That ardent chronicler of capitalism, The Wall Street Journal, has recently reported something new in the booming business of leisure. There is now a satellite (or should I say parasite?) industry called Leisure Consultants. And it's doing boffo.
According to The Journal, there are not only 380 colleges that boast majors in leisure studies, but 100 of them that offer classes in that kind of counseling.
Now, lest you fear that studying at the University of Honolulu, relax. The typical leisure-consulting student at California State University at Northridge, for example, is required to master intellectual feats such as the proper way to buy concert tickets and then must go on to such taxing assignments as learning disco dancing or hang-gliding.
Only through that intensive educational background for the equivalent chutzpah) is someone then "qualified" to help the rest of us poor recreational rabbits through the briar patch of alternatives for our free time.
This they are doing for a fee.
Long before I read this breathtaking account, I had come to terms with living in a country that considers leisure an activity. "Leisure Activity," I decided, was no more of a contradiction in terms than, say, Military Justice.
While we once assumed that a shorter workweek would turn the laboring class into the leisure class, we now realize that it has turned leisure into labor.
Our free time is frequently planned with the detail of the factory time-study man, and there is absolutely nothing leisurely about it.
Since World War II, we have, ironically, sprouted legions of capitalists who work overtime, double time, and simply too much time to fill our pastime. It is now generally believed that to "recreate" we need a facility and to enjoy ourselves we need the proper equipment. In the past decade, tennis racquets have become items of planned obsolescence and sporting "outfits" have become seasonal status symbols.
All of this is, I suppose, an attempt by the descendants of the Protestant Ethic to distinguish leisure from the Devil's Workshop called Idleness. If you need any proof of their success, the store in my neighborhood, called Leisure Time, is absolutely choked with things to do.
Still, it should have occurred to us that once we made an occupation out of our free time, we would, in the best All-American fashion, make a problem out of it. After all, we are speed demons at making problems out of our pleasures. Just look at the shelves full of books on sex.
Having pursued pleasure into problems, we have now of course created the experts to solve them. What, after all, is a problem without an experT? Un-American
If there is a growth industry in the 1980s, I suspect it will be Experts, Inc., catering to the mass of people who are perpetual patients, who can't make a change of jobs or clothing without a consultation.
In his case, we have, within reach of a fee, finely educated men and women who have unraveled the mysteries of buying concert tickets and can rival John Travolta at the drop of a course requirement.
Well, from my own point of view, going to a lesiure consultant to find out whether you prefer skin diving or guitar playing is like going to a food consultant to find out whether you prefer spinach or a ravioli.
I am sure that these new experts are hardworking, sincere people who take their business seriously. I'm sure that they operate under the absolute conviction that leisure is not something to be considered frivolously. And, I am also sure that therein lies the real problem.