Sunday, March 30, 2014


Behind nearly every trailer is a trampoline, usually filled with dead leaves.

I had a nightmare last night that I was in Hell, and Hell was a wholesale club.  Everyone was rushing around to buy things, before they closed.   I was trying to buy a barbecue grill, but the employees had not assembled it right, and the legs were loose, bolts were missing, and there were stray miscellaneous parts inside.  A speaker blared, "We are closing in 10 minutes" as I struggled to bring this discounted half-assembled grill to the checkout.   I woke up in a sweat.   What a weird dream!

I realized that I had been reading the BJ's Wholesale catalog before bed, which was probably a bad idea.   I glanced at it again, and saw on the back, trampolines and huge play sets, with the caption, "Be the envy of your whole neighborhood!"

This Taj Mahal of Swing-sets features five slides and two clubhouses.  Really?

The huge playset, pictured above, had the caption, "Make your back yard into the neighborhood playground!" which I immediately thought was probably not a good idea, from several perspectives.

It is funny, but the poorer people are, the more likely they are to have such trash in their backyard, which is rarely used, as the portly kids (like most today) are inside playing Xbox and eating snack foods, not exercising out-of-doors. But like clockwork, whenever you drive by a run-down trailer home, there will be an amazing outdoor playset in the back yard, and the inevitable trampoline.  It is like Christmas lights - the best displays are in the poorest neighborhoods. For some reason, rich people don't have trampolines (and usually not ostentatious Christmas displays, either).

And this is a shame, too.  How else will your children qualify for the International Trampoline Competition, get into the Olympics, or go to college on a Trampoline scholarship?   It would be like denying your kids a pool table!  Maybe you are dropping the ball here, in the parenting department.

But that reminded me of another thing about trampolines - my insurance application. You see, on both my homeowner's and Umbrella liability applications, there was a question, "Do you own a trampoline?" which I thought was telling.  

Actually, they kind of went right down the redneck accessory checklist.   "Do you own a pit bull?" - and so on.

Trampolines can be dangerous, of course, particularly when used unsupervised.  They are safer today than in the past.  When I was a kid, a trampoline was a tiny round affair with no screening on the sides, or even padding over the skin-pinching springs. You went off the side of a trampoline, and your leg shot down the gap between the springs, usually very painfully.  Sometimes this resulted in broken bones, other times, far worse.   Bouncing up 20 feet in the air and then landing on your head has predictable results.

And the insurance companies are aware of this, apparently.   So when you make your backyard "The Neighborhood Playground!" you are courting a huge amount of liability, as other people's kids could get hurt, and their parents, in turn, will sue you.

And maybe that is one reason why you see this stuff behind trailers and run-down homes of poor people. They have no attachable assets, so being sued doesn't worry them.  Heck, they probably don't even have homeowner's insurance (I've seen this, firsthand, and it didn't work out well).

It is also emblematic of how poor folks think.   They do like to "treat themselves" to a lot of consumer goods, and they view life as a series of acquisitions of "nice shit" that will impress other people like themselves.  Jet skis, motorcycles, motorhomes, cars, trucks - generally anything with an engine attached.   And it goes without saying that the homes with the largest flat-screen televisions are often in the worst parts of town.

So the giant playset and trampoline are sort of status symbols for this set.   "Look how much money I can afford to spend treating my children!" it is saying - along with the litter of children's toys scattered on the front yard, including the playskool bright-plastic roto-molded junk, and the de-rigeur electric powered mini-car.

Their children are taught at an early age that life is all about acquiring shit and consuming it (but not taking care of it).  Buy stuff, put it on a credit card, and then smash it up good so you will be ready to buy more shit.  Repeat ad infinitim.   Screw "saving money" -  that's for "sissies" who don't have a Camaro.

Middle and upper class people tend to favor manicured lawns and property values, as well as putting money in the bank.   Buying an amazing playset for your kid is really just spoiling him - he will grow up just fine with only one or two slides, trust me.   And maybe middle and upper-class people think that putting that playset money into a college savings account is a better way of "treating" your child.

It's funny, but this trend also illustrates how wealthy we have become as a country.  We can afford all this crap, mostly because it is made in China, but also because we have more wealth in real terms, compared to days gone by. And what is really remarkable is that the poorest among us can afford this shit.

Compare the trampoline and playset above to the ones we had in 1965.  A "de-luxe" playset back then (made of rusting steel) had maybe a slide, two swings, and maybe a "coaster".  The trampoline back then would have been about 10 feet in diameter without any of the safety features we see today.

Now go back to my parent's childhood in the 1930's. No trampolines at all, and a swing-set might be something you had in the public playground. Of course, back then, the suburban sprawl had yet to take hold, and children would actually would walk down the street to the public playground to play - often without parental supervision.

Our generation, growing up in the suburbs, learned to play in the background, on our own equipment.  So maybe right there is the reason this sort of thing has expanded over time.

And that gets me to thinking that if you buy the giant playset like the picture, the odds of "the entire neighborhood" coming over to play are pretty slim.   Chances are, all the other kids have a similar set.   The giant playset becomes like the giant Motel-Like house that grandparents buy, on the premise that "the grands" will come.

Funny, but when we lived in Virginia, the County built one of these giant playsets at the local park.   It was enormous and it was pretty de-luxe.   And it was rarely used.

You can really go broke, one credit card charge at a time, buying all the crap they have on display at the wholesale club.   And it all looks so appealing, in the displays and in the catalogs.   And each item is priced just at that point where you can "swing it" with your credit card. Hey, it's only $1999.99!  That's like a thousand bucks, right?

And it doesn't end with trampolines and playsets.  Adult toys abound as well.   A popular item is these cheap outdoor bars, which look really cool inside the club.   Many are branded with "Tommy Bahama" (how far that company has fallen!) and assemble with just a few tools.   You can also get a giant cooler-on wheels, with a bottle opener on the side!  How cool is that?   And if you are not sitting at the bar, you can relax in your shade tent, complete with padded outdoor furniture.

A friend of mine went out and bought the whole kit and kaboodle.  The bar even had a sink, that you could hook up to a garden hose (no word on where the drain went).   It sat out in their yard, quietly rusting, being used maybe once or twice.   The bar was like 7/8ths normal size, so it was like sitting in a kiddie playhouse, and not comfortable.  The roll-around cooler was so huge, it took two bags of ice to fill, and was kind of stupid for a party of four people.  The legs wobbled and rusted.   The giant shade tent shredded its fabric after one season, and the padded cushions started to mildew and get funky.   Three thousand dollars charged to the credit card - and for what?

Think long and hard before you whip out the credit card at the wholesale club.   A lot of the crap they sell there is poorly made, overpriced, and ends up being unused after a week or two.

The wholesale club truly is hell.