On the morning of our final day I got up early when everyone else was sleeping and went down to get a cup of coffee at the little café next to the hotel pool. Over the ubiquitous Disneyland sound system drifted a meditative rendition of the old Beach Boys tune "The Warmth of the Sun." There was a strange ethereal, almost hymn-like quality to it. It was one of my favorite Beach Boys songs and always seemed their most reflective. A type of anthem or summing up. I envisioned them singing it on some wide Los Angeles beach near twilight as they watched the "California" sun sink into the Pacific. Perhaps at the end of a long, wild day of surfing. More likely, though, the end of a particular period of life.
After I got my cup of coffee I walked out to the pool and laid back on one of the big pool recliners and reflected on the Beach Boys and Disneyland. Steam from the warm pool water rose slowly and mixed with the heavy descending fog of a Sunday morning in southern California. The bright roller coasters of Disneylands new California Adventure section loomed in the nearby distance. Seen through the fog and steam the new amusement park rides shivered like images of a mirage. Other musak drifted out over the pool but it was impossible to break the spell of that old Beach Boys song and the memories it set in motion.
I was born in Los Angeles and first came to Disneyland just a few months after it opened in the mid-50s. At that time there were no hotels surrounding it. Just acres and acres of orange groves as far as the eye could see. Through the years I had returned many times. I even spent my high school graduation night at Disneyland. Both of us had changed. I had become more cynical and suspicious of "magic kingdoms" over the years. And that little place buried in the orange groves was now part of a vast international entertainment franchise and under perpetual attack from the liberal media.
Still there was the hope that some of that old "black magic" of the Disneyland I remembered might rub off on my two children. I smiled as I sipped my Starbucks and thought about the weekend. The past few days in the almost-deserted Disneyland had indeed been a magic time for them. For all of us. Perhaps it was even possible to revive the past briefly and make it live again so that it was somehow more than the fading, misty nostalgia of a favorite old song?
For a number of years I had been in pursuit of this America I remembered. Disneyland was such a symbol of this old America to me. The old America of my youth. It mattered little what others said about her these days in our cynical times. I imagine (as a type of cultural critic) I had been responsible for adding my two cents worth to the cynical atmosphere that continued to hover over America these days.
Did the trip to Disneyland have anything to do with moving towards some application of the theories? All of this was stirring in the foggy weather of the past few days at a quite, empty Disneyland.
The question of symbolism and Disneyland had gotten me again pondering the whole thing not long after our arrival in Anaheim off a fairly light Harbor Freeway a few days ago. Somewhere I had found a quote by the well-known literary critic Yi-Fu Tuan and its message hovered over the weekend like the fog and perpetual musak throughout the park:
"Disneyland is a quintessential American dream come true
that which is feared is disorder, chaos, violence
the idea that a good place any good place has to have a boundary that separates it from and yet allows traffic with the larger world."
It summed up Disneyland pretty well for me. I needed a new symbol, a bigger symbol. Something full of order and peacefulness after the cultural wars of the 90s. One great symbol rather than more "ankle snipping" barking little ones. Maybe all America needed a new symbol? Some great symbol rising like a Phoenix Bird from the constant noise and bickerings of a postmodern era filled with symbols so small they had to be searched for with giant magnifying glasses on voting ballots.
A few hours later the family was packed and ready to leave the Magic Kingdom. Our final breakfast was with the Disney characters Goofy and Pluto in the big family restaurant of the hotel. Goofy kept taking my son Matts baseball cap and placing it on his head. This made Matt break up in laughter. And my daughter Cassie was encouraging Matts ventures in front of the Disney characters at the restaurant.
As we head north on the Santa Ana Freeway after breakfast, I think we are somehow a new, or at least a renewed, family. Life seemed good and even innocent once again. And we are perhaps able to briefly escape the cynicism and bitterness of the culture and run a little ahead of it. Or go back in time, a little behind it.
But I still wondered how all my symbolism theories would play out. Will the candidate for application of my theories on symbolism please step forward (from the lineup). I was more than ready for some larger symbol in my life. I was almost open to believing what Jung says on the Marquee sub-headline quote of this introduction, that life might just be "great" and "beautiful" and perhaps "nonsense and stupidity do not always triumph."
I was thinking about this on a foggy southern California morning as we headed up the Harbor Freeway towards a few days in Los Angeles for my brothers birthday on September 11th.
A few weeks later I was up at my home in the Valley of the Moon engaged with writing what follows. Patriotism of course was in the air and it seemed the most patriotic act I could perform. And too, a worthy candidate at last for that application of symbolism I had been searching for all these years.
Maybe ever since I first saw Disneyland.