Dave Barry

The ultimate water gun

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published May 5, 1996.)

Just when you're starting to lose hope that the younger generation will ever amount to anything; just when you're asking yourself: ''Where are the leaders of tomorrow? Where is the next John Kennedy, the next John Wayne, the next John Denver, the next John LeMasters, who attended Pleasantville High School with me and was very good at math?''; just when you're starting to think that the most significant contributions that today's young people will make to society will be in the field of body-piercing; just when you're about to give up in total despair, some young person, when you least expect it, sends you a world-class water gun.

At least that's what happened to me. The young person in this case is actually named John Young. He's a graduate student who wrote me a letter informing me that several years earlier, while sitting in a philosophy class -- and let this be a lesson to you students who think that studying philosophy is a waste of time -- he figured out how to make ''the most butt-kickingest water gun the world has ever seen.'' He calls it The Ultimate Water Gun, and when he offered to let me try it, I, of course, accepted immediately. I had a hunch that this could be my big journalism break, comparable to the time during the Watergate scandal when, in a secret meeting in a parking garage, the man known only as ''Deep Throat'' changed the course of history by giving Bob Woodward a really good water gun.

But not as good as the one that John Young sent me. This is not some flimsy plastic toy; this is a major contraption that weighs, when fully loaded, as much as a major kitchen appliance. It consists of a pressurized, water-filled fire-extinguisher tank that you wear in a harness on your back; this is connected via a short tube to a garden-hose nozzle riveted to the top of a gold motorcycle helmet, which you wear on your head, so that, when you squeeze a trigger, the water squirts out in whatever direction your head is pointing. You also wear a firefighter-style jacket that has been spray-painted silver; the jacket does not make the gun work any better, but it does perform the important function, in conjunction with the nozzle-topped helmet, of making you look like: Captain Bill, Space Dork!

I tested this water gun with my son, Rob, at a Miami gas station. (We needed the station's air compressor to pressurize the tank.) It is not easy, using mere words, to describe the feeling of power you get when, merely by squeezing your hand, you send a powerful jet of water whooshing from the top of your head, shooting 75 feet or more in whatever direction you look, but I will try: It is cool.

It also commands respect. At one point, two young men pulled up in a classic Bad Dude car -- low to the ground, windows tinted with what appeared to be roofing tar, sound system thumping out bass notes loud enough to affect the Earth's rotation. They stopped and got out, apparently intending to use the air compressor; but just then, Rob came around the front of my car, silver-coated, gold-helmeted, shooting a blast of water over the gas station roof. The Bad Dudes were clearly startled, although they recovered and tried to look extremely unimpressed, as if to say, ''Ho-hum, another Human Fire Hydrant.'' Then they coolly, but quickly, got back into their boombox car and thumped on out of there.

So we're talking about a powerful new technology here, and I've been pondering how it can best be used to benefit humanity in general, and I think I've figured out the ultimate use for The Ultimate Water Gun: Cigar Control.

As you know, cigars are now the ''in'' thing, with hip, fashionable, ''with-it'' sophisticates lighting up in restaurants and bars, apparently not realizing that, to the many, many people who don't care for cigars, it smells as though somebody has set an armpit on fire. (I am referring here to your cheaper cigar. Your more expensive cigar smells as though somebody has set a more expensive armpit on fire.)

Of course, polite cigar smokers (and there are many) refrain from lighting up where others will unwillingly smell their smoke. But there seems to be a growing group of people -- let's reach deep into our bag of euphemisms and call them ''jerks'' -- who seem to enjoy lighting up in public places; who talk loudly and proudly about their cigars, as if they truly believe that the rest of us are impressed with a person capable of emitting this level of stench.

So picture this: You're in a restaurant, and a jerk lights up, and suddenly all the food tastes like cigar. You're wishing that somebody (not you; you don't want any trouble) would tell this guy exactly what he can do with his cigar; just then-wham! -- the door bursts open, and there he is, his silver coat reflecting the candlelight -- the Cigar Avenger! His gold helmet turns slowly, scanning the room, and suddenly he squeezes his hand trigger and -- whooossh! -- the jerk is drenched from head to foot, with what looks like a wad of dead seaweed hanging limply from his clenched teeth.

As the surrounding diners break into applause, the jerk (he might be a lawyer) sputters: ``This restaurant has no policy against cigar smoking!''

And the Cigar Avenger calmly replies: ``This restaurant also has no policy against extinguishing cigars with a powerful stream of water from a helmet-mounted spray nozzle.''

And then, in a twinkle of silver, he is gone. Probably he is gone to get a hernia operation, because that thing is heavy.