know that it doesn’t seem like Disneyland is the place for a man – a grown man – to realize some weird truths about himself, but that’s where it is, and I’m going to lay it all out.

I’m not always who I really am when I’m online, is the long and short of it. Maybe no one is, and there’s no rule saying you always have to bring your whole box of self-awareness and actualization to the anonymous masses, but my problem was getting into a whole other box.

It started simply enough. My friends on Twitter were sick of me talking about Disney all the time, so I created a new Disney-specific Twitter account, and named it WestCotCenter, after an unbuilt park that was supposed to face Disneyland. (We got California Adventure instead, which sucked for a decade and then got super awesome.) I delved into the world of Disney fandom, and that’s … just never a smart idea. Fan communities always sound awesome, and it’s fun to join because feeling connected to things you love and the people who also love those things is such a pure impulse. What ends up happening, though, is that you start seeing the cracks. You find the people who seem angry at whatever the company/artist/musician/writer does, because it doesn’t fit their paradigm of what they should be doing. You come across those who feel personally betrayed by all the things they feel they’ve earned for being so loyal for so long. None of this was new to me: familiarity breeds contempt more often than not, and when you give a platform to the little tin gods who think they’re the torchbearers for what such-and-such used to mean … well, that’s a world of hurt.

What follows is the story of how I got in it, and how, just a few days ago, I realized it was terrible for me, and how I’m trying to drag myself out. It’s some real shit about my brain, and addiction, and my desperate need to be liked.

But it’s also about me having a goddamn blast with my friends at the Happiest Place On Earth, because you shouldn’t have to slog through my dark brain shit without me talking about how awesome seeing the Enchanted Tiki Room at night with Joe is. Because how you gonna be mad on vacation?

Stay tuned. It’s a journey.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Come On In and Cover Me

I've been listening to Springsteen nonstop this week, in part because Born in the USA just turned 30 and I've been having fun rediscovering it. I remember my friend David Chubbuck bringing the cassette over to my house and playing it, and me unfolding the lyrics sheet and trying to grasp it. Later, I saw the video for "Glory Days" over my friend Jason's house and I - at eight years old - asked why everyone looked so happy. It was obviously a sad song. Didn't anyone see that?

When the Springsteen fever bit me for real at 18, it wasn't the first one I went to. I'd just moved into a super depressing rooming house; for the first time I was alone in the world, and I was trying to find music that could help define my experience and help me understand who I was and why. I got Nebraska based on my friend David Polselli's recommendation and fell in love with it. Stark, bleak, depressing love. That was an album I took with me on rainy nights, wandering around suburban Quincy and trying to make sense of things. After that, it was Tunnel of Love - which I felt spoke more directly to my experience: my own reticence to be in love and my complicated relationship with my then-boyfriend. After that, I stole my Mom's cassettes of Human Touch and Lucky Town, and had reactions to them. I liked Human Touch, hated Lucky Town. Those opinions have since reversed and mellowed.

It was only then I discovered I actually had the record of Born in the USA. Remember back then, classic rock radio was still playing a lot of those hits, and I thought I'd be sick of them then. But the best thing about LPs was that it was hard to skip around, so I listened to the whole thing, side A and side B ... and I realized I'd never really listened to it all. I absorbed it all in context for the first time, and removed from the Brucemania of 1984, the music was allowed to stand by itself. That old revelation, that happy-sounding songs could be sad, recurred, and "Dancing in the Dark" became sort of a mantra to me. It's all about futility and desperation but everyone saw it as being about dancing with Courtney Cox in a pixie cut. "I'm On Fire" was both grim and erotic, a melange of feelings I'd experienced but was never able to contextualize. There's such simmering menace in that song, and it was a thing I understood. The meaning of these songs keep changing and mutating for me as I grow older (and become more ready to grow young again). I remember singing "Bobby Jean" at karaoke as my friend Josh was was preparing to leave for California; that final "good luck, goodbye" is tragic when it's sung.

It's fun for hardcore Springsteen fans to dismiss Born in the USA, with its 80s synths and sudden mass audience and the easy-to-grasp distillation of themes Springsteen had cultivated for over a decade. (In a way, Springsteen would do that again with the later Magic ... but that's another story.) They hate that "Cover Me" was written with Donna Summer in mind. They hate that people who hadn't even heard of Springsteen before this album flocked to it, and the conception that it happened because Springsteen sold out. But none of that matters, not really. What matters in the end is the music, and how it hits you. How it helped me realize, in its way, who I was when I was hearing it, and how it continues to inform me about the world at large, and the one inside me.