Just Ralph Hoar's rotten luck: There he was, at Wisconsin Avenue and Ellicott Street NW, far from his home in Southeast, when he turned the ignition key in his car, expecting a "vroooom," and instead got the sounds of silence.

Ralph hopped out and propped the hood open. He was scouting around for the trouble when a 12-year-old boy happened along on a bicycle.

"Need any tools?" the boy asked. Ralph said, sure, he'd take whatever help he could get.

The boy rode home, and returned about five minutes later with a wrench. But it didn't do the trick.

Maybe a flashlight and a screwdriver would help, Ralph suggested. OK, said the boy, and rode off again into the sunset. He returned shortly with both gadgets. But neither did a thing.

Finally, Ralph figured the trouble had to be the corrosion on his battery cables. So back went the boy a third time, in search of a wire brush. He found one, Ralph did the scraping -- and it was "vroooom" at last.

Three roundtrips on a bike for a stranger? I thought they didn't grow them like that anymore. But when you're Robert Cooksey, of 4348 Ellicott St. NW., apparently it's all in a day's work.

You mean he does this sort of thing all the time? That's right, said his mother. Last winter, when a lady fell on the ice on Wisconsin Avenue, "Robbie rode and got bandages and blankets for her until the ambulance came. He didn't think anything of it."

So Bob Levey thinks his last name is unspellable? So Harry Wolf of Columbia thinks so, too?

Move aside, you two. Hilary Kanter of Northwest and Susan Vavrick of Alexandria say they deserve a spot at the head of the class, too.

Hilary points out that she's a "two-fer." If you get her first name right, by some wild chance, you're bound to fluff her second.

"Following is a list of variations I encounter on a daily -- no, hourly -- basis," Hilary writes:

"Hillary, Hilery, Hilorie, Hiliary. . . .Kantor, Cantor, Canter, Kantar. . . .ad nauseam.

"I am now in the practice of saying, 'Hi, I'm Hilary-with-one-L Kanter-with-a-K-and-er-not-or. Aufilly nise too meat ewe.' "

Susan grew up a Burlant -- otherwise, and all too often, known as Burlap and Berland. She figured marriage would bail her out. It only submerged her further.

"We get even more variations on Vavrick than I ever saw on Burlant," Susan writes. "One day's mail, for example, brought me items addressed to Uavrick, Javrick and Fabric. Not to mention all those who ask, 'Maverick?' "

Harry and I know how you're suffering, ladies. Console yourselves this way: What if you were Smythes or Brownes? No one could misspell those.

It didn't take long for Jean C. Troutman of College Park to get an answer to her question.

I posed it here a week ago. Jean had bought a glass dish at a flea market. The inscription on the bottom read, "Lansburg & Bro. Dry Goods Only Washington, D.C." She wondered whether a special occasion lay behind the words. If so, what was it and when did it take place?

Herman Neugass of Northwest, who used to be a vice president of Lansburgh's, said Jean's "find" is a pickle dish. Souvenir cups and pickle dishes were given out by Lansburgh's (which used to be a major downtown department store, if you're on the young side) in conjunction with anniversary sales held between 1895 and 1908, Herman says.

Because the "Lansburg" on Jean's dish has no "h" at the end, she may have an antique of some value, Herman says. But it would only be an oddity, not a gold mine. The dish itself was worth less than a penny when it was made, Herman says.

Most Embarrassing Washington Moments:

Dick Curdle of Northeast says it had to be the time he was running off a few copies of his resume on the office Xerox machine. The boss was next in line when the machine decided to jam.