Never underestimate the intellectual benefits of a vacation. You can actually come to some very astounding realizations on the right kind of holiday.

Take my last one. Oh it wasn't as profound as discovering the meaning of life, or anything of that nature. But it was something real close. A few weeks back I accompanied my wife to Door County. But we'll just keep that between we close friends. I wouldn't want it to get out, especially among the guys I grew up with back in Galesburg. I have to confess, they'd get quite a laugh if they knew ole' Stiles was strolling between the antique shops and boutiques of Door County.

You know, it really doesn't matter at this stage. I'm probably already beyond reclaiming my male image. There was a time I wouldn't have even known that there was a difference between ''antique shops'' and/or ''boutiques.'' Anyway, I came to my profound enlightenment while walking a proper two to three steps behind the wife -- with my head bobbing up and down like one of those silly little porcelain dolls -- down the main drag in Fish Creek, Wisc.

I know I made a point of telling all of you that real men, while accompanying their wives to flea markets/antique shows, should always stay a comfortable five to 10 steps in front of the Mrs. sos they can pretend they're unaccompanied and just happened to take a wrong turn out on the street. But I should point out, that ''real men'' don't go to Door County. Actually, there are only two kinds of men who go to this place -- well three if you count the ones who go with other men -- those who are within a calendar week of their first marriage (honeymooners) or those desperately trying to keep their second, third or fourth and who run out of those really good excuses to avoid going.

Don't ask me. I have no idea what any of those ''really good'' excuses would be. After all, I just spent a week in Door County myself. To be more specific, I really came to my epiphany of profundity while trying to find the most comfortable chair out in front of one of those antique/T shirt/funny smelling lotion stores, where I could lose myself in that morning's Chicago Tribune.

You see, in Door County, all the natives, if there really are natives, know that there places of business have about as much appeal to the male of the species as a visit to the proctologist. That's why the really good establishments, at least from the male point-of-view, always set aside a few of those wooden lawn chairs somewhere between the parking lot and the front door.

This allows the men, who have already compromised their manhood by coming to this part of the world, to maintain a shred of dignity while the wives max out the credit cards behind the colorfully decorated doors. I would imagine this serves a couple of very sound economic principles: fewer men wandering around asking ''What the hell is this?'' and a freer flow of purchases unencumbered by visibly uncomfortable husbands.

Well, as I was trying to explain, I'm just getting comfortable in my funny-colored yard chair and opening up the Trib, when an older gentleman comes over and plants himself right next to me. I'm fumbling for the sports page and this guy asks ''Whatta' they sell in this store, anyway?,'' like I should know. But, keeping up the long-standing male tradition of never having to utter the words ''I don't know,'' I point out that it's just another of those places of business that make the wretchedly worthless positively priceless. ''Somebody picks up some sticks and leaves in the back yard, ties them together, sprays it with something that smells like your grandmother's parlor and puts a ridiculous price tag on it,'' I explain, doing my best to make my voice go as deep as possible.

That's another thing about Door County. If you're a man who happens to be in the vicinity, you don't ever want anyone to hear your voice an octave higher than Barry White. That and the part about walking a couple of steps behind your wife will be the two best pieces of advice you will take away from this column.

I'm certain that the reason for these two practices is, none of us want anybody else to question our manhood any more than we already are ourselves. And one other thing about Door County, there are some people in this world who should not wear shorts. You'll find that out before you walk the first block along Eagle Harbor in Ephraim.

Oh yeah, and the bit of profound wisdom I was the recipient of while on vacation with the wife this year?

Door County is the place women go when they die. They don't even have to have lived a particularly good life either. I mean, you certainly don't have to have followed in the footsteps of Mother Theresa to find your niche somewhere short of the ferry to Washington Island.

I picture the place something like this: A ghost-like figure with shades of blue hair under one of those silly hats only a woman would wear, pastel top and matching culottes, wanders out of the woods above Sister Bay and strides into one of those antique/nick-nack/paddy whack stores just off the beach. She goes up to the frumpy woman behind the desk and asks; ''Is this heaven?'' ''Why no dear, this is Door County.''

Which means, that if a man should ever awake on the other side of eternity seated somewhere in front of a boiling pot of fish at Ellison Bay along the eastern shore of Green Bay, he can be certain of just two things: the heavenly jury's verdict did not go in his favor and there is no higher court of appeal.

Come to think of it, that's really two things of a profound nature I learned on my last vacation.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 4, 2001

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