How many times do we beat our gums about utilities that offer too little service? Here, friends and neighbors, is the story of a utility that offered too much.

The utility is Maryland Natural Gas, the Free State subsidiary of Washington Gas. MNG serves Kensington, and one of its customers on Parkwood Drive is Steve Gasque.

Steve is like many householders nowadays. Both he and his wife work, so it's very difficult for them to be home during the week to let MNG get inside and read the gas meter.

MNG sends registered letters to customers like this, asking them to call to set up weekend appointments. Steve did so -- or rather, he thought he had done so -- for the morning of Saturday, Oct. 10.

By midmorning that day, when no meter reader had shown up, Steve called MNG's main service line to ask what the trouble was. He was assured that a reader was on the way.

This ballet played out exactly the same way, four more times, throughout the day, right until close of business. Yes, sir, oh, yes, he's on the way, Steve was told, time after time. But no meter reader ever showed.

Steve figured he'd worry about rescheduling the appointment on Monday. But on Sunday, at 8 a.m., the doorbell rang. It was Meter Reader One.

Steve let him in. The reader did his thing. He left. Steve figured that was that.

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Meter Reader Two showed up. Slightly puzzled, Steve let him in. He did his thing. He left. Steve figured that was that.

At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Meter Reader Three showed up. Steve asked if he was aware of the previous visits of his colleagues. MR3 wasn't.

However, he looked as if he wanted to read Steve's meter anyway. So Steve let him. The reader did his thing. And he left.

"Do you think this is it?" Steve asked me. "Do you think MNG is finished now? Do you think I can take a shower without fearing that a meter reader is going to ring my doorbell again?"

The answer to all three questions is yes, according to Al Manilli, director of MNG's meter reading department.

"It sounds to me like the service people kept making up service orders every time he called," Al speculated. They shouldn't have, of course, but Steve can give you chapter and verse on the difference between "shouldn't have" and "did."

More on service visits to the home -- this time, a silk purse of an idea out of a sow's ear of a situation.

Larry Geneback of Amissville, Va., had arranged with a company to install a garage door at his home. Like Steve, he arranged the visit for a Saturday. Like Steve, he cooled his heels all day long as the door installers didn't show up.

On Monday, Larry called the company to ask what had happened. The lady in charge did not apologize or explain. Instead, she offered to send installers out the next day.

Larry said that wouldn't do. Whereupon the lady said, well, okay, sorry, and hung up.

At least Larry hasn't been the victim of a garage door that was installed sloppily. But he is out an entire Saturday. He wonders why companies that stiff waiting customers shouldn't pay a penalty -- say, $25 for each time they fail to show up without calling.

Businesses will scream that not showing up is sometimes the result of circumstances beyond their control. Fine. They wouldn't pay a penalty if that were the case.

But when a no-show is clearly the fault of the company, $25 seems a fair price.

It seems the District government has gotten into the business of predicting death.

"A Faithful Reader" tells of working in a law firm on a matter involving a deceased client. The reader obtained an official death certificate from the city. The client's death occurred on Aug. 9, 1987. The official certificate was dated July 12, 1987.

Ben Willis of McLean says the father of two young sons told it to him at a recent party:

"We used to call it home. Now we call it Boys 'R' Us."

Good piece of advice, as originally offered by Mark Patinkin in The Providence Journal:

Never buy a used car if the radio buttons are all on hard rock stations.

Thanks, Melora Anderson of Brentwood, for this bumper sticker sighting: