Carolyn Steele Agosta
Other People's Vacations
When my in-laws turned up at the house with the slides from their latest vacation, I took it in stride. True, it meant that my plans for after-dinner card games and conversation were put aside, but after all, they’d been to Hawaii. The color slides might be very impressive.
They were. They were impressive for their complete lack of photographic merit. Most were out of focus, and many slightly askew. Quite a few were badly timed, so that we only got the moment after the native dancer leapt over the fire, or the wave that had just finished crashing on the shore. Over half were of Dorothy, standing in front of some tourist attraction, waving at the camera and blocking our view of the Tiki god, or the colorful surfboards or even an entire waterfall. We did, however, get to enjoy an increasingly colorful selection of mumu dresses and floral leis as she went native.
Two hours went by, as we slid into jaw-aching numbness. Finally, Bruce turned off the projector and said, “We’ve signed up for our next trip, Australia. I bet I get some really great photos there!”
Bruce and Dorothy are otherwise delightful people, and we enjoyed their company all that autumn and into the winter. Then, the day came when they turned up at our door, slide projector and multiple trays in tow. “Our plunder from Down Under!” Bruce announced, with his big toothy grin. “Can’t wait for you to see them!”
Just to be safe, I held back dessert until after the slide show. Bruce loves my pecan pie, so I hoped it would be an incentive to make short work of the travelogue. No dice. He simply stopped the show halfway through and made the bright suggestion of us eating while we watched. At least it gave me and my husband something to do while they continued the parade of photos of all the funny Aussies they’d met. Almost the entire collection of slides were headshots of people they’d seen or talked to on their trip. Every waitress and waiter, the desk clerk at each hotel, all the members of their tour groups. With each slide, we got a lengthy description of the person featured – their name, their outstanding characteristics, and a constant mention of “and oh, he was so funny!”. Each time they said this, Bruce and Dorothy would commence to giggling at each other, but never confide exactly what was so funny. After a while, their giggling became infectious and I began to laugh along.
I hated myself for this.
After they left, I said to my husband, “This is intolerable! I love your brother and Dorothy, but three hours of that is cruel and unusual punishment! You must find a way to head off these horrible photos!” He said he’d try.
So the upshot was, the next time Bruce and Dorothy showed up toting their slide paraphernalia, Bruce said with a grin, “Here we are, with more of our horrible photos!” and he and Dorothy cracked up all over themselves.
In the same cheery tone, I replied, “Oh, Lord help us!” and we all laughed together, and it was two hours, forty-one minutes of blurry shots of Mt Rushmore, Deadwood, and the Blacklands. I lapsed into a semi-coma state about twenty minutes into it, and didn’t come out until I heard Dorothy say to my husband, “Give her a pinch, see if she’ll wake up.” They didn’t seem to mind in the least that I’d been nearly bored to death. It was all a good joke. To them.
The next time they showed up, travel slides in hand, I was prepared. While they were setting up, I took the opportunity of calling my neighbor to give her the go-ahead, and twenty minutes later, in the middle of a series of shots with Dorothy in a dirndl and Bruce in lederhosen, she phoned me with an urgent plea to come help her with a household dilemma. I made my excuses and hurried next door where we regaled each other with stories about Insidious In-laws. When I deemed it safe to go home, I returned, only to find that they’d waited for me and were ready to start the slideshow all over. “Surely you didn’t expect to escape that easily,” Bruce said, and we all laughed pleasantly.
I’m such a coward.
The next time, I decided to deal with the problem right up front. When I phoned Dorothy to invite them over, I said, “But no slides! Got it? You’re killing me here.” She laughed and said okay, no slides.
So they turned up with home movies.
These were even worse. Bruce really didn’t have the knack for filming action shots. Either they were completely static except for Dorothy’s hand waving hello, while she blocked the view of Vancouver’s waterfront or the Eiffel Tower, or they caught the action much too late. We watched a roller coaster slowly inch up to the top of the first plunge, and then the shot cut off as it headed downhill. Or we got the backs of people running in the Boston Marathon, or twelve minutes of an ape in the Detroit Zoo, who decided to take a nap in the sun. I pretended to weep, saying “Bruce and Dorothy, I love you guys, but this has to stop! For all our sakes!” They laughed and when it was over, and we were all eating chocolate-ginger bundt cake, Bruce asked for seconds and then said, “We love you guys, but this (pointing to the cake) has to stop! For all our sakes!” And everyone laughed.
I forced myself to regain my serious face and said, “No, really. The next time you bring home movies or travel slides or even postcards, I’m going to have to shoot you.”
Bruce regained his serious face and said, “And that would be terrible. Blood all over your carpet. That stuff’s hard to get out.” And they all laughed.
So, I just couldn’t win. Over time, when they brought the movies from their trip to Edinburgh or Miami or Cancun, I simply set up a small table and a lamp and played solitaire, or knitted, or polished my toenails. Nothing deterred them from their chosen display. I began to make small bets on what outlandish costume Dorothy would wear next and how early in the film it would appear. An Eskimo hood at seventeen minutes, 6 seconds. Wooden shoes at twenty-two minutes. A sombrero only fifteen seconds in. Made a tidy sum, too, betting against my husband. I began serving location-appropriate foods such as eggrolls or crumpets or gumbo, but that backfired as Bruce began filming their meals or the buffets on their cruises. There was no way I could keep up with that!
Eventually, my husband and I both retired, and we were finally able to travel with Bruce and Dorothy. We went to Naples on our first trip together, and they were lovely traveling companions – funny, relaxed, knowledgeable about trains and tipping. I briefly considered sabotaging Bruce’s camera, but by now that would also have meant destroying his cell phone, so I resisted the temptation. I did warn them, though, that I was not sitting through an evening of their movies, since I’d actually been on the trip with them. “No problem,” Dorothy said.
“Yeah.” Bruce showed me his phone screen. “I downloaded them to Facebook. Be sure to check it out – you’re featured prominently.”
A shudder went down my back. What horrors had he unleashed on the public? I couldn’t get home fast enough to turn on my computer and watch all 174 minutes of the Sicily trip, groaning each time I showed up. There I was, fast asleep on the ferry, my mouth hanging open. Or climbing up on a donkey for the trip to Mt Etna, my backside most definitely featured prominently. Or eating, eating, eating, as if I’d done nothing else the entire trip. All there, with my name tagged, for everyone to see. Bruce’s ultimate revenge.
So I called them up and invited them over and said, "Please, bring your laptop and we can all gather around and watch the videos from Sicily."
And he said, "Sure! Can't wait! Spaghetti for dinner? Cannoli for dessert?" and I said yes, and he took the video off Facebook, and I have been sincerely enjoying his travelogues ever since.