C-U, August 20 2000 - One week after the final broadcast of award-winning radio comedy show What Jail Is Like, you may have thought that it would be forgotten. Or that people would snarl at its merest mention, like an unmasked Scooby-Doo villain at the word "Shaggy".
Not so! True, the Monday after Sunday's broadcast found the nation's head shops out of business, unable to move their vast stock of Matt-Trupia-shaped bongs. And by 10 AM Tuesday the youth of America had moved on to the next hot fad: stuffing phone booths.
However, the kids were foiled when the national increase in obesity made it impossible to stuff a phone booth with even one person. And forget about hula hoops!
When the stock market opened Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal broke the story: hi-tech cell phones were exactly the same size as desk phones of twenty years ago. The compactness of present units was an optical illusion, produced by increase in personal bulk.
The national infrastructure collapsed beneath the weight of this scandal. Suits and countersuits, over everything from PalmPilots to MiniDiscs, put serious strain on corporate credibility. On Thursday the camel's back broke, when the title of Miss America was bestowed on Tinkerbell. Consumer activity ground to a halt as both preteens and their Barbie dolls began a national Fast For Fetchingness, and Playboy published centerfolds that featured Verne Troyer.
A period of anarchy followed on Friday. Vast areas were conquered by the Rantoulian hordes of Bubba Khan, and fell under the reign of the Emperor of the Double-Wide. This period of bloodshed was mercifully brief, since after shedding their blood everyone felt embarrassed. They collected it from the ground and took a nice relaxing bloodbath to recover their composture.
By early Saturday, the nation groped for meaning. What, they cried, can fill our bottomless appetite for self-esteem? The answer was staring them in the face: prison-themed shows on listener-supported radio stations.
The entertainment industry scrambled for credibility. Jennifer Aniston and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos starred in Saturday's remake of Caged Heat. While a forgettable effort, Dustin Hoffman did turn in a decent performance as the female prison warden.
Other celebrities did better at repackaging themselves. Hanson made a solid comeback with their tribute album to Juarez, and Olivia Newton-John led the Australian Invasion with her hit single "Continent of Felons". Before you know it, America's politicians were scrambling to be investigated by Congress, and the nation was back on its feet.
One detail lacked, though: a theme for junior-high dances. Sponsors of previous school events were out of business, or on sabbatical in stylish prison resorts. Who would fill the gap and save the school spirit?
A whole new industry of What Jail Is Like impersonators heard the call. Reverent acolytes researched the ancient science of radio waves, and studied every mannerism of the original WJIL innovators. It was especially difficult to master the sharp intelligence and throaty contralto, but master them these impersonators did. Before you know it, pubescents were slow-dancing to the "PSA Intro Splatter Da Mike Remix", and by Sunday morn our nation's children had heroes they could call their own.
"Let's face facts," says image consultant Lenora Hickey. "If we hadn't turned away from What Jail Is Like, they would have told us how fat we were getting. We could have nipped this thing in the bud." Yowza. The truth ain't pretty, and sometimes we need a role model or three to face it for us.
But what of the heroes themselves? What became of them? Where are they now? The What Jail Is Like website now gives you the exclusive scoop.
The story is encouraging. Each man met with fame and fortune, but hardly in the way he had foreseen. You may not believe the incredible stories that follow, but -- whether you believe or not -- they are just as true!
Marc Heiden invented into a source of limitless, low-cost energy. Immediately he was kidnaped by pharmaceutical firms, which intended to bottle Marc's invention as a dietary supplement for seniors. Medicare would not cover the pills, since they were categorized as a lifestyle aid -- and they would go at $200 a pop. Seniors would be forced to choose between health and groceries.
Suddenly, events took an unexpected turn. David Bannon, disgruntled pharmaceutical scientist, was bombarded with radiation from Marc's invention. Bannon became huge, green and feral. He burst out of his clothes and tore the pharmaceutical industry out by the roots. Marc was freed, and a national scourge was ended.
This story has a coda. Based on his success with David Bannon, the WWF contracted with Marc to create huger wrestlers. Thus far, the only wrestler Marc has produced is Rodin's "The Thinker". He's iron-hard, but doesn't quite float like a butterfly. But we're sure Marc will perfect the process, and give us shaved and painted Titans of the Ring.
Eric Rampson, on the other hand, discovered that Heaven is a place on Earth. Or -- more specifically -- on his futon.
A shocked world reeled from the theological implications. In one stroke, Eric had disproved those heretics that claimed Heaven was a place in feminine hygiene commercials. Instantly feminine hygiene declined, and the popularity of futons soared. (In many cases, futons themselves soared, in corporeal ascent to rapture everlasting).
Soon, believers lined up around the block just to touch the Slip Cover of Turin. And Eric scored an unprecedented coup against the forces of Evil when Beelzebub sold his soul in exchange for one night on a futon.
But Satan's soul turned out not to be as handy as one might expect. "It never kept its promises," says Eric. "It didn't pay its share of the rent, and it pulled lots of passive-aggressive crap like saying 'Oh, I thought you meant I should just do my dishes, not all of them.'" However, an underground Goth club offered a king's ransom for the troublesome Essence of Darkness, and converted it into a creepy light show. Everyone came out a winner.
Now elected Pope, Eric hopes to revolutionize religious thought. He intends to smooth the ruffled feathers of those who grumble that the new Heaven is yet another scheme foisted on the world by single white males. "God continues to be everywhere," Eric insists. "He is not contained by his dominion or by any portion thereof. The aspects of Heaven are indeed infinite, so there are lots of aspects to go around for each futon -- no matter what its race, creed or color." Godspeed, Eric.
Scientists continue to study Matt Trupia and his amazing ability to assume any shape. These scientists hope to use Matt's DNA to engineer a substance with shape memory. That is -- on command, this substance would assume a form it had once held.
Such a material would have many everyday uses. For example: furniture, homes, and entire neighborhoods could be collapsed to a fraction of their original size, moved, and expanded back to normal. These Collapso-Communities would give unprecedented mobility to the nation's labor pool, which could move anywhere the market demanded. Dad could stroll to work over the northern icepack, and little Tommy could grow up at the North Pole! Christmas presents all year round!
So far, though, results are inconclusive. Scientists did succeed in creating a Matt-based material that maximizes funk, but applications for funk are ill-explored. And controversy continues to rage over the project's possible uses in covert operations. One source insists that a variant of the shape-changing substance will be being used to assassinate world leaders. Starting as an innocuous-looking Valium pill, once ingested it grafts to its host -- then alters his appearance to that of Adolf Hitler. The potential for character assassination is chilling! Matt, we hope you're OK.
Sadly, the rotting corpse of Lawrence Welk did not survive the Polka Empire over which he presided. Once his regime crumbled beneath the weight of accordion lessons, Lawrence himself came to be regarded as a symbol of totalitarian oppression. Cheering throngs of former polka dancers smashed Lawrence into pieces with sledgehammers.
Fortunately, sharp-eyed entrepreneurs collected the pieces and bottled them, selling them on eBay as relics of an historic moment. Wow! Buy a piece of history today!
Weirdness--seekers continue to be fascinated by supernatural phenomena associated with Kurt Tuohy. Years ago, numerologists proved that his age at any given moment was the exact sum of the ages of the What Jail Is Like crew -- plus the ages of their fans! As if that weren't enough, this Methuselah inexplicably remains baby-fresh and soft. One cult claims that the Fates have allowed Mr. Tuohy to remain eternally young -- but in return, he can never set foot outside the bounds of Champaign/Urbana. One can only hope the Fates are not so cruel.
Finally, this reporter attempted to interview the sometime cohosts of What Jail Is Like: Pete Gray, Matt Meador and Mike Renaud. But that task was made impossible by the dense harems of odalisques that surround anyone associated with What Jail Is Like. Guys, we hope you're holding up -- wherever you are.