“Disney World and the Magic Bag”

(This was a wildly magical moment, even by Disney standards.)


We were nearing the end of our voyage to the bottom of the wallet. It was the 14th hour of the 3rd day, or possibly the 200th. Our little family was Dopey and Sleepy and Alertness-Challenged despite the relentless bombardment of joy. (“Magic” is the Latin word for “crack,” and “Kingdom” means “You’re gonna need a bigger spending limit.”) Our feet were screaming from all the happiness, and we limped the final furlong of the hundred-aching woods, uphill, both ways.

Our little family had SQUEEEED! through seven dwarfs, two ducks, and a fairy (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) We had haunted a mansion and spaced a mountain. At least one of us had peed her pants in front of a princess (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and we had eaten our weight in funnel cakes. We were now hauling precious Mouse swag in gift bags the approximate size and shape of Dumbo, uphill, both ways. We. Were. Tired.

The final show of the day was about to begin, the title of which was spoken in an impossible combination of whispers and all caps: THE LIGHTING OF THE CASTLE! (Shhh…) I didn’t know whether this meant candles or arson, but at this point it didn’t matter. We were either going to finish this giddy marathon or die. THIS! IS! DISNEY!

We sit. Well, two of us sit. Kelsey and I miraculously find an unoccupied bench some distance from the final show. We can see the castle, but it’s on the horizon over a sea of bodies, like an electric Mayflower. We collapse and sip our coffee. (It is almost 10:00 p.m. This coffee tastes like the reason Moses left the Promised Land. It is MANNA, in all caps and a whisper.) We have been shooting up Disney heroin for three days. (Drink the Kool-Aid! It’s so happy!) Even the young people are hobbling after snorting this much excitement. We sit, and Vincent and Molly stumble off toward THE CASTLE (Shhh…) still holding hands and a ferocious belief in miracles. My adrenal glands can’t endure anymore anticipation, but the lovers want to be closer to the show so that they can hear the music. And the tourists’ heads exploding.

Kelsey and I are quiet, examining our phones as if they contained salvation, or, as an alternative, Motrin. We are almost peaceful despite being surrounded by 90,000 of our closest friends. We breathe in the lights and ignore the sound of whimpering (which is mostly coming from our feet.) The calm is shattered when Vince parts the crowd, his face fierce. An angry prophet.

“Open your bag,” he says. His voice is low, panicked.

“Da fu…?” I don’t enunciate the final consonant because of little Mouse ears.

“Da fu…?” Kelsey echoes, and opens her bag. Consonants fly everywhere.

“What are you looking for?” I scowl and tilt my head, a cartoon.

Vincent jams his hand impolitely into his cousin’s belongings. His face is a ruined mask.

“Molly lost her gift bag.”

Oh no.

If Disney does one thing very well, it’s making it easy to spend your money. There are shops at the beginning and end of every adventure. There are stores for dreams and stores for nightmares, and at every check-out they will take both your AmEx and your dignity with the same flawless smile. And Molly has spent a small college fortune on irreplaceable dangly things.

Oh no.

“We don’t have it.”

Vince runs back through the crowd to collect Molly, who I imagine is huddled at the base of THE CASTLE in a Biblical puddle of tears. Not knowing how to react (and not having nearly enough coffee to formulate an emotion), Kelsey and I stay on the bench and watch the LIGHTING OF THE CASTLE. No matter what disaster has just befallen us, this castle show has earned all of its whispers and capital letters. It is complex. It is astonishing. We sip our coffees and toast the Disney genius.

Vince and Molly break through the crowd toward us. Orphans at Ellis Island were not this miserable.

If Vincent’s face was ruined, Molly’s is a land mine. My guess is that she has cried throughout the LIGHTING OF THE CASTLE, possibly destroying several of the Magic Algorithms.

“We need to go to Guest Relations,” Vincent urges us, trying not to grieve.

“I want some guest relations.” I am an ass.

We get up and walk, or, more accurately, swim. We are schooling both with and against a million-mouse-eared crowd towards the exit of the park, Vince holding Molly’s hand, Kelsey and I holding our coffee cups. We carom back and forth, banging into shoulders and defeat. We are jostled by expectation. Liquids are jettisoned. We are zombie salmon. We may die.

“Let’s stop at the last store we were in,” Vince says, suggesting a miracle. “We’ll just check.”

Yeah, sure. And maybe there’s a burning bush in there, says my inner Detroiter.

We swim out of the throng and into Mickey’s Rugby Scrum, or whatever the shop is called, and three smiling Disney employees greet us.




Despite the fact that Vince and Molly look like they’ve just been waterboarded, the pressed-on happy paint of the Disney cast members never falter. (They are “cast members” not “employees.” And, after today’s performance, they are Oscar-worthy. Except… I’m not sure it’s an act.)

“What can I help you with?” the cast members chorus.

“This is probably a lost cause,” Vince begins, “but my girlfriend lost a gift bag.”

Molly breaks into fresh tears.

“And what was in it?” A cast member named Sarah glides to the front, unsinkable.

Molly bursts, rapid-fire: “A haunted mansion t-shirt, a bracelet with Tinker Bell danglies, a stuffed Sven, and an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Mulan slingshot!”

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” I am an ass.

“I will check in the back,” Sarah smiles and floats away.

This is a waste of time, says my inner White Trash.

“Couldn’t we just get some guest relations?” says my outer White Trash.

We pace in front of the glass displays awaiting the return of our sentence – death or life without a reason to live. We don’t buy anything, because now that seems dangerous. Anyone setting a bag down in a store might just as well have thrown it off a cliff. In Sparta. It is g-o-n-e.

I swallow the last cold dregs of my coffee and toss the cup in a nearby trash bin. (Littering here would be a war crime.) I turn around just in time to see Sarah Smiles opening a door in the back and carrying… a gift bag.


Sarah holds the plastic blue gift bag aloft in two hands — Mufasa presenting Simba. “Is this it?” She almost sings it.

Molly’s eyes grow as big as tea cups.

No way.

Sarah lowers the bag. Molly’s tiny frame is shaking. She opens the bag slowly like it might contain either oxygen or terror.

“It’s here…. IT’S ALL HERE!” Molly inhales the fairytale.

Molly’s face falls apart, but in the good way, in the way of elation and miracles. It is wet and pained and happy, like a birth. Molly hugs Sarah Smiles. Sarah Smiles hugs Vince. A lot of people are crying, and most of them are us. A male Disney cast member wearing a right smart vest steps out from around the cash register.

“Hey, are we giving out free hugs?” His face wears the ‘aw-shucks, t’weren’t nothing’ glee of someone who found a baby in the well. “I saw you set the bag down.”

The young man opens his arms, and Molly crumples into them. Tears don’t even stain a Disney costume.

His name tag says “Scott” but it might as well say “Hero.” My inner skeptic goes quiet, and for just a moment, there is such a thing as magic.

“Someone found the gift bag,” I whisper to Vince.

“Yep,” he says, holding on to Molly to keep from floating to the ceiling.

“And they hung on to it.”

“Yep. Cast members.”

“And nobody stole it.”


“And Tinker Bell is real.”

“Clap your hands if you believe.”

“I can’t. They’re full of tissues.”

We finish crying and hugging and wiping our faces. Magic is very salty.

We walk out to the car. I have been converted. I am humming, “Let it go, let it go…”


23 December 2014, Erin Waugh

“Disney World and the Magic Bag,” from “True Stories in the Key of E-flat.”

The magic gift bag.
The magic gift bag.

A Christmas Post (Office)

I had packages to mail. The postage was paid, the boxes were sealed. I had printed the address labels at my house, stuck them to flat-rate boxes with strapping tape (one cat hair per package! I don’t play favorites!), and driven to the post office.

It’s always a crap shoot at the post office, sometimes literally. You walk in and people shoot crap at you. This particular post office was in Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac – that beat-down city whose motto is: “We used to make cars. Now it’s just enemies and tacos.”

The post office building sat too close to a busy and broken thoroughfare. I would not have found it except for Google Maps. The architecture was vintage “bullet-proof.” The building stood invisible and disinterested between pawn shops and liquor stores and specialty businesses like “STD Contracting” (that’s a real name). Sometimes a post office is staffed by the nicest people. Sometimes it’s an episode of Thunderdome. At Christmas, a trip to the post office is like visiting the DMV with a pack of rabid toddlers.

I was in a cheery holiday mood. My packages were labeled and paid for. They were ready. I SHOULD have been able to just drop them in a big blue bin somewhere. Murrica! I walked into the post office with a smile. I looked around. No blue bin. No self-service kiosk. Huh. The room was dark. It was echo-y. It smelled like crying.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I assessed the ground troops and gauged the readiness of their ordnance. There were seven customers in line and two “workers” behind the counter. Everyone in line had boxes with blank labels and incomplete envelopes. I stood behind all these unprepared soldiers, which didn’t make any sense because my weapons were READY, but I didn’t see another option.

“Well this is dumb,” I thought to myself, but the whole sentence rhymed with “suck.”

One minute. Three. The line moved up when one woman stepped to the counter and BEGAN to fill out her forms. I rattled my VERY READY packages. I breathed a yoga breath. I made up new limericks.

Finally, in an audible but well-modulated voice, I asked the room, “Is there a place I could drop off my packages? They’re ready.”

The “workers” behind the counter didn’t even flinch. They never even moved, never looked up. It’s possible they were made of some NASA-grade polymer designed primarily to be deaf. The customers in line, however, began to jostle. The first customer, a bearded man in a Carhartt jacket, tried to calm the ranks. He turned to me kindly.

“You could set them there,” he pointed to an empty counter. “They will mail them later, as long as you get their attention.”

“Get their attention? With what?” I held up my boxes like they were orphans. Or bombs.

The line people grew more agitated. The second woman whipped her braids around at me. “You SAID it, sister. It’s like we don’t even exist.” She flapped her mail at a water stain in the ceiling. The squirrels outside ran away.

Customers #3 and #4 flicked their eyes at me and nodded, prisoners about to break. Woman #5 did that neck thing and sing-song’d, “Um hmm.” The rabble was rousing, but the two post office workers did not acknowledge us. They were highly focused on the very important task of ignorance. Zoo animals with pensions.

I pointed toward the slow loris twins and whispered to my fellow inmates: “If we poked them with sticks, would they bite?”

The general population giggled a little, backing down from “disgruntled.” Woman #2 crossed her arms and muttered “Customer service, my Aunt Fanny.” She stomped her foot and made the sign of Wayne Brady.

We outnumbered them, yet we were helpless. Our shared struggle made us teammates, but our impotence made us useless. We shrugged and gave in as a village. We tucked away our pitchforks.

“I’ll take them,” said the man directly in front of me.

“I don’t know, I think they’ll fight back. The one on the left looks scrappy.”

“No, your packages. I’ll take them up to the counter with me when it’s my turn.”

He was young, serious, maybe 30. Beat-up blue parka, work boots, good hair slicked back with Dippity-Do. White skin, almost translucent from rare outdoor time. Not a hipster, poor.

“You’ll carry these?” I looked down at my packages. “Up there?” I looked up at the sluggish feeding frenzy.

“I will. When it’s my turn.” His grin was lopsided, his teeth were perfect.

I should have tipped him, but I was delirious from renewed holiday cheer, so I grabbed his arm and knocked his package to the floor. It’s how we show joy in the city.

“Thank you!” I beamed and handed him my boxes. “I hope you’re not a terrorist!”

“Me too!” His really good hair fell into his eyes despite the gel.

The townsfolk smiled.The slow lorises scratched their necks with their hind legs.

“Merry Christmas, everybody!” I waved to my new, freed, family.

“Merry Christmas!” They gestured with their packages, not even jealous, and not even a euphemism.

In conclusion, I have a favor in my pocket. And it is ready.


“True Stories in the Key of E-flat” 14 December 2014

Is that pre-paid postage, or are you just happy to see me?
Is that pre-paid postage, or are you just happy to see me?