Being cooped up in a rush-hour subway is bad enough. But "bad" is too puny a word when the person next to you begins to paint her nails with bright, stinky red polish.

It happened a few weeks ago on the Red Line to Trish Graboske of Rockville. And it was the full enchilada.

Trish's seatmate did all 10 fingers. Then she did all 10 again. Trish said the pungent smell was almost enough to make her faint. As her husband said that night when she told him about the incident, "nail polish should be covered under the Geneva Convention."

It isn't, of course. Nor is it covered on the list of can't-do's that appears in every subway car. But the bottle itself suggests that polish should be banned from Metro. "Use only with good ventilation," most bottles say. When bodies are packed together in a subway car, the only thing that's usually ventilated is someone's temper.

What gives nail polish that "special" aroma? I decided to consult the member of our household who uses it.

"Beautiful," I said, as soon as Jane answered the phone, "go find a bottle of your nail polish."

"What have you gotten yourself into this time?" she said, with the wisdom of the years.

"Such cynicism. This is investigative reporting, beautiful. I am preparing a report for the waiting masses. I am a purveyor of particulars, a medium for a message, a veritable vehicle . . . . "

She went and got a bottle of polish. She knew it was the only way to shut me up.

I asked her to read me the ingredients. She proceeded:

"Butyl acetate, toluene, nitrocellulose-ethyl acetate, toluene with sulfonamide/formaldehyde resin, isopropyl alcohol, dibutyl phthalate, camphor, sterealkonium hectorite and citric acid-benzophenone 1."

She asked if I wanted to hear the 10 other ingredients listed under "May Contain." I said, hey, thanks, I've got the idea.

So do you. It can't be good to dab camphor and formaldehyde onto yourself. Nor can it be good to inflict all those unpronounceables on the rest of us. Get up five minutes earlier and do your nails before you leave the house.

By now, many of us have made our summer vacation plans. But I doubt that we've planned for the strains and squabbles that can tear a summer family trip apart.

Ruth Calvo sees such storms each year. She runs a pony farm at Chincoteague, Va. It's a must-stop for families with young kids who are in the area. But Ruth says she often sees parents and children struggling so hard with each other that the ponies are barely even glimpsed, much less remembered with pleasure.

Parents who work hard the rest of the year "do not have a concept of controlling their own children, many times because they hardly know them," Ruth writes. Her suggestion: an extra week of vacation at home, before hitting the road for the Chincoteagues, Ocean Cities and Disney Worlds.

"Do ordinary things," Ruth suggests. "Bake a cake. Do laundry. Walk to a store. Make shopping lists. When you go on vacation, you'll all be happier. And so will I."

SEND A KID TO CAMP

Julie Leneweaver of Arlington has the right idea. "I have enjoyed many wonderful vacations over the years," she writes. "Hope this will help an inner-city child enjoy summer." And alongside her note was a $100 check.

Our annual campaign to send 1,100 underprivileged local kids to camp has always depended on such largesse, and such logic. If you make a contribution, your money does double duty. It helps kids whose lives are often bleak experience two weeks of sunshine and fun. And it shows those kids that our community cares.

As you can see at the bottom of this column, we still have many miles to go before we reach our goal for the 1990 campaign. Won't you help us get there?

The first buses leave for our three camps in the Virginia countryside this morning. Will there be enough money to send the second group of buses, and the third, and the fourth? Only if you give us a hand, as you have for more than four decades. Thanks in advance for your help.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

In hand as of June 19: $86,829.09.

Our goal: $275,000.