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The Disney Land Hotel

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Every time I think I'm going to wake up back in the park, where the sick heart of target marketing to children lurks. But I'm still only in the hotel. I'm here all morning now, waiting for my team of grizzled misfits and a fresh-face kid to set themselves for our mission. Every minute we wait means longer lines. The human congestion will reduce our speed but give me a way to hide my team from the full onslaught of Walter E. Disney and his brain-washed acolytes.

I get weaker. The hotel walls move closer every idle second; only my motion can keep them at bay. Wearing just white underwear, and with the slather of absinthe seeping freely from my pores, I stagger through a weeping judo session. The mirror exchanges blows with my right hand, leaving both shattered. My body slumps to the ground, reduced to a pool of regret and personal fluids.

It never occurred to me to ponder "victory" on this trip. The girl, Miss Lou, 3 years and one month of precocity, isn't ready. She can't possibly be ready at this age, not with the blood running through her veins. Lou is a born consumer; a feral strain of brand loyalty flows through her unchecked. If we can steward her to the other side of this trip without sending her straight into the bin of tantrum-throwing greed-heads for the next 10 years, the mission will be complete. There is no victory, there is only the hope that we can emerge with an acceptable approximation of the child we ushered into this jungle.

A week ago, when asked what she wanted for Christmas, Lou requested "A little tree to decorate" for her room. "Please," she added without a hint of whining, "I've been very nice."

And she had. But that was then, before a single afternoon in the Park of Darkness, "the Happiest Place on Earth" for those who sell $25 tee shirts to 3 year olds. One morning later that once fresh faced kid is standing over me, pitiless, seemingly unaware of the dangers surrounding us all. She ceaselessly runs an "itsy bitsy spider" up my neck; asking daddy to take her out to meet Cinderella in the park.

She's never seen the Cinderella movie but I know not to be surprised by Lou's request. The child spotted a Mickey Mouse statue from 100 yards when we pulled into the hotel and instantly, gleefully, shouted her regards to the famed rodent. Young ones can *feel* the dark allure of branding with a sensitivity adults no longer possess. To the kids, the feeling is Magic. But I know better.

Magic is a matter of pure will for Disney. It is created and enforced with a cruel efficiency which has been honed in this place for half a century. To be a member of Disney is to understand that there is no room for weakness, no quarter is offered or asked for by the workers.

There is a legend here; the kind of myth so useful in controlling the denizens of this unholy place that Walt would have made it up had it not been true. According to the story, during the very first summer of park operations here in 1955, a kid who was playing Goofy got sick in the head of his costume then feinted to the ground. Seeing this, his friend Pluto ripped off his own head, and that of the ailing Goofy, to successfully administer CPR while horrified park-goers gazed on.

When the news reached Walter he asked one question for both Goofy and Pluto: "Did you break character on park grounds, in front of guests?" They had.

That night the lights of the electric light parade were strung up using the entrails of the men who had brought Pluto and Goofy to life that day. Nobody breaks character anymore. Not ever.

Creating an environment of Consumerism Magic is a matter of will here; a dark art. You give me one division of men and women with the pure will to get sick in a 20-lb felt headpiece without the kid sitting on his lap having any idea what had happened and, my friends, I will create a consumer experience for you in less than 6 months.

I don't have that division. I just have me, my wife and my mother, all charged with protecting a sliver of Sweetness in Princess Lou. We are hideously outnumbered; strangers in a strange land with a mission totally foreign to the pilgrims who surround us.

We are in the Heart of Retail Darkness less than 3 weeks before the holiest day of the retail calendar. The dispatches for the balance of this week will explore the insidious attempts to further corrupt my once-perfect daughter. I will detail the wicked plots of the retailers who gather here to feast on that which Walt lures here to kill.

I've got 4 more days and a wallet already showing signs of distress. Pray that we can find the mercy lurking in the souls of my team... Walt himself will have none.

No positions in stocks mentioned.

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