Dick Skinner's first sentence brought me to attention, much like two cups of morning coffee. "Thought you'd like to know," his letter began, "that the Metro station at Silver Spring is now a whittle stop."

After rereading the sentence three times to make sure Dick hadn't really written "whistle," I resumed:

"There's grand-scale whittling going on. The action is at the intersection of Wayne Ave. and Colesville Road. . .

"Nearby is what seems to be the stump of an old tree, now encased in metal scaffolding. This morning, as my J-6 bus slowed to make the turn to drop us off at the Metro station, I saw people Doing Things on and inside the scaffolding. . .

"It occurred to me that since I'd like to know more about what's going on, maybe other Faithful Readers of BL's Was. would too."

Flattery will get you anywhere, Dick. Where it got me was onto the Red Line, for an in-person look. As soon as I got back to the office, I called for a full explanation from Tim Minerd, a planning and program corrdinator for the Montgomery County government.

Put down your toast so you won't choke.

The government is spending $2,000 to turn a dead tree stump into a piece of art.

"We hired a local artist named Michael Higgs, and we told him to bring that dead stump (17 feet high) back of life," Minerd said. Higgs has been at work with a special set of chisels since late May. He's expected to finish by mid-August.

Higg's sculpture looks a bit like a totem pole. At the six-foot mark, a forlorn face juts out of the oak. Two feet above it, there's another face, and two feet above that, still another. And so on.

The sculpture is part of a $3.5 million revitalization program being conducted all around downtown Silver Spring. The money comes from the county's own coffers, not Uncle Sam's, Minerd explained. "We've had a lot of favorable responses, and can already tell by the attention this has gotten that we're helping to revitalize Silver Spring," he said.

I'm not persuaded.

The villain certainly isn't Michael Higgs. It's all too easy to ridicule art and artists. He's got a right to eat.

My question is: why use taxpayers' money for this?

Find a foundation with two grand to donate. Pass the hat among Silver Spring residents. Best of all, put the touch on county businessmen the way the county police did so successfully two years ago when they wanted to raise a reward fund for their Crime Solvers club.

Successful businessmen don't back projects that aren't going to work. If they think rehabilitating a tree will make for a better business climate, they'll be the first to ante up.

Dict Skinner was right. They're Doing Things at the site of the stump. What they're doing is spending public money in strange fashion.

Hooray for 77-year-old Ted F. Silvey of Glover Park. We Milquetoasts only dream of Talking Back to Business. Last week, Ted did it -- and got results.

The basic trouble is that Ted can't bear to stand in lines. He especially can't bear to stand in lines at the grocery which exist solely because of six of the ten checkout lines aren't staffed. And he isn't in love with the explanation he says he always gets from store managers: the higher-ups won't hire enough checkout clerks.

So Ted has taken to shouting.

Last week, at the Giant Food store at Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street NW, Ted found himself still four cartfuls from the cash register after ten minutes. So he cried out, loud enough for the whole store to hear:

"Hey, we've got money to spend here! I thought you were in business to make money! Don't you want our money? If you don't want to come and take my money, I'm walking out of this store without paying!"

Presto: an assistant manager came rushing up to see what the trouble was. Once Ted explained, the assistant opened up a fresh checkout line.

A triumph?Hardly, "I turned awaw for just a second," Ted says. "By the time I turned around, three other shoppers had cut in front of me and were standing in the new line."