Friday, July 30, 2010

Rich People Love Goofy

According to several newspaper accounts, extremely rich people are spending their money on something that surprises me: theme parks. It just goes to show how out of touch I am with the ultra rich. I thought that they might treat themselves to things like putting an extra stamp on an envelope "just in case," showering for as long as they want, or splurging at the car wash and getting that carnuba wax. But I was wrong. Now the picture is more like this: After an executive receives his obscene bonus of tens of millions of dollars, he starts for the office door and is stopped by a colleague who asks, "Where are you going?" The guy with the big bucks looks at the camera and replies, "I'm going to Disneyland."

Theme parks are suffering financially these days. While so many people are struggling to pay their grocery bills, the last thing they are thinking about spending their money on is "The Mad Hatter's Tea Cups." However there is a niche market that is spending more than usual on things like Disneyland, Sea World, and Universal tours. That niche with a spending itch is the very rich.

For years, bored, rich people have gone on challenging and dangerous vacations. They've run with the bulls in Pamplona, hunted bears in Alaska, and even taken the ultimate risk by having their kitchens remodeled. So it's not surprising that Disney and the others have been trying to attract this kind of spending. Sea World plans on expanding their special "swim with the dolphins package" that starts at $199 per person now. Disney World has started to sell homes ranging up to $8 million with special access to the rides at the theme park. If I had $8 million to spend on a house, I'd want it to be as far as possible from a theme park. Once again, I'm just not thinking like the very rich.

How much money do you have to have to be considered "ultra rich," and how does anyone know how these people spend their money? American Express gathered the statistics and released them. (Isn't that nice to know that credit card companies can do things like that)? American Express classifies people as "ultra-affluent" if they charge at least $7,000 a month -- or $84,000 a year -- on their credit card. And someone at American Express noticed that these ultra-affluent cardholders spent 32% more on theme parks in the first quarter of this year than in 2009.

So how will theme parks cater to people who have all that money? I assume that they will have more and more adventurous and exclusive experiences. Sea World, for example, already has plans to expand its Discovery Cove. That's where admission is limited to just over 1,000 people a day who do things like hand-feed parrots. You can also pay $500 to be a trainer for a day at Sea world. I guess they think it's worth every penny to have their hands smell like fish for a week. A new addition will give rich visitors a chance to have "shark encounters." The only problem with having some of these Wall Street instant millionaires in that tank is that it'll be hard to tell which ones are the sharks.

There will be more exotic rides and attractions at all of the theme parks. Don't be surprised if a night at "Psycho's" Bates Motel includes being attacked when you take a shower. Isn't that just perfect for the wealthy honeymoon couple? At the "Dumbo, the Flying Elephant" ride, you'll be able to jump out of a plane while sitting on an elephant. I guess for a few bucks more the truly adventurous can do it the other way around – jumping out of a plane with the elephant sitting on them. And on the Jungle Cruise, the pampered but bored ultra-richie will be able to wrestle a python while getting a pedicure.

Maybe I should sign up for one of these exclusive adventures. I could meet somebody there who could help me in the business world. Who knows? I might be in line with a super billionaire who will want to be partners with me. It's possible. Let's face it: it's a small world after all.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Annoyance Police

In these very serious times, it seems that it's appropriate to get rid of some of the silly or outdated laws that are still on the books. I'm talking about things like its being illegal in Oklahoma to tease dogs by making ugly faces, Michigan's law that forbids a wife from having her hair cut without her husband's approval, and in Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, the law that prohibits people from "singing, whistling, or hooting" if it annoys somebody else. Wait a minute. That last one isn't an old law. It's an ordinance that was just passed by the South Carolina town.

Before you laugh at this law, I should make it clear that it is not in effect 24 hours a day. That would be ridiculous. It only applies to sounds that annoy somebody between the hours of 11:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. It also only deals with these actions if they are performed in public. You can still sing in the shower, and you can still do your indoor hooting wherever you usually do it.

Chief of police, Danny Howard, doesn't want this ordinance to be fodder for people like me to ridicule. He pointed out that nobody is going to get a ticket just for singing in public. However, if that singing annoys other people, then they might get a $500 ticket.

When I first heard about this ordinance, it struck me that if there were just a slight twist to it, it would be the kind of thing that teenagers would like to be the law. That imaginary twist is that the law would apply only to parents, not to kids. If you've ever had a teenager and you started to sing in public, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Typical reactions include the rolling of the eyes, the shaking of the heads, and acting as if they've never seen you before. Similarly, if you talk in a normal voice, but they think it's embarrassingly loud, they would feel that a mere fine would be too lenient of a punishment.

But the law was not written by teenagers to apply to their parents. It was written by adults to apply to everybody. The part I find most intriguing is that it's not the decibels that are the issue. It's whether the sounds somebody makes annoy somebody else. The knee-jerk reaction to this law is that it's too broad. I think it may actually be too narrow.

Why stop at sounds that are annoying to other people? There are lots of annoying things that people do in public that could be outlawed. Here are a few off the top of my head:

In a better world, people who wear T-shirts that read, "I'm with Stupid" shall be committing an offense in all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Anyone walking down the street and talking into one of those cell phones with the ridiculous ear things so you can't tell if they're talking to you, if they're crazy, or if they're just self-important, should be arrested and not allowed to text for 30 days. If you're waiting for an elevator after you've pushed the button and someone joins you and pushes the button as if you wouldn't have had the knowledge or experience to have done it yourself, that person should be taken to jail immediately. If you're in a grocery checkout line, and the person in front of you has... You get the idea.

Everyone could make a list of things that other people do that they find annoying. It might even be people who ask you to make lists. Again, the fascinating thing about the Sullivan's Island ordinance is that the crime is not based on the action of the perpetrator. It's based on the reaction of other people. So you can "sing, hoot or whistle" as loud as you want if it doesn't annoy anyone. On the other hand, if people have a negative reaction to what you do between 11:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M., you're in trouble. It's because of this last fact that I must insist that, just in case, everyone in Sullivan's Island only read my column either before eleven or after seven.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jumping Through Hoops

Are you tired of the way nominees are grilled by Senators before they get the job? Well, get used to it. Because of today's economy, an employer can subject prospective employees to just about any kind of interview. I managed to acquire a transcript of one of these interviews – I'm not saying I got it from a Russian spy at a kid's soccer game last Saturday -- and I have printed it below. It is the story of a young woman who has applied for a cashier's job at a neighborhood super pharmacy.

HERBERT BARRINGTON: Mrs. Coogan, on behalf of management, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to sit down with us to answer a few questions.

ELLEN COOGAN: You're quite welcome, Mr. Barrington, but it's Ms. Coogan, not Mrs.

ROGER MARSHALL: And representing labor, I'd like to welcome you too, Ms. Coogan.

COOGAN: Thank you, Mr. Marshall.

BARRINGTON: When you say you like to be referred to as Ms., is that just because you have no respect for traditional marriage, or have you decided to never get married?

COOGAN: I've never been married, but what does this have to do with the job?

BARRINGTON: So you hate men?

COOGAN: I don't hate men. I just haven't gotten married yet. I'm only 22.

BARRINGTON: What are you suggesting? That my 21-year-old daughter got married because she was pregnant?

COOGAN: I didn't say that.

MARSHALL: She didn't say that.

BARRINGTON: (MUMBLING ALMOST TO HIMSELF) We sell condoms in our own stores. She had to know that. She used to work here in the summers. They met in our ...

MARSHALL: Mr. Barrington.

BARRINGTON: (COMING OUT OF HIS OWN WORLD) Uh, yes. How do you feel about the rubber thumb issue?

COOGAN: I beg your pardon.

BARRINGTON: Many cashiers wear rubber thumbs over their God-given, real thumbs so they can separate bills more easily for counting. How do you feel about this practice?

COOGAN: I guess I feel it should be up to the individual to choose a rubber thumb or not.

MARSHALL: Good for you. She's pro-choice.

BARRINGTON: (AGAIN, IN HIS OWN WORLD) We don't even hide them anymore. We put them right out in the open, next to the batteries. How hard could it have been to ...

MARSHALL: Ms. Coogan, were you involved in some volunteer work while at college?

COOGAN: Yes, I read to blind veterans.

MARSHALL: How admirable. I'd like the record to show that, I too, served my country by mowing the lawn in front of the post office and...

BARRINGTON: Let's move on to a subject that concerns all Americans: Paper or plastic? If a customer has no preference, would you bag the purchases in a paper bag or in a bag made from the best plastic in the world produced by American trading partners?

COOGAN: Since you put me under oath, I'll have to say I'd go with paper. Better for the environment.

BARRINGTON: The environment? So, you admit you're a tree-hugger. I have here a copy of a paper that you wrote that is an example of radical environmentalism. You wrote this, did you not? (HANDS HER THE PAPER)

COOGAN: Yes, it was about putting pizza boxes in the recycling bin, and yucky leftover pizza in the regular trash. I wrote it in the fourth grade.

BARRINGTON: Have your views changed on this matter?

COOGAN: Not my views, but my spelling. Now I know that pizza has two "z's." Can we get back to talking about the job? How about benefits?

BARRINGTON: "Benefits?" The benefit would be that you'd have a job.

MARSHALL: Have we mentioned that she did community service work while she was in college?

BARRINGTON: Yes, and I was not impressed. Maybe some of those blind veterans would have learned to read on their own if she hadn't taken away their initiative by reading to them.

BARRINGTON: I believe in the maxim that if you give a guy some fish, he'll have something to eat, but if you teach him to fish, uh, then he can always go fishing with his buddies.

MARSHALL: What does that have to do with Ms. Coogan?

BARRINGTON: I just think... hey, where are you going, Ms. Coogan?

COOGAN: This interview is just too much for me. I'm going to apply for a job that's a little easier to get. There must be a Cabinet post that's open.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ron Artest, Role Model?

In case you don't know who Ron Artest is, he's a basketball player who hasn't had a very good reputation. He's caused problems on some of the teams he's played for, he spent 10 days in jail because of a domestic abuse charge, and he's best known for being part of a brawl in which he punched a fan at a game. So why am I saying that he is now a very important role model?

We're used to hearing athletes after a victory thanking their mothers, coaches, and sometimes even their teammates. They often thank God, and that always seems weird to me to think that God was rooting for one team rather than the other. I'm not even sure He's a sports fan. So when the Los Angeles Lakers recently won the NBA championship, it was a little shocking to hear Ron Artest saying, "I want to thank my psychiatrist."

Artest seems to have turned his life around. He hasn't gotten in trouble lately, he's involved in some philanthropic causes, and he has started a program called Xcel University to help high-risk kids. Maybe his deciding to see a psychiatrist was another step in turning his life around.

I was somewhat amused by Artest's thanking his shrink, but a week or so later, a friend of mine said what a great thing it was that Artest made that statement. My friend, Sandra, pointed out that it was good for an athlete like Artest to admit that he was seeing a psychiatrist.

I realized that Sandra couldn't have been more right. Here was a tough, manly, macho guy telling the world that he was getting psychiatric help -- and that it was working. That's why I think, at least because of that moment, that he is an important role model.

Most male athletes -- and maybe most males -- have learned to keep their emotions to themselves. Think about the famous movie line, "There's no crying in baseball." There's also no admission of fears, anxiety, or depression in any big-time sport. Players are taught to "man up" when something bothers them. When helmets were first mandated in hockey, many players said they didn't really need them. If they have to act like they don't care about their heads getting hit by a puck, they certainly aren't going to feel comfortable admitting that something is bothering them inside their heads.

When they turn pro, athletes suddenly earn more money than they ever dreamed of. Strangers cheer their every move. And before you know it, they're in a Holiday Inn with two hookers and enough drugs to sedate the entire population of Rhode Island.

I think teams should have a therapist on the payroll and make it mandatory that rookies see him or her at least once. After that, they should know that they can go to therapy as much or as little as they want. Maybe if they see that the veterans aren't embarrassed to get help, they won't be, either.

Like many people, athletes generally only get help after they've messed up big time. Maybe Ron Artest wouldn't have been in that brawl if he had already admitted to himself that he needed help. Maybe some of those athletes who take their guns with them to nightclubs would stay home with their families if they got help for their unspoken insecurities. Who knows? Maybe Tiger Woods would have behaved himself -- or at least stopped at two or three.

Athletes are heroes to many people, especially kids. It's refreshing that for once the message from a big time athlete is not that it's cool to drive a car 100 miles per hour, that graduating is for geeks, or that the rules of marriage only apply to women. The message was that it's cool to get help if you need it.

If a six-foot, seven-inch sports figure feels that there's no reason to be ashamed about seeing a therapist, maybe at least a few people who are shorter than he is will feel the same way. Even if it's silly, people still seem to believe that truly manly men are big, strong guys. I guess society hasn't evolved enough to realize that the real manly men are those who look fear in the eyes and man up as they grind out a column every week, without even wearing a helmet.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by