"This morning at a quarter of two, my phone rang, startling me out of a sound sleep," writes Lois Reichert, of an incident that occurred on Aug. 24.
"A young girl's voice asked a question. I thought she said, 'Is this Hartlines?'
"Relieved to know there was neither death nor disaster among my family in the Midwest, I sleepily told the caller she had the wrong number."
But the young voice replied: "Ma'am, I have a problem."
So did Reichert. Lots of them.
It was late. She was tired. She was annoyed at having been awakened. And she had no idea who this kid on the phone was.
So Reichert asked: "Don't you have someone you know that you can talk to?"
The girl replied: "No, there is only my Mom and me." And Mom, it turned out, spanked the girl.
"Even when she asked me if she could talk to me about her problem, I was not functioning well enough to understand that here was a young girl who might be in deep trouble," Reichert said.
"Still dazed with sleep and relief that nothing was amiss at home, I did not grasp the fact that the young caller had been trying to get the "Hot Line" or "Heart Line" for youngsters in trouble.
So "before I could stop myself," Reichert told her caller that "it's two o'clock and I have to go to work in the morning.'
"I did not mean my answer to be a rebuff. I was just beginning to really wake up and start functioning. And just as I began to understand that I should listen to the child whose monotonous voice concealed her desperation, she hung up, feeling, I am sure, that here was still another person who just did not care.
"I do care.
"I couldn't sleep for hours, wishing I had been awake enough to realize that this wasn't just another wrong number disturbing my rest, until it was too late."
But it isn't too late for the next youngster in trouble, or the next adult who happens to be "elected" to listen to her late some night.
There are at least 25 hot lines in the Washington area, of varying size, specialty, hours and professional approach.
Most of them aren't afraid to listen at two in the morning. But curiously, most are not listed under Hot Line in the phone book, or under the emergency listings in the front of the book.
So, as Lois Reichert suggested, The District Line is publishing directly below a list of several hot lines.
A call to any of them will provide a sympathetic voice. "I wish mine had been one," Reichert says.
Alexandria Hot Line: 548-3810.
Andromeda (hot line for Spanish-speaking people): 667-6766.
D.C. Youth Assistance Center: 629-5008.
"Fact Hot Line" about child abuse: 628-FACT.
Food Stamp Hot Line: 232-6377.
Gay Hot Line: 547-7601.
Hot Line for the deaf: 864-4488.
Montgomery County Hot Line: 949-6603.
National Runaway Switchboard (for passing messages between runaways and their parents): 800/231-6946.
National Runaway Switchboard (for information and referrals): 800/ 621-4000.
National Venereal Disease Hot Line: 800/523-1885.
Northern Virginia Hot Line: 527-4077.
Prince George's Hot Line: 864-7271.
Rape Hot Line: 333-RAPE.
Sexual Assault Hot Line: 261-1616.
Suicide Prevention: 629-5222.
Women's Crisis Hot Line: 454-4616.
If a certain young woman happens to be reading this, here's hoping one of these numbers can help you.
In any case, because of a wrong number you dialed last month, the numbers are sure to help someone else.
Overheard on the bus, one three-piece suit to another:
"Yeah, I'm still working on the Hill. They offered me a job at the White House, but I told them I couldn't work for a man who beats rabbits with a paddle."
True Grit Award of the Week to Metropolitan Police Officer Phil Clark, who isn't afraid of where the chips may fall.
According to our special assistant in charge of monitoring downtown parking, on Sept. 5, at 10:15 a.m., the three cars parked illegally on the east side of the District Building all bore tickets, courtesy of Clark.
Car One had license number DC 1715, and belonged to the Department of Transportation Motor Pool, according to the paint on its flank.
Car Two, DC 3220, belonged to the Department of Housing and Community development.
Car Three? A sinner among sinners. It was DC 4391, and it belonged to the Executive Office of the Mayor.
Bill Gold is on vacation. The District Line will resume on his return.