The Launcher

When I was in my third year in college, I ordered a waterballoon slingshot out of the back of Rolling Stone magazine. This particular model was called “The Launcher”. I had seen the ad for years, but at age 20 finally felt my wacky prankster lifestyle had arrived enough to allow me such a luxury. The ad said it could shoot a tennisball-sized waterballoon 100 yards. That’s like a whole football field, minus the endzones! It would take three people to operate it, but I had a posse that was up to the task. I mailed my check and made plans for wet hijinks and capers.

I was all atwitter when it arrived. It’s basically two large loops of rubber tubing with handles connected to a nylon pouch with a handle. Here’s a picture of me and two of my girlfriends at the time showing how it’s done:

 

Love those thongs!

 

Right off the bat I’ll address a question the above photo suggests: Yes, every once in awhile, something would go awry and the Launcher would fire something right into the back of one of the people in front. But most of the time, the Launcher produced spectacular results. In fact, I would have to say it’s one of the few products I’ve ever ordered out of the back of a magazine that exceeded my frequently unrealistic expectations.

 

Ultimately, that turned out to be a problem.

 

The first thing we did with the Launcher was fill up waterballoons halfway with water, halfway with Edge shaving cream gell, and launch them at sunbathers on the dorm roof who we perceived to be affiliated with various campus groups with which we didn’t identify. I’m speaking loosely of pledges of fraternities and sororities, but our wrath was flexible enough to include anybody who happened to be on the sundeck at the time. The shaving cream was included to make the impact more than just your typical wetness, truly a bastard move.

 

Let me pause here and say a few words about what is or will become obvious, namely that the activities undertaken with the Launcher were usually in some combination destructive, rude, or dangerous. These are not things I would do today. I can’t explain what drove me and my cohorts to do these things, other than boredom. It’s hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there, but Emporia, KS circa 1990 was a place that demanded a certain amount of creativity to maintain sanity. At least that was the case for me and the very small circle of people I ran with, mostly the other people on the debate team. That’s not an excuse to be an asshole to people or destroy property, obviously. We should have made other choices.

 

But we didn’t. We had the ability to send objects flying through the air at high rates of speed and for great distances, and we exercised that option. It was just a matter of what to shoot and where to aim.

 

We shot russet potatoes over a church and into the middle of a downtown intersection. We were pretty sure there were no cars coming, though.

 

We shot waterballoons at towers of beercans placed proudly in dorm windows. The explosion of water through the screen sparked a spectacular cacophany of crashing aluminum and screams several floors up, and we made no effort to hide our jubilant shouts as we scurried away. It was a hell of a shot. Then a month later, they rebuilt their beer can tower and we took it down again.

 

At a debate tournament in Springfield, MO our 10 story hotel had a large atrium. Jim of Hyperbole and someone else manned the front position, and I launched a chocolate Susie Q purchased from a vending machine across the atrium. Its flight was majestic, appearing to be a large and extremely fast bat as it traversed the span and smacked into the far wall, leaving it’s dark and creamy mark on the wall to our great delight.

 

The end came after a drunken night that led to launching gravel at some storefronts from a friend’s apartment rooftop. Again, I can’t rationally explain these actions other than to say that drunkenness and boredom in tandem probably cause 30% or more of all the bad things that have ever happened in this world. On this night I believe some glass was broken, and then everyone scattered. Instead of keeping my cool and simply going back to the apartment, hunkering down and denying everything if asked, I bolted and was collared by two cops who showed up on the scene. When threatened with very credible scenarios involving me spending a night in the local jail, I ultimately revealed which apartment everyone else was in. Nobody ended up going to jail, but the damage was done: I had ratted out my friends.

 

Shortly after that I gave the Launcher away, and never saw it again. A tool with that kind of power is only going to create problems. I also gave up my vandalistic lifestyle and looked to other outlets to relieve my boredom. The only explanation I have for why I allowed myself to participate in those activities is that I lacked empathy, and that there were enough other people around me who were just as willing to go along with what was going on. It’s not a very satisfying explanation, but I think for most of us who have done things we grow to be ashamed of, that’s how it goes down a lot of the time.

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4 Responses to The Launcher

  1. Collins says:

    Wasn’t that episode in Springfield during Nationals? I seem to remember seeing you guys in the Atrium.

  2. pipelineblog says:

    Yes, that’s the one. A lot of bizarre things went down in that hotel on that trip.

  3. Collins says:

    ah, my last debate tournament. Shold have gone much deeper than I did.

  4. brent says:

    my brother-in-law is an engineer. last fall he built a pneumatic launcher for water balloons out of pvc pipes and some simple valves. he fills the chamber from an air compressor in his garage upto about 140 psi, and the results are spectacular. we’re talking about 300-400 feet of elevation on many of the shots. we took turns with a baseball mitt trying to catch solid objects fired from the cannon–individual serving size yogurt, star wars figurines, and the more pedestrian water balloons. his sons (age 15 and 11) love it.

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