Happiest Place on Earth

My parents were married on June 6th, 1977. My dad wanted me to be home for their thirtieth anniversary this year, but I told him I couldn’t, I had to work. He wasn’t too happy, I mean, “it isn’t every day that a couple stays together (and alive) for thirty years together”. His words, not mine. But, I work every year from June 1st to June 7th without fail. I told him I wanted to be there for his anniversary, God, I really really did. In fact, if I could be there, it would mean I would not have to be where I was when I had wished him a happy 27th, 28th, and 29th anniversary. I remember he asked me, “you’re probably gonna be wishing me a happy 31st from there too, aren’t you?” I told him, yes, I would probably be wishing him a happy thirty-first anniversary from Disneyworld, like always.

Yes, Disneyworld. I have to go to Disneyworld for one week every year from June 1st to June 7th.

I really hate that part of my job. I’m a photojournalist, which is fancy-speak for “I like to take pictures, but I have to take pictures people want to see.” I’d be happy to take all those standard scenic vista panoramas and close-up flower shots for the rest of my life, but if I did, my life wouldn’t be very long—I’d be starving and dead. No one wants those pictures. So, I take pictures of stuff people are going to pay me for.

(I still take the pictures of scenic vistas and flowers, but mostly for myself.)

I usually work for a newspaper in Branson, Missouri called The Branson Courier. It has a small circulation, about three thousand, but at only sixty-five hundred in Branson, that’s quite impressive. They like to send me far away to photograph anything exotic I can find. Usually art exhibits or photo-essays of interesting corners of the world. Branson likes to have that classy appeal in their paper since their main economy is, believe it or not, theatre. Know what happens when you pack a bunch of East-coast artsy acting folks together in the middle-of-nowhere Missouri? They start starving on the lack of “art”. They’re theatre people—they survive on poetry and high-brow aesthetics. I’m not from Missouri; I’m from Jersey, but I go where work is. And, the people of Branson have spoken: they want some nice photos in their newspaper, and I’m just the man.

They once sent me specifically to the Louvre, in Paris, to take pictures of Pastoral paintings. They wanted a special edition newspaper, printed in full-color, with all the major pastoral works of art currently displayed at the Louvre, so they sent me. This is why I like my job: free Paris trip to go do something I would do anyways. Problem is that the Louvre doesn’t allow photography for exactly this reason: print reproduction. But, I wasn’t going to be stopped, so I snuck in a small camera and took as many pictures as I could, hiding it in my sleeve. Some of the pictures caught my hand or thumb in the way, but they still went to press because the people of Branson demanded it. I still see that color issue of the Louvre floating around sometimes.

Not every job is cool like that one, though. I am now invoking the But Law. The But Law is that whenever something sounds too good to be true, it is, and if you wait long enough, someone will go “but…” and explain to you something not-so-pleasant. There’s a big But Law with Branson, Missouri; despite that Branson attracts those art-starving theatre people, it’s still in Missouri. Bible-belt Missouri. God-fearing, televangelist, trailer-park Missouri. These are the people who listen to Pat Robertson—and not for comedy.

These same people love Walt Disney. Every single house has a chest full of every VHS and DVD of every classic Disney film. Between artistic families who want their daughters to learn to sing from Belle or the trailer-trash who uses Hercules to pacify, hypnotize, and (sadly) educate their children, Disney is a minor deity in these parts. There’s always a TV on somewhere that has Mufasa dying. On Halloween, it’s a parade of Jasmine’s, Ariel’s, and Cinderella’s.

And, one day, Branson, Missouri heard about this thing called Gay Days.

Gay Days is an event organized and orchestrated by a group of well-educated homosexuals with exceptional networking skills. Tens-of-thousands of homosexuals meet up and party in Orlando from June 1st to June 7th every year. You know how in the Bible, locusts descended upon Egypt and made the skies dark? Well, during the first week of June, gays descend upon Orlando and make the streets rainbow and fabulous. They all like to congregate and use Disneyworld as a hub because no matter how much you like to hump, everyone likes roller coasters.

Branson’s out-raged natives soon found a kindred spirit in the American Family Association, who were equally horrified by their family-friendly Disney hosting such a terrible thing as Gay Days. The A.F.A. have considered themselves “on the front line of America’s culture war since 1977.” I wish I was making that up. This is where I come in: The A.F.A. in support with many local Bransonites appealed to the Branson Courier to send me as an undercover photographer to get incriminating photographs of Disneyworld allowing, administering, and promoting these Gay Days activities. Yes, I said “undercover.”

The first year I did this project, I thought “it’ll be a good vacation, get some sun in Florida and relax, get to go to Disneyworld.” I had just got back from doing a piece on wildlife in the Rockies, so something warm was gonna be right up my alley. My editor brought me into his office after he heard I accepted and he said the following with total seriousness:

“If you can, try to get some pictures of them having sex.”


“Yeah, gays. The A.F.A. wants to see if they can dig up Disney promoting sexual misconduct. Any sort of lewd, lascivious behaviors.”

“You want me to photograph pornography?”

“If it’s out in the public, sure.” I tried to phrase my next response very delicately. I was thinking along these lines: “I think there’s going to be a lot of open sexuality going on, I mean, they are there because of their sexual choice. It would be obvious that they express this sexuality. And, at the same time, they are no different than heterosexual people, and we don’t just go and have sex in public just because.” I wanted to say something eloquent and well-thought-out.

What I said was: “Photograph dicks. Got it.” My editor wasn’t too happy with this response, but he sent me on my way anyways. Fast forward three years, and I’m about to go on my fourth Disney Dick Hunt while my parents celebrate their thirtieth anniversary.

I’m sitting in a bar in the terminal of Branson Airport, code BKG. The outside of this place has disgusting timber-green roofing and the walls are all made up to look like a log-cabin. There’s only one landing strip and one airline that services this airport. There are a lot of local flights in-and-out of BKG, little Cessna’s and puddle-jumpers. Usually, you have to hop a leg to a bigger airport then go where you want, but today, I was lucky enough to get a flight straight to Orlando, which meant I was able to do what I really wanted to do: drink this week away.

There are three gates, two restaurants, six bathrooms, and sixteen vending machines. I’ve counted. I was at one of the two restaurants, Famous Dave’s Watering Hole, which was costumed like a Wild-West looking tourist trap. There was a detached wagon wheel underneath a cattle’s skull in the corner and a motorized water-wheel outside churning a standing pool of water. The irony of a fake, motorized water-wheel made me chuckle years ago, but now, it was just another thing I had gotten used to in this funny little airport.

Usually, I like to chat people up in airports. I like to know what they think of my newest job or expedition. It’s usually all positive feedback. “Oh, that’s cool!” “That’s so neat you got to see that!” But, after doing the Disney Dick Hunt for three years, I had heard plenty of responses. They went like this:

“Who the hell do you think you are to go down there and judge them?”

“I can’t believe Disney would promote things like that!”

“Why are you going down there to photograph this?”

That third response is my favorite, because I don’t have a good answer. Money, I say.

I liquored myself up until the hard angles became soft, then I hopped my plane and promptly passed out. I awoke to the opening of the pressurized cabin doors and instantly, my nostrils felt drenched. That humid air stuck up into my airways like a sponge and I felt like I had to fight the air to get into my lungs. I never liked the salty air of the coasts. That’s why I left Jersey. Anytime I had to return and smell that thick, salty air, I remembered everything I hated about life. The air reminded me of being beaten up by Carlos Sandoval in fourth grade or about how I got cheated on by my first girlfriend as a sophomore in high school or how I still have a scar on my knee from my dad dropping that couch we were moving when I was twelve. I dislike the air. It’s thick like syrup. I do not like the air, Sam I am.

It wasn’t long before I got my bag and was at a Duty-Free. The kiosk looked like a candy store to me. So many beautiful, twisty bottles and choices. Clear or dark? Whiskey or vodka? Imported or domestic? This is what Augustus Gloop must have felt before he dived into the chocolate river in Willy Wonka. The man running the Duty-Free was a smiling Caribbean with a white vest over his tucked-in shirt.

“Greetings! What’s ah fancy?” he asked in a standard Caribbean way where the vowels are over-emphasized and consonants drown. Actually, he said it more like this: “Wotzah fawn-see?” I smiled at him in a dismissive way and then leaned over my knees to look closer. I’m not a mean guy, I just don’t think it is necessary to bother people uselessly. “Hello?” he repeated, leaning down with me, then stuck out a knobby finger and poked a bottle I was looking at. “Bash stuff dat. Tommy Bahama White Sand rum, very premium stuff, bad like yaz. Like-ah rum?”

“When in Rome,” I responded.

“And whatta when ah in Orlando?”

“Drink rum,” I guessed.

“You’ve ah before!” he said with a big smile. I nodded. “So your trip? Family? Vacation?”


“Oh, I’ve seen a lotta battymans flex for this for that. You don’t favor battymans seems to me,” he said with a chuckle. I honestly had no clue what he meant. “Sorry, I’ll be more speaky-spoke, I don’t judge none, but you-ah-me, it looks so you guys have more fun than I think any of us shorty-chasahs do! Easier den tha cat! Must get x amount and plenty dat good agony, yeah?”

“I’m not with them. I’m a photographer.”

“Ah,” he responded, nodding to hide the fact he had no idea what I was getting at.


“Ah,” he said again, same fake nod. A smirk broke his lips. I knew what he was thinking.

“Not like that.”

“No judge, man, no judge.” I grabbed the bottle of Tommy Bahama and held it to him. He took it, went back to the kiosk booth, and started to ring me up. I produced my wallet, then looked at the wall behind him.

“That, too,” I said, pointing to a pint of Jack Daniels. He nodded, grabbed it, then I pointed again. “And a fifth of Bombay.”

“Not getting no sket drink, are yah.”

“It’s gonna be a long week, I want good stuff.”

“I hear ya, man.” I gave him my card, swipe, receipt, and I waved him off from bagging the bottles. I leaned down to my suitcase, unzipped it and was moving clothes around to fit the bottles in when he leaned over me and continued to talk. “Bash cargo, man, super bash,” he said, pointing to my camera. It was in an expensive leather case with three lenses: a telephoto, wide-angle, and a normal. I said thanks without looking. “So what ah photographing? Something newsy about these battymans?”

“Someone seems to think so,” I said, putting the bottles into socks and then delicately tucking them back between clothes.

“You-ah-me, brudda, I feel dey no different ah you-ah-me, just have dey chi-chi choice and I say we leave ‘em to each other. Ah feel no way bout dem.”

“Me neither,” I said, zipping my case back up.

“Why the tub ah drank den?”

“Thanks,” I said, standing, and wheeling my suitcase off.

“Jah guide, man! Honor!”

As I sat on the Magical Kingdom Express—a bus directly from Orlando International Airport to Disneyworld, emblazoned with Mickey on the sides—I ran through exactly what the Caribbean man had said. Bash meant “cool”, battyman obviously meant gay, and I knew Jah meant “God”. It wasn’t hard to figure out in context, but the extent of my Jamaican knowledge is Cool Runnings. Was he Jamiacan? Probably. Hard to tell, honestly, and I wonder if it is racist that I can openly admit I have no applicable knowledge to discern the race and creed of some people. It’s probably more racist to assume he is Jamaican. But, I still had no idea what “sket” meant. Sket…sket…”Not getting no sket drank” he said. Not getting any bad drinks? Any cheap drinks? Who knows.

I analyzed my conversation as the scenery went by the Magical Kingdom Express bus. Eventually, I asked myself the same question that the Jamaican (I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna assume he was Jamaican) asked me: “Why the tub of alcohol?” I had a superficial reason. I don’t like being here. I hate Disneyworld. I hate my yearly Disney Dick Hunt. I usually just take pictures of some flamboyantly-dressed expressive gays, go on a few roller coasters to kill the day, then watch the hotel TV until the next day. Before it’s all over, I waste a bunch of film taking those standard non-descript pictures of crowds to emphasize scale—the type of pictures they blur out and use as a backdrop for statistics. I am a master of those “blurry background photos” for presentational purposes. Nothing’s better than a mess of make-up-wearing men hugging in front of the Disney Castle to make the Bransonites furious and get me my paycheck.

We arrived at the Magical Kingdom parking lot. If you’ve ever seen the Matrix, you’ll know how I felt. Remember the scene with the rows and rows of human pods, stretching forever? Think of that, except it was mini-vans. Mini-vans in row after row to the horizon, as far back as I could see. Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Kia Sedona and Chrysler Town & Country. As many as you could imagine, like some minivan morgue or battlefield. At the end of the parking lot was a huge, looming arch with a pair of Mickey ears that acted as a lighthouse in the minivan grid parking lot. Beneath the Babylonian Mickey ears was a terminal awaiting the central express train which would bring one into the park proper. I stepped underneath the arch and went to the ticket booth.

“Welcome to Disneyworld! Our one-day pass is thirty-nine-ninety-nine, and our--” a teenage girl smiled and said with genuine aplomb. They hadn’t beaten the smile out of her yet. Good for her.

“Hold on,” I interrupted her. “I have a reservation.” I pulled out a piece of paper and read her the cryptic number-letter sequence. I don’t think that the Russians could break Disney’s booking code algorithm; the thing was twenty-six digits. I’ve seen bank accounts with less information.

“All week park hopper pass and you’ll be staying at the Port Orleans riverside resort, for a Mr. Daniel Welton, correct?”

“Correct.” I gave her my license, signed a paper, and I had my ticket and card to get into my room. And there it was—my name. I was officially,digitally, marked-in-stone at Disneyworld and I had checked in. Daniel Welton was now at Disneyworld and it was real. Again. Fourth year in a row.

The Branson Courier always took care of these work-related expenses, but I really wished they would be smarter about it. It’s much cheaper to stay at a Holiday Inn outside of Disneyworld than inside, in the belly of the beast. I got onto the train to take me into the main hub of Disneyworld and pulled out my phone to call my editor. “Hey,” I said, barely letting him greet me back, “I’m here, Disneyworld. I had a question, y’know, just one thing, pal: you do realize it’s cheaper to book me in a Holiday Inn outside of the park, right? You’re wasting about, oh, I dunno, eight hundred dollars to put me in there, right?”

“Get over it. Consider it a vacation. Consider it like camping in the savannah to photograph lions. You’re in their den. The heart of the Gay Days.”

“I am going to hate the next week of my life,” I told him monotone.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Daniel. Did you know I love Gary Busey movies?”


“I thought we were talking about stuff that doesn’t matter.”

“Good bye,” I said as I hung up. My editor’s sense of humor is like vermouth: a burning, dry sarcasm and quick-wit that comes with a side of comfort. I clicked the phone shut and put it into my breast pocket. I looked out over the park. It looked like some magnificent hidden den. It was as if their blueprints were postcards and they painted every building with a primary color. Roses were infuriatingly red, red enough to make most suburban mothers/amateur gardeners envious. The streets had no cracks in them. The little ponds and fountains had impossibly blue water. Everything was sterling and pristine in a timeless way. Well, that’s what I’m supposed to think.

But, I don’t quite know if I agree. Pristine, bold colors do not timeless make. They make it look either cartoony or produced. As an adult, you think “produced”. As a kid, you think of the clean simplicity of cartoons, where a punch only makes a comic lump or all problems are solvable by a joke and a chase. In cartoons, everything has a heavy boundary line, that black outline. Here, in Disneyworld, you’re in a boundary place. Everything is clearly demarcated, every color is pure. There is no gray zone. There is no choice. You know what is good and what is bad. All of that wishy-washy tough stuff about making hard decisions as an adult doesn’t matter here. Everything is defined clearly.

Except the prices.

“Hate the next week of your life?” I heard a sly, but jagged voice say. I looked up and saw a woman of forty (maybe forty-five on a bad day) staring at me. She was wearing a zip-up Nike hoodie, slacks, and tennis shoes. She had blonde hair, a little too blonde for her age, tied up in a ponytail that sat just above her tennis visor. To top it off, she had sunglasses positioned on her visor. She wore a little too much make-up, but she must have been gorgeous ten (or fifteen) years ago.

“Oh, that’s not what I meant.”

“I take it you’re not here for the circus then.”

“No,” I curtly responded. Sure, I didn’t want to talk friendly with the flamboyant gays who would trip me into a whole world of “try this, see that, photograph me” routine, but I also disliked the anti-homosexuals, too. They had an agenda. I really dislike agendas, even if it is an agenda promoting everything I believe. I just don’t like the philosophy of an agenda. Having an agenda means admitting that you stand for something resolutely. It doesn’t mesh with me, not at all. I don’t believe it in because of photography. Yes, the photographer thinks of things in terms of photography. With a picture, you’re capturing a moment, a distinct moment (like a distinct agenda), right? Just one pure second on film, a single perceptible moment as concrete as the potential opinions and agenda harbored. Right? Wrong. You can move a camera while it takes the picture and blur it. That which is concrete (an image, a moment in time) is shown to be in motion, and real life is just too much for one picture. Same should be for someone’s beliefs.

You can shake someone’s world up with a few sentences, like “your parents are dead” or “I love you” or you can turn someone’s life around with an action, like smashing their kneecaps with a baseball bat, and everything would have to change. Maybe they’d have to learn to use a wheelchair. Agendas need to be as flexible as we are, and therefore, we can’t abide by agendas. They’re too rigid. Things should be able to change with every action and sentence. Even photographs, those singular moments, are not so concrete.

“Uh-huh,” she said with a wry smile. “Just so you know, I hate it too. These gays, these—“ she leaned forward and whispered, “these faggots, they really piss me off, too. Why do we do this to ourselves, hm? Every year, we’re here, in the middle of their territory, it makes no sense, yet we’re here. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why?”

“Do what, ma’am?”

“Ma’am?” she said breathlessly. “Please, Barbara. Ma’am’s are for…older women.”


“Honestly, you can call me Barbara.”

“Well, I don’t know you, ma’am, so I think not.”

“I’m Barbara.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you, Barbara…?” she fished.

“Thank you, Barbara.” She smiled brightly.

“See? Much better than ma’am. A ma’am doesn’t quite mean the same thing a Barbara does.”

“And that is?”

“Oh, you,” she said, intentionally blushing into her shirt. “You’re certainly not here for the same rides the rest are, are you, mister…?”

“Ma’am, is there something I could help you with?”

“Maybe. Depends if we both play for the same team. Which team do you swing your bat for?”

“The Dodgers.”

“You’re funny.” Contrary to what is presented here, I was not cougar hunting. In fact, I’m not much for dating at the moment. “Why are you here?”

“Job. Photojournalist.” I pointed my finger up to the bag above my head. She looked up then mouthed an “oh.”

“I’m here as an,” she looked around, then leaned in to whisper again, “as a protestor. Someone has got to show these people that what they are doing is wrong. Don’t you think so? It’s just vile. It’s an abomination.”

“It is, it’s awful,” I lazily agreed. The American Family Association would love that I said that.

“They need some God, I think.”

“Really now,” I said, looking back out of the train’s windows. To my dismay, she kept going.

“Everyone does. I think everyone could use a little more God. For example, a while back, my husband was reading books on how to be better in the office. You know how businessmen power read those self-help books. He had gone through Art of War and other dominant animal kingdom books, to show his manliness in the business office world, and then I found him a book about the divinity of business. And, I was so happy. God always has a way, and it’s great when you can see Him poking His head up into everything.”

“Wow,” I said to her.

“Wow, I know!”

I meant “wow” as in the idea of God being a mole who dug his way up into other people’s gardens to tell them how to do their shit. If God leaned in on my photograph to tell me about how he made light so that I can take pictures, I’d tell him “thanks a lot, dude, now let me take a damn photo.”

“Your husband, he’s…?”

“My, you sure do jump to the chase,” she said, sliding down in her chair and stretching out her legs. She crossed them, left to right, showing a bit of her exposed leg. But, the movement would have been much more…effective in a skirt. She was wearing slacks. But, I think I was supposed to pick up on the movement more than the actual skin exposed. But, that’s gender warfare in a nutshell. Pragmatism versus superficiality.

“Not like that.”

“Oh, what way, then? Were you just wondering idly about why I, a taken and married woman, am unaccompanied for a week here at Disneyworld?”

“I think we’re done talking now, Barbara.”

“He’s on business. In the Caribbean. Apparently, there are medical schools down there, and, apparently, they need funding. They actually teach a lot of American students, believe it or not. How delightful is that? All of our universities are clogged up with Punjab’s and Kim Lee’s, so it’s good to see our students at least getting the education they need. He’s donating to a very prominent school in Grenada.”

“You must be so proud,” I said.

“Don’t you let that distract you, honestly. I’m still just an honest girl.”


“Yes, Barbara.”

“Yes, Barbara.”

“Thank you—I didn’t catch your name.”

“Hogarth. Hogarth Hughes.”

“Hogarth. What a very…thick name. Broad name. It suits you.”

“My stop,” I said, standing and grabbing my bag. It wasn’t, but I wanted off. I slipped off at the stop and started walking. I didn’t want to stop to look at the map in fear that Barbara would watch me. And, for the record, Hogarth Hughes is the name of the character in The Iron Giant, one of the best non-Disney animated movies of all time. I don’t think she’ll ever make the connection.

About the name: every time I come here, I assume a new name. Daniel Welton was only at Disneyworld when he checked-in and when he checked-out. And, every year, Daniel Welton had a new name. First year it was Zak Young (Fern Gully), then next year it was Charlie B. Barkin (All Dogs Go To Heaven) and last year I was Cale Tucker (Titan A.E.). Even though I was sent by the A.F.A. and the Branson Courier, if my name was used out of context, it would reflect poorly. Imagine someone going to the A.F.A. and fact-checking that yes, Daniel Welton works for them, and, yes, he was on assignment at Gay Days. Suspicious, isn’t it? So, I use a different name while here. That way, that photographer getting pictures, he was just Zak or Charlie or Cale. Or Hogarth. Easy deniability. So, here’s Hogarth Hughes. Minus the big zappy robot, of course.

As I got off of the train and tried to escape the watchful eye of Barbara, I was accosted by a chubby family. The chubby mother was being tugged by a chubby son to an ice cream stand and a chubby father stood back, peering through his camera and snapping pictures of every moment. The chubby man, wearing a Disney visor, finished snapping his pictures of his family eating ice cream then sat down next t his bowling ball son. Beyond the spherical persons were vendors selling all manner of useless mouse-eared junk. As I walked by, a bouncing Tigger leapt towards me, waving and jumping with a photographer behind him.

I waved him “no thank you”, and he made the physical response of “oh come on, why not?” So, he tried again to get close and pose with me as the photographer crept in and started pointing the camera. Two things: First: when drug programs tell kids to just say no and they depict moments of peer pressure, they should show Disneyworld’s mascots. They beg and pester you until you either get arrested for assault or just give up and play their game. Second: They use awful cameras. It’s a cheap Nikon Powershot. Real photographers would be using something like a Canon EOS. Fucking amateurs.

“Seriously, no,” I said to the mascot. He sulked his shoulders and walked away, looking over his shoulder dramatically.

“Come on, be a sport,” said the chubby man behind me sitting and eating an ice cream cone. His visor still had the price tag on it and he wore a spare tire above his belt. He was now sitting next to his similarly proportioned wife and son, licking the cone like it was the Holy Spear. Then, the man stood, handed his ice cream cone to his son, then grabbed Tigger, swung an arm around me, and smiled at the mousey photographer. He didn’t even wipe the brown smears from his lips. The photographer had snapped the picture before I could respond and was already trying to schill us on the printing price if we gave a confirmation code at the printing booth located by Tomorrowland. I quickly started walking away and the chubby man followed me a few steps. “Hey, relax man, you don’t gotta actually gotta go buy the photos. It’s part of the fun!” I hate Disneyworld.

I found a rail map a moment later and was trying to find out exactly how I was supposed to get to Port Orleans Riverside Hotel. What I saw was something that would give a cartographer half a hard-on: a perfectly topographical geography designed and cut to into logical, immaculate subsections. Disneyworld is the wet dream of architecture and construction nerds. Taming the raw lawlessness of nature and whipping it into a defined and powerfully constructed vision. Nothing is more of an aphrodisiac than beating a more powerful force at its own game. Remember what I said about cartoons and boundary lines? Here’s that philosophy in architecture, too. But, this massive achievement only served one purpose: confusing the hell out of me.

I browsed the map until I found my destination: all the way across the park. I could go and get back on the train, but it’d be thirty-five minutes for the next one (according to the delightful pre-recorded voice). I might as well walk. I turned and saw the kind of thing I had to accustom myself to this week: homosexuality.

Five men walked by me, two of them taking a moment to look back at me and smile. Two of them held hands, and they all were wearing way-too-tight wife beaters, despite their uniform scrawniness. One of them wore a scarf. If you’ve ever been to Orlando in June, you have to appreciate the balls of a man who wears a scarf in this oven they call a state of our union. Fashion was more important than comfort, apparently. I started walking behind this quintet, but I kept my distance. I was still dragging my roller suitcase and had my camera bag slung over my shoulder.

I followed them for a while. They went into a shop and got some rock candy. They joked around with the different hats and wigs and took pictures with their cell phones. The two that were holding hands departed and were later found sitting on a bench, giving little kisses and whispers back and forth. The rest continued being standard tourists. I tracked them from one shop to the next, entering a minute after they did then following them. It was rather obvious and whenever I would enter the same store they did, they would all peer at me for a moment and I would turn to look at something useless, like a shirt or a gigantic lollipop. After a while, I gave up and decided to start walking my own direction. What was I hoping to see them do? Sprawl out on the Technicolor Serengeti and practice their mating calls and hunting rituals?

My job, as the A.F.A. and the Courier dictated, was to “go undercover and determine if Disney is promoting homosexuality, homosexual lifestyles, or administering, advocating, or allowing these perverse displays of sin and evil.” More or less, that is.

“Bye bye,” one of the men said when I finally walked past them. I turned, smiled over my shoulder, and held up my hand in a “see ya later” gesture. “Hey, hey, wait!” I turned fully. One of the five gay men came trotting to me. He stood in front of me and smiled, fishing his hands into his pocket. “Hi,” he said sheepishly.

“Uh, hi.” I said back. I looked to the side and saw his other gay friends watching intently, silently screaming and mouthing horrors in exasperated breaths to each other.

“I’m Brock.”


“Hogarth, huh? Come on, what’s your real name.”

“Hogarth Hughes.”

“Okay…” I stared at him bored. And maybe half expectant. I do have to give gay men one thing: they know how to take care of themselves. They have hygiene and self-presentation down to a ridiculous science. I can see why women are so attracted to them. I mean, here’s a straight man: hairy, unkempt, doesn’t really care about his toe nails or haircut. And, then, there’s a man who understands all the pressures and pains of presenting one’s self, as women do, and it’s a match made in heaven. Minus the penis-on-penis action, but still, all I’m trying to say is that gay men are very kempt. This particular man, Brock, had short brown hair spiked up and messed up, frosted bleach tips, and a hoop earring, but he was thin and actually sorta shy. I’ll admit: it was a little cute.

“Can I help you with something?” I asked.

“Oh, um, well, I just saw you and you kept kind of, um, following us, not to say you were, of course, but I just noticed you a few times. So I wanted to talk to you.” I didn’t respond. The silence got a bit awkward for him and he scratched his elbow. “I mean, I don’t mean to be weird, I don’t think you were following me, not like that, I just wanted to talk to you, that’s all. Am I being weird?”

“No. You’re being nervous.”

“Well, yeah, I am. It’s because, um, I don’t think I’m talking to the right person.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, nevermind. Sorry to bother you, I’ll leave you alone now.” He started to turn to leave, but hesitated and looked back at me. “Hogarth,” he said and smiled.

“Brock,” I responded. He then turned and walked away, both hands in his pockets. His raucous group of gays embraced him for his bravery and then slung him away into a store, but not before a look back to me. Once they were gone, I kept walking and I tried thinking that one over. What did he mean “he wasn’t talking to the right person?” I think he meant that I was straight. Am I that obvious? I don’t dress or act gay. I don’t have a limp wrist or walk with a gimped, narrow stride, but I wouldn’t say I reek of masculinity. I don’t have a lumberjack’s chest hair or a beard that would make Zeus proud. Oh well.

I honestly shouldn’t be worried that a gay guy thought I was straight, but some little piece of me kept ripping that thread out. It bothered me a little. Then again, I’m pissed for him judging me. Goes around comes around, right? That’s why I don’t keep an agenda. You gotta be able to be flexible.

A trolley later and I was at my hotel: Port Orleans. It looked like a river steamer and was right on the river. You boarded via the pier and stepped into a captain’s deck for the atrium of the faux-boat building. Once you got to the hotel floors, though, it looked just like a building. A stairwell later and I was at my room: room 217. The amenities were nice, but standard. Two beds, cable TV, Wi-Fi, and a fridge full of five-dollar candy bars. I set my suitcase on the bed, opened it, and went about unpacking. I stuffed my clothes into drawers, but I delicately set my camera’s tripod up and aligned the lenses by size then cleaned the camera body with a q-tip. I hate it when you’re travelling and lint gets in the chamber. After that, I pulled out the liquor. Twenty minutes later, I had taken four shots of Jack Daniels.

I was still cleaning my cameras when I downed that fourth shot of Jack. I exhaled hard, letting that burn wash over the air in front of my face. Then I leaned back in my chair. Oh yeah, I was buzzing. It was a good buzz. Being at sea-level gives you a very pure buzz. At high altitude, alcohol creeps on you then smacks you in the face, as if to say “haha, fucker, you can’t drink like that up here.” Down here, you can feel the difference between one, two, and three drinks. I had been drinking the Jack straight up from a complimentary glass, but, I decided, it’d be better on the rocks. I stood, grabbed the ice tray and was about to waddle out into the hallway to find the machine, but I was stopped by a subtle sound on my door. It was a clicking, a scraping, a low mechanical sound.

I looked at the door. Yes, it was closed, and this was a stupid thing to do, but you tend to look at sounds when you’re four drinks in. (And, by the end of my trip, I’d have tasted sound, but that’s a night ahead of us.) I waited and was quiet. I lifted the ice jug above my head like a weapon and slowly approached the door. Then, I heard the click of a card key and the door swung open. Then I came face to face with a short-haired woman hauling bags. She stopped in the door and stared at me. I must’ve been a pretty sad sight. Some guy, half drunk, holding an ice jug above his head about to swing.

“What the hell is this?” she said sharply.

“Hell is what?” I asked back, still gripping my jug in a deathblow stance.

“This is my room, I booked it, what are you doing here?”

“No it isn’t. Mine.” I felt like a caveman.

“My key worked on the door.”

“Well, so did mine. I was here first.” Ah, schoolyard logic, it never fails.

“Well, sir,” she really hated using that word, I could tell, “think we should go down to the front desk to sort this out?”


“Okay, well, I’m leaving my bags here then, for now, so let’s go, okay?”


“Mind putting that, um, down?” she said, looking to the menacing plastic jug.

“Oh, I need ice.” She nodded and smiled that “yeah, sure, whatever” and then turned to leave the room. Then, as if by the grace of an Easterly wind, she turned again and asked, “Are you drinking? Do I smell whiskey?”

“Not currently. Need ice.”



“Hm. You know, I don’t usually do this, but, I don’t usually do any of this, so why not…how about we have a drink of that and see whether or not we want to go fix this room issue?”

“I have this room until Friday.”

“Me too.”

“You want to stay with me until Friday?”

“Let’s just see if we like each other. Maybe we’ll like each other.”

“Yeah, but don’t you—“ I stammered, unsure of how to phrase my question. I thought back earlier to my day. “What team do you play for?”

“Excuse me?”

“Am I talking to the right person?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Apparently, I’m the only euphemistic recycler in the world when it comes to asking if someone is gay.

“I’m straight,” I finally blurted out. She looked as if she was about to say something mean. Her lips pursed, her eyes narrowed, something was boiling, so I thought to myself: shit, diffuse the situation. Now she thinks you’re a gay-hater and one of those people who judge immediately. Diffuse the situation, make her feel comfortable, shit, shit, shit, “I’m also unarmed.”

“…That so,” she said hesitantly. “Maybe we should go down to the desk and see about this, it might get weird and—“ But, no, now I was determined. Unarmed? Jesus, I say some really dumb things when I drink. Now I needed to prove to her I wasn’t just some crazy anti-gay person.

“Come on, let’s have that drink, let’s see.”

“I’m armed, just so you know,” she said, not moving.

“That came out wrong, I’m sorry. Not what I meant. I didn’t want you to feel awkward with me because, well, everyone here is gay and I’m not, I didn’t know what you expected.”

“So you tell me you’re unarmed?”

“Do you feel better knowing that? At least now you know I’m unarmed. Is that not comforting?”

“Okay, you win. One drink, but your stuff.”

“Of course.” She moved to sit on the bed. I pulled out another of the glasses from the cupboard and poured two glasses of Jack Daniels neat. I turned to her and then sat on the chair by the desk.

“I’m Ilene,” she said, sipping the Jack.


“You don’t look Dutch.”

“It’s not my real name. It’s just one I use so that no one knows my real name.”

“Not your real name? You’re not very good at making people comfortable around you.”

“You know,” I said, pointing to her with my glass, “the less I talk, the more people talk to me. I think that shutting my fucking yap makes people like me more.”

“It’s a thought,” she said with a smirk and sipped her Jack.

“You’re a tart,” I said to her and sipped my drink.

“A tart? “

“Yeah, a tart,” I emphasized. We finished our drinks and she stood, grabbed both glasses, then poured another for both of us. Another drink and I finally got back around to my initial point.

“So, are you lesbian?”

“Do you think I am?”

“Short hair, travelling alone, here all week, yeah, I do.”

“Okay, Mr. Hogarth Hughes, you want to know something about me?”

“I do,” I said, leaning forward like a young boy.

“I’m a lesbian, yes, for this week.”

“For this week?”

“This is my getaway.”

“What are when it’s not this week?”


“If you’re a lesbian for this week, are you not a lesbian every other week?”

“No, no, I’m not,” and then she started laughing. “Fifty-one weeks of the year, I am straight, and one week, I am gay. Am I bisexual? I thought after college I got it out of my system, but I guess not. I like men, I do, but I get these urges for women sometimes. Does that make me gay if I like women sometimes? Is it one of those ‘cross the line and doomed forever’ thing, or is bisexuality real? I read a study that says everyone’s a little gay. It’s a scale of five. Zero is pure heterosexual, five is pure homosexual, but no one is a zero or five. Everyone has a little bit of middle ground.”

“What do you do?” I asked her frankly. She re-organized her thoughts, stopping her ramble, then answered professionally.

“I am a mortician.”

“A mortician?”

“Yeah. Mortician.”

“Like, dead bodies mortician?”

“Yes, dead bodies mortician.”


“Wow indeed. I get that a lot.”

“You know we’re drinking, right?” She nodded. “And I’m ahead of you?” She nodded again. But, she was developing the butterfly blush of a drunk, too. “And I’ve already established that I say terrible things when I drink?”

“I’m unarmed!” she mocked.

“Yeah, yeah,” I chuckled, “so, will you excuse my following comment?” She held up a finger, then downed her glass. She looked ceiling-ward and then exhaled hard, then smiled at me and rolled her arms like a presenter, prompting me to ask. “Have you ever done stuff with the bodies?”

“That’s the first thing you think of?!” she said with anger.

“No! I’m sorry, I’m drinking, I thought it was an honest question, and—“ Her anger turned to a smile.

“Of course we do. You know that a dead body has a hard-on for three days after they’re dead? If you get over the coldness of it, it’s a pretty hard dick. And, they don’t slap your ass or call you names. Just a dick.”

“Wow. I don’t know what to say to that one, Ilene.”

“I’m fucking with you,” she smiled. “I don’t fuck dead people.”

“If you say so.”

“Why? Is that attractive?”

“I’m…not sure.” And that’s how I met Ilene.


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