Growing up in harsh suburban Chicago weather, many families would vacation in mild destinations to escape the extreme cold or heat. In the 1970s, Skokie, Illinois was a predominantly middle-class, Jewish suburb. We were definitely middle-middle class and really couldn't afford extravagant vacations like many of my classmates. So when we would have to write a paper called "What I Did On Vacation",while most of my classmates wrote about going to Florida, Hawaii and in some cases Europe, I wrote about taking a drive up the Edens Expressway with my family, pulling off the side of the road and picking "cat-tails" in on-coming traffic. Once as a visual aid, I brought in some of the "cat-tails" and while reading my paper to the class, I rubbed them causing them to explode with pollen sending everyone into a raging allergy attack. My 4th grade teacher, Ms. Heckmeyer, got pissed at me and our relationship was never the same.
The one place my sister and I really wanted to visit was Disneyworld in Orlando! Many of our classmates would come back from summer vacations wearing their Mickey Mouse T-shirts. But we knew that we just couldn't afford it. Until one day when I was in Jr. High School...our parents said YES!
Getting off the plane in Orlando was magical. I can still remember the way the mild Florida climate felt on my skin. We checked in at the Howard Johnson's Hotel at Lake Buena Vista and I couldn't believe how beautiful everything was. "Look at the view", I said as I opened the balcony door. But my euphoric state quickly came to an end when a giant flying cockroach kamikazed into our room landing on the floor. When it comes to bugs, I was (and still am) a screamer. Yelling for my father to get a piece of Kleenex to kill this hideous creature wasn't going to work this time. I think I may have thrown a piece of luggage at this monster, but seem to recall that it threw it back at me. Somehow, we got our flying welcome ambassador back out onto the balcony. (Normally I would put a picture of a cockroach here, but I am so grossed out, I can't even entertain the thought.)
To make sure that everyone knew that the Sumner's were a family, we all got matching outfits. I'm sure it was probably my idea since that is what many of the kids in school did with their families. So we all got bright yellow, front and back, Mickey Mouse T-shirts (see sample below...but in yellow)
and stretch, patch jeans with leather stars on our butts. (I tried finding a picture of these, but they were so hideous, I think they were banned from the internet.)
And then the fighting began. We all had very different ideas of what we wanted to do and, being the control freak that I tended to be, I had an agenda. So I decided to ditch my family and go to the parks by myself. Remember that this was before cell phones, so how my parents didn't have a nervous breakdown allowing their bratty son to go wherever the hell he pleased, is beyond me.
That morning in Epcot Center by myself was incredible. There I was living out my fantasy, this little gay child in his patch jeans, dancing past Spaceship Earth and twirling through the Living Seas. I went on so many rides, got through every single country, and didn't have to go to the bathroom once! When I hooked up with my family later, I felt like I had six vacations while they stayed at the pool.
One of the things I remember most about our Disneyworld trip was the way the stores smelled. There was a very distinct pleasant smell that many of the shops had on the grounds of Disneyworld. One of the stores featured thousands of stuffed Disney characters. My parents bought me a "Big Al" stuffed animal from the Country Bear Jamboree. Although I was really too old for stuffed animals, I loved Big Al for a very specific reason. His face was made of plastic and he had a permanent open mouth expression. This was how I learned to French kiss. For years I would stick my tongue down Big Al's throat and hump his big furry body. By the time I was ready to part with Big Al, his fur had been worn off from the frottage and his face was indistinguishable from me licking off all the paint. I think that is why I am sometimes attracted to "bears".
Disneyworld was one of two family vacations that we went on. (The other being Washington, D.C.) Although we fought like cats and dogs, we did manage to have some fun. Years later, I won a trip to Disneyworld for being the number one Tupperware sales person in the U.S. and I brought along 3 of my friends. Seeing Disneyworld through the eyes of 4 gay men as opposed to a family in stretch patch jeans is a very different thing. And on this trip...I was determined to find my real "Big Al". But that's another story.