What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you? Did it show up online yet? Consider yourself lucky if it hasn't, because aside from kitten memes and porn, schadenfreude is the dirty coal that keeps the engine of the Internet firing away. With the constant barrage of the morbid, ridiculous and scandalous popping up in our news feeds, we've come to expect a daily dose of catharsis from all walks of life. Look at this idiot trying to rob a convenience store with a tree branch! Top 10 faces of meth addicts! Watch this woman fall into a fountain at the mall! Look at this guy who got caught trying to smuggle 30 different items into a Florida prison by stashing them in his rectum. LOL ad infinitum.
That last story just arrived in February. You probably already know that since I'm sure one of your friends "liked" it or tweeted it #assjokes. Or maybe you came across the link on one of the hundreds of blogs, like this one or this one, that revel in such things. I should know, I write one of those blogs myself.
It's the kind of news report that's tailor-made to go viral, dealing as it does with criminals, drugs, and, more importantly, rectal storage. That's a complete Internet shame bingo right there.
I found out about it on my Facebook page. "That takes intestinal fortitude," read the headline on MSNBC. Buzzfeed had a page up listing the "Top 30 Items This Man Was Hiding In His Rectum." Naturally I was excited to click through. Who wouldn't be?
The Smoking Gun had gleaned the details of the man's stash from the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office report: 17 Oxycodone pills, a cigarette, six matches, an empty syringe with an eraser over the needle, a lip balm container, a condom, a CVS receipt, a paper coupon, and a piece of flint.
Puns abounded as the man became, forgive me, the butt of a thousand jokes. One commenter on TSG took a characteristically sarcastic approach. "Flint? [Is he a] former Boy Scout? Be Prepared!"
I'd laugh if I didn't want to cry. Actually, he was a boy scout. I know because he was in my troop. Neil Lansing, 34, formerly of Kingston, Mass., laughingstock of the Internet last week, was my first friend in the world.
Online everyone was asking the same questions—and reasonable ones, at that: Why in the world would someone smuggle a coupon into prison lodged in his anal cavity? And what was he planning to do with that receipt? My buddies and I had something else on our minds as we shared the story with one another and exchanged e-mails about how funny and charming he'd been back in the day. "It is definitely odd how I can go to blog sites and just chuckle at idiots, but then I scroll down to Neil's blurb and I get sad," a mutual friend wrote to me.
I think it's strange, too.
I was amused when I first saw the story about some guy in prison, but that gave way to a stunning wave of recognition when I saw Neil's mug shot. I had to look away from the screen. In fact, after hours of reading different versions of the story, I can still only look at that photograph of Neil from the corner of my eye. That sad, beaten-down face implicates me in the story both as a former friend and as the type of jerk who'd normally find this amusing. "Is it funny now?" he seems to be asking. Well, yes and no. Depends on who you ask.
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