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Universal Days by Jeanne Julian

I moved to Orlando, known as The City Beautiful and The Theme Park Capital of the World. Don’t ask me how these claims are compatible. I was fleeing the cold, raw weather of Ethan Frome territory. In comparison, homesteading in a county named for citrus fruit sounded good. I packed my car and rented, sight unseen, a furnished apartment in Orlando. (Yes, I should’ve read the Google reviews first: “staff is a JOKE,” “my car was broken into.”) I found a part-time job at Universal Studios. Universal’s website says, “You’re the star here and you’ll disappear into one jaw-dropping adventure after another.”

Disappearing sounded good. My nonagenarian mother was getting to me. When I took the exercise bike out of her barn and left it at the landfill, she complained. “I’m not dead yet.” That was the last straw. I mean, no one had ridden that thing for 50 years. In contrast, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller-coaster at Universal Studios has a plethora of riders annually. They’re apparently undeterred by the occasional “technical glitch,” when Rockiteers become stuck at a jaw-dropping height, requiring rescue by bucket lift.

At Universal Studios, an oversized globe, adorned with a sash like a Miss Universe contestant, welcomes visitors — or rather, “guests.” Adorned with a clipboard and a survey, I meet guests as they leave the park. Like a pastor after church. I ask them how they enjoyed their experience at Universal Studios. We have quotas, the target number of guests we are to engage with. Oddly, the quotas are the goal, rather than Customer Satisfaction. In my last shift, the quota was 60. I got 70 — beating my age by five. I am good at talking with people. I was a teacher. One of my co-workers got 110 — about five times her age. Way to make the rest of us look bad. My neighbor at Vista Verde Apartments asked me if I had been to Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights. She said she’d gone with a friend, but she didn't go into any of the spooky attractions because she believes in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and there were demons there. Okay. Maybe not a forever pal for me.

The same way this is not a forever post-retirement job. I used to teach French, the former universal language. Until a student started a fire in my classroom. I guess that was his way of indicating low Customer Satisfaction. That was the last straw, or, la goutte qui fait déborder le vase. I retired early, moved in with Mom. Stuck, no rescue in sight, I took the leap, came down here.

Temporarily, anyway.

I want to work at Universal Studios long enough to get the employee discount on the Harry Potter merchandise. While I am not familiar with the Harry Potter books that are the inspiration for Universal Studios’ Wizarding World, my niece, who lives in St. Louis (the only place in the universe with worse weather than where I come from), would love a pair of Hogwarts socks. I think. She may have outgrown Harry Potter since I last saw her. She may even have outgrown socks. I don’t know what kids wear these days.

I’m wondering if there is any wizard merch that can help you disappear. Selectively, of course. I’m not saying I don’t want to exist. Mais non! But a Cloak of Invisibility would come in handy when I go back North.

I will bring Mom a bag of universally coveted Florida oranges. I can hear her now: “How am I going to eat all of these?” “Appreciate them while you can,” I’ll tell her. The Florida orange crop is doomed — hurricanes, drought. Disease from the Asian citrus psyllid may be the last straw, I hear. For the oranges. A natural glitch.

In any case, socks or no socks, I’m pretty sure my Universal days are numbered. On my way out, if anyone with a clipboard asks me why I’m leaving, I’ll say, “Demons.”



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