To walk along a downtown Washington street is often to experience the bizarre. An umbrella in the temple. A blast of smoke from a passing Havana. A tourist who walks up to you at the corner of 17th and L and asks for directions to 17th and L.

But Terry Thatcher of Arlington has just redefined Bizarreness, D.C. Street Variety. Here's what Terry saw on Nov. 4:

"I started my new job today. The office was kind enough to take me out to lunch on Pennsylvania, at 20th. As we were walking back about 1:45 or so, we passed a street person sitting on a stoop.

" . . . . All of a sudden, I felt a fair amount of water on my legs. A young man in blue shorts and a reddish plaid shirt, with short dark hair, had come up to this man and thrown a bucket of cold water on him.

" . . . . {As soon as he had finished the dousing}, the younger man calmly turned around, carrying the bucket, walked down the block and across the street and into a doorway. No one said anything to him. If I hadn't been on the first day of this job, I would have followed him and taken the time to find someone to press some kind of charges on this 3/4%$& 3/4$%.

"Maybe if this jerk sees a description of his afternoon's pastime in print, he'll at least feel like what he deserves to feel like (I won't describe it here)."

I essentially see this episode the way you see it, Terry. First, though, a cautious reminder: You're jumping to conclusions when you may not have seen the whole story.

Is it possible that the "street person" was really a sophomore from New Jersey, and this was some fraternity stunt (remember, you were dangerously close to the George Washington University campus)?

Is it possible that the street person was a drunk who had issued standing instructions to local businessmen to sober him up whenever and however they could?

And what did the street person do after he got doused? Did he simply sit there and watch the buses go by? If so, I wonder if the douser might have been a friend.

But I realize I sound like a defense attorney, hunting for needles when the haystack is right in front of my face. Enough needle-seeking. There's probable cause to indict the guy with the bucket.

He sounds to me like a frustrated urban vigilante who forgets that, underneath the soot and the smelly sweaters, a street person is still a person.

You aren't about to catch me canoeing on the Potomac now that the weather has turned unsociable. And if you like to rent canoes from Thompson's Boathouse, you aren't about to catch yourself canoeing, either. Thompson's is closed for the season.

But that venerable boatery leaves behind an ugly story from early this month -- and a problem that ought to be fixed by the time the calendar says April.

Wendy Miller of Northwest rented a canoe with her husband on Nov. 1, at midafternoon. The couple had been out less than five minutes when Wendy simply moved her paddle from one side of the canoe to the other. The next thing she knew, she and her husband were "in the cold, cold river."

A motorboat rescued the two victims right away. But when Wendy reported the incident to the assistant manager, he didn't seem terribly concerned.

"He told us about 20 boats capsized every weekend, but seemed to accept that as normal," Wendy writes. Not only that, but he refused to refund Wendy's money. He insisted on charging her for one hour, despite what had happened.

"In general, we don't feel there's a problem," said Carol Gillotti, assistant manager at Thompson's. "We have about one or two percent capsizes, and usually they're caused by one person standing up in the canoe or moving around without notifying the other person . . . . We have an excellent safety record." Carol added that the assistant manager should have refunded all of Wendy's money, or given her the option of going back out in another canoe.

Earle Kittleman, public information chief for the National Park Service, for which Thompson's operates under contract, said the boathouse got a "satisfactory" safety rating when last inspected.

Well and good. But no canoe should tip over when an occupant simply switches a paddle from one hand to another. Nor is Wendy Miller a novice who caused the tip-over by committing some other canoeing sin. "My husband and I have been boating since we were kids," she says. "I grew up on a lake in Maine."

Isn't it time for an independent expert to analyze the riverworthiness of Thompson's canoes? Twenty capsizings a weekend would seem to demand it.

A man who works a desk at a downtown bank got a call the other day from a woman who was obviously elderly. She asked how to dispose of a $1,000 bond.

"Is this bond for conversion or redemption?" the banker asked.

"I'm sorry," said the woman, "but I must have reached a church by mistake." And she hung up.