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Interview With P.J. O'Rourke on 'Holidays in Heck'

Former war correspondent's frightening vacation fun

Q. Families can seem so idyllic from a distance — while up close, they aren't always. Why the disconnect?

A. They exist at two fundamentally different levels. And it's easy to confuse those levels. At one level, the higher level, families bring the strongest emotional bonds, the deepest satisfactions, and the most important relationships of the human being's experience. It's incredibly wonderful, to the point where one feels sorry for those without families. But on the day-to-day level, there's an incredible amount of annoyance.

Q. It's the little things, right?

A. You're surrounded by, and have an intimate involvement with, a bunch of people you did not choose. Whew! And your time is not always your own. A psychologist might say it's similar to fame: From a distance, fame looks like a wonderful thing to have. Everybody pays attention to you. You're assured of your importance. You're catered to. But then imagine being unable to go any place without being mobbed. That's why I say one of the best ways to get along with the family is to get away from the family.

Q. You aren't away from yours much these days, though, are you?

A. I do have to travel a lot for speaking engagements. That probably improves my appreciation of them. My wife, as the mom, is in charge of micro-discipline. And Dad is just the big gun who's brought in to holler every now and then. My wife deals with the day-to-day stuff, with things like, "You're not wearing that to school." That's not an argument I've ever had.

Q. What lessons come with growing older, would you say?

A. The body is forever teaching us lessons. There are all sorts of things that we can't do, shouldn't do, had better not do very often or do for too long as we get older. The body makes its presence known. I could live without that aspect of aging. But everyone goes through it, so no sense complaining.

Q. Is it your plan to keep writing — are there lots of other books you want to write?

A. Oh, afraid so. Not only am I going to keep writing, but as the breadwinner for a family of five, I have but little choice. Retirement is just not on the horizon for me.

Next: An ideal retirement. >>

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