This is not a story that turns up frequently. But each time I encounter it, the details are almost exactly the same.

A hit show is advertised. A theater-goer immediately sends in a check and asks for tickets to a performance two or three weeks ahead.

Days pass. No tickets arrive.

Finally, a day or so before the date of the performance, a phone call is made. "You've cashed my check, but I haven't received the tickets yet," the caller says. And the answer comes back, "Oh, dear! Well, you know how the mails are these days. Hold on a minute while I check. Ah, yes, here we are. Your seat numbers are soandso and soandso. Just identify yourself to the head usher when you get here and everything will be taken care of."

Relieved, the caller and his or her companion set off for the theater. When they arrive, the head usher knows nothing about their problem. Being shown to the proper seats turns out to be a more complicated project than the telephone conversation indicated it would be.

Nevertheless, the theatergoers are eventually seated. They open their programs and prepare themselves for an evening of pleasure.

But moments before the lights dim, an usher escorts two latecomers down the aisle, and of course they stop alongside the two whose tickets were missing in the mails.

"May I see your stubs please? You don't have stubs? Well, I'm sorry, but there seems to be a mixup. These people have tickets for the seats you are in. Would you please come with me to the manager's office?"

The curtain rises as two embarrassed people follow the usher to a point outside the manager's office - where they are left to cool their heels for 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually, the manager emerges. An utterly predictable conversation begins.

"They told you on the phone those were your seats? Who told you? You don't know to whom you spoke? Do you have your voucher? What do you mean, 'What voucher'? Do you at least have your canceled check with you? You don't have the canceled check either?"

Do you carry your canceled checks around with you? No, they don't have their canceled check with them. It's at home. Well, the manager says, he's very sorry, but after all, the other people had ticket for those seats, and all you have is this story that you sent in a check and somebody whose name you don't know told you it would be all right to see the show without tickets. Really, now!

Once - just once - I'd like to get a report about missing tickets in which a theater manager has the guts to challenge the guy with the tickets and demand to know how he came into possession of tickets that were mailed to somebody else. If the theater's records show that Mr. A's check paid for two seats but Mr. B shows up with the tickets that were mailed to Mr.A, shouldn't that raise some questions in a manager's mind?

Yeah, I know. If I were a theater manager, I'd probably take the easy way out, too.Don't make waves. The assumption is that the person who holds the tickets is the person entitled to hold them. Trying to prove otherwise might keep three Philadelphia lawyers busy for four years. But there's got to be a better way to run a railroad.