The 16-ounce bottles of beer that I buy at the liquor store used to cost just under $6 for a case of 24. Now the 24 bottles cost just over $6, or roughly 26 cents each. At retail. For 16 ounces, not 12.

In a restaurant, one can buy a full meal for around $6 and then spend $1.25 for a single 12-ounce bottle of beer to go with it.

The diner sometimes wonders: How can they provide all that food (much of which must be cleaned, peeled, grated, sliced, chopped, combined, mixed, seasoned and/or cooked) for such a modest price, and then charge five times their cost for a bottle of beer (which doesn't require anything except chilling)?

Herm Albright may have a clue for us. He says Purdue University's hotel school has figured out that it costs at least 12 cents for a restaurant to serve a glass of water with a meal!

The water itself may cost only a tiny fraction of a penny. But a restaurateur must buy glasses, replace them as they break, and wash them when they get dirty. He must buy a dishwasher, pay for the water and electricity it uses, pay for the ice that goes into the glass of water, and for the labor involved in all this. The bottom line is that a glass of water costs 12 cents or more.

During the Depression, we used to joke about lunching on "a glass of water and toothpick." These days, a bare-bones budget wouldn't have room for the toothpick.

I don't know where inflation is leading us or how much longer it must run before it comes crashing down around our ears, but I'll tell you this: A $1.25 glass of bear is a minor - and avoidable - annoyance. But a 12-cent glass of water is symbolic of a problem that we're going to have to face.

"Please don't use my name in the paper," she said. "I'm embarrassed enough as it is. But I do feel an obligation to warn others about the way I was taken in by a couple of young sharpies.

"They came to the door and said they were working their way through med school by painting house numbers on curbs for only $3 a set, so I said sure, why not. They painted the numbers, I paid them the money, and then two days later came the rude awakening."

"What happened?" I asked.

"It started to rain," she said, "and in a few minutes the numbers on my curbs were completely obliterated. The first rain washed them away."

"I wonder what they used for paint," I said.

"We'll never know," she said, "but I can tell you this.Some neighborhood youngsters came around a few days later and offered to paint our house numbers on the curb with an oil-based paint for $2. I know these kids, so I told them to go ahead, and despite all the rain we've had this week, their numbers are still clearly visible. So I just thought you might want to warn your readers."

"Thank you," I said. "With summer coming on, this is probably a good time for the reminder that all sorts of conmen - and boys - will be working their way through residential areas with the same old stories that have been so profitable for them in the past. 'We've just finished a roofing job down the street and have some material left over so we can offer you a big bargain,' for example."

"Yes," she said. "And, 'Inasmuch as our crews are in this area already, we can give you a free furnace inspection.' And the one I got hooked on a few years ago: 'As we were passing we noticed that your driveway needs a new layer of blacktop, so we happen to have some material left over from another job, so we can give you a real bargain.' What a painful memory that one is."

"Why?" I asked. "Didn't their resurfacing job hold up."

"How could it have?" she said. "They didn't resurface the driveway. They just spread some black oil over it. It looked impressive - but for six months afterward we couldn't use the driveway without getting black gook over everything that touched it."

"Gee," I said.

"And you know something?" she added. "Now that I think about it, the young men who sold me the disappearing house numbers bore a striking resemblance to the ones who cheated me on the driveway repair. I wonder if they're all part of the same family."

We'll never know the answer to that one, either. But this is the time of the year to be wary of repairmen who "just happen to be passing " - and will probably never pass your way again. Don't let them hurry you into saying "yes."