Every fall, when wife Brenda and I find ourselves making small talk with friends and neighbors, somebody will start talking about summer vacations. Brenda and I sit and listen while people tell us about getting eyeball to eyeball with a wild giraffe, or the Mona Lisa, or a machine-gun-toting European airport guard. Eventually, somebody will ask what we did. “Oh, we went to daughter Jess’ softball tournaments,” I tell ’em, “in exotic places such as Murfreesboro, College Grove, and Bluff City. It was great fun.”
I am a stick in the mud, but I’ve got my reasons. First of all, I figure a decent vacation costs about as much as a bathroom remodel. We could fly to Europe and look at old buildings and paintings for two weeks, or we could have a big-ass multi-nozzle turbo shower. The shower wins that contest. And holding onto the dough beats getting the shower.
I know, I know. There are cheaper vacations. A family can drive somewhere and stay in a nice campground. But I have a rule: As long as there is a MasterCard, I will be sleeping inside.
My real problem with vacations is that I have no luck with planned fun. If I plan fun, there will be troubleguaranteed. If I just go through my day normally, fun happens all by itself.
A few years back, we Jowerses spent a week in Wisconsin, in a cabin on a lake. That part was fine. On the way back, we stopped in Chicago to catch a Cubs game. We got a hotel room a few blocks from Wrigley Field, changed clothes, strapped then-baby Jess into a backpack, and set out walking to the ballyard. On the way, we went into a store, bought Jess a souvenir Cubs cap, put it on her bald baby head, and resumed walking toward Wrigley Field.
We weren’t five steps out of the store when a man came charging out the door, yelling, “Hey! Mr. Blue Man! Mr. Blue Man!” I figured he was talking to me, because I was wearing blue jeans, a blue sweatshirt, and a blue backpack with a baby sporting a blue cap. So I turned around.
“You hissed at me,” he screamed. “Don’t nobody hiss at me! I’m from Chicago.”
Believe me when I tell you, I’ve never hissed in my life. I don’t know how to hiss. I’d feel silly if I did hiss. I promise you, I didn’t hiss at the crazy man in the Chicago Cub-cap store. Still, he was convinced that I had, and he was coming my way in a hurry.
I thought to myself: Swell. I’m going to have to fight with a psychotic man on the streets of Chicago with a baby on my back.
But when he got within about 10 feet of me, he turned around and walked away, still mumbling about hissing. Lucky for him. I think Brenda was about to charge him, on account of him threatening her young. If she’d gotten to him, she would’ve had his eyeballs and testicles rolling free on the sidewalk in less than five seconds.
We enjoyed the ball game, but the planned fun was marred. I don’t remember the day fondly.
A couple of weeks ago, in the course of a normal day, I went to the Mall at Green Hills to get a new pair of glasses. While the folks at Lenscrafters were grinding out my new lenses, I walked a few laps around the mall, bought a giant sissy coffee with whipped cream on top, then parked myself on one of those nice wooden benches under the mall palm trees. This being the time of year when I traditionally have a little life-threatening surgery, I was feeling a little contemplative.
I looked to my right, at the stage where they put on performances for little kids. On the far end of the stage, there sat a giant plastic rabbit wearing a necktie. The rabbit was waving, but his palm was half-open, and he had a half-smile. He looked a little grouchy, like he was tired of the job and ready for his shift to end.
On my side of the stage, though, there was a big plastic turtle looking right at me. His eyes were bright and shiny, and he was sporting a big, broad smile. I could tell from the way his left foot was planted that he was making a special effort to sit up big and tall so I could see him. His right hand was wide open, fingers all stretched out, and he was waving just as hard as he could.
I know it sounds a little bit crazy and a whole lot sappy, but that little sumbitch was proud to see me. Prouder than any marble statue in any museum, prouder than any face in any painting, and way prouder than any ticket agent, flight attendant, cabbie, or concierge.
OK, OK, I know it was just a plastic turtle. But he was delivering a little epiphany, which was this: There are just a few faces that brighten up on my account, and they’re all right here, in easy reach. We Jowerses have got what we need. If we get to enjoy each other in a different light, with a different breeze, fine. If not, the joy’s the same on the front porch.
Visit Walter’s Web site at http://www.housesenseinc.com, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org