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The Next Happiest Place on Earth
By Greg Triggs
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Greg Triggs
All rights reserved.
The driver, someone named "Bobby" according to his nametag, shakes my hand. He then hands me my very own ID pin and welcomes me with a bright, toothy smile. I've never seen hair so blonde. There are no roots. It's real. That's not fair.
His hands are big and muscular. His shoulders are broad and his waist is clearly of the gym. You could cut paper on that jaw.
And yet there is no sexual energy whatsoever. None. This guy, this child, is such milky perfection that he makes the Osmond's look like a gang of crack whores. "I hope you enjoyed your flight," he says with complete sincerity and just the slightest hint of a southern accent. It's adorable, but that's all. No pangs to play Mrs. Robinson overtake me.
He picks up my bags with next to no effort and leads the way to the car. We are on a tourist conveyer belt. I can feel my calves losing their tone. New York is a city of pedestrians. New Yorkers walk.
Don't judge. Be open-minded.
This is efficient and it's a nice chance to catch up on my reading. Oh look. They're having a Marinara Festival at the 20 local Olive Gardens. How lovely!
There's advertising everywhere.
Oh my God. There's an ad for a place called Gatorland.
Hotel. Hotel. Hotel.
Soon we are in the parking garage and facing the car. Oh my. The car.
I've never seen such a thing. It's like a stretch limo and a 70s conversion van had an ugly baby. Flying through a well-executed mural of a cloudy blue sky are America's best-loved animated characters. They're all holding hands, or rather paws and hooves. At the apex of the grouping, actually the hood of the limo is Binger Bunny. His head is three-dimensional. The windshield is his mouth. His ears make up the antenna for the radio.
Katz hisses. Bobby laughs and mentions that dogs regularly chase the vehicle. "The company must like you," he says. "Only VIPs get this kind of treatment." Which leaves me wondering what they do to the people they don't like. Bobby puts my bags into the trunk, closes it and grimaces as he looks into the now purple and pink sky.
"Uh-oh, we better get a hurry on."
"The sun's starting to set," Bobby explains. "The fireworks are going to be going off in just a little bit. That always ties up traffic."
"Fireworks? Is today a holiday?"
"Well ma'am," ouch, he thinks I'm a ma'am, "I wish I could tell you that it was in honor of your arrival but it's not. We have fireworks every night. Sometimes we even have 'em twice. All the parks do."
"The locals are used to it, but the tourists stop right in the middle of the highway to watch the show. Heck, it's the only free thing most of them get!" He chuckles at his own joke, which I'm guessing he has told many times.
I can't help but notice how excited people are to see what Bobby calls the "Bunny Buggy." Children point and smile as we pass them in our rolling billboard. People get out their phones and take pictures. Thankfully the windows are tinted. I watch the scenery. Hotel. Hotel. T-shirt shop. Hotel. Chain Restaurant. Hotel.
Where is the skyline? Where are the homeless people and broken dreams? Oh New York, I miss you so.
The view is incredibly redundant, so I begin to review the information packet I was sent last week. Basically, it fleshes out the story everybody grew up hearing. The brochure, printed on very nice, heavy, glossy paper with lots of pictures, reads:
"Legends usually have humble origins and so our story begins. The Bingers were once just real people with a dream and the gift to make magic. Miss Mary Thompson and Mr. Art Binger were two young idealistic art students who fell in love on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1920s. Disliking the expatriate lifestyle and yearning for the red, white and blue shores of their American homeland, they married young, bought a small farm in California and quickly had three children to feed. This was during the Great Depression after the Stock Market crashed in 1929. Money was tight. Art and Mary couldn't even afford a simple radio. Entertainment was hard to come by. Imagination and love were the only things they had in plentiful supply. Mr. and Mrs. Binger would make up stories for their enthralled children about their cute pet bunny who shared the family's last name; and so was born Binger Bunny. How the children would delight as he got into wild mishaps and constantly bested the other animals in the family menagerie. There was Lola La Parisian, their cat, Rufus, her he-cat American beau, Whip the Wonder Dog, Bud the plow horse and two chicks named Chester and Kaboodle both of whom lovingly provided the family with eggs until passing away from natural causes after a long and healthy life."
The brochure fails to mention their mother hen named Clucker, which to the delight of stoned college students made her "Mother Clucker." You don't see her anymore. Evidently in a cross-marketing promotion, the Binger Dynasty sold her to KFC and she ended up on a plate.
"Eventually the stories were put down on paper and illustrated ..."
I love these source drawings. They're very American in a wonderful, sepia pastel tone. They're beautiful but don't really reflect the eventual style of their work. Like all things, it evolved.
"The illustrated children stories were published, quickly climbed up the best-seller list and led to a series of animated cartoons. The success of those films became the foundation of a movie studio which still exists today."
"As Art and Mary grew older, they became intrigued with some newfangled invention called television. The Wonderful World of Art, which premiered in the late 50s and ran for more than thirty years, was the Sunday evening foundation of American television. Mr. Binger, the gentle patriarch, became everyone's Grandpa. Weekly he would open the Binger Vaults while visiting America's homes and introduce short cartoons, animated classics or live action movies to an enthralled audience."
This was, of course, way before cable, DVRs, Hulu, Netflix and Apple TV. My sister Teresa, my brother Tommy and I were in front of our color Magnavox with the carved Mediterranean cabinet for every episode. The show was on at seven o'clock, usually just before sunset. We would watch the show together as a family while eating dinner on the wood veneer TV trays my parents got for a wedding present from Uncle Nick and his wife Aunt Josie. If the episode featured a travelogue, my mother and father would talk about how they were going to see those places in person one day.
Mom and Dad.
I thought about them so much while I was getting ready for this move. It's still hard to believe they're gone. I get weepy thinking about it, so I try not to. I thought I was past the tears. Maybe it's the vodka or perhaps this Florida humidity is actually pooling in the corner of my eyes. I fasten my seatbelt.
"Bobby, please turn on the air conditioning."
"It's Frances. Ma'am makes me sound like your mother," I try to say with a smile.
"Okay, then," his southern manners take a second to adjust as he pauses before adding, "Frances."
"Thank you." Temperature under control, my attention returns to the Binger brochure.
"Eventually the family farm became a theme park just outside of Los Angeles called Binger Village. This galled Mr. Walt Disney with whom the family had always had a friendly feud. He, of course, went to Anaheim and opened Disneyland; the thought being that a land is bigger than a village. It was a huge success and spawned Walt Disney World in Orlando, generally thought of as the penultimate theme park resort of its era. Of course, Binger Bunny never gives up and neither does the company named after him."
I'll take over now.
By the late 1970s, Art and Mary Binger had passed away. The business had grown, and was being run by their heirs and all the yuppity MBAs Binger Bucks could buy. Gone were the gently competitive days of Mom and Pop Studios. It was now a war and Central Florida was the battlefield. Capitalizing on miles and miles of orange groves they had bought in the 50s for a steal, the family corporation decided to outdo Disney World and open Planet Binger, just down the road from the Magic Kingdom.
Take that Mickey Mouse!
Everyone knows bunnies are bigger than rodents and planets are bigger than Kingdoms. Both companies have done very well and continue with their efforts to outpace and outspend each other.
In the process they have turned sleepy little Orlando, Florida into the ultimate company town. What was once a quiet place where the wealthy passed the winters in little hamlets named Winter Park, Winter Garden and Winter Haven is now the fifth largest city in the state.
I learned all this on the Internet. I'm not the kind of woman who just pulls statistics out of the air, although 100% of my former husbands might disagree.
According to my iPhone, Planet Binger and Disney World are the largest employers in the city with a workforce of more than 120,000 combined. The lure of opportunity attracts true believers in the magic of fairies and cash whores such as me from all over the world.
The car begins to slow down. Evidently, we're at the gates of my new universe right now. It's hard to imagine that someday soon this will be my version of everyday living. The road in front of the gate is a semicircle. It's called, wait a minute, there's a sign, Orbit Drive. Each car drives into something that looks like a space launch pod, which raises cars about ten feet into the air and through a docking station, which is actually a glorified parking booth with an attendant dressed as an alien. Our space buddy is a lavender color, medium tone, with a metallic finish. Good choices. Well executed. The parking ticket comes out of his (her?) antennae.
"Welcome Earthling. You have been transported to Planet Binger!"
The sign says it costs $20.00 to park. That can't be true, can it? Twenty bucks? That's outrageous.
"Hey Bobby" says the alien in a thick Midwestern accent.
"Siri, is that you?"
"Shush now Bobby. Guests might hear you!" warns the alien whose name is evidently Siri.
"Hey Girl, this here is Frances, she's new to the company." I roll down the window, smile and give a friendly little wave. "Frances, this is Siri, she's an intern this semester."
Where is the career path in parking attendant? I'm sure she was thrilled to get this assignment. I suppress a little scream when suddenly one of the creature's six appendages is coming through the car window and grabs my hand for a surprisingly firm shake.
"Please to meet you ma'am."
Get used to it Frances. You are now, and forevermore, a ma'am. Everyone here is going to be younger than you are. Just accept it as a fact of your new life.
"See you later at the Ale House girl," says Bobby before gunning the engine and making way for the next guest.
I am whisked through the gate and up to a larger than life hotel on top of a hill. Ironically, it is a recreation of New York, the city from which I have just come. Binger Boroughs is a sanitized version of my hometown and it brings up a question I have always had:
Why do people settle for fake versions? Go to the real thing. Get on a plane and head to New York.
That's what I'm tempted to do.
Bobby escorts me to the front desk. Evidently he has been cloned. There are twelve clean-cut, sexless replicas of him waiting to check me in. "Oooh, Frances, they're putting you up in Manhattan. They really like you. Most new hires get stuck in the Bronx," says Bobby.
"Middle management gets Staten Island," adds one of the clones.
The minute I see my room I get tired and give into what has been a very long day. Katzenberg has other plans. I let him out of his carrier and he immediately begins exploring the room, which is to be our home until we can find something more permanent. He spends a very entertaining minute or two trying to get underneath the bed, which his girth makes all but impossible.
I order a salad and a diet soda from room service. The woman is very friendly and promises it will be delivered quickly.
Clearly this is not the real New York.
I turn on the television and the room is flooded with images of all the options awaiting people on Planet Binger; followed by clips from a cable network called BTV and what looks like a lot of teenagers working in the music industry or fashion; followed by clips of classic animated films such as Princess Hun, which tells the story of the girl behind Attila.
It's overwhelming and feels a little bit like watching work so I settle on a music channel and am soon relaxing to some light jazz as I start to unpack.
"Hello new co-workers," I imagine myself saying. "I'm Frances. I listen to light jazz." I'd prefer some old school rap right now, but I'm guessing that's not an option and turning on Pandora seems like too much effort.
The room has a very high, and comfortable king size bed. Katz has been trying to jump up on it for a while now and can't quite manage underneath or on. I prop up one of my suitcases to help him.
It's nice that they allow animals in the rooms. They even set up a littler box. A company of animals, for animals, that could be the Planet Binger slogan. Our slogan. Ours. Oh God. Ours.
The wallpaper is a little on the cute side but nothing I can't live with temporarily. The bathroom is like a mini spa. Creamy marble with lines of gold running through it, a deep tub with inviting Jacuzzi jets, a heat lamp (really, in Florida?), two sinks and a gift basket of soaps and lotions.
Oh look. There's a card. Linen paper. Nice.
"Welcome aboard. We're all glad to have you on the team. Sincerely, Matthew O'Connell". If I remember correctly, he's in charge of my project, which means he's my manager, I guess. How very corporate. I haven't had a manager since I worked at the Pizza Hut on Long Island.
The lotions are really nice and feel great after my flight. Mmmmmmm. They smell of lilac and lavender. How thoughtful. Bobby was right, they must really be glad that I'm here. None of the people I worked for in New York cared about my skin being properly moisturized and scented.
The phone rings. How is that possible? I haven't even told anyone where I am yet. It can only mean one thing.
"How did you know it was me?"
My sister's full, married name is Teresa Maria Ann Fiore Teitelbaum. She converted when she married. Her husband Larry is a mensch. They have the kind of marriage I wanted, total devotion and trust.
She converted and is now, for the most part, Jewish. Although we were raised Catholic, our parents encouraged us to explore many faiths. In eighth grade, I announced I was agnostic. Later that semester I was Buddhist. To me religion is many different paths leading to one destination. Which one you choose doesn't matter all that much. God bless if you believe in God; otherwise, peace be with you.
It does however matter to my sister. She's very passionate about her Judaism; however, her version allows her to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. It doubles the gifts. She even expected presents on her first Yom Kippur. Yet she believes. That and family are her foundations.
"How in the world did you find me?"
"I called the main switchboard. They gave me your office number too; I already programmed into my phone, and then patched me through to your hotel room. I'll always be able to find you. How great is that?"
When my sister commits to something or someone, she does it one hundred percent. Husband, children, siblings, religion, cooking, paying the bills, dried flower arranging class, soccer mom-ing, acrylic nails, bikini waxing, Candy Crush: total and utter commitment. It's a mixed mitzvah.
"Why didn't you just call me on my cell?"
"We should both be wasting minutes?" OMG, who worries about minutes anymore? "You're single, with moving expenses. Save your money. How was the flight?"
"How is Katzenberg adjusting?"
My sister, who is just as generous as she is demanding, gave me Katz right after Paul and I split up. She was at temple, praying for me as the story goes, and found him underneath the steps of the synagogue. He came to me already named. "A mitzvah," she claimed. "Is it wrong to honor the rabbi?"
"He's fine Teresa. Right now he is licking the wallpaper. How are the kids?"
"Rachel is doing very well, thanks for asking. She just got a solo in choir. She's very excited. Christian, however, is disappointing the Cantor in Hebrew School."
Of course he is. You named your Jewish son Christian. Granted, it was after our father, but still. It's going to make his birthright trip to Israel very challenging.
"He'd rather study baseball statistics than scripture."
"He's a boy Teresa."
"He's a slacker who has lost his iPad until I get an acceptable report from the temple," she says more loudly. I am guessing he is within earshot.
Excerpted from The Next Happiest Place on Earth by Greg Triggs. Copyright © 2016 Greg Triggs. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had a good time reading this book. It is an easy read, like an old friend telling a story. I enjoyed the humor throughout, but also enjoyed the pulling of my heart strings and the tears that came. I usually confine my reading to my train commute. I finished this book in two and a half days because I found myself picking it up at lunchtime too. The Next Happiest Place on Earth has been released at the perfect time of year. This is a great beach read. I'm looking forward to Mr. Trigg's next book.