As I was preparing for a recent trip to the mountains to commune with nature, it occurred to me why people are so terrified to go on vacation these days.
I refer here to the exhaustive checklist most of us consult each time we go away and leave our homes unattended:
1. MAKE SURE STOVE IS OFF. This is very important. Otherwise it will blow up while you're gone and create a raging inferno that will reduce your home to a pathetic pile of charred embers -- at least according to conventional wisdom.
Personally, I have never, ever heard of anyone going away on vacation and leaving the stove on. Nevertheless, I start checking the stove about three days before I leave, just to be on the safe side.
2. MAKE SURE ALL DOORS AND WINDOWS ARE LOCKED. Jiggle each doorknob and check each window. Now do it again. And again and again and again.
Otherwise, a quiet man wearing a stocking mask and carrying a small satchel filled with crowbars, screwdrivers and various dull-edged knives will visit your home later that evening. He will not be there to check the meter, if you catch my drift.
3. INSTRUCT MAILMAN TO HOLD MAIL WHILE YOU'RE AWAY. This gives him the opportunity to return to the post office and bellow: "Hold everything for 10 Sugar Tree Lane! They're out of town!" loud enough to be overheard by every burglar, drifter, vagrant, junkie and state prison escapee anywhere near the building.
4. ASK NEIGHBORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON THE HOUSE. This guarantees that the minute you pull out of the driveway, one neighbor will yell to the other: "The McNamaras are away!" loud enough to be overheard by every young hoodlum, drug dealer and Satan worshiper on the block.
5. GAS UP CAR AND CHECK OIL. Funny thing about oil. With self-serve gas stations the rule almost everywhere now, the only time people check their car's oil anymore is when they go on a long trip. Often you will discover your car to be 16 quarts low.
If this is the case, I would certainly dump a few quarts of 10W40 in that baby -- unless you don't mind one of your car's pistons suddenly crashing up through the hood as you drive along the interstate.
6. CHECK STOVE AGAIN. You never know. That left front burner might be on. A little breeze comes along and blows that curtain near the burner, well . . .
Go ahead, check it. It's better than watching the firemen unravel their hoses in what used to be your living room, is what I'm saying.
7. DON'T FORGET YOUR INDOOR PLANTS. What I do is give my plants a good soaking before I leave. Or I just rush out the door and don't water them at all. Either way, they're dead when I return from my trip -- brown, lifeless husks that you wouldn't go near without a broom and a dustbin. Yeah, you don't want me tending your tulips while you're gone.
8. BE SURE TO PACK SUNSCREEN. From what I understand, the Earth's ozone layer is now about as thick as a Kleenex. Which means that even minimal exposure to the sun can result in facial blisters the size of manhole covers and a whole laundry list of exotic skin cancers, among them one which causes your face to glow in the dark. Makes you want to race right out to the tennis court, doesn't it?
9. MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR PETS TO BE CARED FOR. Here's how I do it: I don't have any pets. That means I can actually leave the house without forking over $200 a day or whatever the kennels charge to watch your pet.
These kennel owners might as well wear ski masks and wave a gun in your face if they're going to charge those prices.
10. CHECK THE STOVE AGAIN. I know, I know . . . sounds like a page from the obsessive-compulsive handbook. But do it anyway. You never know. That front burner didn't seem to be shut off all the way.
11. LOWER HEAT AND AIR-CONDITIONING. Whenever I go away on vacation, I have this vision. In the vision, I see a large stack of dollar bills atop a table near a window. As the vision continues, a stiff breeze comes along and the dollar bills begin floating out the window, hundreds and hundreds of them, never to be seen again.
Me, I see the whole thing as representing the money I waste heating or air-conditioning an empty house on vacation. Do yourself a favor. Turn down the thermostat.
Whew. Well, that's about it for the checklist. Now relax and enjoy your trip.
I just hope you turned off that stove.