Children have been going missing. Hearing that for the first time, it’s nothing new. These things happen, they come and go, finding the kids at the lost and found. Only these disappearances have been becoming more and more frequent. It might be too recent to assume that word of this dilemma has spread up to management...but yet again, it wouldn’t be surprising if they already knew.
It wasn’t too long ago that “Pogo the Clown” was brought to trial and charged with those 33 horrific murders. In fact, it was a year ago. We seemed to be living in a world running rampant with serial killers. Even the park’s post-office has been chained with security, under the suspicion that one of the Una-bomber’s presents would arrive.
With more than 150 of them at least, the park’s face characters are most at fault. Too many. Too many costumes walking around and taking pictures with these innocent kids. Management can never have enough. Now it’s the beginning of the summer season. Intercom messages of missing children persist. The worst part about this? I’m the one who was assigned to be Donald Duck at just above minimum wage.
Walt Disney World---1981.
“That ain’t worth it. Shootin’ the president over some kid? I mean, hey, I loved Taxi Driver too, but...”
Donnie scarfed down the rest of his salad. He finished his rant.
“...I mean they canceled the Academy Awards that night! You could’ve at least waited, John, you fuck.”
I laughed. Making sure Andy hadn’t stolen his Goofy mask again, he reached under his seat. Still there.
I stood up, dragged the rest of my Chesterfield roach, and downed the rest of my water.
“I gotta go.”
“I actually gotta go back out there in that heat. I just want the day to be over.”
89 degrees and the humidity was high.
Donnie tapped the right side of his nose.
“I gotta gram. You want some?
It was true that some of us functioned on uppers, but management didn’t need to hear that. The face characters are the ones who have to play happy and keep up the facade in front of hundreds of angry parents and whining kids. We more than warranted the use of drugs… at least that was my mentality. Of course you can’t do that sort of thing anymore. I heard they give weekly toxicology tests to employees.
“Last time you gave me some, I sweated even more. No thanks.”
Donnie reached over to the mini fridge and pulled out a pack of frozen peas.
“You know what I do? I keep an icepack in here. When I go out, I stick this fella down in my crotch, and I’m good for the rest of the day.”
I grinned and headed out of the staff building.
“You do that.”
He shrugged and called out.
“Suit your self, Nancy.”
It was back to work with me. We were only allowed 30 minute breaks on very long shifts. I don’t know how they would’ve known if I was slacking off. Donnie always liked to joke about Walt Disney being the “Big Brother” of Disney World. “He’s always watching.”
When wearing a Donald Duck headpiece, you don’t see the world through the eyes of an exuberant cartoon character. You’re seeing through two holes, and with the weather out today, you rely on those two holes for oxygen. You’d think somebody on the work force would rally together a union strike for more comfortable costumes...and people have. Those people remain unemployed. Last year, eleven characters passed out due to heat stroke. In the event that someone files a suit, it would be similar to a fight like Polyphemus without Odysseus’s help. Their lawyers are more creative than the engineers. You could be hit, yelled at, spat on, and mugged. You must endure those unfortunates without ever-ever-ever breaking character. This includes taking off your headpiece.
“Don’t like it? Buck up and get over it. You’re entertaining children, not being drafted.” That’s what my boss said when I complained to him about the sun-soaking material of this suit.
Me, Donnie, Christa, Andy and a couple others had formed a little clique where we’d hang out during breaks. Compared to the rest of these face characters, we seemed to be the ones who kept themselves coherent and sane. For us, it was a summer job before we went on to better things. We weren’t staying here long. For the rest, however, their motivations were unknown…and that’s where things got scary. It’s the unknown backstories of people camouflaged in happy-go-lucky gear. It’s the fear that among a couple delinquents and bad apples…there’s a Section 8 in the crowd. The people who are unfamiliar of this occupation are probably just gonna shrug these fears off. “A big corporation like that? You’re being paranoid. Background Checks…they had to have had them…”
Keep in mind that this was ’81. The public didn’t exactly look in favor of this job. They saw it on the same grounds as a fry-cook at McDonalds… nothing special. When it came time for my interview, I had filed all of my credentials and any important paper-work in a huge binder that I dropped on my manager’s desk.
I remember he chuckled, looked up at me and said, “You think this is the CIA?”
No, but when it came to the Disney corporation and the well-known self-preservation of their image, I would’ve at least thought that even a simple job like this would’ve come with a simple background check. It bewildered me, sure, but I had just been given a job at Disney World. A mediocre and exhausting job, sure, but I loved the idea of “Worked As A Disney Character” showing up on my resume. There was no room to complain where bragging could only fit.
My attitude towards this profession quickly shifted to morose as I began observing some of these employees that were so easily let in to the “Face Character’s Guild.” For example, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see a character begin to wobble out of exhaustion. This happens more than you think. I remember the first time I saw this and wanted to walk up and offer a drink of water, but when I approached the character who was dressed as Dumbo, he snapped at me.
“What are you doing? Donald Duck and Dumbo aren’t the same movie! You’re ruining the fantasy! Go back to your spot, sucker!”
Strange stuff, right? I can understand a little bit of his reasoning for continuity, but this is Disney World. It’s the melting pot of cartoon characters. It’d be reasonable to assume that this was a one time thing…which I initially reasonably assumed. Then I began observing more of these characters. I remember washing my hands in the employee restroom when I overheard two characters who were talking to each other from their stalls. So I eavesdropped:
“I heard Minnie was caught cheating on him.”
“Get out…with who?”
“That’s something Mickey might need to see a shrink for. Don’t you agree?”
“I knew she was a whore the second I watched her.”
“The Mickey Mouse Club is gonna have an awkward Christmas.”
Honest to god, truth, that is what I heard. Now, I may be wrong, and that could be code talk for some gossip about the other employees…but that just raises more questions. Who would be so paranoid as to only talk about people encrypted as Disney Characters? Was it a joke? It sounded a bit too serious for it to be taken as a goof. Here’s another one: I once saw a face character take a break from all the greetings and walk up to a water fountain and start drinking…with his mask on. It was after I saw that, I began viewing this park through a different set of eyes. I’d list more strange activities like this, but it would just seem repetitive wackiness. But it’s true. This kind of behavior continued for 3 weeks, almost to where it seemed normal behavior.
Was it this Florida heat? Maybe a majority of the characters suffer from minor heat stroke-like symptoms and aren’t even aware of it. Was it the park’s water? I wouldn’t know because I refuse to use a water fountain that some kid’s germ infested mouth probably drank from. All I knew was that something was definitely wrong with the majority of these employees.
When it came to the end of my shift, it was 7pm. I was stuffing that atrocious duck costume into my locker, when I heard my name over the intercom being called. My manager wanted to see me.
“You been keeping up with this whole child abduction thing?”
My boss paced back and forth, on edge.
“It’s pretty hard not to,” I replied, “So it’s confirmed then? They’re abductions?”
He sat down in his swivel chair. I remember he had a wet rag that he put on his forehead to cool him off.
“This doesn’t look good. And just to clarify, this whole influx of employees for the summer wasn’t my idea. You know? It was uh....” He coughed, pointing up…referring to the higher ups.
“I’m asking if you know of anybody…anybody at all that is showing suspicious behavior…particularly around the kids? Because I really need a miracle here.”
There were too many to count.
“I don’t hang out with pedophiles, so no.” I said, feeling apologetic.
He threw his head back in frustration.
“Those men in suits that are standing out there? They’re not business men. They got badges, and sooner or later the higher ups are gonna find out, and come down on me HARD. They’ll put the whole thing on me, and I didn’t even do it! Get it? My reputation we’ll be ruined! So let me ask: what use are you?”
None. I felt bad that I wasn’t helping his situation, but it’s not a situation I’m a part of.
He pinched his nose and closed his eyes.
“Go. You’re the innocent one here. Fuck me for managing the happiest place in the world!”
He shewed me away and slammed the door on me. I couldn’t help but feel bad. Disney’s too big of a corporation to let a scandal like this bring them down. They’d put it on someone else, someone small and feeble like my boss. It’s the dog-eat-dog nature of the business world.
The next day is when things really took a turn.
It was my shift again. The sun was fueling up for another hot day. I got there early, twenty minutes before they opened the gates. There was me, Donnie the Duck, waiting for an exciting day of taking pictures and making smiles. I remember thinking to myself that I should start coming earlier, because there were no characters walking into walls or screaming about the deterioration of the gene pool (that happened)…nothing like that. It was just me and a couple other vendors setting up their stands. It’s interesting how you can be exposed to the strange for a certain period of time, and when things revert to normal, things seem strange again.
Police officers, three of them, sprint past me. My heart stopped. This was it. “One of them’s getting cuffed.”
I rushed over to see what the ruckus was about.
They line up against the door of the janitor’s stock room, pistols drawn. One of them was telling me and the vendors to back off.
“Open the door! We can talk about this!” One of them said.
“I swear to god… I swear to god if he did what he said…” Another said… his voice whimpering. It was this one who lifted his foot up, and busted through the wooden door.
They stormed in.
“No! No! You monster! You fucking monster!” One said from inside.
This was a hell of a trip to see, because the “Magical Kingdom” was starting to sound like a filthy crime film.
This is when things get crazy. One of the cops drag out one of the face characters… it was Minnie Mouse. There was red smeared all over the torso and legs.
The cop throws Minnie to the ground, pulls out his baton, and proceeds to the beat the living shit out of him. We’re talking about some major whaling here, with his baton and his foot. He doesn’t seem to be letting up.
One of the other cops comes outside and begins puking. He finishes and begins to pull the violent cop away from Minnie.
“Let it go, man!”
“Fuck that!” the violent one said.
Then, a swarm of Disney Security members, about seven or eight of them, run over and tackle all three of the cops to the ground.
While this is all happening, Minnie gets up and runs away from the scene. I really wished I had chased after the costume, but I just stood there, hoping that the security team would take notice and run after…but they didn’t.
“Wrong guy! Wrong fucking guy! It’s the guy in the costume! I’m an officer of the law! I gotta badge!” The violent one said, “Are you off your fuckin’ meds?”
They put them in handcuffs and drag them off.
The security closes the door without even looking inside, and they begin taping off the scene. The tape wasn’t even police tape. It was yellow tape that said “Under Construction.” Already twenty minutes had passed, and the gates had opened.
The park’s microphones begin to speak.
“Welcome everyone! In celebration for decades of continued support, we’re giving away free Ice Cream for everyone who visits any ice cream vendor! Don’t wait any longer!”
It was after this incident that my boss was fired and replaced, and the park’s face character count had dropped significantly. Three days later I resigned. I told this incident to Donnie. Naturally, he thought I was lying…which I thought was interesting. I would’ve at least thought that the other vendors would have spread this around like wild fire. Maybe they all unanimously decided that this story was too crazy to be spoken orally or written down, for good reason. I saw the disbelief in his face. He joked in response: “That cop shouldn’t have cursed.”
Looking back at that summer, it felt like a Twilight Zone episode. I know it’s beyond strange. I know that it’s something that I should look into further. However, the hard-boiled truth is that I don’t get paid enough to pursue conspiracies within massive organizations. I got other stuff I wanna do. I’m not the protagonist or the antagonist. I’m just a kid who got a strange job in a strange place filled with strange people during a strange time. This is an observation, not a grilling. If I were to leave with one piece of advice, it’d be this:
Be careful of those who are masked, and shake your hand, and take their picture with you. Behind every mask is someone who wishes to remain anonymous, and behind that wish…is the possibility of fantasies that go beyond terror.