Jones and Woolf

America's Hidden Treasure

April 10, 2024 Anthony Jones and Joel Woolf Season 4 Episode 1
America's Hidden Treasure
Jones and Woolf
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Jones and Woolf
America's Hidden Treasure
Apr 10, 2024 Season 4 Episode 1
Anthony Jones and Joel Woolf

An unlikely encounter with a pop star fuels the rise of a new healthcare influencer who's willing to do just about anything to get people to follow her. 

Let us know what you thought of this episode.

Show Notes Transcript

An unlikely encounter with a pop star fuels the rise of a new healthcare influencer who's willing to do just about anything to get people to follow her. 

Let us know what you thought of this episode.

Before you go and start judging me, there’s one thing I want to make clear.

Despite the story you are about to hear, I am not the kind of person that frequents open mics. On the contrary, I have spent the majority of my adult life avoiding amateur displays of self-abasement. Mention a poetry reading to me, a coffee shop concert, a local play, a screening of an experimental film, or an amateur magic show and there’s a good chance that I will lose all respect for you. Cut you out of my life. Employ the strategy I typically reserve for my mother and all her botox-loving friends when they approach: politely smile and quietly walk away.

But you know, there was this guy I was dating. 

Jordan. 

A complete and utter moron but so fucking hot that my frontal lobe melted down every time he was close enough for me to smell his hair. So despite my revulsion toward the attention-whoring psychopaths who perform at open mics, when he suggested a local artist showcase for our fourth date, I literally said yes before he could finish his sentence. Honestly, he could have asked me to go on a tour of a local slaughterhouse and I would have been first in line, ready to watch the cows die.

I’m not as shallow as that makes me seem. I promise I’m not. I think it’s just different when you weren’t the hot girl growing up and all of a sudden you get a chance to date a bonafide ten. It triggers all kinds of childhood insecurities. There’s this voice inside you screaming: don’t be a fool! This is your chance to prove to Amber and her minions that you can be a popular girl too!

You start making compromises is what I’m trying to say.

So that’s how I wound up at an open mic at Barnaby’s Irish Pub in the West Loop and saw Ferdi perform in front of less than twenty people.

Yes, I’m talking about that Ferdi. 

The same one that went on to win America’s Hidden Treasure later that year and quickly became one of the most famous singers in the entire world. I’m sure you’ve seen footage of the riots he caused in Buenos Aires when tickets for one of his stadium shows went on sale a day earlier than expected. Or the social media challenge that led to thousands of high school kids getting tattoos of his face on their necks. 

Well, I knew about him before all that—when he was just a nobody at an open mic at an Irish pub in Chicago. 

I am so totally not one of those people who claims a band when they’re unknown and then tells everyone how terrible and corporate they’ve become once they’re famous, but Ferdi’s music was different back then. It’s all epic synth pop ballads now, but that night at Barnaby’s most of his songs were just simple stories about loss and love and regret. 

One song in particular nearly brought me to tears.

It was about a little deaf boy who falls in love with a microwave and doesn’t listen to the people who make fun of him because, well, he can’t hear them in the first place.

It sounds weird when I describe it like that, but trust me, Ferdi’s lyrics were fucking gut wrenching

I went up to him after his set to tell him how much his music had moved me, completely ignoring Jordan’s invitation for more Jägerbombs. Even then, there was this aura around Ferdi. A glow. Like he was some divine figure beamed down to Earth to show the rest of us monsters what it meant to live a life full of love.

“My best friend growing up was deaf,” Ferdi told me after I gushed about his song. “And I’ve always been fascinated by microwaves. Their ability to warm things so quickly. It’s amazing, isn’t it? And we take them for granted. Well, what if they did the same for the human heart? Warm them, I mean. That’s how the song was born.”


. . .


It wasn’t until a year or so later, when Jordan and his gorgeous hair was a distant memory, that I really sat and thought about what Ferdi told me that night. 

I was doing mostly freelance graphic design work at the time, sharing an apartment with three other losers in Hyde Park, stressing out about my student loans, and spending most of my time hate scrolling through my (more successful) friends’ social media feeds.

I was unequivocally not thriving as I approached middle age, but it wasn’t until our shared hot plate broke for the fifth time that I finally snapped.

Let me paint a picture for you.

I was thirty-five years old. I had a fancy art degree from a fancy art college in the States. I didn’t know what my IQ was exactly, but I was sure it was high. And this is what I had been reduced to—clutching a packet of ramen that I couldn’t eat because the hot plate I shared with two strangers I met on the internet was fucking broken again.

And that’s when I remembered Ferdi. The story he’d told me about his strange and beautiful song. About how it was based on his best friend growing up and how he had unlocked his creative potential with that memory.

That’s it, I thought, so excited that I inadvertently squeezed the packet of ramen hard enough for it to explode on the kitchen floor.

The secret to being rich and famous is exploiting your childhood friendships.


. . .


That same evening I went to Starbucks. I put on my headphones and played Ferdi’s newest album on full blast. I drank enough coffee to kill a medium-sized dog. I took out a notebook and all my colored pencils. And I spent the rest of the night cataloguing my old friendships in an attempt to figure out which one might hold some hidden treasure. 

There was Yesenia, my best friend from year four who had a special hall pass because she had Crohn’s disease. I used to be so jealous of that laminated gold card she had in her binder. “Why can’t I have Crohn’s disease,” I would whine to my parents. My father, a locally famous orthodontist, never knew how to respond. I drew several red stars next to Yesenia’s name in my notebook, but ultimately decided to pass because I couldn’t find anything cute or marketable about shitting yourself to death. 

There was also Curtis, who was in jail now for leading a crypto pyramid scheme. He was the first boy I kissed. It happened during our year seven prom. He licked me in the mouth while we freak danced in the corner, hiding from the chaperones. His breath smelled like Cool Ranch Doritos and menthol cigarettes and I remembered feeling like such a badass. Please God don’t let me get pregnant, I wrote in my journal at the time, still not really sure how pregnancies happened. Was there an angle I could play there? Some statement I could make about how cryptocurrencies took advantage of romantics? About how the crash of some meme coin represented the destruction of childhood innocence?

After an hour of brainstorming, I didn’t love any of my ideas, so I went back to hate scrolling. All those perfect people with their cute golden doodles and adorable babies. It made me want to puke on each and every one of those curly-haired puppies. I was just about to delete my social media once and for all when I came across the post that changed the entire trajectory of my life and made me “one of the most toxic people in America” according to the New York Times.   

Or was it CNN who had said that about me?

It was probably both, as much as the media hates me.

But that’s neither here nor there. What I’m really trying to tell you about is the moment I saw the post about George Meyerson—the nerdy kid I sat next to in Chemistry and occasionally copied homework from our freshman year of high school. 

A mutual friend of ours had posted a picture of a much older George lying in a hospital bed with tubes in his nose. Pray for my guy, the post said. I scrolled through the comments. It sounded like George had some rare form of blood cancer. Months to live, maybe weeks. Nothing the doctors could do. Poor, poor George. It was an honest-to-God tearjerker of a tragedy. 

And that’s when I knew. 

This was my Ferdi moment. 

The realization came to me suddenly, in a flash, probably not dissimilar from how God revealed himself to Moses—hot, loud, and with a bang.


. . .


“People love those fundraising campaigns,” Shawn, my best friend and the fiercest queen I knew, told me over mimosas the next day. We were drinking far too much at brunch, spending the little money I had left in my checking account, strategizing how to take advantage of the gift I’d been given by the universe. “It’s a really great way to go viral, and I’m sure his family could use the money. Most importantly, a super slick campaign would be a great way to show off your personal brand.”

So that’s what I did.

I used every technique I learned at my fancy art college and put together the most amazing Fund Me Now campaign that the internet had ever seen.

I posted it everywhere. Shawn, who has like a thousand followers, did the same. Before I knew it, I was seeing George’s face all over my feeds. His withering countenance absolutely popped off the beautiful steel blue background I’d put together, and the asymmetrical lines I’d used to emphasize the text elements announcing his inevitable demise drove the tragedy deep inside the viewers’ hearts.

Honestly, it was some of my best work. 

And the money was rolling in.

On the start of the third day of the campaign, I had raised $1,784. 

By the end of the week, the total was $47,918.

By the end of the month, it was $113,652.

Holy shit, I thought, doing some back-of-the-envelop math and realizing it was more than enough to pay off the remainder of my student loans. Not that I would steal anything from a dying man. I was doing this to help him, I told myself. And hopefully advertise my design skills in such a way that led to a full-time job offer at a top firm. 

You know, win-win.

I was daydreaming about a corner office overlooking Lake Michigan when I saw a name in my DMs that made me freeze.

George Meyerson.

In all my excitement, I had kinda forgotten to let him and his family know what I was doing. Partly, I thought surprising them with a massive check would be incredible content, but I’d mostly just been partying with Shawn and his group of friends. I don’t know if you’ve had a Molly hangover recently, but all those items on your to-do list sort of disappear when your brain is sucked dry of serotonin. 

What the fuck is this??? George wrote to me, sharing a screenshot of the fundraising campaign. I have kidney stones, not blood cancer! Who the fuck are you?!!


. . .


Here’s the thing.

When people just sort of like your persona on the internet, you don’t need to worry about getting fact checked about anything. Your followers just go along with whatever you tell them.

I guess that’s why they call them followers. 

Like now for instance, when George and I post a new video about how antibiotics are killing people, our fans just cheer us on.

Sorry for skipping to the end like that, but George and I are business partners now.

If you’ve seen our recent content, it looks like we’re romantically involved, I know, but that’s because our fans were clamoring for us to fuck in the comments so we gave them a little red meat.

Let me backtrack a little bit.

When George DMed me that day, he was super pissed, one hundred percent, but once I explained the situation to him, I think he had his own Ferdi moment.

You see, George’s life hadn’t exactly gone to plan either.

He had some fancy creative writing degree from some fancy liberal arts school, and yet he was unemployed, in more student loan debt than I was, and battling chronic kidney stones at the age of thirty-four.

“What if we made up a story about how I cured my cancer with homeopathic medicine?” he said when we met in person for the first time. “We could do a drip campaign. Make it seem like things have taken a turn for the worst, and then really play up the hero’s journey of me taking responsibility for my own health care, and then slowly but surely dragging myself back from the brink of death.”

Talk about serendipity, right?

It was absolutely brilliant, the clear next step. I’m not sure what George’s IQ was, but after he told me that, I was sure it was as high as mine.

So that’s what we did.

George wrote the copy, I made all the design choices.

And along the way, we gained hundreds of thousands of followers.

After a few months, the obvious next step was for us to give people advice on how they could take charge of their own healthcare choices too. To show them how they could be the heroes of their own recovery stories. Just like George. 

Like I mentioned, the lame-stream media comes after us all the time. They accuse us of being charlatans and frauds. They say we’re dangerous, that someone is going to get hurt because of our content. Blah, blah, blah. Honestly, their histrionics are great for our brand too.

All we do is win!

In the last six months, we’ve pulled in over $400,000 from advertising revenue alone.

We have a line of supplements in the works, a podcast that’s coming out next month.

More importantly, my student loans are paid off, I have my own two-bedroom apartment in Lincoln Square, I’m doing the best design work of my entire career, and when I want ramen now, I fucking buy it from the best Japanese restaurants in the city.

Of course, I still go see doctors whenever I get sick. I’m not insane. I just have to wear a mask and use one of my fake names because it would ruin the business if someone recognized me and took a picture.

Admittedly, I’m not on Ferdi’s level. I didn’t win a reality show and become a worldwide phenomenon, but I guess in a way I also discovered America’s hidden treasure. And who knows? Maybe in a few more years, high school kids will be getting my face tattooed on their necks too.