`Man of the year'

AFTER extensive deliberation, the Awards Committee of the Back River Institute of Applied Blessings is ready to announce its ``man of the year.'' A complication arose in connection with this year's award when applications were received from 13 women, who are not yet eligible. The committee found no fault whatever with the fact that these were women, but cited the original rule of the substantial bequest, designating man of the year. The committee, also, readily acknowledges that some of these female applicants did more in 1987 than most of the men applicants put together, but rules are rules. In all, 452 certified gentleman applicants were given consideration. The award is made for outstanding, significant, and distinctive contributions to the betterment of just about anything.

In making the award on Boxing Day, the awards committee will take notice of the lady applicants for the first time, making several unofficial citations. One will go to a young woman in Minneapolis who picketed 17 hours a day for 117 consecutive days with a banner that read, ``Down With Picket Lines!'' Another citation will go to a mother in a small village in Peru who rang the church bell without interruption for 42 days and nights in support of an ordinance to ban noise pollution. A third will go to a gracious lady who made 895 gallons of applesauce, donating it to the regional orphanage for Thanksgiving.

Even with the ladies automatically excluded, the committee spent long hours judging the relative contributions of the mere men. According to the rules, all politicians are ineligible to compete, as well as natural scientists, professional people, public relations officers, electronic specialists, schoolteachers, game wardens, bus drivers, the military, chicken pluckers, the clergy, ski instructors, UPS and USPS personnel, and all others whose routine careers would lead to public benefits as a simple consequence of their calling. (To illustrate - last year a union executive was disqualified, even though he had organized 17 strikes, put 13 factories out of business, and eliminated 1,700 jobs.) The benevolences should have amateur standing.

A perennial contestant for this award, unsuccessful again this year, is Omar K. Fitzgerald of Bennington, Vt., who was considered this year for the 28th time. Mr. Fitzgerald wrote 15,987,786 letters to editors during 1987, a new record. He increased his output by acquiring printout equipment and mailing machinery. He also set a record in 1987 by having three letters published - one in the funny column in Grit, another in the North Cabot, Vt., Leader-Democrat, and the third in Organic Farming during the August angleworm symposium.

Julius Van Ravelskein of Huntington, Long Island, was given heavy consideration this year, but in the final vote scored only third honorable mention. He offered 15 new ways to build a bridge from Long Island to Westchester County. (His presentation was titled ``The Sound Plan.'')

Lemuel Planck of 1,001 Oaks, Calif., was also nearly successful with his proposal to add one more member to every baseball team. The committee suggested he get his plan accepted by the leagues and return another year, when there would be something more substantial to consider. His proposal is a designated baserunner to run bases for the designated hitter.

An interesting application came from contestant Ralph Short of Islesboro, Maine. When the Maine Legislature enacted a law requiring a red lobster on automobile registration tags, Mr. Short was urged by all his friends to buy a ``vanity'' plate with his name on it. This would constitute a ``short lobster,'' which is illegal in Maine, where undersize lobsters must not be taken from the sea. Mr. Short refused to do this, thus qualifying (unsuccessfully) for ``man of the year.'' The judges considered his situation too localized for worldwide notice.

This year's winner of the coveted and prestigious award will be Derlef Schilling of Augsburg, West Germany. Before cheering thousands in the institute's spacious Plexidom Conservatory, this honored gentleman will receive, in absentia, the symbolic moleskin necktie and the $5 in food stamps stipulated so long ago by the founder of this prize. His achievement, recognized as this year's most significant contribution to the embellishment and enrichment of mankind, quite overshadowed everything else considered. Wearing roller skates, Mr. Schilling held on to a rope tied to a Ferrari and for 57 elapsed seconds he was towed down the highway at 219.6 kilometers per hour.

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