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Rainforest (and I) Could Use Largesse from Lottery Winner

Ken Fuson

Des Moines Register

January 9, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

Among my resolutions for the coming year (1. Get a fresh start in 2007. 2. Become best friends with Powerball winner Hugh Hawkins. 3. Beg Dave Barry to reconsider his retirement.), I have decided to do a better job of explaining "Things That Sound Like a Joke But Really Aren't."

Topic No. 1: The Iowa rain forest.

Because this is such a complicated topic, and because my phone calls indicate that some of you are not very bright, I would like to explore this topic in the reader-friendly question-and-answer format.

Q. Do you know how to reach Powerball winner Hugh Hawkins?

A. No, I don't, and I wouldn't tell you if I did, which is the sort of protective gesture that Mr. Hawkins might well choose to reward with a cash-stuffed envelope.

Q. What does Mr. Hawkins have to do with an Iowa rain forest?

A. I'm glad you asked.

Q. Why are you pretending that someone else is asking the questions?

A. Don't worry about it. Try to stay focused. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 146 million slightly better than the odds of Iowa actually building a rain forest.

Q. What, exactly, is a rain forest?

A. As near as I can tell, it appears to be a large land mass covered with trees where it rains quite a bit.

Q. Doesn't Iowa already have plenty of places with trees and rain?

A. Yes, but the Iowa rain forest is designed to attract something the state desperately needs tourists. Half the people who visit Iowa either are trying to get to Illinois or are looking for Boise, Idaho.

Q. Are they morons?

A. We don't care. We just want their money.

Q. Why would they come for a rain forest?

A. Because this is no Adventureland ride. We're talking about a 20-story translucent dome with a rain forest, aquarium, prairie and educational center.

Q. Will there be dinosaurs?

A.No, but trained monkeys will carry your $6 souvenir soda cups.

Q. Speaking of money, how much will the Iowa rain forest cost?

A. Project organizers are hoping to raise $180 million.

Q. Wouldn't it be cheaper to fly every Iowan to the Amazon?

A. Shhhh . . .

Q.Where can they possibly get that kind of money?

A. Does the name Hugh Hawkins ring a bell?

Q. You're telling me that Mr. Hawkins is going to use his lump-sum, $54.8 million Powerball winnings to help pay for an Iowa rain forest?

A. I said nothing of the sort. I just like to mention his name as often as possible, and to point out the public-relations value of his setting up a foundation that would periodically send large checks to newspaper columnists you know, like the Bush administration does. To raise an amount like $180 million, you need people eager to invest large sums of other people's money on unnecessary projects.

Q. Congress?

A. Bingo.

Q. Thank goodness Sen. Charles Grassley is there. No chance a conservative Republican is going to spend our hard-earned money on a pipedream like this, is there?

A. Actually, Grassley helped arrange for the project to receive a $50 million federal grant. This was a little payback to Iowans for re-electing him to 27 consecutive terms in the Senate.

Q. Won't this increase the national debt?

A. Eventually our grandchildren will have to pay the piper, whatever a piper is, which is fine by me, seeing how most didn't even write a simple thank-you note for their many Christmas gifts.

Q. Where will the Iowa rain forest be located?

A. Good question. It was going to be in Coralville, to give fans something to do after attending football games, but people there kept laughing when organizers asked for a donation. My best guess is that it will end up at the Jordan Creek Mall complex.

Q. Anything else?

A. Let me just note that I'm not one of those naysayers who say nay every time somebody comes up with a new idea. I also say, "No way" and, "You've got to be out of your mind." If Iowans want to build the Hugh Hawkins Environmental Project in their state, then I would no more stand in their way than I would stop Mr. Hawkins from sharing his wealth with writers who would be more than willing to shovel his sidewalk, especially if he moves to Hawaii. Progress is progress.