Afunny thing happens when you try to call the D.C. police department's violent crimes branch.

Sometimes the person who answers the phone is the home ec teacher at Ballou High School.

Not entirely coincidentally, a funny thing happens when you try to call the home ec room at Ballou High School.

Sometimes the person who answers the phone is an officer with the D.C. police department's violent crimes branch.

That's because they have the same number, and who you get on the line depends on who picks up the ringing phone first.

Now, there were some formidable home ec teachers in my day. I have no doubt that some of them would be able to catch a vicious murderer. And I'll bet there are some seasoned police detectives who are adept at whipping up a tasty tuna casserole. But these are roles that are at pretty opposite ends of the spectrum.

(Unless. . . . Get me Steven Bochco on the line! I see a new drama series: "Introducing 'CS: Washington.' By day she's a culinary science teacher at the local high school. By night she solves crimes using her forensic skills. Look twice before you eat the leftovers in her fridge. It could be evidence.")

So what's up? Well, I called my friends at Verizon, and they said, "Obviously, DC-NET has a porting issue."

Obviously, I said. Then I said: What's that mean exactly?

Well, it seems that the D.C. government is in the process of taking over all of its telecommunications functions from Verizon. When it's completed, DC-NET will link 400 District government buildings with a fiber-optic network. It's costing $66 million to install but is meant to save money in the long run.

There have been a few glitches along the way and so, naturally, Verizon assumed the home ec/violent crime mix-up was a DC-NET problem.

But then Verizon called back and said, um, actually that's one of the numbers that hasn't been switched over to DC-NET yet. They said they'd look into it.

Yesterday I received this e-mail from Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap:

"This number was mistakenly assigned to Ballou High School in March when the school requested a new line.

"The number was already in use by a Metropolitan Police Department office.

"Verizon has internal processes that would normally detect an attempt to assign an already working number, but this mistake is a result of human error. Incidentally, neither customer reported the mix-up to Verizon.

"We are working with the school to assign a new number to them ASAP, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused."

Glad that's cleared up.

After the Fall

All she wanted to do was bring a little seasonal cheer to the Fairfax County elementary school her two sons attend and where she chairs the landscape committee. And so she got a few hay bales, some chrysanthemums and a $10 scarecrow she bought at Michaels. She arranged this little seasonal tableau near the school's flagpole.

And then the principal told her that some other parents objected to the scarecrow. Too reminiscent of Halloween, they said. And Halloween is related to devil-worshiping. And the devil is, you know, bad.

"Since when does a scarecrow have anything to do with Satan?" asked the mom.

She said she loves the school and she loves the principal. She asked that I not use her name or the name of the school, since she doesn't want her kids made fun of. But she's flabbergasted by the whole affair.

"What's wrong with just celebrating fall?" she wonders.

The scarecrow mom admits she should have gotten the principal's permission before putting up the display. But she wonders why "it's those who are uninformed who govern what we can do. Why couldn't the principal just say: 'You misunderstand. It's in celebration of the harvest.' "

She took down the scarecrow -- and the hay bales, since they were regarded as a fire hazard.

Confidential to the Halloween naysayers: Satan isn't real. I've tried to sell my soul to the devil countless times -- for the ability to hit a 300-yard drive or play the guitar solo in "My Sharona" or fix a leaking head gasket on a 1968 Datsun. So far I have nothing to show for it.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

More interesting business juxtapositions and funny signs from readers:

Laurie McCarriar sent me a photo of a store she passes on Route 3 west of Fredericksburg. The sign reads: "Cleaners Ice Cream & Bait."

Said Laurie: "Just the idea of going into a store for ice cream and bait, and amid the fumes from the cleaners. . . ."

Nightcrawler Ripple, anyone?

There used to be a Montgomery Donuts next to the LA Weight Loss Center in Gaithersburg. "Cruel," said Kathy Beach.

Leesburg's Sally Tilson said that when she and her son were driving in Pennsylvania recently, they passed a cemetery that had a sign on the entrance gate that read "No Outlet."

"I giggled the whole afternoon," said Sally.

My daughter Gwyneth spotted an eerily prescient juxtaposition of businesses on Georgia Avenue in Aspen Hill. There's a restaurant called the Magic of New Orleans right behind an Italian ice franchise called Rita's.

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