Ty Burr
September 09, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”Millionaire” is passé and so is Britney Spears

When one returns from a long vacation, there’s always a bit of the blues. The easy floating of unscheduled life — the days spent near water, reading a book uninterrupted, hanging out with a 4-year-old — seems chimerical when you’re back in your ergonomic office chair, staring at a computer.

I’ve been back two days now, and I’m still twisting uncomfortably in that chair, because I wasn’t just gone for two weeks, I was GONE. I work for a magazine that aches to be on the (mainstream) pulse of everything that’s happening in movies, TV, music, and the Internet, yet from Aug. 18 through Sept. 6, I and my family were deeply, immeasurably unplugged.

Skipping movies was easy: The multiplex wasn’t far off, but the beach was closer, and the weather conspired to shame us outdoors every morning. And, yeah, my wife and I had made a point of seeing ”The Sixth Sense” just before we left New York. Turning the TV off — and keeping it off — was a tougher task, if only because we have two toddlers, and they’re rather vocal about their need for ”Mulan” and ”Totoro” (and, let’s face it, the tube IS the greatest pacifier ever invented).

But even though we rented a VCR and a bunch of tapes for our beach house, a funny thing happened two days in: We were all too busy to watch it. Doing all the diddly little stuff you do on vacation: bike trips and boardwalks and splinter removals. One day, my oldest daughter and I watched as three passersby caught a wounded seagull and removed the fishhook embedded in its wing; I appreciated the fact that the way the gull flew off into the air seemed to mean more to my daughter than anything that Scuttle says to Ariel in ”The Little Mermaid.”

I didn’t bring a laptop, so I couldn’t get my email, couldn’t surf the Web, regressed more or less to life as we knew it before 1994. Didn’t read newspapers or magazines, although I did flip through the latest EW on the grocery-store stands and had the kind of creepy frisson you get when you meet an old college buddy and are shocked not by how much he’s changed but by how little.

I’ll confess that the one arena of modern media in which we completely caved was music: We packed a portable CD player and a bag of CDs — but at least we tried to pick ones we hadn’t listened to for a while, music from out-of-the-way niches in our collection, so that our vacation soundtrack would be as unsullied as possible by workaday associations. The emphasis on ease, whimsy, and melodic zen: ”ABBA Gold,” John Prine, the new Luna, a little Kinks, a little Brazilian, a lotta Sinatra. And ”The White Album” for the kids, because my 2-year-old loves what happens to any adults within earshot when she sings ”Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”

Okay, it all sounds like some hellish yuppie ad for the Gap lifestyle. Whatever, it was our vacation, not yours, and it was pleasurable almost beyond belief. And it’s making it very hard to come back to a weekly magazine where hallway chat about ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is already passé and where the current A topic is whether Mel Karmazin is going to kick Sumner Redstone’s booty out of the Viacom hot seat.

You know what? I couldn’t care less. Maybe it’s because we’ve been home since Monday and we still haven’t turned on the TV. I guess I should, at least if I want to keep my job. But don’t tell my kids — they haven’t missed it at all.

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