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THREE ON THE TOWN

THE UNFRIENDLY CONFINES : Go to the White House--Directly to the White House. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.

August 01, 1993|Patt Morrison

For my money, it was a do-I-look-like-I-just-fell-off-the-arugula-truck? question--slow and right down the middle:

Would you rather be a jail inmate for a week or President for four years?

What's to ponder? Agreed that wallpaper in the Blue Room makes you long for the soothing notes of fingernails dragged across a chalkboard.

But really now. Whose roommate would you rather be, Hillary Clinton's or Li'l Killer's? You want to strategize about exporting cars or stealing them? Sleep in the Lincoln bed or sleep linked to a metal bed?

Easy call. Easy!

Yet when 1,514 people--approximately as many as died on the Titanic--were asked that question in a poll, 52% said that they'd take a cell for a week over the Oval Office for four years.

What has become of that boast that the greatness of this country is that anybody can grow up to be President, and Ronald Reagan proved it? How has it happened that a week behind Sheriff Block's bars looks more inviting than a quadrennium in the gilded cage of Pennsylvania Avenue?

Maybe my moral compass needs its lodestone serviced. I couldn't fathom the angst over that recent "indecent" film: I'd dump the adenoidal "Cheers" bartender and his ghastly house for the saddle-skinned Sundance Kid in a million-dollar minute, which must be why I'm not solicited for screenplay ideas.

Now it can't be denied that jail offers some marginal advantages over being the leader of the Free World. Heretofore unknown half-brothers are unlikely to pop up to claim kinship to a jailbird. Your cat doesn't get as much mail as you do. And behind felony bars, you can't vote, which is an answered prayer for most Americans, who hate to vote but hate even more the guilt and pressure of making up excuses about why they didn't.

That said, life in jail and life in the White House aren't as different as you might think:

Jail: You arrive by bus after a small group of your peers voted to send you there. The White House: The same, exactly.

Jail: You're working off your debt to society. White House: You're working off your debt to campaign contributors.

Jail: Guards watch you like hawks all the time and make a big deal out of every tiny little mistake. White House: Reporters watch you like hawks all the time and make a big deal out of every tiny little mistake.

Jail: You are surrounded by young first-time offenders. White House: Ditto.

Jail: You only get to exercise once a day, while people with powerful guns keep a close eye on you. White House: So what else is new?

Jail: A good chance someone in there is spoiling to maim or kill you. White House: A good chance someone out there is spoiling to maim or kill you.

Jail: When your friends visit, they have to pass through a metal detector. White House: The same, but no body-cavity searches.

Jail: Havoc ensues if you manage to step out for a burger. White House: Havoc ensues if you manage to step out for a burger.

Jail: The military doesn't want someone with a record like yours. White House: Do I make myself clear, soldier?

Jail: Your picture in the Post Office. White House: Your picture in the Post Office and every other federal building.

Jail: When push comes to shove, you may have to dump on your friends to save your own hide. White House: When push comes to shove, you may have to dump on your friends to save your own hide.

Jail: Determinate sentencing, with time off for good behavior. White House: Determinate sentencing, with another term in office for good behavior.

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