There are certain unmistakable signs. The missus keeps borrowing my XL T-shirts. The mister keeps calculating college tuition costs in 2008. And Emily, their 1981 arrival, keeps staring into the cabinet and saying, "This will be my shelf, and this will be his shelf, and this will be my shelf . . . ."

It seems that the Leveys are expecting another Levey.

That is an exquisite pleasure for this graying Dad to announce, and to contemplate, and to await. It has been less of a pleasure for his still-all-brown spouse. "Pregnancy" and "picnic" are not synonyms. Ever since December, when she first said, "You know, I don't feel so good," Jane has been quite an uncomfortable human being.

In fact, the only saving grace of this pregnancy is that it will span only half the summer. The air traffic controllers in the obstetrician's office say we are cleared for a landing on Aug. 3. That means that The Ninth Month -- that time of sleeping on your side and straining to tie your shoes -- will take place when Washington is merely sticky, not when it is completely unbearable.

But this event promises to be no less blessed than it was for us nearly five years ago. The main difference seems to be in our perspective -- and in our preparations.

By the fifth month the first time around, we had bought a crib. We had picked the names. We had hung new curtains in the baby's room.

By the fifth month this time around, we haven't yet replaced the crib that Emily kicked and bounced to death. We are still discussing names -- and we haven't firmly agreed on either of the two "firsts" or either of the two "middles." As for curtains, those hanging in the baby's room look suspiciously like those that once hung in Emily's room.

But that's not to say we are blase. Sanguine might be more like it. Or worldly wise. Parenthood is a learning experience, after all, and 4 1/2 years of it has taught us plenty. A volley of tears at 3 a.m. will no longer make us think the world is coming to an end. We are seasoned. We are ready.

But is Emily? She claims to be. Still, there are signs of doubt.

The biggest is that she insists the baby will be a boy. That's insist in the sense of require, not in the sense of believe. As she puts it, "It's got to be a boy because I'm a girl." Obviously, she is staking out her position in the family pecking order the way a bouncer sets up outside the door of a nightclub.

I don't care a fig -- or a fig leaf -- about gender. "Just so long as it's healthy," I've been saying, just as I did half a decade ago. My main concern is that some of my Basic Dad Skills have started to rust.

I haven't changed a diaper in more than two years. I haven't coaxed a screaming child to stop throwing a tantrum in a store in nearly three. I could not swear before a court of law that I remember how to collapse a stroller with one hand.

But maybe Fatherhood the Second Time Around truly is like riding a bicycle. Maybe the "touch" will spring back. In any case, with three months to go, my excitement is as pronounced as it was the first time, even if our progress on curtains isn't. It will all be the same, and it will all be different. This August child can't come soon enough.

If you drive a car that looks as if it has been pelted by meteors, you have probably gotten an estimate from a body shop.

At which point you have probably said, "How much? Are you cra-a-a-a-a-zy?"

At which point you have probably zoomed out of the parking lot with a contemptuous squeal of rubber.

But those pock marks are still with you. Which makes you a ripe candidate for exactly the scam that landed on David Lewis of Arlington.

David was getting into his car in a parking lot near Baileys Crossroads when a fellow walked up to him and asked if he was interested in some body work. David said maybe, whereupon the walker-upper played his hole card.

"I'll fix the whole thing up, good as new, for $160," the guy said. "But I want to do it right now, at your place. I have my tools in my car."

David bit like a ravenous mackerel. The guy followed David to his home, and immediately started to work in the driveway. But imagine David's surprise when the guy announced just 15 minutes later that he was finished.

Finished? The car still had half its dents. The other half had been modestly pounded out, and had been covered over with a thin dab of putty. The car looked worse than it had before the guy started.

"I thought you said you'd finish it," said David.

"I meant I'd finish getting it ready. But isn't what I did worth, oh, $100?" the guy wondered.

David says he doesn't know why he agreed, but he did. He now calls himself "$100 poorer, and $100 wiser."

Message to other drivers of other dented cars: If you don't deal with a reputable dealership, or a reputable mechanic, the biggest dent of all will be to your pocketbook.