Jewish World ReviewSept. 2, 2003 / 5 Elul, 5763

David Grimes

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No fun in the summertime | What I Didn't Do On My Summer Vacation:

I regret, dear teacher, that this is not precisely the writing exercise you assigned for the first week of school. But the sad truth of the matter is that with the crummy economy, the tight job market and the rapidly deteriorating condition of my 1999 Ford Taurus, we just never got around to doing anything interesting this summer.

(I could hand in a dispiriting essay about replacing our air conditioner, getting new tires for the truck and renting the DVD of "Legally Blonde," but I think you will agree that that is not a good way for either of us to begin the new term.)

This is not to say that we did not imagine having an interesting, fun-filled summer vacation. Some of the places that we thought about going to, but didn't, include:

  • Christmas, Fla. I know, I know; the whole Christmas in July concept is so trite now that the mere thought of buying Rudolph figurines when it's 90 degrees outside makes me cringe. But the appeal of this place was not its postmark but Swampy, the largest alligator ever built at 200 feet, one inch. We are not sure what Swampy is made of -- unsold plastic reindeer, perhaps -- but he (it) is at Jungle Adventures east of Orlando. I'm not sure why we chose not to go. It probably was raining.

  • Hallandale, Fla. Jolly's Antique Store is the home of a 20-foot-tall figurine that looks like a cross between Xena the Warrior Princess and one of those inflatable dolls you can buy at a dirty book store. For some reason -- I'm guessing sunstroke or excessive lovebug inhalation -- the thing is known as the Santa Giantess.

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    Apparently feeling that the statue was not terrifying enough standing outside the store, the owners cut Santa Giantess' legs off and relocated her inside. If this is what Mrs. Claus looks like, I'm chaining a pit bull next to my fireplace next Christmas.

  • Huntsville, Texas. There are 115 prisons in Texas and six of them are located in Huntsville. If we had visited the place, which we didn't, we would have surely taken the Prison Driving Tour that winds past all the town's jails plus the prison cemetery. If we had had enough energy after that (we'll never know), we would have visited the Texas Prison Museum, home of Old Sparky, the indefatigable electric chair that fried 361 prisoners between 1924 and 1964. I wanted to go simply so I could buy an Old Sparky skullcap in the gift shop, but I think the septic tank went out that week so we stayed home.

  • Beaumont, Texas. This is such a sad story that I'm almost sorry we chose to stay home and deal with our spider infestation. Beaumont was -- emphasis on the was -- the home of the World's Largest Fire Hydrant. At 24 feet in height, it drew visitors from as far away as, well Beaumont. But the town's claim to fame was fleeting. Two years after the Beaumont hydrant was built, an even bigger hydrant was erected in Elm Creek, Manitoba, which, if I remember my geography correctly, is perilously close to Canada. I'll tell you what, teacher: I've got about one nerve left and Canada is getting on it. First it's the pot smoking, then the gay marriage thing and now they're trying to outdo our fire hydrants. What will they try to do next? Have a better national health-care system?

  • Arcola, Ill. You would think that hippies would never be able to get it together enough to erect a memorial to themselves, and for the most part, you would be correct. But the closest thing to one is here, in Arcola, a lovely or possibly hideous town that we meant to visit, but didn't. The Hippie Memorial was created by Bob Moomaw (now deceased) and each foot of its 62-foot height is meant to represent a year of his life. (It's kind of colorful around the Kennedy years, but it's mostly rusted junk during the Reagan years.) Moomaw strikes me as someone I would have liked to hang out with, but not for very long. Still, you've got to respect a man who described his life as "one long dental appointment broken up by episodes of nothing happening."

Which, now that I think of it, pretty much sums up my summer vacation.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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