One letter in yesterday's arrivals made an immediate hit with me. It was from a woman who wrote:

"Enclosed you will find a chain letter that I received today. I seldom pay much attention to chain letter, but I was afraid to throw this one away.

"The heading says it is a prayer for good luck, but it is full of threats of financial ruin, disease and death to those who do not keep the chain alive. I resent being subjected to such threats and I don't like to be treated as if I am simple-minded enough to be supersstitious or afraid to break a chain letter.

"On the other hand, I'd rather not tempt fate by breaking such a threatening chain, so inasmuch as you have offered to break chains for superstitious people, you might as well perform that service for one who is not superstitious. Please throw the enclosed into your wastebasket. Thank you and have a nice day."

Thank you for those good wishes, ma'am. I destroyed your chain letter and the next day I ordered oysters and had the bad luck not to find a pearl. I have an appointment with my lawyer to ask him whether I can sue you for causing me to suffer this financial setback. Nothing personal, of course. Have a nice day.

Incidentally, the good-luck chain letter "prayer" has been in circulation ever since I have been writing a daily column, which puts in into aapproximately the same time frame as the French and Indian Wars.

One should not poke fun at superstitious people who are afraid to put mumbo-jumbo threats to a test. Most of us live lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau noted, and a good part of our desperation is caused by the frequency with which the average man encounters ill fortune during his lifetime.

Inasmuch as few among us are willing to concede that we deserve bad luck, it is natural for us to think of it as the product of a capricious Fate. lThe reasoning is that bad luck is not punishment for our sins; it's just something that descends upon us willy-nilly -- and a person who has any smarts at all does not risk making it worse. He doesn't light three cigarettes off one match, he doesn't forget to knock onwood, and he doesn't look for trouble by breaking chain letters.

If you are too intellectual or too contrary to keep chain letters alive, perhaps you busy yourself with collecting empty cigarette packages. If you have been engaged in this activity recently, I hope you continue with undiminished enthusiasm. You are helping to reduce litter.

Government offices (especially the Pentagon) have collected hundreds of pounds of empty cigarette packages. They have done this because somebody has told them that a little girl (or boy) will get free time on a kidney (or lung) machine for every 20 packs that are collected. Government workers, especially career military people, are among the most kind-hearted and cooperative folks you'll find anywhere. Tell 'em there's a need, and they'll pitch in. In recent days I have verified 14 cigarette package collections, and there must be a hundred more I don't know about.

Unfortunately, the empty cigarette package story has no more substance to to it than the superstition that if you send out 20 copies of a stupid letter you will be blessed with good luck, and if you don't you will drop dead, but only after you suffer great misery and deprivation.

Please don't take my word for this. Ask the Tobacco Institute, Inc., 1985 I St. NW, or the various kidney and lung foundations.

When I was quite young and poor, and when $100 was money, I offered $100 to anybody who could produce anindividual or organization willing to redeem empty cigarette packages for the time on kidney or lung machines. Nobody ever produce such evidence.

In the old days, I didn't have $100, and I would have been hard-pressed to pay off. Today I have credit and can borrow $100. So if you're saving empty cigarette packages for a poor little boy or girl who needs time on a lung machine or kidney machine, all you have to do to claim your $100 is identify the person who gets his jollies from trading medical help for empty cigarette packages and identify the child who will be benefited.

But please hurry. Only one $100 prize is being offered and you'd feel awful if IRS got its hooks on the money before you could claim it.

If you have broken any chain letters recently, don't even bother to try for the prize. You won't win.