I was in junior high, awkward and ashamed of everything, so there's no way I would've enjoyed Disneyland. Too childish, too in-your-face, too silly. Our family went there on vacation because my little brother had been jonesing to go to the Magical World of Disneyland Where All Your Dreams Come True for years and years. My folks were blowing a stack of cash on the trip, and I was already convinced that I wasn't going to enjoy one single second of the visit to this big-budget Kiddie-World.
We'd been in the park for about 20 minutes when it started to rain.
"It won't last," said my dad. "This is Southern California. They have to pipe all their water up from Arizona. They're in a permanent drought. The sun'll come out in a minute, and we'll go on some rides."
It rained all day long.
It wasn't a hard rain, but it wasn't a drizzle either. It was a steady, cold, depressing rain, the kind that makes you want to crawl back under the covers in the morning and wonder if there's any point in going on living, much less getting dressed and going to the office.
And about half the people left the park in less than a half-hour. But we didn't. My folks had cleared out a chunk of their savings for this trip, and Pete'd had his heart set on going to Disneyland and seeing Mickey and Goofy. And this was the only day we'd have to go to the park -- the rest was taken up with travel, visiting relatives, and eventually getting back home so Dad could start rebuilding the savings account. We couldn't leave.
So we rode a few rides. We took a few pictures with Mickey and Goofy and Donald and Daisy. And we sat under canopies and wished the rain would stop, just stop.
So, a few hours later, after we'd eaten a thoroughly miserable meal of soggy hot dogs and watery sodas, we were sitting under an umbrella trying to decide whether to brave the Runaway Teacups. A guy dressed in a Pluto costume walked by, soaked to the fur, trying to act as jaunty and happy as his bosses insisted he act, no matter how dismal and dreary the weather. He stops a couple of yards from our table and waves at us, but about that time, a girl -- I'd guess about 20 years old, pretty, short brown hair, soaked like she'd been swimming in the ocean -- walks up to him and says, "Ed?"
Pluto shrugs and shuffles his feet in a way that clearly said, "Yeah, it's me, but I can't tell you that or I'll get fired for breaking character. You already know that, baby, so what're you hassling me for?"
She walks right up to Pluto, looks him in the fake cartoon eyes, and says, "Ed? Is that you?"
More shuffling and shrugging and shuck-and-jive from the soaked orange dog. He can tell we're watching -- it's not like we have a choice -- and he wants to get her out of the way before someone notices and tattles on him for getting a personal visitor.
She sighs, long and low, like a car running through a puddle. "I'm going home, Ed. I'm going back to Lansing."
And Pluto stops dead.
"I know this means a lot to you, Ed, but it's not me, it'll never be me. And I can't stand this town anymore. And I don't--"
She pauses, and Pluto puts his arms out for a second, then drops them at his side. He can't break character, he can't break character.
She takes a deep breath. "I don't think I can stand you anymore, Ed. All this focus on you and your career and being a star. I'm sorry."
He puts his arms out again, this time actually touching her on the shoulders, but he catches himself. He can't break character. He drops his hands. He doesn't say a word.
"I'm sorry, Ed, I really am. Don't try to follow me, Ed. I'm sorry." And she turns and walks away. Her face was soaked by rain, and that's all I could see.
Pluto stands there for a minute, watching her go. Then he turns slowly and looks at us. My mom and dad are busy looking elsewhere, trying to give him some sort of privacy and dignity. We kids haven't really caught onto the privacy thing yet. Pete and I at least look embarrassed for him. My baby sister Andrea sucks on the last of her soda, smiles at him, and waves her baby-girl-princess wave.
Pluto lets out one audible, terrified sob. And he turns away and skips off jauntily, splashing through the puddles as he goes.
He can't break character, he can't break character.