The last time I smoked a cigar--and the last time I ever will--was at a family wedding in New Jersey. Immediately afterward, my wife and I drove home.

I believe I was gasping for breath until we reached the Delaware Memorial Bridge an hour later. But it might have been the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel two hours later.

So you can easily guess where I come down on the following tale about a cigar-wielding maniac. It took place on a recent Saturday night in the lobby bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Tysons Corner.

At Ritz-Carltons, money doesn't get spent. It gets flung, in liberal hunks. Small wonder: It can cost $600 to spend the night. A call-brand martini can cost $12. People who drink at the R-C do not count out pennies when it comes time to settle the bill.

Mary Jane McCamant, of Ashburn, was spending the evening in the R-C bar, listening to a singer who's her friend. She became captivated by a couple, both perhaps 70. They were dressed to kill, and they were dancing the tango in the best Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tradition.

When they had finished, the couple sat down. The male excused himself to go to the bathroom. The female took a small Japanese fan out of her purse and waved it several times near her face, in an obvious effort to cool off.

At a table behind her sat a foursome--two men, two women, all about 35, Mary Jane says. They were drinking, but did not appear to be falling-down drunk. Three of the four were smoking cigars--big, fat, self-indulgent ones, Mary Jane reports.

One of the men apparently decided that Ginger was using her fan to ward off his cigar smoke, not to recover from exertion. So he "wolfishly grinned" and said to his pals, "Watch this!"

The man leaned over, "took a big drag on his cigar and blew [the smoke] in [the direction of] her face," Mary Jane says. Ginger did not notice, then or later, because her head was turned, and the room was full of cigar smoke anyway.

Mary Jane let fly at the smoke-blower with the following:

"That's terrible! Grow up! What are you, a schoolboy? Were you born that way or did you have to study to be this stupid?"

Neither the smoke-blower nor his comrades responded immediately. The offender tried for the rest of the evening to get Mary Jane's attention, she says--perhaps to apologize, but perhaps to continue the disagreement.

She says that whenever their eyes locked, she "gave him my mother's stare." That can be thermonuclear, as all mothers (and the objects of a mother's stare) well know. It kept the smoke-blower quiet.

Yes, there is a smoking section in the R-C bar, and yes, the cigar people were sitting in it. So this wondrous human being cannot be whacked by the law retroactively.

And, yes, the story probably has to do with alcohol consumption as much as anything else. Add pre-Christmas spirit to three martinis, and lots of 35-year-olds would revert to grade school.

Still, Mary Jane is right when she says that "common sense and common courtesy appear to have disappeared today." Or maybe they have been covered in a thick fog of cigar smoke.

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

The tax man cometh. But he also indirectly giveth--to our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital.

If you contribute to our drive and you itemize deductions, your gift is deductible on state and federal income tax returns. But to take that deduction on your 1999 returns, you need to have made the contribution before the year expires.

One more clarification: As long as your check is dated Dec. 31, 1999, or earlier, the gift is deductible on 1999 returns. It doesn't matter how soon I receive it in 2000 (although earlier would be nicer).

These groups have made contributions to our campaign in recent days:

American Legion Auxiliary, College Park Unit 217 ($100).

University Auto of Frederick ($50, half from the company, half from the employees).

Touch and Glow Garden Club ($100).

St. Bernadette's Tuesday Club ($167).

Blueline Editing, Alexandria ($75).

General Government Division, U.S. General Accounting Office ($1,405 via an annual holiday raffle).

Donna Denney's sewing club ($70 instead of a gift exchange).

High School Youth Group, St. Augustine Church, Elkridge, Md. ($30).

Department of Mechanical Engineering, Catholic University, Northeast Washington ($200 in lieu of gifts to Ruth Hicks).

Army Navy Country Club Tuesday Evening Duplicate Bridge Club ($100).

Josephine Kugel Foundation, McLean ($1,000 in the name of Jennie Kugel).

Many thanks, one and all.

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

In hand as of Dec. 21: $199,117.84.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

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