Below is a sample chapter from “Put It In Your Act! ” (available on Amazon )
Location, Location, Location
It wasn’t until I was married that I actually enjoyed vacations. You see, growing up, our vacations were not something that would make it on to an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Exotic, hypnotic and lush were not descriptions often given to the hotels that we visited in the Amish country in Pennsylvania, or the Catskills in upstate New York or even the hotels in beautiful Asbury Park, New Jersey. It’s not that the places my parents took us to weren’t fun; it’s just that the idea of a vacation was quite stressful to my father and in turn to the entire family.
My sister and I would usually get into fights in the backseat of the car. These were usually caused when she crossed the imaginary line that separated our personal spaces. My mom would yell and threaten that my dad would pull over. He never did. When we arrived at the hotel, my father would search our room for problems. He would find a stain on the carpet, a fly in the room or the ever-present view of the generator. He’d then focus on this for the entire stay. We once spent spring break in the Catskills, not realizing that the laws of Passover were in effect. The normally great food was lacking something. That something was bread. The kid’s pizza was rather soggy when it was cheese and sauce on matzo. There weren’t any cookies, strudel or brownies to be had. After a few years of unsatisfying family trips, Dad was convinced that we didn’t have to travel far for a vacation, for the best things were just minutes from our house. Unfortunately that’s when the light bulb in his head went on. “Family,” he said, “we will vacation next summer at the Edison Holiday Inn.”
At first we thought he was joking, for this hotel was only about a mile and a half from our house and even shared the same zip code. He said it had a beautiful pool and a game room and there wouldn’t be any fighting on the trip there since it would only take three minutes to drive there (four if the light on Route 1 was red). Since we lived in the area, we knew where all the good restaurants were and he would be able to drive home everyday to get the mail and the newspaper. Who could argue with this logic?
We checked in, went up to the room and unpacked everything into the dresser drawers as if we were going to live there for a month. We were tired and hungry after the long drive (our version of jetlag). We piled back in the car to venture out for dinner. We arrived at Mama Maria’s Italian restaurant. There wasn’t a close parking spot in front, so Dad dropped us off and went to park the car. The hostess seated the three of us, gave us menus, bread and filled our water glasses. A few minutes later, my dad walked in and said to Mom, “What kind of table is this? It has a view of the men’s room.” He summoned for the waitress and we made our way to a more pleasant table, each of us holding our own menu, buttered roll and glass of water. This ritual was repeated at many fine dining establishments throughout the tri-state area. We then decided what to order. Dad proclaimed that he was going to have the veal parmigiana. I said I would also have it. My dad quickly changed his order to the veal marsala. We were never allowed to get more than one of the same item. The logic was, if one dish was a “loser,” we’d all be stuck with it.
We enjoyed our dinner and my folks asked us if we were enjoying our vacation. It was a bit odd being at the same restaurant we’d dined at many times before, only this time, we were on vacation, but I didn’t dwell on that paradox. The check came, and my dad (a Certified Public Accountant) examined it closely. He always had to find the mistake that he claimed was ever present in a check. As soon as he spotted it, he’d give me the check and say, “Can you find the mistake?” I usually couldn’t and he’d exclaim, “They charged us for five sodas but we only had four.” or “That special was supposed to include soup.” This time it was just a simple addition error of 14 cents. It was rectified and he came out victorious. We drove back to the hotel and my parents sat in the lobby and chatted, while my sister and I hung out in the game room. This vacation was actually pretty fun.
The idea of staying local made sense to us, at least until we went out to the pool the next afternoon and my mom was chatting with another lady who was there with her kids. She had just flown in from Ohio as they were looking at houses in the area since her husband was being transferred to New Jersey. She asked Mom where she was from. That’s when the embarrassment kicked in. My mother sheepishly told the woman that she had lived in Edison for the past 15 years. Yes, the same town where the hotel was located. She then confessed that her husband had just driven home to get the mail. She hid the stack of “Edison Holiday Inn” post cards that she was in the midst of writing to friends and relatives. When Dad came back four minutes later (yes, the light on Route 1 was red), we got out of the pool, dried off, packed, checked out and drove home. It was good to be back home.