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Dear Matthew:

I am currently a "guest" of the San Diego George Bailey Detention Facility. For those inmates who were unlucky enough to be arrested without money, the jail provides free soap, toothpaste, and deodorant. These items are distributed by the Bob Barker Co. of Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526. My fellow inmates seem to believe that this company is owned and named after my favorite game-show host. Please settle our bet of two instant soups.

-- Man in county blues, Bailey Detention Facility, San Diego

Dear Geek Guru:

What is the real meaning of "Rights of Passage," and should we still celebrate it? Do you think boys should be acknowledged when becoming men, or do we just let them run around like jackasses until they decide to grow up?

-- Up the Creek, Centinela State Prison, Imperial, CA

I knew we were big with the felony set, but they haven't checked in for quite a while. Glad to see we're back on the mailing list. And now that you can't smoke in the pokey, I guess instant soup has replaced cigarettes as currency. I also wonder how bored you have to be if you're reduced to reading toothpaste labels and making bets on deodorant. But anyway, Blue Man, you just copped two soups. Tell your cellie to pay up.

Of course Bob Barker the cosmetics king isn't Bob Barker the Price Is Right guy. I've seen an actual picture of Soap Bob, and he doesn't have as much hair as C'mon Down Bob, even though he's a whole lot younger. And what hair he has is red. In 1972 Toothpaste Bob was in his first year as a North Carolina state senator, so he was hanging out in Raleigh. (Lucky for him, you could throw a corn pone from Fuquay-Varina and hit the state capitol, so he didn't have much of a commute.) In 1972 C'mon Down Bob was in L.A. hosting his first year of Price, the Miss USA/Universe Pageant, and the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Way too busy to moonlight as a politician.

In the past 30 years, Toothpaste Bob has turned Fuquay-Varina into the world center for correction-facility supplies. He makes or distributes everything any head warden could dream of to furnish the urban-chic, cutting-edge lockup. (Polished concrete and stainless steel are all the rage in today's classy interior decor.) In interviews, Toothpaste Bob emphasizes the importance of his company's prisoner-proofing methods. They smash-test their radios on concrete floors; they grind their toothbrushes against cinderblock walls to make sure they can't be sharpened into shanks. No pork fat in their cosmetics, to prevent religious riots. And consider the Bob Barker SuperMax lockable suit -- a jumpsuit that can't be removed by the wearer, custom designed for California's supermax, Pelican Bay.

He's also proud of his Department of Defense contract to supply uniforms to Guantanamo inmates and footwear, clothing, and "suicide-prevention products" to the infamous Abu Ghraib in Iraq -- Bob Barker Inc.'s LifeLine smocks and jumpsuits made of heavy-duty polyester, which can't be torn and used as a noose. All Bob Barker duds come in sizes up to 14XL. Scary.... So, as you can see, wherever in the world a man is incarcerated, Fuquay-Varina's Bob Barker is there too.

By the way, Blue Man, I hope you're not in the hole or anything on June 15 this year. That's the day your pal, L.A.'s Bob Barker, hosts the last installment of Price. The last day he'll give away another jet ski or one of those incredibly ugly dining room sets. So enjoy your soups and keep your nose clean until then.

As for rites of passage -- marking the time when a kid becomes an adult -- they're common in non-Western cultures and some religions, but unfortunately we're too hip for that, I guess. A rite of passage requires cooperation between the young people and the adults around them and some sort of life-shaping belief system. You're right, cool sneakers and MTV don't seem like much of a substitute.

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