20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS. This morning I discovered that, in one of my greatest childhood fears, and most enduring recurring nightmares, I am not alone. Other people also find the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Ride at Disneyworld terrifying, yet irresistibly attractive.


Like schadenfreude, I’m sure the Germans have a word for that combined passive-aggressive force of terror and excitement which this (now nonexistent) ride causes, but I don’t know what it is. But, early this morning, celebrated genius and madman John Hodgman live-tweeted his experience watching an amateur video of the ride, sharing all the fascination and fear I had long thought was just a figment of my own insanity.

Sadly, I missed this live-tweet treat. I was asleep. I know, it’s really irresponsible for me not to stay awake all night hoping that a forty-something-year-old man will get all liquored up and describe the YouTube videos he watches from his lonely hotel room. Fortunately, his tweets are preserved for Internet posterity:

Now, with my oatmeal and coffee, while waiting for the air conditioner repair technician to come over and provide us with The Startup Special (maintenance check and cleaning, not a tasty beverage served with brunch for people too cheap for mimosas and too easily confused for bloody marys, although it’s a good idea and someone needs to get on that), I can sit here and relive all the Terrorfascination of my childhood.  AND SO CAN YOU.

This video is particularly perfect because I visited Disneyworld in 1980 at age ten (yes the math is easy and you can skip that), so this experience is almost exactly what I suffered. My brain was completely split on the issue. First of all, the film was part of my Dad’s childhood experience, not mine; he was the one who was jonesing hard for this ride.  The movie wasn’t part of my childhood, so I didn’t know what to expect, except that we were getting inside one of a flotilla of identical pointy submarines to experience a simulated threat. I knew there was a British guy with a beard, a pipe organ, strange machinery, and a giant squid, all of it underwater. This is pretty much all you need to know, true. But, being ten, my brain was right on the fence between “I know this is a manufactured illusion, and I can appreciate that,” and “I am buying this hook line and sinker I need a scuba tank NOW NOW NOW WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO DROWN ME, DAD, WHAT DID I DO THIS TIME?”

Then the former thought process overtook the latter. The fear of being miles below the ocean’s surface, in a metal can helmed by Paul Frees and en route to being squid food was far outweighed by another possibility:

Eyes like a doll's eyes. Just like Jaws.  Robot Fish.

Not only Robot Fish, but Robot Sharks, silently patrolling a graveyard of broken, sunken tall ships. With their barnacle-covered masts just barely visible in the darkness, of course it made me wonder what lurked below. More machinery, turning over and over in the watery darkness?

What if the pane of glass, against which my nose was inextricably pressed, were to crack?

I backed off a bit.

What if there were a leak? Had anyone gone over safety procedures with us? Where was the  steampunk stewardess with a nice clear Disney name badge explaining the proper use of oxygen masks in the event of cabin depressurization? If one of the windows broke, would the robot sharks get sucked in here, along with gallons and gallons of water? Or would we get sucked out? Would I end up trapped in the water under a ceiling of machinery, the sleeves of my shrinking wool sweater tangled in the mechanical tracks and arms? Would my last sight be the too-close face of dead robot fish eyes and teeth? Would I meet a watery grave in the arms of a faceless seaweed farmer? Or would I just be trapped under giant white molars of fiberglass shaped like glaciers?

This guy and the lady statue face from the Jungle Safari ride take turns in my nightmares.  My childhood fascination with Greek myths made me perk back up at the mention of Atlantis. As we came around a corner to meet an adorable little coven of mermaids, their pearlescent faces too cute to be anything but dolls’, I wondered what an actual bloated human corpse, trapped in their mechanism, would look like. By the time the squid tentacles wrapped over the windows, all I could think about was in what ways a human head would be destroyed by that kind of water pressure. Would it explode, or implode?

Fortunately, the ride isn’t even fifteen minutes long. My over-active imagination and I survived the trip. I still have recurring dreams about riding on Disney gondola rides and being pushed out of the boat, into the dark water, and sucked into the machinery below, as sober-faced statues stare me down.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t ten when I took this tour. I was fourteen. That explains why I was more worried about what I couldn’t see than what I could. I remember that, on an earlier Disney World trip, when I was ten, the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Ride had been shut down for cleaning and maintenance. We rode The Skyway over the Magic Kingdom, looking down at the soggy neon landscape, as maintenance workers brushed and hosed rubber coral reefs in the November sunshine. My dad, for once, was silent, the opportunity to share pure fear with his children deferred.

The Walt Disney Company plans to shoot a new 20,000 Leagues movie in Australia. So, maybe within the next five years or so, my brother and I will get to relive our childhood fears on some new version of that ride. I hope this time they have actual seats, rather than those little metal stools that folded out of the wall, because our butts will be much less forgiving by that point. Until then, we’ll just have to satisfy us with loving tribute websites, like 20Kride.com and Lost Attraction Tribute, which not only share the fun of the ride experience, but the creepiness of the backstage.

Thank you, John Hodgman, for not only reminding me of my first grand mal anxiety attack, but helping me relive it, and helping me know that even if I am insane, I’m not the only one who has this recurring nightmare.

And I know, I haven’t posted anything in nearly six months. I have a good explanation, but that’s for another time.

Things I Find Inexplicably Funny

  It’s that magical time of year, where I have to dig in, eschew all social contact, and sacrifice myself to finals. I’ve been spending the rainiest day in recent memory reading academic journal articles on Abstract Expressionism, and when this paper is finished and handed in, I will never want to look at a Jackson Pollock painting again.  Maybe it’s oxygen deprivation making me feel compelled to overshare this with you.

I used to work at an upscale men’s clothing store down at the Jersey shore (just to give you an idea: men’s golf shirts, $50 each) that was so mind-numbingly boring that we used to place bets based on how overplayed the songs on the South Jersey lite FM radio station were (i.e., how many times will we hear this song this week?). There was a period of time where the song of the week was “Leather and Lace,” but they never identified the artists. We all knew it was Stevie Nicks and somebody, but we couldn’t identify the male vocalist. It took a full week before someone finally correctly identified it as Don Henley.

You know your job is mind-numbingly boring when you can write, in your head, a full gender-studies article on the cultural relevancy of the lite-FM chestnut, “Leather and Lace.” It made me fall in love with the song. It wasn’t a great summer, but there are worse fates.

Years later but still years ago, I convinced my friend Jeremy to sing this at karaoke with me. Being completely blotto, I blew it so badly that I still owe Ms. Nicks an apology.

So, that might explain why I find this pee-myself hilarious, at least through the first 4 minutes.

Ferrell’s comedy takes a while (and it’s not work-safe, you have been warned), but at 4:15 or so, Dave Grohl just takes it back and owns it (and me).  I’ve never been a huge fan of, specifically, The Grohl- his presence is ubiquitous enough to have become cultural wallpaper at this point. But his ability to simplify and perform this overplayed song compellingly shows you why, much like Chickenman, he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere. Guy’s got some chops, and I wouldn’t mind that served up with some caramelized onions.

But then Ferrell breaks the absolute cardinal rule of the guitarist-worshiper. No matter how funny you think you are, no matter how complicated your bromance, YOU DO NOT DISTRACT THE GUITARIST. Guitarists in general tend to be skittery creatures, and it’s a complicated juggling act for them to perform and make it look like they’re not self-conscious. One wrong move and they will tear back to Mom’s basement, the six-pack of Schlitz and the stack of vinyl records before you can say Stairway To Heaven. Deep down inside every guitarist is a kid who finds a complicated, ancient and beautiful stringed instrument less threatening than people.

Musicians make good partners for writers.  When you need to go crawl into a cave and scribble and scrape out a few hundred words and try to make sense of them, they will not miss you when you’re gone. They will, in their weird way. You might come out later on and find a mouse on your doorstep.  In reality, they’re off doing their own scrambling and scraping. Whatever you do, when the machine is in operation, do not distract them. You might end up with a 12-string neck in your ribs, and you will deserve it.

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