We weren’t even in the park yet when the perjury began.
Giddy with the excitement that only a day at the Magic Kingdom can conjure, my friend told Disneyland’s parking attendant that she had given him a $50 bill rather than a $20 — just to watch him squirm.
I apologized to the unfortunately dressed, overweight gentleman and told my friend that she simply couldn’t pull that crap here.
If you lie at Disneyland, I explained, you go straight to hell.
No sooner had we stumbled through the Happiest Turn-Styles on Earth and rounded that promising corner onto Main Street when a 10-year-old member of our party made a similarly deplorable suggestion. Let’s go into City Hall and tell them it’s your birthday, he said. They’ll give you a special sticker and let you talk to Goofy on an old-fashioned phone.
But it wasn’t my birthday, and perhaps I hadn’t made myself clear: Here in the land of wide grins, oversized lollipops and crisply outfitted cast members, surely deceit is the wickedest of sins. Here, where patriotic fireworks erupt spontaneously, naughty boys like Pinocchio are punished for even the smallest act of subterfuge. Here at Disneyland — which for 40 straight years lured visitors into a dark theater to watch an animatronic Abraham Lincoln recite the Gettysburg Address, for god’s sake — bold-faced fraud ought to be tantamount to mooning the Little Mermaid during the sprightly, nightly Parade of Dreams.
Honesty, I maintained, is the best policy.
Looking back now, though, I can see how such a principle was doomed to fail. By day’s end, our merry band of truants was so steeped in hooey and delusion we could have looked you dead in the face and told you we were the Seven Dwarves — Crafty, Shady, Sneaky, Shifty, Falsie, Phony and Sly — and did you want to make something of it, Dumbo?
Because for all the values it preaches and the morals with which it punctuates its signature fairy tales, Disneyland is actually 85 acres of pure, unapologetic flimflam. From the forced perspective of Main Street’s diminutive penny arcade to the submerged tracks that guide the riverboat around Tom Sawyer’s man-made island, the place’s purpose is to convince over-stimulated guests that the world really is full of sexless romance, sanitary adventure and carefully engineered thrills. (There’s a reason the park’s heroes are plundering pirates and a royalty-robbing forest bandit, n’est-ce pas?)
After a couple hours of illusion immersion, the hoax soaks in and odd conversations ensue: “Mom, is that a real horse pulling the streetcar?” “Of course not, sweetheart, don’t be ridiculous.” I heard a woman in the bathroom remarking how clean the toilets are. “And I’ve never seen anyone cleaning them!” she marveled. “I guess it’s just the magic of Disney… “
My own integrity collapsed, I admit. I promised our kids that the howling, red-eyed yeti on the Matterhorn coaster was “like a big, white teddy bear.” And when I’d had enough of the brain-riddling pop-pop-pops of Frontierland’s shooting gallery, I told them we were out of quarters.
I helped one kid fudge the height requirement on a ride, leaped over a crowd-control rope and borrowed a friend’s annual pass to get a meager store discount. And I felt dirty for it, I did — that is, until I plopped my fibbing fanny on the Jungle Cruise. Adventureland’s journey down a three-foot-deep Congo River replica is a rare no-sham zone where river guides are encouraged to mock the park’s profound pretense. As our pontoon docked, the driver thanked us for riding with him.
“Enjoy your day at the Magic Kingdom,” he bubbled, “and remember, folks, that when you wish upon a star, your dreams… really do… come true…
“Now get out.”