AS MARKET statistics show, anyone can eat an ice cream cone. Anyone can sing, too. But like most singing, almost nobody eats an ice cream cone well enough.

Most people, for instance, spoil the finale before they start. You must take off that flimsy little napkin that is wrapped around the bottom of your cone. It certainly can't stem the tide of dripping ice cream, and anyway, licking your fingers is a far sweeter ending than wadding a soggy little paper rectangle.

Now take a lick. Go ahead. But pay attention--it's important. You can't be talking or counting your change with that first lick. It is the introduction, your opportunity for love at first bite. A shy and delicate lick will do, but not an absentminded one.

It is not time yet for the big bite. First comes the evening-out process, one long lick around the base of the ice cream, where it meets the cone. This protects those bare fingers from stray drips, saves precarious blobs from being lost, renders the cone symmetrical--and tastes wholly satisfying.

Two licks so far, one short and one long. Next, a bite. Just the front teeth. A clean, modest bite, to give the taste buds at the back of the mouth a chance, and to give the tongue a rest from the numbing cold.

Just as some like vanilla and some like mocha-berry-rum cheescake, there is room for variation in the process of devouring a cone. And now is the time for creativity, for expressing your individual cone-eating inclinations. You can continue to lick--round and round or from bottom to top (NEVER top to bottom), revolving the cone 20 degrees at each lick to allow a decent overlap. Or you can bite--one bite after another--or even alternate bites and licks. Or you can drop it on the sidewalk and let the dog lick it up.

Once you are truly experienced, you will learn to take flavor into account in your technique. Toasted almond ice cream deserves a few bites to appreciate the contrast of crunch and smoothness, while butterscotch swirl is at its most exciting when long, slow licks highlight the alternate flavors. With chocolate it doesn't matter, since eating chocolate ice cream is an addiction rather than an art.

Your character is bared during this middle stage: the provident push the scoop a little deeper in the cone with each lick. The profligate finish all the ice cream before they ever get to the cone.

At this point, some people bite a hole in the end of the cone and suck the remaining ice cream through or let it drip. Some day there will be a law against that.

However you have reached the cone, you now are headed for trouble. Most people, particularly adults, waste the opportunity presented by the cone. They consider it anticlimatic and merely gobble it. Some, in a fit of caloric guilt, even throw it away. That's akin to throwing away the baby after saving the bathwater.

Watch a child, an unspoiled child. Children savor the cone; prolong it. They know how long it can be between ice cream cones. And what pleasure there is in still having yours when your sister has finished hers.

Take small bites, creating little scallops around the top. Push the ice cream deeper after completing each circuit. It is possible to make ice cream and cones, unlike coffee and doughnuts, come out even. That is your goal.

And, finally, you have a small pointed nub of a cone filled with a few chews and it is gone, except for the memory.

And the chance to lick your fingers.

Congratulations. You have just completed the course in enjoying the greatest of manmade pleasures in the most ecologically sound package: the ice cream cone.