Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mickey on the Radar

Paul was short, short enough to fulfill the five foot tall and under requirement for the costume. He wasn’t a dancer, but he must have attended the same dance audition that I did for the Electrical Parade at Disneyland.

Paul was cast as Mickey Mouse in that parade.

I didn’t know Paul that well, even though we had both graduated from Norco High about a year before we were first hired at Disneyland. I knew who Paul was. I think he was albino, his pale skin and white-blond hair making him distinctive, in addition to his height. I think his eyes were sensitive to bright light. He wore sunglasses in his senior portrait for the school’s yearbook.

Paul had helped out with the football team, I’m not sure quite how, I’m ashamed to say. I never paid much attention to the football games, even when I was playing in the stands or for the half time shows with the marching band. I think he may have helped with game statistics or something.

It was among the football team that Paul was called by his nickname, “Radar.” I read an interview with Paul, I think in the school paper, where he was quoted as identifying with the character of the same name on the T.V. series “M.A.S.H.”

A year after graduating from high school, Paul and I sometimes carpooled to the Magic Kingdom together. I still didn’t get to know him very well. He was nice and polite, but quiet. Once inside Mickey Mouse though, he had the proper enthusiastic energy while atop the big, round float lit up like a Christmas tree, bouncing in tempo to the light and peppy electronic parade music (“Baroque Hoedown,” it was called).

I was probably too closed off to Paul. At nineteen, I was dealing with coming out of the closet that summer, trying to find a compromise between my sexuality and my Christian upbringing. I wasn’t comfortable talking to Paul about what I was going through.

In recent years, I had heard that Paul already passed away, I don’t know how or from what. I was sad to hear it.

In the almost three decades since that first summer at Disney, my strongest memory of Paul was on the last night of the Electrical Parade. Backstage, before that last parade of the summer season, Paul sat with his Mickey head cradled in his lap. He held the pale rubber face and black fur-covered ears as one would hold a beloved pet, rocking back & forth.

Paul was saying goodbye to Mickey. It was too much like someone saying goodbye before having to put a family pet down, so bittersweet.

Being Mickey Mouse may have been the best thing to happen to my classmate who was born five feet tall. Paul had the energy and the experience to audition into the park’s Character department, as I did after the summer parade ended. But perhaps the daytime shifts were not an option for his sensitive eyes, even though his head would have been covered, his eyes shaded by dark, cartoon lenses.

Wherever Paul is now, I hope he’s still bouncing to the beat, as happy and as energetic as his former alter ego, free from any limitations.

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