I met the last person in the world who doesn't know there's a recession. While CEOs are afraid to use their corporate jets and sitcom writers aren't ordering sushi, the rapper Plies released a song called "I Got Plenty Money." This seemed about as wise a public relations move as Donald Rumsfeld releasing a book titled "I Got Plenty Diplomatic Solutions."
I went to Tampa, Fla., to interview Plies for Cinemax during "Plies Week," which included the "Stripper Olympics," a yacht party, "The Goon and Goonette Pink & Black Bash" and a car show. When I asked him how this differs from his non-Plies Weeks -- if they're normally filled with library research and museum tours -- Plies asked if I worked for Nickelodeon. I think that was his way of telling me that my odds were not good of scoring a Goonette.
I accompanied Plies to his video shoot at a rented, $2.8-million home, which had three outdoor fire pits, a wine cellar, a pool facing a golf course and six women in lingerie. There was no acknowledgment of the irony that the house was in an unfinished suburban housing development where every second home abuts a plot of weeds. Or that the builders who own the model home were in such bad shape that they were willing to rent it to a rapper named Plies.
During the shoot, Plies rapped in a room filled with fake cash. But when he threw the money in the air, he used a completely real stack totaling $10,000. You can study economics from books all you want, but unless you've been on a rap video set, you're not going to know that fake money doesn't throw right.
In a culture in which Denny's is giving away free breakfasts, I feared that a man wearing two giant gold, diamond-studded medallions might be endangering his career by slightly miscalculating the American zeitgeist. Especially when he rapped, "Just bought another house, the last one was boring/ Ten thousand square feet, it feel like you tourin'... Ran me out the store, I bought too many plasmas/ Count so much money, breathe like I got asthma." My only surprise was that he didn't brag about his money's indecent exposure while buying the listener's house out of foreclosure.
It was hard to watch someone cluelessly destroying his career. So when we got to the car show, I was shocked to see 1,000 people -- families, teens, single women dressed up -- gathering to gawk at $100,000 souped-up cars. It was as if Tom Joad pulled over to check in on the construction of Hearst Castle.
During his car-show concert, Plies whipped out the $10,000 roll of easy-to-throw money and proceeded to hand out stacks of $100 bills. He gave $1,000 to a boy who couldn't have been older than 7. At one point, he waved a few hundreds and yelled, like a politically incorrect Monty Hall, "I'm looking for a white person!"
Throughout this Plies stimulus package, I was on stage, cowering behind his bodyguards, pretty sure that Florida + rap concert + tossing money into a crowd added up to exactly the level of journalistic significance as the riot I was likely to die in.
As I wished I were anywhere else, it became obvious to me that Plies and I differed in how we would spend our time if we had plenty of money. But it also was obvious that Plies understands our culture much better than I do. Possibly because I'm wasting time caring about grammar.
As much as columnists and commentators want our economic situation to change our values, it hasn't. We haven't gone from wanting giant plasma TVs to wanting to whittle on the porch with our extended family. Our heroes are still the ones with the most outsized, irrational optimism and materialism. When we finally lose that, it's really time to worry.