The Nation's Pulse

Summer Fun

There's nothing for stirring murderous thoughts like a nice, brisk hike.

By 6.25.10

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Ronald Reagan was noted for many things, but one of his greatest contributions to society was to identify the nine most terrifying words in the English language:

"I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Recently, National Review reported that Reagan's quip has been superseded by an even scarier phrase of President Obama's:

"[T]he United States government will stand behind your warranty."

Horrors, to be sure. But to me, the most terrifying words in the English language will always be: "It'll be fun."

This is especially true in summer, when having fun is no longer a choice. Whole communities conspire to force fun upon us, whether it's taking the kids to the county fair, overindulging at the ribfest, or wading through oceans of muck at an outdoor concert, there is literally no rolling back the good times.

It is axiomatic that good times -- like complicated surgery -- cannot be had at home. Fun can only be found in far off places, like certain exotic species of flora and fauna. And it must involve lots of people. It doesn't even matter if we know these people. Most of all, fun must be agonizing and exhausting, and must involve doing things you enjoyed when you were ten, but that, due to some failure in the space-time continuum, you have outgrown and no one else has.

For instance, when my girlfriend and I are sitting around the house not doing much of anything and I ask her what she would like to do, she will sometimes say, "We don't have to do anything. I just like sitting here with you." But more often she will say, "We could go hiking."

You'd think I'd learn not to keep my big yap shut.

For some curious reason, women -- and when I say women, I mean educated, middle-class Caucasian women -- adore hiking. They like to hike up hills, mountains and plateaus. They like to spend whole weekends tramping though forests and glens. If there had been educated, middle-class white women in the Philippines during World War II, they would have paid big bucks for a spot on the Bataan Death March.

I live on the open prairie, so you would think the pleasures of a nice 45-degree sidehill angle would be off limits to me. Think again. There are, within a few minute's drive, stretches of magnificent river bluffs, some with elevations of more than 1,300 feet, which I know doesn't sound like much to hillbillies and mountain goats, but flatlanders like me tend to get nosebleeds if we even look at a stepladder.

I have been on countless hikes, but the worst part is when I am stumbling up some godforsaken roadside trail, trying to avoid getting whacked in the face by birch branches, when all of a sudden zipping along beside me comes this typical lard-butt family in an air-conditioned SUV on its way to the scenic overlook, pulling faces at me and mouthing the word: "Sucker!"

There is nothing for stirring murderous thoughts like a nice, brisk hike.

 I AM TOUGH on the girls, but we guys aren't much better. Our idea of summer fun is "a round of golf." I realize I am in the minority here, but I have never understood the sport's appeal. That's okay. Some of the writers I most admire didn't get golf either. To Mark Twain golf was "a good walk spoiled." Joseph Epstein counted never having golfed his life's chief negative pleasure. ("I consider golf, like the Soviet Union, good only for the few excellent jokes it has produced," he said.) To H.L. Mencken "golf and idiocy were the same word." In his indispensable New Dictionary of Quotations, Mencken lists a single entry under the heading of golf, a quote by Samuel Johnson:

It is unjust to claim the privileges of age, and retain the playthings of childhood.

Which is pretty much how I feel about most forms of summer fun. Chief among the privileges of age is that you are no longer required to spend your weekend bicycling up the Grand Tetons. You've earned the right to relax and take it easy. You can linger in the hot tub in a nearby resort and gaze up in awe at their purple majesty without breaking a sweat, and then casually stroll downtown for some coffee and pie.

In A.P. Herbert's classic story "Is It a Free Country?" a British jurist berates a bloke for jumping off Hammersmith Bridge for fun: "People must not do things for fun," he snaps. "We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any act of Parliament."

 Maybe not in Britain, but this is America, where there is a reference to "the pursuit of happiness."

Happiness is fine, as long as it doesn't involve "having fun."

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.