Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“Let’s go to Katahdin Woods and Waters for our vacation this summer,” I said. “And let’s not just run in and out, let’s go for a week or two.” I was thinking about the fact that Katahdin, our newest national monument, is on the chopping block due to LePage and Trump having a knee-jerk hatred of anything green.
Meanwhile Adam was thinking about a different chopping block.
“As it comes closer you’re going to want to shorten it,” he said, reaching over from the porch steps to grab another beer from the cooler. “You always do that. You have a lot of trouble going from Point A to Point B.”
“You want to know why?” I said. “Because Point A is so great.”
But it was true I always got nervous taking time off for vacations.
“Why not go all the way up to Caribou?” Tim said. “Then we can avoid any possibility of a heat wave.” He always pushes northern Maine after living there for a year when his first ex-wife was doing a rural medical residency. “If you go late enough in August it might even be freezing at night. Of course, it’s probably gotten warmer since I left in 1998, but I check the temperature there every day and it’s still a lot cooler than here.”
Not that it’s a good sign when you constantly check the temperature in a place you haven’t lived in for twenty years. On the other hand, maybe it’s equally bad if you never check the temperature anywhere but home.
I’ve never known quite why I have trouble taking vacations. Ironically, a lot of it probably has to do with overwork.
Unfortunately, Grace knows me too well. “You can get away from work for a couple of weeks. If you think about it, that should be a lot less scary to you than not getting away from work for a couple of weeks. Picture your tombstone: Just a lawyer. Never anything else.”
That certainly was a sobering thought, although I’m not sure the messaging was the problem. But being just a lawyer, I had to defend myself. “What about you? You told me last week you’re afraid of missing work too.”
“Because I’m literally the only person at the art studio. If I’m not there, the only other person is the owner, who’s old and doesn’t live here. Any time I’m away I have to put her down on the out of office as the emergency contact. Not that I can really picture what would be an art emergency.”
I didn’t see how that was a more legitimate reason than mine for worrying about being away from work. But it turned out Tim was just as worried as we were, without having any reason at all.
He was nervously organizing the beer bottles in the cooler.
“What are you doing?” Ethan asked him.
Tim looked up. “What are you doing?”
When Ethan didn’t answer, he kept talking. “I’m rearranging the bottles so they’re in even rows.”
“By the way, that does not constitute helping with the housework,” Angela said. Apparently Tim was supposed to have done something he didn’t do, other than going on vacation.
At any rate, I did plan to go on vacation, I would just have to relax about it. I planned to do that after I finished frantically getting work done prior to the vacation. In other words, first go in one direction, then seamlessly move perpendicularly in an opposing direction.
Plunging into that first step, I went back to writing my brief, trying to ignore the summer evening – birds chirping, children laughing, sun dappling the leaves, gentle breezes wafting across the porch, not to mention beer chilling in the cooler.
Unfortunately, the summer evening didn’t ignore me.
“Aren’t you done with your paperwork yet?” Ethan asked. That’s how he refers to my brief writing.
I wasn’t particularly interested in his opinion, but I could see Grace agreed with him that I was wrecking the mood. There’s no question it takes something away from the fun when someone is working while others are trying to relax. I was like a rain cloud sitting in front of the sun.
“Don’t worry,” I said to her. “If you’re going on vacation, I’m going on vacation. And for as long as you’re willing to go.”
Because how many vacations do I even have left with Grace? This is the kind of thing you think about when you’re relaxing on the porch on a summer evening.
But I wasn’t the only one relaxing.
“Why don’t you say the same thing to me?” Adam asked.
I didn’t answer since I was obviously trying to work.
“Why do you not love me anymore?” he asked, making it a little histrionic to take the edge off.
“Let me count the ways,” I said.
That bugged Grace, who doesn’t like me to get too romantic while she’s around.
“Why don’t we talk about something else?” she said. “Or better yet, how about we read something -- and not the newspaper?”
Angela looked skeptical. “We have to make dinner soon.”
“What are we going to read before dinner?” Ethan asked. “War and Peace?”
“Did you ever even read it?” Grace asked, annoyed.
“No, I couldn’t finish it.”
“How much of it did you read?”
“Maybe two paragraphs.”
So it seemed unlikely we’d have a reading of any kind before dinner. Seeing Grace’s frustration, I put aside my work and suggested we take a walk along the water. Perhaps nature could substitute for art in Grace’s mind. For me, of course, it meant instantly abandoning my plan to get a lot of work done so I could relax about vacation.
But Grace wasn’t any more satisfied with strolling in the park than she was sitting around drinking beer on the porch doing nothing. Unlike some of the rest of us, who weren’t looking for anything better than the time to write a brief or arrange beer bottles in rows in the cooler, at her stage in life she wanted a little more drama.
Fortunately, in the nick of time I remembered my suggestion about Katahdin Woods and Waters. We would go there and not just for a weekend, but for a couple of weeks, hiking and canoeing, and sleeping out under the stars. It was just what Grace was looking for and, like summer vacations with Grace, we might not have much longer to do it, if LePage got his way.
The trick was trying to get this crowd out the door and off the porch. It turned out the reason Tim was reluctant to go was he hated leaving the cats, as I discovered after running in to take a call from a client.
“Were the cats in the bedroom while you were on your call?” he asked when I returned to the porch.
“Sort of,” I said. “They came in and out, that’s why I had to keep opening and closing the door, as you probably heard. When they were in they wanted to go out, when they were out they wanted to come in.
Tim nodded. “It’s the same with me. I’m just like them except I can open my own cans.”
I had to admit I felt the same way. But with Katahdin it was about more than going from Point A to Point B. It was about making a point. The grass was a lot greener at Point B than at Point A.