Frank read the familiar sign:
“The following attractions are closed today: Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo Flying Elephants, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”
Frank approached the ticket window. “Two adults, please.”
“That’s $55. Would you like to purchase any Disney Dollars with your admission?”
Frank and Sarah flowed with the current of the crowd toward the main entrance. Frank watched the bobbing heads and shoulder-perched children ride the waves of a swelling ocean of day-glow.
Frank and Sarah’s ticket taker was a man in his early seventies. His few remaining strands of gray hair were tousled by the ambient balm of the Orange County off-shore breeze. With a Polydent smile, he greeted Sarah and Frank.
“Welcome to Disneyland. Here is your game ticket. Have a happy day!”
“Cheap labor,” mumbled Frank while he glanced at his game ticket, the chance to win a new General Motors car.
“Sorry. No Win.” The faded gray ink of a computer printer ribbon whispered ethereal from the glossy white rectangle on the cardboard game ticket. Frank folded the useless ticket and his One-Day Magic Kingdom Passport along with his copy of “Today at Disneyland” and slipped the shiny papers into the back pocket of his Levis. Frank felt that familiar pang of pointless anxiety as he and Sarah prepared to once again pass through the concrete brick arch that transports visitors onto the main street of an early twentieth century, Middle-America small town.
“I hope I don’t lose these tickets.” Then Frank remembered they never check once you are inside.
Sarah asked, “What do you want to do first, Frank?”
Frank thought about how many times he had heard that question and wondered if he and Sarah had been to Disneyland a hundred times yet. They never count, but it seemed possible. Sarah and Frank had spent their first date at Disneyland five years ago and returned whenever they got the chance. Each time they went, Frank would always think to himself, “Next time we’ll go to the L.A. County Museum or to a matinee at the Pantages. Anything but Disneyland again.” Yet, somehow, whenever that free Saturday would stretch before them, Disneyland filled the void.
In the beginning, when Sarah and Frank made their first visits to Disneyland together, they would arrive when the park opened at 8:30 a.m. After buying their tickets, they would run to the most popular attraction to avoid the lines. First, they used to run to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. “Please keep your hands and arms inside the train at all times and hang on to those hats and glasses because this here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!” Later, Star Tours was the ride to do first. (But Frank secretly missed the Monsanto Adventure into Inner Space that Star Tours replaced.) More recently than both, Splash Mountain was the newest, most exciting attraction. Frank and Sarah would hold hands and rush ahead of the crowd to avoid the three-hour waits. Today, Frank and Sarah did not arrive early. They had slept late, eaten breakfast and vainly tried to think of something else to do.
Now, they walked in at 11:15 a.m. Frank began the mental countdown he had routinely performed since childhood. “Let’s see, the park closes at midnight. That’s only twelve hours and forty-five minutes until they close.” He felt that familiar, desperate slipping of the clock and that odd feeling that had begun recently, that feeling of not knowing what to look forward to.
“Hello, Frank? Anybody home? What do you want to do first?”
Frank gazed at the giant yellow and orange marigold Mickey Mouse face centerpiece of the Main Street Disneyland Railroad Station. He stared at the yellow, red, purple, maroon, pansies, chrysanthemums, marigolds: molecules of Mickey’s face. Mickey smiled back in perpetual confident orange comfort.
“Sarah, do you see things in the plants?”
“Look at the plants. What do you see?”
“Mickey Mouse, Frank. What do you want to do?”
“I don’t care. Let’s sit down for a minute and people watch.” The clang of the trolley bell and the clop of the Clydesdales herded Frank and Sarah past the big green double decker bus and the miniature red fire engine to a bench on the edge of the Main Street planter.
Sarah glanced across the cul-de-sac at the giant gold letters: “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Below a plywood sad-faced Mickey holding a broom proclaimed that the attraction was temporarily closed for refurbishing.
“You know, Frank, I heard they’re closing Mr. Lincoln because of low attendance.”
Frank could hear the kazoo band down the street playing “When you wish upon a star…” Frank pulled his crumpled “Today at Disneyland” from his back pocket and began to read. “Pardi-Gras. Dance to Cab Calloway’s Big Band at the Carnation Ice Cream Pavilion.” Sarah surveyed the bobbing sea of Mickey Mouse t-shirts, strollers and video cameras.
“Never leave your pet in your car. Disneyland provides kennels for your convenience. Inquire at the main gate.” Frank folded the brochure and stared again at the seething mass of flowers. He peered beyond the exploding blooms into the cool green maze of pansy, mum, and marigold stalks–the molecular bonds of Mickey’s face. A breeze. What was in there? Frank’s eyes fell on a small, crumpled object. A Carnation Ice Cream Sandwich wrapper.
“Look, Sarah, there’s some trash just under Mickey’s lower lip.”
“Yeah, there’s trash all over, Frank. People are pigs.”
A meticulously groomed man emerged from the crowd into Frank and Sarah’s eddy. A small-town drugstore soda fountain tender from a Norman Rockwell painting. The man, dressed entirely in white, crowned with an even whiter paper cap, produced a small broom and a spring-loaded, long handled dustpan. The living piece of Americana past spied the wrapper, said, “Excuse me, folks,” flipped the offender into his pan and slipped back into the crowd. “I heard those guys make ten bucks an hour,” Frank remarked.
Frank noticed, however, that the piece of litter had not left without a trace, for in the spot where it had lain remained a small creamy puddle. Frank shook his head and wrinkled his nose, when suddenly another much smaller wrinkled nose protruded from beneath a marigold leaf. The black spot twitched and was followed by whiskers and corn-kernel-size crinkled ears. Black poppy-seed eyes stared and blinked.
A mouse in Disneyland. Frank’s vision of the giant Mickey face melted like the cast-off corner of ice cream sandwich.
The mouse scurried out from under the marigold leaf and began to drink from the ice cream puddle.
“Sarah, look. There’s a mouse in the flower bed.”
Sarah peered along Frank’s pointing finger. Cameras, baby cries, and fluorescent Captain EO caps swirled by. As Frank and Sarah watched, they saw another mouse in the flowers. They continued to stare at the seething garden and soon saw a Manhattan of mice within the movement scrambling for bits of tourist toss-offs: popcorn kernels, frozen banana sticks, and fragments of Mickey lollipops. The mice nibbled and licked furiously. Another man in white emerged from the crowd.
“Excuse me,” Frank said to the employee. “There are mice in the flowerbed.”
“Yes, sir. We’ve always had that problem here. The park is infested. We try to keep the population down by using poison traps at night. But we’re open fifteen hours a day in the summer, and it’s hard to carry on extermination work in view of the guests.”
The man flicked the food fragments into his dustpan and folded back into the crowd. The mice receded.
Frank looked at Sarah. He hoped she would want to leave early.
Eric Hall is an AP English teacher recently retired after a 30-year career at Etiwanda High School in the Chaffey Joint Union High School District. He grew up in and currently resides in Upland, California. He wrote “Mickey Mice” in 1990. He chose not to update it for submission because looking back on it now, the vignette of a decaying relationship captures something of the spirit of Disneyland at the time which is much changed with passes, Downtown Disney, increased crowds, and now, of course, closure due to the pandemic.