Sunday, August 16, 2009

"The Consequence of Calm"

It happens in Hawaii, when I’m basking on my lounge chair seven hours a day, with time off for lunch. It happens in the spa I go to in Mexico, where, while others are erobicizing their body fat off, I can be found relaxing indoors or outdoors (weather permitting), when I’m not engaged in my personally tailored spa regimen of bath, hammock, some kind of treatment and nap. And it happens in Indiana. Relaxing in bed, or on our screened-in porch, or at the beach at magnificent Michiana Shores. Stop 39. (I am told we own a part of that beach, though I’m not clear as to which sand is ours.)

What is it that happens when I’m away, basking, lounging and/or relaxing?

I read.

And why is this unusual?

Because I can’t read at home.


Not a thing.

Why not?

I’ll tell you that later. Or at least my seriously considered theory on the subject, which I think is right but, you know, who thinks their theories are wrong?

“I feel passionately about my theory, but I think it’s wrong.”

“I’m not following you there.”

That doesn’t happen.

On this latest vacation, at our little log cabin in Indiana, I read five books, one of them hard. Then, I went to a local book signing and picked up and almost finished a sixth. For a guy with not great eyes, that’s a pretty nifty pace.

The first book I read was a baseball memoir written by a Yale graduate who pitched for that school’s team, got drafted (in the 26th round) by the Angels, was assigned to the lowest level of the minor leagues in Provo, Utah, and was released after one season, after which he went on to Harvard and studied medicine. The reason he was released was because, on one outing, he’d pitch capably, and his next outing, he’d pitch terrible. Hopefully, he’ll find greater consistency as a doctor.

The second book was a memoir by Bob Greene, a veteran columnist, recalling his experiences working at his first newspaper job, in Columbus, Ohio. Gushy but interesting. (I wouldn’t be a very good book reviewer. The people who hire you expect reviews that are longer than three words.)

The third book – the hard one – was called The Morality of Law. I don’t know why I bother with hard books. I guess there’s something I want to know. My hope was that this book would provide a persuasive argument for the adversarial system, which I view as, less moral, than a courtroom shootout. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t about that. It was about the elements necessary to legitimize a system of law, and an argument for the belief that the law is constant evolving, rather than being set in stone. My comprehension level for this book? Maybe twenty per cent. Though I may have the intellectual curiosity to read such a book, I may not smart enough to understand what it’s saying. Inexplicably, I keep trying.

Generally, I read non-fiction. The one exception in my five books was a humorous espionage thriller by House star Hugh Laurie, written in 1996, when he was only famous in England. Something about terrorists, bankrolled by an arms dealer, so that when the terrorists engage in a hostage taking event, the arms dealer’s new helicopter could swoop in blow them to pieces, thus promoting sales for the new helicopter. I know the chronology is off, but if Hugh Laurie had auditioned for Monty Python, they would have rejected him, judging his material, “More cheeky than actually funny.” Which is exactly what he’s like on House. Except he saves people, so you don’t mind that much.

I had brought four books on the trip with me, and now I was done. Fortunately, I ran into a fifth book at the Great Lakes Museum of Military History¸ located at Dunes Plaza, just behind what’s advertised as the “Winner of the Best Chinese restaurant in Michigan City” award, four years running. The book I found was another memoir, called 365 Days, the title referring to the duration of the Americans’ tour of duty during the Viet Nam war. The author, a doctor, focuses primarily on the devastating injuries the soldiers incurred. This book was very disturbing to me. There were times when I questioned my right to be reading it. I felt like a “casualty voyeur.”

It’s Day Eleven of my trip, and I am once again bookless. Then I read in the local paper that there’s a book signing at the Tree Tops restaurant, right next to Ye Olde Benny’s, about two miles from the cabin. That evening, a writer would be signing her latest in an ongoing series of Chicago-based murder mysteries entitled, Red, White and Dead. It’s not often writers trek to the hinterlands to sign their books. We were curious to see what that would be like. Plus, I needed something else to read.

It was kind of an odd experience. The author wasn’t dressed for the country. And she didn’t have any mosquito bites. We bought two of her books, one of which mentioned Michiana locales. Red Blooded Murder would be my sixth book. 458 pages. I read four hundred and thirty of them on the plane ride home. (When I wasn’t being threatened with “breaching the cockpit.”)

Well, having waded through foregoing survey of “Books I Read On My Vacation”, you deserve an answer to the original question.
Why can I read books on vacation, and I can’t read anything at home?

I’m calm on vacation. And I’m not calm at home.

And why am I, a person with comparatively a stress-free existence, not calm at home? It is with enormously mixed feelings that I tell you that I believe the cause of my condition, the eradicator of my calmness and contentment at home is…


The evidence for this claim shortly.


Joe said...

Are you referring to The Gun Seller? (I greatly enjoyed it.)

Julian said...

Earl wrote: 'if Hugh Laurie had auditioned for Monty Python, they would have rejected him, judging his material, “More cheeky than actually funny.”'

Hugh Laurie was famous (in my family at least) for being in a Pythonesque TV show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie with Stephen Fry, in the late '80s, early-90s. It was, IMHO, actually funny. YouTube snippets prove my point.

Grace said...

Do you do anything with your family when on vacation, or do you just read?