Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fat Trap - Feeding Off Your Low Self-Esteem

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States.  It also is a business model.  A lot of people are making a lot of money off the misery of others.

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States. It has become a major health problem, ironically among the poor, who have literally too much to eat. And more and more, we are seeing morbidly obese folks, weighing 300, 400 pounds or more - riding around in little electric scooters. It is a very sad situation. However, that is not what this article is all about. The Fat Trap is a technique that marketers use to make people feel bad about themselves, in order to make them spend money. And while weight is one aspect of it, the marketers use many other criteria to make you feel bad about yourself and get you to spend.

Many of these marketing techniques are targeted towards women, although men are just as vulnerable. I visited a friend the other day. She is hardly obese, to say the least. But when I told her she was looking well (which she was) her reply was "Oh, I'm so FAT, I need to lose weight!" I have heard this comment from various people, some who are overweight, some who maybe have a couple of extra pounds, some who are at an ideal body weight, and even from people who are dangerously thin.

What is up with America's obsession with weight? Like much else in our society, none of this occurs by accident, but rather by design. Using low self-esteem to manipulate and control populations is not a new trick. For eons, mankind has used these techniques to keep populations in line. Dividing people along race, class, and other lines, and programming people to feel they are "inferior" is an easy way to manipulate people.

Psychological experiments along this line have shown that once people are told they are an inferior class, they will behave in a manner that fulfills these expectations. Students told, in an experiment, that they are prisoners, tend to act like, well, prisoners. Young students with brown eyes who are told, in an experiment, that they are inferior to students with blue eyes and will not only believe, but act in a manner consistent with the expectations. So, it is an easy task to program people to believe that they are less than whole or even less than human, if you can train them with the correct set of expectations.

It is no longer acceptable in America to teach people they are inferior based on race, religion, or even class. So appearance is the new discriminator, and an easy way to keep consumers in line and get them to spend money on things they really don't need.

America's obsession with weight developed in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Watching older movies, it is interesting to note that many actors and actresses were fairly heavy. Even actors and actresses who were not "fat" by any means, were fairly plump and ill-defined. The handsome leading men of the era did not have the gym-rat bodies and rippling abs we expect today of any action hero. Rather, most had slab-sided stomachs and little muscle definition. Think of Captain Kirk on Star Trek, for example.

Perhaps it was the youth culture of the 1960's that changed all that. Suddenly, "thin is in!" and dieting took hold as a mania, particularly among young women. The diet plate special (a scoop of cottage cheese and a hamburger without a bun, don't ask me why) and cyclamate-sweetened soft drinks like "Tab" became popular. I vividly remember my sister, who was hardly overweight, obsessing about being thin at the time. If a girl wanted to be "popular with the boys" she had to lose weight. Of course, there has always been one way for girls to be popular with the boys, and that has never changed. But for some reason, it was touted that being thin would not only get a young woman a date, but also help her snare a husband.

But is appearance a proper basis for a lifelong mate selection? Since that time, the norms for body types foisted on the American public have changed dramatically. The muscular gym-body, for both men and women, has become popular. For runway models, the anorexic thin "waif" look was touted. Ironically, this trend of pushing extreme body styles as a new "norm" took place at the same time that Americans became increasingly obese. In other words, our stars and celebrities were becoming thinner and thinner as we became fatter and fatter.

In a way, this sort of further divided the celebrity population from "the rest of us." With plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry, a personal trainer and a diet plan, they could transform themselves into caricatures of human beings - caricatures that ordinary folks could never approach. Michael Jackson was probably an example of this trend taken to an extreme. Even the few "fat" celebrities end up on this "thin" bandwagon, as they "struggle with their weight gain" and end up endorsing a weight loss product after losing dramatic amounts. If anything, the "fatties" in Hollywood are worse than the thin ones, as they endorse the entire negative-self-image concept even further.

Of course, for many celebrities, particularly comedians, the height of hilarity these days is to do a movie wearing a "fat suit", as though looking like their audience members is some sort of joke. It is an interesting message when a thin celebrity puts on a fat suit.

It doesn't end with body weight. Facial wrinkles can be erased with the innocuously named "BoTox" (would you inject yourself with "Botulism Toxin" if it didn't have a cute name?) and teeth can be straightened and whitened with dental techniques. Facial features can be nipped and tucked. Nothing natural should be left alone. And the problem is, many people buy into this entire charade, lock stock, and barrel.

While in the past, we would age gracefully, today we are expected to chase perpetual youth. And not surprisingly, an entire industry is ready and waiting to feed on your low self-esteem, with various quack "cures" for your alleged defects. The internet is probably the worst purveyor of these, although I suspect television probably promotes them as well. Not a day goes by that I don't see a banner ad promoting a wrinkle removal cream or some form of tooth whitener "invented by a Mom!" (Apparently, Mom-invented things are somehow better for you, I guess).

There is a huge industry devoted to legitimate and crooked weight loss schemes. We are told we can lose weight if we buy all our food from Jenny Craig, or attend weight watchers. Or just cut to the chase and have the fat sucked out with a machine on an operating table. Or try one of the various herbal "fat burner" remedies which are not regulated by the FDA. All you need to do is spend a little money. Or a lot.

You can get those gym abs by buying an exercise machine, or some sort of gadget or gizmo. The "abdominizer" will turn you from festering blob to movie star in mere weeks, with little or no effort on your part. Call now, operators are standing by! Of course, most of these "cures" don't work. The wrinkles come back, whitened teeth do not make you sexier, and the exercise or diet regimen is quickly dropped in favor of another bag of fast-food and a donut. The consumer then feels worse about themselves, which feeds further into the cycle of low-self-esteem. "I'm ugly!" they think, "and I'm no good!" 

Low self-esteem then primes the pump for another round of consumer spending. Low-self-esteem promotes passivity and also low expectations. If you believe your are worthless, then you tend to accept a lot more crap - after all, isn't that what you deserve?

Why are people obsessed with appearances in our society (but rarely with substance?) Again, it is to control and manipulate the population. Many folks are convinced they need to alter their appearance to attract friends or a mate. But many folks reject friends and mates based on appearance - convinced that they can "do better" with a hotter "trophy wife" the next time around. No wonder the divorce rate is skyrocketing! So, rather than forming meaningful relationships that last a lifetime, and growing old together, cherishing each wrinkle and grey hair as a badge of honor, we are encouraged to dump our spouses for something new and younger (appearing) on the premise that love (and sex) are better when you are "thin".

Frankly, thin people are the most miserable folks I know. The kinds of people who obsess about their appearance and the appearance of their mates tend to have a number of superficial, short-term relationships, based largely on physical attraction and the premise of hot sex. But in reality, the sex is rarely any good, and the physical attraction wanes quickly, and they are once again "back on the market" looking for the perfect mate again.

Avoiding the Fat Trap is difficult for many Americans, as they receive most of their normative cues from television, which heavily promotes the low-self-esteem agenda. For example, take most morning news shows, which are largely aimed at women. Usually at least once a week, if not once a day, there is a segment on losing weight, usually featuring some new diet plan or book you can buy. Teary-eyed testimonials are given by the formerly fat, about how miserable they were, with their previous "condition" talked about in hushed tones, as if being 20 pounds overweight was akin to having cancer. It is very subtle how these social cues are promoted, and while it is intentional, it is not part of some grand plan or conspiracy.

Marketers are well aware that you can use low-self-esteem issues to sell everything from toothpaste (with whitener!) to automobiles (to make you look sexier!). People who are well adjusted and feel good about themselves, well, you can't sell them anything! So the first step toward finding your own internal happiness (and spending less money on worthless JUNK) is to TURN OFF THE TELEVISION. Television teaches you conflicting messages. Television says to be thin. Television says to eat a Big Mac. You can't do both.

The second step is to accept yourself for what you are, and realize that you have a limited lifespan, so you might as well get used to the body you are living in. If you have been overweight most of your life, chances are the best you can hope for is to lose some weight and be healthier. You cannot expect to end up looking like Kate Moss or Arnold Schwarzenegger (the old Arnold, not the new fat one). Accept who you are and then have realistic expectations about what you can change.

The third step is to change your lifestyle. As we get older, our diets should change, but few people change their diets. Most of us eat like growing teenagers, wolfing down hamburgers and french fries. As we get older, we need less of that sort of food and more roughage. You don't need to eat frozen "diet" entrees out of a box to lose weight. But a thing called the GREEN VEGETABLE might help, along with portion controls.

Similarly, you don't need to join a gym or buy a machine to get exercise. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do, and it is cheap and free. Yet our modern lifestyle, where we drive to every destination (even the gym) and sit for hours behind a computer screen, is an anathema to basic exercise. As I have noted before, you don't see a lot of fat people in Manhattan, simply because they walk more. 

Feel good about yourself. Be kind to yourself. Happiness is something you have to find inside, not externally. One secret to reducing stress and being happy is to not let external things dictate your emotional state of being. Once you jump off the low-self-esteem bandwagon, you can make more rational decisions about your life and take control of your life.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Gun Trap - do you really need one?

The Gun Trap - do you really need one?

With the election of President Obama, gun and ammunition sales have skyrocketed in the USA. To some extent, this is a reaction to perceived fears by some right-wing folks that the country will be reduced to anarchy soon. But in reality, this is more of a typical hoarding reaction that occurs when people believe a commodity is going to become scarce.

When commodities are scarce, or people believe they are scarce or will become scarce, then hoarding occurs. At the time of this writing, in Argentina, people are hoarding coins, on the belief that there is a change shortage. Since everyone is hoarding coinage, the feared change shortage has become a real change shortage. That's how these hoarding things work.

For guns and ammunition, the fear is that a Democratically controlled House and Senate, as well as White House, will pass legislation making it harder to obtain guns and ammunition. So, the theory goes, you'd better stock up now, before it is too late!

So many folks who do not own guns are buying guns and ammunition. Folks who already own guns are buying more - often on the advice of groups with ties to the firearms industry. It will probably take a year or two for the hysteria to die down. But in the meantime, sales are brisk.

Do you need to own a gun? It is a complicated question. For hunters, security officers, police, farmers, and the like, the question is fairly simple. Handguns and Rifles are tools of the trade, and you buy them out of necessity. But for the average homeowner, is a handgun really necessary? Moreover, is an expensive arsenal of weapons really necessary?

Some handgun proponents argue that owning a handgun will make you "safer" - that you can stop a violent crime in progress if you own a handgun, or shoot a burglar as he enters your home. This is great in theory, but in practice, it does not always work out, as we will see.

I am not pro- or anti- handgun. The rhetoric on both sides of that debate is far overheated (see my article "They BAITING You!") However, you should think about a handgun purchase carefully, lest it be a financially losing proposition.

Hoarding guns and ammunition is probably a bad idea. Like gold, people tend to buy when times are perceived as "bad" and as a result, pay the highest prices imaginable. When times are "good" they sell, and get a much lower price. Buying High and Selling Low is the worst thing you can do to your portfolio.

1. The Parachute Theory

Handguns are one of those items that you would wish you'd have if you really needed it at a particular moment. That is the logic behind handgun ownership. If you are confronted with a burglar, you'd wish you had a handgun! But then again, if you fall off the edge of the Grand Canyon, you'd surely wish you had a parachute, too.

Is buying a parachute (and wearing it at all times) a good idea to prevent a dangerous fall from high places? The question is not as ridiculous as it seems, as the odds of being confronted with a life-and-death situation with a criminal are about the same as you falling from a high place. And the parallels don't end there, either. Carrying a loaded handgun is very inconvenient - as it wearing a parachute all the time. Handguns are expensive - and so are parachutes. And even if you own a handgun, if you don't have it at hand when you need it, it is the same as not having it at all, which also holds true for parachutes. And finally, a handgun misused can be more dangerous to its owner than anyone else - as can a parachute (if you pull the ripcord while on your motorcycle, for example).

So yes, having a handgun could make you "safer", but so could wearing a parachute at all times, or a helmet for that matter. But the odds are very long against your ever needing any of these items. In short, buying a handgun for "protection" is not really a cost-effective proposition. Buying a plethora of handguns, rifles, and assault weapons is even a less sound.

2. Crime Attractant

One of the most desirable objects for criminals to steal are, ironically, handguns. When breaking into a home, a criminal is looking for items than can be quickly and easily resold at a profit. Home electronics are bulky and hard to move. And while your stereo system and flat-screen television may represent a few thousand dollars in purchase price, as used components they would fetch only hundreds in the legitimate market, and likely far less in the black market for stolen goods. In short, a stolen flat screen television worth $1000 new will fetch only $100 or so to the thief, and be hard to carry and conceal.

Money, Jewelry and guns are far better hauls for the average burglar. Money is probably the one of the best things to steal, as it is worth what its face value states and it does not have to be fenced. It is also virtually untraceable. Jewelry is a good second choice, as it can be fairly valuable and easy to conceal and carry, and yields a fairly good price in the stolen goods market.

But handguns are the one item that may be worth MORE to a thief than to you. Since handguns are getting harder to buy, and since crooks do not want to leave paper-trails when buying handguns, the stolen handgun is a highly desirable item. A handgun worth $500 in the gun store may yield $1000 on the street to a gang member looking for an untraceable weapon.

Thus, the ultimate irony of handgun ownership - you buy guns to protect yourself and unwittingly make yourself a target for thieves. Since most folks work during the day, it is a fairly simple matter to burglarize your home by showing up in a delivery van, wearing coveralls, and quickly enter, take your guns, and leave. Alarm systems can be easily disabled by cutting phone lines. And since most suburban areas are deserted during the day, the chances of getting caught are nil.

How does a burglar pick out your home? Again, the irony is that most handgun owners plaster their homes with signs advertising their gun ownership, as if it is a deterrent to crime, when it is actually an attractant. NRA stickers, and "beware of owner" signs only serve to advertise to potential thieves that there is booty here to be had.

If you do own a gun, don't advertise! Signs saying "beware of owner" may be macho and all, but do little to deter crime and may actually attract it. If you are prone to posting such signs, ask yourself seriously whether you are buying guns to protect yourself, or to cover up some deep underlying insecurity. Who are you trying to impress?

3. Shot With His Own Gun

Another problem with handgun ownership is that you have to know how to use a handgun and be prepared to use it properly. In the movies and on television, it is common to see a criminal or a police officer pull out a gun and wave it around. In these fictional scenarios, people cower at the sight of a handgun and the person waving the gun around often "saves the day" by saying silly things like "hold it right there!"

In reality, you should only pull a handgun out if you intend to shoot someone. There should be no waving or grand gestures involved. Take out your gun, aim carefully, and shoot to kill. Period.

This may sound harsh, but it is the only way you can effectively use a handgun. Waving guns around can be ineffectual and dangerous, as the opponent may also be armed, and while you are making grand gestures, he's plugging you in the skull. So you have to draw, aim, and shoot. That's all there is to it.

Of course, this means you can only use a handgun in situations where deadly violence is justified. If someone is vandalizing your car, are you justified in shooting them? Suppose someone enters your house late at night? Should you shoot them? Suppose you could just duck out the back door? Is the loss of your possessions worth the loss of your life? I don't have the answer. But you should, if you are prepared to carry a gun.

A friend of mine at the Patent Office suffered from this delusion that waving a handgun around would be an effective deterrent to crime. To save money, he parked in a very bad part of town and then walked to work, carrying a concealed pistol in his jacket. For the cost of the pistol, he could have paid for a parking space at work for several years. Plus, by bringing the gun to work, he was violating Federal Law.

The inevitable happened one night as he walked home in the dark, down an unlit alley in a very bad part of town. Two teenage boys spotted him and decided to give him a hard time and perhaps shake him down for money. The confronted him and he pulled out his handgun and started waving it around.

A funny thing happened. The kids didn't run away like in the movies. Hardened street kids, they had seen guns before, and they realized that my friend had no idea what he was doing. One distracted him momentarily while the other managed to get the gun away from him. They shot him with his own gun. Dead.

The same thing can happen in a home burglary situation. In a recent article in Reader's Digest, for example, a homeowner related how he confronted a methamphetamine addict trying to burglarize his home. Not wanting to use deadly force, he tried the "wave the gun around" technique, only to have the hyped-up meth-head wrestle him for the gun, win, and keep his family hostage for several harrowing hours. They survived, but learned a valuable lesson about handgun use.

4. Shot the Spouse

America has more handgun deaths per capita than any other country on the earth. And more than half of these are either suicides, family disputes. or accidents. People get drunk, they get angry, they get depressed, and someone reaches for a gun and its all over. And every year, tragically, young children decide to "play with Daddy's gun" with predicable results.Gun proponents would argue that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" and of course, that is true.

But a gun produces a very sudden and violent death. You attack your spouse with a knife, at least there is a chance she can duck or run away - leave the house, find a neighbor, call the police. But a bullet travels at many times the speed of sound. You can't duck a bullet (like they do on television). It is a decision that can be made instantaneously and permanently.

There are also accidental shooting scenarios as well. One friend of mine, who owned a small arsenal of weapons on the premise that "Negros" were going to invade his suburban home, almost accidentally shot his roommate late one night when he returned home and forgot to deactivate the alarm. My friend rolled down the stairs and assumed a three-point stance with his loaded .45, aiming right at the head of the "intruder." Fortunately for both of them, he figured out at the last minute not to shoot. Others are not so lucky.

For example, a friend of mine kept a loaded .357 Magnum in his nightstand.   He's in the hospital, now, recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.   It is a life-changing event, and one that wouldn't have happened if he never bought that gun.   And for the life of me, I cannot figure out what he needed "protection" from.

So if you own a handgun, you'd better have a safe, locked place to keep it. But if you put it in a safe, then how do you get at it when the meth-heads break in? Again, this is another conundrum of handgun ownership - keeping a weapon easily at hand, but also keeping it safe.

5. Difficulties Carrying Firearms

Another friend of mine described the difficulties of carrying firearms. Like a parachute, a firearm is of no use to you if it is in a locked box at home while you are being mugged on the street. Unless you carry it at all times, it is of little use when you need it.

Recently, laws have been relaxed to allow more people to carry concealed weapons on their person. However there are still many restrictions on when and where you can carry a gun, making carrying a weapon a dicey proposition.

Heading to the courthouse, the motor vehicle department or any other government building? Better leave your weapon at home, or leave it in your car. Picking the kids up at school? Can't bring your gun in there, either. Many stores, malls, and other retail and public places are banning the carrying of concealed weapons. Many State and Federal Parks are limit who can carry a weapon and where.

There is such a patchwork of laws and regulations, my friend told me, that he ended up taking his gun on and off several times a day.

And locking your gun in your car is a dodgy proposition as well. Someone could break into the car and steal your gun - or just steal the car. Your weapon will likely then be used to commit the very crimes you are trying to protect yourself against.

6. Alternatives

There are, of course, some alternative actions you can take that can make you safer. And of course, you can take such actions AND own a handgun as well.

First of all, avoid high crime areas. My friend at the Patent Office intentionally went into a very bad part of town, late at night, to save a few dollars on parking. I am not entirely sure he wasn't doing this to provoke an incident, such as in the movie "Falling Down" or "Dirty Harry" - that he was secretly hoping to say "make my day" to some criminal. He was an odd fellow.

Similarly, intentionally living in a bad neighborhood "because it is cheaper" and then owning a lot of expensive consumer goods - on the premise that you'll protect them with your firearms, is not a sound proposition either. But I've had friends (acquaintances, really) do this. I think you are better off living in a wealthier, lower crime area and owning less consumer junk, frankly. Your house will appreciate faster in a lower crime area, and probably there will be better schools as well.

Of course, being alert to your surroundings and not letting yourself become a victim is important as well. If you walk down the street and see someone is following you, cross the street. Head toward a well-lit area. Take a taxi, even if it is only a few blocks, if you are alone late at night. Taking active steps to protect yourself will probably do more to increase your safety than carrying a handgun. But you can, of course, do both. Perhaps that is the irony of gun ownership. Like with airbags, people with guns take more risks.

And of course, it never hurts to run like hell. At college once, I was assaulted by a group of thugs looking to rob a student. My friend who was with me was paralyzed and stood there motionless. I nearly had to carry him as we ran toward the commercial district. The bad guys gave chase for a block or so, but quickly decided that there were easier pickings out there. The only reason we ended up in that situation to begin with was that my friend recommended a dodgy "shortcut" to his apartment, late at night. Lesson Learned!

7. How Many Guns Do You Need?

Yes, you can make a logical argument for the need for a firearm for self protection. Here in the country, we do get rabid animals (Raccoons) on occasion, and the only way to dispatch them is with some sort of weapon.

But many folks, such as my friend who nearly shot his roommate, end up buying several firearms. While this may be considered a "hobby" it can quickly become and expensive one. Handguns - at least good ones - are expensive to buy and ammunition can be pricey as well. One friend of mine bought a smaller gun for target practice simply because he tired of going through $50 of ammunition each time he went to the range ($50 is a LOT of money in my book!).

Many folks caught up in the recent wave of gun buying are spending thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars on weapons and ammunition. One survivalist told me he bought 10,000 rounds of ammo, and thinks that maybe he might need 60,000 rounds. I am not sure if he is planning on starting a civil war or what.

But what I suspect will happen, once all the hysteria dies down, is that he will realize that he maxed out his credit cards on a consumer good that he will likely never use. Worse yet, since so many guns will be on the market at that point, he will be lucky to get 50 cents on the dollar on his purchases when he decides to unload his arsenal.

The gun manufacturers are laughing - all the way to the bank.

Handguns generally require permits and waiting periods to purchase. There are alternatives, such as shotguns and rifles, which may require little or no paperwork to purchase and can be bought at any discount store. For home protection, where the range of fire is measured in feet, not yards, a shotgun may be a better choice, as it will tend to hit any target in the general direction it is aimed at. A short barreled shotgun might be an easier and less expensive alternative to an expensive handgun.

Cheap handguns are never a good investment, as they do not hold their value and some can be outright dangerous. A well-made handgun, at least, will hold its value over time, if well maintained.

But before you run out and buy a handgun because of all the hoopla in the news lately, think carefully whether you are really making yourself safer, or just buying an expensive consumer good that you will never need or use - and one that, not handled properly, could make you less safe as well.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Jet Ski Trap

Jet skis lose their allure rather rapidly.

I pick on Jet Skis as sort of the epitome of silly purchases that end up squandering a lot of hard earned money. While I use them as an easy example, other types of purchases could fall along similar lines. Speed boats, "crotch rocket" motorcycles, snowmobiles, and ATVs come to mind as similar wasteful purchases. What these scenarios have in common is:
1. A seasonal or hobby item that is not really necessary to daily living.

2. An item financed (usually at a high interest rate) with "E-Z Monthly Payments"

3. An item that depreciates dramatically.

4. An item that loses its allure rather quickly.

5. An item that needs constant maintenance that the owner cannot provide.
Let's see how these aspects combine and collide in an all-too-typical example of the Jet Ski purchase.

Jeff (who is a real person, by the way, names changed to protect the innocent) is a well-off middle class suburban dweller. He is married and he and his wife have decent incomes working in office environments. While Jeff is very skilled in his narrow field of interest, he literally cannot change a light bulb without cross-threading it half the time.

On vacation, he rents a Jet ski for an hour, and on the ocean in front of the resort he is staying at, it seems like a lot of fun - jumping the waves in the hot summer sun. All too soon the hour is over, leaving him wanting more. If he had just rented for that second hour, he probably would have gotten Jet Skiing out of his system, as he realized that there is not a lot more to do, other than what he already had been doing.

On return from vacation, Jeff proposes to Marsha, his wife, that they buy Jet Skis. He's seen the ads in the paper, and for what he paid for an HOUR to rent a Jet Ski, he could make a monthly payment on one!

They set off to visit the Jet Ski dealer. Jeff did not do any research first, comparing prices and features and also figuring out what these things were worth.  He also did not research the price of used Jet Skis in the local classifieds or

The Jet Ski dealer was all too happy to see them on a busy weekend.  Jeff was immediately drawn to a display of two jet skis on a trailer in the middle of the showroom.  A large sign proclaims "Low monthly price! As low as $199 a month!**". This sounds too good to be true, and as Jeff will later learn, it is.

Of course, that was the price for only one Jet Ski. The monthly payment for two was twice that. And of course, the Jet Skis will need a trailer, which the dealer is happy to sell them. Lightweight Jet Ski trailers cost only a few hundred dollars to make.  But to Jeff, who has no idea what things cost, spending $2000 on a trailer seems like a reasonable proposition, as does spending $10,000 on a Jet Ski. Jeff and Martha leave the showroom having spent as much as, if not more than, they would have on a new car.

Of course, the Jet Skis will need to be registered and insured, and Jeff is shocked to realize that insurance is rather high for these items. He also has to take his car in to have a hitch installed and trailer light wiring installed. But within a week, all the loan paperwork is done and Jeff is pleased to go pick up his Jet Skis and head off for a weekend adventure! No mere hour-long rental, but a weekend full of Jet Skiing fun!

Jeff and Martha head over to the local lake and discover there is a long line to launch their Jet Skis on a Saturday morning. They finally get the Jet Skis in the water and after some initial messing around, take off from the dock. Other boaters angrily wave at them as they fly out of the launching area, oblivious to the no wake zone signs and roped swimming area.

Jeff and Martha discover the first negative about Jet Skis - other boaters hate them. Local landowners are annoyed by their loud buzzing sounds, and traditional boaters annoyed by their erratic unskilled and often unsafe drivers.

With a simple twist of the throttle, Jeff is now doing close to 70 mph on the water - a fairly staggering speed, considering most boats travel only 30 mph or so. He suddenly realizes that he is on a collision course with a bass boat. Panicked, he lets go of the throttle and tries to turn. With a horrible sinking feeling and pit in his stomach, Jeff realizes that the Jet Ski is still headed straight for the bass boat. Jeff discovers another problem with Jet Skis - when you release the throttle, they lose all directional control.

Fortunately for Jeff, the bass boat driver, having seen this scenario before, takes evasive action and avoids a deadly collision. Jeff is lucky. Every year, thousands of other Jet Skiers are not so lucky, and are either killed or maimed in such collisions. It is small wonder that insurance on these seasonal items can be so high.

Jeff learns his lesson and slows down and learns to take evasive action before coming close to boats or objects in the water - or land. He and Martha head off to an area where there are no boats and try out the new Jet Skis. They turn left and make circles. They turn right and make circles. They turn left. They turn right. Jeff comes to the realization that this wasn't as much fun as he thought. They have been on the water for only a half-hour, have pissed off all the other boaters in the area, and basically are having no fun.

There are no waves to jump, Jeff thinks, and after watching some other Jet Skiers, decide to find some boat wakes to jump. they follow a cabin cruiser throwing up a good wake and try to jump it. However, the jet skis do little more than bump over the two-foot wake and the boat's captain gives them an angry glance as they ride too close to his boat.

They ride some more. There has to be some fun in this, Jeff thinks, remembering the time at the resort. Or has he really "been there, done that" already? Having spend over twenty thousand dollars on these Jet Skis, he gets a sinking feeling, and thinks about the 59 months of payments ahead of them.

Martha sees an isolated section of water across the lake and suggests they head over there. They gun their engines and floor it across the lake, throwing up rooster tails. When they arrive, Jeff feels that maybe they have found the "fun" part, doing S-turns among the reeds in the shallow water and watching flocks of geese take flight ahead of their Jet Skis. But suddenly, Jeff's Jet ski sounds an alarm and slows down. The grasses have wound around the impeller and stalled the engine.

Martha pulls along side and Jeff looks under the seat, mystified as to how to correct the problem. Soon another boat arrives and Jeff is optimistic that help is on the way. Unfortunately, the boat is the local Environmental Conservation Sheriff, and Martha and Jeff are ticketed for riding their jet skis through a bird sanctuary and also violating wake zone rules. "I've had a number of complaints about you two" the Sheriff says, handing them the tickets. Jeff explains that they just bought the Jet Skis and the Sheriff shakes his head. He's seen this scenario many times before.

Using a short rope, Martha tows Jeff's Jet ski back across the lake. While it took them only minutes to get across under power, towing takes nearly an hour, as every time Martha tries to accelerate, Jeff's ski starts to swamp.

They get the Jet Skis on the trailer and leave, sitting in silence in the car on the way home. "Maybe next time will be better," Jeff says.

And it is, of course. They get the impeller unclogged at the dealer and Jeff learns a few basic maintenance procedures, like how to add oil to the oil injection system. The dealer is in no hurry to educate Jeff, because each costly mistake Jeff makes, out of ignorance, is another profitable transaction for the dealer.

They try other lakes and rivers and, having learned not to annoy other boaters and how to read the various signs and buoys, largely stay out of trouble. They take the Jet Skis to the beach and run them in the ocean water, which brings back a lot of the fun from their vacation. But still, it is not the continuous orgasm than Jeff expected, just a series of chores and tasks to get ready to go and to return - packing and unpacking equipment, food, beverages, and the like.

Unfortunately, Jeff hasn't learned half of the chores he needs to do. On the way back from one beach adventure, he is appalled when a wheel rolls by his car window - a wheel from his Jet Ski Trailer. It bounces across the median and narrowly misses an oncoming car. Jeff is lucky. Many more are not. Such wheels can pass through a windshield and kill an oncoming driver - it happens every year. Regular maintenance on a trailer is essential, and Jeff hasn't even washed his trailer since buying it.

Pulling off the road in a shower of sparks, he realizes that the wheel has fallen off his trailer. Having no spare, he leaves the now-crippled trailer by the side of the road and sets off to find a replacement wheel.

However, it is Sunday, and most of the stores are closed. Not knowing the wheel and tire size anyway, he has no idea what tire to get. He finally calls a tow truck to come out and pick up the trailer. Even if he had a spare, it wouldn't have made a difference. Since Jeff never lubricated the hubs on this trailer, the salt water attacked the bearings and cause the axle stub to shear off. Not only did Jeff need a new wheel and Tire, he needed a new axle as well. This scenario plays out with predictable regularity on the roadways of the USA. On any given Sunday, you'll find at least one similarly crippled Jet Ski trailer on the side of any Interstate Highway.

Since the trailer is not covered by his roadside assistance, he has a hefty $400 towing bill to pay, as well as the repairs to the trailer. Jeff is discouraged. Maybe they should sell the Jet Skis. After owning them a year, he goes online to see what he can get for them.

Jeff is shocked. He checks the local classifieds, the local, and the NADA used boat values. The retail value for his Jet Skis is thousands less than he owes on the loan. He calls the dealer he bought them from. The dealer is all too willing to take them back - as a trade-in on a newer, more expensive model, provided the deficit in the payoff is folded back into a higher interest "negative equity" loan on the newer models.

If Jeff wants to sell his Jet Skis, he'll have to PAY $3000 to get rid of them. Since he lives as a "salary slave" from paycheck to paycheck, he doesn't have $3000 to pay off the deficit on the loans when he sells the Jet Skis - if he can sell them at all.

So the Jet Skis sit on the trailer in his side yard, gathering mildew and algae, while the trailer tires go flat. Martha has lost interest in Jet Skiing, particularly now that a baby is on the way. Jeff, too, has found Jet Skiing to be less than he thought it would be.

Unfortunately, the Jet Skis continue to depreciate faster than the balance on the loan declines. Jeff and Martha make five more years of payments on this expensive mistake. Sitting in the side yard, unused, the engines languish, the vinyl upholstery fades and cracks, and all the rubber pieces start to craze and rot.

High revving two stoke engines rarely last long anyway, which is one reason Jet Skis depreciate so quickly. Few jet skis are still around that are more than five years old. You may see some brave soul with some engine fix-it experience nurse one back to life. But for the most part, they crash and burn after a relatively short life.

Jeff and Martha donate the Jet Skis to a local charity for a tax write-off once the loan is paid off. The charity sells the Jet Skis and trailer at auction. The Jet Skis are sold for parts by their new owner, who is interested only in the trailer - which he uses to haul his lawnmower, after mounting a piece of plywood to it.

What was the overall cost of this financial fiasco to Jeff and Martha? In addition to the $22,500 paid for the Jet Skis and trailer, there is the staggering $10,000 in interest payments. Throw in repairs, registration, property taxes, and the like, and you have a bill of $40,000 or more for few weekends of fun. Jeff and Martha can ill afford such waste, particularly that they now have children.

Could Jeff and Martha done anything differently to prevent such a scenario? Yes.

To begin with, they could have just said "no" to buying a Jet Ski. While renting one may seem expensive, in terms of cost per hour, it may be cheaper overall. Moreover, you are not committed to years of payments for something that might only catch your fancy for a few days or weeks.

They might also have looked at buying a real boat. For less than the cost of a jet ski, Jeff and Martha could have owned a small boat. While a Jet Ski provides you with minutes of endless fun, turning left and turning right, you can do much more with a boat. You can fish from a boat, waterskii, wakeboard, tube, camp, cruise, party, or whatever. You can invite your friends on a boat - or family members. Moreover, a regular boat depreciates more slowly than a jet ski.

They also should have looked into paying cash for such a purchase, buying the Jet Skis secondhand. Since there are so many Jet Skis out there like Jeff and Martha's, where the buyer loses interest fairly quickly, you can buy them relatively new and in good shape, for a lot less than new ones. But you have to find a seller who is not "upside down" on his loan, and since these are hard to finance if you are not going through a dealer, you generally have to pay cash.

Frankly, for such a luxury purchase as a Jet Ski, boat, RV, or whatever, it probably is a good idea to pay cash. That way, you are less at risk of being "upside down" on a loan, and can dispose of the item at any time, regardless of how badly it has depreciated.

It is better to sell a used Jet Ski for half of what you paid for it, than to make 6 years of payments and then sell it for scrap. Yet this latter scenario is played out in back yards all across America - as consumers pay off loans on RVs, Boats, Jet Skis, Motorcycles, and the like. Now that the recession has hit - and hit hard - you cannot give away luxury items like these. But it is a good time to pick one up - secondhand.

Lastly, Jeff and Martha should have taken the time to learn how to maintain such equipment. You CAN own "toys" like a Jet Ski or a motorcycle or an RV or a Boat, on a budget, provided you don't have to run off to a dealer every time it breaks. If you cannot take care of an item to prevent it from breaking, and if you cannot do basic maintenance on an item when it needs maintenance, then maybe you should re-think owning luxury items involving machinery.

Jeff and Martha learned an expensive lesson relatively early on in life. But one wonders, when you consider the educational background both Jeff and Martha have, why they would make such a costly mistake at all?

* * *

P.S. - while the plural form of Ski was, I thought, Skiis, it appears the plural of Jet Ski is Jet Skis, which makes no sense to me and sounds like it would be pronounced "Jet Skiz". "Personal Watercraft" is the generic term, but rather awkward.

UPDATE April 2015:

I got the Jet Ski thing out of my system in a day.  A friend of ours loaned us two Jet Skis in Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida, and we took them out for a day - going through the mangroves, the back channels, the beach, and into the ocean, where yes, I got one airborne with "one hand on the controls!"  But after a few hours, it was like, "Is that all there is?"   That and how scary-fast these things went (I am a boater, and respect speed on the water).  I am glad I tried it.  But no, I don't need to spend $20,000 on  a pair of them.

Daniel Tosh's famous "waverunner" bit.  We all miss your Cousin!