Vacation Homes

Arriving at one’s intended destination always entails a sense of disappointment. The picture window is never quite as large; or the sun, setting now in the west, has more of an orange hue than the imagined red-purple vista in the brochure; the walls: glisteningly, maddeningly white are marked by the previous visitor’s over-rambunctious children, whom, left free to roam within earshot of their doting parents, leave small grey trails, thigh-high, up and down the stair well, or tiny, nearly imperceptible dark brown stains – chocolate, or dirt, or something else altogether less pleasant on the baseboard at the head of your bed; the master bedroom itself is in reality much smaller than advertised by the photo, taken by the house’s owner while perched atop a step ladder, squeezed into the corner to the right of the entrance door, while the bed, promised to be a king, is perhaps a generous-sized queen, but by no stretch of the imagination is a king. Perhaps nothing is more depressing than a vacation to somewhere of beauty. That beautiful view, stretching across the water to the peninsula on the far side, where each and every one of the mountain tops is both snow-capped and lusciously covered in rainforest on its slopes is now silhouetted against the setting sun, now obscured by the low-lying fog when it should be backlit by the rising sun. While your initial glance can confirm that this very same view matches the picture you’ve seen, what about five minutes later? Already, this view has been ruined by your very own memory, which, having locked first impressions for later reprints (and first impressions really are everything), is slowly twisting, distorting what you are looking at in your mind until what your are looking at through your eyes, regardless of whether you enjoy what you see, pales inestimably in comparison to the memory of your first look out that slightly smudged picture window – the afternoon sun glinting in the upper left corner, that shadow of a reflection of yourself and your companions all looking outside, bags left at the open door behind you; that eagle/whale/seal/boat that you just noticed as you turned to look away; the smell of dollar-store air-freshener that permeates all vacation homes wafts into your mind as the sweet smell of freedom and nature; and yet, as you look now, none of that can be seen – all that is left is a pane of glass marking the edge of civilization’s advance, a body of some non-descript water that looks the same be it ocean, lake or sea, perhaps some trees and moss-covered rock, and that glaring sun slowly blinding you, burning your retinas with this image that you were bored of by the third read through the brochure and now cannot wait to remove yourself from the presence of.

Removed from the reason for coming to this particular spot, what is left can be even more disconcerting. Suddenly, you are trapped with a group of people in a situation that comes with a built-in expectation of socialization – socialization that will be fun, will be relaxing, will be bonding. Every arriving unit having placed bags in rooms, perhaps unpacked, cautiously recreating the very same bedroom they were so glad to leave just a few short hours ago, placing small stacks of underwear, socks and undershirts in the top drawer, long sleeves in the middle while pants, neatly folded in three so as to fit in the shorts as well, are caressed flat in the bottom drawer. The just-in-case dress clothes are hung diligently in the closet, alongside a jacket or two, while the spare pair of shoes are carefully laid out just peaking out from under the bed, which is of course too soft. The suitcase/bag itself is most likely tossed with some abandon into one corner or another, verily a symbol that yes, indeed, you have arrived at your vacation destination. Reconvened, the ritual calls for the fixing of food. Should one be travelling with someone who is fore-thoughtful, there may be some bags of groceries already present to be put away into cupboards for use by all. If not, there is some slightly uncomfortable jostling to determine which part(y/ies) will be going to purchase food (don’t forget the beer!) from the local, which most likely means a further drive, back the way you arrived from to a dinky little rural convenience store, wherein the clerk, either an older lady or some young local will look you over with either disdain or longing solely because you are not a known face, and may cluck softly as she rings up the enormous quantity of junk food you will be bringing back to your vacation home on the coast. Whilst gone, the rest of the group has now already started to socialize, by perhaps playing cards, or walking around the property, or simply waiting impatiently for your return in the kitchen, the more outgoing ones leaning back on their elbows up on the counters, some shifting uncomfortably while furtively glancing out onto the empty, expansive couches not quite 10 feet from where they shift, but not ready to take charge of this group, worried that should they make for the couches, they will be left their, alone while nervous laughter and getting-to-know-you talk occurs behind their back. Once food has returned, the nurturers will busy themselves in the kitchen, preparing what meal is appropriate for the occasion. At this point, the first of the alcohol is consumed, loosening tongues, ties and collars while the (re-)acquainting take place in earnest. This ritual occurs whether you work with these fellow vacation home renters every day, or whether you are family, or whether you were selected at random for a sociology experiment. Local weather is likely to be mentioned and you will be allowed to show of your meteorological skills if asked how you think the weather will hold/change for the course of the vacation. The food prepared, the group reforms a whole, and the real interactions of this particular vacation will commence.

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