My wife and I had the misfortune to visit Ocean City, Md., recently. What started out to be a picture-perfect weekend at the beach quickly deteriorated into an ugly scene.

On Saturday a young crowd arrived -- along with an increase in the decibel level. I was astounded at the advances in the mega-wattage range of the newer "boogie boxes" now in circulation. The owners of these machines felt compelled to entertain the entire beach, and succeeded. This was very irritating and should be addressed by the authorities. But the ruckus is not my main complaint.

sk,2 Sunday was astounding! The crowd increased by one-third over Saturday. While this provided some rather prodigious visual highlights, the potential for chaos was soon obvious. With the vast amounts of alcohol being consumed on the beach and our hotel patio, the potential for hooliganism and violence grew exponentially.

On an early morning walk, I came across a couple of enterprising young fellows who were burying in the sand three large kegs of beer surrounded by 30 to 40 large bags of ice.

Then there was the "beer bong" on the cement patio of our hotel. For anyone who doesn't know, this is a large funnel to which is attached a tube about 4 or 5 feet long. The idea is to pour a beer into the funnel while an assistant pinches off the tube until a human receptacle can be found. There was no shortage of these. The tube is inserted into a mouth and then released. Some were able to hold the beer and some not. The ones who accomplished the feat were cheered heartily. It doesn't take too much imagination to calculate the results of a contest like this: chaos. I thought I was living through "Animal House" -- only worse.

While I was temporarily off the beach, my wife was accosted with a full cooler of ice by some delinquent trying to revive a "beer bong" victim who had passed out nearby. She was forced to leave the beach in a dazed state.

All this took place more or less under the eyes of hotel security. When I called them to complain about the goings-on, I was informed that everything was "under control" on hotel property; the problem, they said, was on the beach. Alas, this was not their jurisdiction, and there were no Ocean City police officers to be seen. About an hour later, the police, including dogs, did arrive, and it was none too soon: several fights had already broken out.

The most troubling aspect of this mess was that it probably could have been prevented if the hotel security had controlled the youths on hotel property and had requested a police presence on the beach early on. As usual, a rowdy few made many look bad. Out of the thousands on the beach, only a handful were the real troublemakers.

sk Although I am annoyed at the hotel's lack of action, I am downright angry with Ocean City authorities. Where in the hell were the police to begin with? Don't they patrol? Aren't they experienced enough to anticipate this kind of thing?

The real issue here is how best to enforce the alcohol ban on Ocean City beaches. I am talking about enforcing the law in a reasonable way so as not to abridge unduly the rights of civilized beachgoers.

For instance, in Rehoboth there used to be a place called "Whiskey Beach" where alcohol was permitted and the younger folks gathered. When you went there, you knew what was coming down. This was not the case in Ocean City when I was there.

Lest I come across as a Bible-thumping teetotaler, I am in my late 30s and have done a little partying in my day and am all for the kids' having a good time. However, what I saw was totally out of line, and something needs to be done -- at the very least, more severe punishments for the troublemakers. I'm talking about something that will discourage the cult-hero status attached to the usual drunk-and-disorderly bust: maybe four weekends of trash collection in Ocean City.

If Ocean City authorities don't take action soon, the town's reputation will suffer, and that will discourage family vacationers.