At the end of The Happy Isles of Oceania Theroux checks into the Orchid Bungalow at the Mauna Lani Resort in Hawaii which, at the time, ran $2500 per night (now $3900). After tramping around the South Pacific with a collapsible kayak and camping gear, he finds the “orchidaceous” luxury of the 4000 square foot oceanfront bungalow deeply seductive:
The hitch at Orchid Bungalow was that the day was not long enough. I wanted to read, lie in the sun, exercise, swim, sit in the Jacuzzi, eat lengthy sumptuous meals, drink champagne and listen to music all at once. I discovered that some of these activities could be combined. Now I understood why many multimillionaires – Axel Springer and Somerset Maugham were but two – received annual injections of longevity potions. The science of life-extension is funded by a large number of very wealthy individuals, who have the most selfish motives. There is something about the pure effortless pleasure of being hoggishly, sluttishly rich that must make you want to live longer.
This put me in mind of the Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza aspires to have sex while eating a sandwich and watching a ballgame on a hand-held TV. The experiment fails, at least initially (“Flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami,” says George). Later he feels “flush” while eating a sandwich at a restaurant with Jerry. “I’ll tell you what you did Caligula,” Jerry explains, “you combined food and sex into one disgusting uncontrollable urge.”
Theroux ultimately finds the over-the-top indulgences of the hotel corrosive:
It had only taken two days for this luxury to affect me, but it did so profoundly. It was a shock to my system that in a very short time transformed me, as luxury will – like a drug. it was wonderful being supine and semi-comatose in the sunshine, but it was also a bit like being a zoo animal – wallowing in the sort of captivating comfort that I felt would numb me and then make me fat and crazy. On the other hand, I wasn’t terribly worried: at these prices there wasn’t an earthly chance of this luxury lasting much longer.
I’ll have to take his word for it, since there is no earthly chance that I will ever be in a position to stay at the Mauna Lani Resort.