One summer long ago while on vacation in Florida, my Mom, Dad and grandparents decided to break our morning’s fast on an old river-boat- turned restaurant, later christened Fulton’s Crab House after the construction of Pleasure Island. My brother, Pat, and I were pretty young at the time, three and five respectively (the timeline of my memories usually are separated into two eras: the early times when it was just the two of us and then the arrival of the rest of the kids; the gradual accumulation of siblings cannot be recalled; it’s as if at some point they all just came together for a visit and never decided to leave). Excited by our first ventures outside the confines of the apartment, we (or at least I) nevertheless felt very anxious about what was to be a character-breakfast.
We’re going to be eating with Cinderella and Goofy and Chip and Mickey my Mom would say in encouragement. Well, this did not please me one bit. Giant costumed freaks patting me on the head did not seem like the best way to enjoy eggs and pancakes.
They won’t hurt you, my grandmother would say, They’re not going to eat you or anything. This oddly enough did little to assuage my fears. Everyone knew that monsters ate little children. It was common knowledge. Every story that you read had at least one goblin or hairy bed monster who tried to trick the little boy or little girl into reaching into the bed, climbing through the closet, or pouring ketchup on their heads. The morals of these stories are that monsters can be trusted to lie and eat children at every opportunity and that rubbing tomato-based condiments in your hair seldom helps in any situation.
Still my parents insisted that life-sized cartoon characters were not intent on harming me. However, somehow the fact that the freakishly large duck would not try to fit me into it’s giant immobile mouth frightened me even more. It dared to step outside the natural order of things, and therefore could not be relied upon to eat children like all decent monsters should. Werewolves, vampires, and dinosaurs left no secrets as to their intentions. Even if it happens to be prey, great reassurance can be found in knowing one’s role in the world. The Disney characters messed with this system, spreading more fear with each mute mimed giggle and silent vacant stare then all the closet-monsters or bogey-men of the world.
It was about this time that I decided that I had enough and slid underneath the table. Goofy arrived at the booth just as we disappeared from view (I spied his freakish feet from beneath the tablecloth). Pat wasn’t getting eaten either – not on my watch – so I pulled him down for his own good, while above my parents betrayed our whereabouts with an ignorant laugh and a clink of glasses. Traitors. Luckily our pursuers appeared indolent as well as evil, and waddled by us without harm. Dinner went rather smoothly after that. Pat and I ate eggs and pancakes on the carpet under the table. Our small hands rising up every now and then to grab a napkin or a utensil, scaring our waitress with each new refill of coffee.