Thursday, June 28, 2007

Almost Complete

It's been a few years now, and Duloc Manor is almost (but not quite) complete. When we left Chicago, all we were able to take with us was what we could fit into Canyonero (my Aztek). Even then, the space was severely limited by a giant cage containing three cats, a smaller cage containing Bradley, my cockatiel, and two baggies temporarily acting as fish habitats.

Still, there wasn't much in Chicago that I couldn't live without. My mother was a compulsive packrat/hoarder, which pushed me to the opposite extreme. With few exceptions, I don't get overly attached to material items. There were only a handful of things that it broke my heart to leave: My paperback library, since I am a voracious reader and am also the sort who can read favorite books over and over again, with just as much pleasure the 100th time as the first; my comedy and tragedy mask collection, which as swelled to well over 100 pairs in virtually any style you can imagine; and a very special piece of Disney Cruise Line artwork.

Below are two walls full of my comedy and tragedy masks (there is a third wall, but sadly I don't have a shot of that one). If you look very closely at the lefthand picture, you will see a duplicate of the pair that hangs at the 50's Prime Time Diner at Disney MGM Studios. Below them are a duplicate of the masks that started my passion; when I was a tiny toddler or two or three, they hung over the mailbox in my Chicago home (we had the sort where the mail is put in a slot and comes into the house). I would sit on the chair below the mailbox, flipping the door open and closed with a child's idle curiosity as the masks hung benignly overhead. My mother would point to them and say, "That's Comedy and that's Tragedy." What does a tot know of drama? It my simple, literal child's mind, I figured it was two guys and those were their names. I have no idea what happened to those original masks, which disappeared when I was four or five. But as an adult, I made it my personal vendetta to find duplicates. It was a long, frustrating search until my husband discovered the wonders of Ebay; it still took me a while, but I managed to find the originals along with over 100 adjunct styles.

To a lesser extent, I miss my doll collection (I have all sorts of charater dolls, ranging from Drew Carey to Ed Grimley to Dennis Rodman to the Simpsons and the South Park gang, plus a generous sprinkling of Disney luminaries). But for some reason, I'm not quite as deeply attached to the dolls as I am to the aforementioned items.

This past week, I was finally reunited with one of the missing pieces: My Disney Cruise Line print. That was easier said that done, as it is enormous. It's one of the prints that hang over the stateroom beds; I love this one in particular because it is a duplicate of the one in my favorite stateroom, 5650. After nearly 60 Disney cruises, with the majority of them spent in my favorite location, 5650 is almost like a vacation home to me...a place I know almost as well as my own home. I love its location, way off in the back of deck 5. There is only a neighbor on one side, and no one at all across the hall, so noisy foot traffic is virtually absent.

You do hear the rumble and vibration of the engines, especially when the ship is docking, but I am a white noise fan so it doesn't bother me a bit. I also like the somewhat larger verandah, which is recessed due to the curve of the ship. It makes a very cozy little nook to enjoy breakfast at sunrise, to curl up with a compelling novel at midday, or to watch the orange fireball extinguish itself on the horizon at dusk.

Over time, I fell in love with the print that hangs over the bed in 565o on the Disney Wonder (the ship on which we spend most of our time). It's a picture of the ship, with little circles showing various goings on:

From left to right, there's a man lounging on a deck chair, a chef preparing lobster, a couple dancing, and a shuffleboard player. There is a matching print in some of the other staterooms that shows Castaway Cay (Disney's private island), but because this particular one is in my "home away from home," it's the one that grew on me.

A couple of times, a copy was offered for sale in the onboard auction. But the starting bid was high, and each time I tried, someone else had to jump in and offer more until the price exceeded my comfort level. How I coveted that print; it would be so lovely to have a little piece of the Disney Wonder and stateroom 5650 to enjoy while back on shore.

I was beginning to lose hope; then we went on a holiday cruise, and I received a very special Christmas present: A copy of the picture for my very own...I was estatic! However, I still faced a daunting challenge. The picture was quite large (four feet by two feet), and at the time, we still lived in Chicago. I had to figure out how to get it home in one piece.

It was wrapped snugly in tissue and bubble wrap, but I knew that the packing materials would be no match for the desctructive capacities of the baggage handlers. My only possible hope was gate checking it, or by some miracle being allowed to take it on the plane. Since the airport was packed with luggage-laden holiday travelers, and since the picture didn't even come close to meeting any carry-on dimensions, I doubted that would be a possibility.

As we waited to board, with the hulking, mummy-like package, nearly as tall as me, leaning against my side, a gaggle of teenage girls caught sight of it. They whispered and giggled amongst themselves, and from what I could gather, they were trying to figure out what might lay below all those wrappings. Finally I said, "I know you're dying to ask, so I'll solve the mystery. It's just a giant picture." Not as exciting as a body that had been run over by a steamroller or a panel from an ancient Egyptian tomb, but at least their curiosity was saited.

As we neared the jetway, I was seized with fear. Even if my precious cargo made it through the rigors of the baggage hold, I knew there was no way it could survive the tender mercies of the Midway airport baggage handlers. Their mascot: The silverback gorilla. Their motto: "No item makes it through unscathed."

Fortuntely, luck was with me in the form of a merciful flight attendant. She laid the picture on the floor of a luggage bin, and she only allowed soft items like coats, purses, and the like to be placed on top of it. Whew! Even though ATA eventually went to hell in a handbasket, I am still eternally grateful that they let me transport my beloved picture in one piece.

For years, it hung in a place of prominence in our Chicago condo. When my mood was as gloomy as the gray winter skies outside my window, I only had to glance at the wall and a smile would spread across my face. Forget the bitter cold and the heavy, slushy snowflakes. My mind was two thousand miles away, on a sunny verandah somewhere out in the azure ocean.

Now that we had moved to Celebration, I was back to Square One. Just as I couldn't easily get the picture from Florida to Illinois on an airplane, I was now faced with the same dilemma, albeit in the opposite direction. It would have to come by car someday, but I knew that day lay in the far, far future.

Almost five years later, my patience finally paid off. Two of my nieces and three of their friends embarked on a road trip to Florida in an SUV. With all of those bodies and the attendant luggage, there wasn't much additional room. But somehow they managed to fit my beloved picture into the mix; now, FINALLY, it hangs in its rightful place of prominence, dominating the family room of Duloc Manor.

We've been bringing my books in a small but steady trickle; my beloved masks are still at the Chicago condo, but I have faith that they'll be back in my hands someday. In the meantime, as my fingers fly across my laptop keyboard and I feel overwhelmed by my work, I can glance up just as I did in Chicago for an instant smile recharge. Even when I can't be on the Disney Wonder, a little piece of it is always close at hand.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

From Blog to Book?

Several months ago, I blogged about the Writing Nomads of Celebration, aka the Celebration Writers Group. I'm happy to report that we've found a permanent meeting place at 851 Celebration Avenue, where we can be found at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, sharing tips, critiques, and general banter. If you are in the area and have a propensity for writing, you are welcome to join us; the "Celebration" in our name refers to where we meet, not a residency requirement.

The group is made up of writers at every ability level and in a variety of genres. We all have different goals, from pleasure writing to professional publication. Personally, I joined the group to kickstart my dormant writing career, which I put on ice back in the early 1990s.

Once upon a time, way back in the late 1980s, I was an active magazine writer. Most of my articles were focused on horse training, as you can see from the following samples (warning: slow-loading PDFs):

I also did some general animal-related articles and worked for the Daily Southtown Economist, a Chicago-area newspaper, as a "stringer." Basically, that means I covered the really, really boring stuff, like school board meetings and city council sessions. It was tedious but worth its weight in gold as a training ground for honing my writing skills. I learned to write fast and to value brevity. Granted, many of my blog entries are anything but brief, but this blog is my therapy so I turn off my inner critic when I write here. I always apply the journalistic lessons to my professional work.

Over time I racked up an impressive array of tearsheets, but in 1989 I got a full-time job in corporate communications that leeched away my time and desire for freelance work. It's hard to churn out creative magazine articles when you've already spent eight hours racking your brain on how to fill the company newsletter and how to make yet another 10th anniversary celebration or sales award sound exciting.

Three years later I got married, and three years after that I returned to college, earning my BA, MA, and eventually PsyD in psychology. All of the research papers required for school, coupled with my ever expanding job duties, sapped the pleasure out of writing and turned it into a mundane task. Thus, my magazine work went on hiatus, and I barely noticed that it had slipped out of my life.

After we built our home in Celebration, I was anxious to make the move; logically, I knew it was still a year or two away, but my heart was already in Florida. I needed a therapeutic and constructive way to contain my restless energy...what better outlet than a blog? Slowly but surely, I reclaimed the joy of writing, albeit in a very information way.

Once we got settled in town, the itch to write professionally returned. It's almost like an addiction; you can push your muse aside, but you can never truly banish it from your brain. It waits for an opportunity to pop out, and when WHAM! You need that writing fix! If you're not near a keyboard or pencil and paper, you'll imagine the words marching across a blank wall.

This spring I renewed some of my old horse magazine contacts and made my first sale in nearly two decades. Woo hoo! It felt sooooo good to return to that long-neglected aspect of my life. In the meantime, I'm busily developing other markets as I expand my range of topics.

But as I applied myself to magazine work, I slowly realized that I was hiking through the forest and not seeing the giant redwood tree standing smack in front of my face: My blog! Over the years, various people have suggested and even requested that I turn it into a book. I laughed off the idea; after all, who would want to buy a book of my skewed rantings about life as Mickey Mouse's neighbor?

Now, the idea seems more and more feasible. After all, there have been other books published about our fair town, and I don't think my writing is any worse than theirs. I devoured them myself when we were in the moving process, and it annoyed me that the viewpoint was from people who had moved to Celebration solely to write about it...they moved away not long after their journalistic ventures were complete. You can try all you want to be neutral, but your view is going to be different when you don't have anything invested beyond a work project. I was sad that there was no book written from the perspective of a person or family invested in Celebration for the long-haul.

Later, a Disney-sanctioned book was published, but of course it was pretty much the party line; a pretty piece for the coffee table, but with no real substance.

So maybe there is a literary place for the viewpoint of a permanent Celebration resident who loves this town but who tempers that love with a sense of reality. I've started on the project by making a complete backup of my blog; that's probably a good idea anyway, since I would have lost it for good if Blogger ever had a catastrophic failure. Even if it's never formally published, it's still a part of important slice of time in my life preserved forever in my uncensored words.

Now I need to winnow it down, since not every entry is book-worthy. I plan to select my favorite entries and organize them by topic, e.g. "Moving to Celebration," "Life in Tourist Land," "Holiday Celebrations," etc. That will basically give me a completed manuscript.

I'm not sure if I'm going to go the self-publishing route via or whether I will seek out an agent. I'm leaning towards the agent route, since I can always flip-flop back to Lulu if I don't get any nibbles.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, or even if you've just blundered by for the first time ever, I'd love your feedback on which entries should be included. Some, such as the stories of the Cypress Cove nudist colony, are no-brainers for inclusion. But for the others, I'd love some options, so if you'd like to cast you vote, please email me at the address below:

I'll update the results here. And in the meantime, I promise not to neglect my new entries. Whether or not it ever makes the leap to paper publication, my Celebration, Florida blog will continue to be my therapy and a way to document my skewed view of life in the best place I can imagine.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Go Go Gatorland!

Way back in November, I lamented the fact that I'd never made it to Gatorland, a true artifact of "Old Florida," which unfortunately suffered a major fire at the beginning of that month. Gatorland predates Mickey and crew by nearly three decades, having debuted in the late 1940s. It's one of those kitschy, touristy things that had been on my to-do list even since we moved to Celebration. Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, it was removed from the picture because of the blaze.

Fortunately, most of the damage was confined to the entrance and giftshop. Gatorland managed to reopen within a month; unfortunately, its trademark "gator jaw" entrance (shown below) was out of commission, but the shows and exhibits were pretty much unscathed:

My determination to visit was renewed, although it still took half a year to follow through. I'm happy to report that my hubby and I finally made it to Gatorland this weekend and that it was just as kitschy and touristy as I had hoped.

As the name implies, Gatorland has plenty of...alligators. The scaly, razor toothed reptiles are definitely the main attraction. They come in all sizes, from egg/baby.... fully grown. As you can see in the photo below, you don't just gaze at them in passive surroundings. Sure, there are lots of gator pools where you can watch them lazily float and toss them bits of hot dog (which will graphically demonstrate just how fast they can move when food is involved). But there are also shows in which you'll see just how much annoyance a gator can take without chomping a chunk out of a human:

There are actually three shows. The photos above were taken at the gator wrestling exhibition. The wrestler gets much more up close and personal than I'd ever want to be to all of those teeth. Yes, that gator in the picture above has his mouth open, with his teeth mere inches from the wrestler's neck. Don't try that one at home (or at Lakeside Park), kids! There is another show featuring various venomous critters like cottonmouth snakes, scorpions, and the like (the Wildlife Encounters show), but my favorite is pictured below...the Gator Jumparoo show:

As you can see, the trainer's fingers are just above a hungry gator's mouth. I wouldn't trust that scaly sucker to figure out where that man's finger's end and the dangling food begins. As the name implies, the show features gators jumping out of the water to feast on whole raw chickens.

Out of the three shows, that one was definitely the most popular. People were lining the viewing area 20 minutes ahead of time; early arrival is critical because if you don't get a spot up against the fence, you are not going to see the action.

One late arriver was trying to convince people to let her kids into a good viewing spot. Unfortunately for her, cranky tourists who have been standing around for 20 minutes in 90 plus degree heat to secure their own spot don't have a lot of sympathy for Johnny Come Latelys. Eventually she wandered off, her optimism unrewarded.

The other shows are not as competitive for a good viewing spot. They take place in arenas with plenty of covered bleachers. Each show is repeated several times a day, so even if you arrive by noon, you'll have time to catch them all.

There are interactive experiences, too. My favorite was the lorikeet aviary, where you can buy little cups of sugar water to attract flocks of fine feathered friends:

I did discover one small fact the hard way: they love to chew on moles! I couldn't figure out why one of them was chomping like a vampire on my neck until the attendant explained that moles look like food to them. Sure enough, that's what the little sucker had been after. Ouch! They will also preen and groom your hair and lick you to get the salt from your sweat. They're not shy about ganging up on humans; you can easily end up with half a dozen or more perched on your person at a time. If Hitchcock's "The Birds" sends you into an anxiety attack, this is not the place for you.

I happen to own a self-assured cockatiel named Bradley; my fiesty little feathered fiend has survived over ten years living in the company of three crafty cats, so he is an assertive bird. Thus, I am used to being accosted by, perched on, and chewed on by assertive winged critters, so I felt right at home in the lorikeet flock.

Other hands-on experiences included petting/feeding areas with goats, sheep, a cow, deer, and llamas; photo opportunities with gators and snakes; and even the chance to sit on a gator's back (albeit one with its mouth taped shut). Be prepared for lots of nickle and diming; for example, you pay for the feed at the petting areas, the bird nectar, and a batch of hotdogs if you want to feed the gators in various areas throughout the park. You also pay for the photo ops, and for certain poses (i.e. sitting on the gator and holding the giant snake from the Wildlife Encounters show), there is a "sitting fee" that doesn't include the actual photo. However, for those two, you can use your own camera if you have one. It was no worse than any other Orlando tourist trap, but be prepared because the costs can rack up pretty quickly if you have demanding young 'uns.

There is also a train ride (also at an extra cost) that takes you on a brief circle tour; the most interesting part is the jungle crocs, although you can see those via a walking trail, too. If you have kidlets with you, bring their bathing suits so they can cool down in the new "splash zone" water playground.

There are plenty of concessions with food, drinks, and souvenirs. Since we have already tasted gator, we skipped the opportunity to feast on a variety of gator meats. But we did indulge in the fresh-squeezed lemonade and iced lattes, and I only resisted the dazzling array of fudge through a supreme effort of will.

We purchased the requisite t-shirts (how could I resist one emblazoned with the legend: "Gatorland, This Place Bites!"?) and a photo featuring hubby and I holding a gator and snake, along with a matching frame. Then hubby spotted a souvenir that he absolutely had to have...MOLD-A-RAMA!!!

I mentioned Mold-A-Rama in a previous blog entry, since it's a staple at the Museum of Science and Industry and other touristy venues in Chicago. As native Chicagoans, both hubby and I have fond childhood memories of plugging in quarters and watching the magical injection molding process produce an instant figurine that pops into the little drawer, hot and exuding a distinctive plasticky odor that will stay with me forever. I picture myself at 100+ years old, blind and deaf, babbling and drooling in a nursing home without having said a coherent word in a decade. One day they'll take me on a field trip to a museum or zoo featuring those machines; they'll wheel me past, my nose will twitch, and I'll yell "Mold-A-Rama!" as clear as a bell.

Hubby plugged in two bucks and was rewarded with a warm, waxy, stinky little gator figure. His inner child was definitely pleased.

All in all, it took us about five hours to cover every inch of Gatorland. There were a lot of people, but considering that we're in the season when the line for Soarin' at Epcot typically runs two hours long, I hesitate to use the word "crowded." It was actually a pleasant change of pace to visit a place where we weren't caught in a crush of humanity, swimming upstream among sweaty, swearing theme park commandos.

I was a little disappointed not to be able to get my photo in front of the famed entrance, but that was only a minor glitch. Even post-inferno, Gatorland is a worthy stop for anyone who wants an adventure in nostalgia at one of Florida's oldest attractions.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Horses and Houses, Future and Past

This morning, my horse Figment paid a visit to Duloc Manor:

It was 7:45 a.m., so the streets were mostly deserted, but it certainly was a head-turner for the man walking by with his little daughter! Horses do occasionally pop up in Celebration, but usually they're in the downtown area pulling a carriage for tourist rides or a wedding. East Village is not usually known as a bastion of equine activity.
Figment happened to be on his way to Community Presbyterian Church to welcome the kids to Vacation Bible School. This year's theme is "Avalanche Ranch," so an equine greeter fit right in. Since my house is only a couple minutes down the road from the church, we swung by with the trailer and unloaded Figgie for a quick photo op.
But it struck me as odd for a different reason; not the general lack of horses in our fair town, but rather a sense of deja vu. I remembered a day, 26 years earlier, when my first horse, Cochise, paid a visit to the yard of my old Chicago home:

If you think horses are unusual in Celebration, the chances of seeing one on the South Side of Chicago is virtually nil. Still, I was somehow born with an innate bond to equines that maifested itself in my unholy attachment to a wheeled plastic horsey (the kind that toddlers scoot along on). As tiny as I was, I still distinctly remember that toy and my abject grief when it disappeared one day. My mother claimed it was "sick" and "had to go to the hospital"; I never saw it again, and to this day, I still don't know why she really got rid of it.
Next up was a rocking horse on springs; I had glued myself to the floor model like a baby monkey to its mother's back as they swing through the trees. Mommie Dearest tried to reassure me that she was buying one and that I could ride it at home if only I would get off the darned model. Due to the disappearance of my toddler toy and various other sneaky tricks she had pulled on me, I didn't have much faith in her word.
Fortunately, this was one of her rare sincere moments, and a duplicate of the rocking horse (which I named Dark Pony) was soon erected in our living room. I rode it day and night, galloping through hills and fields and vales in the endless landscape of my mind. It was a sad, sad day when I outgrew Dark Pony and he was relegated to the basement, but I vowed in my determined little mind that I've have a real horse someday.
As soon as I was old enough to figure out bus routes, I managed to plot out a course to a suburban stable. It required three transfers and a 1.5 mile walk, but I didn't care. Diligently, I babysat and cleaned houses for neighbors to earn precious money towards busfare and weekend trail rides.
During this time, I distinctly remember an odd dream. I was riding a horse two streets down from my house, in a grassy area that used to be a park, heading towards the adjacent cemetery fence. While it certainly wasn't odd for me to be on horseback, riding in our neighborhood was just about as likely as Michael Jackson fathering any biological children. It was filed in the back of my mind, out of consciousness but never entirely forgotten.
By the time I was 16, I had managed to get a full-time summer job that allowed me to earn enough to buy a horse; when it shifted to part-time during the school year, I would still make enough to cover board, vet, and farrier bills.
In an odd coincidence, around this very same time the cemetery I mentioned earlier (which abutted our alley) purchased a horse to lead funeral processions. I volunteered to exercise him; he was a wonderful old Saddlebred/Arab cross named Elegant Sam who was trained to fourth level dressage, and he taught me more than any human instructor. (Click here to read more about Sam the cemetery horse in one of my old magazine articles.)

When I first got Cochise, I kept him at the cemetery for a couple of months before moving him to a suburban boarding barn. Technically horses were not allowed in the surrounding neighborhood, but Labor Day weekend of 1981 was a rare exception. Joe (who rode Sam in the funerals) and I were participating in the annual Labor Day parade. Since it was pretty close by, and since Sam had an unholy fear and hatred of trailers, we simply rode to the starting point.
Since we would pass directly by my house, I had to stop and get a picture of Cochise in my front yard. I tied him to the porch and ran in for my camera, little realizing how precious the picture would be to me 26 years later. At the time, I was just a 16 year old kid walking on Cloud Nine because my one of my biggest dreams had finally come true...I had a horse of my very own.
Then we headed for the parade route, turning down a street two blocks from my house to follow along the outside of the cemetery fence. As I bobbed along on Cochise's back, I realized that it was the street in my dream...we were riding on the same parkland, just as I had done in my subconsious netherworld! At the time, I had pooh-poohed it as ridiculous; how could I have ever imagined the chain of events that would someday take place? I never would have believed that the cemetery would get a horse; I knew I would have one of my own someday, but I never dared to hope it would be as early as my 16th year, let alone keeping it in the cemetery, too.
And now, nearly three decades later, I still own Cochise (at 30 years old, he's fully retired), but I also have Figment. As a kid, I may have dreamed about riding down my neighborhood street, but I certainly never dared fantasize that one day I would live next door to Disney World. I never imagined what my next horse might look like or whether I would snap his photo standing by my future front porch or where that front porch might be.
Now, Figgie has followed in the footsteps of his "big brother." After his stop at the house, he continued on to the church and reveled in being the center of attention. As the children patted him and fed him carrots, you could almost hear him sigh and exclaim, "Ah, this is the life!" (much as Cochise did many years earlier when he was surrounded by admirers at the parade).
I was a little concerned because Figment has never been away from other horses before in his life. I thought he might prance around in the church yard, neighing plaintively for his lost herd. But he was a perfect gentleman; I don't think he even realized that he was the sole equine for miles around. The kids and carrots kept his attention focused, and he didn't spook at anything, from motorcycles to trucks to screaming youngsters to churchbells. I think he truly enjoyed himself, although by the time it was over, he seemed glad to hop back in the trailer and return home to a generous pile of peanut hay.
It's funny...sometimes you get a glimpse of the future, and you don't even realize it because it seems so improbable. And sometimes the future is a total surprise, unraveling in ways you would never have imagined. Yet every now and then, past and future overlay each other in a neat little deja vu...whether the threads are hidden or whether we get a tiny glimpse, eventually we see how they are all intertwined.
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Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Gay Old Time at the Magic Kingdom

For years I have heard tales of the infamy of Gay Days at Walt Disney World, but up until today I had never managed to see it in person. For those who might be unfamiliar with this yearly event, it's a weeklong celebration when gays and lesbians head out to Orlando for a whirlwind tour of the theme parks, plenty of other events and parties, and even a cruise.

Gay Days started out quite modestly back in 1991, when gay and lesbian parkgoers and their supporters donned red shirts and headed out to Disney on the first Saturday in June. From just one day and a few thousand attendees, it has now grown to a weeklong bash with upwards of 100,000 red-clad visitors.

In its early days, the event attracted criticism, and even protests, by conservative Christian groups. For the most part, the protesters appear to have lost steam, while Gay Days has gained the momentum of Splash Mountain plummeting down the watery hill. There are official host hotels, corporate sponsors, and all the other trappings of a successful event.

Still, people tend to pass around horror stories of the shocking PDAs (public displays of affection) that occur on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, causing small children's eyes to burn right out of their sockets and evaporating God-fearing conservatives on sight. Having seen some pretty raunchy PDAs between hetro couples (particularly during the cheerleader events, when I'm sometimes not sure if I'm witnessing a French kiss and grope session or a teen doctor prodigy conducting a breast exam and tonsil cleansing with his tongue on his comely female patient), I couldn't image that anything at Gay Days could be any more shocking.

For the past several years, I've always been on a Disney cruise during Gay Days. This year, finally, I was in town and able to finally witness the spectacle.

Red is the color de rigeur for gay and lesbian attendees and their supporters. My husband donned his bright red Incredibles t-shirt, but I had decided that I wanted to make a bolder statement. I had a very close gay relative, and through their situation I learned firsthand just how much tragedy can be caused when a person isn't free to live life as they were meant to. I work professionally with many gay and lesbian clients, and it drives me crazy when people characterize it as a "choice" or act like it is a pathology. I tend towards Liberitarian views; I don't care what goes on between consenting adults in the bedroom, and if you are truly in love with someone and want to marry them, why should I care if you're a same-sex couple? Gay marriage hasn't destroyed Canada or Massachusetts, and I doubt it would destroy the rest of the country...we've got plenty of other, more-pressing issues to worry about.

Thus, I chose a shirt that summed up my personal sentiment: Straight But Not Narrow:

I am perfectly comfortable in my hetrosexual life, with my male spouse, but that doesn't mean that I expect everyone else to conform to my personal view of marriage or sexuality. I am also an active Christian, but I figure that God made everyone, and Jesus Himself could be pegged as a liberal. Thus, who I am to judge anyone else?

Hubby and I had planned to visit Animal Kingdom and Disney MGM, the first two parks on the Gay Days agenda, but the weather was iffy. After weeks and weeks and weeks of drought, the first day of hurricane season ushered in a named tropical storm (Barry) and an onslaught of rain. While we really needed the downpour, it was frustrating not to make it over to the theme parks.

Still, the Magic Kingdom is the Holy Grail of Gay Days, and by the time Saturday (i.e. MK day) rolled around the forecast was looking decidedly better. It was still cloudy and drizzing in the morning, but by the time we headed down World Drive at 11 a.m., it looked as though the storm clouds were on their way out.

There was only a small trickle of cards at the Magic Kingdom toll plaza; I had expected a much larger crowd. I did notice the red shirts in many of the surrounding vehicles. At the Ticket and Transportation Center, we took the ferryboat over because I thought it was the most apt choice, given the event of the day.

At the park, the crowd was surprisingly thin, although the sea of red was very prominent. We hadn't planned on doing much riding because of the expected crowd density, but we quickly realized that we could probably fit in a spin on most of our favorites. I was also hoping to see the 3 p.m. parade, which is a highight for the gay and lesbian guests.

On our way under the train platform, hubby found a penny. "Aha, you're going to have luck today!" I teased him.

"Yeah," he responded, "Too bad we're not at Universal. They sell lottery tickets over there."

Since we hadn't had any lunch, my first stop was Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland for my favorite sugary treat: frozen orange juice swirled with vanilla soft serve ice cream. I gazed around, watching for the shocking displays that had reached legendary status on the internet. Any kissing? No. Groping? No. Wild sex in the streets? Hell no! If it weren't for the red shirts, I would barely have noticed anything difference.

We headed over to Pirates of the Caribbean so I could oogle Johnny Depp (he's sexy even in Audioanimatronic form). Next, we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad twice (we grabbed a FastPass, waited in the standby line, and it was time to use our FastPasses by the time our first ride was done).

I got a great response to my t-shirt. Many of the Gay Days attendees seemed to appreciate seeing a straight person announcing their support quite publicly. I got several thumbs up, lots of "Great shirt" comments, and even an enthusiastic "Good for you, darlin'!"

I also got a couple of evil eye looks from fellow hetros who seemed to take my statement as some sort of betrayal of my orientation. I just raised my eyebrows at them and silently sent out vibes of tolerance.

It was getting close to 3 p.m., so I staked out a spot near the castle while hubby ran off to get Buzz Lightyear FastPasses (our first choice, Space Mountain, had a return time of 7 p.m.; we intended to be long gone by then). At first the crowd was sparse, but the sea of red continued to grow and expand until it became an unbroken band:

The wait time went by rather quickly as we watched our fellow parade-goers do waves and break out in chants such as "Gay Days!" "Tinker Bell!" and "Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck," with one side of the street taking one word and the other side responding with the second part.

Soon enough, the parade had wended its way from Frontier Land through Liberty Square and had reach the castle. It was interesting to watch some of the characters' gestures! The float that drew the biggest respond was the Cruella, Ursula, and the others of her their ilk hammed it up, the crowd chanted, "Diva! Diva! Diva!"

We planned to head for Buzz after the parade, so as soon as the end passed us, we jumped in behind it. So did the rest of the red clad crowd, with people shouting, "Come on! Get up! It's our parade now!" We maneuvered ourselves to the lefthand side so we could quickly disengage ourselves from the impromptu gay pride march when we reached the Tomorrowland entrance. On our way to Buzz, we noticed that the new Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show only had a 10 minute wait. Since we had never seen it before, we decided to give it a try.

The show was really cute; it reminded me of Turtle Talk at Epcot because it features digital characters interfacing directly with the audience. I absolutely love Turtle Talk, but I wasn't sure just how well Disney could pull it off a second time. I have to admit, they did a great job. It's definitely a repeater. There are core parts of the show that you will see every time, but there is enough audience interaction to make each experience uniquely entertaining.

Next up was Buzz, which fell rather flat since I've gotten used to Men In Black at Universal. The sky was starting to darken, but we pressed our luck and grabbed a last ride on the Wedway People Mover (yeah, I know it's now the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, but it will always be the Wedway to me).

We decided to have an early dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. Ever the optimist, hubby said, "How about Ohana?" I rolled my eyes and said, "Yeah, right." It's virtually impossible to get Ohana ressies unless you call days, or even weeks in advance.

If you're never been there, I highly recommend that you try it sometime. It's located at the Polynesian, and it serves an all-you-can-eat feast of salad, wontons, chicken wings, oriental vegetables, and shrimp. But that's just for starters! Next up, the servers bring out huge spits of meat that have been roasted over the firepit. There is turkey, pork, beef, and sausage, with three sauces to dip them in. The peanut sauce is so good that I could drink it with a straw, although the chimichurri is a close second.

"If we can get there right when they open at 5, maybe they can take us as a walkup," hubby said. "And if they can't, we can always eat at Kona Cafe." (That's the other Poly restaurant, which is typically not as crowded.) Reluctantly, I agreed.

He suggested that we take the boat to the Poly (the other choice was the monorail). Little did we realize that we had just missed it, and the next boat was a looooooong time in coming. As my watch ticked closer to 5, I could see any possibility of tucking into that delicious skewer-roasted meat drifting farther and farther away.

Finally the next boat arrived, and we piled on with the rest of the crowd. Its first stop was the Grand Floridian hotel, and I fidgeted nervously as I waited for the next step. We might make it...we wasn't quite 5 o'clock yet....dare I actually hope? On the way, I called 407-WDW-DINE to see if they had any reservations available. The agent could barely keep the laughter out of her voice as she informed me that Ohana was totally full.

We finally arrived at the Poly and hustled through the hotel and upstairs to the Ohana podium. My heart sank as I saw the crowd; if they were all waiting for tables, too, our chances had plummeted from slim to none. But maybe they were just hanging out in the bar...if so, then perhaps hubby's hope would be rewarded.

At the podium, I was astonished...they actually could take us! The cast member told us that it would be a 15 to 20 minute wait. No problem! I clutched our precious beeper as we headed over to Kona to check out the menu for future reference. They had some very tempting items; even if we had been turned down at Ohana, we definitely wouldn't have suffered.

Back at the entrance to Ohana, some fellow waiting diners noticed my shirt, and we got into a very interesting conversation. I was almost sorry when our beeper went off to summon us to our table.

In the restaurant, as I was tucking into the appetizers, I suddenly remember hubby's morning find. "Hey," I said, "I guess that was a lucky penny after all!" Sure, you can't compare Ohana to a lottery win, but those small strokes of luck do make life a lot more enjoyable.

Ohana was just as delicious as we remember it. We had a wonderful meal, topped off with bananas foster bread pudding ala mode. It was hard to save room, but I reminded myself just how delicious the bananas foster sauce is and managed to set aside my plate without indulging in any more fire-roasted meat.

After dinner, we took the Polynesian walkway back to our car at the Ticket and Transportation Center. On the way, I saw a man wearing a t-shirt showing a profile of a hetro couple in wedding clothes, captioned "The end." I wondered how he was going to feel if he spotted some of the people that we'd seen at the Magic Kingdom, such as the lesbian couple wearing matching "Just Married" shirts or the gay men wearing pink wedding veils.

But overall, Gay Days was rather anti-climactic compared to what I had read on the internet. According to one rather bizarre website (click here to read it if you want some amusement), I should have been witness to "...shirtless homosexuals were twisting the nipples of each other and fondling the butts and groins of their kissing, group urination in public restrooms – and worse." Supposedly, according to the website, the hordes of homosexuals also train young kids into gay or lesbian relationships...gasp!

How on earth do you "train" a child into being gay? Call me silly, but every gay man and lesbian that I know knew their sexual orientation from early on. They might have repressed it, but it's not something that just smacked them in the face one day out of the blue, nor is it something that a devious homosexual trained them or converted them into.

Oh well, we're all entitled to our opinions, as long as we don't force them onto others. I don't know which Magic Kingdom the author of that website visits, but at the one that I visited today, all I saw was a typical group, albeit a lot more crimson than usual. The only PDAs that I noticed were the subtle sort that any couple might share...someone rubbing their partner's shoulders, holding hands, or giving a quick peck. Hubby did notice some groping between one couple at the parade, but I totally missed it.

I'm glad that I finally managed to witness this "wild" event for myself. I'm definitely planning to attend next year, and as the Flinstones would say, I know it will be a gay old time.

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