How to Kill a “Cereal Killer” and Restore Halloween

cereal killerI know what you’re going to say. Why would I want to murder a cereal killer, a taco belle, a holy cow, a pig in a blanket, a deviled egg, or any of the other bearers of bad Halloween punnery? First, you want to kill someone.  You don’t have to admit it to me and I’d advise against admitting it to the District Attorney, but at least admit it to yourself. Second, if you kill the person you really want to kill (e.g. your boss, the tax man, your personal trainer, or your hairdresser—sorry, low blow) you’ll be the lead suspect. Therefore, you need to find a way to vent your homicidal rage into productive outlets, and I’d argue that the killing of punsters is community service. You shouldn’t even think of it as murder. It’s more like culling the Halloween herd. Forest fires kill, but the next year the forest is more lush and beautiful than ever before.

 

Now let’s get down to the real reason to conduct your own Halloween killing spree. Because it’s the perfect time for the perfect crime. Think about it.

  • Anonymity: Except for the lazy people who wear a T-shirt with “Halloween Costume” printed in unimaginative block letters, everybody is in makeup or has their head stuffed in some stinking mask that five people have thrown up in within the last three years. This makes it almost impossible to identify suspects. The lazy bastards would be eliminated immediately anyway because it takes commitment to be a homicidal maniac.
  • Relative Inconspicuousness: You won’t be the only one who’s apparently blood spattered. Besides Marti Gras and full moons, what other nights can one say that. There will be large numbers of people wielding weapons and looking creepy. What better time to blend in?
  • Distraction: If I might be granted a brief diatribe. Halloween used to be the holiday of terror, but no more. Valentine’s Day may be the holiday of romance (or florists), but Halloween is the holiday of sex. However, you can use this trend to your advantage. There’s a great deal of distraction to be garnered from the proliferation of sexy nurses, sexy waitresses, and sexy actuarials. When the girl whose costume is painted on rather than worn walks through the room to get a single potato chip, that’s a good time to jab the hypodermic into the neck of the nearest drunk pun and get the hell out of dodge.

 

So how will you choose your target? First, as indicated, it’s best to pick someone who’s inebriated because no one will realize they’re dead–and not just passed out–until they begin to stink. Don’t worry, finding a drunk won’t be hard. At a given Halloween party there will be four designated drivers for the 150 people in attendance—so 148 people will be completely hammered. [No, my math is not that bad. Two of those designated drivers are cheating bastards. If you kill a pun who’s a cheating designated driver you’ve hit the trifecta—OK, maybe my math is that bad. At any rate, you get bonus points. ]

 

Next comes the question of determining whether the costume is a pun or not. This can be harder than it seems. Sure there are the easy ones I mentioned above (and others like Kevin “Bacon” [Kevin nametag on a meat vest], “Bat” Man [w/ Louisville Slugger], Down for the Count [Dracula with a blowup doll orally affixed to his crotch region], Spice Girl, Dust Bunny, Formal Apology [tuxedo-clad man with “sorry” written on his tie], etc.) that will be immediately obvious.

 

However, what if one sees a guy in a Grim Reaper costume with a bag of pot. Perhaps this is just someone who likes to imbibe. However, if the pot is dayglow green, then you may have a “the grass is greener on the other side” who desperately needs killing. The key is that one must pay attention to the details. Sometimes the costume will be poorly done. Imagine a fine “Tom the Cat” costume with three misshaped spheres feebly stapled to the crotch region. This is a “horny as a three-balled tom cat” who must die.

 

On the other hand, you should avoid reading too much into costumes. Say you see a girl who looks like a stripper. You shouldn’t engage in some Rube Goldberg-esque thought process in which you conclude that she is saying, “All that glitters is not gold–because sometimes it’s a stripper.” Said woman may merely be costumed as a stripper, or might be a stripper who just got off stage and didn’t have time to go out looking for a costume.

 

When in doubt, if the costume doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense, it’s probably someone’s sense of clever gone awry and you shouldn’t feel bad about friendly fire against a non-pun.

 

Finally, some general rules of thumb (BTW: feel free to kill anyone dressed in a giant mitten with a page of the tax code taped to the thumb):

  • Only kill one pun per party. Being a killer of puns is like being a Marine Sniper—except that it’s completely illegal and involves no honor whatsoever—my point is that if you loiter in place you’ll get pinned down by the Vietcong. It doesn’t matter whether the party in question has the best pigs in a blanket (i.e. the hors doeuvres, not the cutesy couple costume), the best DJ, or the sluttiest witches, maids, librarians, or geologists in town. Don’t get greedy. Get in and get out—well, you can grab a handful of those delectable pigs in a blanket on the way out, but then get out of the house!
  • Never wear the same costume to more than one party. The police call that a clue. You have to be like Kathrine Heigl in that 27 Dresses  movie—which I never saw. Do the quick change like Clark Kent between parties. That brings me to an alternative killing scheme whereby you can kill anyone who’s dressed as a character from a romantic comedy.
  • Don’t consume a lot of legumes, high fiber foods, beer, or Taco Bell before your outing. Just because no one will see your face inside that barf-splotched mask doesn’t mean they won’t be able to smell you. Plus the zippers in costumes are unreliable, and you don’t want a case of Taco Trots to hamper your evening’s fun.
  • Don’t wear a costume that’s too menacing. You want to be able to point to someone who is nearby, completely innocent, and who looks like a killer and say, “she did it.” Also, don’t wear the “Identity Thief” costume in which one has name tags all over one’s outfit with different names. First, it plants the seed of criminality in the mind of those around you. Second, it’s a bad pun and may result in your being stabbed. Which brings me to the ultimate rule:
  • Don’t wear a pun costume yourself, it may result in your being stabbed. I’m not saying that I once stabbed a prostitute with a Seeing Eye dog who turned out to be just another good-hearted Halloween killer because “love is blind,” but…

 

I hope this guide to perpetrating a Halloween massacre has been helpful. I think we’d all like to bring the fear back to Halloween like all the Saints who partied down on All Saints’ Day Eve intended. So, whether you’re a first time killer or you’ve been around the block (another potential costume cliché to kill), a few simple steps will keep you out of the hands of the slutty cops—or regular cops.

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Hitler’s Final Victory

Source: German Federal Archives

Source: German Federal Archives

Hitler killed the short-stache (a.k.a. the “toothbrush mustache.”) Imagine that, almost 70 years after his death, he still holds power over people’s decisions about facial hair.

This is a misplaced take-away lesson. It’s the unbridled narcissism, the icy hatred, and the irrational exuberance in the power of evil of Hitler that should be abandoned (yet, somehow, those intangibles still quietly exist.) It’s not the superficial aspects of Hitler that should be shunned, but the ones at the bastard’s core.

I’m not saying the toothbrush-stache was a good look. On the contrary–as one who has had a mustache his entire adult life and has worn a beard now for several years–I’m a little offended by the lack of commitment to one’s choice of facial hair that the toothbrush-stache represents. (Incidentally, I feel the same about the sole patch and mutton chops.) In my mind, one should go full-stache or go home to shave.

Still, there being no accounting for taste, I think those individuals who would otherwise find the short-stache appealing (i.e. you know, indecisive types who wear culottes and eat with sporks) should revive the toothbrush mustache as a big fuck-you to Hitler–don’t let tyrants boss you around from the grave.

Toothbrush mustache admirers of world, unite!  (No, I won’t be joining you.)

RANT: There’s nothing worse than hyperbole!

There's nothing worse than a dictator with an angry army of warcocks!

There’s nothing worse than a dictator with an angry army of warcocks!

I’m taking a stand against the phrase, “There’s nothing worse than…”

OK, feel free to continue using it for saying, “There’s nothing worse than…

-Nazis.”

-nuclear Armageddon.”

-cancer.”

-catching on fire.”

-shrapnel in the face.”

-losing one’s job to a machine that isn’t even artificially intelligent.”

I’ll accept a bit of hyperbole because there’s no objective and universally-accepted way to determine who was worse, Hitler or Pol Pot. And it’s legitimate to exaggerate one’s personal crises–provided that crisis isn’t something like having the seat warmer go on the fritz in your SUV.

My problem is hearing,  “There’s nothing worse than…

-spotty cell phone reception.”

-when it takes 30 minutes to get your oil changed.”

-when a pay-per-view bout ends in the first round.”

-an empty Nutella jar.”

-when the elevator is broken and I have to walk all the way to the second floor.”

-getting in the line behind someone who still writes checks.”

Clearly, there are many things worse than any one of those things, or even all six of them happening on the same day. If you can’t think of one, you should get out more. I’m not saying one should be constantly comparing one’s problems with the biggest disasters in the world. Nor am I saying that, in the scheme of things, your  piddly-ass problems don’t matter. I’m just calling for perspective. It’s hard to take someone seriously who can’t imagine a fate worse than a cracked lid on a Starbucks half-caf latte.

The Horn As A Navigational Tool

When I was learning to drive, one piece of advice I still remember was:

Never blow your horn because whatever damn fool thing the other driver is doing to get you in an accident is predictable. They will continue to do the same damn fool thing. Therefore, focus on avoiding the collision, and not venting your anger. Honking the horn can only cause the other driver’s panicked reaction to be unpredictable, thus making the situation more dire. The horn can cause inopportune slamming of the brakes, gunning the accelerator, or swerving sharply (invariably in the direction one was hoping to avoid them.)

This isn’t advice practiced in India. Rather the horn seems to be used to say, “One of us should be paying attention right now, and I kind of need a break.”

I suspect one reason why Indians don’t follow the above advice  is because there is no erratic response to horn blowing here–there is no response whatsoever. The locals don’t even hear the horns anymore. I’ve only been here three days and I’m already becoming desensitized to them. (Although I took an early morning walk this morning and everything was perfect in the world because the horn blowers had not yet awoken.) No doubt, many literally cannot hear the horns after a lifetime subjected to the blare,

I wonder whether the blowing of the horn isn’t just an attempt to assert one’s existence among the whirring throngs of motorists.

Bangalore suffers from regular, albeit ephemeral, power outages. Sometimes the sewer drains don’t work as intended. Sometimes, cars come to a gliding halt; hoods popping up. But one thing works with the certainty of death and taxes. and that’s the horn on every single motorized vehicle in the country. One would think the horns would wear out, that they would choke and sputter, but there seems no sign of that.

1 in 3 drivers are looking at the road at any given moment

Only 1 in 3 drivers are looking at the road at any given moment (but the one not looking slams on his horn to alert others to keep an eye on him.) 

The Mythical High Performance Sock

All my socks do is sit and plot their escape.

All my socks do is sit and plot their escape.

The day before I flew to India, a guy in the hotel’s guest laundry room told me that he’d almost gotten in a fight once when a pair of socks turned up missing. We all know that socks are the great self-emancipators of the garment world; they go Steve McQueen from the dryer all the time. Begging the question, why would anyone get so upset over the disappearance of them.

He must have seen the incredulity in my face, as he went on to tell me these were “high performance” socks.

I don’t know if got my second level incredulity as I thought, High… Performance… Socks? The things you wear on your feet to mop up sweat?

A sock is essentially a foot-shaped bag for your feet. As near as I can tell, the acts it “performs” are: 1.) warming the foot a little, 2.) drying the foot a little (theoretically)–though it can also keep the foot wet longer than it otherwise would be, and 3.) producing stink.

In the military we were instructed to wear two pairs of socks. The sock closest to the skin was a cotton sock, and the outer sock was wool. This rationale for this foot sauna was that the cotton sock would wick moisture away from one’s skin, and the wool sock would keep one’s foot warm even when wet. Incidentally, this works great if you are in a cold environment–unfortunately, we haven’t fought a war in a cold environment since 1953.

So when I thought about the “performance” at which these socks excelled, I assumed they must keep one’s feet toasty. Wrong! The material seems extra thin. So, they must keep the foot extra dry, perhaps they are embedded with talc or something like that. Wrong again.

Surely these socks aren’t better than average at producing foot stench?  No. That’s not it.

Then I realized there was an other factor on which a sock might be judged: its ability to get people to hand over money in exchange for it. An average pair of socks can garner $3 or $4, but high performance socks can get people to shell over $17 or more. That’s some high performance.

Now, I know someone out there will be wanting to tell me about the orthopedic benefits of said sock in supporting one’s arch. This sounds like sock oil salesmen shtick. Is there any fabric known to man that can support your body weight so as overcome in adequate arch support in your shoes? Unless you are Tinkerbell, I doubt it. Perhaps, these socks do have physics-defying properties; maybe we should use them to mend bridges.

RANT ROOM: Robots Calling

698px-Alt_TelefonThe phone rings. I pick it up. A robot starts talking in my ear. Well, not a robot, but an electronically recorded voice. I hang up. This happens about seven times a day.

I’m on a no-call list, but there’re so many loopholes so as to make its value questionable. First of all,  the politicians exempt themselves–of course. Only a politician could be so megalomaniacal as to think that a person who expressly requests not to be bothered by anyone by phone is secretly awaiting his robo-call.  Second, charities are exempt, whether it’s the March of Dimes or the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Defense Fund.  There seem to be more charities calling than ever. Or, perhaps, they’re like Phnom Penh urchins– if you give one of them money it induces a swarm. (Or, more likely, they make all the big money by selling contact lists to other charities.) Finally, any business that you’ve ever done business with is exempt  (even monopoly phone companies and utilities, for which you had no choice but a third world existence), as well as the parent companies that bought a company that you did business with once 20 years ago.

People who know me will tell you that I don’t even like to talk on the phone with human beings that I like, what hope would a machine have? Answer: “None.”

Now, let it be known that I’m not anti-machine. In 200 years, when they unfreeze my brain after the Terminator Wars, I’m not going to be one of the douche-bags standing on a picket like to prevent little T8-Y0 from going to school with the human kids and super-intelligent dolphins. I just resent someone calling me, intent on taking up my time, without even having the common courtesy to be intelligent–artificially or otherwise.

Some will say, “But, Bernie, you’ve called me and said not a word that was remotely intelligent.”

To that I say, “Nuh-uh, stop being a jerk-head.”

I almost always meet the technical definition of “intelligent” (self-aware? I’m self-obsessed!) when I call someone on the phone, and that’s all I expect of others.  I would pass a Turing test because the evaluator would say, “Any machine would maintain a train of thought better than this guy. He’s all over the place. He must be human. Plus, he can’t do math for shit.” [If you want to weed the androids out of your life, ask them to divide 49  by 18. If they answer automatically and correctly to two decimal points, stake them through the oil pump. If they are one of those “Human Calculators,” they deserve it for betraying their kind–but I’m not speciesist.]

Still, this brings one question to mind, how lonely do you have to be to listen to a machine blather on? Obviously the companies using robo-calls have sufficient success to keep paying their phone bills. That means that some people have to hear the robot voice and say, “What the heck? Let me hear what R2-D2 has to say.”

Who does this? I’ve heard that some people have guilt issues with hanging up on people because they were “raised right.” I can’t claim to understand this. It’s not an affliction that burdens me. I will hang up on anyone who assumes they can make demands on my time without compensation in about two microseconds. Yes, I said it, Mom. (Just kidding, I’m really talking to cable companies, natural gas providers, credit card companies, etc.)

Still, even if one feels guilty about hurting the feelings of a person, why would the same guilt apply to machines–which do not have feelings to hurt.

I mean, does this person think the caller might be a T-101 calling from the future to warn him that a mean T-1000 is on its way to poke him to death with a memory metal finger? I guess that sounds reasonable… no, no it doesn’t.

Alternatively, do people sit around thinking, I wish someone would call me up and tell me what I want, because I have no idea.

Maybe I just don’t understand this mindset. No person has ever convinced me to make an impulse buy by yapping. I’ve never said, “Gee-whiz, you’re right, I definitely need this product or plan that I didn’t know existed five minutes ago.”

It has occurred to me that I might be taking the wrong tack by hanging up on these calls instantaneously. By doing that, I am helping them weed out an unlikely sale in as inexpensive a manner as possible. The next time a robot calls me, I think I’ll put the phone down next to the radio–playing easy listening, of course–and then walk off. I encourage you all to do the same.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING: Presidents of Wild Facial Hair Coin Set

As I’m eating breakfast this morning, I noticed this ad among the newspaper flyers.

Notice Grover Cleveland's two different styles of facial hair (for authenticity, as he served two non-consecutive terms.)

Notice Grover Cleveland’s two different styles of facial hair (for authenticity, as he served two non-consecutive terms.)

This spurred two thoughts. First, is there really a pent-up demand for coins with these three Presidents on them. I realize that, besides Abraham Lincoln, we don’t have any “money Presidents” who’ve made bold choices in facial hair (only with wigs), but is that really enough. I remembered the boondoggle in which Congress required the Treasury to mint coins faced with all the deceased Presidents on them (FYI- that’s the only way Jimmy Carter will ever be on a coin unless he kills an alien invader with his Habitat-4-Humanity claw hammer.) Anyway, they minted all these coins, but there was no demand for them–precisely because banks were afraid that tellers would get shot for trying to pass on a coin with Benjamin Harrison’s face on it. People won’t accept a Grover Cleveland coin as money (regardless of whether he sports the Hulk Hogan fu manchu) any more than they would a coin with Justin Bieber on the front and a poodle on the back.

Then, of course, I realized that these seem to be the very same coins put out by the U.S. Treasury. Which brings me to my second point, you can buy 8 of these $1 coins for 8 dollars. Normally, that isn’t called “buying” but, rather, “making change.” So it looks like the Treasury held a fire sale to get rid of all these coins. Congratulations, our Congress may be the first to have mastered reverse-seigniorage. For those of you who weren’t economics majors, seigniorage is revenue that is normally earned by the government as a maker of money. For example, if it costs $0.16 to make a quarter, the government makes $0.09 in seigniorage. Of course, if you sell the coin for enough less than face value… well, you can do the math. (FYI -This is why there is a movement afoot to eliminate pennies, because it costs $0.0124 to mint these $0.01 coins.)

You’ll note that the government has been trying for years to replace the iconic paper dollar with a coin. However, they always seem to blow it by either a.) making the coin the exact same dimensions as a quarter, b.) being super PC and putting someone on the coin that [fairly or unfairly] no one recognizes as money-worthy (e.g. Sacajawea, Susan B. Anthony, William Howard Taft, or Chester Arthur), c.) doing both of the above.

Granted, there are economic reasons for wanting to replace the paper dollar with a coin. The dollar is such a rapidly circulating denomination that it wears out quickly. Travelers will note that most countries have coins for the denomination that represents a roughly similar level of purchasing power to the dollar. However, I think there’s a more insidious reason for the drive to dollar coinage, and it may–in fact– be the reason that all attempts to date have thus failed. There are always movements to try to put strip clubs out of business. The coin dollar is just one more attempt. Frequenters of strip clubs cannot tuck a coin into a g-string, and if they start tucking $5 bills the average customer won’t be  able to stay for long. Thus, it’s those who enjoy strip clubs that keep the demand for the paper dollar high, and they are winning in their fight against the Moral Majority–or whatever we are calling the group that tries to dictate morality to the rest of the world while knoodling their secretaries behind their wife’s back as god apparently intended.

TODAY’S RANT: DIY Home Improvement Videos, or Vishnu Wallpapering

So, I’ve been doing a lot of home improvement lately. My life, largely divided between having my nose to either a laptop or a book, has prepared me to  find out how to do any task in record time–in theory. Give me a few minutes and I can find out how to–in theory–install a cardiac shunt. That’s from a starting point of not knowing what a “cardiac shunt” is or even if it’s a real thing. The problem is that this background has in no way prepared me to interact with the physical universe. (So while I can find out everything one needs to know about cardiac shunts in a short period of time, and even probably understand [or look up] all of the arcane language in the scientific journals, I wouldn’t offer me $100 to install your cardiac shunt if I were you.)

I ramble. So I know how to optimize my search terms to find out how to do exactly what I need to do. Then I watch the video and I’m filled with great confidence, having seen exactly how easy it is. And then I wallpaper myself to the wall. The whole time the experts in the video are doing the task, they are filling my head with false confidence. “See how easy that was?… People think this requires an expert, but…”

It occurs to me that this might just be a strategy by such experts. My training as an economist invariably leads me to ask one question–from an economist’s perspective it’s the root question about any human behavior.  That question is, “What’s the incentive?” What is the incentive for a professional wallpaper hanger to make a do-it-yourself video? We don’t see travel agents (if such mythical creatures still exist) doing videos on how to use Orbitz, Kayak, or Travelocity. My training as a human has led me to be skeptical of munificence in all its forms. I think the strategy is to build false expectations. If one went into a home improvement chore knowing that it was going to be a hellish nightmare, one would have the right state of mind to get through it. However, if one thinks it’s going to be easy-peasy, then one ends up ripping one’s hair out and creating holes in the wall for an expert to–lucratively–repair.

That’s just one theory.  I have others. Now, I know that you are familiar with the common adage, “It’s a poor workman who blames aliens or Hindu deities.” Still, I can’t help but feeling that the wallpaper hanging experts in the YouTube videos had extra appendages that I couldn’t see due to some sort of psychic block or CGI erasure (i.e. like when they take the wires out of kung fu movies.) It’s my contention that one would have to have extra arms, like Vishnu, to keep the paper that straight and perfect as it’s applied. At one point I thought I’d made a breakthrough in string theory when I saw my wallpaper curl into more than three dimensions simultaneously, but it may have just been rage-induced brain hypoxia.

So why would multi-armed aliens, or Vishnu, make home improvement videos? How should I know. I can speculate that Vishnu might enjoy practicing Shakti, which–as I understand it–is the ability to make the impossible possible, the impossible in this scenario being effortless wallpaper hanging. The aliens might just be testing whether our species has the fine motor skills to challenge them in their impending takeover.

TODAY’S RANT: Crossing False Alarm

Source: roadtrafficsigns.com

Source: roadtrafficsigns.com

If you’re like me, when you see the above sign, you say to yourself, “That is all well and good, but what if I get a non-conformist deer, or one of those illegals who can’t read English?”  Now, I know what you’re thinking, usually they put a little leaping deer silhouette on the sign so the deer knows the sign is addressed to it, even if reading is not its strong suit. (Let’s face it, if reading were essential to life on this planet, most of humanity would die out.) At any rate, for any number of reasons I might collide with a deer in a completely inappropriate zone.

Now imagine my confusion, and then excitement, when I came across this sign on a recent walk.

IMG_5309This was a flat piece of land, and rocks are generally believed to be inanimate.  So–at first blush–this doesn’t seem to make a lick of sense. However, then I began to think, “What if they mean ‘Rock’ as in ‘rock-n-roll’?”  So I staked it out for an entire day, hoping to get an autograph–maybe Clapton or REO Speedwagon. Who did I get? No one. Not even Donnie Osmond, because–you know–he’s a little bit rock and roll (a very little bit, an infinitesimally small part nano-rock-n-roll.) There weren’t even local bands.

What’s more, no actual rocks tried to cross all day. No igneous, no sedimentary, no basalt, no granite, no shale, no pyrite, no agate, no jasper, no oolite, no amber, no opalite, no Icelandite, no norite, no obsidian, no quartz, no chert, no flint, no gneiss, no marble, no schist, no slate… are you getting my point here? There wasn’t a single rock crossing event all day. Furthermore, how would a rock even know where to cross the trail? They aren’t as smart as deer.

TODAY’S RANT: How’d I Get So Much Stuff?

IMG_5194I don’t  like to use words like “stuff”, “things”, or the vague but picturesque “crap.”  Such words have low information content and are thus semantic lightweights. However, there are few words for the random compilation of tchotchkes, trinkets, baubles, gewgaws, kit, tools, devices, objects, gadgets, contraptions, contrivances, gizmos, widgets, thingamajigs, and doohickeys that line the drawers, shelves, and closets of my house.

You may think I’m some sort of packrat, but the sad fact is– I’m not. I’d say our household buys  less than average for homeowners. For one thing, we have no children. For another thing, both my wife and I might be classified as, for lack of a more eloquent term, cheapskates. (She’s an accountant and I’m trained as an economist, what do you expect?)  Of course, many people, perhaps most people, organize their junk better than I.

I do have one consumption fetish, and that is books. If you live in a very small town (or a large city with many small, local libraries) I may have more volumes in my house than does your local library. However, two things have slowed me down in collecting [physical] books. First, I buy most of my books on my Kindle these days. Second, I’ve come to realize that the reason I’ve bought so many books is the hope that one of them would provide some impetus for me to say something interesting, insightful, and valuable, and the entire English language canon has failed me utterly in this regard.

Still, I have a lot of miscellaneous detritus floating around in my home. You’ve heard of the 500-year flood? I have 500-year tools; that is, tools that are specifically for some task that only comes up once every few lifetimes or so. In a reasonable world, one would rent such tools. However, most tool rental places are also tool sellers. Such businesses have learned that if the tool sells new for $60, they can rent it for $50. Most people will buy it on the principle of the matter, and if they don’t… CHA-Ching. Who would rent a tool that costs almost as much to rent as it does to buy? I’ll tell you who (you thought that was rhetorical, didn’t you?), people who have the good sense to think of every object that comes into their home as an item being warehoused at their expense. People who have garage sales are brilliant. They are getting paid to store their junk in your home.

When I’m doing spring cleaning, as I am now, I frequently find containers that contain nothing. I guess I’ve just kept them around in case some pressing containment needs pop up. I keep all sorts of things because I think one day I’ll need them. However,  I never do need such items again, except the day after I throw them out.  To avoid such a situation, I don’t pitch them. However, if I keep them I won’t need them. If Joseph Heller was still alive, he could write a novel about my life.

Of course, sometimes I do need such items, but–owing to my poor organizational paradigm–I can’t find them. I then face the ultimate dilemma. Do I put the new one that I just bought with the old one that I found after I made the purchase, or do I put it in an entirely different location in the hope that when I need it again I’ll have a better chance of finding it.

No place have I felt the weight of how much “junk”  is swirling through our planet as when I was in Bangkok’s Chinatown last fall. There are miles of cramped alleyways and corridors packed to the gills with little plastic-wrapped junk, much of which seems to serve no purpose other than to satisfy the aesthetic needs of people with really poor taste or as gifts for people to whom you really want to send a statement of loathing. I had to get out of there, owing to a fear that shelving would collapse and I would be buried alive under a pile of knock-off Hello-Kitty coin purses.  I can think of no death that is more embarrassing and yet apropos of life in the modern world than that.

Of course, one of the many downsides of an economics education is the knowledge that our high standard of living is dependent upon people making and buying ever more stuff. If you are saying “what high standard of living?” and you haven’t hand-churned your own butter, darned some socks, and killed a mastodon today, I would encourage you to look into how people lived in the past. People unburdened of an economics education can make statements like, “People shouldn’t be materialistic and everybody should have a job and all jobs should pay a living wage.” However, that is like saying, “I should be able to keep my cake and I should be able to eat it as well and somebody should pay me $100 for it.”

We are still hunter-gatherers. We just hunt for bargains, and gather up geegaws.

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