Put a do-it-yourself handyman chore in front of me, and it will beat me. If I don't disintegrate from frustration and give up first.

So I'm always in awe of people who can do patient, excellent work with their hands. I'm even more in awe of people who don't try to wring every last buck out of this skill. Joe Fisher has just proved that he rates a check mark on both counts.

Joe is a general contractor based in Herndon. He specializes in intricate, classy woodwork--the kind that makes me go screaming into the night after three minutes.

One night early this month, "Grateful in Arlington, Va." had a problem that needed immediate attention.

She has four indoor cats "whose great joy is to hang out on our big screened-in deck, where they keep the birds and squirrels under supervision," she said. But the screen tore loose after the youngest cat climbed it to get a better look at something furry. Repairs were urgently needed, or the cats might escape.

"Grateful" called Joe, whom she knew from an earlier job. He came by the next evening. "It was dark, but he set up a ladder and trouble light. There were some sounds from the deck area, and soon he told me it was done," Grateful says.

Then came the discussion that can turn a wonderful experience sour. "Grateful" asked how much she owed.

"Merry Christmas. You don't owe me anything," Joe replied.

"The expression on her face and the thanks in her heart were priceless," Joe said when researcher Lynn Ryzewicz called to ask him why he had given away a job that others might have charged $300 to do.

If the world worked the way it should, Joe would get to close his eyes, make a wish and have it come true. Joe turns out to have a wish, but being a bashful sort, he didn't want to lay it out for all the world to see. "Grateful" shamed him into sharing it.

Joe, it seems, collects antique tools. For ages, he has had his heart set on a Stanley 55. It's a plane with a collection of 55 cutters used for hand mill work. Usually, such work is done with electrical shapers. But Joe prefers to do it by hand.

He said he has often come across partial Stanley 55 sets, or full sets that were not in good condition. Stanley 55s were sold from 1897 to 1962, so a full, presentable set is likely to be kicking around someone's attic.

I figure Joe has two choices: He can send Santa Claus a mind-gram, or he can hope that a Levey reader has a Stanley 55 he or she no longer wants. If you're that reader, please call Joe at 703-927-1101.

Air travel is no picnic these days. Just ask any frequent flier and get ready for the whole file to be dumped out: cramped seats, crummy food, indifferent service, late flights. Oh, and did we leave out bags that fall out of overhead bins and clonk you in the head?

For some of us, however, the toughest part about flights--especially long flights--can be loneliness and fear. A reader called recently to see if I could help her by rustling up a flying companion. I said I'd never done such a thing before but would try.

Jane MacFarlane Lyle, of Arlington, lived in Australia in the early 1960s. She is planning to visit friends there sometime soon (date still uncertain). She is looking for someone to sit beside her and see her through those moments when the plane bangs around in a storm and it feels as if the end is surely near.

Jane is not looking for romance, or for a paid companion. She is simply hoping to hook up with someone who is also going to Australia and would welcome the chance to ride alongside a nervous passenger for 15 hours or so. Jane's e-mail address is janemaclyle@aol.com. Her phone number is 703-241-2622.


This is the week that will tell the tale. It's the period I like to call Office Do or Don't Time.

By Thursday night, most worker bees will have broken camp and gone over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house, for Christmas. But before they go, I'm hoping the bees will have passed the hat for sick kids at Children's Hospital.

Our annual fund-raiser on Children's behalf has always had excellent luck at attracting such gifts just before the great stampede for the door. I urge all office denizens to get a group gift together before the holiday break.

It doesn't have to be mega-millions. Gifts of any size are welcome and appreciated. Many thanks--and special thanks to that wonderful soul in every office who takes on the role of hat-passer. It would never happen without your determination and shoe leather.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Dec. 18: $166,042.38.


Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital 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.