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Jewish World Review August 5, 2004 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5764

Neil Steinberg

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Consumer Reports

Be it ever so humble ... it sure beats a vacation | So you haven't taken a vacation yet this summer? Well boo-hoo. Neither have I, pal, and I'm not complaining. Heck, I'm glad. Frankly, I didn't want to take a vacation. For a variety of reasons.

First, vacations are expensive. You have to get where you're going, you have to pay for a roof over your head while you're there, and you've got to buy stuff to eat three or four times a day, all of which costs money.

Second, while you're doing all this, you inevitably find yourself somewhere even worse than where you normally live. My house isn't much, but it sure isn't a single room off the expressway, as is the inevitable Holiday Inn. What's the point of travel if you end up as if you were living with your entire family in a 12-by-12 jail cell? At least at home there's a place to go to where I don't have to watch the boys gorging on Cheese Nibs while watching "Scooby Doo'' blaring too loudly on a fuzzy TV. I can't tell you how many evenings on the road I've tried to screen that out, twisting on the cigarette-scented, rock-hard double bed, trying to focus on the newspaper, thinking, "I left home for this?''

You will have fun!

Third, there is disappointment. Because of the expenditure and because you are on "vacation,'' you feel obligated to enjoy yourself, though inevitably you don't. Why not just stay put and be unhappy right where you are for a lot less money? (I recognize that, returning from vacations, you're so grateful to be home you feel much better about living the minimal life you do. But I'm older; I don't need to be uncomfortable for days to appreciate being right here.)

Right here is good.

OK, I'm a little burnt out. I admit that. I tend to startle at loud noises, and sometimes when there aren't loud noises.

"You need a vacation,'' my wife says.

But vacations don't help. You come back even more drained and exhausted than when you left, the only difference being now you're even more in the hole. I didn't say that to her. What I did say was:

"You never want to go anywhere I want to go.''

"So where do you want to go?'' she riposted.

"Italy,'' I said. "I want to go to Italy.''

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I want to impress them. Which is hard to do. I still remember, when we went to New York City a couple years back, I deliberately stayed in Times Square, figuring, if anything could catch a child's attention, it was that. My kids strode through it, eyes to the ground.

"Whaddya think?" I said to the older one, spreading my arms, splaying my fingers, rolling my eyes to the carnival of pulsating signs. He looked up, shrugged, and returned to his Gameboy.

"Big deal,'' he said.

No chance of that kind of response to the Eternal City. We'd spool spaghetti in Rome, and lounge in a gondola poled under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

"Fine,'' my wife said, "let's go to Italy.''

Or, maybe, let's not

I actually believed we might go, for a few days — I'm so gullible — until I went online and found that we could jet to Rome for a mere $2,700. Suddenly we weren't going to Italy anymore.

Maybe it's a function of having young kids. I certainly remember fun vacations with my wife from the pre-kid days. Sipping hot chocolate at a little cafe in Paris. Slow dancing under red light bulbs in a dive bar in Port-au-Prince. I never thought I'd become one of those guys who lets years go by without taking a vacation. But apparently I have.

Maybe the problem is that I'm too easily satisfied. We are taking a vacation of sorts in two weeks. We're spending a long weekend visiting friends who own a cabin at Put-in-Bay, an island north of Sandusky. We like them very much; I've known this guy since junior high school and have been visiting his lakeside cottage almost every year since I was 17.

There is an easy chair in the cottage — you wouldn't pay $20 for it at a yard sale, but it's so comfortable. After I make the seven-hour drive to Put-in-Bay, and we park the car, and drag our stuff to the ferry, and go across to the island, and get picked up, and say hello to everyone, and put away the bags, and get the boys settled, there comes a moment when my wife stops telling me to do things and I am alone. I go to the fridge, where there is some kind of low-rent Ohio beer — a Genesee Cream Ale or a Schlitz or a Special Export. I crack the beer and go sit in the battered chair and let my head loll back. I sip the cold beer and focus my eyes on the flat blue line of Lake Erie. That's being on vacation for me. I could do it happily for a month, or a year, but a weekend has to suffice. And it does.

JWR contributor Neil Steinberg is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His latest book is Don't Give Up the Ship: Finding My Father While Lost at Sea . Comment by clicking here.

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