Yes, fellow sufferers, there's something worse than the drive to Ocean City, Md. It's the T-shirts you see once you get there.

I've been railing against this casual display of seaside tastelessness for ages. But if you hit the boardwalk this holiday weekend, you'll see how much good I've done.

Four-letter words on T-shirts will be commonplace. Coarse invitations to various physical activity will be too. You might even get lucky and spot a shirt that shows two rats mating, complete with oversized mating equipment.

Ocean City a family resort? Not from where I sit -- which will be firmly at home.

Even the six arrests earlier this month for selling obscene T-shirts to minors haven't put a dent in Ocean City's T-shirt trade, or its tackiness. Last week, I chatted by phone with several boardwalk T-shirt vendors. They all insisted on speaking off the record, for fear that they'll be arrested next. Yet all said that they'll continue to sell foul, blaring T-shirts for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: That's where the money is.

Is there a bright side to all this? There actually is. At least Senior Week is behind us, so Senior Week T-shirts are no longer on the shelves.

Senior Week is that annual drunkathon at Ocean City right after graduation. Young people who have just been liberated from high school troop to the beach to say ta-ta to the years of torture. It's typically a sleepless, rule-less affair, punctuated by lengthy bouts of beer-drinking, frisbee-hurling and date-chasing.

Not to mention T-shirt-buying. According to the boardwalk vendors I consulted, more than 5,000 Senior Week T-shirts were sold earlier this month (at an average of $9 a pop).

Here are some of the messages those T-shirts bore:

"Senior Week '90 -- Why drink and drive when you can smoke and fly?" If that's not an open invitation to take drugs, my name is Snow White.

"Senior Week 1990 -- Avoid hangovers, stay drunk." Of course, most Senior Weekers drove to Ocean City, and plan to drive home. It's not too safe to do that if you heed this shirt's message.

"Senior Week --

. . . . You have to be there. This superb happening attracts more totally wild participants who consume more alcohol, stay intoxicated longer, cruise more beaches and streets, get less sleep, trash more bars, catch more rays and get boffed more than at any other time of the year."

Yup, getting boffed means what you think it means. And if you boff when you're drunk, unwanted children (and fatal, sexually transmitted diseases) are more likely to result.

Before you civil libertarians jump down my throat, I'm not arguing that Senior Weekers don't have the right to wear such messages across their chests. They certainly do. And I'm not arguing that a message on a T-shirt will actually cause stupid, suicidal behavior. It probably won't.

The real trouble with tasteless T-shirts is that they pollute. They foul eyeballs. They shout in a setting that most of us seek precisely because shouting is out of place. They suggest that nature can't be enjoyed by anyone unless he's drunk, stoned or ready to do a little boffing.

Shouldn't Ocean City's boardwalk vendors simply decide on their own that they won't sell this junk anymore? The vendors say they'll stop if the competition stops first. Translation: Don't hold your breath. Inevitable result: more shirts, more tacky messages -- and more stay-at-homes like me.


Janice Soulsby of Upper Marlboro is a donor with a big heart -- and a long memory. She sent a check for $50 to our annual campaign on behalf of 1,100 underprivileged Washington-area kids, even though she "abhorred" camp when she was young.

"All I remember is wet socks, mosquito bites and endless campfires," Janice writes. "But I did make a lot of friends, in between doses of calamine lotion. Maybe your campers will do the same."

I certainly hope so, Janice. Whether you hated camp as a child or couldn't wait for it to start, won't you help us swell our bottom line? Our 1990 campers might come home with itchy, pockmarked arms, as Janice did. But they will also come home with a sense of life beyond tough neighborhoods and troubled families. That repays our community all year long.

Your Send a Kid to Camp gift is tax-deductible. No amount is too small. It costs $352 to send one kid to camp. Many thanks.


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

In hand as of June 22: $98,189.14.

Our goal: $275,000.