May 9, 2012 -- Have you ever been angry or stressed out enough to smash something to bits?
Instead of becoming the Incredible Hulk and destroying your own home, a Dallas-based company offers the "Anger Room" as a place where paying customers can throw, beat or shatter everything around them in a controlled environment.
The Anger Room builds mock kitchens, living rooms and replicas of actual workplaces, and fills them with big-screen TVs, VCRs, fax machines, desks, potted plants -- the list is endless. Customers then pay money to destroy them.
Hugo, a 24-year-old retail salesman from Dallas who asked that his last name not be used, paid $45 for 15 minutes inside the Anger Room and said it was worth every penny.
"I can't afford a psychiatrist, but I can afford this," he said, as he crushed a large TV with a baseball bat.
The brains behind the operation is founder Donna Alexander. The 30-year-old entrepreneur said she came up with the idea for the Anger Room when she was 16, but opened her first one in 2008 in her own garage. It was -- pardon the pun -- a smash hit.
"I had strangers showing up at my house so I said I have to find a real legit place," Alexander said.
Which was easier said than done. Alexander said it took her three years to find a landlord who would put up with the mess. She set up shop in a Dallas strip mall and started advertising, mostly online. Before long, customers were lining up make appointments, sign waivers, put on safety gear and choose a soundtrack, such as Eminem or Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," to prepare them for destruction. The rooms are filled with discarded junk Alexander and her staff pick up from people's garages.
According to the Anger Room website, sessions start out at the 5-minute "I Need a Break" for $25 and go up to "Total Demolition," a 25-minute session for $75.
"The only time I think someone might need a shrink is -- we have a 25-minute session. Nobody last 25 minutes," Alexander said.
Alexander said most of her customers are "normal 9-to-5'ers."
"We get a lot of high-level executives, people who own their own businesses, they come from all walks of life," she said.
And at least half of her clients are women, from mothers blowing off steam after a stressful day with the kids to ladies with relationship problems who take their anger out on mannequins.
"[They] put pictures on them, write on them and then they try to beat the crap out of them," Alexander said.
But she said most of her customers sign up to relieve job stress, not personal stress. And there are limits to how angry clients can get in the Anger Room. Alexander said she has had to turn down people who asked to bring in chainsaws and machetes. She also advises them not to rip the wires out of the walls.
Alexander said she doesn't pretend this environment is a legitimate mental health treatment. But to her critics, who have said the Anger Room is dangerous or glorifies violence, she said, "You can't tell me that you have never been angry before. You can't tell me that. If you haven't ever felt like that maybe you are the crazy one."