The other day, I was invited to a formal function, so I rented a tuxedo. It came carefully wrapped in a piece of opaque plastic. "Who needs this?" I asked, as I wadded up the crinkly covering and threw it in the trash. The next morning, I got my answer, the hard way.

The first sign of trouble came at the bus stop. As I stood there, tuxedo on hanger, hanger held in right hand, a woman ambled past.

"You running away from home?" the woman asked.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Are you . . . I mean, I just thought you were running away from home and didn't have time to pack."

"No, nothing like that," I said. "This is just a rented tuxedo."

"Oh," said the woman. Whereupon she resumed ambling. You could almost hear her saying to herself, "Wow, the nuts that live in this neighborhood nowadays."

The bus came. I took a seat in the back. I hung hanger and contents on a little piece of metal that helps keep the window shut. I sat back and started to read the paper.

Bong!

The hanger had fallen off the piece of metal and had snagged the cord that signals the driver to stop. I could see the bussie staring in the rear-view mirror, wondering why no one had gotten up and started for an exit.

"Sorry," I called out. "It was my tuxedo. I mean, it just fell."

He glared at me in the mirror. Bus drivers see and hear everything, I know. But tuxedos that ring bells? I got off through the back door so I wouldn't have to explain any further. As if I could have.

Ten minutes later, I was on the subway. A metal rail runs the length of each car, two inches below the ceiling. They must have known I was coming, I decided, as I hung hanger and tux, thinking that at least I'd get the Style section read before I got downtown.

"Excuse me, is that yours?"

I looked up from a movie review. My interrogator was a man in his 40s -- suit, tie, briefcase, scarf. With a heavy heart, I said, "Yes, it's mine."

"Are you a mortician?"

"Am I a what?"

"A mortician. You know, someone who runs funerals. I was just wondering because I went to a funeral last month and the mortician was wearing a suit that looks very much like that."

"That's not a suit, sir. It's a tuxedo. See the satin lapels?"

He saw them. But he wasn't through.

"Well, what are you then?" he asked. "A maitre d'?"

I wish I had told him, no, I'm an international jewel thief. But that's the kind of line that occurs to you two hours later. As Farragut North loomed, I answered:

"No, I'm just a guy who's going to be sure to keep the plastic next time.