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My family has secrets but none as dark as this: my parents are completely under the spell of The Walt Disney Company. Disney World is their sole vacation destination, and they travel there 2-3 times annually, to walk hand-in-hand along the man-made lagoon, meander through the animatronic botanical gardens, eat Rainforest Chicken Pineapple® Salads in Edible Jungle Taco Bowls, shop for ceramic figurines, or hold each other tightly on amusement park rides designed to make you feel exactly like you're in the movie, THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE.

Their relationship with The Walt Disney Company runs unfathomably deep. In addition to their quarterly pilgrimages, they've bought into an elaborate Disney timeshare pyramid scheme (warning: turn your speaker volume down, unless you wish to be totally enchanted) that has allowed them to "own a piece of the magic" in exchange for "a piece of your retirement fund." Though it's all been explained to by each of my parents, and occasionally by both of them in Stepford-esque unison, I'm still a little fuzzy on the details of their financial arrangement with Disney. All I know is there is some exchange of time/money spent and magical points that are only considered legal tender within the Disney empire, and that their commitment extends for a considerable period of time, well beyond both of their anticipated deaths. My mother has reminded me, more than once, that their relationship with Disney will extend out at least 30 years from now, "so all of my children and grandchildren can enjoy it as much as we do."

There was a time when I would have considered this a malicious gesture – my parents insuring their children would bear the burden of an utterly stupid legacy. I used to fight them over their abusive, destructive relationship with Disney ("Mom, what's that you're hiding behind your back? Is that a Beauty and the Beast singing hairbrush? Did you pay your mortgage this month???") I would beg them to consider alternative vacation spots, and receive their stories about Christmas Parades in October and "character breakfasts" with disinterested sarcasm or prolix tirades against the corporation and its "commoditization of infantile sentimentality." Yes, I thought very highly of myself.

I stopped fighting, though, and for a pretty simple reason: Disney makes my parents happy. Really, almost inexplicably happy. And with each subsequent visit, Disney's repititious charms have not faded on my parents at all. I love my parents very much and, like it or not, I decided their crazy affection for Disney is going to have to squeeze its way into my definition of familial love.

And it doesn't take much effort to love my folks when I get to look at photos like the one I received today. They're currently vacationing at one of the Disney resorts in Orlando (resort: orlando = country club: alcatraz), for the second time this year. This is an important trip for my parents, for it's Soap Opera week throughout the Magic Kingdom. This is an event they've attended for at least the last three or four years in a row, at my mother's insistence. I'm not sure exactly what happens during Soap Opera week but, judging from my parents photos, some very tan actors sit behind tables in hotel lobbies and occasionally provide autographs for or pose next to ecstatic and stiff-looking moms. Soap Opera Week is kind of like ComiCon for middle-aged women with swollen ankles. My mom has very thin ankles, but she has learned to accept the things that make her different.

During this trip, just like last year's, my parents found their way into some kind of KODAK-sponsored digital photo kiosk, where tourists can have their photos taken on vacation, and immediately send the photo (and a greeting) off to a loved one, in the form of a very unattractive e-card.

There are two particularly noteworthy things about this year's photograph from my parents. First, the image they sent provides absolutely no sense of place. Sure, based on their word alone, I understand they're hanging out in the Florida sunshine but you'd never know it from this image. It looks like they were forced to pose inside an office supplies closet at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Second, although this image of my parents compares favorably with last year's (in which both of my parents looked utterly bewildered), I think it's pretty evident they still haven't exactly gotten the hang of how this photo booth works – details like where the camera lens is located, the importance of closing the curtain behind them, the fundamentals of appearing natural, etc. And for all the things in this photo that I find funny, and to which they've never even given a single thought, I love them that much more. Say hi to my folks.

WE FIRST MET ON 11.16.2005

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