When I was nine years old, my grandparents took me across the big pond to Orlando, Florida.
I was going to Disney World! I was also going to America, but then I was nine: I wouldn’t have cared if it was in America or down the street in Salford. I was going to Disney World!
More than the rides and everything else, I was fascinated by the characters who were walking around this magical place. I was too young to know that they were just costumes, and that inside were likely disgruntled teenagers trying to force themselves through the day to scrounge enough money together for alcohol at the weekend.
I was convinced that these characters were really there, walking about the streets, just like people!
My grandparents encouraged this behaviour: I was given an autograph book and was determined to get the signatures of every last character I came across.
I got Mickey’s, Donald’s, Goofy’s, but not Pluto’s (because, stupid, he’s a dog: he can’t write!)
While we were here, we also visited MGM studios, which just so happened to be home to The Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles at the time. It’s fair to say I had a mild obsession with the turtles, and in fact they were probably responsible for the odd attraction to anthropomorphic creatures I had as a child and pre-teen. I’ll go into detail about that little nugget another time. For now, let’s focus on the turtles.
So this was the happiest moment in my life up to this point. I was meeting my heroes. It would be the same kind of feeling to nine year old me as meeting Gabriel Byrne or Kevin Spacey would have on me now. Did I question why they were out dancing in the streets instead of fighting crime? Of course I didn’t. I only cared that they were here to see us. To see ME.
So there we were, and there he was, the hero in a half-shell himself: Leonardo. After the song and dance routine was over, the turtles would come down off the stage and mingle with their legions of adoring fans. It’s was like a Twilight première down there.
Being the excitable little scamp I was, I rushed forwards with my autograph book to get to them as they came down the stairs.
The next few seconds went by like this:
I was traumatised.
I’m nine: how am I supposed to know that it’s just a guy in a suit and probably couldn’t even see me fall, let alone have anywhere near the articulation in that rubber suit needed to be able to bend down to help me up?
As far as I was concerned, Leonardo was a ‘hero’ turtle no more. I think my granddad got this autograph on my behalf in the end, or I might have even got it myself, but I didn’t want it by then. Leo was dead to me.