Vacation days to forget: a burglary, an electric pencil sharpener and 15-year-old love letters

December 27, 2011

Sometimes you use up your remaining vacation days at the end of the year to travel someplace warm and tropical. Other times you use them to shop for shoddy electric pencil sharpeners and fill out police reports.

Both experiences have their pluses and minuses.

Last week, my two vacation days fell, for better or worse, into the latter category. As you sit in your half-empty office this week or view this blog on your new Apple product (Oh, I remember mine!), here’s hoping this account of misery brings you some holiday mirth.

My first vacation day began, as so many do, in the morning. The first night of Hanukah was a mere eight or so hours away, and we were still short of several key presents aimed at convincing our skeptical 6-year-old son that his parents could roll with the likes of S. Claus.

“Remember,” I said before dropping him off at school, “there is no Santa Claus. But also, remember: If you tell any of your Christian friends that, there won’t be any Hanukah, either. Have a great day at school!”

And then I headed off for an exhausting and relentless nonstop day of toy-shopping, guaranteed to win me Parent of the Year awards. But, first, to paraphrase “The Naked Gun,” I had to grab a bite to eat.

I went to meet a friend at Hog Doug’s for lunch. Given the usual length of the line and the time it typically takes to enjoy the encased meats while my friend and I catch up on our various ailments, I'd calculated it would only cut into my day by three or four hours. 

Fortunately, the line was (relatively) short. Even more fortuitous: My friend stood me up. I wolfed down my chicken sausage and fries alone while inventing horrendous ailments for him.

I then headed to the nearest office-supply store in search of a gift guaranteed to send my son into ecstasy: an electric pencil sharpener.

And they say Hanukah can’t compete with Christmas.

Staples sold me that electric pencil sharpener and tried to sell me a warranty plan for it, all the while seeming vaguely embarrassed by the fact that they actually sell “Easy” buttons.

All in all, a successful trip and vacation day so far … or so I thought (note foreshadowing).

I used the bathroom at some technology store next to Staples whose name I can’t recall but which gave you a Comp USA bag if you bought something (which I did). 

Then, I swung by Toys “R” Us to pick up an Elmo for my 16-month-old (note: it wasn’t the $60 one that plays the drums) and headed home.

I love my home. I feel fortunate to have it. And I love being home when my entire family is around. But I won’t lie to you: Those four hours a year I get when I’m the only one there? Those are divine. To just have everything be . . . still. To be able to stare at the ceiling for a while. To then start wandering around the house saying to yourself: “I wish everybody would just get home already.”

I wandered up to our office room. Hmm, I didn’t remember that CD case being on the floor there. Man, I’m getting old. I wandered into my room and went to get something from my closet. Hmm, I don’t remember that shoebox full of 15-year-old love letters my wife and I wrote each other when we were dating long distance being on the floor. I wandered downstairs to the kitchen. Hmm, I don’t remember the window on the door being bashed in and a million pieces of glass all over the floor.

I called my wife, who was at work. “Gina, did you move my CD case, take out our old love letters to read and then bash in the window on our back door? No? OK, I’ll call the police.”

I won’t go into too much detail about the burglary. Stuff was taken. It could have been worse. It could have been better (like if they had only stolen socks). The police came. They were courteous, professional, concerned.

Of course, as the cliché goes, the worst part isn’t the stuff you lose, it’s the way you feel. Somebody you didn’t want in your home was in it. I know that’s a common feeling for many people entertaining family over the holidays. But at least you opened the door for them.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning all the glass (save for the countless tiny pieces I keep finding throughout the house every day since), contemplating enrolling in Krav Maga classes and debating with my wife how best to temporarily fix the door.

That’s when I robbed myself. I called a board-up company. And they charged me, well, a good chunk of money for their professional expertise of affixing a piece of plywood over the empty window space. (I’m too embarrassed to say how much I paid.) It took them all of 10 minutes.

In my defense, I figured there was more to modern-day board-up technology. Turns out, there’s not. And, OK, that’s not a defense. I told you these were lousy vacation days.

With the window boarded up and a lie concocted to explain the missing window to my son so he wouldn't be scared, I went to pick up the kids. Hanukah would go on as planned!

The electric pencil sharpener was a huge hit. I’m not joking. We sharpened and we laughed and we laughed and we sharpened. Even the baby got in on the act. Elmo was fine, but the sharpener left him transfixed—until it broke. Ten sharpened pencils in. Hence the warranty, I guess.

A new one was promised, and we all welcomed going to bed.

The entire next day, my last vacation day, was spent cleaning up the day before.

First, at the police station to amend our report to account for some other items we discovered missing. I requested a copy of the report, and the police officer took my license to make a photocopy. I waited around for 20 minutes for him to return my license … until I looked in my wallet and saw that, well, he had already returned my license. That’s also when I noticed my license had expired.

Then in case the thief had stolen our identities, at the bank to get new accounts, new checks, fake mustaches. 

And to close out the day: one long trip to Office Depot for a new electric pencil sharpener and one to Staples to return the old one. 

Of course, I’d lost the receipt. 

·         Me (disheveled): Hi, I’d like to return this pencil sharpener I bought yesterday. It doesn’t work. But I don’t have the receipt.

·         Staples employee: That’s OK. If you have the credit card you purchased it with, we can look it up.

·         Me: Sure. Oh, wait a minute. I don’t have that card anymore, because, you see, my home got broken into yesterday also, while I was buying the sharpener, actually, and, well, I cancelled the card and …

·         Staples employee (eyeing me suspiciously): Let me get my manager.

·         Staples manager (eyeing me lovingly): OK, you can give him store credit.

·         Me: Thank you.

·         --Five minutes later--

·         Me (hands full): I’ll use my credit for all of this toilet paper. No warranty, please.

My vacation days over, I returned home for a night of wine and latkes with my in-laws and neighbors (the thief didn’t get our well-hidden potatoes). 

The new sharpener worked wonderfully, we haven’t tried out the toilet paper but it looks great, too. And I have to say, I don’t think I could’ve boarded up the window so nicely. Plus, it had been years since I saw those old love letters my wife and I wrote each other.

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Mark Bazer hosts The Interview Show Jan. 6 at The Hideout, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Guests included best-selling author John Green ("The Fault in Our Stars"), actor Marc Grapey (star of "Race" at the Goodman) and Fake Shore Drive editor Andrew Barber. Plus: Music by Seeking Wonderland. For more info, click here.