Scene: a lake action: frolicking; climax: terror from the sky

A vacation nightmare: On a hot and humid July day at a large state park in Pennsylvania, children and their parents frolic in the cooling waters of a man-made lake. Within a few minutes, purple storm clouds gather and drift across a mountain range and over the valley in which the seven-mile lake sits. Thunder is heard. Authorities, using a public-address system, order everyone out of the water. Everyone follows orders. Men, women, boys and girls return to blankets and picnic tables, to the sprawling lawns near the lake. But within the next few minutes, lightning cracks the sky. Children -- I'm guessing about 200 under the age of 12 -- scream and scramble. They jiggle their little arms. They cry. They wail. They run in circles. Parents scoop them up and run for the parking lot. What started as a slow, orderly (and somewhat reluctant) procession away from the lake turns into a frantic scene from a Speilberg movie -- like the Shanghai panic in "Empire of the Sun," like the beach madness in "Jaws." I give our little summer movie four stars for terror.

Best foot forward


What would you do for charity? Would you make a bid on shoes? Not new shoes. Old shoes. But not any ole old shoes. We're talking celebrity shoes. Used and autographed. Would you bid on, say, the shoes Jim Palmer wears when he mulches? How about the shoes Glenn Close wore as Norma Desmond in the Los Angeles production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard"? Could you go for a pair of George Bush autograph tennis shoes? How about Cecil Fileder's spikes? Or Bette Midler's custom-made Valentino's (Size 5, narrow)? This sounds a little weird, but it sounds like a winner to me. It's the brainstorm of Profiles, Inc., the Baltimore public relations agency hired by Hess Shoes to help promote its big, new store in Towson Town Center. Called "Tough Shoes To Fill," it's a silent auction that begins at the store in late August and benefits the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter. Response to the solicitation for celebrity footwear has been surprisingly good, says Profiles president, Amy Elias. She's expecting about 60 famous people to donate autographed shoes. Robin Leach, chronicler of the rich and famous, donated a pair of loafers -- with tassels, of course.

The wrong foot


Mickey Steinberg's handling of the selection of a running mate -- scrambling around at the last minute to find one, then calling on an old political ally who didn't have anything better to do -- carries with it huge weight of ironic symbolism. By putting off the decision for so long, Steinberg effectively supported a notion of which gubernatorial candidates always try to disabuse us: That the lieutenant governorship is irrelevant to everything but executive succession. And yet lieutenant governor is the badge Steinberg has worn for eight years. Of course, until he was frozen out by William Donald Schaefer, Steinberg proved to be one of the most influential lieutenant governors in recent Maryland history, perhaps of all time. You wouldn't know that from the way he selected his own right-hand man. There are guys who put more thought into picking horses.

Suffering in silence

Speaking of running mates, Parris Glendening's stood behind him Saturday night at the big fundraiser for Del. E. Farrell Maddox, the Baltimore County delegation chairman running for re-election. That was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend grinning and bearing it at Martin's Eastwind. When Glendening got a chance to speak about anything he wanted, he chose education and the death penalty. His thoughts on education got a polite response, but the Prince Georges exec wowed the crowd with tough talk on crime. If he becomes governor, Glendening said, Maryland would streamline the death penalty process and the state would have more criminals "actually executed." Whaddaya know? The mild-mannered policy wonk can pander to a crowd with the best of 'em. Townsend didn't speak. Perhaps she was speechless. Promising more executions hasn't exactly been a liberal cause, has it? "She definitely supports [capital punishment]," Glendening press spokesman, David Seldin, said of Townsend yesterday. Gee. Does Uncle Teddy know about this?

New start in the far north

Last month, on the Friday before Father's Day, I issued an appeal to 19-year-old Melissa Walker. Her father, John Walker, hadn't seen her in 15 years, believed she was living in the Baltimore area and asked that she contact him at his home near Palmer, Alaska. You might recall the item. Melissa had left Alaska with her mother after her parents divorced when she was 4. She had lived with her mother on the Eastern Shore until she turned 18. After that, she was on her own, her father didn't know where.

On June 17, the day the item appeared in this space, Melissa contacted her father. It was strictly coincidence; she hadn't read my appeal. "But I got in the taxi to go to [BWI]," Melissa said yesterday, "and I told the taxi driver I was headed to Alaska to see my father and he said, 'You're the girl in the newspaper.' He had it with him and showed it to me." She called her father because she had reached a dead end in Baltimore and needed help. Now she's with him and his wife in Palmer. "I already have a job, at Godfather's Pizza," Melissa said, "and I'm going to be studying for my [graduate equivalence degree]. I'm starting all over."