Let your fingers do the walking to family happiness


The Japanese are, on the whole, an inventive lot. Not only di they come up with the ideas for the Honda, tatami mats, sushi and karaoke, they are now introducing into Japanese society a custom that has the potential to appeal -- big time -- to Americans.

I speak here of the newest rage sweeping Japan: The hiring of professional actors to play the role of your family.

The pragmatic brilliance of this solution to one of Japan's growing problems -- the strains placed on families by prosperity, overwork and Westernization -- causes me to bow my head in awe.

The idea is simplicity itself: Let's say, for instance, you are an elderly couple whose children and grandchildren rarely visit. To create an instant family, all you have to do in Japan is call up an agency and rent a family.

At the appointed time, your "family" will arrive and spend a pleasant, hassle-free evening with you. They will bring gifts -- which, of course, you will pay for -- and they will spend most of the visit deferring to your wisdom and asking for your honorable advice.

JTC Think about it: There will be no fights about family events of 25 years ago; no hostilities from the son or daughter-in-law who's never liked you; no sullen behavior from the grandchildren who are bored without their computer toys.

Of course, the variations on who rents whom -- children renting parents, brothers renting sisters, couples renting entire wedding parties, etc., etc. -- are endless.

I ask you: Is this an idea with potential, or what?

Face it. Whether you like it or not, the fact is there are few among us who have not wished, at some point, for an all-new, all-improved version of our family.

Who, for instance, has not spent at least one Thanksgiving or Christmas where the family tension was so high you spent the entire day fantasizing about being a member of the Walton family?

And who would not be willing to spend a few bucks to hire, just for the day, the family you've always wanted: the perfect, uncomplaining, always loving, cheerful, giving, well-groomed, humorous and totally uncritical-of-you family.

Which is to say: The Rent-A-Family.

Or, as I'm calling my new business, Families-R-Us.

Here's the deal. Need family replacements for the holidays coming up? Looking for that special mother or father substitute? Determined to find part-time replacements for children and grandchildren? Aunts, uncles, cousins?

If you can answer yes to any of the above, have we got a deal for you!

Although Families-R-Us is still in the formative stage, it pleases me to announce we have signed preliminary agreements with the following family substitutes. All are willing to work on holidays:

* The McLaughlin Group

* The Mandrell Sisters

* The Judds

* Ray Charles and the Uh-Huh Girls

* The von Trapp Family Singers

* The Gatlin Brothers

* Mother Teresa

* The Steinbach Family (Note to reader: For a small, extra charge, the Steinbach Family is prepared to bring along the Steinbach Family Cats -- the always obsequious Max and Fluffy.)

And for those parents who would like to spend spring break with college students other than their own children, Families-R-Us is about to close a deal with (1) a National Science Foundation student; (2) a student who has been accepted for graduate work at Harvard Law and Johns Hopkins Medical School; (3) a homecoming queen; and (4) a varsity basketball star.

Parents who have never been able to brag about their own kids' accomplishments will find it thrilling to one-up their friends' children. Imagine how you'll feel when you get to say the following words:

"I want you to meet my daughter, the physics genius."

Or: "This is my son, Milton, who, you may recall, won the game for Duke."

Of course, if you're the altruistic type of parent you may want to consider foregoing such selfish pleasures in favor of giving your children an all-expense-paid spring break with one of our super-indulgent, no-questions-asked, rent-a-families. Ask yourself: Would my son or daughter prefer to spend spring break at home or in Cannes? Would he or she prefer our family or a family that will never ask where they're going or where they've been or how they're doing in their course work?

If your answer is "Cannes" and "a family that asks no questions," then do we have a family for you!

Remember our motto: "Every real family is unhappy in its own way; every fake family is happy in its own unreal way."

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