A week from today, Neil Sivek of Burke will take his 3 1/2-year-old twin sons to a Sesame Street show at the Patriot Center in Fairfax. No doubt the boys will be delighted. No doubt their Dad will still be bewildered.

The cause of his puzzlement is the pricing policies of the Patriot Center and its corporate cousin, the Capital Centre. This year, for the first time, the two centers have added service charges to the cost of tickets.

The Sivek family ran into this twice in one week. Neil tried to order Washington Capitals hockey tickets in advance by phone. He was told they would cost $14 apiece -- plus a $2.50 service charge apiece.

Then, a couple of days later, Neil's wife tried to order Sesame Street tickets by phone. She was told that these tickets ranged from $6 to $10 apiece, and that they, too, would carry a service charge of either $1 or $1.25, depending on where Neil and the boys wanted to sit.

Neil couldn't understand why the service charge wasn't wrapped into the basic cost of the ticket, as it is nearly everywhere else. That made two of us. So it was time to seek an explanation from Bob Zurfluh, the Capital Centre's vice president of public relations.

Said Bob: "If you purchase a ticket at any ticket center outlet, for instance Hecht's, the service charge per ticket is $1.25. It's $1 if you come to the Capital Centre or Patriot Center in advance. But if you want tickets for something that day, there's no charge. If you're inside the building, at an event, and want a ticket for a future event, then there's no service charge. If you go to a telephone and over the telephone order a ticket, the service charge ranges from $1.25 to $2.75, depending on the event."

The long and the short of it: You'll pay a service charge for the convenience of charging and reserving tickets. That may not be justice. But as Big Bird would say, that's life.

Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke took a lot of guff during the football strike (a good bit of it from me) for caring more about dollars than about people. Let's unguff his reputation a bit with a tale from John Frederick Wormcke.

John has had season's tickets to Redskins games for umpteen-and-a-half years. Every few weeks, just to do something nice, he gives his seats to fellow parishioners at the Aspen Hill Christian Church.

Early this season, Linda and Craig Larson were the lucky recipients. "They were all excited because they'd never been to a game before," John says. Even more exciting: The Redskins were playing the St. Louis Cardinals, the team for which the Larsons used to root when they lived in Missouri.

As John tells it, the Larsons left for the game right from church. They were driving along Randolph Road when they came upon a car accident. They glanced at the wreckage -- and recognized the two injured people in the car as congregants at their church.

Football tix or no football tix, the Larsons knew what to do. They took their friends to the hospital, checked them into the emergency room and waited for word of their condition. Luckily, the word was good -- only minor injuries. But by the time everything was wrapped up, the football game was, too.

When John Wormcke heard the story, he decided to write to Jack Kent Cooke on behalf of the Larsons and request a pair of seats to another game. Fat chance, right?

But the Redskins owner showed me up, and every other cynic. He sent along two tickets to the Redskins-Detroit game. The Larsons went, and "enjoyed it very much," John reports.

The Montgomery County schools took a giant step forward when they set up an information hot line. By pushing seven buttons, students and parents can get school news bulletins -- including up-to-the-minute information on school closings when it's snowing.

Unfortunately, the school people were a lot more careful in setting up the hot line than citizens have been in using it.

Carolyn Bray is the star witness for the prosecution. Her son was a patient at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital last month. The doctor said he needed rest above all else.

But on Nov. 11 -- the day of our epic snowstorm -- the phone in the hospital room kept ringing. As soon as Carolyn answered it, callers hung up.

It wasn't until late that afternoon that Carolyn figured out what was going on. The school hot line number is 279-3673. The number in the hospital room is 279-6373. People were misdialing the former and ending up with the latter.

The only light moment in all this came when a man called at around lunchtime. Carolyn patiently explained that he'd reached a hospital room, not the hot line. The man replied, "I'm awfully sorry. But could you tell me if the schools are closing early?"

Moral of the story: When next it snows (and I promise it will), please dial the Montgomery schools hot line carefully. The next occupant of the Bray Suite at Shady Grove Hospital may not be as kind as Carolyn.

It had to be.

Bumper sticker, spotted on Connecticut Avenue:


Week One of our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital is a little like a reunion. The oldest friends of the drive come forward once again -- generously, loyally, reassuringly.

One such friend is Arvylle Chrysler of Arlington, who not only remembers sick kids each holiday season, but remembers them in the same way:

With her Scrabble winnings.

This year, Arvylle triple-word-scored her way to a $23.64 profit. Into my mailbox it drifted, as in past campaigns.

The difference this year was the contribution of Greg Smith.

Greg is an 8-year-old Scrabble buddy of Arvylle's. His net profit for the year was 40 cents. He asked Arvylle to include that in her donation. She was pleased to do so.

But Greg wants to go solo. "He has decided to start his own fund for Children's," Arvylle writes. "Next year, he wants to send his own donation."

I'll be glad to have it, Greg. In the meantime, thanks to both Scrabblists. Good way of giving to a good cause.

Deck the halls with big fat checks . . . .

God rest ye great contributors . . . .

O come all ye donors . . . .

All right, Levey. They get the idea. But just in case one of you doesn't . . . .

Many of you will be Christmas caroling over the next three weeks. As you croon, why not pass the hat for our Children's campaign?

It's a time-honored way to raise funds for kids who can use the help. It's also a foolproof way to produce a nice warm feeling when the weather is doing its best to produce the opposite. TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.