The Happiest Place on Earth
When my cell phone buzzed I was in the break room of Southland television station and had just come back from the Santa Ana zoo with a fluff story about two albino baby tigers ─ terminally cute pictures for the five o’clock news. I snatched the phone from my purse glanced at the incoming number and annoyed as all hell the assignment desk was probably going to send me out AGAIN to do a standup for a fender bender on the 502. Sarcasm was my live phone message this day. “Hello, Joan, the three time Emmy nominated investigative reporter at your service. Let me guess…A ten car pile up on the Five─ Oh, no! ─2?”
A monotone voice shocked me: “A sniper in Disneyland. Two dead. A SWAT team is surrounding the Enchanted Castle. Get over there.”
My eyes narrowed and a faint smile came to my lips thinking it was a joke. My sarcasm was still the coin of realm. “Really? Mickey goes goofy and kills six in the happiest place on earth.”
The same monotone voice in my ear. “Grab a “pho-tog”. This bleeds, you lead at 11.”
“I’m on my way.” I slapped my cell phone shut. I still wasn’t sure it was legit.
Gary, a pho-tog, sat across from me drinking coffee. He had 23 years of experience at the television station. I searched his white, blank face for any hint of conspiracy. Even though he had the perfect face for gambling, I knew Gary could not, would not, hoax. He was a factualist, a small cult of people who believe if you couldn’t chew it or screw it, it didn’t exist. But, if the story was true, it would surely electrify even this grizzled veteran of the news business.
“Gary that was the assignment desk. There’s been a shooting at Disneyland. A sniper in the Enchanted Castle. Twenty-three dead.” Of course I lied about the number dead to sweeten the carnage and goose the mayhem. I knew, even for a factualist, horror had a definite decimal place.
Gary slowly finished drinking his coffee, his poker face staring out a window into the parking lot. With a small sigh he said, “Joan, it is actually called Sleeping Beauty Castle.”
You could always count on Gary for a true read of all reality.
When we arrived at Disneyland we had to wait for Jeff, the park’s PR person. He was tall with a blond crew cut and the squeaky clean looked of a Mouseketer ala 1955. Like all PR flacks his job was: Never a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day. But this time he was chewing gum, strictly against Uncle Walt’s orders, even through Walt was a chain smoke. I tried some dark humor to break the charged atmosphere of fear and dread. “It could be worse.”
“How’s that, Joan?”
“He could have plugged Pooh Bear or Snow White and their dead bodies end up on national television. Bad for you, but I’m sure we could get every national and international satellite feed. A billion people would see the pictures. Billions.”
Jeff did his job and tried to guilt trip me with reality. “You know there are hard working real people in those costumes. That’s not Pooh Bear dead out there. It’s…”
He spit out the gum and pushed another fresh on into his mouth. Chain gum chewing now and he spit it out on the ground. Taht’s when I knew this was serious.
Jeff took us to a spot that was far from sight of the castle and I immediately complained. “Jeff, we can’t get a good shot here, we’re too far away.”
“Too dangerous. SWAT team.” He violently chewed his gum. “Police in charge.” More chewing, his jaw muscles working hard and fast.
I cashed a chip he owed me, “Remember that story I did on Mickey and Minnie opening a new ride called “Tinker Bell and her Fairy Friends.” You said if there was ever anything you could…”
Jeff stopped chewing, his eyes rolled and he lowered his head. “OK, OK. Follow me.”
I looked over to pho-tog Gary and he was annoyed he had to carry the heavy camera one more foot. Then a shot rang out and old guard Gary skulked around like he could see bullets in the air.
Jeff led us to the edge of Pixie Hollow and Mister Toads Mad Ride. From our vantage point there was a clear view to the castle. To my left six, ninja black SWAT team members were hunkered down behind a kiosk of Disney schlock. Then I saw the two bodies on a grassy knoll by a pink waste barrel. They were maintenance personnel killed trying to keep the grounds clean. One of the dead men still held a silver candy wrapper in his hand. Disney employees were known for devotion to duty.
My eye caught a glance of another small piece of candy wrapper bouncing along the ground out toward the grassy knoll. Gary saw it too and began filming, following the tiny piece of paper with his camera. We both knew the paper had death written all over it. And, if on cue, a girl tour guide emerged from someplace and raced toward the paper. She was wearing Mickey Mouse ears and had a bright white smile. The first shot struck her leg; she cried out and limped, her arms flapping in the air like a bird trying to take off. Another shot and her body jerked a little and she did a sloppy soft shoe to one side. Still she struggled forward. Behind me a crowd of Disney employees yelled encouragement to the brave girl. Another shot and she grabber her side and fell to the ground. The crowd went silent. I turned my head away, closed my eyes, a lump in my throat. Then Gary yelled and pointed, “Oh my God!” And like Lazarus, the girl stood, smiled, righted her mouse ears, and staggered onward. A cheer went up when she grabbed the paper with one hand, the other hand pressed against her sucking chest wound. The final shot took her out as she threw the small piece of paper into the waste barrel. Then I heard the chant, “Employee of the month…employee of the month…employee of the month.” I turned to Gary to see if he got it all. He rocked back from the camera eye piece, switched off the camera, sighed and scratched behind his ear. He looked at me and said, “Who says the younger generation isn’t plucky.” Before I could answer another shot rang out and dirt kicked up near my feet. Then I heard yelling from the shooter.
“You can’t create happiness with an E ticket. You can’t create happiness without also creating sadness. It’s Yin and Yang. You’re all sick!”
Suddenly Jeff stepped out from behind me and walked out into the open. He yelled up to the shooter in the castle. “You are the one creating sadness. We are creating happiness. And besides, we haven’t used E tickets for years. There is one paid admission to all the rides in the…the…he emphasized the words…happiest place on Earth.”
Then I knew what Jeff was doing. This shooting at Disneyland would be a PR end-of- the-world nightmare and not even Jeff could face that. He was going to take one for Mickey.
Again the voice from the castle turret window. “You can’t do it. Happiness can’t be bought. Happiness comes from the unselfish deeds of people.”
Jeff yelled up. “What do you call these people?!” He pointed to the three bodies. “They’re dead.”
“No, they’re happy!” the voice yelled back. “They’re off duty.”
“You can’t kill us all.” Jeff shouted.
“Yea, you can’t kill us all.” One of the Disney employees walked out and stood by Jeff looking up. Then another and another and quickly 20 people stood and smiled up toward the pastel blue turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle.
“See.” PR Jeff said. “Can’t you feel the warm?” Then they all started singing “It’s a Small World After All.”
“You are all full of shi….”
Before the sniper finished, a shot from one of the SWAT members rang out and a dark body fell from a turret window. It was over. My professionalism kicked in and I jotted down notes for story. I looked at Gary and he smiled back. A smile to say it was all right now. The happiest place on earth was happy again.