THE GAITHER FAMILY ATTENDS DISNEY ON ICE: A TIMELINE OF SORTS
Story and photograph by Asheville photographer Sandlin Gaither, who’s also a dad just trying to deal. Here’s one day in the life of the Family Gaither.
10:10 am: I surprise my kids with tickets to the matinee performance of Disney On Ice. Upon hearing the news my five-year-old daughter, Lucy, shouts ‘I hate surprises,’ then buries her head in a pillow and begins to sob uncontrollably. Our eighteen month old son, Wesley, having no concept of what I’ve just said, stares at me befuddled, chewing on his sock.
11:30 am: Departure time. We open the front door to leave and discover that some sort of nocturnal vermin has torn into a bag of trash we left overnight on our front porch. Remnants of a Jersey Mike’s sandwich, I notice amongst other bits of discarded waste, lay strewn across the front porch. A trail of garbage leads down the steps and across the front yard. Minor cursing ensues.
11:37 am: We depart for Greenville in the family sedan. My five year-old, now dressed in costume as Disney’s Elsa, is still crying. You’d think this would be a highly anticipated adventure, but it’s quite the opposite. Between this moment and our arrival at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville she will cry off and on and claim that she has to pee 132 times. We refuse to stop the vehicle every time. Thankfully, she never pees in the car, and strangely forgets all about her pressing urinary needs upon arriving at our destination.
12:55 pm: We circle the arena and find an empty bank parking lot where we park for free. Big score for The Sandman. It will be the only points I put on the board all day.
12:58 pm: A policeman escorting pedestrians across the busy intersection in front of the arena informs my wife that her purse, the size of a suitcase one might take on a three-month transatlantic voyage, is too large to carry into the coliseum, and we must turn back if she does not want her purse confiscated.
1:00 pm: We return to the car, where the contents of the purse are placed into a plastic grocery bag. We race back to the coliseum entrance, where a uniformed man transfers the contents of our plastic grocery bag into another smaller, transparent plastic bag, so that anyone suspicious of my wife’ belongings would note with ease the baby wipes, eye drops, mascara, lip balm, spare diapers, clutch purse, iPhone, car keys, stenographer’s machine, cheerios, label maker, and GPS tracking device which she requires to sustain the family for the next 1- 2 hours.
1:05 pm: We enter the arena as the show is starting. We find our seats, located three rows back from the ice. I am thrilled to discover that I will be sitting in almost the same seat that I sat in the last time I saw Motley Crüe perform. Unfortunately, where once had stood my buddies Sixx, Mick, and Tom, there is now a giant toy box from which emerge Barbie, Mr. Potatohead, a Fuzzy Pig, and a Gay Cowboy. They are all on ice skates, of course, dashing, slicing, twirling, and dancing around the room, performing a choreographed rendition of “I’m Walking On Sunshine.”” Dr. Feelgood,” I realize, will not be included in today’s performance.
1:10 pm: My eyes adjust to the darkness and I take in the crowd. There are thousands of small children seated around the arena, most of whom are dressed in costume. Clearly, the Elsa costume is by far the most popular option. The children are accompanied by their legal guardians, most of whom are also bouncing small babies on their knees. Many children wave snowflake wands that glow like light sabers, and if the music was less Katrina and the Waves and more Avicci, I might be convinced I was at Tomorrowland.
1:15 pm: For a short while all members of team Gaither seem happily pacified. Both children are mesmerized by the dozens of costumed performers dashing, slicing, twirling, and dancing their way across the ice, as am I. The pot cookies that my uncle-in-law gave me are kicking in, and although he recommended I only eat a half a cookie I had gobbled down two whole cookies, having assumed his shortness and oldness to be certain indicators of a man with a low tolerance, but perhaps I was mistaken. I am now giddy with laughter at the sight of Barbie, Mr. Potatohead, a Fuzzy Pig, and a Gay Cowboy on ice skates, dashing, slicing, twirling, and dancing across the ice. I momentarily regret having not acquired stronger drugs for this adventure.
1:25 pm: Twenty five minutes into the show I realize that I have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t watched anything Disney-related since The Rescuers came out; all of the characters frolicking around on the ice before me are as foreign to me as the members of a Chinese rugby team. I had expected Cinderella, Jiminy Cricket, maybe Tinkerbell, or even that fox dressed as Robin Hood, but this is a whole other cast of characters. From what I can gather, Barbie, Mr. Potatohead, the Fuzzy Pig, Gay Cowboy, and a few other oversized stuffed animals seem to have a major beef with Ken (of Ken and Barbie fame). Ken, it seems, has turned evil and teamed up with a giant red dog who also is evil, and they are locking all of the fuzzy happy characters into cages, a fact that does not seem to disturb the children in the audience, whose full attention has shifted to a guy in a space suit called Buzzy Lighthead (or something thereof). Buzzy and the Gay Cowboy seem to have a thing going, although I can’t make out what they are saying to each other due to the subpar acoustics in the arena. From where I’m sitting it’s all unintelligible garble.
1:26 pm: I am reminded of the Phish show I saw here in 1999, which was also a bunch of unintelligible garble.
1:27 pm: I find myself very attracted to the Barbie character, yet I can’t seem to take my eyes off the Gay Cowboy. Huh.
1:30 pm: I lose interest in Evil Ken’s solo skate performance and turn my attention to the spotlight operators precariously positioned in the rafters overhead. I wonder if one of them is my dear friend, Roadie Rob, who is a consummate professional in the entertainment business. He lives in his camper and makes himself available wherever technical help is needed; he works for all the big music acts when they come to town and has told me all kinds of stories about operating those giant spotlights way up in the rafters. I make a mental note to ask him what he does when he has to pee way up there. I’m sure he’ll tell me all about it.
1:32 pm: The First act has ended and the Little Mermaid appears on the ice. Though I have never seen her movie or her reality show, I immediately recognize The Little Mermaid, and I’m aware she’s well-liked in the world of Disney. I even know her name: Arianna. I am proud of myself. But all is not well on the home front. “Where are the dancing Princesses?” Lucy asks impatiently. “Where is Elsa?” I feel a mood shift coming on.
1:45 pm: Wesley, the one-year-old, who has been cool up until this point, crawls from my wife’s lap into the empty seat between us. He has lost interest in the duet between the Crab and the Mermaid and has turned his attention onto the spectators behind us. He stands up, the folding seat collapses, and down he goes, sandwiched between the backrest and the base of the seat. Unfazed, he is determined to crawl into the aisle behind us. This, I know, is the beginning of the end, which is okay, because the act has reached it’s climax, Arianna the Little Mermaid is about to die (or whatever) and we will all get to go home soon.
1:50 pm: Mickey Mouse appears on the ice to announce a brief intermission before the second half of the show. Danielle and I look at each other as if to say ‘second half of the show?’ Minor cursing ensues.
1:55 pm: It is now intermission and everyone in attendance floods the hallways of the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, but there is no wellness to be found. Thousands of small children load up on the only offerings available to the Sunday afternoon matinee crowd: Cotton candy and rainbow colored snow cones. The cotton candy is flowing like wine at a Roman orgy and not a kid in sight is empty handed. My kid sees the other kids eating all that sugary shit, and
1:58 pm: I purchase a rainbow-colored snow cone for twelve dollars in a little plastic chalice adorned with Elsa’s image. I’m then encouraged to purchase the matching plastic spoon. How much is that? I ask. “Four Dollars.” the man says.
1:59 pm: We opt for the free plastic spoon.
2:00 pm: I escape into the Men’s Room for a brief respite. I discover many other Dads hiding in the bathroom, all cowering together like a doomed platoon in the final moments before leaping from their helicopter into enemy territory. We’re all clearly aware that we will soon be overtaken by the enemy, our demise certain.
2:05 pm: The second act begins and there are now funny little cars with googly eyes driving all over the ice. The vehicles have faces and seem to be well acquainted with one another – they are conversing, pulling wheelies, cavorting like old friends. I have no idea what’s going on, but I think I like it. My sense of humor momentarily returns and I notice that the lights are like, kinda magical. A friendly tow truck with a goofy grin on his radiator grill emits a backfire with a loud puff of smoke and I’m all like “Whoa dude!” and all the kids laugh. I laugh, too. Sadly, this is the last moment of happiness I will know for the remainder of the afternoon.
2:12 pm: I sense waves of anxious movement throughout the audience, like a faint trembling of the earth foretelling the arrival of some heinous monster. Looking around the arena, straining to make out the faces of the other parents, I catch an eye here and there, and I can sense the fear is present amongst us all. It’s almost palpable. It’s been twenty minutes since everyone under four feet initially overdosed on sugar, and everyone over four feet knows what’s about to happen, and it’s gonna happen in public. It’s going to hit at any minute, a lá Lord of the Flies; none of us over four feet will make it out alive. Minor cursing ensues.
2:14 pm: The Gaither children begin to lose their shit. They both reach for the twelve dollar snow cone. I try to moderate the bites of snow cone but it is no use, the flimsy plastic spoon does nothing; there is rainbow colored ice all over my lap.
2:15 pm: I regret not buying the $4 matching spoon.
2:16 pm: We are all sticky. Lucy and Wesley are fighting over the free plastic spoon, which falls onto the dirty floor, rendering it useless.
2:17 pm: I no longer regret not buying the $4 matching spoon.
2:18 pm: Both children begin to cry and are separated and the remains of the snow cone are hidden beneath he seat, but the crying and squirming continues. A little girl behind us – one of the few independent-minded children who chose to wear the Anna costume over the much more popular Elsa costume – is also crying, seemingly reconsidering her loyalties. “Elsa!” she screams, wiggling free of her father’s grip. “Elsa! Elsa!” She begins to wail uncontrollably and is hastily removed from the arena.
2:25 pm: Across the ice I can see a flurry of commotion along the front row. A bevy of miniature Elsas are on the verge of pandemonium. I watch as they leap from chair to chair, twirl across the floor, and finally collapse on the floor near the edge of the rink. Throughout the building parental anxiety is at an all time high. There is an abundance of bewilderment and doubt, fear and frustration, as the sugars from the half time treats kick in to their children’s systems. I notice multiple children being removed from the arena as wails of sorrow echo above the furry of the funny little cars still driving around on the ice. A few snowflake glow sticks are thrown and are quickly confiscated. More shouts for Elsa come from across the way. If Elsa doesn’t make an appearance, there will be fucking hell to pay.
2:30 pm: Danielle escorts Wesley from the arena, having officially lost his shit. I remain with Lucy, curled into a ball on my lap.
2:35 pm: The funny little cars depart the ice and at last snow begins to fall from the ceiling, signaling the start of the final act. The stuff falling from the sky is not real snow but a synthetic foam, and I am reminded of the one and only foam party I attended in college, during which I almost choked to death while trapped inside a pyramid of flesh and foam. Minor cursing ensues.
2:38 pm: Elsa appears in her popular blue gown, lit by a single spotlight at the back of the room, positioned high atop a mobile staircase from which it is expected she will descend, and the crowd goes, er, wild. More accurately, it could be said the crowd had already gone wild in the moments prior to Elsa’s big entrance and have now become mostly debilitated, their enthusiasm deteriorating into bouts of violent exhaustion. One might imagine a similar scenario playing out at a Vanilla Ice concert, in which the audience is so drunk and nauseous by the time Vanilla finally performs ‘Ice Ice Baby’ that no one gives a shit anymore and everybody just wants to go home.
2:55 pm: The show ends. Elsa, Barbie, the Gay Cowboy and all the happy characters disappear, leaving two thousand adults and four thousand disaffected children to fend for ourselves, all melting down like wax over an open flame.
2:56 pm: Lucy begins crying again, shouting “ I don’t like movies! I don’t like movies!” To which I reply “I didn’t bring you to a movie, I brought you to a fine choreographed production by a troupe of highly talented ice skating performers.” I try to comfort her as everyone around us departs the arena, but it is of little use. A mother to my left has also remained in her seat, attempting to comfort her own crying child. “She’s upset because of the absence of Snow White in the performance,” she leans in to whisper to me. “My child doesn’t like movies,” I reply, then add “Frankly, I found the performance quite riveting.”
3:03 pm: Danielle and I leave the Bon Secours Wellness arena, each carrying a crying child beneath our arms. Danielle is also toting her clear plastic bag with all that shit in it, none of which we seemed to employ during the performance. Except for the stenographer’s machine. That got a little use at intermission. Thank goodness we brought it.
3:05 pm: To our delight, we discover our car has not been towed. Our two crying children are strapped into the back seat and mandatory quiet time is declared throughout the vehicle as we begin the hour-long drive back to Asheville. Lucy complains that she has to pee again, to which I do not reply. The crying turns to sobbing, then sleep.
3:55 pm: Lucy awakens from her nap and begins to complain about the absence of Rapunzel during the show, then complains about her twelve-dollar snow cone being melted into a soupy blue mess, then claims she has to pee, to which I reply “You’re being a jerk. I will never take you anywhere again!”
3:56 pm: Danielle gently reminds me of the Polar Express tickets we purchased, a mere three weeks away. Minor cursing ensues.
4:00 pm: The abundance of Florida license tags and congestion on the highway let me know that I’m once again entering sweet little Asheville. More cursing ensues.