James Warren Boyd
James Warren Boyd
James Warren Boyd holds master's degrees in English and Communication Studies from San Francisco State University, where he currently works as a writing center coordinator and as a lecturer; he is also an adjunct professor for the University of San Francisco. His creative non-fiction stories "Soldier" and "Sluham [I'm Listening]" have been published in Transfer literary journal's special 100th volume and Memoir (and). As a writer/performer he has been featured in the Gay and Lesbian International Storytelling Festival, and Gay Writes! at The Marsh. Catch him around San Francisco reading at Smackdab, Retool and Grind, and Guy Writers. Last spring, his play, 8, was performed and produced at San Francisco State University in special collaboration between The College of Performing Arts and The College of Humanities.
I show my ID to the guard and step up the stairs into the weather-worn shack with its peeling gray paint. I scan the wall for my time card and grab "James Boyd—Snowman #4," punch it in the time/date clock, and return the card to its space on the rack marked "Santa Unit." I step out of the shack, a portal really, and into the bright sun of Disneyland's parade back lot. The Mary Poppins unit chimney sweeps, who have had years of dance and gymnastic training and invariably show up to rehearsals in parachute pants and leg warmers, stretch and practice their gymnastics. The haughty "glock" girls—despised because, though they are hired for their long legs and ample bosoms, they are paid musician union wages because Disney has taught them to play their glockenspiels—are already in the That Girl wigs with their perfect flips. I scan for the other snowpeople, and find them huddled together, laughing about something. For most of them, like me, this is their first parade, and though our parts are not as prestigious as the chimney sweeps or the "glock" girls, we snowpeople are nonetheless proud that for our parts we still dance, unlike the six boys cast as Christmas trees who merely push their tinsel pyramids from the inside, sway, and blink their lights on and off—or the toy soldiers who can barely march with all that metal on them.
We have been learning and practicing our Christmas routines around the back lots of the park for hours and hours on the weekends for the past month, and finally this Thanksgiving weekend is our big debut. We chat excitedly, wondering aloud what it will be like to dance inside our costumes instead of in our street clothes. Our costumes, the snowpeople are told, are being completely redesigned and constructed for this season. New, solid, rounded costumes are to replace the previous rather mod, '70s, soft-sculpture ones. The designers and workshops have been running late, so we have had to be content with conceptual drawings while the others in our unit—the dancing reindeer, their tongues hanging out of their goofy heads, and those damned "glock" girls with their red and white fur-trimmed minidresses, coiffed wigs, and silver glockenspiels—have been prancing around fully dressed for weeks.
After we are called by wardrobe and get dressed, we all wait patiently in our white pants, Keds, and blue striped T-shirts for our tram which will drop us off behind Main Street where the parade will start. At the end of our ride, we are met by a parade aide dressed in a brown polyester suit who is smiling next to the cart that has our costumes. The outfits consist of two pieces: our bodies and our heads. The body is an enormous round ball of white plush fur that begins around our feet and, at our waist, attaches to a sailcloth bodice. Our arms are also attached to the bodice, and covered with fur from the elbows down. Our snow bodies are laid out, collapsed, on tarps and ready for us; it is as if the Rapture has just occurred and we have arrived in time to replace the Christians.
We are instructed to kneel into the costumes, put our arms into the sleeves, and stand. Struggling under the weight, we right ourselves, helping one another fasten the Velcro and straps. We waddle over to the head cart, where our smiling decapitated snowman heads are mounted on large pegs as if to warn us against insurrection. The parade aide apologizes in advance for the glue smell inside the heads—the costumers have been working on them until the last minute—and assures us that foam padding will be placed over the drying surfaces later. He and another aide help us put on our heads, whose significant weight is supported by shoulder braces not unlike those used by drummers in parade bands. Our smiles hit us at our bellies, and we look through the bands of the two-way fabric on our top hats. The strangest sensation, apart from the increasing woozy high the glue provides, is that the top of our arms are pinned between our heads and our bodies. It's as if someone had bound us with ropes from our shoulders to our elbows. Now I understand why the fur is only on the parts of our arms from the elbow down: only our forearms poke out from inside our heads.
When we ask why the bottom of the costumes narrows around our feet and drags on the ground, the parade aide informs us that the costumers want it to appear as if we are all floating down the street. Large felt mittens are put on our hands, and we each are handed a wooden candy cane to hold. As we get used to our costumes backstage, we most definitely do not look like we are floating—more like weaving and stumbling.
We wait for our unit to get its cue (as part of the Santa unit we are the last to go). We can hear the crowd cheer for the other dancers as the gates swing open for each parade unit's entrance. We amuse ourselves—now that we've sort of got the hang of them—by playing in our costumes, blowing kisses from our bellies, bouncing off one another, and pretending to melt. In our play we discover that if we squeeze each other's red fire-conish noses (we can't reach our own), we can squirt fresh air into our friends' already overheated, glue fume-filled heads.
Suddenly we are ready to go. We assume our places as the music booms, and step out into the first circle around Main Street. A giant Christmas tree in the middle of the first hub greets us. Through the material of our hats, the decorations appear as a fuzzy, blinking, multicolored haze one might experience after drinking too much or ingesting a mild hallucinogenic (or perhaps it is just the fumes). We shuffle over to the enthusiastic crowd, using our mittens to shake their outstretched hands; we won't start our dance routine until we finish rounding this first circle and hit the straightaway.
By the time we finish the circle and our music cue begins, I confess the costume's novelty has worn off; I am not feeling very jolly or happy as I attempt to execute our dance routine with an extra seventy-five pounds of white bulk, compromised mobility, and limited vision. Still, it is exciting to hear the music—which until now has been played out of boom boxes during rehearsal—now being played on the park's enormous sound system. The music triggers my body's muscle memory from all those hours of practice, and I execute the beginning of our routine without much of a problem. "There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found.…" At this point, I and the other snowpeople begin to gather speed and execute the precise, swift, figure-eight serpentine pattern we have learned. Except we are supposed to hold hands, which is now near impossible as our arms are only half as long as they used to be. As I stretch to grab the stump of my snow partner with my right hand, my left foot catches the hollow groove of a railroad track for the horse-drawn streetcars; as my body twists I stumble forward, and my left foot steps directly on the bottom-most hoop of my body ball. I feel the forces of gravity and physics take over as my body continues on its trajectory and my costume does not. Despite being warned expressly against talking while inside our costume, I utter a small, terrified, "Oh, shit." Everything slows down as my body continues to buckle inside the costume. I try to push my arms out to cushion my fall, but my shoulders and upper arms are pinned inside my head, which leaves me movement only in my white-furred forearms and yellow-mittened hands. My stubby little arms flail frantically as I hurtle towards the asphalt, dropping my candy cane on the street with a clatter. I am still wildly flapping my arms as I crash full-body, facedown onto the blacktop.
After I go limp on the ground, I naturally rock onto my back where I lay motionless for a few moments, dazed and in pain. As my facilities return and I struggle to right myself, I realize I am like a turtle on its back: the curve of the body ball points my legs up so that I can't touch the ground with my feet and my arms are too short to be able to push myself upright. Someone is going to have to help me get up.
I roll over to my side and look down Main Street. I am one of the first down, but, one after another, through the visor of my hat, I see snow person after snow person trip and step on their costume, and then, wildly flapping their little arms and mittens, bite the asphalt with their big-grinned faces. The snowpeople who are still upright attempt to help, only to bounce off their downed comrades, step on the back of their costumes, and fall in the other direction. I hear the sounds of laughter from amused adults, and screams from terrorized children, some of whom cry out, "Frosty, Frosty, are you OK?" I roll over onto my back, look up, and see a parade aide on the roof of a faux Victorian structure. He calmly speaks with his head turned away from the crowd into his walkie-talkie so as not to induce more panic: "This is rooftop 2. The snowpeople are down. I repeat: The snowpeople are down. I need ground support on Main Street immediately… over!"
Knowing help is on the way, I relax a bit, assess the situation, and exercise the only mobility I have at this point: to roll on my side like a fluffy bowling pin. I decide to maneuver to the middle of the street, away from the hysterical crowd. Some other snowpeople have had the same idea and we all move to form a white lumpy island in the middle of the street. Soon I am hat to hat with a snow girl.
"Are you OK?" I whisper through my hatband.
"I guess," she says softly. "I can't get up."
"Neither can I," I say. "The parade aides will be here soon."
She moves a bit from side to side, and finally gives up, her midget arms dropping to her sides in exasperation. She begins to giggle, then laments, "God, it's so hot in here!"
"I know!" I take a few labored breaths inside my now oven-hot snowman head before I remember…"Do you want me to pump your nose?"
"Can you reach it?" she asks.
I roll around on the ground so that we are next to each other. We discover that if we both face up, we can, after blindly reaching around with our stumps for a bit, reach the other's nose. So we lie there waiting, side by side, squeezing each other's noses, for I don't know how long—helpless on the blacktop of the Happiest Place on Earth.