April 29, 1994|By JOHN E. McINTYRE

Dunkin' Donuts, the article in The Sun says, will add 172 locations in the Baltimore-Washington area, in which the company believes that it has identified ''one of the country's most doughnut-prone populations.''

How did they find out that I am doughnut-prone?

Did they detect the beginnings of a paunch? Is there a lingering aroma of grease like a nimbus around my clothes? Did someone see confectioner's sugar sprinkled on my lapel? Do I display the meditative but furtive countenance of an incipient dunker?

Maybe they knew about my father, who loved cartons of doughnuts and sticky cinnamon buns from the grocery. Maybe at the Dunkin' corporate headquarters there is a locked filing cabinet that holds a study identifying people with a genetic propensity toward doughnuts.

Maybe they saw me at college. At Michigan State in the early 1970s a bagelry opened across Grand River Avenue from campus. It sold ''fragels'' -- raisin bagels briefly deep-fried and then rolled in sugar and cinnamon. They had the density of uranium. Whenever I ate one at 10 o'clock in the morning, I could be confident that its sustaining presence would still be perceptible at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Or at graduate school, where I discovered William Blake's mistake. The road of excess does not lead to the palace of wisdom. In Syracuse, it led to Abe's Doughnuts on Erie Boulevard. Onecould go there past midnight, when the next day's doughnuts were coming out of the ovens. The staff would customize the icing and filling on request.

Most days, I went in to campus and got a cup of coffee and a Bavarian cream doughnut -- a rounded vessel of vast contentment iced with chocolate and containing a custard that bore no irritatingly metallic taste of artificial flavorings. A Chaucerian found me in solitary ecstasy one morning and asked, ''That your minimum daily requirement from the refined sugar group?''

Now I spend my time among journalists, in a profession nearlyas doughnut-dependent as law enforcement. One day a colleague carried in a shipment of virtually fresh Krispy Kremes, and the ensuing frenzy made locusts appear to be a comparatively lethargic species.

There is no gainsaying it: I am doughnut-vulnerable.

And in identifying just such a population, by whatever means, Dunkin' Donuts may be making a dangerous miscalculation. Drinking has fallen under a shadow. Smoking draws as much opprobrium as grand theft auto. How much longer before neo-puritanism focuses its glare on a business exploiting the taste of the doughnut-prone for caffeine and sugared fat?

Say, buddy, could you spare 50 cents? I need a cruller real bad.

John E. McIntyre is a deputy chief of The Sun's copy desk.


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