Some guys manage, of course, but for many of us the essence of a vacation -- endless summer days with no particular obligations -- ended with school.
What we should do, those of us with misspent lives, is not expect a great deal from a week's absence from the office. We should not feel cheated in any way when our week off has snags and tatters.
The past few days I have had the joy of getting my driver's license renewed, my car through the inspection station, a new identification card so I can get in my building to work. I have got money out of the bank for forthcoming city taxes, I have taken the terrier to the vet's (he goes twice a week).
I got a haircut, shaved, took baths, trimmed nails, attended lectures two nights downtown, answered the phone (now there's your problem). These were minimal maintenance operations, of course, but they eat into a vacation if the idea of a vacation is to luxuriate without anxiety.
I now know I need not have bothered with the taxes. It takes the city seven years or so to figure out somebody's not paying, and even then they don't do anything to collect unless you suddenly decide to pay up. The most valuable thing about Eleanor Holmes Norton, who didn't pay for years, is to show those of us who hire tax accountants of impeccable reputation that we're wasting our money.
Even so, the other things had to be done. I guess you could grow a beard, kill the dog, grow some claws (as I have read that Howard Hughes did, having lost his scissors), junk the car and just tell people, "Sorry, no way I can get there."
But that kind of simple life might produce more anxiety than any other, unless you start it early. I knew a man, Willingham, who lived rent-free in a couple of dilapidated rooms attached to the garage, who didn't work at all in the years I knew him, and as far as I could tell, never worked in his life except periodically to answer the emergency summons of Mrs. Boyce to come water her elephant ears. She must have paid him a lot, as he only went there about five afternoons a year.
On beautiful mornings he lay on his back in the sun and watched the traffic go by. He went once a day to the whiskey store and bought two quarts of wine. He sold it for a quarter a glass to people who stopped by his rooms as they traveled up and down the alley, and this paid for his own personal quart.
He made up his mind, he chose his life with surprising clarity, he accepted the consequences, he lived with both humor and dignity. He got run over by a truck once and was surprised people took him to the hospital and eventually turned him out good as new. He never asked them to.
Few of the routine chores that drive the rest of us nuts were on his agenda. If I hadn't observed him closely for years, I would have said his was a wasted life, but if you knew him you could not think so. As for his contributions to society, he burned no gas, polluted nothing with aerosol or detergent, pestered nobody 15 times a year for police charities, and jammed no transportation system. He provided wine for two bits a glass to people who could never have afforded to go in a bar, and he let a lot of people use his bathroom. He gave no guff and took none, except from the cops who kept trying to catch him selling eight glasses of wine a day and they never did. About twice a year he was arrested for no good reason and charged with something or other and it cost a little to get him out of jail. But then he did visit with my two black hounds a couple of hours every day, so you could say he was a sitter, or you could say he was a visiting nurse (sometimes he filled their water pan) and the arrangement suited both of us.
He didn't yammer at people, as some of us are often accused of doing.
The thing is, returning to this maintenance business, we get accustomed early on to clean shirts and socks, to cars and furnaces and fans (some even go so far as air conditioning) and ginger to go with the chicken, and a circle of friends -- and that means little chores throughout the year, just to keep even or just to fall no more than a mile behind.
There was joy in the holiday too; don't weep for me, O Columbia. Many dragonesque weeds fell before my trusty sword. I got a third of the way through construction of a copper-roofed shelter (three of the four posts were installed before I gave out) to save the garden's bronze dog from the weather.
I dipped again with my usual delight in Roger G. Kennedy's glorious book "Greek Revival America," with an unparalleled collection of superb photos by John M. Hall, Jack Kotz, Robert Lautman and Mark Zeek. A book 30 years in the making. Dusted off George C. McGhee's account of his critical term as commissioner of West Germany after the war. Both books badly neglected in their own city. Read again about the kinds of mice in Egypt, and again bemoaned the absence of Herodotus today. Read a lot of things.
Did not travel any. Did not get to Great Falls. My dog and I are both too old for three-hour romps on the towpath. Eh, well.
The thing is, a lot of Americans are happy with life. Domestic crises are inevitable wherever you find families, and driver's licenses -- well, I wouldn't like it any better if we abolished them. Shaving is a lot less trouble than it was 50 years ago. I guess my most valid squawk about life is cutting fingernails. I'm almost certain I'm the only guy in America who has to do it twice a week. Rightly is it called a vale of tears.