Cory Doctorow’s Makers, Part 21 (of 81)


Illustration by Idiots’Books

Sammy didn’t dare go back to the ride for weeks after the debacle in Boston. He’d been spotted by the Chinese guy and the bummy-looking guy who said he’d designed the ride, that much was sure. They probably suspected him of having sabotaged the Boston ride.

But he couldn’t stay away. Work was dismal. The other execs at Disney World were all amazingly petty, and always worse so before the quarterly numbers came out. Management liked to chase any kind of bad numbers with a few ritual beheadings.

The new Fantasyland had been a feather in Sammy’s cap that had kept him safe from politics for a long time, but not anymore. Now it was getting run down: cigarette burns, graffiti, and every now and again someone would find a couple having pervy eyeliner sex in the bushes.

He’d loved to work openings in Fantasyland’s heyday. He’d stand just past the castle-gate and watch the flocking crowds of black-clad, lightly sweating, white-faced goth kids pour through it, blinking in the unnatural light of the morning. A lot of them took drugs and partied all night and then capped it off with an early morning at Fantasyland—Disney had done focus groups, and they’d started selling the chewy things that soothed the clenched jaws brought on by dance-drugs.

But now he hated the raven-garbed customers who sallied into his park like they owned the joint. A girl—maybe 16—walked past on vinyl platform heels with two gigantic men in their thirties behind her, led on thin black leather leashes. A group of whippet-thin boys in grey dusters with impossibly high sprays of teased electric blue hair followed. Then a group of heavily pierced older women, their faces rattling.

Then it was a river of black, kids in chains and leather, leathery grownups who dressed like surly kids. They formed neat queues by their favorite rides—the haunted houses, the graveyard walk-through, the coffin coaster, the river of blood—and puffed cloves through smokeless hookahs. At least he hoped it was cloves.

The castmembers in Sammy’s Fantasyland were no better than the guests. They were pierced, dyed, teased, and branded to within an inch of their lives, even gothier than the goths who made the long pilgrimages to ride his unwholesome rides.

The worst of it was that there weren’t enough of them anymore. The goth scene, which had shown every sign of surging and re-surging every five years, seemed finally to be dying. Numbers were down. A couple of goth-themed parks in the area had shuttered, as had the marshy one in New Orleans (admittedly that might have been more to do with the cholera outbreak).

Last month, he’d shut down the goth toddler-clothing shop and put its wares on deep online discount. All his little nieces and nephews were getting bat-wing onesies, skull platform-booties and temporary hair-dye and tattoos for Christmas. Now he just had to get rid of the other ten million bucks’ worth of merch.

“Morning, Death,” he said. The kid’s real name was Darren Weinberger, but he insisted on being called Death Waits, which given his pudgy round cheeks and generally eager-to-please demeanor, was funny enough that it had taken Sammy a full year to learn to control his grin when he said it.

“Sammy! Good morning—how’re you doing?”

“The numbers stink,” Sammy said. “You must have noticed.”

Death’s grin vanished. “I noticed. Time for a new ride, maybe.” No one called them “attractions” anymore—all that old Orwellian Disneyspeak had been abolished. “They love the coaster and the free-fall. Thrill rides are always crowd-pleasers.”

Death Waits had worked at Disney for three years now, since the age of 16, and he had grown up coming to the park, one of the rare Orlando locals. Sammy had come to rely on him for what he thought of as insight into the “goth street.” He never said that aloud, because he knew how much it sounded like “whatever you crazy kids are into these days.”

But this wasn’t helpful. “I know that everyone likes thrill rides, but how the hell can you compete with the gypsy coasters?” They set up their coasters by the road and ran them until there was an injury serious enough to draw the law—a week or two at best. You could order the DIY coaster kits from a number of suppliers across the US and Mexico, put them up with cranes and semi-skilled labor and wishful thinking, start taking tickets, and when the inevitable catastrophe ensued, you could be packed and on the lam in a couple hours.

“Gypsy coasters? They suck. We’ve got theming. Our rides are art. That stuff is just engineering.” Death Waits was a good kid, but he was a serious imbiber of the kool-aid. “Maybe try dance parties again?” They’d tried a string of all-night raves, but the fights, drugs, and sex were just too much for the upper management, no matter how much money they brought in.

Sammy shook his head morosely. “I’ve told you that a company this size can’t afford the risks from that sort of thing.” A few more goths straggled in. They headed for the walk-through, which probably meant they planned to get high or make out, something he’d given up on trying to prevent. Anything to get the numbers up. He and the security staff had come to an understanding on this and no one was telling his boss or his colleagues.

“I should just bulldoze the whole fucking thing and start over. What comes after goth, anyway? Are ravers back? Hippies? Punks? Chavs?”

Death Waits was staring at him with round eyes. “You wouldn’t really—”

He waved at the kid. This was his whole life. “No, Death, no. We’re not going to bulldoze this place. You’ve got a job for life here.” It was a lie of such amazing callousness that Sammy felt a twinge of remorse while saying it. Those twinges didn’t come often. But Death Waits looked a lot happier once the words were out of his mouth—goths with big candy-apple cheeks were pretty unconvincing gloom-meisters.

Sammy stalked back to the nearest utilidor entrance, over by what had been the Pinocchio Village Haus. He’d turned the redesign over to a designer who’d started out as a lit major and whose admiration for the dark and twisted elements of the original Pinocchio tale by Carlo Collodi shone through. Now it featured murals of donkeys being flensed by fish, hectic Pleasure Island. Hanged Pinocchio on his gibbet dangled over the condiment bar, twitching and thrashing. The smell of stale grease rose from it like a miasma, clashing with the patchouli they pumped out from the underground misters.

Down into the tunnels and then into a golf cart and out to his office. He had time to paw desultorily at the mountain of merchandise samples that had come in over the week since he’d last tackled it—every plaster-skull vendor and silver cross-maker in the world saw him as a ticket to easy street. None had twigged to the fact that they were reducing their goth-themed merch these days. Still, going through merch had been his task for three years now and it was a hard habit to break. He liked the lick-and-stick wounds with dancing maggots that were activated by body-heat. The skeletal bikers with flocking algorithms that led them into noisy demolition derbies were a great idea, too, since you’d have to buy another set after a couple hours’ play.

His desk was throbbing pink, which meant that he was late for something. He slapped at it, read the message that came up, remembered that there was a weekly status meeting for theme-leaders that he’d been specifically instructed to attend. He didn’t go to these things if he could help it. The time-markers who ran Adventureland and Tomorrowland and so on were all boring curatorial types who thought that change was what you gave a sucker back from a ten at a frozen-banana wagon.

The theme-leaders met in a sumptuous board-room that had been themed in the glory years of the unified Walt Disney Company. It had renewable tropical hardwood panelling, a beautiful garden and a koi pond, and an aviary that teemed with chirruping bright birds borrowed from the Animal Kingdom menagerie. The table was a slab of slate with a brushed finish over its pits and shelves, the chairs were so ergonomic that they had zero adjustment controls, because they knew much better than you ever could how to arrange themselves for your maximum comfort.

He was the last one through the door, and they all turned to stare at him. They all dressed for shit, in old fashioned slacks and high-tech walking shoes, company pocket-tees or baseball jerseys. None of them had a haircut that was worth a damn, not even the two women execs who co-ran Main Street. They dressed like the Middle Americans they catered to, or maybe a little better.

Sammy had always been a sharp dresser. He liked shirts that looked like good cotton but had a little stretch built into them so they rested tight at his chest, which was big, and tight at his waist, which was small. He liked jeans in whatever style jeans were being worn in Barcelona that year, which meant black jeans cut very square and wide-legged, ironed stiff without a crease. He had shades that had been designed to make his face look a little vulpine, a trait that he’d always known he had. It put people on edge if you looked a little wolfy.

He stopped outside the door of the board-room and squared up his shoulders. He was the youngest person on the board, and he’d always been the biggest, cockiest bastard in the room. He had to remember that if he was going to survive this next hour.

He came through the door and stopped and looked at the people around the table and waited for everyone to notice him. They looked so midwestern and goofy, and he gave them his wolfy smile—hello, little piggies, here to blow your house down.

“Hey, kids,” he said, and grabbed the coffee carafe and a mug off the sideboard. He filled his cup, then passed the carafe off, as though every meeting began with the passing-around of the low-grade stimulants. He settled into his seat and looked around expectantly.

“Glad you could make it, Sammy.” That was Wiener, who generally chaired the meetings. Theoretically, it was a rotating chairship, but there’s a certain kind of person who naturally ends up running every meeting, and Ron Wiener was that kind of person. He co-ran Tomorrowland with three faceless nonentities who had been promoted above their competence due to his inexplicable loyalty to them, and between the four of them, they’d managed to keep Tomorrowland the most embarrassingly badly themed part of the park. “We were just talking about you.”

“I love being the subject of conversation,” Sammy said. He slurped loudly at his coffee.

“What we were talking about was the utilization numbers from Fantasyland.”

Which sucked, Sammy knew. They’d been in free-fall for months now, and looking around at those cow-like midwestern faces, Sammy understood that it was time for the knives to come out.

“They suck,” Sammy said brightly. “That’s why we’re about to change things up.”

That preempted them. “Can you explain that some?” Wiener said, clicking his pen and squaring up his notepad. These jerks and their paper-fetish.

Sammy did his best thinking on his feet and on the move. Confident. Wolfy. You’re better than these jerks with their pads and their corn-fed notions. He sucked in a breath and began to pace and use his hands.

“We’re going to take out every under-utilized ride in the land, effective immediately. Lay off the dead-wood employees. We’re going to get a couple off-the-shelf thrill rides and give them a solid working-over for theming—build our own ride vehicles, queue areas and enclosures, big ones, weenies that will draw your eye from outside the main gate. But that’s just a stopgap.

“Next I’m going to start focus-grouping the fatkins. They’re ready-made for this stuff. All about having fun. Most of those ex-fatties used to pack this place when they were stuck in electric wheelchairs, but now they’re too busy—” he stopped himself from saying “fucking”—“Having more adult fun to come back, but anyone who can afford fatkins has discretionary income and we should have a piece of it.

“It’s hard to say without research, but I’m willing to bet that these guys will respond strongly to nostalgia. I’m thinking of reinstating the old Fantasyland dark-rides, digging parts out of storage, whatever we haven’t auctioned off on the collectibles market, anyway, and cloning the rest, but remaking them with a little, you know, darkness. Like the Pinocchio thing, but more so. Captain Hook’s grisly death. Tinker Bell’s inherent porniness. What kind of friendship did Snow White have with the dwarfs? You see where I’m going. Ironic—we haven’t done ironic in a long time. It’s probably due for a comeback.”

They stared at him in shocked silence.

“You say you’re going to do this when?” Wiener said. He’d want to know so he could get someone senior to intervene.

“You know, research first. We’ll shut down the crap rides next week and can the dead-wood. Want to commission the research today if I can. Start work on the filler thrill-rides next week too.”

He sat down. They continued to boggle.

“You’re serious about this?”

“About what? Getting rid of unprofitable stuff? Researching profitable directions? Yes and yes.”

There were other routine agenda items, which reminded Sammy of why he didn’t come to these meetings. He spent the time surfing readymade coasters and checking the intranet for engineer availability. He was just getting into the HR records to see who he’d have to lay off when they finally wound down and he sauntered out, giving his wolfy grin to all, with a special flash of it for Wiener.

<<< Back to Part 20

Continue to Part 22 >>>

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As part of the ongoing project of crafting’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.

Doctorow’s Makers will be released in print by Tor Books in October. You can read all previous installments of Makers on on our index page.


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