It is a tradition in the newspaper business that when a columnist returns from vacation he is entitled to waste at least one column discussing where he went and how he spent his time.
This is not because we necessarily go anywhere or do anything out of the ordinary, but because when one returns from vacation that thin margin of enthusiasm required to write a column in the first place has disappeared.
A columnist must therefore buy time to restore even a shadow of his prior motivation for doing what he does to begin with.
I say that by way of justifying today's cheerful but pathetic effort, because I am going to write about where I went on my vacation and what I did.
Where I went was nowhere and what I did was straighten things around the house.
This probably doesn't seem a terrific undertaking to you and it wasn't to me either until I spent a week at home and realized how many crooked things there were in every room.
To backtrack a little, the reason I stayed home was to do some outside writing, but unless someone is standing next to me with a .38 against my head I am not likely to sit and write simply for the sheer spiritual hell of it.
So I wandered away from my word processor fairly often and watched television.
It has been years since I suffered simplistic game shows, soap operas and reruns of shows like "The Brady Bunch" and "Charlie's Angels," so I didn't linger long in that area of daytime entertainment.
I did, however, stay with America's sweetheart, Phil Donahue, for 30 minutes or so as he challenged womanhood to stand up and discuss the intimacies of their lives for all the world to see.
It was an amazing experience, but there is only so much talk of sexual athletics and lesbian confessionals a man can take, so I abandoned even that adventure into sexual exploitation.
So I began to meander through the house. That's when I realized the couch was crooked.
"Funny," I said to my wife, "but I never noticed that before."
"The crooked couch."
"Leave the couch alone."
"But it's at an angle," I said, kneeling to eye its position. "It should be more lined up with the lamp. Come to think of it, the lamp is crooked. The lamp should be lined up with the rose picture. Ho, ho, what's this? The rose picture . . . "
I had already straightened the couch and was about to move the lamp in preparation for straightening the rose picture when she picked up a vase, which was a little out of line anyhow.
Naturally I froze. My wife is essentially non-violent, but I have never been convinced that one of these days she might not whack me.
"You are not," she said, "going to spend a week wandering through the house straightening things."
"I'm just trying to prevent disaster," I explained. "So much in the house is crooked that the place is in danger of tilting down the hill. We will be asleep some night and the cat will jump toward the north and that will be the infinitesimal shift in balance that will finally tilt our lovely little home over the precipice."
"Honest to God," she said, "you keep this up and no matter how much I love this vase I'm going to brain you."
I was cringing against the fireplace when I suddenly realized it was out of plumb.
"Look," I said, pointing upward, "the damned thing flares outward at the top. No wonder the house fills with smoke. Wait, maybe it isn't the fireplace. The wall! That's it, the wall is crooked!"
She studied me for a moment, then put the vase back on its stand.
"Sit down," she finally said. "Here. On the crooked couch."
She sat next to me. Her voice was unusually calm.
"I love you," she said.
"Well, thank you. I love you too."
"But," she continued, putting a finger to my lips to shush me, "one of these days you are likely to retire. And I want you to know that if you spend your retirement wandering from room too room commenting on what's crooked and what's out of plumb, I'm going to have you killed."
"I'm going to hire an ex-policeman or a Mafia hit man and have you rubbed out. Erased." She smiled very sweetly. "There are just certain things I won't take from you, Elmer. That's one."
"I see," I said, standing and looking around. "Well, I guess I'll get back to the old writing."
"That's a terrific idea. Work hard and I'll fix us a nice romantic dinner with maybe a bottle of your favorite white zinfandel and, after that, who knows?"
I smiled uneasily and went wandering toward my den when I noticed some lint on the rug. I picked it up and began looking around. I suddenly realized there was lint everywhere. In fact, I don't believe I have ever seen so much lint in my life.
But you know what? I didn't say a damned word about it, because there isn't a lint in the land that is worth my life.
I just went in there and began whacking away on the old word processor. The desk was a little crooked, but what the hell.