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Bemusement Park

To get my son psyched about a trip abroad, I promised him a stop at Disneyland Paris—a mistake bad weather and long lines only compounded

Etgar Keret
November 22, 2011
Mickey Mouse, Parisian-style.(Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)
Mickey Mouse, Parisian-style.(Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was a little boy, my parents took me to visit a family friend who was missing a finger. When he saw me staring at his four-fingered hand, the man told me he used to work in a factory. One day, his wristwatch fell into a machine, and when he instinctively reached into its guts, the sharp blades severed his finger.

“It was just a split second,” he said with a sigh. “But by the time my brain told my arm it was better off not digging into that machine, I had nine fingers left.”

I remember listening carefully and trying to look sad. But the powerful sense of hubris pulsing deep inside me told me that these sorts of things might happen to unlucky strangers, but not to me.

“If I ever drop a watch into a machine full of blades,” I thought to myself, “there’s no way I’ll do something stupid like reach in to get it.”

I thought about that story a few weeks ago, on the morning my wife and I told our son, Lev, who is almost 6 years old, that we were going on a family trip to Paris. My wife talked excitedly about the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, and I mumbled something about the Pompidou and the Luxembourg Gardens. Lev just shrugged his shoulders and asked wearily if we could go to Eilat instead. “It’s just like going abroad,” he reasoned, “except everyone speaks Hebrew.”

And then it came, that split-second error that I would pay for dearly. The kind of mistake that leaves you with an even number of digits, admittedly, but that inflicts an emotional scar from which you can never recover.

“Have you ever heard of Euro Disney?” I asked in a cheerful voice, bordering on hysteria.

“Euro-what?” asked Lev. “What’s that?”

My wife immediately stepped in with her well-honed survival instincts. “Oh, nothing,” she said. “It’s just this place where—you know, it’s really far away and very silly. Come on, let’s look at some pictures of the Eiffel Tower on the web.”

But Lev had perked up now: “I don’t want to see the Eiffel. I want to see pictures of the place Dad just said.”

That afternoon, when the boy went to his Capoeira class, where they’ve spent the past two years teaching him how to expertly kick his peers to a Brazilian beat, I approached my wife tearfully and asked for forgiveness: “He sounded so unexcited about the trip, and I just wanted to cheer him up.”

“I know,” she said and hugged me warmly. “Don’t worry. Whatever it is we have to get through, it’ll go by quickly. However horrible it is, it’s just one little day in the rest of our lives.”

Two weeks later, on a gray, damp Sunday morning, we found ourselves shivering in the square outside what’s now called Disneyland Paris. Sad employees in happy uniforms physically blocked our access to the rides. “Entrance is currently permitted only to residents of the Disney Hotel and holders of the Disney Passport, which may be purchased at the box office,” one of them explained in a throaty, doleful Amy Winehouse voice.

“I’m cold,” Lev whimpered. “I want that lady to let us in.”

“She can’t,” I said and breathed some warm air on his nose in a pathetic attempt to melt the frozen snot hanging from his nostrils.

“But those kids went in,” he wailed, pointing at a cheery group of children who waved their shiny Mickey Passports at Ms. Winehouse. “How come they get to go in and I don’t?”

I tried an inappropriately serious response: “Remember how we talked about the social protest in summer? About how not everyone gets the same opportunities?”

“I want Mickey!” the boy whined. “I want to talk to Mickey about this. If he and Pluto knew what that lady was doing, they’d let us in.”

“Mickey and Pluto don’t really exist,” I said. “And even if they did, how likely is it that a dog and a mouse could influence the profit-maximization policy of a successful publicly traded company? Chances are, if Mickey came to our aid, he’d be fired in—”

“Popcorn!” the boy yelled, “I want popcorn! Glow-in-the-dark popcorn like that fat girl is eating over there!”

After two boxes of unusually sticky popcorn that would become phosphorescent poop later that evening, Winehouse let us and another thousand or so desperate families in, and we all lunged at the rides. My peacenik wife, in her desire to avoid trampling a crying baby, stepped aside briefly, costing us another 20 minutes’ wait for the Dumbo carousel. The line seemed very short when we were standing in it. That, perhaps, is the true genius of the place: the ability to snake the lines around in a way that always makes them look short. While we were waiting, I read a few interesting tidbits about Walt Disney on my iPhone. The site I was on claimed that, contrary to urban legend, Disney wasn’t really a Nazi but just a regular anti-Semite who hated Communists and was especially fond of Germans.

Scattered around us in the confusing labyrinth of lines were some ornamental stone posts sprouting tiny plants. Lev complained that the miniature trees stank. At first I told him he was just imagining it, but after I saw the third father hold his son up above a post so he could pee on it, I realized that the same god who had blessed the park’s designers with transcendental architectural wisdom had also blessed my son with keen senses. It was a little warmer by now, and Lev’s snot was liquid again. My wife sent me off to find a tissue. I discovered on my quick excursion that anything you can buy with money could be easily obtained in the park, but unprofitable items like bathrooms, straws, or napkins were virtually impossible to find. By the time I got back to my family, Lev was gleefully climbing off the Dumbo carousel. He ran over and hugged me.

“Dad! That was fun!” As if on cue, a huge Mickey Mouse appeared and started chatting with the visitors.

“Tell Mickey,” Lev instructed me, “that we want to open up a Shekel Disney just like this one in Israel.”

“What’s a Shekel Disney?” I asked.

“It’s like here, but instead of taking euros from people, we’ll take shekels,” explained my financial midget.

Mickey came closer. Now he was within touching distance. I threw out a “Bonjour” in his direction, hoping to break the ice. “Welcome to Disneyland Paris!” Mickey replied, waving at us with a white-gloved, four-fingered hand.

Translated by Jessica Cohen

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer. He writes a regular column from Israel for Tablet.

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer.

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