See how that car is SLIDING along its own elliptical track AT THE SAME TIME as the ferris wheel continues its customary CIRCULAR MOTION? Important.
Location: Mickey’s “Fun” Wheel. Paradise Pier. Disney’s California Adventure. Anaheim, California. October 2013
Time: Late afternoon? I don’t know. The sun was lowering but it was still light out.
Dramatis Personae: Myself. My husband. Unnamed father (Major Dad). Unnamed younger brother (Lil’ Bro). Mark.
Mark’s face had acne scorched along the sides, right on the opposing planes where women apply blush. His eyes were beady. His mouth was sealed shut in a pale steam shovel. MARK WAS MAD. MARK WAS TERRIFIED AND MAD. He was 13, maybe 14, and seated across from me in the small metal car affixed to Mickey’s “Fun” Wheel. Scotty was to my right. The little guy whom I assumed was Mark’s younger brother was seated between Mark and the father. His eyes were wide but he was dealing. The car’s movement was somewhat sickening as it periodically SLID down it’s own rail and then SWUNG BACK AND FORTH while the main wheel continued to go round.
Dad looked like he had served in our nation’s military. He was sandy-haired, glasses; handsome but clueless when it came to interpreting his children. He was right below “golf” but high above “slicked-down hair at church” and “short-sleeved dress shirt. He probably knew how to catch and clean a fish. You know – a Dad.
Mark did not want to be on this ride. Mark’s headphones, which you knew he had worn defiantly and sullenly during his day here in Anaheim: Birthplace of Happiness, were almost vibrating off his neck due to shivering. Mark’s pasty hand with the long gawky fingers was melded around the door handle to the right of his head. If this car fell or flung us out, they were going to have to BLAST that handle out of Mark’s dead hand.
Looking from Major Dad to Mark, it was painfully clear that Major Dad didn’t know dick about how to deal with his son. To him, his son was an albino monosyllabic string bean who wasn’t going to “do drugs” or get the beatdown at school from the jocks on HIS watch. Let’s toughen him up! Forcing him to go on this ride will surely result in one of those Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints commercials that used to run in the 80s. Not “who broke my window?” but the one where the father and son have to run to catch the garbage truck and end up missing it but laughing together about their little slapstick adventure. Bonding!
Major Dad wasn’t The Great Santini. But you know as you get older and lose the ability to detect the subtle intents and emotions of others? Major Dad had that problem in regards to Mark. He thought that Mark would thank him for this in his valedictorian speech at Annapolis. What Dad didn’t realize was that Mark will remember this and eventually –
A) Grow up and move far, far away from him and maybe speak to him via text on holidays and possibly marry someone of color telling himself it has nothing to do with freaking his father out.
B) Bring that nowadays sadly common rifle to first period
C) Stab him in his sleep
This sounds snarky, but this knowledge was predicated on their conversation.
Major Dad: Mark, Mark, see it’s not so bad.
Major Dad: C’mon bud, it’s nothing. You’re fine.
Mark’s head slowly turned up from staring at the floor, and swiveled to fix his father with such a glare of hatred that my eyebrows crisped. I resisted throwing my hands up in front of my face.
Mark (through gritted teeth): NO.
And there was this one:
Lil Bro’ (concerned): I think Mark’s scared, Dad.
Mark: SHUT UP.
Dad: Nah, he’s fine. You’re fine. Right, Mark? Oh wait, here we go again. Hold on, Mark! WHEEEE!
Meanwhile my husband, who is able to float through any awkwardness on a cloud of semisolid cluelessness, noticed Little Bro was as nervous as his brother. Little Bro’s eyes were wide as we slid, dipped and SWUNG BACK AND FORTH once more. At a very great height. Little Bro seemed to be used to the fact that Dad’s concern was usually with Mark.
Scotty (chuckling): You look like I feel.
Little Bro nodded and smiled, seemingly happy that an adult agreed with him that this ride was fiendish.
Meanwhile, I’m sharing the opposite end of the car with ole’ Mark. Mark seems to have gotten paler. I want to reach out to him and say something fitting which will translate as “it’s ok that you’re scared, heights are the worst, and your Dad is kind of a dickus for making you go on this. You don’t need to toughen up; you just need to know it’s ok that you don’t fit in. It’s your Dad that needs to toughen up. Also, please don’t shoot up the school. Get into some bands, make some friends, and roll your eyes a lot.” That’s not me, though. I would try to fit that into something small and witty and it would come off completely unintelligible. Like I was as clueless as his Dad or hitting on him. That’s just me. In my head, I’m 16 and get it but in reality I’m almost 40 and entirely lame. Maybe I should get some cards printed up to pass out to sullen teens.
The ride seemed to take forever. We made small talk with Major Dad in-between bellowing at the slightly sickening motion of the car. We discussed Gravity and he informed us that the “World of Color” show later on that night was comparable to the fountain show at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Watching the show that evening, it was evident that he lacked a degree in Comparative Watershow.
Meanwhile, I prayed inwardly that Mark didn’t have a butterfly knife in his backpack. And Dad just kept egging him on!
Major Dad: How we doin’, Mark?
Major Dad: You wanna ride it again?
That’s when my husband leans over to whisper “he’s going to shoot up his school” in my ear, despite the person in question sitting maybe three feet across from us. Scott’s convinced that “people don’t listen”, and I’m convinced that someone in the future will reveal themselves to have perfect hearing and ugliness will ensue.
We pulled into port. Scotty and I disembarked quickly and quietly, our notes waiting to be compared. Mark moved to a corner, QUIVERING in rage and hatred, fists clenched, even his backpack seemed to clench, his cap’s brim pulled over his eyes and his sweaty skate company t-shirt soaked with fear and humiliation. He was pale and he hated, HATED his father right then.
Major Dad: Aw, c’mon, it wasn’t that bad. Calm down..
I didn’t catch Mark’s reply but it sounded like it was shrill and from a place of powerlessness. I felt for Mark. I felt for Major Dad, too. Talk about an impasse. How did we all grow up again? When did we become cynical monsters? I know how the assumption become “possible school shooter” when faced with a certain type of disenfranchised adolescent. It’s just sad.
I would like to think that they watched the “World of Color” show again that night. And even though Mark was off to the side glowering, his Dad at one point pulled him to his side (Disney is family magic) and Mark let him. And he might have even unstiffened his spine for a minute realizing his Dad loved him in his stupid way. Lil’ Bro ate too much fried dough and puked.