Monday, September 20, 2004

Vacation Rules
I recently took a week off work to do nothing. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In order to get in the right frame of mind for a major project coming up at work, I thought some time off would do me good.

Vacation Rule Number One: Don't go on vacation. Going back to work is too hard.

I intentionally didn't plan a trip through America's Homeland Security Wonderland, which nowadays is more stressful than work itself. So the vacation planning was quite possibly the best part of the vacation. There were no popup-plagued visits to Orbitz, Travelocity, Yahoo, Expedia or any other cartoon-motiffed vacation Web portals with nonsensical names. There were no rental-cars, no hotels, and no $12 tuna salad sandwiches served in plastic, triangular coffins. With Ben safely ensconced at U-a-kai, Laura back in school, and Mary working, I was going to have some quality Jim time. The plan: have no plan.

Vacation Rule Number Two: If you take a vacation, have a plan.

Because I had no umbrella drinks, museums, breathtaking natural scenery or long security checkpoints to distract me, I wasted two full days thinking about work. My mind drifted back there, in much the same way that you swallow constantly during a sore throat to test that it's still sore. By day three, I finally got work off my mind enough to come up with this horrible idea: I'd remodel Laura's bathroom.

Ben and Laura have always shared a bathroom. When Ben moved out, Mary and I promised Laura we'd give the room a makeover. We promised to paint it and let her pick out a new shower curtain and new towels and new teenaged-girl bathroom items that are completely incomprehensible to anyone unlucky enough to have been born male. With work-poisoned vacation time on my hands, remodeling her bathroom seemed like a pretty good idea.

Vacation Rule Number Three: Do not remodel a teenager's bathroom.

Stripping the wallpaper off the walls went pretty well. Most of it came down in giant swaths of two-dimensional pea soup, which was clearly a devious conspiracy by the remodeling gods to lull me into believing I had skills. In minutes, the walls were bare, except for the hard to reach places: under the sink, around the fixtures, behind the toilet. These pieces seemed to stick to the walls like sneaky on Dick Cheney. I picked at them like scabs. I pleaded with them as if they were voters from Ohio. I finally gave up on one recalcitrant section behind the toilet and painted over it. (A favor, please? If you are ever in Laura's bathroom and you notice the painted-over wallpaper behind the toilet, I do NOT want to hear about it. Thank you.)

With the wallpaper finally gone (or cleverly disguised with paint), the rest of the wall work went pretty quickly. I brushed and Mary rolled. In no time, the room began to look new. The universe seemed to be on our side again. It was almost like a vacation.

Because it was all going far too smoothly, we decided to install some new fixtures. Mary and Laura went to Bed, Bath & Superfluous and bought a new towel rack and a shelf that were both in the category of home furnishings best described as "darling." The shelf, despite being tiny, turned out to need space-shuttle-level assembly and ended up weighing approximately five hundred pounds, which, when bolted into the wall, proved to be more than ample for supporting Laura's loofah collection. The wall-bolting required successive trips to the hardware store for ever-larger bolts. On the last trip, I lied to the guy and said I was building a gymnasium. I will not tolerate being laughed at by hardware salesmen. With the shelf and towel rack successfully installed, I was ready for the project's biggest challenge: installing a new vanity light fixture above the sink.

Vacation Rule Number Four: No electrical work.

The comical thing about installing lights is that you have to do it in the dark. It's a wonder there aren't more blind electricians. The old light fixture came off pretty easily. I killed the power and disassembled it in no time. The new vanity light was a different story. It has four bulbs attached to a long, rectangular bar that has edges sharp enough to slice cheese or hijack an airliner. Just the kind of thing you want to hold near your neck while you're standing awkwardly atop a sink in the dark, dropping screws and wires into the sink and cursing like one of those delightful children on South Park.

(Curiously, it was at this moment that I got my best vacation idea about work: to legally change my name to Piss Off. I entertained myself with notions of signing each e-mail that way. I relished the idea of greeting callers on the phone by cheerfully calling out my new name, perhaps with one of those fake British accents like Madonna uses. I imagined my new name on org charts and meeting requests and the lips of my co-workers: "Oh, that new data report? Why don't you check with Piss Off?" I resolved to start the name-change paperwork first thing in the morning and turned back to the vanity light.)

Naturally, there were more wires coming out of the fixture than there were coming out of the wall, so guesswork came into play. Thankfully, I've assembled enough pre-fabricated toys, furniture, tools, and fixtures in my life that I have the courage to scoff at extra parts. I took my best guess at which wires went where and when Mary flipped the power back on, the lights worked! And they still do. So far, at least.

Of course, Laura was ecstatic with her new bathroom. She spent hours accessorizing, rearranging, and sprucing. Her enjoyment was so complete it made up for the fact that I'd lost valuable vacation time to toggle bolts, wallpaper, mirrors, vanity lights and skeptical, condescending hardware salesmen. Still, with valuable time lost, I knew I'd better double up on my vacationing, so I decided to take a powernap.

Vacation Rule Number Five: No naps

I've never been much of a nap taker. The last nap I'd had occurred approximately back when there were multiple Vietnams, Germanys and Kennedys. But I decided to give it a try. The nap went really well until I dozed off and woke up in the throes of existential terror. Remember when you were a kid and you had that first moment of frightening self-awareness? One minute you were a sheep following the rest of the herd and suddenly you realized you were YOU and you could make decisions and it scared the living shit out of you? It was like, "Whoa! I'm ... ME!" Well, I found out on vacation that you can recapture that white-knuckle thrill by simply waking up wrong from a nap. Coming out of my sleep, I experienced a few seconds of complete terror that under different circumstances might well have been an exquisite, extended moment of pure consciousness but instead taunted me with such marquee thoughts as, "You might just be a fuckup" and "You're going to die one of these days" and "Not feeling very vacation-y now, are ya, ya fuckin' hippie?" To get past that terror I finally came up with the one sensible vacation decision of my vacation: go camping.

Vacation Rule Number Six: Go camping earlier.

Within no time, I found myself in the company of 150 or so completely snorkled friends, some of whom were dancing around a pagan guitar circle with a blow-up alien doll that wore a wig, a bra, and high-heels, while a team of blitzed balladeers sang and crickets kept time and I thought, "Man, it's going to suck waking up from this dream," but I pinched myself and I wasn't dreaming after all and then I thought, "Now we're talking vacation!" So I kept that up for a couple of days and basked in the love and trust and respect and camaraderie and hilarity and calories and music and hops and bacteria and interesting theories about Jesus Christ's level of interest in Purdue's football program and by then it was time to go back to work.

Work, in a word, blew. It took a day and a half to read and delete the 250 e-mails that had piled up, including invitations to meetings, notices of meeting venue changes, updates about meetings, meeting minutes, meeting action items, and invitations to follow-up meetings. Before I knew it I was back in a meeting, where I silently resolved to follow Vacation Rule Number Seven from now on: If you take a vacation, don't go back to work.

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