I grew up in a pretty frugal household. We recycled cans not to save the planet, but to pay for cereal. So, it was a pretty big deal when my Dad’s employer sent him to Los Angeles for a month for work. Somehow, we must’ve scrounged up a damn lot of cans, because mom and us kids were going to join him in L.A. and go to Disneyland.
The first two days I puked in our cheap hotel room toilet while a family friend took my older brother to Disneyland. The friend was Canadian. I thought that meant “cannibal,” so puking in the toilet was a far better option than anything my brother endured. I also really wanted his bedroom when we got home.
My parents thought it was an awful waste of money to be sick on vacation, when I could’ve vomited at home for free. So, as soon as the green began to fade from my cheeks, my family and I struck out early one morning with the Cannibal for the world’s most cost-effective tour of “the Happiest Place on Earth!”
We navigated the park in a frenzied pace, determined to get the most bang for our can-money by visiting every attraction in the park, even the cheesy ones like that submarine.
Pirates of the Caribbean, check. A quick sprint to The Matterhorn, check. Slap the kids into the Dumbo ride, drag them over to the Teacups, and while they’re still dizzy herd them over to It’s a Small World: check, check, and tiny little check. It wasn’t even lunch time yet. Oh yes, we navigated that park in record time. You could practically hear my parents amortizing the cost of every ride. “Just 14 more rides and it will only have cost us 48 cents a ride! RUN!”
Everyone wanted to go on the Haunted House ride, including the Cannibal. I knew three things: first, I wasn’t going anywhere in the dark with the Cannibal; second, I wasn’t going anywhere near any more haunted houses; and third, I was starting to feel woozy again. My family, not wanting to waste precious time (effectively jacking up the cost of the rides to 48.5 cents each), quickly ushered me to a park bench and suggested I take a nap. Alone.
I awoke some time later, not sure how long I’d been on the park bench. My family and the Cannibal were nowhere to be seen. I imagined that the Cannibal may’ve had something to do with their disappearance. For the first time since landing in L.A. I got hungry. Across from my little white bench, framed by palm trees and bougainvillea, I beheld a pirate ship. Pirate ships have food. Everybody knows that.
I rubbed my tired eyes, and weaved through the throngs of happy families toward the ship.
I walked into the belly of the ship. It was better than I imagined. First, it was a cafeteria just like Roy’s Chuck Wagon, which was my favorite. You just grabbed a tray and could load it up with ANY. THING. YOU WANTED! I did what any 6-year-old would do: I loaded a tray full of chocolate pudding, assorted pies, and ice cream, by-passed the cashier, and wandered up to a deck, where pirates waited tables and poured large glasses of iced tea.
I figured I’d satisfy my sweet tooth, maybe go on a couple of rides that didn’t have height requirements, and then I’d find my family. In my small town, you just didn’t lose your family. Even if you wanted to. I had no fear of being lost, because where I’m from, everyone knows you and knows where you belong.
I wove between the tables, carefully balancing my over-loaded tray and trying to find an empty table. That’s when I heard my name being called from across the ship’s deck. There, sitting at a table with the rest of my family and the Cannibal, sat my mother, waving to me. I turned toward the table, narrowly avoiding tipping my ice cream sundae and struggling to keep my pies and ice creams intact as I shuffled toward my family.
They sat hunched over a table, doling out pieces of fruit and sandwiches my mother smuggled into the park in her purse. The Cannibal chewed a piece of beef jerky that looked suspicious. In retrospect, I’d expect them to have been more alarmed that a.) I was missing, or b.) I found them. Either one was perfectly logical. Maybe they thought that the park bench was close enough to the pirate ship that they could nip in to get a bite to eat (and not have to share their paltry rations with me).
As I reached my family, I could see their expressions change from that of recognition to abject horror. The look of someone mentally calculating how many recycled cans your blueberry pie cost is similar to that of a baby filling its diaper. As my parents and brother tallied the contents of my tray, it was my mother who vocalized their collective terror when she gasped, “Teresa Michelle! Who paid for all that food???!!!”