Cleverness, thy home is in Laurel. Or so it would appear from the classified pages of the Sept. 3 edition of The Laurel Leader.

On page B-3, under the heading of Too Late to Classify, the following ad appears: "NOTICE THIEF

In return for property removed from my home Monday, Aug. 31, on McCahill Drive around 3 p.m., I will give you video tape of your ACT. Leave items under carport. No police action. This is no bluff. Recording is my profession."

Could it be on the level?

The Prince George's County police department isn't saying officially, although they do confirm that a burglary was reported on that street and on that day.

However, several detectives expressed off-the-record admiration for the ad-placer. Several residents of McCahill Drive, none of whom admitted having placed the ad, said that anything that works against burglars is fine with them.

But the bottom line apparently reads zero, at least for now.

Betty Baker, office manager for the Leader, says she remembers the man who placed the ad. "He told me he would get back in touch with me if there were any responses," Betty said. "So far, he hasn't."

Meanwhile, up in Cleveland Park . . . The fall semester at the University of the District of Columbia almost left the station without Erica Freed -- and all because of a rule that was less flexible than it should be.

Last January, Erica left her family's home in Montgomery County and rented a basement apartment in the city's Mount Pleasant section. She had one purpose in mind: establishing residence in the District for at least 90 days so she could qualify for the vastly cheaper tuition UDC charges city residents.

When Erica tried to register on the day before classes began, however, the admissions office refused to acknowledge her District residence. Reason: she could not produce a rent receipt issued by an agent, which the rules require. But Erica had an excellent explanation: she was renting the basement from a family, not an agent.

After several hours of bureaucratic wrangling, associate director of admissions Rick Winston agreed to accept a notarized statement from Erica's landlord. But he made it clear when I called him that the Freed settlement was an exceptional one.

"There's a lot more than a handful of cheating on this, let me assure you," Winston said. "We have strict policies as to what we will and won't accept. We have to protect ourselves."

On the will-accept list: a D.C. voter registration card, a D.C. car registration or a D.C. tax return.

On the won't-accept list: a D.C. driver's license ("It doesn't indicate that the person has been here 90 days"), a D.C. library card ("Same reason") or a pad of checks that bear a D.C. address in the upper left-hand corner ("Anybody can open a checking account and say he's anyone at all").

Erica Freed's story ended happily. But she finds her snafu "amazing."

"I followed all the rules, and look what happened," she said. "Don't they care?"

Better question: Can't UDC tilt in the direction of trusting its prospective students? Or at least make a few phone calls to check when there's a between-the-cracks situation like Erica Freed's? I thought the idea was to help students learn, not keep them from getting in the door.

Good News Dept.: Scott D. Widmeyer of Northwest accidentally left his briefcase aboard the L-7 bus the other day.

There was the usual 100-yard dash once Scott discovered his mistake, with the usual result: The bus was out of sight. Presumably, the briefcase would never be seen again. "I was, to say the least, downcast," Scott says.

But not for long. Driver J. S. Williams found the briefcase 20 minutes later, rummaged through it until he found Scott's business card, then put through the call that brought color back to Scott's face.

"The world needs more public servants like Mr. Williams," says Scott. Amen, say I.