The fearful vacationer

Sunburn, syphilis, wasting disease -- how does anyone enjoy time off when so many things can go wrong?

Published July 25, 2007 9:00AM (EDT)

I was in Norway on vacation and missed all that harrumphing over the commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence and what a travesty of justice it was and proof of the corruption of the Ornamental Plant Administration, etc. etc. etc. Personally, I find it heartwarming and admire the Current Occupant for admitting, in effect, "This was our guy, doing our dirty work, and we're not going to let him rot in an orange jumpsuit for two years just so we can look good. We ain't that kind of gang." The Man just exercised power and canceled his man's ticket to the Big House and nyah-nyah-nyah to the rest of you crumbbums. You don't like it? Go sit on your thumb.

I admire that. I am a worrier myself.

I went to Norway because I don't like beaches and I like overcast skies and you can find that along the Norwegian coast. Pure unfiltered sunshine feels harsh to me. I once vacationed on Barbados and sat slathered with sunscreen on a part of the beach that appeared to be shaded and in 30 minutes got roasted bright red and wound up paying exquisite prices for a week of pain. Rain, dear reader, does not hurt you unless you are made of spun sugar. So I am now permanently off the Caribbean.

Vacationing is hard enough without pouring on additional punishment. I am an Old Testament Christian and so I believe that God smites people when they are feasting and whooping it up -- on vacation, in other words. One more reason not to enjoy yourself if possible, which of course it is.

A vacation trip is a feast of worry. You go in the toilet stall and see those paper toilet seat covers and it gets you thinking about syphilis. Until now it couldn't be caught from toilet seats, but you will be the exception that winds up in the textbook. You will be packed off, raving, slavering, to a Norwegian nursing home and bring shame on your family.

Everyone thinks you got it through illicit sex and you are judged guilty of a sin you didn't even get to enjoy and meanwhile your brain turns to sawdust and you die thinking you are Richard the Third and your wife is the Virgin Mary. Your obituary (LOCAL MAN PERISHES OF CLAP) spooks everybody and at your funeral everybody sits in the back and instead of pallbearers there is a forklift. You're not buried near the others but away down on the other side of the birch trees. And three months later your wife marries a guy she met on the trip, a doctor who laughed when you asked him about toilet seats and syphilis.

And what is waiting for you at home? Perhaps your old mother has fallen and broken a hip and even now is crawling out her front door into the dark, waving a flashlight and crying out in her pitiful voice? You can hear this as you sit eating breakfast in Trondheim.

Maybe a big storm came through and blew a branch onto your porch roof and made it concave and water pours through onto that Chinese day bed you paid $850 for. And the house smells funny moldy when you return. Some of the plants have died because the teenager you paid to water them got engrossed in video games. Meanwhile a rare Chinese form of mildew grows in the daybed cushions and when you come home and open the door and draw a deep breath, you inhale a million spores. The next morning, you wake up with a persistent cough. Because you were brought up by stoics, you wait a month before seeing a doctor. He cocks his hairy eyeball at you and says, "Well, let's just wait and see what develops."

What develops is a rare wasting disease that only three people in the country even know the name of and you get sicker and sicker and people you don't like start being really nice to you and come and give you a hug who never did before, that overly long hug that means you're about to croak, and the minister drops by with that pastoral look on his face and he asks you how you are doing in that tone of voice that says, "Goner." You raise yourself up on one elbow and whisper, "I wish I had not gone on vacation." But you did, and now you must face the consequences.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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