Our reporter for this story is a local lawyer who doesn't want to be identified. On Monday evening, a young woman came to her door to ask for a contribution to a burial fund.
The solicitor explained that a mentally retarded 7-year-old boy from the neighborhood had been run down and killed by a hit-and-run driver, and the family had no money to pay for a proper funeral. She was carrying a list of the people who had already contributed, and the amounts they had given.
The lawyers asked a few questions. The young woman gave plausible answers, so the lawyer gave her some money.
After the solicitor left, a skeptical friend who was visiting the lawyer suggested that she call the police to find out whether such a hit-and-run accident had actually occurred.
So she called the police, and learned two things. 1) No such accident had occurred. 2) The phony funeral story is the latest con game in town. It is being used with great success throughout the area.
Wednesday's Washington Post carried a story about another phony script that is now a big hit at the box office. Two women who pretend to be mother (about 45) and daughter (about 25) come to the door on a warm day and ask for a glass of water. Who is hard-hearted enough to turn down women who just want a sip of water?
Once inside, the two women attack elderly householders and rob them. Sometimes a third accomplice sneaks into the house and robs it while the householders is busy getting water for the two women.
It's a mighty sad commentary on our times that there is need to issue warnings about schemes of this kind, not just to protect people from being cheated but to keep them from being beaten up. Nevertheless, that's how things are these days.
What is particularly objectionable about the actors who star in these roles is that they disillusion their victims, and make them cynical and suspicious.
Cynical and suspicious people do not respond charitably, even to legitimate appeals for help. They're not sure who or what to believe, so they believe nothing.
The net effect, therefore, is that double frauds are perpetrated by panhandlers who take money under false pretenses and by thirsty women who steal from people who show sympathy for them. These con artists defraud not only the individuals they victimize but also the legitimate charities that might otherwise have been helped by a less cynical public.
The cheaters inject a counterfeit element into man's natural instinct to be charitable, and they thereby cast suspicion on every charitable appeal. There are few things a human being can do that are more contemptible.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has been flushing out its water lines recently. It will continue to flush them for the next six months, to the great consternation of hundreds of thousands of Maryland residents - a few of whom are this column's constituents and have filed complaints here.
Any woman who was engaged in doing a batch of laundry when the brown torrent descended upon here will be aware that it is important to know in advance when the flushing will reach a given neighborhood. Once contaminated, white clothes can be washed five times in clean water without getting rid of their brown cast.
A WISSC spokesman has promised me that hereafter he will try to give our Maryland Weekly section a list of the neighborhoods scheduled for flushing during the following week. Maryland readers who don't like to drink or bathe in brown water would then be able to see if and when their area is scheduled for attention.
Meanwhile those who need additional information can call the main WSSC switchboard, 277-7700, and ask for the Systems Maintenance Office.
Overhead at the National Press Club: "My wife is the kind of person who takes nothing for granted. The other night she called our neighborhood 7-Eleven store to ask how late it stayed open."
THESE MODERN TIMES
The strike at the New York Daily News had Bob Orben reminiscing Wednesday. "I once belonged to a union that had a dental plan," he recalled. "If you paid your dues, you got to keep your teeth."