And so it begins-uh, needles and pins-uh.

A column about darts, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: from some cuckoo on New York City's streets who's blowgunning darts, to a son of privilege who's catching them, to the weird gang of performance artists who, by now, may even be eating them.

The following sentence is reprinted exactly as it appeared in an Associated Press news story out of New York on Thursday: "Police arrested a suspect in the case of the man who has been blowing homemade needle darts into the backsides of well-dressed women."

Sure I'll wait while you read it again. I read it six times myself.

After "Dart Man" terrorized women in midtown Manhattan with 55 attacks over the last three weeks -- luckily, none resulting in serious injury; indeed, authorities said many women did not even feel the darts, which tells you how tough a hide you can grow living in New York -- a suspect finally was caught.

There are 8 million stories in the Naked City. This one is Top 10.

New York Post: "Cops finally got to the bottom ... "

Daily News: "There He Blows"

Dart Man, we now know, owned a sewing machine. "He did all his own hems," a cousin reported. Presumably, he branched out.

According to Reuter, apprehension over Dart Man was so widespread that "{it} prompted thousands of women to start wearing slacks."

One woman I know is particularly livid from a fashion standpoint: "We're on the verge of a time where ambitious, intelligent women can look sexy. It takes guts to dress that way and risk disapproval from other women and catcalls from men. But you do it, you're not intimidated." She waved her hands in disgust. "Then you get punished by some madman with a dart... . "

Police said they're not sure of Dart Man's motive. But you can bet that the screenplay will suggest Dart Man might have been:

Venting repressed anger at his mother.

Taking a correspondence course from a voodoo academy.

Training for the 1992 Olympics in modern urban biathlon (roller skating and blowgun shooting at moving targets).

Watching too many "Tarzan" movies.

Completely bazoo.

I am trying to figure out why somebody would do this. And if it could happen here. The skirt of choice of Washington women -- a dark, corporate-proper, mid-knee length -- might not meet Dart Man's standard of vogue. If he were here, he might concentrate on bicycle messengers. Or the Cabinet. Really, how many darts would it take before John Sununu knew he was hit?

Speaking of the administration, it's target practice time in Bush Gardens. Introducing the Velcro flak catcher, the Willie Horton of the 1992 campaign, the new S&L poster boy, Neil "Mr. Sweet Deal" Bush, the alter ego of Dart Man: "Dartboard."

Talk about your deep doo-doo.

Was that the Silverado or the Desperado Savings and Loan?

Neil, why don't you come to your senses? You've been out riding fences for so long now. (Tell us how you got on the bank board at 30. You answered an ad that said "no experience necessary if your father is who we think he is.")

"Hello, S&L? I'd like one of those incredibly sweet Neil Bush deals I read about in the paper, where I get $100,000 and I don't have to pay it back. Yeah, I like it so much, I want eight of them."

You can tell Boesky, Milken and The Donald to sit down. Neil Bush, though no more than a bit player in the game of greed -- another ambitious yuppie with perhaps a vague sense of empowerment -- has been darted by two cultural lightning rods: the White House and the S&L bailout.

Not five American families in 5,000 understand a lick about the S&L scandal. But they know that "crisis" and "bailout" mean it's going to cost them "money." And Democrats are going to try like hell to make the electorate see Neil Bush's face on those tax bills, so that even if he's exonerated, voters will think he got away with something, as they always think the privileged do.

Dart Man -- with help from New York tabloids (and we await follow-up stories like "DA: He'll Do Jail, No More Turning the Other Cheek" and "Eyewitnesses Sought, Line Forms at Rear") -- comes across as a cartoon villain, a Riddler, a Joker. He defines his criminal specialty with the preposterous act of blowing darts at women's backsides. Neil Bush, who's about to become fiduciary shish kebab, is the Dartboard the Dart Man needs. Their tales are so bizarre, they may as well be performance artists. If they apply, maybe NEA will give them an incredibly sweet grant.

Last Sunday's Show section ran a story on performance art. One artist was Karen Finley. In the second act of her "show," Finley removes part of her costume, covers her body with chocolate and decorates it with candy and tinsel, while reciting a text that compares her to a penned veal calf. "Mame" it ain't.

I admit I have only a slim acquaintance with performance art. Two years ago I read a story in the Village Voice about Finley, who was working with yams in a most unusual way, okay? And I felt, who am I to criticize art? After all, I don't eat yams anyway, so what she does with them won't affect my dinner plans. And on Thanksgiving I'll keep my thoughts to myself.

But I find I'm increasingly troubled by how distinctions are drawn between outrageous behavior that is accepted and outrageous behavior that is condemned. If the Yam Lady brought Dart Man on stage with her, everyone in the audience would think it was an avant-garde satire of sadomasochism. And in modern finance, so many people routinely look the other way at gift-horse deals, Neil Bush can get one and think it's part of the vernacular.

In her one-woman show a few years ago, Lily Tomlin held up one can of Campbell's Soup, and pronounced it "Soup," then held up another can of Campbell's Soup right next to it, proclaiming it "Art."

Alternating, she'd hold up the sister cans, and looking quizzically, she'd say, "Soup. Art... . Art. Soup." Everyone laughed.