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08.20.06 6:52 p.m.

One of the oldest human needs is having someone wonder where you are when you don't come home at night.  

-Margaret Mead


Previously in Xenology: Xen and his family yearly went to Lake George.

Lake George

Vacations, almost by their definitions, never quite feel long enough. This may differ from person to person, but I seem to be packing up the car again just as I have hit my relaxation stride.
"But it's not the same..."

Perhaps Lake George is no longer for us. Years ago, my girlfriend at the time Kate opted to work as a lifeguard for a week instead of going on vacation with my family for the second time. At the time, her decision baffled and upset me. Who would possibly choose seasonal work over most expenses paid leisure? Clearly this meant she was not terribly in love with me according to my addled nineteen-year-old brain. But she was an experimental girl and couldn't cotton to the idea that one repeatedly vacationed in the same area. Vacations should be explorations, trips to the edge of comfort. This is why she camps in the Dust Bowl or frozen tundra.

It took me significantly longer, but I am beginning to see what she meant. I know Lake George intimately. It is a second home, albeit one I occupy one week out of every fifty-two. The rest of the year is otherwise dedicated to thinking about that one week, savoring the anticipation.

I could say that I have changed. The thrills of Great Escape, the resident theme park, are not as they once were. I do not exhaust and nauseate myself on the various rides as I did as a child and adolescent. I muck about in the lake only from a sense of obligation when once I tried to sail for the center on inflatable rafts. Walking into town on my own lost its edge once I could drive there.

I am not the only one to notice these changes, as Emily made clear when she said while strolling down the one street we acknowledge, as it contains the stores.

"I have had an epiphany."

"And just what is the nature of your epiphany, my curliest of consorts?"

"I think that Lake George is for working class people. This is where they vacation. As evidence, note that we keep seeing souvenirs for electricians and firemen. The stores we like, those offering unique bits of culture, are gone. Everything here is the same, homogenous."

Emily's point was well taken. Where even last year one could find a book store or spirituality shop, one now found replicas of already successful stores, the sort of places that sell t-shirts advertising that the wearer is with stupid or belongs to any number of co-ed naked sports, the only distinguishing feature from swag in any other tourist trap a tiny "Lake George" in the bottom corner. There is an attempt to find the market saturation point for crass memorabilia and, to our disappointment, Lake George has yet to reach it. I do not mind that these stores exist; certainly there is a niche to be filled. However, why couldn't it stay a niche? Must every store be identical? Must the clever and unique toy store be razed to the ground to provide more shelter to refugee bikini inspectors?

Incidentally, Emily would later overhear one of the shopkeepers boasting of their racket to a customer. No matter where money is spent in town, it goes into no more than one of three pockets; nearly everything that can be owned is the property of a few. This oligarchy has no interest in folk art or anything unique and edifying. They merely want as much money as the space will yield in the summer tourist season and kitschy gewgaws are most marketable. They cut their own throats in time, driving away tourists who come time and again for the experience Lake George has always afforded them, but the businesses can only see until September. The time will come that tourists will be less interested in the town as it becomes one tourist Wal-Mart. The uniqueness that made Lake George special is not immediately profitable and the behavior of the entrepreneurs in the town brings unbidden to mind the fable of the golden goose and its slaughter.
We make our own fun

Capitalism is not all that slays the distinctness, however. Upon arriving in town the first day, we asked at a kiosk when next the Ethan Allen would be sailing and were informed by the curt middle-aged woman within that the Ethan Allen had sunk last fall. Many elderly people died, if my memory serves me correctly. I knew this, of course, but better meant that I wanted to know of the departure of the next comparable ship. The Ethan Allen, even if it did sink, had so much name value that I imagined the owners would simply purchase a new boat and christen it Ethan Allen Jr. I did not, however, expect to be regarded as thought I had asked this woman the sexual proclivities of a departed aunt.

The boat that eventually gave us the tour was three stories high. The Ethan Allen could have comfortably fit inside sideways without touching either wall. We climbed to the top of the ship, wanting the best possible view, and were thus alone for much of the tour. This suited us fine, as none of the ten of us care to mingle with strangers until we have had a dinner and nap.

My family keeps growing. It was thought that the recent birth of Alyssah would preclude Becky - and thus the girls and Dan - from attending vacation this year, but the whole family came anyway. We manage as best we can, though Emily and I cannot reproduce and Bryan cannot acquire a serious girlfriend without our needing to get another suite at our yearly respite, Scotty's.
Dan and Alyssah  
Fun for the whole family

On the boat, Emily took picture after picture of the sunset and landscape. She inherited - which is to say, "took" - her father's expensive digital camera after his death. It has all of the earmarks of a pricy professional camera, save for the need for film. Almost every picture she takes - even those of the most mundane objects available, benches and bit of grass - turns into art. This is not the boasting of a forgiving boyfriend, this is the jealousy of someone with a far inferior camera and distinctly less talent. She insists that this is the gift her father would have wanted her to have above all others, the ability to show others how she sees the world.

Given our privacy and Emily's eye and lens, it did not much matter that we could not hear a word of the captain's speech. We had been on this lake for more than a decade and well knew the pertinent history. If it wasn't the Ethan Allen, we weren't going to be interested at lame jokes rehashed. The ship was too big for corniness.

I lament the decommissioning of the Ethan Allen. I understand that its name value may have drifted from famous to infamous; people are loath to release their stigmas, which it why you will never sail across the ocean on the Titanic II. But the Ethan Allen was a tradition in my family, the setting of yearly photos and squabbles. It is something to which Emily looks eagerly forward and it will never again be. It will be a long time before there are small ships on the lake again, before they cease to be seen as insurance liabilities. It is yet another part of Lake George that simply is no longer there for me.

While relaxation is an important part of any vacation, I go to Lake George to reminisce. Technically, I go to Lake George because that is where my parents take their vacation, but I reminisce while I am there. I peruse the avenues of memory, so often populated with past incarnation of myself. I go to Lake George to see where I have been, to laugh over war stories of scungelli dinners and shoes lost to the sediment of the lake. I have been so many different people on my weeks here, all sharing similar bodies. How many more iterations will appear here?

Hoping against hope that some things could survive the onslaught of commerce, I insisted to Emily that we go to the end of the rows of generic gift shops to an antique store. Last year, Emily purchased a curious pendant for me, driven by a force we do not name. In the sunlight, I felt it was supposed to be mine and decided that it was representative of Odin's ravens, Hugin and Munin, thought and memory, who nightly fly the earth. Granted, it is hardly indicative Norse art or jewelry making, but it was sensible enough to me. I entered the store and the man behind the counter paused in a sales pitch he was giving an older woman to note that he knew my pendant. He had only ever seen one and it was the one he sold. I replied that I was the one who purchased it and, my curiosity piqued and worldview validated, walked out of the store. That he knew it, even after a year, was enough for me. I will return next year and see if the reaction is repeated.
Not nearly enough time for morals

The infrastructure of this place is changing to accommodate the perceived needs of the consumer and my tastes are proportionally but not likewise changing. This does not mean I cannot find my level amongst the occupying forces. I find my Zen in the night sky, watching a storm flare on the other side of the lake. I love seeing those things that others do not, especially things that are plain to see if anyone would bother to look. The lightning flashed from over the mountains, scarlet bolts between the clouds. It looked mythical or apocalyptic, that Emily and I were the two witnesses to the end and were content to enjoy the show. Emily tried to capture the lightning and the waxing moon, but even her camera and talent has its limits.

In the end, the best parts of the vacation were not events. Simply being around my family and spending all day with Emily was enough to make me feel relaxed and it is this that I will miss once I am back in a regular routine. The memories I take home are not of the rides at Great Escape, but of hiding from the torrential rain in a coffee shop with Emily and drinking hot chocolate, smelling the chai tea in her every breath.

Maybe there is a moral in all of this that vacation can exist whenever one is around loved ones and that you don't need to go anywhere to be at home. I wouldn't know, I need at least two more days vacation to process morals.

Soon in Xenology: Chassa. Rescuing. Something Different.

last watched: Children of Paradise
reading: The Last Unicorn
listening: Fashion Nugget

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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