July, 2009


Would you pay $225,000 to watch college football? U.C. Berkeley has adopted a new pricing program for the best seats at Memorial Stadium. The program is similar to personal seat license plans used by many professional football teams. Cal defines its prime seats as those between the 30 yard lines on the west side of the stadium. (Personally, I don't regard a seat on the 30 yard line as prime; it's just good, and it shouldn't sell for the same price as a seat on the 50 yard line, but I digress.)

The University Club. Fans who buy 4 connected seats get admission to the University Club. Club members receive free season tickets, 50 year rights to their seats, on-campus parking on game days, and free hot dogs and beer. Despite the high price, seats have been selling very well. Many Cal fans have already sent checks to the university for $900,000. Half of the 3,000 available prime seats have been sold just since January.

Why $225,000? Initially, the university said that they were going to charge $250,000 a seat, but they settled on a final price of $225,000 instead. Why? My guess is that at $250,000, 4 seats would cost $1,000,000; but at $225,000 a seat, 4 seats only cost $900,000, which sounds more affordable (if that's the right word.)

Pre-existing Cal season ticket holders, some of whom have been sitting in the same seats for decades, will have to cough up $225,000 each, just like everybody else, or lose their seats. Surprisingly, there have been few complaints about the new pricing program, even though U.C. Berkeley now has the most expensive college football seats in the U.S. By comparison, across the bay at Stanford, football fans pay $500 to $2,000 a year to sit between the 45 yard lines. Stanford's director of tickets Rich Muschell said: "They're asking $225,000? And they give us (expletive deleted) for being elitists. How 'bout those Bears?"

On the surface, it may seem crazy for U.C. Berkeley to be charging such high prices for football tickets at this time. Many colleges around the country have been forced to cut ticket prices due to the bad economy. Many colleges have also seen student applications fall off the cliff, and their campus-area real estate market has collapsed. That isn't happening here in Berkeley. You don't see foreclosure or auction signs in front of houses around campus, and rents here are higher than neighboring cities. At Library Gardens, downtown Berkeley's biggest apartment complex, 1 bedroom apartments rent for $2,200 a month, and parking is extra.

U.C. Berkeley is counter-cyclical. When the stock market crashed and the economy went bad, a lot of parents had to tell their teenage children: "I know that we told you that you could go to Johns Hopkins (or Harvard, Yale, Brown, etc.), but we don't have the $250,000 that that sort of education costs anymore, so you're going to have to apply to a state university." In-state undergraduate tuition at U.C. Berkeley costs around $7,000 a year, and that's before Pell Grants, Cal Grants, and other financial aid; a tremendous bargain for an education from such a well-known and prestigious university. Whenever the economy goes bad, admission to U.C. Berkeley becomes even more competitive, and that is happening now.


Oofty Goofty. San Francisco has always been famous for its odd characters. One of the oddest was Oofty Goofty. Nobody knows where he came from or what his real name was, but we do know that Oofty Goofty arrived in San Francisco in 1849 during the Gold Rush. Oofty Goofty tried to make a living as an actor, but failed repeatedly until he found his true calling - human punching bag. One night, after giving a bad performance at Bottle Koenig's, a disreputable Barbary Coast saloon, Oofty Goofty was tossed out with considerable force, landing heavily on a stone pavement. To his surprise, Oofty Goofty felt nothing and discovered that he was insensitive to pain. He decided to capitalize on this, and for the next 15 years, Oofty Goofty made a living by letting people kick and hit him for a price. For 10 cents, you could kick Oofty Goofty as hard as you liked. For 25 cents, you could hit him anywhere on his body with a cane; or for 50 cents, you could hit Oofty Goofty with a baseball bat, which he always carried with him. It was Oofty Goofty's custom to approach groups of men standing in the street or in bars and politely ask: "Hit me with a bat for four bits, gents? Only four bits to hit me with this bat, gents." Oofty Goofty said that he was knocked off his feet with his baseball bat more times than he could remember, but he continued with his career until one night, John L. Sullivan, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, broke a pool cue across Oofty Goofty's back, causing permanent injury to his spine. Oofty Goofty walked with a limp after that and retired from his peculiar profession. Looking for a job? Well, how much would you charge to let the heavyweight boxing champion of the world break a pool cue across your spine? For more information about Oofty Goofty, go to: Oofty Goofty.


"Bedroom inflation" is a term I created to describe the practice by landlords of inflating the number of bedrooms in their apartment ads. This has become very common on Craigs List. Craigs List does not verify the information in the ads on its web site, and landlords know that the single most important factor in setting rents is the number of bedrooms in a unit. Some landlords count living rooms, dining rooms, attics, etc., as bedrooms in their ads using the logic that in cities with high rent, these spaces are often used as bedrooms. I have known several U.C. students who used garages for their bedrooms (including Andy Samberg.) Bedroom inflation on Craigs List is now so rampant that it is distorting the statistics on available rentals, making average rents look lower than they actually are, and making apartments look bigger than they actually are. I don't know what, if anything, can be done about this. What is a bedroom? A room cannot be called a bedroom unless it contains at least one window. Skylights don't count. But beyond that, there is little agreement. Most real estate brokers will tell you that you can't call a room a bedroom unless it has a closet, but Victorian houses were often built without bedroom closets. Back in those days, most people kept their clothes in wardrobe cabinets or bureaus.


I have a tenant who came to Berkeley from New Orleans after his college was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. This inspired me to resume making Praline Pecans, New Orleans' most famous confection. Its also an excellent summertime candy because it won't melt on hot days. It is also a relatively healthy candy because it contains little sugar. This classic candy is very easy to make. It's delicious on vanilla ice cream!

You need:
2 cups pecan halves
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
4 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix the sugar and cream until smooth. Add the pecans and stir until all the nuts are covered. Spread the mixture in an 8" by 8" square non-stick baking pan sprayed with Pam. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once when halfway done. Remove from oven when the coating is getting dry and beginning to crystallize. Stir periodically as pecans cool to separate them. Serve warm or cold. Store in an airtight container.

ABOUT BROWN SUGAR. Brown sugar gets hard with time. Eventually it gets hard as a rock and becomes useless. This is known as "caking." There are a number of ways to prevent brown sugar from caking, but most of them aren't very effective. There is a very simple way to prevent brown sugar from caking. Put your brown sugar in a heavy duty zip-lock bag, squeeze out the air, and toss it in the freezer. Your brown sugar will stay fresh for at least a year without caking.


Ding! Ding! Ding! I was showing a vacant house in Oakland when a young woman came in to look the place over. She walked through the house while I remained in the living room. After she entered the first bedroom, I heard a bell ring three times: "ding, ding, ding," followed by a minute of silence. Then she walked into the other bedroom, and the same thing happened again. A bell rang three times followed by a minute of silence. She continued walking through the house, ringing her bell in every room and every closet. When she returned to the living room, I asked her why she was ringing a bell. (I was dying of curiosity.) She said: "I'm checking out your building's vibrations." I told her that I didn't know what that meant. She said that before she could fill out an application form, she needed to know if the last person who lived here left "negative energy" behind. She said that her tests were inconclusive, so my building needed a "vibration analysis" by a "clairvoyant minister" from the Berkeley Psychic Institute. She told me that this analysis would cost me $300. When I told her that I would not pay for a "vibration analysis" of my building, she got angry and said: "Oh, you're just like all the other landlords" and walked out in a huff. I never saw her again. Later, I checked out the web site of the Berkeley Psychic Institute, and indeed, they do offer courses in "clairvoyant training" leading to a degree as a minister in "The Church of the Divine Man." It all sounds very Berkeley-ish.

Mark Tarses

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