Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Gone Fishin'
My sister-in-law's family has owned a cottage on a small lake in southeastern Michigan for 100 years, and the Mrs. and I spent the Memorial Day weekend there. There's no cable and no computer, so I went on a starvation news diet for a full 72 hours, from 4PM Friday to 4PM yesterday. Oh, I did see one largely useless Today show news insert yesterday morning (with three stories: Bush Promises Greater Resolve in War on Terror, More Shit Blown Up in Baghdad, and Another Photogenic College Coed Missing, Feared Ravaged), but apart from that, the closest I came to current events was noticing the Veterans for Kerry bumper sticker on a truck parked in the neighborhood. So here's my report on what it's like to live outside the bubble for a change.

Lest you think that I was hobnobbing with swells this weekend, the cottage and the lake it's on are distinctly middle-class. I'd wager that a lot of the cottages are their owners' reward for a lifetime of putting wheels on something up the road in Detroit. There are some luxury condo developments going up, and a few of the cottages are ostentatious enough to strain the word "cottage," but most of the cottages are like my sister-in-law's: funky but functional, designed entirely for getting away from it all, including cable and computers. They're places where you can clean the day's catch on the back porch or hang wet towels and swimsuits on the line and nobody thinks it's trashy.

They can be a hell of a lot of work to maintain, though--and if you own a boat, you have even more work to do. Given the list of jobs required to open the cottage every spring and close it every fall, and hearing stories about the difficulties involved in getting the boat and the boat dock into the water and out of it again, I am convinced that knowing somebody who owns a cottage and a boat is better than actually being somebody who owns a cottage and a boat.

And because we know rather than be, the Mrs. and I didn't have to worry about any of the work. The main event of the weekend, apart from sitting in the sun and reading, was hanging out with our three nephews, aged 11, 8, and 4, and our niece, who is almost two. I am quite sure that there's nothing better than making my niece laugh or having her snuggle up on my lap, but the exponentially multiplied chaos that four children can bring to a house makes me equally sure that the Mrs. and I made the right decision to remain childless ourselves. I deeply admire my sister-in-law's strategic and tactical skills in keeping her family organized--had she been in charge of the Iraq war, it really would have been over in May 2003--and my brother-in-law's ongoing equanimity in the face it all is a wonder to behold. But sometimes I wonder how they can stand it. Maybe it's the laughter and snuggling.

Coming later today: Tales from the trip home, in which the outside world intrudes, like it or not.

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