When it comes to a dunking booth, don't trust a kid

September 10, 1997

There's an insidious little program you've probably never heard of called Newspapers in Education. I'm uncertain of the specifics, but basically it provides Herald-Mail newspapers to classrooms, where kids benefit by being apprised of important, often crucial current events, such as the aggragate number of hickeys Nine Inch Nails was displaying during the recent MTV awards.

In exchange, the newspaper gets the benefits of added circulation, plus the hope that kids will get in the habit of physically picking up a paper as part of their daily lives, as opposed to simply reading news off the Internet or, more realistically, not caring about news at all.

So in other words, Newspapers in Education might accurately be reclassified as a Herald-Mail Save Our Jobs program, although some might view that asessment as overly harsh.


The NIE program is run by a woman named Michele Wills. Somewhere on this planet there might be a more dedicated, harder working person than Michele, although I challenge you to find that person.

Hard work, dedication, company spirit. Tragically Michele stands for everything that I, frankly, don't.

So when Michele came up to me a couple of weeks back and asked if I would participate in The Herald-Mail Hagerstown Air Show Dunking booth to benefit Newspapers in Education, two words immediately came to mind, one of which was "My" and the other of which rhymed with a certain variety of fish, either largemouth or smallmouth variety.

Unhappily, that little hair on the roof of your mouth that is your conscience started to bother me.

You people who read the paper do pay my salary. So isn't it in my best interests to initiate as many new readers to the, I'll call them joys, of newspapers as possible? Therefore, isn't it in my best interest to support Newspapers in Education?

On the other hand, I've always viewed education as being not as sudden as a drive-by shooting, but having the same effect over time. Everything that was even remotely connected with school, I still hate as an adult.

Then, I thought, there's the moral issue: Do we really want to put newspapers in the hands of young children? I've always subscribed to the motto "Stop underage reading before it starts" because the less-educated people are, the easier they are to control.

But then if I want to control them, they have to read my column. You can see the tight place I was in.

So I told Michele, yes, I would agree to be dunked for the benefit of - I guess myself.

When I entered the Hagerstown Air Show on Sunday, dressed in swimsuit and tanktop, I sensed a certain amount of remorse from the Chamber of Commerce members who were taking tickets. I assumed it was because they didn't want to see Hagerstown's biggest gadfly humiliated; it was only later I learned they were only sad because the dunking booth wasn't closer to the entryway, which would have allowed them to take a few shots themselves.

The dunking booth itself works like this: For a couple of bucks you get six baseballs which you throw from about 20 feet at a grapefruit-sized target. If you hit the target the spring-loaded platform upon which the doof is sitting gives way and said doof is plunged into a tank of sparkling, crystal-clear water.

Ahah! So you have spotted my first lie. The tank is in fact muddied beyond belief from - oh, let's just put that thought on hold for a moment.

The first gentleman who took an opportunity to contribute to my humiliation had purchased a couple of buckets of baseballs. After he doused me he explained he was the person who had flown the helicopter over Antietam. I thought for an Antietam vet he looked incredibly alive, and that I didn't know they had helicopters during the Civil War. Then it occurred to me he was talking about the Antietam concert of a couple years ago, when an advertisement-flashing chopper was criticized, largely by me, for disrupting a peaceful serenade.

Great, I thought. If everyone with a bone to pick with me is lining up with baseballs I'm going to look like some mafioso, sleeping with the fishes fruit of the East River.

It didn't turn out that way.

Most of the people who tried to dunk me were, get this, kids.

I tried rationally to explain to them that for the $28 they were plunking down for baseballs they could easily subscribe to The Herald-Mail on their own. I tried to explain the theory of "double taxation" by which they were paying for something which had already been bought.

It did no good.

I just hope they enjoy the latest news about Al Gore's fund-raising descrepencies. Welcome back from vacation, kid.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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