A sweaty and irritable 6-year-old girl, in line for Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, asks, “Mommy, why is everybody wearing black?” Mommy shakes her head, befuddled, as riders on the Thunder train scream and the line of gloomies swathed in capes and robes and knee-high patent-leather skull-buckle boots creeps forward with paralyzing, agonizing slowness.
It is a scorching-hot Sunday afternoon, an unfortunate coincidence for this year’s Goth Day, also known as “Bats Day” and “Batz Day” — you know, when the Happiest Place on Earth plays host to the saddest people on Earth? When it seems as if the Haunted Mansion has exploded and the 999 happy ghosts have gained corporeal form? It’s like Halloween in August. It’s like night, but in the day.
Despite Fastpasses and supplies of $3 churros, there is plenty of time to kill in line as we stand among the goths, leaving ample opportunity for contemplation. How young is too young to start dressing your child as a goth? Is it bad form to run up to goths and snap their picture without asking, lest your digital photo inadvertently steal their immortal souls? How does one maintain the requisite deathly white pallor in this relentless California sun?
Sure, I was a poser goth in high school. I shared black eyeliner with my boyfriend and read Rilke and Oscar Wilde. I listened to Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Smiths (who are arguably not goth) and the Cure (who are inescapably goth). But I was never able to sufficiently answer any of these questions.
“Why do so many goth chicks have big boobs?” my cousin Wendy’s fiancé wonders out loud, and Wendy shoots him a withering look. “Classy, Parra. Real classy.”
But the goths are growing on us, we decide, if only for their extreme devotion to lifestyle and the sheer hardcore insanity of willingly getting up in a corset, silk kimono and Elvira wig in 100-degree weather.
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And because every thesis must have its antithesis, this year a rival, Internet-based group planned to challenge the goths with a preppy alternative: Babs Day versus Bats Day. In the end, the organizer, Amanda Blackburn, imagined goths and preps holding hands and skipping down Main Street sporting T-shirts that read “No one understands our love.” She and a group of 20 geek friends would rock Brooks Brothers shirts and yacht shorts à la Thurston Howell the Third, or sorority-like sweaters and pearls, straight outta New Hampshire’s upper crust. But at the last minute, owing to a minor financial crisis, Blackburn and her husband had to cancel.
“I was gonna wear a pleated skirt, a polo shirt, a cardigan and argyle socks,” Blackburn told me on the phone, “Oh, and a headband.” She sighed. “I’m so sad about this.” It was going to be a social experiment of sorts. There is nothing worse than labeling people, she believes — putting them in a box (coffin?) — and suggesting that there is little more to them than a single word. Prep. Goth. She sent out cancellation e-mails, and the geeks who rallied around her chickened out and packed away their tennis whites. I never did get to meet her in person.
“Maybe next year,” she said before we hung up.
So in the end it is business and black parasols as usual. The goths in the Enchanted Tiki Room stare in horror at the singing birds and orchids. The goths sitting behind us in the Pirates of the Caribbean talk about the secret restaurant above the ride and how you can only get into it by special invitation. They trail their hands in the water idly as our boat glides by the Blue Bayou restaurant, which of course you can only get into by reservation and where it is always twilight on the riverfront.