BY THE TIME you read this, we will be back from Disney World, where Mickey Mouse and his minions will have thoroughly fleeced us.
Sure, the mouse looks harmless, but don't be fooled by the bow tie, the big ears and the weird red shorts. Mickey is a rodent Godfather - the don of the Disney organization.
I know you don't want to believe Mickey is the head of a family more ruthless than the Sopranos. I didn't want to accept it, either. But after falling victim to Mickey's insidious con game, I've come to realize that he is the worst sort of tyrant - the kind you trust.
Maybe it's that goofy smile, or those white gloves that never get dirty, or those orthopedic yellow shoes, but there's something about Mickey that puts you at ease. He makes you relax. And just when he has you singing along to "It's a Small World After All," he swoops in and bites you like the dirty rodent he is.
I didn't always think that way. Like most people, I thought Mickey was a role model. I mean, who wouldn't think so? He's married to Minnie Mouse, the Beyonce of the cartoon world. He's got a castle in the middle of Walt Disney World, and he is the face of an enterprise that owns sports channel ESPN, television network ABC, Radio Disney and several iterations of the Disney Channel.
Mickey, my friends, is a media mogul; one so powerful that he can wear the same outfit all the time and no one ever says, "Change your clothes." To put it bluntly, Mickey is an O.G. - Original Gangster - because he can rob you without ever pulling a gun.
Looking back on it now, we were easy marks for Mickey's tyranny. With two school-age kids and a little extra money, we were just the kind of suckers Mickey targets. And, like any mob don worth his salt, Mickey did to us what he's been doing to families for half a century. He made us an offer we couldn't refuse.
Mickey doesn't do his dirt with threats and violence. He works through kids. He showed Eve images of herself on Disney shows like "A.N.T. Farm," where a smart preteen sings and cracks wise to the delight of everyone around her. In "Shake It Up," the Mouse showed my daughter what she'd like to be - a hip dancer with cool clothes, smart-aleck one-liners, and a BFF who hangs out with her through it all.
Mickey even got to Little Solomon through Phineas and Ferb - two boys who are constantly on summer vacation.
The characters in these shows are Mickey's henchmen (and henchwomen). They do the grunt work, convincing kids that they need the video games, clothes and posters. And all the while, Mickey is there, pulling the strings, influencing the decisions and running the commercials. Before long the kids are begging to go see him. That's when we, as parents, make our first mistake. We ask for information about the trip. And that's when he's got us.
I won't bore you with the details of how we finally decided to take the plunge. I'll just let you know that we did, and Mickey made sure that we paid dearly.
He smiled the whole time. In fact he never stops smiling.
Of course, I'd be smiling, too, if I could get some sucker to come to my place and pay $15 for a hot dog. Fortunately, we didn't fall for that part of the racket. We paid for the meal plan up front, which means that we saved about 50 cents over the course of our stay.
Unfortunately, what we saved on the hot dogs we paid for in souvenirs. There's no remedy for the $75 shirt, no escaping the $20 Mouse ears, and no getting around the top-dollar refrigerator magnets. Mickey gets you coming and going.
That's why, when you see the pictures of a family at the resort, everybody's smiling except the dad. The dad is kind of grimacing, not wanting to spoil his kids' good time while trying to reconcile the fact that he practically had to sell a kidney on the black market in order to afford the trip.
So, as I return from a trip to see Mickey with my kids still aglow and my pockets completely empty, remember not to blame me for my current condition. Blame Mickey. He's a gangster in yellow shoes.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books,including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appearsTuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.