Friday, January 22, 2016

Filthy Rich

As I write this, the per capita income of Chino Hills has remained steady.

That’s because the winner of the billion dollar lottery jackpot whose winning ticket was bought in that fair city has not come forward.

No matter. He, she or they will emerge soon enough. There’s a lot of work to be done in preparation to be unimaginably wealthy.

There are accountants and financial advisers and lawyers and public relations specialists and security firms to be hired.

There are phone numbers to be changed, mail to be redirected to post office boxes, social media accounts to be closed.

When you have a few hundred million in the bank, you’ll make thousands of new “friends.” To put it bluntly, you will be stalked. And even though anonymity is not an option in this state, keeping a low profile is.

Of course, that’s assuming that the winning ticket wasn’t wrapped up inside a Taco Bell napkin and tossed in a trash can. After all, an astonishing $2.04 billion went unclaimed in one recent year.

Whatever the outcome, I was reminded of the pitfalls of sudden wealth when I read about the Tennessee couple who won a share of the Powerball lottery worth a cool $327 million.

John and Lisa Robinson said they plan to pay off the mortgage on their small house in Munford, Tennessee, pay off their daughter Tiffany's student loans and go back to work. They appeared at a press conference with their dog.

John, a warehouse supervisor, and Lisa, who works at a doctor’s office, said they hoped the family could now enjoy their good fortune in peace.

“We’re common people,” John, 58, said. “We’re just like y’all are.”

Not any more, John. Y’all have ceased to be common.   

The guys down at the warehouse will slap you on the back and congratulate you. Before long, some will approach you with a tale of woe about their financial situation and ask for money. More will follow. Others will try to get you involved in a hair-brained investment scheme.

Your church pastor will wonder if you will tithe 10 per cent of your income. Your daughter will receive marriage proposals and wonder if it’s about love or money.

You will be rich beyond your wildest dreams and, like to or not, it will define who you are.

Yet, other rich people will keep their distance. They will consider you a nouveau riche rube who fell into a fortune. Your middle class friends will drift away. No more chat about where to get the best price on a pickup truck or a new refrigerator. You’re not one of them anymore.

But hopefully you will find satisfaction in giving back to your community and supporting worthy charities.  A lot of them will be knocking on your door.

It remains to be seen if you develop a taste for fancy cars, mansions, private jets and other trappings of wealth. You seem like down-home folks but money has a way of altering life styles.

Be wary, however. According to a study by researchers at Vanderbilt University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, the more money you win in the lottery, the more likely you are to end up bankrupt.

Among other things, researchers also found that lottery winners tended to have below-average education and income, which might translate into lower financial literacy than the average not-so-financially-savvy person.

That fact is underscored by these chilling tales:

In 2003, Callie Rogers was 16, living with foster parents in the U.K. and working as a shop clerk. And then she bought a lottery ticket.
She won $3 million in the National Lottery and, despite early insistence that she would continue to live frugally, bought four large homes, several new cars and had two breast augmentations. She admits to spending freely on cocaine. It wasn’t long before the money was gone and Rogers ended up working as a maid.

With less than $3 in his checking account, Bud Post pawned a ring for $40 and spent the proceeds on Pennsylvania Lottery tickets. When he walked away with a $16.2 million jackpot, it seemed as though his luck had changed.

But no. His brother hired a killer to take Post's life (but only after Post purchased businesses and cars for him and his siblings). Post also made some questionable financial decisions, like buying an airplane he could not fly. 

To clear other debts, Post sold the rights to his remaining lottery payments, but ended up spending his last $2.65 million on two homes, several motorcycles, three cars, a truck and a sailboat, among other things. He racked up seven marriages, too. 

Post eventually was arrested for firing a gun at a bill collector and was charged with assault. Nearly penniless, the lottery winner eventually served the sentence and then lived on a $450 disability payment until he died at age 66, eight years after winning big.

On the other hand…
Allen and Violet Large made headlines in 2010 not only for winning $11.2 million in the lottery, but also for giving most of it away. When the Canadian pair, in their 70s at the time, received the money, they decided that others needed it more. After setting up their family members financially, the Larges chose to donate the majority of their winnings to hospitals and other charitable organizations.

When Les Robins won the $111 million jackpot in 1993, it was the highest Powerball jackpot to date. It's likely that his background as a middle school teacher inspired Robins to use a large portion of his winnings to build a day camp for children. Camp Winnegator is still going strong.

One winner, former Georgia truck driver Ed Nabors, decided to take a simpler route than most when he claimed half of a $390 million prize. He chose to call it a day and go fishing.

It may have been the best decision of all.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Worthless Words

Up in the frozen north, where the long winters chill the body and soul, the inhabitants spend their time doing two things:

 (1) Huddling together for warmth.

(2)  Inventing distractions to keep their minds off huddling together for warmth.

A good example is Sault St.Marie, Mich., a town that remains encased in ice half of the year and where many inhabitants pay for their groceries in beaver pelts.

It is also the home of Lake Superior State University whose faculty and students have found a really fun way of staying intellectually toasty.

For 40 years or so, they have complied an annual list of “Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

The school’s website sums up this year’s winners thus: “Overused words and phrases are ‘problematic’ for thousands of Queen's English ‘stakeholders,’” said an LSSU spokesperson while ‘vaping’ an e-cigarette during a ‘presser.’  “Once something is banished, there's no ‘walking it back;’ that's our ‘secret sauce,' and there’s no ‘price point’ for that.”

Topping this year’s list is the word “so” which is being overused as the first word in the answer to any question. For instance, “So, why are you reading this column?” “So I have insomnia and I thought this would help me sleep.”

So that’s merely an example, not to be confused with the high quality of work on view here. 

Looming large in the political arena is “walk it back,” an exercise that is undertaken when an elected official says something so dumb or devoid of truth that an explanation is required.  “Walking it back” sounds so much nicer than “apology” or “clarification” or “foot-in-mouth disease.”

Of course, this often leads to the non-apology apology such as this classic from Sen. Bob Packwood who was accused of sexual harassment. “I’m apologizing for the conduct that it was alleged that I did, and I say I am sorry.”

Those who don’t “walk it back” may be forced to “double down.”

Next on the list is “conversation.” Online publications and TV talking heads invite us to “join the conversation,” an inoffensive phrase which in fact means “we want our audience to engage in linguistic mud wrestling, which includes but is not limited to personal insults, threats of violence and lunatic fringe diatribes.”  Apparently, the word “debate” is too harsh for our sensitive ears.

Then there is “problematic,” defined on Gawker as things that don't concern you at all, as opposed to actual problems such as your self-diagnosed nutritional disorders and that loser brother who wants to sleep on your sofa while he "looks for a job." 

Nowadays, it is thrown about to describe things such as the killer asteroid headed our way that will obliterate life as we know it or, worse, reports that “Dancing With the Stars” has been renewed for 10 more years.

“Presser” is taking the place of press conference or press release although I always thought it was an employee of a dry cleaning establishment.

“Secret sauce” isn’t a term I hear very much in my circle of friends, but if I did, it would probably be describing something that’s slathered on a burger which usually turns out to be Thousand Island dressing.

Instead, according to less an authority that the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a special feature or technique kept secret by an organization and regarded as being the chief factor in its success.”

Perhaps a more apt definition is this one: “Special skills, products or abilities that you try to make prospects believe your company has that no one else has, when in reality, everyone just sells the same stuff.”

Add to the list “break the Internet” meaning a post or video that will have so much online traffic that it will  “break” the Internet. Examples:  Any and all cat pictures or any and all pictures of Kim Kardashian’s derriere. Honorable mention:  First Lady Michelle Obama’s dress which got more attention than her husband’s State of the Union address.

“Manspreading” makes the list because it is presumed by some to be an assault on the endangered male.

For those who do not partake in the joys of public transportation, “manspreading” is the act of guys spreading their legs wide, into a sort of V-shaped slouch, effectively occupying two, sometimes even three, seats on a bus or subway.

It is so commonplace in New York that transportation officials are putting up posters urging men to share a little less of themselves in the city’s ever-crowded subways cars.  They will all carry the slogan, “Dude... Stop the Spread, Please.” 

Not on the Lake Superior list but a phrase I hear with increasing regularity is “no worries.” It seems it’s an expression seen in Australian English, British English and New Zealand English meaning "do not worry about that", "that's all right", or "sure thing.” In other words, “no problem.”

Leave it to the British Empire to corrupt our English.

Lest we worry that Lake Superior State is on a mission to eradicate every colorful phrase in our language, we can take comfort in the fact that Detroit's Wayne State University boasts of "bringing back great words" that have fallen out of favor. Past words the university wants people to use more include "caterwaul," ''rapscallion" and "flapdoodle."

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fat City

Pasadena. A city of flowers and football, beautiful vistas, stately mansions, historical architecture, a world class university, fine dining.  The Crown City, indeed.

Then there’s this cheeseburger thing.

If Pasadena didn’t have enough to brag about, it is claiming the cheeseburger as its own.

Not long after the last flower pedal from the Rose Parade was swept up off of Colorado Boulevard, the citizens of the world were being invited to Cheeseburger Week, a celebration that will involve 40 bars and restaurants vying to win accolades for their creations.

And, of course, this being Pasadena, there is even a wine-pairing event.

The event which runs the gamut from gastronomy to gluttony will he held from Jan. 10-15. Bring lots of napkins, Pepto-Bismol and let your belt out several notches.

After all, it’s about time you blew your post-holiday diet.

So why is this pristine, proud and occasionally arrogant city paying homage to the ultimate working class meal?

According to legend, the aptly named Lionel Sternberger is reputed to have invented the cheeseburger in 1926 at the age of 16 when he was working in his father's Pasadena sandwich shop, "The Rite Spot," and "experimentally dropped a slab of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger."

Or maybe not. Another theory explains that a derelict entering the establishment from Colorado Blvd. requested the meal specifically and Sternberger made his development right then and there. A third handed-down tale describes where he inadvertently burned a burger patty and slapped on a cheese slice to mask his error. 

Then there are competing legends.

An early example of the cheeseburger appearing on a 1928 menu for the Los Angeles restaurant O'Dell's which listed a cheeseburger smothered with chili for 25 cents, according to historical records. Independent public television station KCET reported that a person would have had the additional option to added spaghetti as an additional topping to their chili smothered cheeseburger for a total cost of 40 cents at this same eatery.

Other restaurants say they invented the cheeseburger. For example, Kaelin's Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, said it invented the cheeseburger in 1934. One year later, a trademark for the name "cheeseburger" was awarded to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado. According to Steak 'n Shake archives, that restaurant's founder, Gus Belt, applied for a trademark on the word in the 1930s.

But Sternberger seems to have won the lion’s share of credit for inventing the iconic burger. After all, if you can’t believe a 16-year-old fry cook, who are going to trust?

Mr. Sternberger would not recognize the monster he unleashed on the world nearly 100 years ago.

Nowadays, we have a bacon cheeseburger that has the bacon and cheese stuffed inside the patty, a mozzarella-stuffed burger, barbecue bacon cheddar smokehouse burger, Philly cheesesteak burger, peppercorn bacon cheeseburger or a Tex-Mex burger.

There are pimiento cheeseburgers, Cajun turkey cheeseburgers, cheddar burgers with balsamic onions and chipotle ketchup, green chili cheeseburgers. Even meatloaf cheeseburgers.

The one thing they haven’t developed is a low-cal burger, at least one you'd want to eat. Your basic cheeseburger with condiments and bacon weighs in at 595 calories and contains 33 grams of fat (50% of your daily value) and 106 milligrams of cholesterol (35% of daily value).

Throw in any other ingredients and you’ll need a calculator to sort it out.

As for me, I love me some cheeseburgers.  But why really grills my sirloin is the patty melt.

For the uninitiated, the patty melt is a burger topped with cheese and grilled onions and served between slices of rye bread, all of which is grilled in butter. It was reportedly first served by Tiny Naylor’s drive-in restaurant chain.

It’s getting to be dinner time. My choices are boiled chicken with a side of broccoli florets or a cheeseburger and fries.

I’ve already made up my mind.