The Happiest Place on Earth  |  William Lemon



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             I shuffled through the Anxious Kingdom, clinging to the edge of the walkway, careful not to venture near the middle. Hundreds of guests pushed through the amusement park, while men dressed in lion costumes bared their teeth, scaring any guest who came too close. When I rounded the corner, two of the lions pinned a man down, tickling him until he was blue in the face. The more he protested, the fiercer they became. Suddenly, the man broke free, then ran over to my position, attempting to wiggle inside the Cast Member entrance. I shut the gate before he arrived, careful not to catch his fingers inside the chain-link fence. His screams filled the entire park, rising above the muzak and jungle noises in the background. He almost sounded happy, if only for a moment.
             Inside the Cast Member Training Facility, Mr. Kreskin paced around the lobby, painted head to toe in gray, with a papier-mâché horn tied around his nose. I snickered at his costume, unaware that mine was in the other room. His assistant helped me dress for the exercise, covering every inch of my body gray in paint. I looked just like Rage the Rhino when she was done. Somehow, she even recreated his bloodshot eyes from the cartoon. I could scare anyone in the park with this face, no matter how many times they’d been here before. I was just like those lions above, frightening the guest into a state of pure, unadulterated joy.
             Our first activity centered around Rage Emersion Therapy, which was scheduled near the main office, in a room filled with pens and dry-erase boards. Mr. Kreskin, still in character, wrote on a board with his paw, filling it with his darkest thoughts. He prompted me to begin writing, to spill everything caught in my belly. I wrote about being mad at a park guest, who ran her GoMobile! scooter into my shin. His body began to shake, trembling as he read my story. Before I could react, he charged the dry-erase board, then proceeded to knock down several more of them.
             “What the hell?” I said.
             “That,” he said, “was a bunch of bullshit. You have to let it go.”
             “I did.”
             “My God, we’ll be here all year if that’s what you think is real. You have to look inside. The character you play is an extension of you. It’s your job to make his personality come to the surface.”
             He made me try again underneath the original note. I wrote about how grandfather took up all my money and forced me to keep working here. I asked grandfather why he didn’t save his pension, or stop smoking Camel unfiltered cigarettes after he found out it was cancer. Now, he was on a respirator, sucking up all the money I had left in the bank. When the pen broke, ink spilled out, covering my gray skin.
             Mr. Kreskin nodded in approval before starting his own note on the dry-erase board. Unlike me, his hands shook when he wrote, all of his anger distilled into this act. I could see a beauty in the way his body twitched. There were no doubts hidden in the sinews of his flesh. The words allowed him to express even the most hidden areas of his mind. He moved aside after he finished writing, urging me to read:
The hurt got bottled up inside me when his stupid goddamned ideas wouldn’t stop, so I built up the anger as he talked. I let it boil until the pressure was too much to handle. Then, I let my little guy spurt out the anger onto the mean man’s face. He stopped talking after that.
             Despite the very obvious questions about Mr. Kreskin’s marriage, I saw a glimpse of perfection inside his words, something pure within them. His rage didn’t destroy; it allowed for creation. He nodded at me to try again, and I let it all come out.


♥♥♥


             At the end of the day, we recapped in the main conference room, still dressed in our costumes, but no longer in character. His assistant decorated the room with congratulatory banners and balloons with my name written on the plastic. She even put out a bottle of Flighty the Falcon brand fruit punch, a favorite of mine while growing up. The juice was lukewarm with bits of plastic floating near the top, yet I drank the entire cup in one sip.
             “You did good today,” Mr. Kreskin said. “You’ll fit in fine.”
             “That’s if I don’t kill anyone.”
             “Ah, I wouldn’t worry about that,” he replied. You’ll have a Kidz2Work professional with you at all times.”
             “I don’t know if I’m too conformable with that situation, Mr. Kreskin.”
             “Look, son. The Kidz2Work program is a godsend. There are too many kids that are left at the park each year, and we have to give them something to do. Sure, a couple can work as pop-stars, like Miles August, but the majority of them need to earn their keep by helping Associates like you. We’re not a charity here.”
             Mr. Kreskin nodded at me, then left the room with my paperwork. I gazed into the mirror, marveling at my transformation, sure I’d be a success above. You couldn’t tell me apart from those cartoons you watched every Saturday morning with your kids. There was pure emotion residing inside me, a small part of this great place.
             I could hear people screaming while exiting the elevator. The Anxious Kingdom, still at full capacity, had throngs of tourists crowding the walkway, heavy with fanny-packs and presents from our gift shop. I charged headfirst into the crowd, knocking over a Japanese tourist, who was waiting in line for the Jungle Cruise. His family picked him up, then took a picture with me.
             We all looked so happy in that moment.


♥ End ♥



William Lemon received his M.A. in Literature and Writing at California State University San Marcos, then began teaching English at the Community College level. For the past several years, he has taught at Santa Monica College and Irvine Valley College. He has been published in Bartleby Snopes, BlazeVOX, Drunk Monkeys, and the Eunoia Review. This story previously appeared on the Cold Reads podcast, Episode 19. [Author photo by and © Gabriel Ryan Photographers. Used with permission; all rights reserved.]

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Search tag: Go Read Your Lunch.  Kindle picture by NotFromUtrecht, modified by Maximilian Schönherr, used under Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.  All stories are submitted by the authors, are used with permission, and are not to be reused in any way without the authors’ consent.

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