I know that everybody else in the country understands it perfectly well, and I also know that you will think I'm being smart- alecky when I tell you I don't understand it at all.
Still, won't somebody out there explain to me the logic of this Hands Across America campaign?
No, I am neither stupid nor entirely devoid of sentimentality. My eyes welled up the same as yours at the idea of that incredible group of entertainers giving their time and talent and sublimating their considerable egos to do "We Are the World" for relief of the famine in Africa.
I thought it a wonderful thing: as a means of focusing attention on a serious problem, as a way of raising an enormous pot of money (through sales of the recordings and tapes and videos), and even as a way of showing that, given the ight combination of enterprise and leadership, people are able to move beyond such petty considerations as race, age and musical genre.
I loved "We Are the World." I don't understand "Hands Across America."
As I get it, come May 25, several zillion people will link hands in an unbroken line from sea to shining sea, in order to combat hunger in America.
Am I the only one who can picture this stupefying scene and see only traffic jams and stalled emergency vehicles and overburdened portable toilets? Am I alone in wondering how holding hands through 16 states and the District of Columbia will either reduce hunger or enhance our awareness of it?
No, I'm not trying to be cute. I know that the people in that line will either have to pay money for the privilege or else get someone else to sponsor their participation. That money will buy a lot of food, even after deductions for expenses. That's great.
But couldn't the partiipants and their sponsors just as easily have contributed the money, not only reducing the overhead but increasing the number of participants? What's hand-holding got to do with it?
Okay, you say, what did singing have to do with African famine relief or aid for American farmers? What does joke-telling have to do with housing the homeless, as Comic Relief proposes to do?
Those are easy to explain. The sale of concert tickets or records to people who want a chance to see and hear their favorite recording stars (while also helping a worthy cause) makes absolute sense to me. A telethon spotlighting America's favorite comics will certainly draw a huge audience, and it seems likely that a good many people in that audience will be moved to send in money.
But how much is it worth to me to know that, somewhere beyond my line of vision, the neighbor's kid is holding hands with two other people? The other observances provided both entertainment and a chance to do some good. "Hands" ofrs only the chance to do good, and I'd just as soon hand the kid a check and be done with it.
That apparently makes me a minority of one. I felt the same sense of isolation back in February, when 700 employees of Washington-area Safeway stores undertook to see how many seats of the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium they could sit in between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., with 15-minute breaks every hour. (Michael Bennett, a stock clerk in Easton, Md., sat in 13,750 seats and raised, $630 in sponsorship money.) That affair, in addition to raising a fair number of blisters, also raised some $78,000 for the Easter Seals campaign.
That's wonderful. But I found myself wondering what manner of person would give money to have some stranger plopping his butt from seat to seat in RFK but wouldn't give just as much (and just as gladly) to a door-to-door solicitor asking contributions to help the physically disabled.
You see my problem? I understand that entertainment creates audiences and facilitates fund-raising. I understand that special events can provide opportunities for nonentertainers to participate in worthy causes. But couldn't you accomplish the same thing, and more, by asking sponsors to make donations based on volunteer hours spent in soup kitchens or homeless shelters or some such?
I'm all for helping the needy, and if somebody with an authentic-looking badge comes by my house to ask me for help in combatting hunger, I will certainly write a check. But when it comes to holding hands across America, I have to say quite frankly, I don't give a damn.