Scared Straight

[Editor’s Note:  This piece by Simon Rich originally ran earlier this year.  An explanation from Daniel Menaker about our August schedule follows below.]

  For years, “Scared Straight” programs have exposed juvenile delinquents to prison inmates in order to deter them from a life of crime. After meeting hardened convicts and hearing about the harsh realities of jail, many young offenders get off the road to ruin and put their lives back on track. The program was recently expanded to help other types of at-risk youths:
     Philosophy Majors
— I understand you’re a philosophy major.
— Yeah, I’m really enjoying it.
— Well, my name is Mr. Greenbaum and I’m here to scare you straight.
— Oh. Okay.
— I was a philosophy major too. I wrote a 160-page thesis in support of Rawlsian ethics.
— That’s pretty cool.
— Yeah. Now I work for a company that makes bricks.
— Oh.
— I tried to get a job as a philosopher, but it turns out that job doesn’t exist.
— So… now you work in a factory?
— I wish I worked in the factory. If I did some physical labor, I’d probably be less obese. I work in the front office. I spend nine hours a day in this tiny chair.
— What do you do all day?
— Not philosophy.
— What are all these papers on your desk?
— They’re called R-72 forms.  I don’t know what they do. I just fill them out to look busy, so they won’t fire me. When I finish a hundred, I put them in a box. Then I carry the box to the basement and just leave it there. Even if I had free will, I’d have no choice.
— Do you … still support Rawlsian ethics?
— I have a new philosophy now. It’s called “My whole life is a nightmare.”
— I guess … maybe I should try pre-med?
— Good for you, son. That’s a start.
     High School Sweethearts
— So you really love your girlfriend, huh?
— Yeah, Kayla’s amazing. We met in 10th grade and we’ve been together ever since.
— I got married when I was your age. Here’s a picture of my wife at the wedding.
— Whoa–nice work!
— Yeah. Here’s a picture of her now….That’s right — look at it. Take a long, hard look…. Okay. Now I’m going to play you a message she left on my answering machine this morning. (starts speakerphone)
— Why is she screaming?
— It’s hard to tell. She’s probably out of cigarettes. When I met her, she only smoked three a day.
— (shaking) That’s how many Kayla smokes!
— Now my wife tears through a carton in three days.
— Jesus.
— Our therapist said I need to plan a special evening for her. I was thinking I could dump a garbage bag full of cigarettes on the floor so she can waddle in them like an animal. That’s probably the only thing that would bring her pleasure. (phone rings) Oh God. It’s her. It’s the monster. Is this how you want to spend your life? Learn from me!
     Reality Television Stars
— I hear you’re going to be on TV.
— Yeah, the Real World Cancun! It’s going to be a non-stop party. Hey…wait a minute. You look familiar.
— I was on Road Rules nine years ago.
— Oh yeah! You’re that guy who said that racist thing.
— That’s right. That’s who I am now, forever. “That Guy Who Said That Racist Thing.”
— Well … that won’t happen to me. I’ll just make sure not to say any racist things on camera.
— You’ll slip up.
— But I’m not a racist!
— It doesn’t matter. It’s bound to happen. It’s how those shows are set up!
— (runs away in fear) 

— So you want to be a humorist, huh?
— That’s my goal! Maybe someday I can even write for your magazine.
— My magazine is folding next week. The entire industry is in ashes.
— Oh. What about newspapers?
— I assume you’re joking.
— Well,  then… what’s left? There’s got to be some place where written humor is still valued.
–There are a few digital outlets, if you’re really desperate.

— I’ll take it!
Simon Rich is the author of two humor collections, “Ant Farm” and “Free-Range Chickens.” He currently writes for “Saturday Night Live.”

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A Seasonal Note to Our Readers from Grin & Tonic Editor Daniel Menaker:  

Mainly,  what on earth are you doing, reading this in the second half of August?  Trade this screen for sunscreen, get out there among the stinging jellyfish and tarballs and riptides, ogle men if you’re a woman, women if you’re a man, men if you’re a gay man, women if you’re a gay woman, yourself if you are alone and not entirely hideous, collect shells and then throw them away when they start to make unsightly bulges in the pockets of your trunks or the tops of your bikinis, marvel at the horshoe-crab exoskeleton just above the tideline, recall that it is one of the most ancient survivors among all living things, ogle it, very quickly get over your sense of wonder, kick the horsehoe-crab thing, take a swig from the styrofoam cup filled with now-warm sangria that you bought at the beach bar, gaze in awe at the ocean waves crashing ceaselessly one after the other, kind of like a pile-up on I-90, or like an angry mob storming the legislature in Lima, or like an annoying neighbor who plays the sound track from “South Pacific” over and over again, or like the sound of heavy broken glass falling from a great height onto a Posturepedic mattress, or like thousands of crumpets, if only because the word “crumpet” sounds like the waves crumpeting down on the sand—or like an Irish pennywhistle, a fig newton just sitting there, or Caruso’s C above high C, if you are crazy.

But if you must read on, zoris still in the closet, understand that it is the second half of August, and that even if you’re not, we at Grin & Tonic are on that beach, or more likely stuck in traffic on the way, and so are most of our contributors, and so, over the next few days, we are bringing back some of the classic humor pieces we’ve posted over the last year, with an eye to making you laugh—or say, “This isn’t particularly funny, in my opinion”—all over again.

       —Daniel Menaker, Editor, Grin & Tonic