These are golden times, or so we're told. Incomes are way up. Spending is even further up. Great Grandpa would be ga-ga at how flush and how blessed we are.

Here comes the cold water. We are saving at a lower rate than ever -- less than 1 percent of our pre-tax income, according to the latest federal government estimates.

Perhaps we've been dazed by SUV exhaust fumes, because Isaac Newton, that great market player, knew the truth. Every index that goes up will some day come down, as he noted. But lots of people dismiss Isaac as having been hit in the head with an apple too many times.

My buddy George doesn't suffer from any such difficulty. He is a banker for a local establishment and a longtime fan of Levey scribblings. Here's his nickel's worth on the question of low saving rates:

Washingtonians don't do it because they don't believe in the miracle of compounding.

"I get people in here all the time who are 35 and want to plan their retirements," George told me. "They say, `If my portfolio averages 10 percent growth a year, it'll be 10 percent bigger when I'm 65.' The truth is that it'll be at least 250 percent bigger."

I asked George why, if the news is so good, people don't rush to save.

"Because they are so dazzled by so many numbers, they can't focus," he said.

"And then there are the people who think this will last forever, so they don't need to hurry. They're actually counting on 10 percent returns, or better. They think it's a given that the market will perform the way it has for the last few years."

George doesn't think that Washingtonians fail to save because they're lazy, or because they can't do without a pizza each month.

"Some of them might be overextended by house payments or by taking care of aging parents. Some of them have cars they won't be able to afford at 60, much less at 30. But most of them just don't understand the wonder of time."

Setting aside even a little is worth it, George said.

"I tell people to set up IRAs for their kids the day the kids are born," he told me. "They look at me as if I'm nuts. I'm not nuts.

"If you set aside $1,000 for a newborn, it can be worth as much as $250,000 by the time that child is 65. It might be worth a lot more. All you have to do is pull up a chair and watch. You don't have to add a cent."

I asked George what it will take to educate the blissfully unaware masses.

"You might try to publicize this, Bob," he said. "You've got a better way to do that than I do."

Hint taken, friend.

Steve Sacharoff was right there with yet another in our series: Dumb Things That People Say When They Answer the Phone.

In Steve's case, he innocently called a business client to try to sell him something.

"He's dead," said the phone answerer. "Do you want to hold?"

As if reading the newspaper and tweezing your eyebrows weren't bad enough . . .

Shoshana Bryen, of Silver Spring, was driving north on Georgia Avenue near Plyers Mill Road. She glanced into the next lane.

A woman was driving -- and nursing a baby at the same time.

SEND A KID TO CAMP

For the second of eight summer Wednesdays, McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants are designating a menu item for the benefit of our Send a Kid to Camp campaign.

If you eat lunch today at the McCormick & Schmick's at 17th and K Streets NW or Reston Town Center, and you order the mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, the entire cost goes to our campaign. Same if you eat at the M&S Grill (13th and F Streets NW) and order the beef stroganoff.

Our annual fund-raising campaign depends on this kind of commitment and generosity. Thanks to M&S -- and to all lunchers who will help us fatten our till.

As always, all the money we raise for Send a Kid to Camp sends underprivileged children to camp in rural Virginia. We're aiming for a record in 1999. Won't you help us get there?

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of June 12: $38,789.85.

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.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.