All together now: Robert is a dimwit, Robert is a dope, Robert made a big mistake, it's not a funny joke.

Or maybe it is. Here comes the evidence. As a certain TV network loves to say, I report, you decide.

On March 9, I carried a story about a reader named J. Scott Nicholls of Oak Hill, Va. Scott submitted an item about a grocery checkout clerk.

As I read Scott's submission, the clerk picked up the rubber divider that shoppers place between orders and studied it for a bar code. Finding none, she asked Scott if he knew how much the divider cost.

Scott decided to give her a break. He said he didn't want it after all, thus sparing the woman embarrassment. I praised him for being a good egg.

He's an even better one than I thought, as it turns out. He cut me some slack when I didn't deserve a centimeter of it.

Scott was one of about 55 readers to inform me -- some ruefully, some hootingly -- that the story of the dimwitted checkout clerk has been doing the rounds on the Internet for years. Usually, on the Web, it's one of those notorious "dumb blonde" jokes.

Ho, ho, ho.

Columnist gets taken.

But it's even worse.

Scott said that if I had read his original submission more closely, I would have seen these words:

"While surfing the Web, I found this humor:"

Which means that the story was fiction, and Scott had warned me that it was fiction.

Which means that Scott played no part in it, as I said he did.

Which means that I made a large error because I sloppily failed to read the relevant words.

For which I'm very sorry.

But here's what kind of person Scott Nicholls is:

He thanked me for his "15 seconds of fame."

He didn't chastise me for misspelling his last name the first time by (I subtracted an L).

He sent along links to three Internet joke sites, where I could (and soon did) find the divider gag.

He didn't blame me.

He didn't even demand a correction.

He just said he thought I ought to know.

Scott, you are my main man forever and a day. Thank you so much for your patience with me, and for your good spirit.

I wish I could tell you that the furnace blew up the night before I wrote the first item, and I was cleaning up hot oil for hours. Or that the cat needed my help to study for finals.

I can't tell you any such thing.

I blew it. Flat out.

I'm now going to stop beating my head against a wall, because I'm told that it feels good when you stop.

But I shouldn't stop. This one is aw-w-w-wful.

While I'm at it, I owe an apology to grocery clerks from sea to shining sea. As one put it, in an e-mail message, "None of the girls would last a second if we did something like this."

Quite so. Thanks, Madame Clerk, for writing. Sorries one last time to all who were misled.

I'm not quite ready to hang a "Historic" license plate around my neck (although the previous item might make you think I should). But I had one of those head-turning moments the other day. I passed a white 1961 Pontiac Tempest sporting such plates on Bladensburg Road.


A pearl white Temp!

Just like the ones we used to drive!

Temps were the coolest wheels for the coolest guys on my high school football team (of course, I was the coolest of the cool -- just ask me).

The Temp was going in the opposite direction on Bladensburg, so I couldn't catch up to ask about the car or the owner. But as I ruminated about the sighting that night, two thoughts stuck in my head.

Thought One: Since when is a 42-year-old car considered "historic" by the state of Maryland?

Okay, 42 years is not exactly hot off the assembly line. But when I think of "historic" cars, I think of Model T's and Stanley Steamers -- gag cars that you see in July Fourth parades.

Thought Two: Maybe Maryland has rules for this.

It does indeed. A clerk at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration said that any Maryland car that's at least 25 years old can be decked out in "historic" plates. The only requirement: The car cannot be driven daily.

There's no special application process and no limit to the number of "historic" plates that one person can own, the clerk said. You bring registration and insurance information into any MVA office, ask for a "historic" tag and swear that the car won't be driven daily. Wham. It's yours.

But age shouldn't be the only standard. Coolness has to be part of it, too.

How about two kinds of tags, Maryland: "cool historic" and "dumpy historic"?

"Cool historic" for cars with a personality, like the pearl white 1961 Temp.

"Dumpy historic" for vehicles that are simply old -- like the 1960 Ford Econoline van I once owned.

It was a loaf of bread on wheels. It had no soul whatsoever. It was white. It was dull. It was certainly serviceable. But why suggest that it played an important part in the social progress of our land? It didn't.

Is there a certain Temp driver out there who'd like to get behind this idea?

I'll even sing vintage rock songs to get you in the mood, cool sir. "Historic" rock songs, you might call them.