• Otter Views: Avast, Ye Measles!

    Growing up in the islands when TV was still new, I developed a quasi-mystical reverence for Disneyland and an abiding envy of all Californians.

    Watching Tinkerbell sparkle across the family TV screen on Sunday evenings, I could only dream of the Magic Kingdom an ocean away. But Californians could visit anytime they wanted. Disneyland vacations, class trips, even junior proms were ho-hum to them.

    Year upon year, Sunday after Sunday passed in growing futility. As I watched in distant anguish, Disneyland added ever-spiffier attractions, even entire new “lands.” I gnashed my teeth as happy riders sped down the Matterhorn on some pneumatic thrill ride.

    Finally I graduated from high school and headed off to college in faraway Massachusetts. En route I detoured to Anaheim to visit the kingdom I had so long imagined. Amazingly, Disneyland lived up to its notices. In a single exhilarating day, I saw the sights, rode the rides, descended the Matterhorn and bought a silly top hat on Main Street.

    I was only there one day, but Disneyland circa 1964 made a big impression. Midway through my freshman year in college, I applied for a summer job at the park. “I am very friendly, hard-working, conscientious and responsible,” I lied. “I can add geographic diversity to your staff, and I am a strong swimmer. If hired as a Jungle River Safari Guide, I could rescue passengers toppled in hippopotamus collisions.Looking forward to hearing from you promptly, I remain, etc.”

    Many weeks passed. Finally an envelope arrived from Anaheim. In the dim light of a chilly New England evening, I tore it open to discover a form letter that forever dashed my fantasy of wearing a safari helmet and firing blank cartridges at crocodiles.

    “Dear (your name here). Thanks for your interest in summer employment at Disneyland. Unfortunately, we get 50,000 applications from Anaheim-area residents alone. Most of them can also swim. Best wishes, etc.”

    I was, of course, crushed. In retrospect, I realize it was just the first of many childhood illusions that would need throttling so I could become the flinty, hard-eyed realist I am today. It was also comforting to suspect that thousands of other Jungle River Safari applicants had received the same letter.

    I could have reapplied, but life intervened. After military service, a couple of marriages and divorces, various careers, some travel, and three million words of deathless prose, I looked up one day to realize 60 years had passed since my Disneyland visit.

    What made me think of it was recent news that the Magic Kingdom had incubated a measles outbreak that then spread to 14 or 15 states. In fairness, the outbreak could have happened nearly any place where large numbers of Americans gather; Six Flags Over Texas, for instance, or Carnival Cruises or the Super Bowl. This year’s vector just happened to be Disneyland.

    When I visited the Magic Kingdom 60 years ago, virtually all Americans had been vaccinated as children for measles, diphtheria, polio, tetanus and other preventable afflictions. Schools even required it. Among the thousands I encountered in the park that day in 1964, it’s likely none was carrying measles.

    But the public’s trust in medical science has diminished considerably since then.

    Many Americans now believe vaccinations cause autism, or are the devil’s handiwork, or something. School districts routinely grant vaccination exemptions to families who request them on religious or sectarian grounds. And these families are not all snake-handling Pentecostals. I was surprised to read that supposedly enlightened Marin County is an anti-vaccination stronghold.

    I was dismayed to see Disneyland linked to measles, because I have always linked the place to . . . pirates. I can’t really explain this belief, other than to surmise the park had some piratical attraction the day I visited. I dimly remember a pirate ship somehow menacing Tom Sawyer’s Island. Was it Mike Fink’s riverboat pirates? Captain Hook? I seem to recall a black flag with skull and crossbones.

    That dark banner resurfaced at the Hartnell College playhouse Saturday afternoon, when the Friends of the Monterey Symphony presented the first of two pirate-themed “mystery theater” fundraisers. (The second is at 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Portola Hotel).

    Playgoers were encouraged to unshackle their inner pirates, so I wore a plastic hook hand, a knotted kerchief, an eye patch and a greatcoat and snarled “Aargghh!” a lot. Because few others had unshackled their inner pirates, I was given a wide berth.

    Revealing the “Penniless Pirate” mystery here would be more than my life is worth, but the play is set in 1718 in Blackbeard’s hilltop hideout overlooking Jamaica’s Montego Bay. The lofty setting reminded me that Robert Louis Stevenson supposedly modeled Treasure Island on Point Lobos. His pirates did fine without vaccinations.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 6, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views


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