It is late afternoon on a downtown street. A dozen people have stopped to watch as a policeman equipped with a wire coat hanger tries to open a parked automobile.

The woman who owns the car points to the keys she left in the ignition and explains to a new arrival that she locked herself out of the car and doesn't carry a spare set of keys.

After 10 minutes, the policeman is red-faced and frustrated. A boy of perhaps 11 or 12 comes along, sizes up the situation at a glance, holds out his hand for the hanger and says, "Let me show you how it's done."

The policeman hesitates only briefly, then hands over the hanger. In 15 seconds, the kid has the car door open. He hands back the hanger, pats the cop on the back, and says, "You gotta practice, man."

With that, the boy goes on about his business. The policeman shakes his head pensively and walks off in the opposite direction.

ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS

LEAVE NO BLANKS

Greta Crais says she is a foreigner who reads this column because it helps her understand the American way of life. One thing has not been explained here, however. As Greta puts it:

"I have worked for 25 years, but have no experience in job hunting or filling out forms.

"I would like you to tell me whether I am too touchy when I bristle at being asked certain types of questions. For example, height, engaged, physical defects, major illness in last five years, have you received compensation for injuries, and if you answer yes to such questions, describe in detail."

I know how you feel, Greta. Many years after Eugene Meyer hired me, The Washington Post's personnel department discovered I had never filled out an application form. I was handed a form that asked me some of the things you were asked, and also what kinds of business machines I operate, how many words a minute I type, what sort of work I would like to do, and for how much pay.

It was obvious that many of the questions were not pertinent to one applying for work as a reporter, and some were the kind that make people bristle. Nevertheless, I can see why a personnel department might like to have answers to some of the questions asked on that form.

By chance, I saw one of our modern application forms recently. It is quite different. It still asks some questions that would not be pertinent to people who apply for work as reporters, but there is no harm in that. No form can be ideally suited to every person.

If you want to understand our job application process, Greta, I suggest that you concentrate on these points: Employers do have a right to ask enough questions to form a judgement about the personality, experience and suitability of an applicant. However, the modern trend is toward a greater respect for personal privacy, and enlightened employers are aware of it.

MUSICAL NOTE

An article in our recent Stereo '79 supplement told of a "music lover" who spent $1,000 to install a tremendously powerful stereo set in his automobile. The man beamed as he exclaimed, "Now I can practically blow the windows out of my car." Two questions suggest themselves:

When this man has his stereo turned up loud enough to blow the windows out of his car, how does he hear a warning horn, or the siren of an ambulance or other emergency vehicle?

Also, why is this man called a music lover? Is loudness a measure of one's love of music?

SWIFT COURIERS

Let the record show that a local letter mailed to me last week was delivered to me this week, eight days after it was postmarked in Washington, D.C. The letter was correctly addressed and included our own exclusive ZIP number, 20071. There were no markings on the letter to indicate what took it so long to reach me.

OH, THAT'S MEAN!

Don Epperson reports that Cleveland's City Council is still locked in disagreement. The councilmen wanted to hold a New Year's Eve party but they haven't been able to agree on a date yet.

'TWAS EVER THUS

Herm Albright of the Perry Township (Ind.) Weekly sadly notes:

"As the new cars get smaller, the prices get bigger."