It’s good to have a job. This is what I have to tell myself. I had been a frogman in Vietnam. Most people don’t know what that means. Even less understand. Since then I have been drinking in the sun mostly. I could always fix things. It’s why I got to be a frogman. I lived cheap and didn’t feel like settling down when I got back. I had some stuff to shake out. I go from town to town. Fix my own car when it breaks. Fix people’s appliances when they break. Go elsewhere when I break. I had been told I fixate on things that are done. Who even thinks about Barry Goldwater now? I did enough in the Navy. They say I get too angry and it only hurts me.

I’m going East. The Navy was gonna get me out of town, but I didn’t win the training roulette and see Florida before the war. I want to see a palm tree again. I checked out California, but it wasn’t for me. Sausalito was nice. The crowd isn’t mine. I don’t think I’d put my house on the water. People may think it’s strange, but I miss the palms of Vietnam. Florida is covered in palms. Most aren’t even native. They’re brought back from elsewhere and reintegrated. I think I would have loved Vietnam under different circumstances. 

Walt was a firm supporter of our military in the last World War. I’m back in the water, which I’d rather not be, but I’m employed. Walt believed in the Armed Forces and now he believes in me. My father gave me his “building planes for victory” Mickey pin. I was fond of Walt’s turtle submarine sketch. Now I’m working the park. 

This new ride is based on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.There’s six versions of the Nautilus. I didn’t realize commercial submarines could exist. I’m here to maintain them. I got the job because I can work underwater. I save Walt time and money. I don’t get to enjoy Disney though. I work at night when the ships aren’t running. If I wore my Scuba gear in the ride I’d have to work every run and become an actor. The park gave me one free day to explore as a hiring perk. I was eager to ride my new workstation. If I understand it from a visitor’s perspective I can make improvements the imagineers wouldn’t consider. 

As I walk down the cobblestones I glimpse the path to the ride. It’s a bit of a wait. That’s okay. Jonah was patient. I can’t let down my namesake. Submarines can’t move that fast. I know. I hear peals of laughter. There’s three women on rocks in the water. They’re mermaids. I wonder how they get their tails to the rock. I can smell the fumes from here. I’m shocked they’re laughing in the center of the ride. Maybe they can handle a guy like me. I’m looking at the redhead. She can’t see me in this sun. It’s always a blonde, brunette, and a redhead. In America there’s something for everyone. 

The water isn’t too murky from here. The line looks over one parked ship. The Nautilus takes the shape of a Shortfin Mako Shark. The major difference is the Nautilus has a bulb head like the spermaceti recess at the head of a whale before the nose sharpens to a point. There is a circular eye that can see above the water. One can’t clearly see how deep the submarine goes. The nose of the ship is ridged like a Spanish-style roof. I am the steward of these strange fish. 

I mosey through the line staring at the trees around the ride. To my left there is a red rock face. Everywhere else I turn is ride signage or trees blocking the rest of the park. How long had this been in the works? I can’t get a glimpse of anything that might break the narrative of this ride because of those trees.

Once I’m inside the sub I have to stifle my laughter. There’s pipes to nowhere, dials that don’t move, and gauges moving mechanically that mean nothing. Normally this is irritating in art, but here it’s fantastic. At first glance the only job I’ll have is making sure the inside of the sub doesn’t flood. It looks like everything in here is built to take on water. The sub is on a track. I might have to work on that, but that’s not a complicated job. Belts, rollers. We start moving. After the last run the subs all get spaced along the ride. At night when it’s off I can come inspect to see what’s changed. I inspect the ride twice a week. There’s a mix of natural plant life and animatronics as well the occasional fish enclosure. 

The ride is slow. The mirror gets covered in bubbles. The family I’m with Oohs and Ahhs through the introduction. I don’t think I’ll ever have a consumer lens on one of these places. That’s okay. Work is work. The magic of the Disney parks is for children, and I’m lucky to help deliver that joy. 

The sub turns right and in our view is two large blue crabs. The spiked legs raise and lower like they’re operated by a child trying to scare his mother. Only one leg moves on each crab. Further along the open mouth bass sit still. The paint work is detailed. Will someone work on other fish in anticipation of when the paint fades? More bubbles. Periwinkle rocks. Golden coral. A living fish passes behind a rosy porthole surrounded by seaweed. 

The ship chugs along and some ceramic men in old diving suits come into view. I can’t scuba in here because I can’t move in that. I guess these guys are cheaper than actors. They’re capturing a turtle. Ropes are wrapped around its green fins. The turtle’s facial expression is blank. Resistance in submission is not letting your captor see you suffer. 

After another round of bubbles we come along a sunken pirate ship. My jaw dropped. Where are we? Where in the park is this? Nothing like this can be seen from the entrance. Are we under the trees? A Tiger Shark swims around the mast of the ship. I can’t see the bar. They wouldn’t put a real shark on a ride. I look to my left and dozens of fish are swimming. The shark looks undisturbed by them. The shark can’t be real. 

When the bubbles stop again I can see a sunken imitation of the Parthenon. Behind it is a scaly green tail. The tail is larger than the Parthenon itself. The ship lazes along and the tail curves through a rock face. Then I see mermaids and a goofy sea dragon. The mermaids are almost as big as the sea dragon. Are the women bigger in Atlantis? The whiskers of the sea dragon wrap around the mermaids. The ride comes to an end and I go to get my gear. 

After some briefings I found out I was right. I have to make sure the ships can’t spring a leak. I also have to clear debris off the animatronics. I need to make sure they’re not rusting. I need to fix anything mechanical that stops their movements. I will be swimming through the night. 

I get paid even when nothing is broken. If something needs to be pulled out of the water I alert the team and then set up a time to fix that. This job is low-stakes. When I arrive I can jump in from the entrance. I took my first swim under. The Nautilus is low to the ground. The belly is wide and round. The slender above water appearance betrays the rotund ball that is the ship. The windows are out the front and back, but everything in the ship is placed to feel as if the side is the front. I follow the track to the tunnel entrance of the ride. I need to ask if I’m the first person to work this job. My dive light can’t illuminate past the oil in the water. I have to move slower than I anticipated to get through the ride. 

The first sub is past the crabs. The crabs have no visible damage. One of the fish is covered in weeds. I see the sub just before the turtle. I salute my comrades working tirelessly to capture the turtle through the night. I look for leaks. I tighten the windows to set a routine. I swim along. I keep checking for issues. I keep my hand on the right side of the attraction. I feel nothing and a chill runs up my spine as I enter the pirate ship’s berth. I know where I am, but I can’t see it. I stay close to the ground in the attraction until I find the hull. I rise looking for the mast. There was a bar. The shark is on the other side of the attraction. It’s nothing to be afraid of, but I can only see the bar extending into the dark. I wasn’t aware of how many lights are placed around the ride. I tinker with the ship and swim forward. My light is bouncing off something. I swim toward the distortion. There was a glass wall. How could I not see it? The fish react to my light darting around their habitat. I squeeze my body past them. The oil in the attraction would kill them. Where does it go? Can I not see it during the ride because the water is moving?

My body is bigger than the Parthenon. I can stand on the sunken face of the Athenian Man statue. I guess that’s why it’s called forced perspective. Breaking the illusion makes this place scarier. Soulless ceramics and machines looking at you as you attend to them. I run my hand along the scales of the sea dragon. Imagine the force of the arm that carved this body. Powerful and meticulous in each dig. I’m bigger than the mermaids. I cop the feel I won’t get from my coworker. I know the dragon is here. I’ve felt it. It felt me. Looking at the thread through my dive light puts a pit in my stomach. These toys shouldn’t have power? Should doesn’t matter. I know what I know. 

I worked this job for a few years. I changed. Sometimes the ships needed extensive repairs. I was congratulated for having a good eye. I made enough to buy a home. I kept working. When I brought up the standing oil no one was surprised. I was let go. I received a generous severance package for my years of duty and could always count on a referral for repair jobs.  

Time Accumulates

I’ve been fixing things for close to forty years now. I had moved up a bit in the world. Now I also tell people what to fix. That’s not retirement money though. I thought I’d have more saved. I keep earning more and life keeps costing more. I alert people to things they don’t realize needs fixing. It’s not me recognizing and doing it every time. I’ve received some honors for this. The EPA recognized my achievement when I identified several life threatening hazards to workers and guests at Sunshine Amusement Park.

When I was a kid I fixed things because I had to. Now my entire life has flashed before me like each hammer strike at an anvil. Everyone has to do something. I fix. When the ExxonValdez spill happened I started thinking about that job. The oil was everywhere. What happened to the mermaids? Maybe it’s good they didn’t speak to me. Have you seen the birds? Slicked in it. Their eyes are bloodshot. Choking. 

The last of the Disney recommended work ended after the Sunshine Park event. People don’t like rats. I didn’t see myself as that until I realized people’s faces changed in the interview. I’m that guy. The guy who cares too much. 

Universal Studios doesn’t want to compete. They want to be better. Twenty years later and I’m doing the same work. I’ll be working on the new Jaws ride. I saw Jaws in theaters while working at Disney. Scariest movie I’ve ever seen. Not Exorcist. Not Hellraiser. Jaws, dude. The sharks didn’t kill in ‘Nam and just the thought of them being there underwater scared the fuck out of me. I’d handle bombs every day for the rest of my life before I’d interact with a shark, especially after Jaws. Here I am the steward of her scares. Mechanical sharks are different. I grew friendly with the pole shark in the dark. Even had a think sitting on her. No one is there to watch you at night. Jaws is a face. It makes it worse. The fin is just a fin and the right side of the body. The face is just a face. The final jump is almost the whole body, but it has no tail. It shunts out at the boat like a boxing glove. It’s upsetting and inhuman, false skin fits like a condom over wrought metal. 

Work is work. Businesses make a lot more than they used to and I’m still lucky to have any job. I was sought out. Someone knew me from the theme park days. It had been a while and I was living small. I still can fix anything. It will be nice to pad myself a bit. I still have the same house. I’ve made a few updates. A nice woman noticed me from the news story and we started talking. She’s a redhead. Some things just luck out. I want to give her a screen porch. We’ll retire together reading outside without the distraction of mosquitos or a TV. We can listen to frogs in the evening. 

The new rides test the boundary of how close you can get to the vehicle. The spectacle has to be intense. Have you seen the squibs in movies? People want it disgusting. Jaws is a big project. The world is smaller. This can be a global event. 

The shark is on a pad that rocks. Sometimes it jumps too far at the boat. The boat is sturdy underneath, but a taller guest could reasonably touch a tooth and open a wound. We don’t want an eager onlooker to get scared and fall into the shark. That’s my concern. I have to ride at night and see if anything has shifted into a reasonable risk point. I stick a reed that can easily break in the reasonable risk point area. The reed broke last night. We didn’t run the ride today. I’m riding it again to see if it was a one-off mistake. On the second ride a higher up comes to confirm the mistake. There’s too much disconnect between corporate and what happens on the ground. In the modern workplace executives take shifts with their employees to get a holistic understanding of the work they do.

There’s no narration when we ride and we don’t turn on the pyrotechnics. It’s humid and I’m wet. The water isn’t cool. The only thing I hear is the grind of the boat on its track. I’m not much of a talker. The Executive knows what he is looking for. His dad didn’t fight. He’s too pretty. He could’ve been conceived when I was over there. Prim and proper. Degrees run in the family. He’s holding the flashlight to lighten my load. Funny joke. My whole life has been a ride on a boat I can’t steer. I just have to wait for the sharks to jump. Knowing how it works doesn’t make it less scary when it works. Patiently waiting through a trip in the dark with a lamp can leave you a little exposed. It reminds me of the time I saw a band cover “For Whom the Bell Tolls” because the singer got so lost in the groove that he didn’t know when to start singing. Crowd had a big laugh.

We’re in the Boathouse. Normally the pyrotechnics signal danger. At night it’s quiet. The lack of natural light and theme lighting leaves the executive with the sole source. He falls back when the shark brushes the right side. I chuckle. I’ll never understand the customer experience, and now the executive gets to see through maintenance’s eyes. We get outside. He’s moved closer to me. I’m near the reed location. He’s behind me. I don’t think someone at the executive level is brave enough to put the reed out. He asks me to take it. Ha. Can’t soak that fresh suit. The shark lunges over the wire on the final bend around the high voltage platform, just like yesterday. I feel a push on my back. The suits are so loose now. What body is under there? How could that force have come from that man? I’m overboard. I feel a tear in my jumpsuit. Red blooms soak the seafoam fabric. I can’t see anything in front of me. I can’t feel my legs. Time dilates and I feel the crunch higher up my spine. I fumble for something to push against as a buck thrusts me forward. I smash my head on a bar. My arm flails around to find a flat surface. The shark malfunctions crunching my bones. The mouth closes. The machine pulls back and the abyss swallows me. I scream and taste my blood as the water rushes for my lungs.

— Gwen Hilton is a writer, musician, and counselor in training based out of Chicago. Gwen can be reached on Twitter at @gwenergyreigns or email at gwenergymusic@gmail.com.