Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Day 50 of 61

When Epcot Center first opened, long, long ago, there’d been an ugly decade or so in ride design. Imagineering found a winning formula for Spaceship Earth, the flagship ride in the big golf ball, and, in their drive to establish thematic continuity, they’d turned the formula into a cookie-cutter, stamping out half a dozen clones for each of the “themed” areas in the Future Showcase. It went like this: first, we were cavemen, then there was ancient Greece, then Rome burned (cue sulfur-odor FX), then there was the Great Depression, and, finally, we reached the modern age. Who knows what the future holds? We do! We’ll all have videophones and be living on the ocean floor. Once was cute — compelling and inspirational, even — but six times was embarrassing. Like everyone, once Imagineering got themselves a good hammer, everything started to resemble a nail. Even now, the Epcot ad-hocs were repeating the sins of their forebears, closing every ride with a scene of Bitchun utopia.

And Debra was repeating the classic mistake, tearing her way through the Magic Kingdom with her blaster set to flash-bake.

“Tim,” I said, hearing the tremble in my voice. “I thought you said that you had no designs on the Mansion, that you and Debra wouldn’t be trying to take it away from us. Didn’t you say that?”

Tim rocked back as if I’d slapped him and the blood drained from his face. “But we’re not taking it away!” he said. “You invited us to help.”

I shook my head, confused. “We did?” I said.

“Sure,” he said.

“Yes,” Dan said. “Kim and some of the other rehab cast went to Debra yesterday and asked her to do a design review of the current rehab and suggest any changes. She was good enough to agree, and they’ve come up with some great ideas.” I read between the lines: the newbies you invited in have gone over to the other side and we’re going to lose everything because of them. I felt like shit.

“Well, I stand corrected,” I said, carefully. Tim’s grin came back and he clapped his hands together. He really loves the Mansion, I thought. He could have been on our side, if we had only played it all right.

Dan and I took to the utilidors and grabbed a pair of bicycles and sped towards Suneep’s lab, jangling our bells at the rushing castmembers. “They don’t have the authority to invite Debra in,” I panted as we pedaled.

“Says who?” Dan said.

“It was part of the deal — they knew that they were probationary members right from the start. They weren’t even allowed into the design meetings.”

“Looks like they took themselves off probation,” he said.

Suneep gave us both a chilly look when we entered his lab. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hands shook with exhaustion. He seemed to be holding himself erect with nothing more than raw anger.

“So much for building without interference,” he said. “We agreed that this project wouldn’t change midway through. Now it has, and I’ve got other commitments that I’m going to have to cancel because this is going off-schedule.”

I made soothing apologetic gestures with my hands. “Suneep, believe me, I’m just as upset about this as you are. We don’t like this one little bit.”

He harrumphed. “We had a deal, Julius,” he said, hotly. “I would do the rehab for you and you would keep the ad-hocs off my back. I’ve been holding up my end of the bargain, but where the hell have you been? If they replan the rehab now, I’ll have to go along with them. I can’t just leave the Mansion half-done — they’ll murder me.”

The kernel of a plan formed in my mind. “Suneep, we don’t like the new rehab plan, and we’re going to stop it. You can help. Just stonewall them — tell them they’ll have to find other Imagineering support if they want to go through with it, that you’re booked solid.”

Dan gave me one of his long, considering looks, then nodded a minute approval. “Yeah,” he drawled. “That’ll help all right. Just tell ’em that they’re welcome to make any changes they want to the plan, if they can find someone else to execute them.”

Suneep looked unhappy. “Fine — so then they go and find someone else to do it, and that person gets all the credit for the work my team’s done so far. I just flush my time down the toilet.”

“It won’t come to that,” I said quickly. “If you can just keep saying no for a couple days, we’ll do the rest.”

Suneep looked doubtful.

“I promise,” I said.

Suneep ran his stubby fingers through his already crazed hair. “All right,” he said, morosely.

Dan slapped him on the back. “Good man,” he said.

It should have worked. It almost did.

I sat in the back of the Adventureland conference room while Dan exhorted.

“Look, you don’t have to roll over for Debra and her people! This is your garden, and you’ve tended it responsibly for years. She’s got no right to move in on you — you’ve got all the Whuffie you need to defend the place, if you all work together.”

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