Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Yesterday I completely neglected to mention the 75th birthday of American Icon, cartoon legend and my former co-worker, Mickey Mouse. I loved Mickey Mouse growing up. As evidenced from my photos and recent trip, the whole Disney Enterprise still holds a warm fuzzy place in my heart.

I did three summers at the Disney Store from 93-95. I proudly wore the sweater, the unhygeniec gray polyester pants, the pink shirt, and tried as hard as I could to keep a smile on my face. Which is hard when you're as hungover as I usually was in the summers from 93-95.

I tolerated insults from teenagers, folded the same shirt often four times a day, sweated profusely under the sweater and put up with lessons on the porper arragnement of stuffed animals and plastic cups.

The worst duty was "greeter." Especially at 10:00am when you can still taste beer every time you hiccup. Because as "greeter", yoru sole task was to stand at the door and welcome folks into the store. Which people do not like. THey run away from you. They run past you. THey avoid eye contact and all but put their heads under bags so you can't say "Welcome to the Disney Store!" People walk past you and speak loudly about how dumb you look in your outfit. Other people yell at you for talking to them before they've addressed you themself. I don't think tyhey actually still force people to do this. It sucks.

After three years, hundreds of happy customers and being the only one in the store who understood that Disney also owned TOuchstone and Hollywood Pictures, on my final day, I asked my manager what she thought.

"Well," she said, "You're very difficult."
"Hmmm. I thought you'd say something nice as, you know, you'll probably never see me again."
And now realizing she would never see me again, she grasped the opportunity and detailed how I had been a disappointment. I was told how I had been given opportunity and didn't seem to care (I never perceived this, but whatever), how I had not been forthcoming with the spirit and attitude of Disney. I was informed how I had failed to smile like an idiot come rain or shine, constantly resorting baby-spittled stuffed animals, and being unable to leave my "zone" no matter how much help a customer needed on another part of the floor.
"You're really one of the worst employees we ever had," she concluded.
"You know, you didn't have to hire me back. Twice."
"I know, but you knew how to do everything."
Which meant it didn't matter how many goddamn Lion King dolls I helped sell. It didn't matter how many Pooh-Bears I helped move, or that I could actually tell people where to find other cartoon merchandise when they called (which WAS SUPPOSED to be applauded, according to my training manual). The fact I was the ONLY employee who didn't need to be questioned the time all the watches were stolen (theories on why I wasn't questioned very), didn't matter. Didn't matter that I'd stayed late with the managers who wanted to count money but didn't want to walk to their cars alone. And I loved to vaccuum. God help me, when the store closed down, I was already in motion, headed for the back of the shop to grab the vaccuum and get out there. I even showed up as having helped on a "secret shop." No, none of that mattered. The fact that I didn't have a "Disney Attitude" was what got me a bad rap.

I could not stand in the middle of a store, addressing nobody, and stare into space and smile.

"One customer," she said, "came to me and said you looked absolutely miserable in the middle of all the fun. I came to you and asked you to perk up, and you kind of blew me off."
Kids, this was probably when i should have told her I remembered that, and that I had gas from the Diet Coke and Great American Cookie Company treat I'd had, and that I was still kind of hung over, and that I was at the end of my rope after hearing the same 44 minute Laserdisc of Disney tunes after it's 400th play. When you're making $5.00/ hr.
Apparently my constant desire to point out inconsistencies in store policy and logic was not needed, either.

"I blew you off?" I said incredulously.
"You just never seemed like you wanted to really get into the spirit of things."
And I didn't. And I don't. And I can't tell you why, but it's the same reason I used to avoid the office Christmas party at my last job. And why I didn't pursue a career as a salesman and why, when I sneeze, pixie dust dust not pour out of my ears.

People are gross and disgusting and mean and spoil their kids and hit their kids and spill shit and laugh at you for having to clean it up in your little Mouseketeer outfit. And sometimes they are nice, and do not let their children throw toys and stuffed animals across the store, but most of the time, they do.

I am so freaking nice to people in stores. I tip more than 15%. My highest aspiration in every transaction is for me to just disappear in the mind of the person i'm dealing with immediately after I have left, because that is the greatest gift you can give someone who is just trying to make it to the end of their shift. Unless they're being a jerk. Then you tip $0.01 so they get taxed.

But it wasn't Mickey I didn't like. Because look at Mickey's pals. He hangs out with a bi-polar duck and an idiot dog-man thing and a girlfriend who looks like him in drag. Clearly Mickey would not have waited three years and then unloaded. Nah. Mickey would be cooler than that. I kind of considered myslef "vintage Mickey." I was "Steamboat Willie Mickey." I pulled down the pants of the ship captain and tried to make sure I was doing okay, even if it wasn't exactly what the ship captain THOUGHT he wanted. Ah, well. C'est la vie.

You know, I probably WAS an awful Disney employee. I'm not going to say that, based upon their standards, I was a super star. THere was a lady named Kathy who worked there, and that honor goes to her. No, I sucked as a Disney employee, but did I WANT to be good at being some weird Disney automaton? Probably not.

Here's something to try: next time you're at the Disneystore or Disneyland or wherever.... engage an employee in a conversation. Seriously, just try to talk to one of them. You can't have a REAL conversation with them, and you know why? Because they're being watched. THere are managers who watch them, probably cameras at the park, and definitely spies and "secret shoppers." They are FORBIDDEN from ever saying something is bad. If it's raining so hard outside that the fish are drowning, they'll have to insist we're do for a rain, or else laugh about the rain in a weird way which indicates they LOVE the rain. Try it. I dare you.

Happy 75th, Mickey. Thanks for The Mouse, Walt. And screw you Disney Store #382 at Willowbrook Mall, Houston, Texas. I hope you go bankrupt and all your overpriced crap gets returned to you.

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