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The Middle Ages by Chris Erskine: After a vacation, it’s good to be home

The family vacation ended well. There was a version of the Stockholm syndrome at the very end, where I’d fallen in love with my captors, which is a romantic entanglement I never would have anticipated. But love is love, and we’re all susceptible to its slings and arrows.

Besides, my captors had treated me pretty swell, snapping at me only when the New York afternoons grew uncomfortably muggy or the car service was late for the airport.

So we’re home, a place you rarely appreciate until you go away a little.

The fridge smells funky, as if gym socks had been murdered there. On the counter, there is a stack of mail that doesn’t matter. Nothing much comes in the mail anymore. Everyone talks about how landline phones are mostly just a nuisance now. Mail is going the same way, though I value the occasional lingerie ad, wedding invite and court summons.

After being away, the house seems bigger, too, in relation to our Manhattan holding cell. My house may be small, but my mind is a Victorian mansion. And I am glad to be – finally – home.

During a long stay on the East Coast, eating out stopped being fun, and I tired of rummaging around a suitcase, not sure which T-shirts were clean. My suitcase seemed to grow in size during our vacation yet contain less. By the end, it was like dragging around my own coffin.

To return home is to be reminded of the tiny pleasures we all take for granted, the sonics of the car keys on the kitchen counter, the thud of hot coffee hitting the bottom of a favorite old mug. I even relished the growl of a lawn mower starting up next door.

Then there’s the family beast.

Now, a few hotels have started providing “comfort dogs” that roam the lobby and hallways to reassure guests and make them feel more at home.

But no hotel pet could ever provide the sense of companionship of a 300-pound beagle, a special breed indeed – built for sleep, not speed.

Our beagle snores like a chain saw and eats in his sleep. Know how some dogs dream of chasing squirrels? The 300-pound beagle dreams of chasing Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas feasts. One day, he will probably host his own cooking show.

Of all the people to share a life with ....

Our dog roams the world like a coyote on a golf course, mildly unaware of his surroundings, laser-focused only on his next stolen meal. He would chew my arm off for half an Oreo cookie or smother me in my sleep to gain the last lick of cherry cough syrup off the bed stand.

Who wouldn’t miss a companion like that?

He cried for 25 minutes when we returned, as if scolding us for abandoning him for so long. Like me, he’s fallen in love with his captors. I only cried for 20, at the thought of having him around once again.

Someone said the other day that what they dread the most in life is sameness – same day, same faces, same old job ... just the numbing routine of doing the same things over and over and over.

That’s a very bohemian view of the workaday world, and I’m not sure what we can do about it, except run off when we can.

Why don’t Americans make more of their vacations? Why do we leave so much time on the table? Europeans, purportedly, not only take all of their vacations, they now take some of ours.

Well, witness the latest stories on the grinding work culture at Amazon. Employers like that have cowed us, played to the smaller parts of our Puritan brains.

It’s a great gift, this American work ethic, perhaps our greatest. But taken to extremes, it can be the curse of all curses, by which we “grunt and sweat under a weary life,” as the writer of all writers once said.

A good vacation can be our finest revenge.

So, welcome home, fellow Pilgrims – to the reassurance of routine, to the comfort of your favorite pillow, where rests the mansion of your mind.

And dreams of future, far-off feasts.

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