Simplify Yourself

I saw Hearst Castle the other day and, with its 165 rooms, 41 fireplaces, priceless tapestries, and dining room table that seats more people than the average tour bus, it reminded me of my youth -- wasted. Think about it, 90,000 square feet is a lot of space. Lord knows I didn't grow up in anything like that. Okay, maybe it was a little like that since our house also had walls, floors, and ceilings, but to say it was similar is like saying I'm a dead ringer for Yao Ming because we both have two arms, two legs, a head, and twenty fingers. Just my luck another similarity isn't our endorsement income.

After checking the place out, which is only one of six homes William Randolph Hearst had, I went back to my $40-a-night Days Inn room and looked around, consoling myself with the knowledge that I could easily find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. After all, I only had to remember where one was, not 61. See, I have simple tastes. Unlike most Americans, I don't need things to be huge. Whereas people love their SUVs, I drive a motorcycle. Where they have closets jammed full of Costco toilet paper in the handy 64-pack, I buy four rolls at a time. And while they hit "Reply" when they get emails offering to enlarge their penises and breasts, I sit around pondering why it is I'm getting offers of both and wonder if whoever it is that's sending them knows something I don't. Like maybe it would double my chance of success in the bars at closing time.

It's true we all have different needs in life. Some people need a Hearst Castle while I don't. Okay, some people can afford a Hearst Castle and I can't. Hell, I'm ecstatic when I feel like I can splurge and upgrade from Motel 6 to Super 8, even if it means I have to sleep in the car the next night. But even a car would be better than the Spartan accommodations I saw on the way to another motel which I'll get to in a second.

I was driving down Hwy 1 when I spotted the California Men's Colony. Call me naïve -- there, do you feel better now? -- but when I saw the sign I thought, "How liberating! Here's a place where men can gather together, bond in a sweat lodge naked while sneaking peeks to make sure they're not the only one who didn't reply to those emails, sit in a drum circle and play until dawn, and hug each other while murmuring supporting phrases like 'I'm OK, sorry to hear about you' without feeling like they're an American Greetings card." In other words, a place no one would object to were an errant Scud missile to land there. But no, it turns out the California Men's Colony is actually a state prison. Either that or the barbed wire is there to keep the sweat lodgers from mingling with the rest of us. Hey, sometimes miscegenation should be discouraged.

Prisoners have simple needs, even if they didn't before they went into prison. Considering that one out of every 142 U.S. residents is behind bars, this constitutes a two million strong simplification movement. A forced one, but one nevertheless. They're not the only ones simplifying their lives -- there's a full-fledged movement sweeping the nation. It pretty much started with the "Simplify Your Life" series of books and gathered steam until now you can buy titles like "Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World," which should take its own advice and simplify the title. As with any movement, you know it's bona fide when AOL Time Warner gets into the act, as they did when they put out Real Simple magazine. A recent issue offers such life simplifying tips as how lip balm will help you slide a too-tight ring off your finger and how you can resuscitate stale bread by rubbing it with an ice cube and putting it in the oven for 12 minutes, which is not only a lot more trouble than buying another loaf but is one dead chicken short of a Santeria ceremony. "Real Simple" is the new Hints from Heloise and you can find out more each month for only $19.95 a year. Think of the subscription as simplifying your bank account.

As Newton once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That's why the simplicity movement has spawned the Simply More movement. On the way to the next hotel -- don't worry, I'll get to it in a second -- I saw three Hummer H2s. These are the new $50,000 consumer version of the Army's tank-like car. That's pretty much the same consanguinity that got us from the AK-47 to the Super Soaker. Two of the three H2s were driven by women and only one had the back loaded with toilet paper from Costco, so maybe they really are being used for all-terrain driving more than I realize.

Possibly the epitome of the anti-simplicity movement is the Madonna Inn, a motel 40 miles away from Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo. Named after its founder Alex -- not the performer whose idea of simplicity is to use one name when singing and one expression when acting -- the motel actually manages to make Hearst Castle seem quiet and understated. With 108 themed rooms including the famous solid-rock Caveman room, a gaudy hot pink steak house, the all-copper Copper Café that serves pink French -- I mean Freedom -- toast and blue sugar, and a rock waterfall urinal in the men's room that starts when you step up and unzip your pants, it proves that you don't have to have Hearst's money to mix and match decorating styles. Of course their twinkling lights and naugahyde don't cost as much as Hearst's ancient Egyptian sculpture, but to each his own.

I'd like to see the Hearsts and Alex Madonna on "Trading Spaces" next week. Or maybe they could do a tag team show pitting them against the interior decorators from Motel 6 and the California Men's Colony. I'll gladly spend the night in each place and act as the judge, even if it means having to spend the next night in the car. It's that simple.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

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