Fine way to return 22-year-overdue book

July 03, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Today's little drama contains just enough mystery to invite the kind of speculation even humorless mugs find tempting and, ultimately, delicious. Today's question: What drives a man to return library books 22 years overdue, and to impose a stiff fine on himself?

Sudden remorse? Sudden wealth? That Catholic guilt thing, brought on by too many viewings of "The Bells of St. Mary's"? Approaching death and a desire to clean the ledger? And who was this guy anyway? Bill Gates?

Was he fulfilling penance ordered by a diocesan priest who'd heard the confession and thought Archbishop Spalding High could use a $3,200 donation?

Whatever his motivation, the man walked into Archbishop Spalding in Severn a few days ago and told Donna DiGennaro, the assistant principal, he wished to return some library books.

Nothing unusual there. Parents come to Spalding with overdues from time to time; the school will sometimes hold up report cards of students who have not returned books.

"What's the name, sir?" DiGennaro asked, preparing to cross it off a list of library scofflaws.

But this was no parent.

He was a former student, someone who had attended Spalding for a couple of years in the 1970s.

In the spring of '74, he had checked four tech-head books out of the school library: Scribner's "The Boy's Second Book of Radio and Electronics," Dodd Mead's "Flying Ships: Hovercraft and Hydrofoils," Regnery's "Buyer and Rider's Guide to Motorcycles," and Prentice-Hall's "Selected Experiments For Basic Chemistry."

The man, in his mid-30s, with long hair and a beard, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, also wanted to pay a fine.

"No, that's OK," DiGennaro said.

But the man insisted and, smiling big, handed her a bank check. Then he walked out of the school, got into a white van and drove away. DiGennaro was astonished.

The fine for an overdue book at Spalding High is 10 cents per day. Four books at 10 cents per day for 22 years: $3,212. And zTC that's exactly the amount on the check the man left with DiGennaro. Three-thousand-two-hundred-and-twelve dollars for four books that are probably out of date and worthless to a modern school library.

"That's more in fines than we collect in 15 years," says Barbara Schwitzer, the Spalding principal. "Our librarian [Janet DiStasio] is upgrading and automating our library, so she was delighted with the check. The man said nothing more about why he did this, and he wishes to remain anonymous. But it's a great lesson about honesty for our students."

Yeah, honesty. And a few other things, about which we can only speculate. Which is the fun of it.

Record return? No way

By the way, Guinness says the world record for the most overdue library book was set at Cambridge, England, when a Col. Robert Walpole borrowed a German book on the Archbishop of Bremen in 1667 from the library at Sidney Sussex College; it was returned 288 years later.

In the United States, someone borrowed a book on febrile diseases from a Cincinnati library in 1832; the borrower's great-grandson returned it in 1968. The fine was $2,264, but it was waived. Which is what I call getting off easy.

Guffaws with Gary

Tom Davis, the congenial and knowledgeable sports guy, must have the most infectious laugh in Maryland. But having a personal guffaw man isn't the only reason his radio partner Steve Rouse comes across so funny on WQSR-FM (105.7); the man has pretty good material, too. Rouse & Co. is a kick to listen to, and had an amusing session the other morning with Terps basketball coach Gary Williams. With Davis providing the hyena track, Rouse gave Williams the following multiple-choice quiz:

1. When one of your players is thinking about turning pro, you:

A. Tell him you think the NBA could fold at any minute.

B. Sit down with the player and make sure this is the right decision.

C. Buy him a car.

2. The most fun thing about being a big-time college coach is:

A. Sweating through your suit.

B. Watching a team become a cohesive unit after months of hard work.

C. Being the hero to all those young, sweet, naive, perky cheerleaders.

3. Tie ballgame, five seconds left on the clock, your ball out on the side, you call time and instruct your players to:

A. Give up.

B. Give the ball to the guy with the hot hand.

C. Inbounds the ball and everybody drop their pants.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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