First up this morning: two stories that say something about the Human Condition. What they say, I'm not quite sure.

The first took place one day last week when Joe Fiorill was standing in the Cup'a Cup'a coffee shop at 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, about to order his 11 a.m. cafe latte. A FedEx driver walked in to make a delivery. Joe watched as the Cup'a Cup'a lady signed for the package.

It was from the Kennedy Center, which, if you'll recall, is also on New Hampshire Avenue. In fact, it's across the street from Cup'a Cup'a.

The package contained fliers for the center's free Millennium Stage performances. I asked the lady at Cup'a Cup'a whether this was a frequent occurrence, that is, sending fliers by FedEx as opposed to, oh I don't know, handing them to an intern who could walk them across the street.

"All the time," she said.

Our next story takes place at Northwood High School in Silver Spring. Construction is going on at the school: a new media center, air conditioning, more administrative offices. While the work is going on the fire alarm system is basically inoperable.

Wrote a Northwood parent: "In its place, they have hired eight individuals whose full day assignments are to go around looking and sniffing for smoke: human smoke detectors."

Well, it isn't always eight individuals, said Dennis Cross, project manager. Sometimes it's fewer, depending on how many people are in the school and where they are. And, yes, the job of these plucky bloodhounds, hired from a company that specializes in such things, is to be on firewatch duty: to keep their eyes peeled for fire, their noses peeled for smoke.

Dennis said it's all been approved by the county fire marshal. When the construction is done and the alarm is functioning, they'll go back to the old system, another example of humans being replaced by machines.

Turning Over a New Leaf

I heard a strange noise the other morning. It was a soft, rhythmic sound: short, sharp scrapes that every now and then had a musical ping!

The mysterious noise was pleasant, so I went in search of its source. I discovered that it was coming from my neighbor's front yard. That's where I found my neighbor himself, stroking the ground with some sort of primitive tool.

This implement consisted of a length of varnished wood -- about 5 feet long and as big around as a half-smoke. At one end was a set of flat metal tines painted a greenish color. The contraption looked a bit like a long-handled fan, although I don't think it would cool anyone off.

Instead, my neighbor seemed to be using it to remove leaves from his lawn. I watched, transfixed, from my side of the hedge.

It was ingenious, really. By dragging the tines across the grass, he could capture dozens of fallen leaves and arrange them into a rough pile. He could then move the pile closer and closer to the street, from whence they would be sucked up by the county in a few days' time.

I was going to ask him what the tool was called, and if he had made it himself or bought it from an itinerant craftsman. But just then I heard the braaaaaaap of a leaf blower from across the street. And then the braaaaaap of another further down the hill. Soon the air was filled with the unmistakable sound of small, gasoline-powered internal combustion engines internally combusting in all their eardrum-shattering glory: braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap!

It was too loud to have a conversation, so I retreated back inside the house.

Ahhh, autumn is in the air.

Talking Turkey (Not)

They don't have Thanksgiving in Romania. They do have a national day, Dec. 1, when good Romanians everywhere drink beer and eat mici (pronounced "meech").

Mici, said Lavinia Balaci, a 28-year-old Romanian who's lived in Washington for four years, "essentially are hamburgers but in the shape of a hot dog."

A hamburger shaped like a hot dog? Do we really want Romania in NATO?

Lavinia organizes something called Everything . . . But the Turkey, an event at the D.C. Jewish Community Center at which 300 volunteers prepare 4,000 Thanksgiving meals for area homeless people: coleslaw, stuffing, yams, green beans, mashed potatoes, peanut butter balls, oatmeal cookies, everything but, well, you know.

Why no turkeys? First of all, they don't have enough ovens at the JCC. Secondly, they would need the supervision of a rabbi, since all the food they prepare is kosher. So instead, the D.C. Central Kitchen supplies the turkeys and distributes the food to area shelters.

Lavinia's group does charity work year-round, but this annual event always seems to engage volunteers. "People do feel there's something about the holiday season that awakens the desire to serve and to help somebody that's underprivileged."

Lavinia said she's entranced by Thanksgiving.

"When I came here, I was exposed to the holiday and the spirit of the holiday and of course to the menu. And it's great. I wish we had a holiday like this in Romania."

And I wish I could eat a hamburger shaped like a hot dog.

Everything . . . But the Turkey is Nov. 21 and 23 from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. There's a $10 fee for participating adults to cover the cost of ingredients. Anyone who would like to volunteer should go to or call 202-518-9400, Ext. 581. Volunteers don't need to know how to cook.

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