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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 14, 2010

Real men just whimper on vacation

By Garrison Keillor

The snow is melting in the woods of North Carolina and the kudzu is greening up. This ravenous pea-like vine was introduced to prevent soil erosion and now is devouring the South, which goes to show you that some solutions are worse than the problem. Likewise the judge in Yolo County, Calif., near Sacramento, who sentenced a man to seven years in prison for stealing a $3.99 bag of shredded cheese. Under California's three-strikes sentencing scheme, additional crimes become felonies even if they are minor misdemeanors. It costs more than $50,000 a year to imprison a man, so this would appear to be no bargain for taxpayers. Cheaper to ship the crook to Alaska, give him pocket money and not let him come back. That's how Australia was settled.

In my youth, I knew young men who could doctor a glass of lemonade with clear, tasteless, Everclear grain alcohol so as to render a woman more receptive to their advances, and they whipped up some hefty beverages. But they overshot the mark: The woman was a slender thing, not a Percheron, and she passed out, and her judgment was reduced to where her affection for them didn't mean much.

And marriages that began with a dose of Everclear almost always ran into serious problems. Another quick fix gone awry.

The prime example of Solutions Worse Than Problems is the summer vacation trip, and now is the time to seriously reconsider your plans.

Most vacation trips are promoted by women as a way of tightening the family bond, and this is a beautiful idea indeed. It was the motive for the three-week Death March To The Pacific, as I think of the vacation I took in 1986 with my then-wife and our four teenage children. (Note the term "then-wife.")

No expense was spared: We went first-class on the train to Seattle, drove a commodious van down the coast, stayed in picturesque hotels where your every need was met, your every craving satisfied. The teenagers were wired into their Walkmans and unresponsive for hours at a time as we drove slowly past the Oregon sand dunes and the giant sequoias and magnificent coastline and the Grand Tetons and the Great Salt Lake, all of which they glanced at, expressionless as slugs, the music like tiny drills in their ears. A vast fortune was spent on that trip, which they endured, day by day, much too cool to say "Wow" or even "Cool." Ninety days in jail would have tightened our bonds much better, or a bout of whooping cough, or a work project, pulling up kudzu vines in the Georgia pines on a series of 100-degree days, driven by profane taskmasters. But you learn these things too late.

My now-wife and I went to Barbados once to tighten our bond and I lay on the beach in what appeared to be shade and awoke in a world of pain and had to sleep naked for the next week, unable to bear even the pressure of a cotton sheet, and discovered that, when in pain, I am not a better person, as one would wish, but a silent, resentful person filled with self-pity. And I whimper.

A few years later, we rented a house on the Florida panhandle and sat in it for two weeks, listening to rain on the roof. We had brought books, the kind one is ashamed of never having read, Proust and Melville and Virginia Woolf, and we looked at the books and at each other and never mentioned whose idea this was (hers), just sucked it up and tried to sleep more.

Men are not good at vacationing, any more than beavers like to play board games or whippets are good at caring for small children. We are not programmed for it. We are hunters, not birdwatchers. A man on a chaise longue is a man plotting his next book, planning the hostile takeover, imagining how he will move swiftly through the booji grass and bring down the wily wildebeest.

So think twice about that vacation. It can backfire on you. A couple who set out on an ocean voyage may sit on adjoining steamer chairs and launch into a discussion of their marriage, and this, as you ought to know by now, is never a good idea. Find some work projects. Pull kudzu. Dig ditches. Write a novel. You'll all be much happier.