The Disney Scooter Story
Jeff and I were best friends for most of elementary school.
He liked French fries, playing Sega and the 49ers. He had a twin sister, Megan who had a freckled nose and auburn hair. Megan and I dated for about a year between the 6th and 7th grades. Now when I say “dated”, we held hands at the mall and occasionally talked on the phone. We never kissed. But if it wasn’t for me, we would have. Hell if it wasn’t for me, we probably would have popped in the Boys II Men cassette and indulged ourselves in some serious suburban petting.
I remember on a few occasions, when Megan and I found ourselves alone in a half lite room, how she curled next to me and closed her eyes and pursed her lips and waited. Of course I wanted to kiss her. But by kissing her I had to be brave. I had to force my lips to meet hers. I remember my heart thumping and my hands shaking. I remember her strawberry breathe. I remember how our lips lingered achingly close. I remember how when the moment bent to crisis, I broke and retreated and had to wait, agonizingly, until high school to taste the salty pouts of a fine young dame.
As for Jeff and I, we spent most of our summers playing baseball at the local grounds known as Washington Lane.
We would play home run derby on the little league field with the 60 foot bases and short fence. We had a bucket of tennis balls and a Wiffle bat stuffed with newspaper and wrapped in electrical tape. We would spend hours cooking in the summer heat, crushing Penns into the evergreens beyond the left field fence. We would emulate the swings of the big leaguers. McGwire. Canseco. Bonds. Sosa. What can I say, it was the 90’s and 500 foot home runs were fashionable as were needles and Mexican manufactured testosterone.
It’s late August and after a few rounds of home run derby Jeff and I walked down Washington Lane toward his house when Richie W., the neighborhood bully, steps out from nowhere and stalks toward us with loud heavy steps. His boots popping off the hot pavement. Jeff and I trade glances. The space between the three of us closes. I wring the bat handle. Jeff clears his throat. You see, Richie hated Jeff. I don’t know why. Maybe because they both had red hair or because Jeff had friends and Richie didn’t or maybe there was just a meanness in Richie, a meanness that can only be found in murderers and in the Comcast customer service training manual.
Richie marches into Jeff’s face. Their noses almost touching. Things must have been said, but all I can remember is what happened next. Yet I managed to suppress the details of the moment for the last 20 years.
That is until I went to Disney World.
It’s 2013 and I’m driving a motorized scooter through the Magic Kingdom. Weaving in and out of the human traffic as a base-less, high- trebled version of Ac/Dc’s “Highway to Hell” screams from my cellphone that is fixed in the front basket of my rented ride.
I scoot by the Hall of Presidents and the Liberty Square Riverboat where, Chip and Dale spot me and I swear raise an imaginary roof.
As I wiz pass the Country Bear Jamboree, a column of sunlight glints my handlebars and catches Daisy Duck’s plastic eye. Apparently I’m too much for her. As she disregards the line of kids waiting for a picture and twerks her tail feather at me like Miley Cyrus at the VMAs.
“Highway to Hell” fades out and Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin” announces my arrival to Frontierland. Now there is a chance that the attention I warranted was from Fred Durst’s liberal use of “fuck” or maybe I just happened to be the Belle of the ball that fateful afternoon. Dads sporting Mickey Mouse ears and backpacks and jorts and white New Balance sneakers took notice. Desperate housewives with their 50 Shades of Gray fantasies tongue the corner of their mouth and tighten their yoga thighs and romanticize what a night with a biker would be like as I passed by at a cool 4 miles per hour nodding and thinking, “Walt who?” “Walt who?”
In January, I had surgery to repair a talus fracture in my right ankle. The talus is one of the many bones that make up the ankle. It is a weight bearing bone that is surrounded by ligaments and tendons and is nestled between the femur and tibia. A talus fracture usually occurs over time, after years of ankle cruelty like playing sports or white man dancing (AKA jumping) or wearing those low cut bootie socks on really cold days. Unfortunately, the only way to repair the fracture was to replace the broken talus with a cadaver. And since the doctors were using screws to hold the cadaver in place until the new bone fused with my old bones I was restricted to non- weight baring for 12 weeks.
Now before I got to Disney I had some valuable scooter training. Every Friday, while recovering from the surgery, mom would take me to Target where I would cruise around in one of their courtesy scooters. From my estimation these scooters were late 90’s models. High miles. Poor handling. Slow acceleration. Wide turning radius. But I did appreciate the horn. Especially in high traffic areas like the cereal aisle, where a pack of shuffling Betties often stood between me and my afternoon rendezvous with the esteemed Cap n’ Crunch.
However, my recovery wasn’t all fun and games. I was productive. In fact, some would argue that I was more productive in twelve weeks with one leg then five years with two legs in college.
Here’s a quick list of my accomplishments:
-Refinanced my mortgage
-Showered approximately 7 times (Relax, I did the warm cloth wipe down once a day)
-Started a blog
-Took two online masters classes in Educational Administration
-Deleted my blog
-Decided blogging is stupid (I am laughing at the irony now)
-Perfected pan-seared Salmon
-Made a bunch of Spotify playlists including Scooter Music, my Disney World soundtrack, and the Best of DMX
-Wrote a shitty short story about a failing marriage set in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
-Read a book of Robert Frost’s poetry, All the Pretty Horses, One Day We Will all be Chicks, Brave New World, The Power of Myth and the good parts of the Bible
-Listened to the first seven Bruce Springsteen albums in their entirety and in chronological order
-Planned a family trip to Disney World where I bought hopper passes, reserved breakfast with princesses, booked airfare for 7, an SUV for 9 and rented a scooter
I’ll save you from the extraneous details on how Mom got a complimentary week stay at a plush timeshare in Kissimmee, Florida and how 8 minutes after announcing Cindy and I had made whoopie and that the whoopie produced an embryo and 9 months later that embryo would ripen into my daughter Haley and that Haley would have to be plungered out of Cindy’s vagina and how since becoming a Grandmother, Mom has longed to take her grandchildren to Disney World.
So 11 weeks after my surgery I am scooting through Frontier Land just outside of Splash Mountain when I get separated from my family. The only one who stays with me is my mother- in- law Patti. I am scooting around the concourse in the flow of human traffic when good old Walt decided to be funny and install three steps along the concourse so scooters, strollers and lazy people get funneled into a jug -handle.
This funneling causes a spontaneous version of bumper vehicles. The strollers feel they have the right-of-way because they carry precious cargo. The scooters feel they have the right-of –way because they carry damaged cargo. And the lazy people are too lazy to think of a reason why they should have the right-of –way so they just flat-fuck refuse to get out of the way. Patti escorts me through the jug-handle- derby and we come to the weld where the jug-handle and concourse meet. We are greeted by a wall of human traffic. It’s like trying to merge onto I-95 and not a single Douchekateer will let you in.
Patti looks down at me and says, “ I will make a path. Follow me.”
Despite being 5 ‘4 and 120 pounds, Patti courageously shoulders her way into traffic. As I thumb the throttle and edge my way in behind her this dude, lets emasculate this fucker right now and call him No Nuts, looks down at her, looks to his fat friend, smiles and barks like a dog in her ear. A fucking dog. In her fucking ear. Patti recoils but there is nowhere to go. No Nuts looks at his fat friend again, lets call him Donuts, who is making mouth love to a jumbo turkey leg, and the two urinal cakes laugh and laugh and laugh.
No Nuts turns to Patti again. RUFF RUFF RUFF RUFF.
Now as a proud Philadelphian, I tend to channel my inner Rocky Balboa when the shit floats to the fan.
“Hey Yo. Yo. Hey Yo.”
No one hears me.
No Nuts barks again in Patti’s ear, RUFF RUFF R-R-R RUFF.
No Nuts turns to Donuts and they high five and slap backs like a couple of high school bullies who just stuffed the JV trombonist into a locker.
Now, scooter etiquette suggests that when scooting in a crowded area the throttle is to remain in the Turtle position. However, seeing my mother –in-law barked at and sitting at dick height all day I snap. I thumb the throttle up to Rabbit, explode with an electric burst of power and ram into the back of No Nuts legs.
No Nuts snaps around.
Me-( Looking up at N.N.) Hey! Yo! Down here!
N.N.- (Looking down at me) Why did you run into me!?
Me (Looking up at N.N.). Why did you have to be an asshole!?
Donuts- (Looking down at me shaking his turkey leg) What’s wrong with you!?
The human traffic pumps their brakes. They sense somethin’s -a-rotten in the state of Florida. They rubberneck and form a loose circle around us. The Magic Kingdom concourse is transformed into a high school hallway. The crowd grows.
Screw Elsa, Anna and that dopey snowman. I’m the main attraction here.
A sour ball of hot hate rises in my throat.
All those eyes.
I’m Denzel Washington at the end of Training Day. Desperate. Backed into a corner. Nowhere to scoot. An unlit Kool taut between my teeth. Surrounded by unpleasant Bloods or in my case, a throng of Disney fanatics. Men in Goofy hats. Women in princess gowns. Children carrying swords and wands and buckets of kettle corn. The weight of their eyes on me. I try not to squirm in my seat. Underneath my steely bravado frustration and fear and regret boil something toxic.
Then I remember. I had been here before.
I remember their noses almost touching.
I remember the sweat boiling on Richie’s forehead. I remember Jeff’s Adam’s apple sliding up and down his throat. I remember wringing the bat handle. Then Richie shoved Jeff, hard. Jeff tumbles back and the bucket of tennis balls spills and the balls scattered like rabbits in a forest fire. Jeff hits the ground and turtles into the fetal position. Richie kicks him in the ass and back and ribs. Hard hollow kicks with the toe of his boot. Jeff cries and Richie laughs and I do nothing. Not a goddamn thing. When Richie decides to stop, he stands over Jeff and laughs. Then he turns to me, grins and walks away.
After sometime Jeff stops crying and unravels himself. Things were quiet between us on the walk to Jeff’s house. A few days later, Jeff and I began 9th grade at different high schools and drifted apart. We never spoke about the incident. In fact, we haven’t spoken in over 20 years.
No Nuts and Donuts are standing over me. They posture and laugh. No Nuts barks . RUFF RUFF RRRR.
Donuts laughs and tears into the turkey leg. His lips flap together. Turkey juice dribbles down his chin. A snap of old images and old sounds flare in my brain. I see faces of childhood bullies. Of girls who never called back. I hear the old insults “Legweak” and “Arms- not-so-strong.” I hear old cackles. Pansy. Pussy. Soccer playing fairy. Feel the finger flick against my ear. Somehow I’m a kid again and I’m unsure and inadequate and cowardly again. Richie Williamson is there. I hear his hard hollow kicks. Jeff is there, crying. And Megan is there, her young pink lips pursed and trembling. My stomach turns. My palms sweat. The crowd grows. No Nuts and Donuts posture with a pair of cocky grins. Rrrrr-RUFF.I clear my throat. I jut my chin. I tighten my jaw. I want to be a man of integrity and bravery. But I can’t handle more embarrassment. Not at my age. I see myself groveling on the ground next to my smashed scooter. My eyes black and swollen with blood. They want blood. I want blood. RUFF RUFF. Donuts smiles. His lips glisten with turkey grease. My hate rises. I want to tear this fucking place apart. From Futureland to Tomorrowland to Mickey’s Toon Town Fair to Sleeping Beauty’s Cottage to Main Street USA. Let a hurricane sink this place. Let the earth swallow it whole. Let the Big Bad Wolf blow this bitch down. Let the fires rage. Let the locust come. Let Cinderella’s castles crumble to pixie fucking dust.
The moment strains to crisis.
All those eyes.
I remember a soft wind and a great blue sky and War’s Low Rider jangling from my cellphone and I fucking hate Low Rider but I felt obliged to put it on Scooter Music.
So I lose it…
I’LL RUN ALL Y’ALL OVER!
The roar of my voice surprised me. It’s the voice of a desperate man-boy. A man-boy who spent years suppressing things. Things that I did not know were there until a Dipshit wearing Crocs barked at my mother- in law.
I’LL RAME THIS BITCH UP YOUR ASSHOLES!
Low- ri-der drives a little slower…
Mothers earmuff their children. Religious zealots fall to their knees. Old folks wag their heads in shame, condemning the youth, blaming our insolence on rock-and-roll and the internet. And if you were listening closely, if you were sitting quietly in a quiet place, Synagogue or Starbucks, at this exact moment in time you undoubtedly heard the hollow cracking of Walter Elias Disney’s fossilized heart.
I WILL MAKE ROADKILL OUT OF YOU FUCKS!
ALL Y’ALL FUCKS!
Low- ri-der don’t use no gas now
IT’S A SMALL WORLD BITCHES!…
And that’s when the crowd began to turn on me. An invisible line had been crossed. And I had gone from vigilante to villain faster than you could sing Zippedy Do Da.
Someone advised I scoot on out of there. Another voice suggested that I be ashamed of myself. My mother-in-law tugged at my sleeve.
Take a little trip…
Take a little trip…
Come on Jay lets go.
I roll away still barking…
YOU’RE LUCKY! ALL Y’ALL!
Come on Jay.
The human circle opens and we break through. I’m still looking back over my shoulder at No Nuts and Donuts and they seem frozen, left to mull over the sad, strange circumstance they just endured. Patti has a solid pinch on my coat. She is embarrassed. But doesn’t say so. Doesn’t have to. I, on the other hand, am not.
Something was happening here.
Just so you know, I’m not some memoir – writing- meat- head who thinks he’s a UFC welterweight, eager to rear naked choke everyone he sees. I’m quite passive. In fact I cringe at most public confrontations. Like when mom sends back the Tour of Italy to Jose’ and the boys in the Olive Garden kitchen because the Fettuccine Alfredo is too saucy. In this situation I’m much too uncomfortable and too cowardly to look directly at the waiter. So I elect to either stare sheepishly into the never-ending hole of salad on the table or shrink in my seat and update my Twitter with “Awkwardness at the OG. I ❤ breadsticks.”
Patti and I meet up with Cindy and the kids at Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride. Haley and Chase are standing in line. I mute Scooter Music- the Beach Boys I Get Around – again not one of my favorites but an obligatory song on any driving playlist. I park and cut the key and do a one-legged hop to a bench where Cindy is sitting. I rub her belly, talk to the boy inside and I tell them the story I just told you. The kids buckle themselves in their magic carpet. Cindy laughs and the boy inside kicks. We don’t know it yet but his name will be Dylan. He will be quick to walk but slow to talk. He will love Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts and hate taking baths. Haley and Chase are cheering on their carpet as it rises and falls. Dylan kicks. Cindy and I cheer them on. As a family we all cheer life on.
A wind blows and Cindy shivers and I put my arm around her the way I did when I was 16. We look at each other and smile together as we have done for so many years. There is still something mysterious about the way I feel toward her. That electric nervous feeling when she is beside me is still alive and well. Like I’m 16. But I’m 34 now. And somehow she still fills my boxers with boners. Extraordinary.
It amazes me how that 16 year old boy ever became a husband and a father. It’s funny to think how those seemingly subtle transitions were actually enormous leaps.
Over the years I have told the Disney Scooter Story dozens of times. To friends and colleagues and students. Students particularly like the story. I think it’s reassuring to them that they are being taught the fundamentals of English by a real badass. When I tell the story in class I always end with me scooting through the human circle, defiantly barking at No Nuts and Donuts. Like some big shot. Scooting off into the sunset. I never tell my students about the Magic Carpet scene. My goal for telling the story in class is four-pronged: to entertain, to be the center of attention, to kill a few minutes of valuable instructional time and in some Freudian way vindicate my ghosts of bullies past.
But I don’t include the scene mostly because when you’re a teenager you’re just skimming the surface of things like love and regret. At least I was when I was 16.
In case you’re wondering, I have never told the Jeff/ Richie story before. Not to anyone. Not to Cindy, not to my parents, not to my brothers and certainly not to my students. I always felt to retell the story would be more public confession then entertainment. For 20 years I have thought about it, wrestled with it and tried, unsuccessfully to push it away hoping it would never come back. But it came back. Stories of embarrassment and guilt always do.
When we returned home from Disney I started to walk again. On July 9th Dylan was born. On September 4th an MRI revealed my brain damage.
I thought bravery would come easier, more naturally with age. It doesn’t. Like anything, bravery must be practiced and repeated in order to sustain success. I wish I could make my younger self do brave things. Maybe I would have been more prepared to do them as an adult. I wish I could help Jeff fight off Richie. Or even just say, “ stop”. I wish I kissed Megan. I wish I had tilted my head and forced my lips to meet hers. But I didn’t. Even now, as I tell you this, all I can do is watch myself fail to do the things I should have done.
I’m 34 years old. I have a wife, 3 children and a degenerative brain condition. All I can do is be brave.
I just wish I practiced more as a kid.