And the Oscar for Rudest Film Crew Goes to . . .

Ah, la vie boheme! Freezing in basement rooms, starving for one's art, living for the moment, sticking it to The Man . . . experience it all in Sony Pictures' $40 million adaptation of the Broadway blockbuster "Rent"! And if it seems the movie captured the essence of what it's like to be an impoverished young artist -- well, maybe that's because it seems to have captured a bit of Nicholas Church. And he's not very happy about it.

Church, 22, an activist and self-described "traveler," was living hand-to-mouth in NYC last year. One December day he was playing his melodica (a curious horn-keyboard combo) and selling paintings in Tompkins Square Park, hoping to earn enough to get home to Gaithersburg for the holidays. Three people approached with a camera and asked if they could film him -- for a "student film," he says they told him. He agreed, and signed a waiver.

The Magruder High grad said he remembered the encounter because of what followed: He asked the group for "a couple bucks," saying he needed $5 to get home. One man waved a five in his face, then handed him two ones instead, smirking that "you only get what you ask for in life."

"I was dumbfounded by how rude he was," said Church, who was so appalled he told his parents the story as soon as he made it home.

Flash forward a year: Church's older brother was sitting in a theater watching "Rent" last week. Midway through, as a main character filmed a street-life "documentary," a familiar shaggy head popped onto the screen.

"At first I thought, 'Wow, that guy looks a lot like my brother,' " said Ben Church, 27. "Then I realized he was playing the melodica. I thought, 'Nick plays that -- oh my God, that was Nick!' " Nick, now living in Asheville, N.C., has since received several e-mails from friends around the country who also spotted the roughly three-second cameo and believe it is him.

Sony representatives did not return calls for comment by press time. Though Church said he's dismayed if his image was used in a big-budget film, "I recognize I gave up all legal rights by signing" a document he may not have read carefully.

"I'm more concerned by how they treated me," he said. "If they had given me the $5 or bought a painting, I wouldn't have had a problem with it. He acted like he was teaching me an important life lesson giving me only two bucks."

And in response to your next question -- nope, and he's not planning to see it either.

If I Have to Lick One More Envelope . . .

It's only Dec. 1, and George and Laura Bush already have mailed their Christmas cards, which are arriving in the homes of 1.4 million friends, friends of friends, non-friends who might become friends, friends from elections past and dignitaries in 200 countries. Artist Jamie Wyeth, son of Andrew, depicted a snow-covered White House South Portico with the Jackson magnolia tree and first pets Barney, Miss Beazley and India Bush on the grounds. The Republican National Committee is picking up the tab for the cards, but a spokesman wouldn't tell us the cost. We'll just have to wait for the Federal Election Commission filing, which spreads our Christmas cheer into the New Year.

LOVE, ETC.

Pregnant, Part 1: Actors Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann are expanding the franchise. The 41-year-old "Law & Order" star and her husband (they met on the set of the hit series) are expecting their first child. No word when the little spinoff is due.

Pregnant, Part 2: Model Karen Elson and Grammy winner Jack White are also expecting their first baby. Big year for the White Stripes singer-songwriter-guitarist, who broke up with actress Renee Zellweger last December, married Elson in a canoe on the Amazon in June and will be a dad next spring. No word if bandmate-fake sister-ex-wife Meg White gets to be godmother or fake aunt.

SURREAL ESTATE

Seller: John Bullock

Price: $1.1 million

Details: The father of actress Sandra Bullock finally said goodbye to her childhood home in Arlington -- and made a very nice profit to boot. Bullock and his late wife, Helga, bought the four-bedroom rambler in 1966 for $40,000, and their two daughters grew up in the Woodmont neighborhood not far from the movie star's alma mater, Washington-Lee High School. Dad now works for his daughter's production company and splits his time between Austin and Hollywood, so no more "Miss Congeniality" sightings in her old stomping grounds.