Southern Legitimacy Statement: Growing up in South Jersey with West Virginia roots brings a person towards the equator to seek understanding. While in South Carolina I decided I want to be a writer and I moved to Florida to find salvation for my mind, relaxation for my body, and to endlessly entertain my soul. Nowadays, I travel to Texas to write while visiting my brother and long for a day I may reside in New Orleans. One can travel all fifty states, but never find the redemptive restoration the South provides.
Just Outside the Walls of the World
The day after my 19th birthday my girlfriend at the time, Kayla, tried to kill herself in my parents’ home (the same place where my parents took her in because her mother had allegedly kicked her out) in an attempt to keep me from accepting an internship at Walt Disney World. An internship I applied for with the sole purpose being to escape the emotionally manipulative, sexually and physically abusive relationship I was in. But that’s another story for another time.
I worked as an Outdoor Food and Beverage merchant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, as well as, a go-go dancer (which is different than stripper) at a nightclub in Orlando called Pulse. Yes, that nightclub called Pulse. No, being a go-go dancer was not part of the internship. It was, however, a way for me to make $300-$400 dollars in two hours by shaking my ass in a pair of Calvin Klein underwear. It was also how a 19-year-old boy managed to get drinks bought for him by pretending to be interested in patrons of said nightclub with the goal being to forget why I traveled down to Orlando in the first place.
Looking back on it, had I saved any of that money, I wouldn’t have the story I am about to tell you. Where did it go? Alcohol, drugs, and Disney merchandise. I may not have the money today, but I have a respectable (or disturbing, depending on your view of it) collection of Disney Villain Pins; so, there’s something to brag about.
When you are a Disney Intern, on their Disney College Program, you are provided with a place to live. Essentially, a townhome. As long as you remain employed with them you have a place to sleep, shower, and eat. Three very important and often underappreciated things. However, if you accept a jalapeno cheese stuffed pretzel from a fellow Cast Member named Greg on your day off, you no longer have a place to sleep, shower, and eat. This is because according to the rules of the Disney Corporation, one Cast Member giving another Cast Member services meant for Guests is unfair and punishable by termination. Likewise, any of your roommates that would sympathize with you and allow you to stay in their apartment would find themselves equally as “terminated” as Disney likes to put it.
I managed to get my roommate to at least hold onto the majority of my personal belongings with a promise to find somewhere to stay and then move it into my new place.
When he asked, “How long should it take?”
I incorrectly told him it shouldn’t take too long.
Armed with a blue leather suitcase with a wide strap full of essential clothing, a few notebooks, pens, sharpies, a silver flip-phone with zero minutes on it, and my harmonica I took on Orlando. For the first month, I tried the typical things you would expect someone temporarily misplaced would do. I found cardboard and wrote my best plea:
Fired by the Mouse. Now I have no House.
Some people would tell me to get a job. Some would throw their McDonald’s at me (ha, jokes on them. McDonald’s tastes best when it’s free.) Some would give me money to help a sad looking kid out. But, the thing I heard most was some variation of this: you’re too good looking to be homeless. Whether they meant it as a compliment, or an insult depended on the speaker. Cursed with good looks, I thought. Can one be too “good looking” to survive? I didn’t plan on finding out, but it did get me to thinking.
Here’s the thing about being homeless, after you’ve had the fast-food or a 7/11 meal that some “jerk” or “saint” has given you, you have a lot of time to think. Out of shame, I had avoided the bus stop Disney Interns use to get to work. The bus stop was the same one where you would take a bus to get to nightclubs or bars. I stunk, but it’s Florida, everyone is sweaty and smelly for the most part. I looked like shit, but after a crazy night at the club, everyone looked like they were no worse for wear. It was just maybe crazy enough to work.
It was a Wednesday that I decided to give it a go. I remember it being a Wednesday because Wednesdays were Ladies’ night at Pulse, so I knew it would be mostly girls getting off the buses. There were two buses that went to the club and they arrived at the apartments at essentially the same time. Loaded to infinity and beyond safety concerns, they would pull up and a hundred or so drunk teenagers and early twenty-somethings would file out of the buses. After a night of dancing to music too loud for its own good, one tends to have a slight loss of hearing. Being crammed in a tin can with ninety-nine other people that are all reeking of sweat and booze really provides a semi-permanent loss of one’s sense of smell. I slid into the group and searched for a familiar face.
Her name was Nicole. She was older than most Disney Interns by a few years. We worked together, but never really talked outside of work. Sometime later in the future she would send me a postcard asking if I ever loved her that I would write a response to, but I never send. For that night, she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
“Nicole,” I said loud enough for only her to hear. She turned to me and said, “I thought you got terminated?”
“Yeah, but I’m still hanging around.” (it technically wasn’t a lie, okay?)
“How have you been?” she asked as she touched my arm and brushed the anti-Disney stubble I had begun to grow.
“Been alright,” I said before looking into her eyes and saying, “but now that I’ve seen you, I’ve never been better.”
She signed me into the apartments. Interns get terminated so regularly there that they probably didn’t have room for the paperwork that said to not allow me back in. We went back to her room and did what the Disney College Program is second most successful place in the world for. The next morning, she asked me if I had work or plans. I had plans, just none I was going to share with her. That was the first lie I told when I told her, “No.”
She had work, but told me that I could sleep in. She would be back by two. I told her I would be there. While she was gone I used whoever’s shampoo and conditioner that was in the shower. She had a pink Disney Princess toothbrush that I used. When she got back at two she cooked me Chef Boyardee because the only recipe she knew was:
- Pour pasta into microwave-safe bowl. Cover.
- Microwave on HIGH 1 minute 30 seconds or until hot.
- Stir before serving. As all microwave ovens vary, time given is approximate.
I made up stories about what I was doing since I had been terminated. Working at a restaurant with a generic name. She was from Detroit. If it didn’t exist in Walt Disney World, she didn’t know about it. The next day I brought my suitcase to the bus stop to meet her and we went to her room. She saw my harmonica and asked if I knew any songs.
“There’s really only two I like to sing or play.”
“Disney songs?” she asked with the same eyes Disney Illustrators give to princesses that are being lied to. That was the second part of my plan that I hadn’t planned far enough ahead to plan.
Speaking very generally, with an emphasis on the word “very”, there are two types of straight girls that work at Walt Disney World. One, the ones that have been with their boyfriend/fiancé/husband since they were in sixth grade together and will marry them, if they haven’t already, at Disney World; or two, the ones that desperately want to find their own “prince charming” and live “happily ever after.”
I told her I didn’t know any Disney songs, but I would play her my favorite song. “Anything for You” by Ludo. By the time I got to the end:
I’ve gotten drunk and shot the breeze with kings of far off lands.
They showed me wealth as far as I could see,
but their kingdoms seemed all shrivelly and they cried with jealousy
when I leaned in and told them about you.
I was reading the music out of my little black notebook where I had the lyrics written down as well as the notes. She thought I wrote it for her. I lied and said I did. She said she was “so happy we finally spent time together outside of work” because she felt like she was “falling for me.” I lied and said I felt the same way.
That evening I snuck onto her computer to use my Facebook to contact any girls in Disney that ever showed any kind of interest in me; or I knew were single. Next to the song that Nicole thought I wrote for her, I wrote the names and working locations of several girls. In drunken renditions of this story, I have often said that I wrote down more names than I can remember. I wrote down 76 names.
For the next couple months, when I wasn’t on the street, I surfed from bed to bed of girl to girl who desperately hoped I was there to slay whatever version of dragon haunted them. None of them will know until later, if they ever found out at all, that I was using their bed for cover. Eighteen of them will tell me they love me. Twenty-three will tell me to burn in hell when they catch on to what I am doing. Of the remaining thirty-five, roughly half I have maintained fairly regular contact with to this day. However, there is another part of this that I have neglected to mention.
My temporary goal at each stop was a place to sleep, shower, and eat. My long-term goal was to get a flight back home. By this point, I had burned my bridges with my parents by never calling and by asking them explicitly to not come down and visit me. It felt wrong to call them now. I was managing a couple dollars a day on the street and at that rate it would be a hundred days or so before I had enough for a flight home. Instead of explaining why I felt I had to leave (which was to find another girl’s apartment to crash at) I left Nicole a poem titled “Little Black Book Fairy Tales” that read:
There’s no magical kisses or singing fishes,
no birds helping with the dishes or making three wishes.
We realize soon the world looks different at four in the morning,
filled with life and hope, but hope has a warning.
This life is luring, charming, and destructive.
Yet hope is dreaming, amazing and constructive.
I’ll always be goodnight boyfriend, but your heart is in danger
cause goodnight ends, then I’m good morning stranger.
Another reason I left was because I had gone through all her roommates’ rooms and took all the spare change I could find. I justified taking it with things like: I need it more than they do. As well as, nobody likes change. But the way I justified it the most was, I just want to get home. Like any system based partially in chance, this was not flawless. Many nights, most nights actually, my pillow was my blue suitcase. Many days and nights I hid my sunburnt face and skeleton frame from people on the bus out of fear that one of the 76 might see me.
Eventually, I got enough money to get a ticket from MCO to PHL and bought it. I also got minutes for my phone to call my parents to tell them I was coming home because I had been terminated.
My mom asked why I was coming home so soon, since I planned on staying there forever. I told her I’m tired of sleeping just outside the walls of the world. She asked, “Why are you sleeping outside?” as a joke.
I began to cry on the phone and responded, “I didn’t know where else to sleep.”
She cut through the bullshit and demanded, “How long ago were you terminated?”
I told the truth for the first time in a long time and said, “I’m not sure.”
When I landed in Philadelphia, I got my blue suitcase with a wide strap and waited for my dad. He walked past me three times, disgusted by the homeless looking man, assuming he was about to ask him for money for drugs. It wasn’t until he called my phone and that he realized the crying shame-fed man is his son. He tackled me with a hug and apologized asking if he hurt me. When I got home my mom fainted when she saw me. She would cry for the next couple months when we have dinner and I can barely finish any of it. By this point I was too accustomed to surviving on scraps; real meals caused my stomach to hurt. Years later when my best friend jokes, “I don’t know anyone that can eat as much as him” my mom will have to leave the room because she remembers when I couldn’t.
I don’t regret what I did to survive, I regret how long it took me to get home. I took more than I deserved and lost less than I should have. I was lucky when karma shouldn’t have let me be lucky. Every couple Fridays I let a specific girl take me to the bar. She buys me enough beer to not remember the important parts of this story. The lingering ability to get what I want, almost feels as good as a blue leather suitcase with a wide strap pillow. If there is an implication that you’ll do things for someone, they’ll give you just about anything. This girl who buys me beer, her name is Nichole. I tell “Nichole with a h” she’s my favorite Nichole. It’s not a lie, they spell their names different. I tell her I know how to play two songs on my harmonica. She only ever hears me play “Classic Cars” by Bright Eyes:
It’s not that often, but I think of her sometimes.
Just something quaint, a couple ships in the night.