Not long ago, I had dinner at one of the swankiest restaurants in town. I managed to limit my overgrown self to a salad and a piece of fish. My companion ordered an appetizer, a soup, a salad, an entree and a side order of vegetables.

That seemed to these eyes like a lot of calories, but, hey, her diet was her business. And surely the restaurant would be delighted, I figured, since it was in business to sell as many courses as possible to as many people as possible.

So imagine my surprise (and my companion's) when the waiter returned five minutes later to ask us a question. In his judgment, he said, five courses were too many. So would it be all right if he canceled madame's soup? I have never been so impressed by a waiter in all my born days.

However, I have never been so perturbed by a waiter as I was after I received a call from Northern Virginia the other day.

A guy wanted to tell me what had happened to a friend of his at a snazzy restaurant in Baltimore. If a waiter has ever done anything more underhanded than this, I cringe at the thought.

The victim took his girlfriend out for a birthday dinner. Everything went swimmingly until the very end of the meal, when the waiter appeared with a cart of liqueurs. Would monsieur care for a little after-dinner drink?

Monsieur ordered a snifter of cognac. The waiter didn't tell him what kind it was -- only that he recommended it highly. Nor did the waiter pour monsieur more than the usual inch and a half or so.

When the bill came, there was the strangest item at the bottom of it: COGNAC -- $70.

Seventy bucks for one cognac? Our hero protested, expostulated and did everything but stand on his head. But the waiter and the manager were adamant. Seventy bucks was what they charged for one pop of this particular brand of cognac.

My caller had no idea what kind of cognac it was. But he did tell me that his friend paid the bill in full. I would never have done that, but I'm sure many people would have, because they would have been reluctant to cause a scene.

All right, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. My question:

Didn't the waiter have an obligation to warn monsieur of the $70 price tag before he poured monsieur's cognac?

No, there's no legal requirement that he do so. But isn't there an unwritten code of decency that tells a waiter not to be greedy?

There is certainly such a code in a certain swanky Washington restaurant, as I discovered. A certain restaurant in Baltimore could stand to learn the same lesson.

It was a fatherly-daughterly snowball fight, conducted where such things were meant to be conducted: a snow-covered field in Great Falls, Va. A good time was being had by all when Adele Milliken, age 8, suddenly said, "Whoops!"

Adele wears hearing aids in both ears, and in the middle of making a snowball, or ducking one aimed by Dad, one of her hearing aids had fallen out and sunk into a couple of inches of the white stuff.

Tait Milliken hunted for it. Adele Milliken hunted for it. Ro Milliken, Adele's mother, came out and hunted for it. But they couldn't find the aid. Visions of spending between $200 and $400 for a replacement danced through their heads. It was not a happy prospect.

But Ro got busy on the phone, and she found herself a saint.

He's Rick Scholz, who runs an electronics business in Sterling. Rick owns a metal detector, and he offered to come out and see if the detector could do the trick.

To cheers from the entire Milliken family, Rick found the hearing aid in less than 10 minutes (the aid is plastic, of course, but the metal in the battery was enough for the metal detector to home in on). Then the Millikens braced for the bad news. How much was this going to cost?

"Nothing," said Rick Scholz.

"Nothing?" said the Millikens.

"Nothing," said Rick Scholz.

Here's hoping Adele never loses one of her hearing aids again. But if she does, I'll bet I know who's going to get a call.

Bumper sticker spotted by Dorie Anisman of Kensington: ROSES ARE RED; VIOLETS ARE BLUE; I'M SCHIZOPHRENIC; AND SO AM I

It happened in a Prince George's County school, informants swear. Third-grade teacher to class:

"If you kids don't learn to write your names, you'll have to pay cash for everything when you grow up."