We've all seen it happen. A man spots a pretty woman in a public place. He decides that, with a little sweet talk, the woman will think he's the greatest thing since pepperoni pizza and will allow herself to be picked up.

Sometimes it works. Much more often, the man gets a brushoff. But some men fly off the handle when the brushoff is applied -- which is an understatement for what happened on Feb. 4 aboard a crowded Red Line subway train.

A man boarded at Metro Center and sat down next to a pretty woman. As soon as he noticed her, he launched into his act: Ah, how gorgeous she looked, how lovely were her eyes, and so on. But the woman paid no attention to him.

Obviously frustrated, the man suddenly turned to a nearby passenger and demanded in a loud, foul-mouthed voice that Nearby Passenger stop staring at him.

Nearby Passenger said nothing. At Farragut North, he got off -- and then got right back on the same car, at the other end, to continue his journey.

Big mistake. Foul Mouth spotted him, and lurched down the aisle after him. More vicious curses followed. Then Foul Mouth lurched back the length of the car to where Pretty Woman was still sitting.

A passenger tried to intervene at this point, but Foul Mouth screamed out: "I am on my way to the White House to shoot the president and rape his wife!"

He added that he planned to buy a double-barreled shotgun, and to use it to shoot the president.

At Woodley Park, Pretty Girl had had enough. She ran off the train and up the escalator, with Foul Mouth in hot pursuit.

That's the end of the story, as far as I can learn. Metro police have no record of any disturbances or arrests at the Woodley Park station on the date in question. Sounds to me as if Pretty Girl was fast enough to evade her pursuer. At least, I hope so.

But there's a big unanswered question here: What could the other passengers on the train have done while the diatribes were going on?

Certainly, no one should have taken this guy on directly. He might have been armed. He obviously was off his rocker -- probably with some help from chemicals, or alcohol, or both.

Best bet, in this and similar situations, is to use the intercom at the end of each car to call the motorman. Tell him what's going on and tell him you need a cop at the next station, without delay.

By the way, it's a federal offense to threaten the life of the president, even if you only do it verbally, and even if you're obviously too disoriented to carry out your threats.

Anyone who witnessed Foul Mouth's act should call the Washington Field Office of the Secret Service (535-5100) and describe him. It's dollars to doughnuts that Foul Mouth is going to offer a repeat performance. When he does -- or better yet, before he does -- let's help the authorities put him away for good.

Poking fun at a town can be a big ho-ho. But when you're 160 miles off base, as the crow flies, and as I was, the joke's on you.

Some joke! I think everyone who has ever set foot in Chico, Calif., has been calling and writing since Feb. 5.

That was the fateful day on which I reported that Chico, not Washington, was the original butt of Velveeta-in-the-gourmet-food-section jokes. Then I described Chico as "scruffy," and called it a San Francisco suburb.

Steve Roots of Alexandria was nicer than most correspondents. He said I'd find Chico if I "look about 90 miles straight north of Sacramento."

In other words, Chico is about as close to San Francisco as Nevada.

"Chico is the home of a fine college, Chico State University, and the city is far from being scruffy," wrote Peggy Trumbo of Alexandria, who just spent two years stationed at a nearby Air Force base. "A visit to Chico, its good restaurants and quaint shops is a delight. You should go sometime."

Before Feb. 5, I might have considered it, Peggy. Now I'd have to go by armored car.

Another protest comes from Lyn Nofziger, a longtime political operative in the land of sunshine and Golden Bears. Nofziger helped to elect A Certain California Governor who later became A Certain Chief Executive.

"Do all of us Californians a favor and please stick to what you know, which isn't Chico," Brother Nofziger writes. You can count on it, kind sir.

Finally, this excellent sauce-for-the-goose point, from the pen of Robert Whiting of Bethesda:

"How would you feel," wonders Robert, "if some newspaper guy in San Francisco started taking potshots at the restaurants in Prince George's County? Bad enough. But what would you say if he accused P.G. of being north of Baltimore?"

I'd say, "Get out a map before you get out a typewriter, buster." Which is exactly what I should have said to myself. May Velveeta have a long and happy life. Chico, too.