Julie Smith, of Reston, reports that she has been reading my pearls of prose since she was 6. Somehow that hasn't caused brain damage. But it led her to me when she had a question that was proving troublesome.

Julie is now 24 and smitten with a certain Brian Bollinger, also 24, also of Reston. They plan to tie the proverbial knot next spring.

"We agree on the color of the bridesmaids' dresses, the place for the wedding, everything," Julie told me. "But we're having big disagreements about whether we should have a joint checking account after we get married."

Brian wants one; Julie isn't sure. "The problem is that we both work, and we're both used to having control over our own money," Julie said. "I think I'd feel stifled if I had to ask Brian's permission to write a check every time I felt like writing one.

"Brian said he'd agree to do whatever you said. I agree, too."

It was clearly time for Judge Levey to don his robes.

"This has nothing to do with asking Brian's permission every time you write a check," the judge declared, in his usual learned way. "It has to do with a change in the way you'll spend money once you're married.

"You'll be buying furniture you didn't own or need when you both were single. If you buy a house, you'll probably be spending more on a mortgage payment than either of you spent on rent. If you buy a new Togetherness-mobile, it may cost more per month than any rattletrap you drive now.

"What I'm saying is that this isn't just a matter of principle. It's a matter of having enough bucks in one pot so you can pay all your bills easily, and on time."

Julie asked what Judge and Mrs. Levey do.

"One account, and only one, from the first second we raised our right hands and swore to love, honor, obey and take out the garbage," I said. "We pool every cent we both earn. It works very well."

Julie said she was still worried about what she called "impulse spending."

"It's not as if I'd be sneaking behind Brian's back," she told me. "But if I see a dress that I want, I'd like to be able to buy it with my own money."

"Couldn't you do that if you had a joint account?" the judge asked.

"Sure, I could. But I'm very used to my independence," Julie said.

The judge then delivered his summary ruling:

"Sounds to me as if you people need three accounts once you're married," he said. "One for you, one for him, one for your `couple' expenses. That should touch all the bases. Case dismissed."


This is the sort of gift that makes my rotten old heart sing.

Last year, residents of the Marina Towers condominium in Alexandria passed the hat and collected $1,010 for our annual fund-raising drive on behalf of needy local children. Tani Lublin, the coordinator, vowed to do better in 1999. I told her my letter opener and adding machine are always on full alert.

Good thing they were, for Tani and the Towers crew have just weighed in with a biggie: a donation of $3,835. Tani said she is "overwhelmed." That makes two of us.

Understand how this contribution demolishes some of the most enduring cliches about Washington. First, we supposedly don't support local causes. Second, we supposedly don't support any causes. Third, condominiums supposedly can't amass group gifts, because neighbors supposedly don't know neighbors.

The Marina Towers check speaks louder than any cliche. It will send nearly 13 kids to camp this summer. Great job, Tani and friends. I'm all set for even bigger things in 2000.

Our campaign ends this Friday, so this is the eighth and final "McCormick & Schmick's Wednesday" for summer 1999.

Each Wednesday since June, this group of seafood restaurants has designated one menu item for the benefit of Send a Kid to Camp. Every cent spent on this item goes into our till.

Today, the camp item is romaine Caesar salad at McCormick & Schmick's (Reston Town Center and 17th and K streets NW) and molasses cured pork loin at M&S Grill (13th and F streets NW). Thanks to McCormick & Schmick's -- and all camp-item buyers.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of July 26: $344,388.81.


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.


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