I was taken to Disney World as a child, but I don’t remember it. I remember the book we got about Disney World. I pored over the photos, and remembered my dad explaining that there used to be nuclear submarines, and a Mission to the Moon, and that the Matterhorn was only in California. I held his stories, and the images in the book, closer than my own memories. My sisters and I looked at the inside of the covers, at a mosaic of various characters, and tried to name them all. Cinderalla, Peter Pan, of course, but also Brer Rabbit, Friar Tuck, the Aristocats.
As a child, I visited both Disney World and New York City. They are my two favorite places in the world, which many people find bizzarre. But they are similar. New York is as rough and unsanitized as Disney World is clean. New York is as aggressive as Disney World is romantic. And both of them are living realizations of dreams. Disney World is childhood fantasy, and New York is adult fantasy. Disney World is adventure, kissing love, power without responsibility, dreams of flying. New York is freedom, success, speed, choices. New York is the manifestation of so many images in movies and on TV that it can almost feel like you can’t be there, really there, looking at the Brooklyn Bridge. Dreams of fame and pain relieved, thirsts quenched.
When I was about eleven, we went into New York for the day with my grandparents. We went into Macy’s for some reason– because it was famous, or because we knew it from the Thanksgiving parade? I don’t know. Inside the store, they had a special temporary set-up: make your own tape in our recording studio! Be a rock star! It was about 1987. Tapes, still. My grandpa asked me, “Do you want to do it?”
This was so outside my experience, being offered such a thing, that I hardly knew what to do. My parents, like all good parents, were experts in “No.” If we went someplace, we went for the experience. At museums, we looked at dinosaurs. At Disney World, we rode the rides. We did not buy junk, and there was one snack a day, and the included events would be plenty. You would not ask for more. There was no point.
“Okay,” I said, partly because I was the oldest, and it was my job to be brave. My little sisters were too young and too shy to try this. First I had to choose a song. I chose “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston, a song that remains quite apropos for me. They put me in a snug booth with lyrics and headphones and a microphone, and I sang. Many years before karaoke, this was an exotic experience. I sang enthusiastically, boldly, like a beautiful, glamourous woman, I thought.
When I listened to my tape, my voice sounded thin and high. I always thought of myself as a merely adequate singer, but my heart was still crushed. I wasn’t a beautiful, glamourous woman. I was a little girl. Of course my grandparents and my mother said it sounded very nice. What I remembered, years later, was that my grandpa had bought me something I remembered, an experience, and an artistic experience, of sorts. Try something, make something, he offered. Step into the dream. Even if you disappoint yourself, it’s a better place to stand.