Thursday, July 24, 2014

Toys will be toys, especially if you’ve got $$$

If you, like me, are already sitting around wondering where summer went, and how you can salvage some of the dwindling hours we have left in it…

If you, unlike me, have some serious walking around money that is not already earmarked for boring stuff like new shades in the living room, repairing the hole in the ceiling that the HVAC installers gouged in ours last fall, and – jumping seasons a bit here – the pricey but beautiful sweater I just saw in the Peruvian Connection catalog…

You might want to check out this article on Huff Po on some nifty summer toys for the rich folk that are on sale at (mostly) Hammacher Schlemmer, which I believe translates into English as “silly, overpriced stuff that no one in their right mind would buy.”

Huff Po does some serious sneering, I’m afraid, but, seriously, what’s not to dislike about a set of campfire roasting rods from for $119.95. Yes, as HS tells us, these are “patented [and] counter-balanced” and come with a “stainless steel ‘line’ that terminates in a pair of roasting spits.” All the while keeping the kiddies “a safe distance” from the campfire.

But this is right up there with the perfect snowball maker in terms of sucking some of the joy out of childhood. (The kind that comes from taking a teenie-weenie risk, and from using an implement  - your mitten’d hands: snowball; a stick: toasting marshmallows -  that you have on your person or can easily create on your own.)  EVERYTHING DOESN”T HAVE TO COME IN A PACKAGE!

Come on, parents and grandparents of America, don’t you want your little ones to experience the satisfaction that comes from mastering the difference between a stick and a snake? From figuring out the risk/reward of pulling a stray hot dog out of the fire?

Sheesh…

If you’re in a bit more of a spending mood,Hammacher also offers $699.99 electric roller skates. That should help with the fight against obesity, no? I’d say that these babies would be unsafe at any speed (they go 8 mph), at least for the pedestrians in their way. Bad enough having to dodge runners, bicyclists (get off of my sidewalk), folks in Hoverounds tearing up the pavement (slow down, gramps), and tourist gawkers on Segways (you’re supposed to be in the street, pal). Now we have the prospect of electronic roller skates?  Oh, for the days of the simple skate key…

Then there’s an inflatable version of Twister for $2K, which they call the “Color Dot Game” because the Inflatable Twistername Twister was already taken. The good news is that there’s more room to twist around in. The bad news is, it’s still, well, Twister. (Maybe I’ll sign up for the inflatable Trivial Pursuit when it comes out.)

Although I would be the first one to break my neck in it – that is, after I’d lost my lunch – I will say that the Human Bowling Ball ($5.5 K) looks like fun. That is, if you’re the type that likes to break neck/lose lunch, or watch others doing the same.

Since there are so few left who are willing to take mallet in hand and participate in the annual family croquet outing – come on, who wouldn’t rather sit there and drink wine and gossip? – maybe we can get someone to spring for this before next summer. I can picture this fitting in perfectly in my cousin MB’s back yard. Perhaps we could vary things up a bit and roll after Canadian geese. (I have a nominee in mind.)Human Bowling Ball

We’ll just have to figure out who gets to wipe the goose poop off.

Hammacher Schlemmer has all sorts of other summer goodies: a Barbecue Dining Boat that will set you back $50,000; something that lets the entire family walk (or stand) on water simultaneously for $999.95 (didn’t my brother Tom have something called “Jesus Feet” back in the 1970’s?); and a frankly quite fun-looking Inflatable Water Park slide for $8K. (I think this item may be from Sharper Image, not HS.)

You can also get an Inflatable Military Obstacle Course for $12,500.

Personally, life is enough of an obstacle course these days without adding in some inflatable military impediments.

No tree in sight? And, if you’re on an ocean beach, there probably isn’t much in sight other than a couple of scrub pines, there’s a Floating Rope Swing ($3,800).

Flying Hovercraft ($190K). Killer Whale Submarine ($100K). Motorized Monocycle ($13K – see the above on electric roller skates). Water Skier Controlled Tow Boat (for those with no friends, a high risk tolerance, and a spare $17,000). A Personal Submarine, which I guess must be a bit more water proof and depth capable than the cheapo Killer Whale Sub ($2 million: Paul Allen, step aside).

And just in case you build up a powerful, hungry kind of thirst playing with (and paying for) all these toys, you can get a Classic Snow Cone Cart for $4K.

Oh, whatever happened to the Classic DIY Lemonade Stand?

I guess if you need to churn out “up to 500 lbs. of finely granulated ice per hour,” this one’s for you.

But Snow Cones? Snow Cones! Really….

One good slurp and you’ve exhausted the colored sweet gunk and are stuck with a sopping paper cup filed with ice.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nice way to derail your future, bro

Every few months, whether we need it or not, it seems that there’s some teenager putting a stake in the heart of his or her future by doing something truly dreadful. Something truly dreadful that generally involves sex.

Last week’s sordid story comes out of one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. SPS has been around since 1856, and is 100% residential. None of those down-market day-duckers mucking things up and detracting from the 24/7 SPS experience.

Anyway, the story currently making the news rounds involves a senior male who, on the eve of his graduation, has been arrested for sexually assaulted a 15 year old female sophomore. Allegedly, he was playing a game with a group of classmates in which they were trying to “hook up” with as many girls as possible before the school year ended.

The student who’s been charged must have been falling behind in the head (ahem) count, and resorted to force. As of this writing, this is not something that any of the other play-ahs resorted to. So far.

I’m not going to name names here. Google St. Paul’s School and one or two other words and you’ll find it. But what this guy’s name is doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is that, again and again, we hear too much of this and variation on a theme stories. This one involved e-mailing a girl, inviting her to a off-limits rendezvous spot, and sexual assault. No gang-bangs, no roofies, no drugs and alcohol, no Instagram, no FB bragging. Just good old-fashioned sexual assault.

It will come as no surprise that the accused student is an athlete. Something about that culture seems to bring out the worst in some young men, that’s for sure. And I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he had been accepted to Harvard.

But I am shocked that someone bright enough to get into Harvard – even, as is likely, via the affirmative action for privileged white athletic male route – was stupid enough to jeopardize his future to notch a meaningless sexual encounter.

Is he a sociopath? An arrogant punk? An entitled POS? All of the above?

I suspect that, whether he ends up in jail or this all gets lost in some he-say-she-say persiflage (or, as is unlikely based on what’s come out so far, that this is a boyfriend-girlfriend gone wrong thing), he’s probably kissing Harvard good-bye. They’ve got a character clause in that acceptance letter, thank you.

I know that at 18, an awful lot of boys are doing a lot of thinking with their little head. Still, you’d think these high-prestige schools – especially those that are 100% residential and, thus, have so much responsibility to and for their students; or is in loco parentis just plain out of date and quaint  – would get better at instilling in its charges (as their parents apparently haven’t) that this behavior is god-awful. And if the moral appeal fails, and if the Golden Rule derivative: what if it’s your sister/niece/friend doesn’t work, you’d think that they’d parade out the object lessons on what can happen if you engage in this sort of behavior.

I.e., you probably don’t get to go to Harvard. You probably don’t get the  posh internships you’d hoped for.Your fancy-ass network probably turns its back on you. A woman you really want to go out with may think twice, but that will be thinking twice before rejecting your request for a date.  Etc.

And while they’re at it, why not drum into the heads of their female students that, if a boy who has never spoken with you, nodded at you in quad, sat with you in the dining hall, shared a snide observation about a teacher, smiled at you at a game, told one of your friends he thought you were cute, retweeted your droll tweet, or done anything that leads you to believe he has some true interest in you, you’d be better off deleting an e-mail invitation to meet in a remote, off-limits place where it will be just him and you. On second thought, you might not want to accept that invitation even if you do have one or two checkboxes regarding his interest in you.

Maybe there’s no such thing as an Archie and Veronica date – two straws in the malted – anymore, but, for all their knowingness and sophistication, today’s girls would do well to heed an occasional warning from on of us dried-up old prunes.

But, if you do accept that e-mail invitation – after all, it’s a senior jock and he’s asked you – I am not blaming you, honey. You ARE the victim here.

Wonder what this young fellow’s parents are thinking just about now.

Wonder if they’re ashamed, sick at heart, aching for the young girl, and angry with their son.

Wonder if they’re focusing that anger on the girl. (Slut. Tease. We all know the drill.)

And wonder what’s going on in the mind of this young man these days.

Is it shame? Is it anger at the girl for (at least in his mind) leading him on, for lying after the fact, for telling?

Is he thinking he did something wrong? Or that he’s the victim here?

Or is the realization seeping in that he screwed up big time, and is probably not going to be living the life, or having the career, that he envisioned when he got into SPS, when he got the thick envelope from Harvard giving him the good t news?

Although it wasn’t part of my playbook, I’m quite sure that meaningless sex can be fun and entertaining. But that would be only when it’s consensual.

Suckering in a younger girl so you could score some points in a sex game with your bros. Well, that takes meaningless to a new low.

But this guy’s fellow gamers will be distancing themselves from him faster than you scan yell “Score.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Put a needle in this Haystack, why don’t you

As someone who has actually owned a car in a densely occupied urban environment where the parking ain’t easy, I well understand the frustration surrounding the hunt for a parking space.

When I had to commute by automobile – never, ever, ever my preference – I initially tried to get by without paid-for parking. I did get my Beacon Hill sticker, which entitled me to park on our fair neighborhood streets if and only if I could find a space. Which sometimes took a long and brutal search, which generally ended in my giving up and paying for overnight parking in the nearest garage.

After a while I smartened up and got worker-bee parking in that garage.

For $100 a month – it’s more now, but still a bargain – I had to exit by 10 a.m. each workday, and could enter only after 4 p.m., but had unlimited in-and-out on weekends, holidays, and snow days. Since I have been blessedly blessed with good health, I seldom had to figure out what to do on a sick day. On vacations, I parked at the airport or left the car at my sister’s.

When I started freelancing, car ownership became more problematic. I couldn’t justify paying for full-time parking for a car I seldom used, so I hit the streets. A complete and utter drag that eventually resulted in my giving my beloved Beetle to Volunteers of America.

So you’d think I’d be all over an app that let’s people more easily find that elusive space.

Well, not if it works like Haystack.

All wrapped up in a combination of like a good neighbor and unleash the inner greedster verbiage:

Help your neighbors by offering your street space before you head out with a simple tap. Cancel without penalty at anytime if nobody has taken your spot.

Not planning on heading out, but willing to move your car for the right price? Offer your spot for extended time during the most in-demand hours to help your neighbors who need it most.

Haystack lets you alert a fellow Haystacker that you’re about to leave your space, giving your estimated time of departure, your location, a description on your vehicle, and a head’s up on how long you’re willing to wait. The charge for this is $3, of which 75 cents goes into Haystack’s coffers. (The “willing to move your car for the right price” option is called Make Me Move, and lets you set your price.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, what happens when hapless, app-less Mom and Dad Ohio with three squalling kids in the car see you get into yours and think, hey, it’s my lucky day.

Well, maybe Dad Ohio is not Midwest nice. He’s Midwest pissed. (Those three squalling kids…)

And forget about Mom and Dad Ohio. They can go find a garage.

What about those neighbors who, like you, have a parking permit. They see you get into your car and think, hey, it’s my lucky day. Only to have the Haystacker wave them off. Only to see the Haystacker give it up for his fellow app-savvy urban parking guerrilla.

Having narrowly avoided a couple of I-saw-it-first confrontations of my own, and having witnessed plenty of them, this does not end pretty.

It’s one thing if you actually own the parking place, quite another when it’s a place the city owns.

Anyway, Haystack launched in Baltimore, but has come to Boston.

The Hub of the Universe – at least the folks who run it – is not exactly excited about this:

“That has implications that at first blush are alarming to us,” said [Mayor Marty] Walsh’s chief of staff, Daniel Koh. “When a space is available, it should be available to anyone, regardless of whether they have extra money to pay for it.”

…Haystack’s 24-year-old founder, who says his app is an innovative solution to one of urban living’s great frustrations, contends the company is not selling public property at all. Rather, it is selling information about public parking — specifically, when spaces are about to open up.

“There’s no sale of physical property,” Eric Meyer said. “This is neighbors exchanging information for a fee, and they have every right to do that. What you’re really paying for is convenience.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Although Boston’s official tone was initially somewhat open toward Haystack, they’ve now come out saying they’ll put a stop to it.

In this, they’ll be following the lead of San Francisco

City attorney Dennis Herrera has threatened to fine three services —MonkeyParking, Sweetch, and ParkModo — if they do not cease operations, accusing them of “hold[ing] hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”

“It creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate,” Herrera said in June. “Worst of all, it encourages drivers to use their mobile devices unsafely — to engage in online bidding wars while driving.”

Sweetch is like Haystack (only costs more). MonkeyParking is auction based. And ParkModo

…has taken to hiring drivers — at $13 per hour — to occupy street spaces at peak hours in busy neighborhoods as a way of increasing app usage.

How neighborly can you get?

Personally, if someone wants to order a pizza, do their laundry, or find the nearest hookup via app, well, have at it.

If you want to auction off your own personal, personally-owned space, have at that, too

Boston will be coming up with an app that let’s people know where metered spaces are open, and that makes sense to me. But there’s something completely unsavory about the Haystack pay-up app approach to a public good or service.

I know there’s no stopping the march of technology, but I’d be just as happy if someone put a fully-loaded needle in this Haystack.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Flightmare

Perhaps because I was never a super heavy business traveler, I escaped my full time career with relatively few travel horror stories.

Oh, there were the three hours spent broiling on the tarmac at Newark Airport waiting for the weather to clear at wherever we were headed. To conserve fuel, they turned the engines, and, hence, the AC. It was 95 and sunny. Excellent!

Sadly, I never got to Frankenmuth, Michigan. After hanging around Logan for about 3 or 4 hours, that game was called on account of snow. I had been looking forward to getting a glimpse of Frankenmuth, which is not only to home of Frankenmuth Insurance (our destination) but also some sort of Bavarian theme town. Jawohl? Neinwohl. By the time our call was rescheduled, I was no longer with the company.

Then there was the terrible, weather-delayed flight to Houston that got in at 4 a.m.

And getting stranded in Orlando on 9-11 wasn’t exactly fun.

Mostly, I had to deal with minor nuisance delays and the odd cancellation that was easy enough to work around.

On the pleasure side of the travel equation, I’ve been equally lucky.

The one big hassle trip was a seven hour delay at Shannon.

Once we got on the plane, the pilot charmingly told us that the delay occurred because the plane had been struck by lightning on the way over, and Aer Lingus “knew that we would want them to check it out.” Yes, indeed.

But my travel life has been pretty much sturm und drang free.

And then there was Frightmare: Return from Chicago.

Because of some traffic issues, my cousin Ellen – hostess par excellence for my recent visit to the Second City, formerly known as the Windy City, and before that, Hog Butcher of the World – decided to get me to O’Hare on the early side. This was great, as it gave me the opportunity to get on stand-by for an earlier flight.

Alas, I didn’t make it on.

But I was content to sit there with my Kindle.

Then came the news that the 4:57 to Boston was delayed until 7:04 p.m.

Oh, what’s two hours when you’ve got three more novels loaded, and you’re sitting near a plug?

Then the flight shifted to 8:15 p.m.

By this time, the cannier travelers – business people with tickets that were actually paid for – were booking on other airlines.

Since I was traveling on frequent flyer, my options were limited to getting wait-listed on other United flights. Which didn’t work out.

At some point, my flight was rescheduled for 9-something. With this reschedule came the admission that the plane we were going to be heading back to Boston on hadn’t left Newark yet. Given that the flight hadn’t left, and given that it takes about 2 hours to fly from Newark, that 9-something take-off began to look like the lie from the pit of hell.

While we were all sitting there doing the math, the gate person got on the PA and announced that our gate was being moved from C21 to B3.

Those of us who were more fleet of foot high-tailed it over to terminal B – quite a schlepp, I might add – only to find out that we had been misinformed.

There was, indeed, a flight to Boston leaving from B3, but it wasn’t ours, and it was full already.

Back at C21, I asked the gate person whether we had misunderstood the announcement.

No, we had heard right. What we hadn’t heard was the “never mind” that had followed the initial “get thee to B3” announcement.

By this point, the flight was scheduled for 11:30 p.m.

I figured by now that Flight 744 was just as likely to be cancelled as take off at 11:30, so I got in the customer service line. My thought was that I could keep an eye on my flight, but see what my options were for the following day.

After an hour-and-a-half wait, I got to the head of the line, where a remarkably pleasant and competent young woman told me that they had jiggered things around so that a plane coming from Houston, and a pilot coming from Detroit, would be taking us back to Boston, leaving somewhere around midnight.

Just to make sure, she booked me on the 6 a.m. flight the following morning.

Fortunately, our flight did take off at midnight, more or less, arriving in Boston at 3 a.m. Eastern.

I was delighted to learn that there are plenty of taxis to be had at Logan at 3 a.m.

So home I was by 3:30 a.m., and, after a quick shower, rolling into bed by 3:45 a.m.

I was exhausted, but none the worse for having spent 10 hours at O’Hare.

Between the Kindle – and the fellow traveler conversations I had with the Nigerian woman flying to Philadelphia, the fellow Maureen with a grandson named Oliver, the retired cop heading home from Alaska, the guy from Michigan whose daughter is looking at colleges – I was plenty entertained.

If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me while traveling, I’ll have a pretty darned good travel life.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

My kind of town, Chicago is

While I am, first and foremost, a Worcester girl, I am also, quite proudly, “half Chicago,” the town my mother hails from. (Actually the town she originally hailed from was in the complete and utter back arse of Mitteleuropa, but she arrived here when she was three or four years old, and grew up in Chicago.)

Anyway, thanks to my cousin Ellen (and her good-natured and gabfest-tolerant husband Mike), I just spent an absolutely wonderful few days in Chicago.

This is one beautiful city and, while Boston is home and, quite naturally, one of my favorite places on earth, I have to put Chicago right up there with New York City and Paris in my personal urban pantheon.

I’m not wild about the flatness, and I wouldn’t want to live 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. And there is the matter of the Chicago accent. (But, as they might say in the Midwest, honest to Pete, most folks don’t speak “da Bulls/da Bears”, and I wouldn’t want to be full time around a Southie or Brooklyn accent, either.)

Other than that, as long as you’re not one of the poor unfortunates who live in one of the violence-soaked gangbanger neighborhoods where an eight year old on a bike or a toddler at the window isn’t safe from a stray bullet, what’s not to like?

Chicago is beautiful, with a waterfront that any city that fronts on water would envy.

And Chicago’s got culture.

Not that I visited any of them on this visit – been there, done that – there are wonderful museums.

Chicago has excellent restaurants, great shopping, and plenty of stuff to see and do.

Chicagoans like and like to talk sports and politics.

Okay, it’s not the pleasant weather capital of the world. But I grew up in Worcester, and chose to live in Boston, so weather is obviously not a deal-breaker, city-wise.

So far, Chicago sounds like to lot of big cities, no? Plus or minus on some of the attributes, but you could slug in San Francisco or Philadelphia, and nothing much changes.

But what Chicago has that, in my book, surpasses any major city in the U.S., is incredibly interesting, beautifully kept up, and – thanks to that flatness – blissfully and comfortably walkable neighborhoods.

And we walked around plenty of them.

Ellen and I tromped through the neighborhood where our grandmother lived, a wonderful area full of charming bungalows and prairie-style houses. Sadly, our grandmother’s house has gotten a little run down over the years, which would have Grandma spinning in her grave. Every other house in her neighborhood was getting plenty of TLC, but Grandma’s front yard was overgrown, the paint on the front door was peeling, the front screen door was shabby. In general, things looked pretty forlorn.

In my grandmother’s day, that front lawn was a velvet carpet, and no one who washed all her windows and curtains once a month was going to have a door with peeling front paint, that’s for sure.

So that was a bit sad.

On the upside, we got to see Blago’s house, which was right around the corner from my grandmother’s.

For those who aren’t that up on their Illinois politics, former governor Rod Blagojevich is doing time for trying to sell Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder.

Anyway, his house – or former house, I gather – is a thing of beauty.

Which is more than you can say for Our Lady of Mercy Church, where both my mother and my Aunt Mary (Ellen’s mother) were married. I have to say that, whatever it looked like in the 1940’s when Liz and Mary were married, it is now a hideous combination of ugly old and sterile new.

It was, nonetheless, fun to drop in and check it out.

We also “did” Andersonville, Lakewood/Balmoral, Lincoln Park...

One house more attractive and charming than the next, all along lovely tree-lined streets.

Better than roaming around some of Chicago’s hoods was hanging with my cousin Ellen (talking everything under the sun, exchanging book lists, and criticizing the homebuyers on HGTV), and getting to visit with family: my Aunt Mary (still going strong at 89!), Ellen’s kids and grandkids, Ellen’s Chicago sibs and their spouses.

I also got to see some of Naperville, where Ellen and her husband raised there kids, and where they’re now retired.

I am generally suburb-averse, but Napervills is one of those fortunate suburbs that was actually a place on its own before it was a bedroom community. It has lovely neighborhoods, a nifty downtown that my cousin can walk to – and that nifty downtown has one of the best indie bookstores in the country, by the way – and a very pleasant River Walk along the Du Page River.

Ellen and Mike are going to be spending the month of September in Paris, and she’ll be blogging about her adventure (and about preparing for it) on Hello, Lamppost.

Those of a certain age will recognize these words as coming from Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy).

I suspect that once I departed Chez Brosnahan, Mike was adopting a quite different Simon and Garfunkel tune as his own anthem: Sounds of Silence.

Thanks, Ellen. Thanks, Mike.

My kind of town, Chicago is.

I’ve always kin of known this, but it was fun to be reminded of it.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shocked, I’m shocked. (Not really.)

The other day, I had lunch with a friend, a woman my age. Like me, K is a widow. Unlike me, she’s been a widow for more than a decade, while today I’m marking my fourth montliversary.

One topic covered in our rambling conversation was what aspects of widowhood were difficult, and which ones weren’t especially bothersome.

Although K has been at it a lot longer than I, we both hit upon not being able to go on trips with our husbands as one of the most painful things to go through. (Going on vacations had been important to both K and myself.)

But we also both talked about how, in general, spending a lot of time by ourselves didn’t bother us at all – never had (before or after being widowed), and probably never would. Neither one of us is, or aspires to be, a recluse. But we both like biding our time all by our lonesomes, that’s for sure.

As has always been the case, a lot of my “me time” is taken up with reading.

But I also take long walks – something I used to do regularly with Jim, but now do on my own. Admittedly, I occasionally find myself going over to the dark side and making a phone call on my walk, but I’m trying to make those walks either quietly observational or blanked out mind treks. I’m also perfectly content to stare out into space, sitting on a bench in the Public Garden, or to stare out into Jim’s pride and joy 48” flat screen (turned off) sitting on the living room couch.

Nope, not being able to spend enough time in my own head has never been one of my problems.

But there’s a study out that shows the shocking degree to which many folks will go to avoid being alone with their thoughts.

I shouldn’t be all that surprised. We are, after all, a nation of doers not thinkers. Still, it’s a bit shocking to learn that so many people would rather withstand an electrical shock than sit doing nothing for 15 minutes. But that’s what a recent experiment found.

Being alone with no distractions was so distasteful to two-thirds of men and a quarter of women that they elected to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly in a room with nothing but the thoughts in their heads, according to a study from the University of Virginia. (Source: Bloomberg)

The study was multi-part, and involved relatively small groups, but those groups spanned age, profession, etc.

There was no evidence that any group, based on age, education, income or social media usage, was more likely to appreciate time spent in reflection.

The study originally started out with students, and researchers found that the kids got bored pretty darned easily, and disliked the experience of having nothing to do.

Naturally, a lot of us would want to chalk this up to the “always on” generation’s being singularly incapable of being calm, self-reflecting Zen gods like ourselves.

But, like all good researchers, the UVA folks forged on, so they tested:

…whether volunteers would prefer an unpleasant activity -- an electric shock -- rather than no activity at all.

And damned if a majority of the men, and one-quarter of the women, decided that – even though ahead of time, after they’d tested the 9 volt jolt and deemed it painful, after they’d said that “they would pay to avoid” the shock – with nothing better to do than think, they’d give themselves a bit of a shock to kill some time.

Maybe if I had to sit there for 15 hours with nothing to do, I might decide to stick my finger in the socket, metaphorically speaking. But 15 minutes? Don’t people have issues to think through? Conversations to replay? Slights to fret about? Problems to solve? Joyful experiences they want to recall? (Sorrowful experiences they want to wallow in?)

The most telling participants said they were bored, and giving themselves a shock was better than being bored, [lead researcher Timothy] Wilson said.

“Maybe the mind is built to exist in the world, and people would prefer to have a negative experience rather than none at all,” he said.

Talk about needing to live for the moment.

I don’t know about the study participants, but my memory bank is sufficiently full, my task list sufficiently crammed, my life sufficiently full and vexing, that I have plenty of things I can mull about.

Think I’ll put my laptop aside and cogitate on why there are so many folks out there who can’t stand to just sit there and think.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hoosiers take on student debt.

Over the years, Pink Slip has opined on a few occasions about student loans. So as the fifth anniversary of my first student borrowing post approaches, here I am again.

Except this time, it’s a bit more upbeat. At least if you’re a student at the University of Indiana.

Amid the furor over the $1.2 trillion in U.S. student debt, the seven-campus system decided to tell students annually before they take out loans for the next year what their monthly payment would be after graduation. (Source: Bloomberg)

I’m sure that there are some who think that college students should smarten up on their own, that this is one more sign that the nanny state is out of control, out for control, trying to protect us from ourselves. The same nanny state that wants to outlaw Big Gulps. That wants to keep consumer warnings on OTC drugs (may cause blindness, liver failure, suicidal thoughts, and an erection that lasts more than four hours). The same nanny state that one day will no doubt expect us to wear helmets in our showers. (Hmmm. Come to think of it, this might not be a bad idea for us oldsters, especially if the helmet has an embedded device that calls 911 when it hits the tile.)

But. I. Digress.

Indiana has found that a simple little reminder about the true costs of borrowing is paying off:

Federal undergraduate Stafford loan disbursements at the public university dropped 11 percent, or $31 million, in the nine months that ended March 31 from a year earlier, according to Education Department data. That’s more than fivefold the 2 percent decline in outlays to four-year public schools nationally.

Students aren’t dropping out. They’re just making more intelligent decisions about how to pay for their education.

All colleges and universities have to provide some guidance on borrowing when students start school, and some guidance on repaying when they’re nearing graduation. But what Indiana’s doing is letting them know every step of the way what they’re signing up for when they sign on that dotted line.

Natalie Cahill, 22, who is about to start her final year in nursing at Indiana’s flagship Bloomington campus, said that after receiving her debt letter she decided to search for more scholarships.

“When you take out loans for the year, you just see a smaller number than the grand total,” Cahill said. “Seeing the letter definitely put things into perspective.”

Students are applying that perspective. They’re applying more of their summer earnings to “the necessities”, rather than using it for the fun stuff. They’re sticking with their old smartphone, rather than grabbing for the shiny new device.

How’s Indiana going about it?

“We are having more contact with the student where they can say ‘I don’t want this,’ or ‘I want less,’” said Jim Kennedy, associate vice president and director of financial aid at the Indiana system. “If they know at all times their debt, and the repayment, it helps with a lot of planning….We added more stopping points in the process,” Kennedy said. Students “have to step back and really understand how much loan debt they’re taking on.”

I love what they’re doing.

Oh, sure, college kids should be smart enough to figure this out on their own. But they’re really not. And  it’s interesting to see students respond pretty intelligently when the consequences are laid out for them.

I would hope that other colleges and universities will follow Hoosier suit.

It’s become entirely too easy for kids to take on debt to finance their education. And the ease of taking on that debt makes it all to easy to buy those sneakers, take that spring break trip, go to that concert. Only to fast forward a few years and find out that payback’s a bitch.

Raising student awareness about the true costs of borrowing works on a couple of fronts.

Students will start their working lives with less of their paycheck committed to debt servicing. Leaving them more to devote to fun, adventure, condo down payments, and saving for their old age.

And by helping them realize that there are spending tradeoffs out there, they’ll be better equipped to manage the budgets that most of us have to live within. Some of those budgets are largely informal, others are down to the penny. Some are pretty darned elastic, others are tight. But most of us in the adult world know, more of less, what’s in the wallet of our life. The sooner “the young folks” figure this out, the better.

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In case you share my interest in student loans, here are  my generic  2012 rant, a post on borrowing for law school, one on young adults who – this is pretty unimaginable – believe that debt is cool, my ur student debt post – September 2009 – on a misguided BU student who took on an extra $10K in debt (wow: I originally typed that as “$10K in death”) to live in a luxury dorm.

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