The readers ask, the columnist answers:

From Daniel Chester of Laurel: "I went into a major chain bookstore the other day, and as I always do, I headed straight for the rack marked 'Books About $1.' I found a novel I had missed three years ago, when it was published, so I picked it up and went to pay for it. It wasn't until I got to the cashier that I noticed the price was $1.98. I asked the cashier why it wasn't in the rack marked 'Books About $2.' He said, 'Because the price begins with a one.' I figured I wouldn't bother to waste good logic on an imbecile like that, so I paid for the book and left. But isn't there a law about this?"

Not one that covers this situation exactly, Daniel. There's no legal definition of the phrase "about $1," so it can mean anything anyone wants it to mean. Just because the book is closer in price to $2 than to $1 doesn't mean it isn't still priced at "about $1." So I wouldn't lick my chops in anticipation of a court order requiring all $1.98 books to be reshelved in the "about $2" rack.

However, in my book (if you'll excuse the expression), this is a deceptive consumer practice. I'm forwarding your letter to the D.C. government's consumer agencies, and to the Better Business Bureau. Even though the law doesn't define "about $1.98," common sense does.

From Christine Jaquith of Northwest: "I got on the elevator to go up to my office the other day, and a man was already on it. He was smoking a cigarette. I can't stand smoke, so I asked him to put it out. He refused, saying there was no sign in the elevator, so he didn't have to. He was right; no sign was posted. But isn't smoking in elevators illegal anyway?"

It sure is, Christine. The sign must have been missing because of an oversight, or as a result of vandalism. Municipal codes everywhere in the area require that no-smoking signs be posted -- but smoking is forbidden whether a sign happens to be there or not.

From Stacy Priest of Northwest: "I'm 15 and I baby-sit a lot for one of my neighbors -- at least I used to. The problem is, a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting for Jenny (she's six) when a statue fell off a table and broke. Jenny's mother said it was very expensive and had a lot of sentimental value and she wants me to pay for it. It costs $350! I told her that the cat knocked it off the table while Jenny and I were watching TV, but she accused me of lying. Bob, it's the truth, I swear. What should I do?"

Won't Jenny vouch for you? If so, you're off the hook. If not, or if the mother thinks you and Jenny have cooked up a conspiracy to protect you both, I'd ask one of your parents to step in and talk to Jenny's mother. I know it's tempting to go this one alone, particularly since you've got the truth on your side. But no 15-year-old should take on an adult--especially an angry adult -- all by herself.

From Gil Mortensen of Fairfax: "My daughter (13) told me the other night that some friend of hers called her 'a real Valley Girl.' I had no idea what that meant -- I mean, how can you keep up with all the expressions kids have? So I asked her what it meant, and she said if I didn't know, she wasn't going to tell me. Kids! Anyway, I figured you were either as out of it as I am, or you could find out."

Out of it? Me? Just because the only frames of reference I trust are Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Bill Haley and the Comets?

I should be mortally offended, Gil, but we fathers have to stick together. Besides, I wasn't sure of the answer myself! But my research staff has scoured the globe, and the answer is . . .

It's Valley Girls as in San Fernando, as in that great expanse of trend-setting suburbia near Los Angeles.

Valley Girls wear miniskirts.

Valley Girls wear makeup that splits the difference between punk and preppy.

Valley Girls care about boys, money and grades, in that order.

Valley Girls chew gum a lot. And blow bubbles with it.

Valley Girls begin every sentence with "Like, y'know . . . "

In short, Gil, they're the sort of girls you and I used to date. So, like, y'know, grin and bear it. At least your daughter doesn't have purple hair.