Dear Lynne Lewicki, of Herndon: It's not you. In fact, it has nothing to do with a person at all. It's a question of ink.

Lynne wrote me last week in a state of puzzlement. She had tried to feed a "crisp $20 bill" to a Farecard machine at the Vienna Metro station. However, the bill had been folded in half, and some of the ink was missing along the resulting crease. Naturally, the always cranky Farecard machine wouldn't accept the bill.

Lynne mentioned the incident to a co-worker, who made a comment I've heard several times over the last few months. It wasn't the crease that had caused the inklessness, Lynne's co-worker declared. It was some careless person who had unintentionally sent the bill through the washing machine by leaving it in a pocket.

Is our money so sensitive to a washing or two? Is the ink literally being rinsed off our money? A public affairs official at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing replied by reciting a standard statement titled "Flaking Ink:"

"Early this year, the bureau discovered flaking ink {on the nation's paper money} . . . . An analysis showed it was due to an inferior quality of ink that had been shipped in the summer of 1989. The problem was quickly remedied, but unfortunately some notes were already in circulation."

It will probably take about seven years for all the flaking-ink notes to be cycled through American commerce and back out again, if the durability of previous bills is any guide. Meanwhile, the bureau official said the agency is aware of the Farecard rejection problem, but is unable to do anything about it.

As for money laundering, the official said the ink on our paper money is tough enough to withstand repeated machine washing -- even those bills that were printed with flaking ink. However, detergents do bleach all bills slightly, the official conceded.

None of that will help Lynne Lewicki persuade a Farecard machine to accept a flaking-ink bill. But at least it'll help the rest of us be good Samaritans.

If someone comes up to you on a Metro concourse and says the Farecard machine won't take her $20 bill because something's wrong with the ink on it, it's more likely than not that you're hearing the truth, not cock and bull.

The language police have collared two more transgressors. Both cases indicate that anyone who still cares about linguistic precision may be a dinosaur rather than a human.

Betty Jane Peed, of Bowie, helped us nab the Friendly ice cream store in Crofton. Its sin: a sign in front that reads: NO LOITERING POLICE TAKE NOTICE.

Betty Jane was confused by that rendition, as who would not be? Did the sign mean that you'd better hurry up and slurp down your mint chocolate chip because the cops are watching? Or did it mean: "Okay, you officers, better finish up your triple-dip delight and get back on patrol"?

A spokesman for Friendly said the first meaning was the one the store intended. He said loitering by teenagers used to be a problem at the store, but it's now less of one because police drive past every once in a while.

The spokesman said he'll consider rewriting the sign to make it less ambiguous. But he said he honestly wasn't sure he needed to because there had been no reported complaints or puzzlement.

Meanwhile, over in Rosslyn, James R. Wachob, of Chevy Chase, gulped a few times when he saw a sign in the front window of the Santa Fe Cafe. The sign read: CLOSED ON SUNDAY'S.

What's that apostrophe doing there? Kip Laramie, Santa Fe's manager, said it was put there before he came on board. However, the sign has been up for almost a year, and, except for James's letter to me, no one has complained, Kip said.

Even so, Kip knew when to serve steaming hot crow -- to himself. He told researcher Cathy McCulloch that as soon as they were finished discussing the sign, he would head outside with a paintbrush and blot out the offending apostrophe for all time.

Thanks for that brush stroke, Kip. It res'tore's my faith. SEND A KID TO CAMP

We're still lumbering toward our goal. Have you helped? Will you? We'd be very, very grateful, and so would 1,100 underprivileged kids in our midst.


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 July 25: $201,645.62.

Our goal by Aug. 10: $275,000.