A newcomer to River City writes that she has figured out what makes this remarkable place tick.

We Washingtonians snort.

"I have never heard such a cacophony of inhalations as I've heard in this city," writes the newcomer.

"I don't mean the illegal kind of snorting. I mean the good old disgusting post-nasal-drip kind.

"I might have thought I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but on two separate occasions outside of the D.C. area, my fears were confirmed.

"At a conference in San Francisco, I heard the familiar 'kkkggggghkkh' on the other side of a bulletin board. When I came around the side, I was silently betting myself that I knew where that person came from. Sure enough, the name tag said 'Arlington, Va.'

"Then, when I was on a trans-Atlantic flight returning from Europe on the way to Dulles, I was blasted out of my snort-free vacation by a chorus of the familiar sounds . . . .

"In fact, public transportation seems to be the favorite 'trumpeting' area for the breed. I first noticed it on the Metro.

"Do people in D.C. actually think no one minds listening to this? In other parts of the country, people apologize for making these sounds accidentally. Here they seem to revel in it. Is it a cultural bonding, a localism by which DC-ites recognize each other, something like whale sonar?

"Do you have an answer, Mr. Levey?"

I think I do, Ms. Newcomer.

It's called pollen.

Since you're new to these precincts, perhaps your sinuses haven't yet had to cope with Those Sneaky Yellow Particles. Or perhaps you're one of those fortunate (and rare) few whose sinuses don't start waterfalling the second that a pollen particle happens past.

I don't wish upon you the same drippy misfortune that the rest of us suffer. I only wish to point out that, when pollen season arrives on the banks of the Potomac, it doesn't dominate the agenda. It is the agenda.

You are absolutely correct, though, that Washingtonians could do a better job of concealing their snorts. I have let loose with many public kkkggggghkkhs when propriety would have said I shouldn't.

But I just couldn't help it! My head was so clogged that all I could think of was getting it declogged.

I realize this sounds like the under-the-bare-light-bulb confession of a mass murderer. I realize I am saying that your sense of public decency is less important to me than freeing up my nose. And I realize that, logically, my position is hogwash.

So I'll do this for you, Ms. Newcomer. I'll urge the snuffling masses to use handkerchiefs and tissues. We will not make Washington snortless. But at least we can make the snorts more decorous, and a little more muffled.

Two entries in the "Hey, I've Always Wondered About That" file. Both concern the police.

Wonder No. One: Scott Peters of Potomac says he often passes a private school in Georgetown where a crossing guard is stationed. In the course of her duties, Scott says, the guard often directs traffic -- which means she often causes traffic to back up for several blocks. Scott wonders if she has the authority to do this on behalf of the school, which is a private business.

She has that authority, Scott, but only that authority, according to D.C. police spokesman Quintin Peterson.

Crossing guards cannot make arrests or write tickets. And their powers are no different if they are working outside a public school or a private one.

Wonder No. Two: Bill Sherman of Northwest would like to know why traffic cops in Washington seem to have gone the way of dinosaurs. Says Bill:

"It really doesn't take much brains to see that a cop at the corner of Connecticut and K at 5:30, moving cars along, keeping them from blocking cross-traffic, holding up pedestrians to let cars make right turns, would be money well spent."

Says Quintin Peterson:

"Traffic cops? You mean white gloves, blowing the whistle and things like that? That's only done if the signals don't work. That's why they created those signals. If we had a guy out there every day at 5:30, then people would say, 'Don't cops have anything better to do than direct traffic? Go catch criminals!' "

Says I: Brother Peterson may well be right. But it wouldn't cost much money or manpower to find out. If New York and Chicago think traffic cops are worth it -- and they do -- can't we take the hint?

Sign on a bulletin board in a Lanham grocery: "Home computer for sale. Never been figured out."