I had–or still have–a best friend who loves Disney and his God very much. After my first year in Madrid, I returned to America to take a writing class in LA. He met me there and we rode over to Disney Land together. A very heterosexual Guy’s Day Out to play with puppets and giggle together. Before my time in Spain where I made an effort to learn a new language, and what others value vis-a-vis what I value, I would have told my Disney friend to shove his puppets up his own gay ass and leave me out of it.
You see, I’m pretentious: I don’t value waiting in long lines to spin my body into refreshingly awkward positions while observing the family-friendly scenic views. I don’t want to be ONE OF THE MASSES these adult toys are designed to entertain. I don’t like feeling like a cow herded from entertainment to entertainment. But, post-Spain I adjusted myself a little: sure, I’ll see what these American Creatures I’ve spent most of my life living nearby do for fun on a summer holiday. Plus, I can let my friend teach me via osmosis why Disney is so, so amazingly awesome, as he says it is. And we did just that: waited in lines to spin our bodies into exotic, yet always family-friendly positions (which actually isn’t gay at all as my research has revealed).
I waited all day to get back to what I really value–particularly after my time in Spain: drinking beer, talking, and eating cheap food with friends.
Naturally, we didn’t have much time to rest or eat as we had so much FUN to get done in a single day. Exhausted, towards the evening, we finally foraged for food in the undergrowth. The food at Disney Land reminds me of a gas station. There is a nigh infinite number of choices vying for your attention as you pause in your travel to the next stage in your List of Fun Stuff You Have To Do To Get Your Money’s Worth from your day-pass. You have to fill up on fuel as you travel; you pause to get food, but find that “getting some food” isn’t easy: like everything else, the wealth of available options adds stress, not vice-versa. More options isn’t more pleasure, but the opposite. Pleasure and happiness recede with the increase of options as you must make more and more decisions about everything. Then you walk across the park to find that little restaurant you saw a few hours ago and order pizza but realize your mistake: “Damn it; I want Spaghetti instead.” But at 20 dollars a plate, it isn’t the time to develop your taste by comparing dishes.
We sat down to some pizza and beer. I should say, A beer, one beer. Between two growing boys–and one thirsty and just from Spain. I bought one beer and split it between us by pouring it into two cups. We ate and talked. Finished. I asked him if he’d like more food or another beer, hint hint. I was hoping to potentially increase the pleasure of the moment by making the moment longer. Which is a different philosophy entirely from the one that undergirds Disney Land.
In response my friend reached into his bag for a warm water bottle he’d purchased hours earlier in the day. He took two swigs of tepid water, and, with a twinkle in his eye, said, “I’m good, man.”
Our relationship was never the same again. This little moment, like a little peanut shell en-husking a fusty nut, tasted like everything wrong with America and everything right with Spain.
Oh, yes, the Spanish politicians are stealing their people’s wealth and slipping the money into private accounts while blaming “the crisis,” but that’s not what I’m talking about or why I love Spain. I’m not talking about politics or business–two things American does better than any country on the earth and why I love my country. I’m talking about consumption and morality: in a word, efficiency. And Spain is very, very inefficient. I love Spanish inefficiency.
In terms of drinking, the Spanish circle up in public, sit on the asphalt or cobblestones in a courtyard, and pass a single Big Gulp-sized beer from person-to-person. It is called botellon. It is an intellectual and contact sport–if you count flirting, bar fights, and half-remembered conversations. Everyone gets a little drunk together at the same time. And it is cheap. They talk and laugh together; they share saliva together. Togetherness being the point. And cheap. Drinking this way is cheap and inefficient: no one knows who has paid more. There is not bill diced up between parties. No one does the math on 1/5th of the $12.99 x 20%-tip spinach dip appetizer.
Compare this unhygienic, communal botellon to my friend’s bottled water? Bottled water is the height of efficiency.
In Disney Land you can always find more content, but not more style or other styles. You can find more of the same thing, but not different things. You can buy any kind of overpriced food, but you must eat it out of a plastic cup. You cannot bring your own food. For example, you cannot take a leisurely and cheap afternoon sitting on the grass near a pond while eating a picnic you brought from home complete with a cooler of beer and barbecue ribs roasting on a bed of coals AND ride Space Mountain. These would be two different styles; such a mix does not exist.
Each person is accountable, financially and morally, only for what content she personally consumes. The efficiency of bottled water allows for moral commentary in a way that a tub of beer, sloshed between drunken piratas does not.
I’m not sure I’m making my point. Let me say this: to be Spanish is to be an alcoholic. For those who don’t know, the Spanish have evolved over the years. The average Spanish body has TWO livers instead of the average human who, like me, only has one liver. What this means is that to adopt the values of the Spanish or to swim with the fish in a sea of beer, as it were, you have to become a mild alcoholic, which I did in vomit-flecked style my first year. In my first week, I was precocious enough to baptize a small sapling with 10 beers, 2 glasses of wine, and a few sips of gin and tonic. After a year, I’d gotten myself into mid-season form and could hold my own, even with only one liver, against the toughest competition: blended scotch whisky.
My Disney friend knew I was drinking a lot in Spain and he didn’t like it. As I said, there was a twinkle in his eye. A judgmental one. My friend’s “I’m good, man” had a subtext which was “I disagree with how much you drink, and I won’t participate with you.” That’s fine, but what’s really annoying is the efficiency of bottled water which gave him the vocabulary to express this in the moment. Bottled water allowed him to not participate with me–he had in fact never started to participate with me. We each had our OWN day-passes, our own existential account marked up for the Day of Reckoning when the great Disney of the Clouds will judge the living and the drunk.
American efficiency applied to religion or product consumption allows my friend the best value for his money/ life: the most fun at Disney; the most Righteous at the end of the world. American efficiency breaks experience, products, religion into small, consumable, clean, nicely-packaged pieces of content. According to the rules of American efficiency, my friend can sit and enjoy a meal with me, but not flirt with perceived alcoholism accidentally. What is more, he can comment on it subtly because we are not even drinking from the same glass. We aren’t eating together in a sense: he has his plate and I have mine. We each, too, have our own glasses. We are each watching the other and observing how the Jones live as compared to ourselves. What value did the other guy get for his money? What moral wrong or moral good did the other guy do in comparison to me? Am I having fun? And the Great Bartender in the Sky will ring up our bills separately.
American efficiency isn’t all bad: in business it creates the best brands in the world. This is why you can walk into a Starbucks Coffee in Bangladesh and order the identical coffee you drink in Boise, Idaho after picking a bushel of potatoes. But it is annoying as hell at other moments.
After the meal, he asked if we could go back to Space Mountain for a second ride of pure content on arguably the most fun roller coaster ever built–even more fun than the helicopter ride over a pine forest in which you get sprayed with a mist that smells like a pine forest. Yes, that happens.
We cleaned up the plates and the can of beer. We gathered our gear. Space Mountain was all the way across the park so we had to run a little to get there before it closed. I gave it a sporting chance. We made it just in time, but the walk had exhausted me, or the efficiency, or the twinkle in the eye. I’d had enough. I didn’t care anymore. And this is where I tuned out of my Disney Land experience and where I start writing the word fuck to express myself: I write things like, Fuck Disney and bottled water. Fuck your stupid pine-forest, mist helicopter ride. How about I just go ride in a real fucking helicopter and really smell real fucking trees if I like them so much? Things like that.
I think life is too short for some kinds of American efficiency. Form is content. The effort it takes you to pick through a pile of choices diminishes the pleasure you will have when you finally sit down to enjoy. But it isn’t any fun to have no choice either. Experiences, like language, must be learned on one’s own. So, in this sense we are all drinking bottled water and we’ll be alone with the god at the end of it. Maybe that’s why I love botellon so much: I forget about being alone for a little while. And for once in my life, there’s no bill, no record of my actions, or accountability. I’m free. Or free until I wake up with a hangover, which is a kind of bill if you think about it.