You still think retail employees are sharks, waiting to pounce on your weakness and your wallet? After the following tale, you might decide that sharkdom resides on the opposite side of the street.

A Levey reader went to a Target store the other day (don't know which, don't know when) to shop for a patio table and chair. As she arrived, a "very well-dressed and affluent-appearing couple" were negotiating with a salesman, she says. The salesman told the couple that most furniture in that department was sold out, but that floor samples were also for sale.

The female of the couple asked for a price quote on a glass-top table. The salesman provided one. She began to moan about how high that was "for used furniture." The salesman agreed to check in the back to see whether any new, similar tables were in stock.

As soon as the salesman was out of earshot and eyeshot, the woman of the couple "pulled the display umbrella out of the glass-topped patio table and let its full weight drop right onto the table with a loud crash. She grinned at her male companion, then gave me a dirty look because I couldn't help but look at her with a shocked expression."

The salesman fell right into the trap when he returned a minute later. The female customer put on a loud show about the dents and scratches on the floor-sample table. She demanded a lower price.

My correspondent "couldn't take it any longer" and left, thinking that she had seen the last of the couple. No such luck.

As she got into her car in the parking lot, she saw the couple drive away in a "large, new, expensive pickup truck." The table was bouncing around in the back. The couple wore "apparently victorious" expressions, my correspondent says.

I hope that every retailer within the sound of my typing fingers will use today's column as part of his training exercises. There are felonious folks everywhere, troops. If you turn your back for even a second, you'll meet some.

No, we aren't done with the foibles of contractors, despite my two recent columns on the subject. Jay Tortona, of Cherry Hill, N.J., raises an important point about what he sees as contractors' sexism.

A couple of weeks ago, Jay's fiancee asked a contractor to submit bids on a $15,000 home improvement job. "I was upstairs taking a nap when the contractor arrived," Jay says. "He refused to give Kay an estimate unless I came down."

Did that gong of recognition just hit the ladies in our studio audience? I thought so.

No gong should have gone off in the case of Jay and Kay. She makes all the decisions about home improvements in their relationship, Jay says. But even after Kay said this to the contractor, he replied that she "wasn't capable of communicating the details to me," Jay reports. I'm happy to report that this hardhead didn't get the job.

In the interest of fairness, I need to point out why so many contractors insist on signatures from both members of a couple. If they get only one, some couples will later cancel contracts. They'll say, "Gee, I wanted to do it, but my spouse didn't."

But why can't contractors acquire a little finesse? If Kay makes the big-ticket decisions in her relationship and tells you so, for heaven's sake, listen. Or do you need to miss out on jobs for years before you get the message?

He's an old buddy. I hadn't seen him in a while. He looked the same as ever, except for one thing. He wore his pager on his belt -- but in the middle of his back, not on his hip.

I asked why. His reply was honesty itself.

"I've gained so much weight that I can't wear it on my hip anymore," he told me. "If I do, I slam it against the sides of doors."

SEND A KID TO CAMP

He doesn't say how long it has been, but it doesn't really matter. The lessons live on.

"To this day, I attribute much of who I am to the lessons learned and experiences had at summer camp in Minnesota," writes Alan Korn. He contributed $50 so another child might be able to say the same.

Our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of underprivileged children needs many Alans. Won't you be one? It'll give a child a better summer, and give us a better community.

Many thanks.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of June 17: $80,959.85.

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.