Sally Simmons has bumped into a bunch of answering machine messages that she says are "rude and obnoxious." She wants to know how she can diplomatically let the message-creators know.

Case One: A message at the home of friends that bluntly states the phone number and "leave a message." No hello. No thank you. No have a nice day. No have a lousy day. No nothing.

Case Two: A family with teenage children whose message is a home-brewed rap song. "The lyrics were definitely a little raunchy," Sally says. When she pointed this out to "the naive mother," she was offended that anyone could think her kids were smut-mongers.

Case Three: "A very dear friend whose greeting is so cool that I sometimes don't bother leaving a message."

Many readers would probably say Sally has dodged the worst messages of all -- those that drippingly assert how very, very important your call is. If it's so important, why can't a human answer it and not a machine?

In Sally's case, she'd like to get past the "recoil" she feels when she hits a negative answering machine message. But the mother's reaction in the case of the rap message has daunted her. She can't think of a way to complain without burning a bridge or destroying a friendship.

I can. Use the tape to file an anonymous protest. If you can't disguise your voice, get a friend to make the call. Suggested text:

"Hi, I'm a good friend/good client. I just want you to know that your answering machine message is truly irritating. I'd like it to be a little more warm, a little more human. If it were, I suspect more of your callers/customers would leave messages. I know I would. A word to the wise. Thank you very much."

I hope Sally will give this a whirl. I also hope she'll let me know how it works.

More advice: We should all learn to do The Bob Levey Pat. If Joyce W. Hoffer, of Annapolis, had done it, she wouldn't have come close to getting her car stolen.

The scene was the New Carrollton Metro station. Joyce was escorting two out-of-town guests downtown for a day of sightseeing.

She parked in the short-term lot. Hours later, as the return train neared New Carrollton, "I looked in my purse for my car keys. They were nowhere to be found."

Joyce figured she had locked the keys in the car. But when she approached it, she noticed a note under the windshield wiper.

"You left car keys on hood," the note said. "I didn't want to lock them inside the car, in case you're not carrying a spare set. So I talked to transit policeman, and left keys inside Metro station at the booth."

Joyce says she's "delighted to know that a Good Samaritan had been looking out for me that day." She says she hopes that anyone reading this story will do the same good deed for someone else, if the occasion ever arises.

But if we all adopt The Pat, the occasion never will.

The last thing I do after parking a car is to give my right-front pants pocket a light tap. That's where I keep my keys. I'm tapping to be sure I've got them.

The Bob Levey Pat won't work if you don't carry your keys in the same place every time. But it has saved me from being locked out (or having my car stolen) many times.

They just wanted us to watch the 5 o'clock news. But Doug Hoylman, of Chevy Chase, thinks that WJLA-TV might have been making a wish.

According to Doug, a recent promo said: "When will this heat wave end? Tonight at 5."

These are not the dog days of August for the Levey family. They are the son-ny days.

No, the heat isn't getting to me. Horrendous puns roll off my typing fingers all year, every year -- no extra charge.

But there's nothing horrendous about what happens on Sunday. Our son, Allie, turns 13.

Allie a teenager? Not possible. I sometimes hear his voice from behind, whirl around -- and still expect to see his blue eyes at the level of my knees.

He's nearing my shoulders and closing fast. His voice is threatening to change. His face is threatening to sprout whiskers. The baby born on that hot day in 1986 is a baby no more.

If I listed all his skills and achievements, I'd obliterate about six comic strips. Here's a quick summary:

He's an excellent writer and a clever conversationalist. He's not afraid to play with much younger kids at family gatherings. He will always give a quarter to a beggar on the street -- and bug his father to do the same.

Allie pitched the Tigers, his Little League baseball team, to the league championship back in June. Any father would have burst his buttons over that. But I'm still bursting mine over what the coach told me later.

He said that amid all the tension of the final game, Allie kept encouraging his teammates. I tip my cap to a child with that much poise.

And I report this sad fact.

This is the year when it happened.

Allie beat me at one-on-one in basketball.

No excuses. No moping. It was young legs vs. old. Bet on the former.

And bet on this: It has been a wonderful 13 years, with a wonderful guy. Many more.