What Jail Is Like now presents a very special advice segment.
Normally we dogpaddle around in the wealth that corporate America gratefully bestows upon us -- for singlehandedly improving not just the economy, but also the ethical tone of business.
Companies once sought to lay off as many workers as possible and relocate production to Chihuahua City. But, thanks to us, they realized the errors of their ways. Now they willingly acknowledge the importance of the American worker by offering slews of temp positions with no benefits. Single moms love these jobs so much they can't have just one! In return, companies love and reward those sterling displays of work ethic. And the Fed loves it because the unemployment rate is -150%. It's one big sweaty platonic relationship!
And What Jail Is Like prospers. Thanks to the New Economy we "architected", we've blossomed from a three-person startup into a transnational operation -- with major branches in Indonesia and Costa Rica. The pubescent girls there love us so much that they forsake their educations and families to work 14-hour days in our improv sweatshops. True, we only pay them in product. But in the local black markets, hip celebrity references are worth their weight in gold!
Over the crinkle of green, however, we hear the voices of our fans. Specifically, the fans we'll leave behind in Champaign-Urbana. They're in serious hurt, and need serious help.
We understand their pain. WJIL provided C-U with a deep, rich gene pool. Dolphins and swimsuit models frolicked in the depths. There was much comingling, and bodies and souls alike were flensed clean.
Especially neat was the open-mike comingling on Thursdays, where budding amateurs attempted to join with live sound equipment. Survivors were rewarded with a cheery game of Bobbing for Lawrence.
Now, though, the pool don't look so hot. It's just a few puddles, with what look like dessicated sloppy joes sunk here and there in the mush. They call themselves Manwiches, but they won't meet your protein quota. Not like we did. And there are those hordes of Rantoulians who blame your for the disappearance of their sacred flying machines. How to go on?
Champaign is like a big Mob family. If you come near it, you might be able to work your way free -- but not before you pay it a ton of "protection" money. Marc, Matt, and Eric will return to Chicago, but they'll be sweating off student loans the rest of their lives. Still, it's a relatively light price to pay for being allowed to have a future.
Those born into the C-U Family, on the other hand, can never escape. They can't even breathe a word to the outside world. The only option is to turn state's witness and help indict Champaign on a serious obstruction-of-coolness charge. Then these renegades have to move, change their names, and enroll furtively in hospitality-industry courses. To forge a new life from spit and baling wire. Who wants that?
So you're stuck here. What do you do? How to live a full life in such a horrific context? Never fear. Here at What Jail Is Like, we're never at a loss for detailed and workable solutions. So sit back and relax. You're surrounded by bull, but we'll make it give the milk you need.
I: Embrace the Void
It's time to face facts. Despite its cultural context of feed corn and tupperware, Champaign is a hotbed of repressed existential sentiment. Make it your mission to crack that puppy wide open.
Sure, they all start out with idealistic innocence. To make order out of chaos, they form passionate "opinions" or "beliefs", which they try to pattern against the "backdrop" of a cultural schema in order to receive validation. In their spiritual zeal, some of the young 'uns actually turn in their parents for insufficient faith in the soy-product industry.
But then they go to school. And then they go to work. Where, despite a veneer of professionalism, coworkers share every harebrained opinion with anyone who will listen. And then the idealists realize -- other people are dumb.
This is the most comforting of all possible conclusions, and many of the duller ones cling to it passionately. Of course all Eskimos should become Southern Baptists! What does it matter that all the baptismal waters are supercooled and covered by six feet of ice? Dunk 'em, boys!
But the sharper ones, and even the mediocre, begin to suspect the problem is larger than it appears. Other peoples' beliefs seem stupid because:
- the issues involved are so intangible and overarching that they may as well be arguments about where the exact center of the universe is. It's the Earth, right? Come on. Everybody knows that.
- they're about things like whether the new den should be ecru or eggshell white. These issues lead to marital rifts, but what do they matter, really? Everyone knows that the walls will be the color of tobacco tar, plus whatever shade of light the TV emits.
These unfortunates realize their own opinions are of exactly the same nature as all these stupid ones. And another nihilist star is born unto the night sky.
At this point some cling to their apparent but illusory starring role in the universe. I am I, and they are they! So they're doodyheads and I'm not. This is the essence of the backlash against multiculturalism: no one wants to acknowledge that they have as big a chance of being an idiot as anyone else. You think George Will gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror, and thinks "There's the face of a moron?" Not so!
No matter how we try to stave it off, though, an education in Real Life is inevitable. It becomes all too clear: beliefs are merely a tightly spun network of ephemera to tie together, and to distract from, the endless rote chores and disappointments that constitute Real Life. Do I take a right turn here or the next block? Do I spend my allowance on Pokémon bedsheets or nickel bags? The only comfort is that, in three hundred years, this either will all be forgotten or will look in hindsight like the charade it is.
Despite pay-per-view and The WB, Champaign teeters on the brink. All it needs is a gentle push. This is the shining moment for which all true What Jail Is Like members have been drilled.
All you need to ask is: WWWJILD? Sisyphus only had rocks from which to deduce universal meaninglessness. You have a richer palette to draw from. The true master will lay bare the stark essence of any source material. For example: you're trying your damndest to open a new jar of peanut butter to make a sandwich you don't really want. Pause and ask: what is the nature of this reality?
Then get on the radio. Share your crisis of faith. Spread it like...well, much like creamy peanut butter upon the squishy white bread of your audience.
Relate intimate details. Say that the struggle to open the jar would be worth it, as long as there could be nipples on which the peanut butter could be spread. But there are no nipples when you need them.
Nipples appear at random, and disappear as mysteriously. The strenuous attempts of slasher flicks to impose order upon these appearances -- summer camp, nipples, death -- are noble but doomed to failure. The only certainty is that everyone dies with nary a chance to spread peanut butter upon an aureole. Not for all the topless beaches in France can that fate be averted.
Now pause. Just by speaking on the air, you, What Jail Is Like acolyte, have transformed every jar of Skippy in East Central Illinois into a ticking time bomb! What could be cooler? Out of meaninglessness and despair, your life's purpose is born! From nothing, something! This is the legacy we give to you. Your father's lightsaber, if you will.
But why use your talents just to bring everybody down? You can also use them to enrich yourself!
II: Cash: the Perfect Decor
You already know about the bank scam involving accumulation of the rounded-off fractions of cents. That's a wash. And now that the millennium has come and gone, you can no longer pre-date your savings deposits to, say, 1199 -- by making the first 9 in 1999 look like a one -- and, within seconds, accumulate eight hundred years worth of interest. (Sadly, bank tellers have already caught on to people who leave the last zero off 2000).
So how to make money in C-U -- and hence manufacture some semblance of a worthwhile life? Well, you could hire yourself out as a cheese-powder intern at Humko. If you work hard and get tenure, perhaps you could set sail on sabbatical to research the world's vanishing cheeses -- such as the elusive Hot-Nut-Fats of the Upper Amazon -- and find out whether they can be reduced to powder form.
But this plan could take years, even decades! You need your worldly success now.
So try this: get a custodial position at a local printing press. If that position is already filled, first temp out as a hip tobacco mascot. This encourages the current custodian to smoke and eventually die -- opening the position to you.
Then, after hours, print some currency. But don't print American money -- that's counterfeiting. Instead, put Eddie Murphy's face on the bills.
When they catch you, claim to be Eddie Murphy. The local authorities will think you rule your own country, and you're hiding out in Champaign-Urbana to get a taste of Real Life.
The authorities will be honored to welcome you with American generosity. They'll be sure to designate hordes of Disney characters to show you a good time, as they do for all immigrants. Bring me the one called Esmeralda, boys!
III: Fame: How To Be Irene Cara
Or try this one on for size. As everyone knows, the New Economy is based on celebrity. Or -- if you want to be cutting-edge like the dotComs -- "ubiquity". The idea is this: the more people know about you, the more you're worth. Remember, Monica was offered half a mil to model Versace in Rome. (We don't mean Monica from Friends, either. What, do we have to remember everything for you people?)
To achieve fame, you must first overcome a barrier. Alone, you have potential -- but no inherent drama. To be famous, you have to start interacting with others. Only a few have managed to break this rule, such as Mark Twain and Will Rogers. And even they don't count if you include their props. Heck, even Roy Rogers had to stuff and mount Trigger to keep the spotlight on him.
But if you don't know or like anybody, and still want to be adored by millions, what can you do? Is there any hope? There is. One shining ray of hope. The name? Elvis.
Alone and unafraid, this man turned his own body into high drama. It started with the hips. At that time in history, in the millennium that began with a one, few people had seen one single hip, let alone two. Faced with Elvis' astounding Revelation of the Hips, laymen and scientists alike poured forth their gratitude. In fact, a certain flare-winged calcic structure at the base of the torso is now named in Elvis' honor. (And a neighboring structure, the coccyx, is said to be named after a renowned pop metal band).
And as Elvis refined his mastery of showmanship, he introduced new heights (or, in this case, widths) of drama. He introduced tension with the advent of his new shape, "Large and In Charge", which threatened to topple "The Boneless Hunk" from its previously uncontested throne. The world held its breath while these titans battled for supremacy.
Many have since returned to the well. Ricki Lake and Oprah have both paid homage to the King, and reaped incredible rewards. And Robert de Niro's shape changes in Raging Bull earned him his Oscar.
Not only can you follow in their footsteps. You can become an innovator. Turn your entire body into a stage set! Remember, fame is worth any price. Dignity is for Establishment squares.
Begin with your nipples. Yes, both of them. They have a perfect relationship. But add a third, and watch what happens. Instant triangle! Loyalties torn which way and that! Will the interloper triumph? Or will the original pair regain their lost bliss?
This is the stuff of romance, drama, and gossip-sheet headlines. You are the producer, and your body is the production. And like any star-driven film, it's riven by strife and jealousy.
There's the stomach, always padding the expense account with "necessary additions", and demanding bowls of fried pork at every stage appearance. There's Mr. Brainy, the director -- who demands endless praise for derivative work, and who resents not being the star.
And then there's Dicky Vane, the male lead. He fancies himself a writer, and constantly tinkers with the script to cast whichever woman walks by as the love interest. But he's not as beyond the pale as he thinks: all his ideas come from his two shadowy hangers-on, who let him think of them as his acolytes.
Finally there's the veritable constellation of sebacious glands in the makeup department, with their bright ideas for appearance and costume changes. With them in the way, it's a wonder anything gets done.
What more proof do you need that, on the other side of your webcam, a breathless world awaits your every move? Start your body a-swarming!
IV: How Thought Control Can Work For You
There's one last path for the Jail fan to try. But be warned -- only the boldest should even consider it. From it there is no turning back.
Each of us has had at least one astounding experience. The kind of experience that illuminates realms of possibility we'd not dreamed of before. We may have hoped they would exist, but dared not expect it. Our gnawing desire had no form, not even a name. Its indefinability clouded our lives with imperceptible misery.
But then -- light! Blessed light to illuminate the darkest corners of existence. Everything falls into place. Even the most irritating banalities seem to fit into a beautiful order or progression. A progression leading directly to that selfsame blessed moment.
Often, these experiences involve another person, possibly in light or skimpy clothing. Sometimes it's George Lucas and a pair of red hotpants. But often, and more fortunately, these experiences involve something less animate. For example: your first Dead show, or your first Dark Side of the Moon show at the Laserium.
Most commonly in our media-saturated age, these experiences have to do with movies or TV. It could be your first viewing of Citizen Kane or Cleopatra Jones, or perhaps your first glimpse of the manmountain that is Ric Flair: Nature Boy. Moments where the universe opens to you and lays bare all its secrets.
The problem with these moments is their uniqueness. They cannot be planned or repeated. Even with the World's Tallest Highway Pileups routinely caught on tape, nothing can recapture the magic of that first viewing. Or can it?
Enter Korsakoff's Syndrome. The poster child for alcoholism. This remarkable condition involves memory loss of a very special kind. Long-term memory remains intact up to a certain point. But short-term memory is completely blown. The sufferer is incapable of retaining new information and experience. S/he lives in an eternal past, where the boys just come home from the war and the world is a shining place. (On cable the Normandy Channel, alias the History Channel, caters to this very audience).
Up to now, though, the process for attaining this state has been crude. People would just down mop buckets of Sterno and hope to wake up young and beautiful. But here at What Jail Is Like, we've developed a precise formula for determining memory cutoff. To wit: you give us a time, and we'll tell you how much to imbibe. For a small fee, you can return to any point in your life you desire.
When combined with modern technology, this gives you the capability to attain bliss on Earth. Literal, real, neverending bliss. If the last time you were happy was September 9 1991 at 7 PM CDT, when you saw the first broadcast of Picket Fences, we can cut your memory off at the point you switched on the TV. Then, thanks to videotape -- voila! You can watch the show over and over, and it will be transcendent every time. You can live your remaining decades in perfect happiness.
And That Is the Rest of the Story
So ends our humble attempt at public service. We hope we've given you healthy organic alternatives to the Cheezy Goop Buffet that's standard fare in Central Illinois. So put down that laser pointer. Stop pretending it's a gunsight. Smile for the customers, and know that we love you. No, we aren't thinking of you, but we love you.