Two Days in Orange County

My son is part of a high school theater festival at Fullerton College today and tomorrow, so we’re staying in a motel to avoid two additional trips on the 91. Fullerton has a cute downtown area that is entirely wi-fi: Paradise. But old habits die hard, so I’m working from a high-ceilinged Starbucks at the corner of Chapman and Harbor, at least until my wi-fi-enabled motel room is ready.

Eating breakfast at Denny’s, I perused the Orange County Register, which I used to like, but now seems less zesty. I remember it as more of a Mulligan stew — hard-right, Brylcreem’d editorials and op-eds, alongside sunbaked New Age lifestyle pieces. Today’s edition seemed bland. But maybe that’s because, over time, the hard right and New Age began to resemble one another and became dominant strands in our culture — two sides of the same individualistic mentality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Here are a few things I would not have known if I hadn’t read this morning’s Register. (By the way, registration is required to see these stories online, but it’s free):

Music critic Ben Wener freely admits that he lusted after Robert Hilburn’s position as LA Times music critic. From reading today’s column, I think he could have been a good choice. Lamenting that moving to a new condo prevented him from covering the hot new band of the moment, the Arctic Monkeys, Wener shows he’s one newspaperman who sees the writing on the wall:

Here’s the thing, though: I really don’t think you care.

See, we’ve seen these demographic reports lately that say the majority of folks reading doorstep rags are typically over 40, largely uninterested in music writing and still consumed with all the usual baby boomer heroes El Hilburn has been discussing for decades.

Which is why recently I’ve written about 10 inches on the most exciting band right now – and four times as much on Kool & the Gang. I don’t get e-mail when I babble enthusiastically about fresh talent; I get dozens when I write an essay praising the Kinks.

So why should I care that I missed Arctic Monkeys, right? I shouldn’t let it eat at me, lead me to think I’m falling down on the job. If I believe surveys, you have no interest anyway, and I’d only be banging my head against a wall to convince you to listen.

On a more serious note: The SEC’s head of contingency planning thinks the U.S. stock markets should operate normally, even if an avian flu pandemic breaks out. From a Reuters story that appeared in the Register’s print edition:

“We really believe that with proper planning, the markets can stay open, even with the most severe pandemic,” said Alton Harvey, who heads contingency planning for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We think this is doable,” he told a conference organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Because we have to — we have no choice — we will work it out. The markets will trade.”

(snip)

Stephen Malphrus of the Federal Reserve Board agreed. The Federal Open Market Committee, which sets U.S. economic and interest rate policy can meet by telephone if necessary, he said. “The financial sector is generally out in the lead,” Malphrus said. “I would think it would be prudent to have a first draft of a plan … certainly by this summer.”

Phew! Good to know that 100 million severely ill and dying people won’t disrupt bankers’ meeting schedules!

Back to lotus-land: Did you know there was a spa glut?

When Maureen Vipperman took over The Spa at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort in Dana Point last year, she quickly added unique treatments to ensure the spa stood out among the 150 in Orange County.

She introduced the Thai-Su, a blend of Eastern-inspired Thai and Shiatsu massages. She added a microdermabrasion facial. She also started accepting discounted spa gift certificates sold at Costco.

“Right now, the fact that there are so many of us to choose from is a big challenge,” Vipperman said. “Trying to distinguish ourselves from the rest has been an ongoing task for many resort/destination spas.”

Other spas around the country are rolling out frequent-flier-style loyalty programs, calling former visitors at home to check on their weight-loss progress and offering discounts to guests who rebook their next visit while they’re still at the spa.

The efforts come on the heels of the industry’s swift growth, which has left consumers with a dizzying array of spa options.

Lastly, back to a more serious topic. At yesterday’s huge Conference on Aging in Anaheim, one expert delivered a plea for understanding on behalf of a heretofore stigmatized group: “Grumpy Old Men.”

“What I’m really talking about are men who are drinking. Men who are isolated. Men at senior centers who are aggressive, who are really angry, who are cynical, who are sarcastic,” said Patrick Arbore, an educator and an expert in suicide and grief-related services for the elderly.

“That’s how they’re masking their pain.”

(snip)

(H)e cited some grim statistics: Men are more than four times more likely to commit suicide than women, and the suicide rate for men 85 and older is more than six times higher than the general population.

What’s wrong, according to Arbore, is that men have been conditioned that it’s not manly to express any emotion except anger, or to cry or feel vulnerable, or to accept and express feelings of helplessness, frailty, sensitivity and empathy.

“It’s not that men are bad or dangerous creatures, but some men are so closed off from their real selves, they’re acting out,” he said.

So, if you see Bob Dole coming down the sidewalk, don’t cross the street to avoid him. Bob Dole needs a hug!

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