This week, my wife and three kids made the six-hour trek to her parents’ house in Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a glorious annual event for them, having fun, eating ice cream, and riding the island’s famous carousel — a vacation offer too good to refuse.
But this story is not about them; it’s about me, Mr. Vacation Day Miser, staying home all alone in our now enormous-seeming house. It’s about what happens to mankind when he’s left too long without woman-kind and family-kind.
My dutiful wife left me a very manageable to-do list, which includes things like lawn-mowing, plant-watering, and picking up toys and clothes around the house.
Bonus points for doing at least two loads of laundry. Not that much for half of Saturday, a whole Sunday, and a week’s worth of free evenings, right?
It started poorly. Overcome with sudden and shocking liberty, I bought myself a chocolate-with-sprinkles ice-cream cone no less than half an hour after waving them goodbye.
I walked down the street slowly, licking it down with great care as I thought about the thirsty plants on my back deck. Plenty of time for that, I thought. I made a plan to order my favorite pizza that night.
Next stop: my local video store, where the heavily-tattoed clerk helped me collect roughly six year’s worth of unseen horror DVDs. I’m the only horror fan in the family, unless you count Barney the Dinosaur as truly frightening, which I do.
Two steps into my house, I quickly noticed the piled-up cereal dishes in the sink, their soggy flakes and O’s now hardening against the ceramic bottom. I’ll brillo that later, I thought.
I went to the computer, checked my email, looked for jobs for my friends, played a few of my son’s games, re-checked my email, and scoured the iTunes store.
When I found myself sampling American Idol singers, I knew it was time to log off. I opened my own music folder and cranked it louder than my computer’s speakers were comfortable playing.
It was getting dark now, so, stepping over some toys littering the dining room floor, I reached for the pizza place menu. But the stack of DVDs was right next to it, and the top film -– one of those sadistic, crazy, hacking body parts movies that everyone seems to enjoy nowadays –- seemed to be calling out to me.
What the heck, I thought, I’ll watch that one, then do dinner.
About four hours later, I was lounging on the couch watching a different movie’s special bonus features when I realized the pizza place had closed. I trudged into the kitchen, ate some of my kids’ cereal and one of their cookies, then threw a frozen pizza into the oven.
Hunger is a motivator. I ate it while watching the last of the movies, then crawled up to bed. My last thought before succumbing to sleep: Where did my other sock go?
When I woke up around 10:30 am on Sunday morning, I felt different, motivated. I knew what I HAD to do: Check my email again.
I then searched the weather forecast online. Maybe rain would save me a watering job? YESSSSSS! Now filled with an undeserved sense of vicarious accomplishment, I rewarded myself with the longest, hottest, most indulgent shower in years.
As I was Q-tipping my ears, the phone rang. I froze. After finding the receiver underneath an open bag of cashews, I told my wife all was right with the world and I was making good progress. And it’s true. I did see all of those DVDs after all, though I fast-forwarded through the Paris Hilton one.
At 2:00 Sunday afternoon, still in my pajamas, I contemplated the stack of unopened mail sitting on the dining room table between a dirty Q-tip and that missing sock. Maybe I won something. Maybe there’s a check in there. Maybe one of the Valu-Pak coupons will enlighten me as to what I’m eating tonight. When I found myself reading a town council campaign flyer intensely, I knew I’d hit rock bottom.
What I really need is a 12-step program and an emergency-call buddy, someone to ring up and say, “”I’m home alone and losing control! Help me, please!”” But there’s no buddy out there. Just me, a big mess, and the dwindling remains of the day. Which reminds me, did I have lunch yet?
I realize that sooner or later, I’m going to have to get something done around here. It’ll be a challenge, but now I’m up for it. Barely. And if responsibility fails as a motivator, I’ll just refer to the to-do list my wife spent more time creating than I’ve even begun to spend fulfilling. When responsibility fails as a self-motivator, there’s always guilt.
Families take note when leaving a man home alone: We probably need to be eased into such things.