OK, I mentioned on Christmas Eve that I had something that I was going to wait until after Christmas to post. Still not sure it’s the right time, but I have to vent it. I won’t think less of you if you don’t want to read it.
Already this year, my mom was diagnosed with COPD (which was scarier at the time than it is now, since her meds are working wonders). Found out Dad has cancer. Grandma died. Lost my job. You can say that 2010 has left a bit to be desired already.
After my grandma died, my mom and cousin Jim had been going back and forth on splitting what she had left. He’s also a grandson, like me, but his mom (my mom’s sister) died many years ago. He wanted more than what was spelled out in the living trust. Lawyers got involved.
Turns out that my mom, who has Power of Attorney in the trust, had written checks from the trust on grandma’s behalf (at grandma’s request, since it hurt her to write due to arthritis). Everything was on the up-and-up. Now lawyers want copies of every check since the trust was set up, and apparently want to contest each one’s legitimacy individually. Basically, the lawyers want to make sure that they get more money than any member of the family.
But wait, it gets better. On Christmas Eve, cousin Jim died. He hurt his back years ago when he was a fireman, and had been on disability ever since. He went through a very nasty divorce about 6 years ago. His bitch of an ex-wife dragged that through the courts for five years, trying to bleed every cent she could out of him. She got the house. She got the kids. She got child support. She got the car. Jim got nothing, except depression. On Christmas Eve, he fell in the bathroom and hit his head on the toilet and died.
But there’s more. Now his kids, at the behest of bitch ex-wife, are calling the lawyers looking for their share. Yes, I believe that it is right that they get some of it, but with the evil queen prompting them, this is getting very ugly (for the record, these are great-grandkids, where I’m a grandkid). When grandma gave my mom money to help buy a house, that is now suspect and she wants that money split. She claims that grandma had lost her marbles. FAR from true. Until the day she died, she was sharp as a tack. The only part of her head that didn’t work right was her ears. And the bitch wouldn’t even visit my grandma when she lived across town from her, and was a nurse unwilling to help with care. Neither she or the grandkids have spoken to grandma in years. How the hell would they know?
Some of the few of you who’ve read this far are probably thinking “sure, you’re trying to keep your share as large as possible.” But here’s the kicker. I don’t have a share. I’m not in the trust. So you would think that I wouldn’t care so much what happens to the money and stocks. But it’s tearing my mom apart, and that is killing me to see. She’s having to fight lawyers, deal with a nephew’s death right after her mom’s, and a truly evil bitch trying to bleed her dry…even though she divorced out of the family years ago.
So, yeah. I can’t fucking wait for 2010 to be over. 2011 can’t possibly be worse. Sure, this situation will carry over into 2011…but it has to get better, doesn’t it?
I just looked ahead to Day 24 and it’s “Favorite Disneyland memory.” And here I just shared it (I may have better, but if I do I can’t think of it now). I may just cheat and give multiple other memories. We’ll see!
Between pins, the 40th anniversary trading cards, tickets, park guides, and the new Vynilmation (which I just don’t understand the draw of), Disneyland has no shortage of collectible items. I’ve even seen Disneyland napkins listed on eBay.
Still, as corny as it is, my favorite things that I’ve collected at Disneyland are memories. There’s the bomb scare in Fantasyland, where myself and one security guard cordoned off Fantasyland Theater and the adjacent restrooms for an unattended backpack. There’s helping ducklings and their mom get across the parade route to the waters of Storybookland right before the parade came through, keeping the little kids from handling them. There’s dancing down the parade route to the applause of thousands of people (I’m a terrible dancer, but when you do it with a smile, people like it).
My favorite was a family that came down from Washington to celebrate their daughter’s birthday. It was her first visit, and they were on day one of five. I was at the popcorn cart at Central Plaza. She was having fun watching the ducks that were smart enough to hang out and eat the kernels I dropped, and the ones fed to them by people who just spent $2.50 on it. She named two of them…Pop and Corn. How could I resist? I gave her a small cup of popcorn to feed them.
The family was taking a break, and I chatted with them for a good 45 minutes. I answered questions, I gave them hints and tips, even told them a few Disney secrets (good ones, not the dark side). I told them where I was scheduled through the week so they could drop by and say hello, with the warning that sometimes our locations get switched at the last moment.
So the next three days come and go and I don’t see the family. Still, with tens of thousands of people in the park, seeing a particular group stand out isn’t a given (I wasn’t giving the crowd-scans the same level of scrutiny as I would, say, for a kid’s parents who had gotten themselves misplaced).
On day five, I’m “closing the park,” which in my dept means going around and making sure the carts that stay out are cleaned (as opposed to most, which are transported back to the vending warehouse for cleaning), tarping them so when the streets get washed the dirt doesn’t splash onto the cart, and making sure everything is locked up.
As I head from Main Street to Frontierland, I see the family! They are standing on the wooden bridge into Frontierland watching the ducks. I stop by to say hello. It’s 12:15am. Disneyland closed at midnight. The shops are still going to be open for 45 more minutes (and I’m on the clock for another 3 hours with not much left to do — I’m getting to the lazy part of my evening). So we talk for a while. Pop and Corn swim around, and I run to the back and get some leftover popcorn that is about to be thrown away for the girl to feed them.
It turns out that the girl got sick towards the end of day one, and they had spent three days barely venturing out of their hotel. So we didn’t talk too much about what they did and didn’t do…I didn’t want the girl to go home thinking of everything she’d missed. So we talked about classic Disney movies, characters, and, of course, ducks. Security came by on their sweep (they start at the outside edges and work to the middle, then up Main Street to make sure nobody spends the night), and I heard on my radio that the park was clear to Main Street…except for one family.
I was able to talk to the guards and explain the situation, and they let me assume responsibility for clearing the family when we were done. Finally, at 1:30 in the morning, the girl was exhausted and ready to go. We exchanged hugs, and I told them I’d see them next time (I wish that had turned out to be true, since I don’t work there anymore). I walked them up Main Street and out to the exit, and got back to work.
It’s memories like this that are better to collect than anything you can buy in the shops. And it’s things like this that I miss the most about working there. Not every day had something special happen for me, but enough that I have a lifetime of these memories to look back on.
In the past few days I’ve seen several NBA players complain about having to play on Christmas. Let me just say: Get over it.
In the past 20 years, I’ve worked probably all but three Christmases, for a LOT less money than these guys make. As in their pay for one game equals my annual salary.
So stop whining, rich people. Your charter flight home to your luxury car and mansion will be there after the game. The maid will have your house clean, and your Rolex will still be wrapped under the tree.
And us poor people will still struggle to make ends meet, while you complain about your ridiculously high-paying job not taking the day off.
It’s just a few days before Christmas, and if you really want to get in the spirit, I promise you you’ll have it completely if you give not to just friends and family, but to those who are less fortunate.
Here’s the link. Give whatever you can. It’ll make their Christmas, I give you my word. (Shhh…. it’ll make yours, too.)
“Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. Buts that’s exactly what it is -‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell. You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.”— Ricky Gervais: Why I’m An Atheist - Speakeasy - WSJ (via laylak81)
(I seem to be the king of tl;dr tumblr posts — pics are partly for reference, partly so you can get the general idea without reading all the blabber. For those who read it all, thanks!)
OK, this time I’m going to cheat a little. I do have a favorite, and I’ll get there, but there are some honorable mentions that I just can’t leave out.
On Main Street, there is a red truck off to the right after you pass the camera shop. They have what people from all over have told me is the best corn dog they’ve ever eaten (I agree, but I’m not a huge corn dog fan…I make an exception for these). Huge, hand-battered, and yummy. Comes with a bag of potato chips or sliced apples.
Outside the Tiki Room in Adventureland, you can get a frosty treat that I bet you’ve never seen at home. Dole sponsors the Tiki Room, and while you are waiting for the show (if you get there early enough) you can watch a film about Dole pineapples. While eating them. You can pick up a Dole Whip (a pineapple soft-serve concoction) or, if you really love pineapple, get a Dole Whip Float, the whip served in a cup of pineapple juice. And if you really, really love pineapple, get it with a fresh pineapple spear.
Moving on to New Orleans Square (even though it is available in other locations as well), head to the Royal Street Veranda and grab some clam chowder, served in a sourdough bread bowl. I’ll be the first to admit that I wish they made a bigger bowl out of the bread (you definitely get a lot more bread than chowder), but it is delicious.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include my own department, outdoor vending (the food carts), in the honorable mentions. Turkey legs to die for. They are slow-cooked backstage, and brought out in foil-lined bags and kept in a warmer. Even if you don’t get a fresh one, it will taste fresh (temperature is also monitored to ensure safety). These are so tender and good. They do stay a little pink inside because of the slow cooking, which leads some people to be convinced that they are really eating ham that has been fused to a turkey bone. I know for a fact that this is not the case…I used to cook them. OK, full disclosure: Tyson turkey legs injected with a salt cure and smoked for 6 hours…by Tyson. Then they’re frozen and shipped to Disneyland, where they spend some time in an oven. Still the best turkey I’ve ever had.
Selecting a winner would be easy if they still served my favorite food at Disneyland EVER. Over at the Harbour Galley, across from the Haunted Mansion, they used to serve the most amazing Cajun popcorn shrimp, with a spicy dipping sauce that I’ve never figured out what exactly it was (except yummy). Sadly, the Galley closed down for a refurbishment, and when it reopened they no longer served the popcorn shrimp, catfish nuggets, or clam chowder that were their staples. Instead, they served over-priced McDonalds french fries. They sold out. They let me down. When I rehired, “favorite Disneyland food” was actually one of the questions they asked us, and I said I was sad to say that my favorite food was no longer available.
(Boo sell-out! They didn’t even take the fish off the building!)
I see that now the Harbour Galley has transformed again, but now they serve soup and salad. Still no popcorn shrimp. Lame.
One last honorable mention before the winner…I haven’t included a beverage! And, in a world full of Coca-Cola, there aren’t too many other options. Sure, you can head to the Fantasy Freeze or Goofy Freeze cart for an Icee, but you can also get that at you local convenience store. You could go with a frozen lemonade, which I love with vanilla syrup added (taste-testing different flavors was a ton of fun when we were deciding which three to use - grape, orange, strawberry, and a few others didn’t make the cut, even though I was a huge fan of grape…we ended up with Raspberry, Cherry, and Vanilla). But those stands are all over the park.
If you really want to stand out, and have people ask where in the heck you got that drink, step around the French Market restaurant to the back, by the train station. There you’ll find the Mint Julep Bar, a window kind of hidden from the main walkway. Grab yourself a mint julep (they’re non-alcoholic at Disneyland - and many say they taste more like mojitos).
And, finally, the winner: Popcorn.
Yes, with all the exotic things you can find, the popcorn holds the most special place for me. Disney popcorn doesn’t taste like anyone else’s popcorn. Movie theater popcorn? Garbage by comparison. Microwave popcorn? No way is it close to as good. There is just something about the taste of Disney popcorn that stands out. Having made batches of this popcorn thousands of times, you would think that I know the secret. Here’s what I do know:
Pre-heat the kettle and turn on the agitator (a series of spokes that keeps the popcorn moving in the kettle). Also turn on the blower, which will blow the steam out through a vent to keep your windows from fogging up (and, yes, this is also why you smell Disneyland popcorn from so far away). Scoop up two cups of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn seeds. Add two tablespoons of Morton popcorn salt. Press the oil button (this pumps a pre-measured amount of oil into the kettle - more about the oil in a minute). Right after the oil stops pouring, dump in the popcorn. Try to keep your hands clear of the kettle when the popcorn is popping…then give up since people keep ordering it, and deal with the oil burns. When the popping slows to a crawl, dump the kettle out. Then dump it out again (all of the popcorn NEVER comes out on the first dump, and will burn and smell bad if you don’t dump it a second time).
About the oil: Disney used to use coconut oil for the popcorn. Then that study came out saying that popcorn cooked in this oil had the same saturated fat content of eight (!) Big Macs. Suddenly everyone wanted to know what oil we used, and popcorn sales plummeted. Disney played with different mixtures…they wanted to go healthy, but not sacrifice the flavor. It took about six months before a mixture of 80% canola oil and 20% coconut oil was found that cut out a ton of the fat, but tasted like Disney popcorn.
Whenever I’m at a Disney park, at least once during the vacation you will find me with a box of popcorn in my hands. I can live without everything else I listed, even though I love them, but going to Disneyland and not getting popcorn seems sacrilegious somehow.
I was in the restroom when he arrived, but I heard the familiar voice. Suddenly I wondered what I was going to see when I came out. In other words, was I going to see a frail, fragile shadow of who I remembered? How much had the cancer affected him?
So I finished doing my doodie duty and braced myself. I came around the corner to the den and saw….exactly what I remembered. Same guy, same smile, same gut, same suspenders. I went over to hug him and he held on. For a long time. When he let go, he told me how much he’s missed me, and that it did his heart good to see me.
So you know that feeling of telling him how abandoned I had felt? Yeah, that went right out the window. I could tell he felt the same about me because of the few times in the past when he tried to get in touch with me and I didn’t reply (the last time we spoke before this, he tried to sell me pre-paid lawyer insurance, so I’m guilty as well of abandoning him, I guess to get back at him).
So we had dinner with the rest of the family, then he sat us all down together to give us the whole story of his health, since all of us seemed to have bits and pieces of the details, but not the full story.
He went to the doctor last year and said he needed his prostate checked, because urinating was difficult. Doc ran some tests, then wanted to do a biopsy. Took 8 samples. 5 of them came back with cancer. When he found out it was in his bone marrow, it was already in his spine, skull, and his left limbs (it has since spread to his entire body).
He explained that at this stage, most people in his position are in constant pain. He said that if he hadn’t been told he had cancer, he would never know it, because he feels fine. He said that, when he goes in for another checkup next month, he may just tell the doctor that he’s wrong. Not about the cancer, but about the prognosis. He plans on sticking around for another 40 years.
Here’s where another of my worries of the night came to a head. My dad is extremely religious. I’m not. Tonight, I was very glad that he is.
He feels like God is going to heal him, so why worry? And, if he’s wrong, he’s happy with going to heaven. While I don’t share his belief, I envy him that conviction, and it has kept his spirits high. He fully believes that, when he gets checked out next, that the doctor will look and look and not be able to find any cancer.
He asked me if I was going to church these days, and I answered him honestly, expecting a lecture. There was none. He thanked me for being honest, said he wasn’t going to harp on it, and that one day the time would be right. Who knows? Maybe he’s right. But if so, that time definitely is not now. Still, when my brother-in-law wanted to pray over my dad, I joined in. I started out just closing my eyes to be polite and respectful, but I found myself saying on the inside “If you are actually there, God, take care of my dad.”
He told us that, whenever he does die, he just wants to be cremated and we can drop-kick his ashes into any river (I doubt THAT will happen, but he just doesn’t care what happens to his body after he’s gone, and doesn’t want his funeral to cost anything). He told us that he’s going to continue to live it up and be happy, and at his funeral, we’d better party hard too; granted, his definition of “party hard” is a little different than mine. He’s thinking pot-luck.
So I went from all this nervousness about seeing him after all these years to sitting around, rehashing memories, telling the same jokes we told each other all those eons ago, catching up with each others’ lives, and joking about cancer with someone who is in stage 3 (yes, we went there).
It was good to see him, and actually see him as dad, instead of “that guy who left when I was a little kid.” Even if, based on pictures of him when he was younger vs. pictures of me now, seeing him is like looking in a mirror and seeing myself in 30 years.
We’re going to hang out again Tuesday night, after my little sis has her baby and is tuckered out. He goes back to California Wednesday.
And you know what? I’m really looking forward to it.
I almost cheated today and instead of picking a restaurant, highlighting favorite menu items at different places. Then I peeked ahead and realize that Day 21 is favorite food or beverage, so I’ll bite the bullet and pick one.
One problem with Disney parks is the lack of variety when it comes to food. If you want a cheeseburger, chicken tenders, or a personal pizza, you’ll find those EVERYWHERE. Even when you go to non-counter service restaurants, you see the same menu items at different places (every restaurant in New Orleans Square shares the same underground kitchen).
So I have to give the award to the Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. Not only do they serve food that you can’t find anywhere else in the park, but the prices are probably the most reasonable in the park. They serve skewers…beef (if you go with the Banyan Beef Skewer, take the “hot and spicy” seriously), chicken, or bacon-wrapped asparagus. Their Tiger Tails (aka bread sticks) are yummy, too. The most expensive thing on the menu (excluding a souvenir sipper of soda) is $3.99.
That said, there are a couple downsides. Despite the picture above, each order is one skewer. This is more of a snack than a meal. If you want a meal, you’ll actually spend more here than for dinner at the French market in New Orleans Square. There is also very little seating there, unless you want to sit at another restaurant.
Still, if you just need a snack and want something different, the Bengal Barbecue is the place.
Notice that I did not tell you how the snow is made to fall in Disneyland. If you want to call it magic, go right ahead. If your curiosity really makes you want to know how it is done, here’s an article from when the snow was first introduced. Just don’t click the link if you don’t want to know the secret.
On a side-note, I once had to use some real Disney magic on a duckling. The park had just opened for the day, and we were setting up a drink stand in front of Pirates of the Caribbean, right on the edge of the water. As we got there with the cart, there was a crowd hunched over the railing.
Sometime in the morning a duckling had died, and was floating along the rail. Great. Bunch of kids looking at something dead at Disneyland. Not good.
So I hopped over the railing, was handed a clear trash bag that had been covering the drink dispensers since they had been cleaned the night before, and used it to pick up the poor little fella. Kids asked what happened. I told them that, like most things in Disneyland, this was audio-animatronic, and the batteries had just run out. I just have to take it backstage to an Imagineer so he can fix it. Kids placated. Parents relieved.
One parent pulls me aside and asks what I’m really going to do. Since there are no kids in earshot, I tell him that I’m going to take it to the Circle D Ranch behind Toontown, where horses and other animals are kept, so it can be buried. Then I went backstage and threw it away in a trash compacter. I know, that’s sad, but despite the pet cemetary at the Haunted Mansion, it was that or leave it somewhere where one of the resident feral cats would find it. Maybe I’ll tell you how the cats came into being another time…it’s an interesting story.
On the 1st day of Christmas / I said to my mate / “I’m a-goin’ a-huntin’ / and I might be home late.” / The next day of Christmas,/ seems I lost my way / and I ain’t seen my cabin / since dawn yesterday. / Oh, what a Christmas! / I’m lonely and lost. / And shaking and sneezing / and covered with frost. / I fell in a river / and lost all my food! / Don’t sing me no carols / ‘cause I ain’t in the mood. / Next year at Christmas I think I’ll use my head and spend the 12 days of Christmas in my bed.