Sucking Out The Goody

Paracelsus went on vacation last week. Did you? Do you wish you did? Have you ever returned from a vacation that needs another vacation just to recover from the excesses of the first? Like the ad campaign says: “Life is short. Play hard.” Then again, why? Sigh.

Sucking Out The Goody

When my niece Julia was a tiny infant, street-savvy New Yorker that she was, she adopted the habit of licking the stroller wheels after a nice trip around the Lower East Side. As you may guess, her parents tried to discourage this habit, and so did I when I would take the train in for weekend visits. One morning when I moved to stop Julia from crawling toward the stroller, her father said “I wouldn’t worry. She’s already sucked all the goody out.” Children sometimes understand things that they forget as adults. Here is the problem: Life is here, ticking away sixty seconds every minute. How do you suck the goody out?

One possible answer is to take high-quality vacations, but even this only serves to redefine the problem. How do you suck the goody out of a vacation? Is it enough to vegetate in the sun for a solid week, or should you seek out as many energizing adventures as possible? Alternatively, why not just sit and agonize over where you want to be between these maddening extremes?

I just got back from a vacation to the Florida Keys (with Pandora, my traveling companion and sweetest of sweet potatoes). The Keys are a terrific vacation spot, filled with lovely tropical buzzwords: snorkeling, sailing, relaxing in the sun. In fact, my itchy back is only now recovering from a prodigious sun-whipping. On the next-to-last day of the trip we took a side trip to the Dry Tortugas, a picturesque cluster of islands with terrific snorkeling, and in an effort to suck up as much fish and coral goody as possible I overstayed my back’s welcome in the brilliant back-flogging light. That night I slept on my stomach.

Now, as an added part of our vacation relaxation activities, we had scheduled a massage for the last day. This is a good example of the kind of little tradeoff that happens all the time on vacations: should I cancel the massage? My back is pink and raw, but then again I never get massages and it seems like just the thing to do on vacation. Which option brings with it the bounty of maximum goody? Why did I, like an idiot, spend too long in the sun? Why does life have to be so complicated?

It isn’t, of course. There’s plenty of good advice out there for people like me who fret about such things. Baba Ram Dass says “Be here now.” You know, live in the moment and don’t worry about whether you’ve snorkeled too long or not enough. Life is too short to sweat that kind of thing. Here are some more time-tested chestnuts…

  • Sin boldly (Martin Luther)
  • To thine own self be true (Polonius)
  • Life is not a dress rehearsal (my friend MJ)
  • You’re not getting any younger; do something heroic (my brother)
  • Follow your dream (everybody who ever gave an inspirational speech)

    I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of advice spectacularly unhelpful. What I want to know is: should I get the damn back rub or not? Or maybe I want to know, am I crazy to spend time worrying about it? It seems a trivial part of the great edifice of human happiness. This whole discussion can be dismissed as a whiny exercise for people with too much money. But there is something fundamental going on here. Life is one damn decision after another, and it’s hard to find a barometer. Platitudes don’t help much.

    Here’s the hook. If it’s all about being here now, Mr. Smarty-Pants, then you might as well strap yourself to a toilet and eat Pop-Tarts for the rest of your life, because there is beauty and joy to be found everywhere, even in the swirling waters of septic dispatch. But if it is truly a Wise and Wonderful Thing to travel widely and drink life to its dregs, then you’re never doing enough. When do you get to stop? This path leads to checklist goody, also known as drive-by tourism. You know this feeling if you’ve ever paged through a travel guide and ticked off the things you really ought to do before you leave (“Visit the Dry Tortugas. Get a massage.”) You know this feeling if you’ve ever spent the last fifteen minutes at an art museum desperately tagging as many paintings as possible before the lazy waddling security guards shoo you out into the twilight. And once outside, you think to yourself breathlessly, okay what next? This way lies the force that makes a smoker pine for his next cigarette even as this one smolders sadly in his mouth.

    Of course I never have found a complete answer about sucking the goody out of life, or vacations, or Sunday afternoons for that matter. The best I can manage for an internal barometer is to guess whether or not any given experience will make a good story later on. When there is no worry or regret, there is no consternation. Where they exist, they are best rooted out by the telling of it. If you can use your stories to reclaim what you’ve done, you can learn something about thine own self after all. And stories almost always bring you closer to other folks, which is where all the action is.

    In the end, I got the backrub. I didn’t want to hear Pandora going on and on ecstatically about her wonderful massage if I passed mine up. Kathy Keyser of Key West gave me a fine massage, along with a sympathetic aloe vera glossing for my back. As it turned out, it wasn’t the elusive ecstatic experience, but it felt good and didn’t really hurt my sunburn much. And hey, I’m glad I did it. It was always my dream to be massaged while badly sunburned, and as a wise inspirational speaker once told me, “Follow your dream. That’ll be $25 please.”

    And that’s the end of my story, to which I will append, free of charge, my own advice:

    Keep on sucking.

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