RECENTLY MY family and I spent a week in the Berkshires in Massachusetts doing what so many families do now on summer vacation: biking, canoeing and fighting off West Nile virus.
Oh, yes, they're pretty freaked out about killer mosquitoes up there.
It seems that a few days before we arrived, a couple of dead crows were scraped off a road and found to be infected with the virus.
From then on, the entire region was one step away from breaking out the bio-hazard suits.
Look, if you woke up one morning and the streets were littered with dead crows, sure, I'd say we had a problem on our hands.
But one or two dead crows - what's the big deal? Still, wherever we went, people were laying in supplies of Off! like they were headed to the Amazon for a month.
Midway through the week, to put a little distance between ourselves and the killer mosquitoes, we drove to a hotel in the Boston suburbs and rode into the city on the "T," or subway.
Unlike the New York subway system, you can actually figure out where you're going on the T without jamming a transit map in the face of a startled passer-by, stabbing a finger at a red dot on the map and screaming: "DOES THE D LINE GET ME HERE?!"
Best of all, your fellow passengers don't seem in the habit of sticking a gun in your side and whispering: "Give up the wallet and no one gets hurt."
In Boston, we visited Faneuil Hall, the hub of the historic waterfront district. Once, this 250-year-old former meeting forum was known as the "Cradle of Liberty." But, apparently, over the years that has evolved into: "World's Largest Food Court - Now Proudly Serving Starbucks Coffee!"
Somewhere, I know, Paul Revere is blinking back tears of pride.
We also took a tour of the city in - here's what makes this such a great country - an authentic World War II amphibious vehicle, operated by an outfit called Boston Duck Tours.
At first, we were a little leery about sightseeing in a military vehicle. What's next, I thought, visiting the Old North Church in an M-1 tank? Taking in the Bunker Hill monument from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle?
But these amphibious vehicles were pretty neat. One minute you were rolling through Beacon Hill, oohing and ahhing at the million-dollar townhouses while trying not to spill your $14 cup of Starbucks coffee; the next minute you were plunging into the Charles River and gazing over at Cambridge, where a cup of Starbucks must go for, oh, $22, easy.
Later in the week, we drove up to Salem, the historic fishing town that was the site of the infamous Witchcraft Trials of 1692.
For a few bucks, you can visit various museums where the trials are re-enacted, with actors leaping to their feet in a mock courtroom and shouting: "She's a witch!" and presenting "spectral evidence" that the shape or specter of the accused was tormenting them.
During the actual trials, young girls accused 150 villagers of being witches, and 19 were put to death, most by hanging.
It didn't make a whole lot of sense to drop a lot of cash on a good lawyer back then, either. Because if you admitted you were a witch, they threw you in prison to rot for years. Whereas if you refused to admit you were a witch, they hung you.
So even if Johnny Cochran had been there, snapping open his attache case on your behalf ("If the spell doesn't fit, you must acquit!"), you weren't going to be doing any celebrating anytime soon.
A few months after the trials , after much of the hysteria had died down, the good people of Salem were forced to admit: OK, fine, we might have overreacted a little.
Soon, one by one, the girls began recanting their stories. Which was of little comfort to the dead people, of course.
If you'd spent 12 hours hanging from the end of a rope with your neck snapped, and were now buried in a frozen New England graveyard, it might not do you a lot of good to hear: "John Proctor , it, um . . . well, sir, this is embarrassing. But it turns out - heh-heh - ye weren't really a witch after all."
Still, all the denouncing at the mock trials was certainly exciting. It reminded me of exactly what's missing from the current presidential campaign.
In fact, instead of yammering on and on about national security and tax cuts or whatever, I'd like to see George W. Bush start off the first presidential debate by pointing a bony finger at Al Gore and barking: "You, sir, are a witch."
Then, after Gore stammered some lame reply ("Why, I am not a witch. Tipper, tell them, am I a witch?") Bush would get to present his evidence ("My God, just look at his eyes! Any fool can see he's a witch!")
At the end of the debate, we could have a national phone-in poll: Press 1 if you think Al Gore is a witch; press 2 if you think he's innocent; press 3 if you're undecided.
Although I don't see how you could be undecided on something like that.