A new study has concluded that wearing makeup makes women more likable. Does this match your own observations? Why might cosmetics affect how a person is perceived?
Want more respect, trust and affection from your co-workers?
Wearing makeup — but not gobs of Gaga-conspicuous makeup — apparently can help. It increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness, according to a new study, which also confirmed what is obvious: that cosmetics boost a woman’s attractiveness.
It has long been known that symmetrical faces are considered more comely, and that people assume that handsome folks are intelligent and good. There is also some evidence that women feel more confident when wearing makeup, a kind of placebo effect, said Nancy Etcoff, the study’s lead author and an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard University (yes, scholars there study eyeshadow as well as stem cells). But no research, till now, has given makeup credit for people inferring that a woman was capable, reliable and amiable.
The study was paid for by Procter & Gamble, which sells CoverGirl and Dolce & Gabbana makeup, but researchers like Professor Etcoff and others from Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute were responsible for its design and execution.
… Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said the conclusion that makeup makes women look more likable — or more socially cooperative — made sense to him because “we conflate looks and a willingness to take care of yourself with a willingness to take care of people.”
Professor Hamermesh, the author of “Beauty Pays” (Princeton University Press, 2011), which lays out the leg-up the beautiful get, said he wished that good-looking people were not treated differently, but said he was a realist.
“Like any other thing that society rewards, people will take advantage of it,” he said of makeup’s benefits. “I’m an economist, so I say, why not? But I wish society didn’t reward this. I think we’d be a fairer world if beauty were not rewarded, but it is.”
Students: Give us your take on the power of makeup and the societal “rewards” of beauty. Have you seen attractive people gain certain advantages? If so, why do you think it happens? What about the theory that it’s the confidence of the attractive people, not their looks alone, that draws people to them? What do you think the makeup study’s findings say about our culture? Does anything need to change? Why or why not?
When Trevor and I became tight — as neighbors, in our early 20s — I was smoking a bit myself, almost competing with him. But when I hit 30, I backed up off it, as the song says. I never stopped liking the stuff or feeling that it benefited me, for that matter, but the habit was starting to make me dumb, and I was just humble enough by 30, I guess, to realize I hadn’t been born with enough cerebral ammunition to go voluntarily squandering any of it. Meanwhile Trevor stayed committed. And when we get together, a couple of times a year, I won’t lie, I fall prey to old patterns. Every so often it causes worry in my wife, especially since our daughter came along. Mostly I think she sees it as a useful pressure valve, which keeps me straighter and narrower the rest of the year. (Study, subvert: happiness = winner.)
That night in our suite at the Disney hotel — not a theme hotel, just your standard luxury resort-dorm — the kids ran psychotically repetitive figure eights. A small child on Disneying Eve is a thoroughbred before the gates open. I watched my wife and Shell sit talking and laughing at the illuminated laminate kitchenette counter. Shell, who runs a center, still looks exactly as she did when we met her, a hippie soccer mom, with pretty German features and long dirty-blond hair, whose face will break from affectlessness into sudden disarming smiles. She had a deep history with Disney, something I hadn’t known. She described being brought there as a child, with her sisters, and the way their father, a career military man, rushed them through the park, insisting they go on every ride, maximizing their fun-dollar. At noon they went back to the parking lot, into the van. There they ate prepacked lunches. Then they all napped. “All five of you?” All five, mother, father and three girls, in an Econoline. Forty-five minutes of silence. Then back to the park. “You did this every year?” They did it twice a year, in spring and fall, knocking down the attractions like obstacles on a high-speed course, never repeating. The detail of the van naps drew me in. I imagined being a child and lying awake when others were sleeping, the strangeness of that silence.
Later, when the children were huddled lumps in various spots on the sofa bed, Trevor and I stood on the balcony. He talked about how challenging it would be the next day, and during the next days and nights, in the park, not being able to smoke. That wasn’t high on my list of concerns — in fact, I was foolish enough to think that the fact of Disney, that we would be spending our time in the heavily surveilled park, might banish the very notion of smoking weed, easing Trevor’s miniwithdrawals and making my life easier, too, in that I wouldn’t spend too much time stoned, only a few puffs at night like this, it would be a nonissue in terms of domestic harmony. Trevor wasn’t trying to hear that at all. He was definitely stressed. “I’m gonna lose my mind in there,” he said. “Have you ever been in there?”
I had once, when I was 11. I didn’t remember much. It bounced off.
“Well, we go every year,” Trevor said. “And every year I feel like my skull’s about to split open.”
“I always figured you were doing brownies,” I said.
“I do do brownies,” he said. “I have brownies. But, you know. . . .”
I did. Edibles are good, and wise heads move toward them over time, to save their lungs, but there’s something about the combination of oxygen-deprivation and intense THC-flush that comes with smoking and in particular from smoking joints. There’s no real substitute, for the abuser. A brownie can alter your mood over hours, but a joint swings a psychic broom around you — it clears an instant space.
“I actually saw this thing on the Internet,” Trevor said, “where people were talking about getting high in the park.”
“At Disney World!” I said, as if I hadn’t been listening.
He led me back inside and quietly cracked open his laptop on the kitchen counter. “Check this out,” he whispered. Only the two of us were awake.
I dropped into one of the swivel stools in front of the bright screen. I was reading before I knew what I was reading, but it was like a chat room. Or a forum. “Forum” is the better term. A motif of cannabis leaves and naked women holding glittery buds ran down the left margin: a pothead forum. Trevor scrolled it down to a posting, the subject of which read, “Re: Hello from Disney World.”
An anonymous person, evidently the veteran of a staggering number of weed-smoking experiences in the park, had done a solid for the community and laid out his or her knowledge in a systematic way. It was nothing less than a fiend’s guide to Disney World. It pinpointed the safest places for burning the proverbial rope, telling what in particular to watch for at each spot. Isolated footpaths that didn’t see much traffic, conventional smoking areas with good hedge cover, places where you could hide under a bridge by a little artificial river — those were its points of interest. The number of views suggested that the list had helped a lot of desperate people.
The main point was clear and consistent: “Be ready to book it.”
Next morning I seized the long plastic rods and parted the curtains: rain! Oh, well. We would have to stay in and read.
M. J. laughed at me. “Good luck telling that to Shell,” she said. During the previous night’s pre-Disney planning, it had come out that our friend inherited more of her father’s attitude toward the park than we had imagined. She was ready to rock, packing up gear and squinting at me as predicted when I mentioned the weather, making an “are you serious?” face.
“Did you bring ponchos?” she asked.
When I replied that we didn’t own any ponchos — we had an umbrella — she said, “We can buy some extras on the way.”
Trevor winked from the door of their bedroom, where he was dressing Lil’ Dog. All will be well, bro. He made the rolling sign, pinching his fingers together.
Both families fit into the camper, and so we just took that. But by the time we lurched into our appointed spot in one of the moonscape Disney World lots, gestured toward it by a series of old men, all showing the same drunk-on-power stone-facedness, it was raining too hard to get out of the vehicle. Even Shell would have to wait. She looked fidgety, sitting in her damp poncho and staring less through than at the steam-blind windows, while the Backyardigans played.
I was thinking about my late father. I don’t know why. He would never have brought us here. Could never. My father could not have Disneyed. It requires something, not willpower, exactly, but willingness. You can’t smoke cigarettes in those long lines. That would have driven him mad. The strain of pretending to have fun for many hours would have exasperated him; his would then have soured the day. In the end he would try to redeem it all with gross jokes, and we kids would laugh, not able to help it. My mother would rightfully resent the cheap-bought victory, leading to tension at dinner, followed by TV.
Which isn’t to say that we never had fun, or even that we never had fun in Florida, it was just that you had to do it my father’s way. Not Disney World, not even SeaWorld — Ocean World, in , that was his style. A now-defunct marine park where you could pet and feed the dolphins yourself, as long as you were O.K. with the skin condition half of them had developed from overchlorinated water. Ocean World had monkeys and gators, too (the ocean is wide). My father, who wrote about baseball, was down there covering spring training, I don’t even remember which team. We met up with him for a week, stayed in a motel, where we may have been the only people not paying by the hour or month. He somehow managed to rent a car that you hadn’t been able to buy in 10 years, a gigantic late-1970s white Ford LTD. We looked like complete trash on that trip, I realize now, and I had such an excellent time. Dad had his Pabst and pork rinds and menthols, what could go wrong? I was thinking about how his eccentricity, for all its problems, not least of which was that it had killed him, also had opened a space in my childhood that was one of the few places where I could relax. Maybe Mimi would have similar luck with me. It seems like a lot of what you end up doing as a parent is trying to figure out ways to save your children from you.
The rain let up as abruptly as if someone had snapped shut a dome overhead. We climbed out onto the wet pavement, under a changeable sky that, not 10 minutes after the rain, let through intense heat. Others around us similarly unstrapped themselves and stretched. We were an army of insects uncoiling. We started assembling the gear. Shell had brought a double-stroller. At any given time, two kids would be riding, with the third walking or on somebody’s shoulders.
No sooner had we pressed our fingers onto the biometric scan-pads (because if you can’t trust Disney with your biological data . . .), than old Trevor began to show signs. He hadn’t been able to smoke that morning (quarters too cramped); he was craving. Not that he acted jumpy or cranky. I could just tell from the body language and sentence length that it was on his mind. Nothing like an enclosed space — and Disney World, for all its , manages never to let you forget for a second that you’re in a very tightly enclosed space — to make a head start scanning for exits.
Lil’ Dog and the ladies were sailing by up above on the Dumbo ride, in three successive elephants. Mimi had a tentatively happy face. It said, “I’m ready to think of this as fun, as long as it doesn’t go any faster or higher.” Trevor and I leaned on the railing like bettors at a track, smiling and waving every time they went past, as if we were dolls with arms hooked to wires. Trevor had his phone out, with the Internet dialed up to “the guide.” He consulted it when they were on the dark side of their orbit. Checking it against a map of the park, we determined that one of the spots mentioned wasn’t too far away, a little-used maintenance pathway with trees alongside it and some Dumpsters. Given a properly positioned lookout, you could have a puff in relative calm. We slipped away.
Now we were truly at Disney World. A person didn’t come here every day! What is the scene here? Hello, primary colors; hello, quickly fading microdramas of passing human faces, incessantly deciding whether to make eye contact; hello, repeating stalls and gift shops. We were walking on the balls of our feet. The surface of things had become porous and permitted of the potential for enjoyment. Where were our womenfolk and Lil’ Dog? Let’s find them. Let’s be good fathers. Tomorrow was Father’s Day. Oh, my God, I didn’t even remember that!
“We don’t need to remember that,” Trevor said. “We are that.”
“We are Father’s Day?”
As if to put an exclamation point on his observation, I stopped and bought, for some obscene amount of money, two blue plastic sprayer fans. You’ve seen these? It’s a spray bottle, like you would use to spray water on your plants, but it had a little fan attached to the nozzle. The idea is you fan yourself and spray yourself at the same time. Trevor and I went ahead and started using them, while we searched for our people. The fan did nothing; the fan and spraying did have a cooling effect, but it was cruelly brief, like the relief of ice on a toothache. It was so hot by this time — about noon — that the heat from the pavement seemed to be microwaving our cells. To really get any help from the fan, you had to just walk along constantly misting and spritzing yourself, which seemed like something only a crazy or famous person would do. We finally just slung the sprayer-fans over our shoulders by their carrying straps and walked on.
Next memory: riding on the mechanical boat through the It’s a Small World attraction, continually spraying Mimi, who looked as if she had been boiled in a tank, her cheeks were so red and her little forehead was glowing. The whole time I was spraying, she was waving at the dolls, acknowledging every single doll’s wave with her own; showing an -like desire not to miss anyone. It seemed that she misunderstood the nature of the dynamic, believed we ourselves were part of some parade, being observed by the dolls. A more natural idea, I suppose. Why would you go floating by in a boat to look at children standing along the of a river; they would be looking at you. Because you are a princess. Flora was angry because Lil’ Dog hogged their family’s sprayer, and was just sitting there spray-fanning himself, right in the face, and by the end of the ride, he had squirted all the water away. “Son,” Trevor said.
Next memory: suddenly being able to hear, for the first time, the Irishness of Disney’s name, hearing it spoken aloud in my head with the thick accent of his own great-grandfather, Arundel Disney, with a sharp uptake on the last syllable. And being able to understand the essentially tragic nature of his charlatanism a little better.
It was a double hallucination: you were hallucinating inside of Walter Disney’s hallucination. That’s what he wanted.
That night in bed, my wife, who’s an academic — she’s interested in the transnational flow of entertainment capital and things like that — read to me from a book she brought along, “Married to the Mouse,” by the political scientist Richard E. Foglesong. It’s about Disney and Florida, which turns out to be a much more engaging story than I knew or than you might expect.
In order to understand what happened here, you have to know of Walt Disney’s disappointment over Disneyland, not with the park itself but with the built environment right around the park, which boomed, to accommodate the tourist trade, and sprouted seedy hotels, garish advertisements, vistas of the wrong sorts of people. Disney was heartsick over it — he, who was so visually meticulous that he used to lurk in the various animal centers and zoological gardens of shooting footage of little creatures, trying to ensure his animators got the musculature and locomotion right. How was he supposed to fashion a flawless dream environment, with urban blight as the backdrop? How could he open, in the words of , “an escape from our aspirin existence into a land of sparkles and lights and rainbows”? For that, he needed control over the entire context of the park. Not a land, in other words, but a world. Virgin: that was the word he used in a 1967 promotional film, made right before he died. Walt Disney died dreaming about Disney World; it’s said that while lying on his back, in his hospital room, he turned the tiles on the ceiling into a map of his precious “Florida project.”
The way Walt went about getting his way was crafty and made for good listening. He wanted to buy more than 40 square miles of contiguous private property in central Florida. It wasn’t virgin, by a long shot — Central Florida, after all, is where America’s sins begin — but it was depopulated. Yet Disney knew that if word were to leak about Walter Disney buying real estate, local prices would soar, the overall cost become unmanageable. So he created shell companies, with improvised names, and through them acquired the acres in jigsaw parcels. The landowners didn’t realize just one person was buying everyone’s property until a local journalist figured it out, and Disney was forced to hold a press conference. You heard right, folks! It was me.
From one point of view, the state had deliberately deceived its citizens in order to help a corporation seize a massive chunk of its territory; from another, they were safeguarding a deal that would do more for Florida’s economy than anything since oranges. People still argue over how smart a deal it was. Disney World has made a lot of money, but it’s not clear whether Florida has received a fair share. A lot of this has to do with unique and highly irregular arrangements Disney was able to arrange (or demand, to use the term Walt’s brother Roy accidentally let slip at that first press conference). These have only increased over the years. Today there’s even a sort of “Disney visa,” negotiated between the corporation and the U.S. government, in order to make it possible for Disney to fill its foreign-accent needs at Epcot.
Where it got interesting was that, in order to gain these extraordinary powers, Disney had to deceive the government of Florida at the same time the two were colluding in all sorts of other ways. It gets very complex and legalistic but comes down to this: Disney pitched Disney World to Florida not as a resort but as a real city. You’ve heard of Epcot (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). If you’re a Disney freak, you may know that it was originally supposed to possess more of a utopian-futuristic vibe, not be just primarily an around-the-world-in-a-day-type tour, as it became. Fewer people are aware, however, that Epcot was supposed to be a working utopia, a “living blueprint,” as Disney vividly calls it in that film, during which he stands before wall-size diagrams of geometric urban plans, pictures that could have come from the 21st century or the French . Twenty thousand people would live there, in this bubble-domed community, “completely enclosed . . . climate controlled . . . shoppers and theatergoers . . . protected day and night from rain, heat and cold, and humidity . . . the pedestrian will be king . . . only electric-powered vehicles will travel above the streets.” Disney would solicit the major industrial giants to design and test bold new technologies for Epcot, “finding solutions to the problems of our cities.”
The reality, as Foglesong shows, is that Disney never really meant for people to live permanently at Epcot. In the Disney archives, Foglesong turned up a memo, the Helliwell memo, drafted by one of Disney’s lawyers and annotated in the margins by Walt himself, and it makes this point quite plain. Disney crossed out every mention of “permanent residents.” The denizens of Epcot would be passing through, longer-term tourists, staying for a few months at the longest. How could Disney have it otherwise? If your town has residents, then those people are citizens of some local government of the — yours. They can vote. They can vote against you. That hardly made sense as part of a corporate development strategy. But without municipality status, Disney wouldn’t be able to secure the legislative fief it ended up getting, with ludicrous tax advantages, unprecedented oversight of land and water usage, of building codes, etc. For that you needed inhabitants. So Disney fibbed and said he wanted them. Foglesong’s point is that these maneuvers leave Disney World in an ambiguous category of legitimacy. It receives the breaks that an autonomous political settlement would have enjoyed (and then some), but it never has had any settlers. Strictly speaking Disney World shouldn’t exist.
When you know all this, the promotional film becomes unsettling to watch. I prefer to keep my Disney-as-enemy-of-democracy thoughts at a comfortable left-theoretical distance. Disney was selling not utopia but a perversion of classic utopian aims. There would be no private property, sure, no ownership (again, if people owned land, they would have to be given the vote), but instead of substituting the commons for individual plots, as social planners had struggled to do for centuries, the Epcotians would be made renters. Tenants (just as the residents of Celebration, Fla., Disney’s planned community, are today). The tall, architecturally innovative office buildings downtown? Those would be “designed especially to suit the local and regional needs of major corporations.” And all on the soil where the very first North American utopias, the forgotten Franciscan missions of Florida, had been destroyed, when the South Carolina colonists burned them at the start of the 18th century, murdering their priests and enslaving their Native American populations. The Disney developers had to clear orange groves left over from those missions. Such is the virginity of the New World.
Mimi had a black eye the next morning, a real shiner. It was incurred the night before in a swimming-pool accident. Flora tried to throw her a plastic boat. It sort of caught an air current and scudded like a glider for a second. Hit Mimi straight in the face, prow first. There were tears from both girls, a little blood from mine. Lil’ Dog looked confused, mounted mermanlike on his inflatable alligator. We adults went through that ritual of overreassuring one another that everything was O.K., no hard feelings, not deliberate. Still, it looked awful — definite maybe on the crucial permanent- question.
I was downhearted the next morning to find that Mimi’s injury hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm for Disney. Just as 24 hours before I placed hope in the foul weather, so I reinvested it in the prospect of staying in and holding an ice bag to her face. We would read. I could read her my big-people book aloud, no problem. But now M. J. was waking me up and telling me to get dressed and ready.
I wandered out into the little TV room. Shell was there packing and had on her battle face. I must have had a look on mine something like Lil’ Dog’s from the night before. “We’re going back?” Why? We were there yesterday! And I hadn’t exactly come away from that with a sense of failing to take full advantage of the park’s opportunities.
Trevor and I had wound up pulling our lookout act twice more. “Just remember,” he kept saying under his breath, “be ready to book it.” As if you could ever successfully run away at Disney World, with the cameras everywhere and the underground tunnels and the private police force. Run to where?
The tunnels aren’t really “underground.” I heard this explained in a documentary about Disney World. The tunnels represent ground level. Everything else is built on top. Disney World is a giant mound, one of the greatest ever constructed in . When you’re walking around in the park, you’re about 15 feet above where construction began.
An importance of these tunnels for Disney was that he could keep the costumed characters invisible, when they weren’t “on.” He didn’t ever want the children to see Pluto, for instance, slouching back from his shift to a break room. So at Disney World, the characters pop up where they’re needed, then disappear.
It’s the same with the park, on a grand scale — as you’re moving between the separate parks-within-a-park (Magic Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, Epcot, etc.), you’re passing through huge waste spaces in between, but they are Disney’s waste spaces, manicured emptiness. These voids were in some ways more important to Disney than any attraction in the park. The screen had to be white.
Once again a day of equatorial heat that all but exerted a physical weight. The shoulder skin of the tank-top-wearing men around us roiled ultravioletly, in a precancerous way. It took a lot of psychic reserve to steel your soul for these long days of amusement. We weren’t even out of the parking lot before the three kids were squabbling over who got to ride in the double stroller. In the end, the girls won. Mimi and Flora sat side by side, twin maiden prow of our straggly land vessel, their faces proudly forward, mist-spritzing themselves as they rode. Mimi with her purple eye. I somehow ended up carrying Lil’ Dog. That was a lot of steps for his tiny legs across the desert of heat-mirage. There is something unnatural or I should say unearthly about Lil’ Dog’s weight, or his density. It was like carrying a meteorite. To carry both girls would have been easier.
No sooner did we enter Epcot than Trevor started checking his phone, and while I won’t bore you with more detail about that business, there being no tediousness quite like doper tediousness, suffice it to say that the rest of the day was spent on pendulum bouts of ecstatic, hyper-attentive parenting followed by separation from family to indulge addiction and vice.
Ready as one may be to don the hair shirt, it was hard not to feel that this was the perfect way to do the park. I wasn’t as prone to feel surly toward the late-empire brittleness of it all. I stopped trying to remember which companies Disney owns or co-owns: , Marvel and was it ABC or ? What gigantic swaths of our visual environment is this corporation shaping every bit as meticulously as it did those parks?
I took Mimi on a little roller coaster ride (with maternal urging; I hadn’t gone rogue — she wanted to go). But pobrecita, it turned out she wasn’t ready for it. The ride was small but still moved pretty fast. As soon as we started up, she put her head down. She never screamed, “Make it stop!” or anything. She just grabbed onto the hold-bar in front of her, put her head down so that her face was almost in her lap, and as we zoomed around the turns, kept repeating “oh, my goodness” like a charm. Two minutes later, it was over. She pronounced it, “A lot scary, but a little bit fun.” The child has such nobility of soul! She reminds me of my mother, both in the nobility and in the occasional comedy of its display; for example, once in St. Augustine, Fla., when we were all eating pizza in a place downtown, and there was a stabbing outside. My mother grabbed Mimi and held her like they were about to run through a fire. “I’m getting you out of here, little girl,” she said. I have always thought that if the secret police ever come asking for me — as they may come from Disney, after the publication of this article — I would much rather have the women in my life answer the door than any of the men I know.
We were watching the people. That’s what you do at Disney World, mostly. Above and beyond all else, it’s a place where people look at other people (the lines and the endless walking and the crowded feed stations) to reaffirm the fact that we are there together, that the value of the place is such, it has been worth traveling to from all over the world. I couldn’t tell what we made of one another, in the looking. When Disney World was built, it embodied a shared idea of America as pure capitalist fantasy. It’s no longer communicating that idea; the idea is no longer intelligible. I don’t know what it’s communicating. The old virtues are gone, the new ones unidentifiable.
And yet no matter where you travel in the world, you run into a startling number of people for whom is America. If you could draw one of those New Yorker cartoon maps in your head, of the way the world sees North America, the turrets of the Magic Kingdom would be a full order of scale bigger than anything else, than the for instance. Just this year it was announced that Orlando had become the first U.S. tourist destination to attract 50 million visitors in one year. The environmental impact of this human traffic must be phenomenal. I’ve met English people, Germans, Latin American people. Have you ever been to the United States? you ask them. “I’ve been to Orlando,” they say.
When I taught for a year at a school in , , there was no greater hero among the students than the kid who had just returned from Orlando. They didn’t want to hear about California or New York. I had one student, called Lucho. He came back from his trip with a thick stack of photos, in one of those paper wallets. He wanted to pass them around. And kill 30 minutes of class? Ah, you twisted my arm, Lucho. Unfortunately the pictures were entirely of women’s bottoms. It wasn’t “nice” or shapely bottoms that Lucho had been after, but gigantically obese ones. They’ve never seen people who look like us, most places in the world. I confiscated the pictures and stood red-faced, flip-booking through them in front of the class. Shot after zoomed shot of enormous, complexly dimpled bottoms shrink-wrapped into the most outrageously tight and revealing spandex. Young Lucho had found enough of these to fire through an entire roll. It was hard to come down on a student who showed such thoroughness of observation. I thought about him every time I saw one of these Americans go pounding by.
There is deep yearning at Disney. What you feel when you’re in the state we were in and all of your emotional pores are wide open is yearning. There is something at stake here, for the families, in terms of that knife edge between joy and disappointment. So when you see people whose kids are definitely not having fun, but are standing in place and screaming, having to be dragged along by their leash-harnesses, there’s a throb of empathetic sadness. They are not having a good Disney.
I looked at Mimi. Was she having fun? I thought so — she was smiling. But I knew there were times in my own childhood when I must have seemed to my parents like I was having a blast, while being inwardly tormented by some irrational worry. Ah, youth! How many of my genes had she inherited, and could I teach her how to play them better? You want joy for your children, but you yourself have brought them into this world of suffering.
Lunch was served by princesses. Or rather our table was visited by princesses. I suppose, pseudo-historically speaking, our waitresses, in Scandinavian folk dress, were meant to be the servants or the vassals’ daughters of the princesses, village girls from olden times. I ordered meatballs and beer. Our whole section of the restaurant was paying attention to Lil’ Dog, because he had fallen asleep in a hilarious way, ramrod straight in his chair, with even his head straight but eyes closed and mouth open. It just looked bizarre, like he was in a permanent but “we bring him along anyway.” Even when we woke him, he couldn’t focus or eat his food.
Sleeping Beauty came out from backstage. The girls pulled out their Disney Princesses autograph books. That’s what their mothers bought them while we were off buying sprayer-fans that it later turned out were giving everyone facial sunburns.
Sleeping Beauty was down on one knee, signing her name in a huge stylized cursive that I imagined her practicing before an employee test. Mimi shook with something beyond excitement, into spasm.
“Say ‘thank you’ to the princess.”
Later I was by myself, I don’t recall precisely why, but the others had gone, and I was sitting on a bench. I had kind of checked out, I guess. At the other end of the bench was a large family, large in number and size. The girl, who looked about 14, was in a high-tech wheelchair and severely disabled. She started grunting: she was having a . When it ended, I sat there and listened to the family have an argument about whether they should go back to the hotel and deal with the medical situation or stay and fun on, since the seizure was over, might as well. In fairness, the girl herself wanted to stay. The park would be open for only another couple of hours. Maybe they had been dreaming of coming here for years.
That wasn’t even the last day. There were more. It was hard to believe, but this is what you do, you submit, otherwise you’re a jerk. Shell was relentless, and everybody else was on her side, including Trevor, who had used me, I now realized, as a rent-an-enabler. Forced to come here every year or so, he made it more tolerable for himself by bringing me in. No shame in that, but he might have warned me what it involved. There was a day we went to a place called Typhoon Lagoon, a water park that’s part of the Disney World complex. Huge slides dropped you almost into a free fall. A whole lot of fairly disgusting pale bodies, my own among them, pressed together on those stairs. All the females and Lil’ Dog sat at the bottom, to watch me and Trevor come down. I did have one thought on the way down, a pot thought but a true one maybe. There’s usually one thought, from any binge, that will seem true even afterward, and sometimes for the rest of your life, and it was this, that if there’s no free will, as I more and more doubt there to be, we don’t need to go crazy with guilt and worry about our children. We’re not responsible for them. For their upbringing, yes, but not for their existence. Destiny wants them here. It uses us to put them here.
The strangest thing that happened was the very last thing that happened. As we were leaving the park, on the evening of the last day, it began to rain a monsoonlike rain. You’ll have to believe me when I say it was exceptionally violent. The next morning I said to one of the bellboys at the hotel, “You guys probably get weather like that a lot, huh?” He said, “No, we don’t.” It was as if a black spaceship had swooped down and blocked out the sun. Sheets of wind were tearing through. Lightning continually exploded just above our heads. The tram-caravan kept having to stop, which made it only scarier, as if they had driven us out into the open in some sacrificial way, as target practice for an offended storm god. Also it was disturbing to see the clockwork perfection of the Disney machine threatened that way. It hinted at a larger underlying weakening of something. The tram we were riding in was open on the sides and covered above only by a plastic canopy. We were exposed and getting blasted. But we had the Disney ponchos. Shell had made us all buy them — at a gas station, so possibly they were knockoffs. But they worked, and by sitting close together with all of them spread, we could make a tent. It must have looked very weird. On the other hand I’m positive that every other person on the tram wished they were under it with us, and I’m pretty sure at one point we did have some other people’s kids. Underneath, in the dark, the children were loving it. Mimi and Flora screamed in terror every time the thunder boomed, but their terror was full of joy, and afterward there was laughter. And it was wonderful to be able to cover them. We had the solution for this, barring a direct strike.
Later, when asked, Lil’ Dog said that this had been his favorite ride.Continue reading the main story