The United States Marine Corps has been marching, blowing bugle and fixing bayonet since the beginning of time, and very possibly before that. So it's no surprise that the Evening Parade is the most polished show in town.

It's a pageant of precision, even when some luckless lad mis-twirls his M1 rifle. "Everyone maintains strict composure and just continues to march," said Lt. Patrick Sivigny, the public information officer. "Say a Marine loses his cover. I mean, his hat. The inspector just comes by and ceremonially replaces it on top of his head."

At the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill every Friday night, the pomp starts in earnest before you reach your reserved seat. You cue up at the designated entry gate at the designated hour, and you're greeted by a stiff salute from a stalwart NCO. After consulting a sheet with your name typed on it, he escorts you to the designated reviewing stand, chivalrously taking your arm if you're a lady.

Before long you're tightly wedged in bleachers lining the parade ground. Be prepared to stay for the duration, especially if you're ensconced in an upper row: It's not a configuration to encourage an early escape.

The spectacle generally draws a crowd of 4,500. It starts at 8:20 sharp and lasts two hours, with rousing martial music by the Marine Band and a bit of jazz from the Drum and Bugle Corps -- you can hear why the former is "The President's Own," while the latter is nicknamed "The Commandant's Own" -- fancy formations from Companies A and B, rifle feats from the Silent Drill Platoon, Retreat, Taps, Sound Off, Colors, all of it illuminated from the flanks and above by quick-moving men in camouflage perched at the spotlights.

The sights and sounds are impressive, even if they do go on, and you'll probably want to give this show many stretching ovations.--LLOYD GROVE. EVENING PARADE -- At the Marine Barracks, Eighth & I streets SE, every Friday night at 8:20 through the summer. Reservations recommended. Phone a few weeks ahead for a decent seat. 433-6060.