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Little rat holding vacation hostage

Usually it's a whiff of diesel fumes that inspires my wanderlust.

I guess that's because vacation is the only time I ever find myself exposed to cities big enough to have real mass transit systems that use a lot of buses _ and because diesel and jet fuel smell enough alike that the eau de Greyhound brings to mind images of faraway places.

But sniffing bus tailpipes is about as close to real travel as I'm going to get this year.

For the first time since 1986, Wife and I are forgoing vacation in favor of staying home. Okay, she always insists that I exclude 1989 from that list, because that was the year we went to Houston twice so she could have extensive cardiovascular surgery.

Even if the medical center hotel in which I stayed did have a sauna and even if the hospital cafeteria did have a pretty good Cajun chef, Wife insists, she still had a really lousy time, and, therefore, it doesn't count as a vacation.

And, before anyone asks, we aren't staying in the good old U.S. of A. this year for any jingoistic economic reasons. We're not boycotting Europe, Mexico or the islands. And we don't, thank you, think you can have just as much fun in Nebraska as you can in Paris.

This is more on the level of personal economics.

Our grandchildren live in the Netherlands, where, it turns out, Walt Disney World is the destination of choice.

Every time we visit there, we are invariably among a tiny handful of Americans on a jumbo jet full of Dutch folks, most of whom, if their T-shirts and headgear are any hint, are either on their way to or from visiting the dirty little rat that ate Orlando.

Two years ago, their next-door neighbors, including three children, were on the same flight we returned to the States on.

Why, the grandkids wanted to know, were the neighbors the ones who were going to Disney World when they were the ones who had the grandparents who lived in Florida?

(Translation: What sense is it in having funny-looking relatives who don't even speak Dutch if you can't at least score a ride on Space Mountain out of the deal?)

"Hey," I said brightly. "We're coming back next year, and we can take you all to Euro Disney."

Even kids who don't speak English recognize "Euro Disney," and the resultant facial expressions were very similar to me having suggested asparagus-flavored ice cream cones followed by unanesthetized ingrown-toenail surgery.

"Okay," I said in an expansive moment that was probably aggravated by my efforts to reaffirm diplomatic ties with the Dutch by drinking the entire city of Amsterdam's supply of Heineken beer in a single week (something you can do safely in a city with mass transit), "we'll skip vacation next year and bring everybody over the year after that so we can go to Disney World."

I could have saved a few bucks, it turns out, by simply promising everybody a ride on the space shuttle.

So Wife and I, who count a taste for travel among our very few vices, will be staying home this year while we try to save enough for a down payment on five T-shirts and a hot dog each for next year's jaunt.

I'll still take the time off, mostly so I can lie around and watch non-Olympic daytime television for a couple of weeks. (My vacation starts the day after the Olympics end.) Watching daytime television is good if you are one of those people who worries about a meteor striking the Earth and obliterating all life. The loss of us, as a species, doesn't seem like such a bad idea after three talk shows in a row.

And we will be taking two days off to journey all the way to St. Petersburg to observe our 20th wedding anniversary.

And for once I won't have to worry about the security problems that arise when the newspaper publishes that note that I am on vacation. Somebody once warned me that running that note was an open invitation to burglars, and they were right.

We got really tired of them looking at our furniture and leaving behind cash donations.

It played hell with our tax situation.

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