A few days ago, I wrote about chain letters, including the one that "has been around the world nine times." Nine thousand times might be a closer guess. That letter is older than Little Orphan Annie.

By coincidence, Martha Legg was searching through some of her old letters and records on the day the chain letter column was published. She came across a copy of the old U.S. Savings Bond chain letter that was very popular a decade or so ago.

Martha's husband had invested $37.50 in it because it had promised, "When your name reaches the top of the list, you should have received $38,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds, which will be worth $50,000 in seven years. This plan is sure fire." Martha's husband died eight years ago. To date, his $37.50 investment has not yielded one penny of return, but Martha suspects that the fellow who put his own name at the top of the list "made out like a bandit."

Robert L. Kieckhefer wrote, "My dear wife recently had the 'opportunity' to join a chain letter pyramid scheme in which she would become No. 12 on the list. Send money to the name at the top.

"In desperation, I tried to explain the absurdity of it in graphics, but soon discovered there isn't a sheet of paper large enough to show the generations of suckers who would anticipate getting to the top of the list.

"On the surface, the idea sounds logical and tempting, but with a little thought it is revealed to be an irrational undertaking.

"How does the author of the letter know who broke the chains and their misfortunes and exactly who faithfully continued them -- before it happened? It would be similar to my telling you to let me know if you don't get this letter. In case you're wondering, my wife didn't join, and didn't lose her $100. And, to date, nothing has been reported by those who did join."

Four District Liners were reminded to send me chain letters they were afraid to throw into the trash, with three of the four assuring me they weren't really superstitious, but would rest easier if I broke the chain for them. Willa Ozimina reported that she had received a chain letter sent in a Department of Agriculture envelope as "Official Business, Penalty for Private Use, $300." Bryan D. Anderson forwarded for my inspection a similar letter sent as official business in an HEW envelope. An anonymous caller left the message that she, too, had received a chain letter in an official HEW envelope. She wondered how many thousands of copies had been run off on government photocopy machines. Your guess is as good as mine, and probably better than Joe Califano's.


George Meany says Jimmy Carter has overstepped his authority. The president of the AFL-CIO has gone to court to stop the president of the United States from setting voluntary wage-price guidelines designed to curb inflation.

George Meany is a man who, in his day, exercised vast power over union members who voluntarily did what he wanted done. You might say George did some fancy stepping and overstepping of his own.

When he speaks about power and the abuse of power, we ought to listen. These are areas in which Meany has expertise.

Inasmuch one never knows how laws will be interpreted by lawyers or how courts will rule on disagreements, there is obvious risk in trying to foretell how Meany's suit will be decided.

Those who feel a compulsion to make predictions might be wise to limit themselves to these two:

Americans will prefer to put more power into the hands of a president of the United States than into the hands of a union president.

The Supreme Court won't decide the legal issue raised by Meany until long after some new problem has replaced inflation as number one on our worry list.

Other than that, Mr. Meany, we wish you a lot of luck. We hope, for example, that you will retire some day and take life easy. Then we could all enjoy the golden years of your life.


Speaking of being old: After a reader told her daughter, "Bill Gold is 87 years old," a friend asked Bob Orben, "Is he really that old?"

"I don't know," said Orben, "but at his last birthday party they lit the candles on his cake, put a grill over it, and cooked nine steaks and a rib roast."