"Yeah, or e-mail?" Annie says.
"I had a dream."
"What?" Amy asks. "The one where Orson Welles back sasses your grandmother about the buffet?"
"No. In this dream I was alone, just riding the train around Disneyland all day."
"Dad, that wasn't a dream. That's what you did yesterday."
Did I actually do that? I went to Disneyland with my family and ended up checking my e-mail? I'm pathetic. Well, anyway, that was the "decompressing" executive. Today starts a new me. A vacationing, Bermuda-shorts-wearing Gary Imoki. But first I need to check my voice mail.
"Hmmm, that's odd. No messages."
"Maybe it's a sign," Amy says.
Or an omen.
Day 3: 11:00 a.m.
I am dwelling on the peculiarity of having no waiting messages when Jeremy tries to draw my attention to someone he swears look like a singer. I think he says her name is Britney Spearmint--which strikes me as an odd name until I remember that I was once a big fan of "The 1910 Fruitgum Company." I don't really know where he is pointing, but give him an "uh, that's interesting," anyway.
Day 3: 8:00 p.m.
Amy asks what the best part of the tour was: Jaws? The stunt show? The rusted out car James Garner used to drive in "The Rockford Files?"
For me, it's getting back to the room to see what I missed. I press #2. I'm probably the only La Quinta guest who's bothered programming the phone for speed dial. Only one message.
"Do me a favor, Gary," Amy pleads. "Hang up and act like you're on vacation. The dream, remember?"
I hang up. "You're right. I'm gonna get some ice."
"Leave the cell phone here!"
Day 4: 7:00 a.m.
It's off to Amy's parents in Pasadena, where we drop off Annie and Jeremy for a few days.
I remind Jeremy to take his tape because Grandma might want to watch it with him... five or six times. Amy punches me in the arm.
Day 4: 11:00 a.m.
We take a scenic detour on our way to Las Vegas to visit an "authentic" Amish village. I didn't know there was such a thing in the desert, but for $5 we watch time stand still as they churn butter, weave blankets, and dally with IBM XTs.
Then it is time to move on. A whirlpool and bottle of champagne are awaiting us at the Stratosphere Hotel.
"You missed it," Amy says.
"No, the turn off is still ahead."
"OK, Mr. GPS, you're the driver, but it wouldn't kill you to just stop and ask someone for directions," she snips before going back to Elmore Leonard.
Real men don't ask directions--not when they have wireless Web access to www.mapquest.com. After a few mouse clicks, I'm doubling back 30 miles, and we're on Route 15 to Vegas.
I don't need a computer to answer that, I need body armor: "Great ... is that a new ... uh ..."
Damn, that would have been my guess.
An afternoon at the pool and three frozen mai tais later, I have a revelation while watching the pool girls deliver drinks and the lifeguards apply neon paste to their noses. I'm on vacation. And it only took four days to figure it out.
Another mai tai, please, and to hell with that status meeting I was going to call into.
Day 4: 4:35 p.m.
I'm finally at peace when the bell captain passes by and stops to talk to someone nearby--the shade from his body makes me shift in my chaise recliner. He excuses himself, of course, then steps aside noticing my cell phone, beeper, portable computer, and sun block.
"On vacation, eh?"
"I used to be on the fast track, too."
"Let me guess," I say, "but you hated the rat race so much you just dropped out and now you live in paradise--maybe schlep some rich old woman's cosmetic case up to her room, master the art of the discrete palm presentation and with great dignity pocket the sawbuck?"
"Actually," he begins, gesturing to ask if I mind whether he sits next to me, "I was on vacation, just like you, frequently checking back with the office to stay in the loop. As the messages got fewer and farther between, I let my paranoia get the best of me. I started thinking how maybe they could get by without me. It ate at me for the whole vacation. It was a miserable time for my family as I agonized over the pink slip that I knew would greet me on my return. My wife kept telling me to relax, but I had this feeling... that instinct you develop after you've been in the business for a while. Anyway, to make a long story short, I got back to my office on Monday..."
I know where this is going. "You got back and everything was just the way it was when you left, only the work had piled up!"
"No," he says. "I got laid off. Oh well. Hey, I have to get back to work. Listen, you have a nice vacation here in Las Vegas, and if there's anything you need, dial #40 from your room phone."
That's the trouble with vacations--they're too short. Mine lasted five minutes.
Day 4: 4:35 p.m.
Amy comes back with another couple of drinks and a $1.25 package of Doritos, which we split, three chips each.
"You know, I think losing my Palm Pilot in the Lazy River at the water park was a sign."
"What're you talking about?"
"You know, maybe it's time I considered another job, one with less stress. One where you can actually enjoy your vacation."
"You've worked in IT for 15 years, I go to get a snack for maybe two minutes and you're going to do what?"
"Maybe work at Radio Shack."
"Whoa! Hold on. Do you remember the two diminutive people who live with us? Have you heard of orthodontia? Or college?"
"Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but I think a lot about checking out of the rat race before someone does it to me--I mean for me."
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
"Just that with all the cut backs and reorgs you read about, you always have to be on the offensive--do the meetings, keep up with the minutia. Makes you wonder if people who dig ditches are happier. They leave their job when they go home."
"Maybe you should try that."
"No, leaving your job when you come home."
Day 5: 9:00 p.m.
It's time to pick up the kids and to start thinking about heading back to Tempe and a new job.
We spend the night at a Holiday Inn, where the ice line is much shorter--only two or three travelers with Igloo coolers.
I go to bed that night with renewed appreciation of my family and quality time. Getting terminated is liberating. I try to accept that as fact, not rationalization. So, I let my cell phone battery drain, throw my beeper in the glove box, and give Jeremy my Windows CE machine to surf the Web in the car (anything is better than another iteration of "Spice World").
Day 6: 10:00 a.m.
Yes, we slept in. And we take a dip in the pool, and the only thing I feel about my job is that I hope they at least pack the boxes for me so I can zip in, zip out, and get back to my family.
I even surf past MSNBC this morning and pitch the technology section of the newspaper in favor of the sports page.
Day 6: 2:10 p.m.
We're somewhere in Indio, Calif., and this is not working out quite as well as I had hoped. In a five-minute soliloquy of values and self-examination, I explain to Jeremy and Annie that I would most likely have to be looking for another job when we return to Tempe. Maybe as a cable installer or a prison guard. That we will have to cut back, but the ROI (whoops, old habits die hard) is a more solid nuclear family. I pour my heart out as only a mythical television father could. Then I realize they are both wearing headphones and didn't hear a word I said.
I couldn't bear to repeat it all. Amy says she heard "most" of it, and it was beautiful, but she is approaching the last chapter of Be Cool, and I know she is just humoring me.
Day 6: 6:50 p.m.
We're home. And the big surprise is that Jeremy's hamster is still alive. Of course he's disappointed because he's got his sights set on a ferret as soon as the hamster dies.
I'm going over the financing. Can we make it on a Taco Bell assistant manager's wages? It'll be rough, maybe we have to share a room in the trailer, but there are some things that are more important than creature comforts. These are concepts I would like to share with the kids, but they've already taken off.. Jeremy has run across the street to Tom's house, and I don't know where Annie is and I'm afraid to ask because, as my wife says, "she's at that age."
Day 6: 10:20 p.m.
The vacation is officially coming to a close, but out of habit, just before turning in, I dial in for messages. I barely hear the count. Was it really just one? Or 100, or one moment, please, your extension has been suspended?
Day 6: 7:40 a.m.
I pull into the company parking lot, and it's deja vu all over again. I've been here before. In fact, I've been here 15 years of Mondays before.
But this one is different. This time I'm backing my car in so I can load the trunk easier.
If they did pack my boxes, they better not have broken any of my mugs. Not that I'll need them sorting mail at the post office, but it would be a pretty cavalier way to terminate someone, trashing their personal property along the way. Then again, who cares? Give me my check, and let me get on with my Herbalife business.
Merle calls me into his office, "when I have a moment," which really means when he has a moment. I do as I'm told this one last time! I know what's coming and I'm over the separation anxiety, but I'm still nervous.
Merle picks up on that and makes a light comment about needing a vacation from a vacation. Figuring he's not going to be my boss much longer, I don't bother with the courtesy laugh I would normally extend to a superior.
Let's get this over with. I'm wasting time standing on formalities when I can be making $200 a week stuffing envelopes in my own home.
Two hundred a week. What am I thinking? I like a new car that starts when you turn the key. I want my kids to go to an accredited college, not get an A.A. from Sally Struthers' University. I like my satellite dish.
My heart's racing and my emotions are flying like... well, I'm too distracted to come up with a good analogy.
Merle hands me the envelope. It's not unlike what I expected, except that it's not pink. It is the same manila color as our twice-monthly payroll checks.
For a moment I hesitate, then I open it. It's just last week's payroll check. I think about the liberating life of a bus driver and take another peek at the gross amount on the check. Maybe this job's not so bad after all.
"How was your vacation?" asks Merle.
Too short. //
Chris Miksanek can be reached at ChrisMik@aol.com.