The Great American Free Enterprise System has given us so many wonderful gifts. We've got sneakers that light up. We've got cheese in aerosol cans. We've got candy shaped like worms. We've got inflatable sex dolls and glow-in-the-dark crucifixes and lawn ornaments shaped like the butt of a fat lady bending down to pick weeds. We've got ant farms and pet rocks. We've got Spam and Twinkies and Trix and Kix and toilet paper printed up to look like money.
And now we've been given a new addition to this pantheon of Great American Stuff:
In 12-ounce, long-neck bottles. With a label decorated with a picture of a skull and the slogan: "Stoned to the Bone."
Bong Water is a new soft drink invented in Merrillville, Ind. It contains a lot of delicious ingredients--high-fructose corn syrup and/or sugar and "Natural & Artificial Flavors," and a heaping helping of caffeine. What Bong Water does not contain is actual bong water.
This is good. Bong water is water from a bong. A bong is a pipe that filters marijuana smoke through water. As many a college dorm-room party animal can attest, the water in a well-used bong gets pretty foul pretty fast. Before long, it begins to smell like the water left in an aquarium whose last guppy died last week. When bong water spills on a rug--a not infrequent occurrence when stoned bong smokers start trying to walk around--the rug smells like it was dragged through the Great Dismal Swamp.
Many dumb college students have tried to get high by drinking bong water. But there is no recorded instance of anyone trying it twice. It's that foul.
But Bong Water doesn't taste like bong water. "It's a citrus, grapefruit, guava taste," says Ira W. Scott, the CEO of Real Things Distributing and the inventor of Bong Water. "It's sweet and strong. It really reeks--but it's a good reek."
The name just popped into his head, he says. It was "a name people could recognize without a lot of advertising." He decided to name the various flavors of Bong Water after marijuana-related slang--Ganja Grape, Banana Spliff, Original Chronic, Sensimilla, Ripped Razzberry and so on.
But none of this is a big deal. Any doofus can bottle some fizzy sugar water and name it after goofy dope slang. Where Scott exhibited his genius is in the marketing, the hype, the spin. Believe it or not, Scott is actually touting Bong Water as--get this!--a tool in the war on drugs.
"We're against drugs," he says. "The company is against them, and I'm against them personally."
Bong Water is a hip alternative to drugs, he claims. "We are urging our customers to respect their bodies and minds," he writes in a news release, "and are pleased to offer Bong Water as a cool and satisfying alternative to underage drinking or participating in the drug culture."
Now, this is some inspired spin. In fact, it's a full 360-degree spin, a dizzying double-reverse spin. You've gotta admire a guy who can say this stuff without laughing. Obviously, Scott is a great American salesman, a man fit to be mentioned in the same sentence as P.T. Barnum, a modern cousin of the slickers who used to peddle snake oil or underwater Florida real estate or a bridge in Brooklyn.
"I've been in business since I got out of college," says Scott, 37. "I've been in investment banking and mortgage banking."
But not always successfully, he says. He admits he was convicted of the sale of unregistered securities in Indiana in 1992 and sentenced to 15 months of house arrest.
After that, he says, he became a forklift repairman. He saved $2,200 and used it to start his Bong Water business. His first batch was brewed only a few weeks ago. It's available around Indiana and Chicago but not yet in the Washington area.
Meanwhile, in an effort to jump-start public interest, he has issued a news release that allied Bong Water with the anti-drug efforts of Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy--the so-called drug czar.
He did not inform McCaffrey's office about this, however. McCaffrey aide Steve Panton said he'd never heard of Bong Water--or of bong water or bongs, either, for that matter. He promised to get his boss's reaction to Bong Water. The next day, Bob Weiner, McCaffrey's official spokesman, issued a terse statement on Scott and his soda:
"He was given no authorization to use Barry McCaffrey's name or to associate his exploitative marketing strategy--making light of drug paraphernalia--in some way with our efforts against drugs. The question is why The Post gives credence to these efforts by publicizing them."
The answer is, of course, because we cover American life--the good, the bad, the ugly and the merely absurd. And because it's August and there's no news. And because Ira W. Scott gives new meaning to the old Yiddish word "chutzpah."
The dictionary says chutzpah means "shameless audacity." That's true but inadequate. That definition is usually augmented by an old story: Chutzpah is the quality displayed by the kid who killed his parents and then asked the judge for mercy because he was an orphan.
Maybe now we should augment the definition with a new story: Chutzpah is the quality displayed by the man who names a soda after dope, markets it with the slogan "Stoned to the Bone" and then claims it's an anti-drug product.
Is this a great country or what?