Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two Supposedly Fun Things I'll Never Do Again: Go to Disney and Read Infinite Jest

Worlds nearly collided in Orlando this week, or G:TB worlds, but unfortunately busy schedules and exhaustion intervened. Perhaps this was for the best, though, because now G:TB readers get two discrete posts on The G:TB Disney Experience.

Whose view will you choose: Dave's view? Or Rob's view? Which perspective will fit your character? (And by character, I mean your personality, not one of those idiots dressed in a Goofy costume). I will warn you that this may have more to do with you and your own failings, and less to do with the empirical truth about Disney.

Rob and I also nearly met up with G:TB sport's analyst extraordinaire Mark-- who is a native Floridian-- but his wife had to solve a crime. I think his perspective on the area might be more Dave than Rob, because he called Celebration (The Disney designed town and town center) "pre-planned and weird."

Diligent readers are probably aware that Rob beat me to the punch with his assessment of Disney, but here is his take in a nutshell, in case you missed it:

My family spent an absolutely fabulous five days in the Mouse's embrace last week, returning home from Disney last night exhausted but completely thrilled with the experience.

His nutshell assessment is embedded in a far more interesting post that you can read here.

My nutshell assessment of his nutshell assessment is that he is nuts. Our trips were nearly identical on the surface, and I will plagiarize Rob's words to illustrate . . .

Rob's Trip (in Rob's very own words): We visited all of the major Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios) in addition to Universal Islands of Adventure. We rode everything time permitted, my daughters reveling in the fastest coasters and most bone-rattling simulations.

Dave's Trip (lazily using many of Rob's words): We visited all of the major Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios) but didn't make it to Universal Islands of Adventure. We rode everything time permitted, my sons reveling in the fastest coasters and most bone-rattling simulations.

My wife and kids were completely thrilled with the experience. My parents, though exhausted, were thrilled that they could accompany their grand-kids to all the major Disney parks. My wife was NOT completely thrilled to spend a week with my parents (and neither was I) but that's another post. 

I was not completely thrilled with Disney. This may or may not be my own fault. There's no question that I pretended to be completely thrilled-- for the sake of my parents, wife, and children-- and there were even times when I was completely thrilled, but I was completely thrilled maybe 4 percent of the time and the other 96 percent of the time I was experiencing other emotions. And since I can't talk about these other emotions with anyone else-- as my wife will hear them as complaints and my kids won't give a shit and the people at work are jealous that I took three personal days-- I'm going to explain them here at G:TB, because at Gheorghe: The Blog, we love three things: Cocaine Bear,  emotions, and mustaches.

Before I begin my assessment, I want to make it known that know of what I speak. I went on all the rides. This is a big deal, as I stopped going on roller-coasters and spinny-things twenty years ago, after I had a terrible hung-over experience on The Enterprise at Great Adventure. The Enterprise, a whirling ring of terror, is long gone, but I found a picture of it. Enjoy.

Anyway, I sucked it up, chewed some gum, and rode the rides. The only time I thought I was going to lose my lunch was when the runaway train on Expedition Everest hightailed it away from the Yeti . . . backwards . . . but luckily it was nine in the morning and so I had no lunch to lose. I was also too angry to vomit because I rode the ride to see the animatronic yeti, but instead all I got to see was a yeti shadow . . . apparently the robot Bumble is broken, and so the folks at Disney thought it would suffice to project a large humanoid creature onto the cave wall. I will never forgive them (unless I am presented Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen head).

I enjoyed watching my six year old son Ian ride the rides more than I actually enjoyed riding the rides themselves. He never flinched, even as we were repeatedly dropped from the 13th story of The Tower of Terror, or confronted open-mouthed dinosaurs on the bone-rattling Dinosaur ride in The Animal Kingdom, or-- as I mentioned-- we plummeted backwards away from the cheesy yeti shadow. My wife never flinched either-- she's a roller-coaster fanatic. It's excellent to see your family members behave so bravely-- if we ever get caught on a runaway mine cart like in Temple of Doom, Catherine and Ian can steer. My older son Alex and I-- who are more rational-- will curl up and close our eyes, as we did on Space Mountain.

But still, I was not thrilled with the whole experience, and this is not necessarily a shortcoming of Disney. It is, to plagiarize more of Rob's post, because of some failings I must confront.

Failing Number 1: I am claustrophobic. Really fucking claustrophobic.

I tell this  to my students on the first day of school, so they don't crowd around me at the beginning or end of class, but I never really believed that I was actually claustrophobic . . . I just like to say it, as a classroom management technique to keep teenagers in their seats until the bell rings.

Now I know it's true. I panic in small spaces crowded with people (unless I am drunk and allowed to slam into said people to the beat of rock music such as Primus or Metallica or Fishbone). The scariest attractions for me at Disney? Turtle Talk with Crush and It's Tough to Be a Bug. I nearly lost my shit moments before both of these cute, wonderful, funny, interactive, and technologically masterful shows, as both "holding pens" are tight spaces with low ceilings and lots of children. Many Disney attractions have lines with enough visual interest to make me forget about my dislike of confined spaces (Expedition Everest, Tower of Terror) but there were spots where I want to start banging people's heads together (The Maelstrom in Norway).

An ideal vacation for me contains lots of time in wide open spaces, away from people, where I am free to do what I want, when I want. I know this is my problem, but is it so much to ask for? On vacation?

Failing Number 2: I am an elitist bastard (look at the title to this post . . . anyone who makes a David Foster Wallace allusion has got to be an asshole).

Disney-- especially Epcot-- has this faux-educational feel to it, but in the end you'd have to be really stupid to learn anything from what they have to offer. Did you know that poachers are bad? Or that technology has changed over the years? Or that parrots can talk? Or that we need energy? Or that humans grow plants? These are some of the things that you'll learn in the various Disney Parks.

Spoiler Alert!

In a moment I am going to spoil the "plot" of Epcot's film and animatronic presentation called "Universe of Energy: Ellen's Energy Adventure," because the conclusion of this theatrical journey through primeval dioramas makes no fucking sense. Ellen DeGeneres hosts a journey on how energy is produced and the search for new energy resources. She is joined by Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and eventually she must battle "Smart Judy," her old know-it-all college room mate, in a game of Jeopardy. "Smart Judy" is played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Alex Trebek is played by Alex Trebek.

It's a big budget production, so you'd think that the script would have gotten reviewed by someone smart, but obviously that wasn't the case. After glossing over various methods of generating energy, Alex Trebek gives this clue as the Final Jeopardy answer: This is the one source of power that will never run out. 

The attraction reviews fossil fuels, solar power, wind power, hydro-electric power, and nuclear power. The correct question, of course, is "What is nuclear power?" . . . which I yelled out . . . because there's always going to be atoms around to split or fuse. Nuclear power will never run out, as long as the universe exists. And the attractions sets this idea up, because the film begins with the Big Bang, the origin of all atoms and the origin of all energy.

I suppose you could make a pretty good argument for solar power as a resource that will never run out, because the sun is going to be around for a hell of a long time, but, technically, our sun will eventually burn out, become ultra-dense, and then bloat up into a red giant, which will engulf the inner planets of our solar system.

Smart Judy, who isn't smart enough to think of either the nuclear answer or the solar answer, writes down nothing . . . and then smugly tells Alex that there is no answer to the final clue. All power sources will run out. She could have argued that there is not enough dark matter to reverse the big bang, and that the universe's final destination in cold entropy, but she doesn't. Alex Trebek informs her that she is wrong.

Then Ellen reveals her question. It is, ironically, a very stupid question: "What is brainpower?" Against all odds, she is correct! She has defeated Smart Judy! The energy resource that will never run out is brainpower!

But, of course, her answer makes no sense, except in the context of Disney, where nothing is thought provoking and nothing is controversial.  The Final Jeopardy clue is is a good one, but her answer is a sugar-coated ending to a real debate. It's on par with Cliff Clavin's "Who are three people who haven't been in my kitchen?" Human brainpower will run out, especially when our sun becomes a red giant and boils the oceans and turns our continents into molten lava, but there will still be atoms around, bonding and breaking, creating nuclear energy. But the folks at Disney thought this concept was too much for their audience, and so they showed them a few animatronic dinosaurs and then sent them on their way to "learn" more things in Epcot, such as Race cars go fast! and The Eiffel Tower is in France!

Call me stupid, but I think you can mix education with pleasure, and still have a good time. My kids loved Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and they tackle some tough subjects there and don't sugar-coat anything. Disease, slavery, war, 18th century medicine, brisket . . . you get the whole story, warts and all, and it makes for a much more memorable experience.

Failing Number 3: I don't like to watch mindless crap.

The Disney experience is very similar to watching mindless crap TV, although it's less relaxing because of all the running around and claustrophobia. There's certainly a more physical aspect to Disney's crap, which is impressive, and they get all the details right, but in the end-- like an episode of Phineas & Ferb-- there's not much to remember. After each ride, we all said, "That was cool!" and then ran to the next ride.

This is exactly what my kids do when they watch Cartoon Network (which only happens on vacation, thank God, because we don't have cable at home . . . see Failing Number 2).

Even something as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing as The Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life, a fourteen story concrete tree with loads of animals carved into it, is just that. The tree could be a lesson in cladistics, or have some theme, but instead it's just cool looking. Incredible artistic effort, but still just fluff. A wasted opportunity.

I think vacation should be a time of self-reflection, introspection, creativity, physical activity, and late afternoon beer drinking. I realize I am insane because I think this, but I still think it.

Failing Number 4: I don't like schedules.

I am a teacher and a coach. My whole life is scheduled by bells and periods and games and tests and practices. Vacation should not be like this. Vacation should be flexible, but a Disney vacation is NOT. If you try to be flexible and relaxed on a Disney vacation, you'll wait in line forever. You have to plan your campaign like Napoleon. So that's what we did: we followed the instructions and algorithms in The Unofficial Guide, got to the parks early, strategically used the Fast Passes, avoided long lines, saw all the shows, and made the most of our time, but this made the trip seem very similar to my job. Not that I don't have brief moments at my job where I am completely thrilled to be a teacher, but again, 96% of the job is planning, grading, and scheduling.

I think vacation should be 10% planning, 20% relaxing, 30% exercising, 10% playing with my kids, 10% spacing out, and 20% drinking. Relaxing drinking. Disney drinking isn't relaxing drinking. It's medicating yourself. Or that's how it was for me. But, of course, I'm insane.

Failing Number 5: I don't like musicals.

Yes the shark puppets and the jellyfish kites are mesmerizing in Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Yes, my kids and my wife and my mother loved it. Yes, my dad was able to take a nap. But all I could think was: This music is horrible . . . they're ruining a great movie!

What's the best thing about Pixar movies? No singing!

Failing Number 6: I like zoos.

Zoos allow you to move forward and backwards, to sit and watch the animals or move around and see what's going on. There's a generally loose feeling to how you need to proceed and so whatever your kids say, you can agree to: "Let's go see some lizards!"


Disney's Animal Kingdom is NOT a zoo. Parts of it seem like a zoo, and I almost had a zoo-like experience on the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia, which is an amazingly detailed trail that winds through ruins of of an ancient palace. We did see some very cool creatures: tigers and Komodo dragons and giant flying foxes (which are reminiscent of the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz) but there was still this feeling of being swept along by the crowd; there was no chilling out on a bench and watching the animals . . . it was all move, move, move.

Failing Number 7: I don't like to be herded around like a cow in a slaughter-house.

If I could give you a visual of what it's like to be at Disney, it would be something like this:

Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Dodge a stroller. Shuffle. Shuffle. Grab my son's hand. Shuffle Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop.

Sit. Say, "That was awesome!"

Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Dodge a stroller. Shuffle. Shuffle. Grab my son's hand. Shuffle Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop.

There is no place less spontaneous than Disney. Eventually, you give up and just go with the flow, and start shuffling around like all the other fat zombies. The one thing I like about Disney, is that anyone who wants to experience the magic has no choice but to visit Orlando. It doesn't matter if you're Brad Pitt or Bill Gates, there's no upscale Disney. You have to join the masses and shuffle around like a brain-dead cow.

Failing Number 8: I actually like to play with my kids.

Not sit and watch things with my kids. or sit and ride on things with my kids. I like to play soccer and chess and pool sports with my kids, but a day at Disney can really sap this feeling (except for the wonderful Toy Story Mania! ride at Disney Studios . . . but because this ride is actually interactive, encourages competition, and keeps score, we were only able to ride it once-- the lines were insanely long).

Failing Number 9: I always like to be improving my skills. Or improving my kids' skills.

For me, vacation is a time to get better at something you can't concentrate on during your regular life. A time to learn a new song on the guitar. Or write a long blog post. Or get better at snowboarding or paddle-boarding or skim-boarding. Or improve your jump shot or your tolerance for cheap gin. But at Disney you don't get better at anything except looking at stuff that Disney made. And learning to deal with large crowds.

Failing Number 10: I am not fat and brain dead, I don't like crappy food, I like being creative, I'm introspective, I like to noodle around with my guitar, I don't like to be around people for long periods of time without breaks, I don't like to do the same thing everyone else is doing, and I know I'm a grouch and there's something wrong with me, but I can't seem to change.

Still, I'm glad I did it. My kids absolutely loved it, and I'm proud that I could make them so happy. I'm also proud of my acting skills.

Someday I hope my kids read this, and appreciate what I did for them. Or perhaps they'll just consider me a giant hypocrite. Either way is fine. As long as they learn something more than: Hang-gliding is a smooth and exhilarating way to see the land!

As for the other supposedly fun thing I'll never do again, some English teachers have just started reading Infinite Jest, and they've convinced me to give it another go . . . maybe I'll finish this time. And maybe I'll end up back at Disney again some day. It's like Sartre's play No Exit. There's no escape. Hell is other people.


TR said...

Wife and I have targeted '13 as the year for our Disney trip w/ the boys. Sadly, I am almost 100% convinced I will share all of Dave's negative thoughts about the experience. Northeast elitism and the Disney tourist experience will mix like oil and water.

TR said...

On a different note, it will be fun to watch Oklahoma crush OSU on 12/3, lining up the Bama-LSU rematch for the national title that everybody wants to see.

It's hard to type while patting myself on the back for calling the Ducks' beat down of Stanford.

rob said...

while i share many of dave's failings (though not a desire to improve myself while on vacation - what kind of lunatic seeks that?), i found the key to disney success to be willing suspension of normal operating modes. normal me would've lost his fucking mind in the first two hours at magic kingdom.

Dave said...

rob is right-- i was able to do the same thing and have a pretty good time time, but meanwhile, normal me was writing a g:tb post inside my head to prevent insanity. and also, do NOT go to fantasyland. repeat: NO fantasyland. that place is a madhouse of little screaming children.

just got back from soccer-- a week at disney did more damage to my knees than a week of soccer and basketball . . . it took an hour to warm them up.

Igor said...

Wow. What a tour de force of arrogance, complaining, and missing the point. A timely prep for the holiday season with some of my relatives (also from the northeast).

My favorite part was figuring out who Ron was.

Igor said...

Ah, same old Rex: a parade of underthrows, untimely sacks, and head-scratching picks. Missed ya, buddy.

zman said...

Your title has two DFW allusions, right? Or does the reference to infinite jest not count as an allusion?

Disney would drive me nuts.

zman said...

That was a billsiam fluke pick. 9-7 baby.

Samantha said...

I agree with a number of your points, Dave; but I think the key to having a reasonably good time at Disney is remembering that we don't go there for ourselves - I favor the same types of vacations you do and would NEVER be one half of a pair of idiots in bride and groom mouse ears - we go there to let our kids experience it and to see it through their eyes. My best moments there had nothing to do with MY experiences there and everything to do with the absolute joy and wonder that the girls experienced.

Igor said...

Until Dave, I'd never met a father who took his children to Disney World for HIS enjoyment.

rob said...

so these redskins, huh?

rob said...


rob said...

no chance this team goes 6-10

Dave said...

i thought my reference to infinite jest was too straight-forward to be an allusion, but perhaps that's because of failing#2.

and igor, just because disney is for kids, doesn't mean it has to be stupid! you've obviously never been on "living with the land" in epcot.

and i forgot to mention hat i did make my kids go to the 3-D muppet show, purely for my own enjoyment. i think they enjoyed it too, but who cares-- i went on dinosaur 3x with them, and my neck is still sore.

Dave said...

also, i know plenty of people who essentially ONLY vacation at disney. they do it year after year. THAT is insane.

Mark said...

I'm not big on Disney, and never really was as a kid either. Wet & Wild (huge waterpark) was always my favorite of the Orlando theme parks in my youth. I had friends whose families had year round passes to Disney and they went all the time. Thankfully my family was not that type of family. Islands of Adventure is pretty cool because it has a shit ton of roller coasters.

The last time I went to Disney it was because some friends & I had a bunch of mushrooms and thought it would be a cool venue in which to trip. It was. I highly recommend that experience.

Dave said...

no way i would survive that experience.

eli! ugly shovel pass. scary.

manningham dropped it!

this game is killing me.

Igor said...

Dave, last week we reviewed "Beavis & Butt-Head" here. Sometimes stupid is fun. And what might seem unintelligent to a nerdy guy with a Master's degree who reads a book a week might be perfect for a 7-year-old. Science fiction fairs seem horrible to me, but if I had a dweeby kid like you who reveled in the geekiness of it, I'd get into it like gangbusters.

Squeaky said...

I have a relative, younger brother, who owns a timeshare at Disney. Waste of money in my opinion. We went last year because my wife's company was putting on a trade show there. So we had a free place from her work to stay on the 'compound'. Our son is way too young and short to ride any rides. But he had a great time getting pictures with the characters and watching the mini musical shows they do. Like the Nemo and Lion King ones. Definitely not my idea of a fun vacation but would do it again for my kid.

rob said...

wrens' play their first home game tonight against liberty. still banged up, but need to post that elusive w.

rob said...

unrelated, i'm really looking forward to the day when dave masters right and left-justifying pictures.

Jerry said...

That was a real roller coaster. In the beginning I thought your complaining was annoying and you were just being a pussy. Then I really started enjoying it as it got crustier and more elitist.

In 5-10 years your kids agree that Disney is lame and they'll love this post. If the internet still exists. If you compile your posts into a book, I'd suggest a chapter on "Why Every Vacation Sucks". Igor's negative review of Vegas could lead it off.

I'd also agree with you that interactive so-called educational displays are terrible. I went to Liberty Science Center last year and was thoroughly disappointed.

Dave said...

that's a pretty fair description of me jerry: an annoying, complaining, crusty, elitist pussy.

and i will leave igor with one final counter-point. i liked science-fiction as a kid and thank god my dad didn't take me to sci-fi conventions and instead played sports with me-- which HE liked to do-- or i would be even nerdier than i already am . . . and i love sports. so perhaps we shouldn't completely cater to our kids and should instead make them respect our likes and opinions as well. i did my duty and took my kids to disney, but i don't have to pretend i loved every minute of it! my friend mel said when she took her 11-12 year old kids it was much more fun because they all mocked the stupidity of disney but still enjoyed the rides, so perhaps i'll go back in six years.

Squeaky said...

Looks like the 7M3 boys getting a favorable comparison with other musical artists. Well except for Better than Ezra, they suck.

/end random music tangent

zman said...

Artistas similares!!

T.J. said...

I've been trapped at a Disney hotel in Anaheim for work, on the Disney compound here. I am gonna kill someone.

That aside, I fucking love Disney. Hell, I even loved Euro Disney.

Igor said...

Fair enough, Dave. I permit my daughters to listen to their "popular" music but still force-feed them enough quality tunes to ensure they grow up rock snobs like me.

Igor said...

I do think it was kind of lame that Dave and Rob, great friends since 1988, guys who only see each other once or twice a year, were somehow at Disney at the same time and were "too tired" to get together. I know the end-of-the-Disney-day exhaustion, but that didn't stop me from boozing at Downtown Disney with the Teedge when I was there. Core principles, fellas. Come on.

Marls said...

"I think vacation should be a time of self-reflection, introspection, creativity, physical activity, and late afternoon beer drinking. I realize I am insane because I think this, but I still think it."

Drinking at Tortuga's and the race back cover 2 out of the 5. The art of making a bed out of 2 cushions and a damp towel may cover creativity, but otherwise it sounds like OBFT does not get the Dave Seal of Vacation Approval either.

Dave said...

self-reflection-- staring at the sea from the porch.

introspection-- over/under movie game and poker.

physical activity-- the race and cornhole.

late afternoon beer drinking is covered.

creativity-- dwarf.

Dave said...

and igor, it was lame and we felt lame but once mark bailed, we were both happy to start drinking in our respective locations and not worry about driving around in that mess they call "downtown disney."

and the next day i spent 12 hours at epcot, and that would have been torture with a hang-over.

Marls said...

self-reflection-- staring at the all the fat midwesterners aand feeling superior.

introspection-- observing yourself at Disney and realizing that your own needs and desires are paramount such that their joy was not enough to bring you happiness.

physical activity-- chasing your kids around four amusment parks over several days.

late afternoon beer drinking - was likley done some place, just not with Rob.

creativity-- acting like you were enjoying yourself.

See actually had a fantastic time.

Dave said...

it's true-- it generated my longest post in a while, and i had a lot of great material for the high school kids today-- our principal is one of those disney fanatics-- his office is full of mickey mouse kitsch-- so the students know just the right questions to ask to push my buttons, and it's way more fun to hear me rant about disney than to actually have to start writing process analysis essays . . .

rob said...

i just watched an entire school board hearing. if you're in my neighborhood and feel like stopping by and punching me in the face, i probably wouldn't object.

rob said...

tribe loses to liberty. marcus thornton had 19, but this team is dreadful without its inside presence.

T.J. said...

0-3 to start the year. Poop.

Squeaky said...

I've only heard bits and pieces of the new interview with Sandusky but that guy sounds super creepy and basically admits to the acts.

Hang him by his balls and screw due process for him.

Danimal said...

ditto on the bits & pieces. what i have heard makes me wonder if jerry has taken the time to read the grand jury report.

he claims his innocence and asks us to give his lawyers some time to fight this. you betcha jer!

Igor said...

Jerry is taking it upon himself to find the real criminal. He thinks his name is Charlie.

rob said...

svp just told me that sandusky's attorney impregnated and later married (and divorced) a teenage client several years ago. not exactly what an alleged pedophile really needs in a representative. you can't make this shit up.