Monday, January 30, 2012

PAMPERED, IN DISNEY WORLD

In May 1974, on our way home from Brooklyn College, RBOY and I went to Grabstein's Delicatessen in Canarsie.  I don't remember what he ate but I got a hot dog and a Dr. Brown's CEL-RAY.  But we didn't go there to eat, our true purpose was to get change for the phone.
THREE STEPS UP FROM THE MAIN DINING ROOM, BETWEEN THE TWO RESTROOMS, GRABSTEIN'S HAD ONE PAY PHONE.  THAT'S WHERE RBOY CALLED THE DISNEY WORLD EMPLOYMENT OFFICE.
We thought it would be cool to have a working vacation in Florida.  So when we found out jobs were plentiful, (they made no offer over the phone), we were inspired to take a chance and head down in June.

It should be noted that previous blogs like March 15, 2010's, "TAKING THE SCENIC ROUTE TO HARTFORD HALL," dealt with getting the Disney job or what happened afterwards.  Today's column is different because it's about the job itself.

RBOY and I were straggly from our twenty-four hour trip when we stepped off a Greyhound in front of the Disney World employment center. In the nearly full waiting room, every applicant, as well as the staff, fixed on us because our dirty, hippie-like garb didn't constitute dressing for success.  The male candidates were wearing jackets and ties while the females were in dresses.  Only two people weren't in their Sunday best and those two people (us) stood out even more because we were dragging luggage.

Once we worked out some complications involving reliable transportation and a place to stay, we were hired.  Our choice was, flipping burgers or sweeping the floor.  In a unanimous vote, we became sweepers, at $2.40 an hour, (minimum wage was $2.25).  However, we were offered an additional five cents an hour to follow the horses after each parade...again in a unanimous vote, we turned down the nickel.

A big part of Disney's orientation/propaganda was to instill the concept that it was a privilege to work for such a pristine company that was emblematic of truth, justice and the American way.  Our New York street smarts didn't help us...we were just as "swept-up" in the excitement as our fellow, (mostly local Floridian), new employees.  Our idealism was so strong that we had no preconceived notions about the actual job and were prepared to work hard.

RBOY was assigned to Frontierland.  He had the added responsibility (for no extra pay), of refilling the men's room paper supply as well as reporting toilet back-ups.

Together with a cute blond from orientation, I reported to our supervisor in Fantasyland.  He turned out to be such a malingerer that I only saw him three other times in an official capacity, during the month I worked there.  His lack of dedication shot-down so much of the orientation spewage that had concentrated on the Protestant work ethic, (it should also be noted that my blond cohort was promoted to a merchandising supervisor after three days...we were told that NOBODY could even apply for a transfer before being on the job for ninety days. So an actual promotion was supposedly, completely out of the question).

On my first day, way before I comprehended the Disney hypocrisy, I absorbed all my responsibilities.
THE PARK HAD A GAZILLION UMBRELLA TABLES.  ALMOST DAILY, IN THE LATE AFTERNOON, CENTRAL FLORIDA HAD A SHORT, WINDY CLOUDBURST.  THE SWEEPERS HAD TO CLOSE THE UMBRELLAS DURING THESE STORMS, REOPEN THEM LATER AND DRY THE TABLES.

Just before five on my first day, the wind picked up, swarms of gray clouds eliminated the blue sky and it started to pour.  Me and Blondie, like lunatics, ran around closing the endless sea of umbrellas.  Somewhere along the line, I wasn't careful and the lowering mechanism gouged the side of my hand, took a chunk of skin and made me bleed.


IT ONLY TOOK ONE DOSE OF THE DISNEY KOOL-AID FOR RBOY AND I TO GET SO CAUGHT UP IN THE HOOPLA THAT DURING OUR FIRST WEEK, WE SHOWED UP EARLY AND PLAYED TOURIST.

A few days later, on our lunch hour (unpaid, forty-five minutes), RBOY and I sat with other sweepers.  At first, they were seriously telling us that Walt Disney was frozen alive.  Then until science discovers a cure for his disease, he's being stored in a liquid nitrogen, cryogenic chamber, in the upper most spire of Cinderella's Castle.

Someone made fun of the "ugly" employees who oversaw Mr. Disney's body.  RBOY and I didn't know what they were talking about.  Until it was pointed out that all the workers with obvious flaws, in either looks or personality were forced to work "underground," so as to not be seen by the public.  Another sweeper said, "When you work for 'The Rat,' (Mickey Mouse), even if you only have a hickey on your neck, you better hide it or you'll never see the light of day till it clears up." I thought it was terrible way to treat people but changed the subject.

To stay somewhat on topic, I complained about Blondie's mysterious disappearance from my section, (and that she wasn't replaced).  It was shocking that all these guys knew her and told us about her meteoric rise to lower management.  I said, "I thought there were no promotions for ninety days?" One of the others scoffed, "There's one surefire method..."  He saw my blank expression of naivete and added, "Special consideration for sexual favors." I was disappointed in the system and moaned, "All that AND I have to close all those damned umbrellas alone?"  Someone else said, "You don't really close those idiotic contraptions?"  "Well yeah," I said, "that's a big part of the job."  Then I showed him the giant band-aid that extended into my palm and said, "Those things are dangerous, I got nipped the first day."  He leaned in close and whispered, "As soon as the wind picks up, whether there's thunder or lightning or not, they close the 'SWISS SKY RIDE.'"  RBOY said, "So?"  Another kid jumped in, "That's where the sweepers goof-off until the rain stops and the wind dies down."
DURING MY FIRST RAINY DAY VISIT TO THE FANTASYLAND SKY RIDE LANDING, I FOUND TEN GOLD-BRICKING SWEEPERS UP THERE.  THEY SAT ON THE FLOOR TO AVOID BEING SEEN FROM BELOW AND SMOKED CIGARETTES WHILE LUXURIATING FROM THE WATER COOLER AS IF IT WAS WINE.  IT WOULD BECOME A RARITY FOR ME TO MISS THIS EXTRA FORTY-MINUTE BREAK UP THERE.

The center of my territory was the, "CAROUSEL."  In front of it, I swept through, "CINDERELLA'S CASTLE," including both ramps on the other side.   To the left of the merry-go-round, I was responsible beyond, "MR. TOAD'S WILD RIDE," to the "SWISS SKY RIDE."  To the right, my area stretched past, "TWENTY-THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA," to the "GRAND PRIX," race cars.

While on duty, it was a necessity to get out of the sun.  Therefore, to fight the monotony within the legal boundaries of my job description, I found it both refreshing and rewarding to sweep the air-conditioned shops. Overwhelmingly, the stores were run by girls.  I began a flirtatious relationship with "C" from the stroller rental service, "D" from the perfumery and "M" from the camera shop.

"M" TOOK THIS PICTURE WITH ONE OF THE POLAROIDS THAT SHE SOLD, (DEMONSTRATED).  I BELIEVE THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I HAD A 32-INCH WAIST.

Of the three girls, I liked "M" the best.  But she lived thirty miles from me and we both didn't have a car.  Soon, I was dating "C."  She also lived far away but had a car. In the end, the distance and scheduling clashes broke us up. However, "D" lived in my apartment complex, so we spent a lot of quality time together over the course of two weeks...before going our separate ways.

At work, I also gravitated to the shady spots that the ride operators worked in.  The two big exceptions were, the Carousel because its repetitive, loud tune drove me crazy and "IT'S A SMALL WORLD," because its music was a hundred times worse.

When my friendship with ticket takers at the other rides blossomed, I became insulted that many of them made me work harder, by throwing the stubs on the floor. The problem ended when I went to sweep up the litter and was asked not to.  Then I noticed that they weren't ripping them in two...and when no one was looking, they scooped "the unused tickets," off the ground, for their own use.

THE RIDES WERE PRICED IN FIVE CATEGORIES, (A, B, C, D and E).  AN "E" RIDE WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE, NINETY CENTS.

To the dismay of the ticket takers, I made it a habit of keeping their area extra tidy, (more so on the expensive rides).  Soon, I took "C," (the girl from the stroller rental), to the park on our day off.  The next day, I realized that I still had a surplus of "free" tickets that I could never use up.  When I mentioned that to "C" and her girlfriend from the gift shop, the friend said, "Give them to me.  Then come in (to her store) without your uniform and I'll give you a gigantic discount."  When my face soured "C" said, "In the 'Tragic Kingdom,' what goes around, comes around.  Jeez, when I was dating Johnny from the 'lost and found,'  a lot of times, he called his brother or sister to come in on his break and make claims on jewelry, wallets and expensive souvenirs."

The next morning, RBOY and I came into her gift shop.  She didn't flinch when I said I brought a friend and said, "Whatever you guys get, make sure you pick a bumper sticker too."  She stopped speaking suddenly as her supervisor (Blondie), appeared from out of the storeroom.  I couldn't believe my ears when this innocent looking girl added, "When that fucking, psycho-bitch whore leaves, I'll wink when the coast is clear." 

I was afraid that Blondie would recognize me.  Plus, I was too inhibited to really go nuts.  So I hid behind display racks and only picked one tee-shirt, a Happy, (from the Seven Dwarfs), figurine and a bumper sticker.  RBOY did about the same. When Blondie left with a much older man in a suit, our connection winked.  We could have bought-out the store because she treated us like regular customers...and only rang up the fifty-cent bumper sticker.

At my apartment complex in Kissimmee, at about the same time, I befriended "B" and "R" from rural South Carolina.  Disney hired them after RBOY and I. The only jobs left for them was as after hours, power-washers.  Like us, they came down for a working vacation with an emphasis on socializing.  When people hired after them got regular jobs with normal hours, they were pissed-off by Disney's double-dealings.  They quit and got better jobs, (waiters at the nearby, RED LOBSTER).

From their complaints, I began seeing my job in a different light.  It annoyed me that I worked Fantasyland alone. This was proven when a kid vomited and they sent for me during my break as if I was the only person on the planet who could handle such a delicate situation, (the sawdust-like product I used was called ZIP-ZORB.  It was effective in masking the smell and drying the mess so it could be swept...but until it kicked in...yuck)!  On another occasion, I almost needed ZIP-ZORB for myself when the malodorous machine, (AVAC), that used a vacuum system to flush trash away, got backed-up.

If that wasn't bad enough, on the Fourth of July, I was sent to my supervisor's supervisor.  "G" was a stranger to me.  He was pale, hyper-skinny and about twenty-three.  When he stood to shake my hand, I could see he was a gawky, six-foot six with a face full of acne and a pronounced Adam's apple.  Through his strong Southern accent, he spoke so slow that he came-off as dopey.  While I agonized over every syllable he managed to utter, I imagined that he had to have worked exclusively in the bowels of underground Disney, before rising to this position...and even now, like a leper, he was restricted to,"backstage."

His main point was that this was the busiest day of the season and that he received a report that I wasn't smiling enough.  I said something about the natural curvature of my face.  He interrupted, "Son."  Son? He lost me immediately.  "This is not a written reprimand.  Let's just say I have some constructive criticism to help you thrive here in Disney and to help you with whatever future endeavors you might have."

I left angry.  Back at my apartment, I spoke with "B" and "R."  They made Red Lobster seem like a paradise, (ten minutes of travel,  to a 5 1/2 hour day...Disney with travel was an eleven hour day.  Waiters made about $50.00 a day...my Disney take home was $78.38, a week). I went to Red Lobster and was hired on the spot.

I went in to see "G" the next day.  I politely said I had a better job.  He said, "You shouldn't burn down your bridges." Then he urged me to give two days notice.  I wasn't starting the new job till the weekend, so I agreed.  During that next to last shift, I told my work friends the situation.  In the photo shop "M" was surprised by my decision but was supportive. She said, "Let's make sure we have lunch together tomorrow."

I was really having trouble getting through the last few hours and was dreading coming back for another day.  In my last twenty minutes, at the "DUMBO" ride, somebody left a white plastic bag on a bench.  It was too big for my dust bin so I picked it up with my hand. I couldn't figure out what it was except that it was squishy, warm and felt kind of nice.  Then a group of women crossed my path. One lady stopped, pointed at me and started laughing, "You know you're squeezing...Pampers?"  Soon all of them were laughing and more people came over to see why.  I shrugged, "What's a Pamper?"  The woman broke out into hysterics, "It's a disposable diaper, stupid!"

I was mortified.  I cleared out my locker and didn't show-up for my last day.
"B," "R" AND ME. THE KISSIMMEE RED LOBSTER WAS GOOD TO ME.  I WORKED A LOT LESS, OPENED A SAVINGS ACCOUNT AND BROUGHT A HUNK OF MONEY BACK UP NORTH, IN SEPTEMBER.

On the downside, friends from New York visited during Labor Day weekend.  I still had a ton of free tickets so we went as group to Disney.  At the same gift shop, I was prepared to be much bolder. When I saw the girl, I offered her a bribe with all my remaining tickets.  I said, "I should make sure we all get bumper stickers, right?"  She shook her, "Sorry.  My new supervisor is a real hard-ass."  Then she said, "What happened to you?"  I said, "What do you mean?"  She said, "'M' made a going away party for you...she really liked you...and you didn't show up."  I felt awful and said, "Is she here today?"  "No she went back to school.  She was so pissed at you.  She brought in a cake and about five of us got you gag gifts and..."

I started to tell her the gory details of how I got "pampered" but she turned away in disgust, to help a customer.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting ! Loved the photos. Can't wait for our next Disney trip with the kiddos. Thanks for sharing --- MOMMITA

Anonymous said...

Boy did I enjoy, "PAMPERED, IN DISNEY." 37 years later and our trip never gets old! I'm so grateful that we did it. It amazes me how much you remember and to such detail. Some of your experiences I don't recall and others I forgot but remember them now...like our trip to the gift shop. I enjoyed this column immensely, thanks! --- RBOY

Anonymous said...

Dude, after I finished reading this story I remembered you telling me it, a long time ago in the cafeteria. And it was still way funny. Your play on words was so smooth that I still never saw the end coming. Tuff way to find out what pampers are. --- G-Man the Devils Fan

Anonymous said...

When I was a teenager in Philly, I was a sweeper at the track, (Liberty Bell). Only instead of a broom, I used a pointy stick. Luckily I don't think pampers had been invented yet...but it was so long ago that when I found a five dollar bill, I felt like a rich man. --- JoeMac

Anonymous said...

You've led an interesting life and this is another great story. Just curious, are you wearing a tupee in those pix. Either, very cute. Keep them coming. --- M in Brig