Bill Monahan of Alexandria, you're an honest man. Bobbie WhateverYourLastNameIs, you're a heck of a phone operator.

The world discovered both of these truths the other day thanks to a call Bill desperately needed to make to his boss.

Bill popped into a phone booth at the Holiday Inn in Southwest and reached for 20 cents. Bill didn't find 20 cents. Bill didn't find any cents. Bill had no change.

Rather than spending precious minutes trying to break a dollar, Bill picked up the phone and dialed O for operator. A female voice answered. Bill explained that he badly needed to make a call, but had no change, and wasn't there some way the operator could help?

Most operators would say no-dough-no-call. This operator was different. She put Bill's call through right away. As she was doing so, she said this:

"The next time you pass a phone, call O for operator and put in 20 cents. And tell 'em that Bobbie sent you."

Then Bobbie hung up without revealing her last name, her operator number or anything else that would allow Bill to thank her for bending the rules.

Bill could have figured that he was 20 cents to the good, and why do what Bobbie had suggested? But he isn't made that way.

Later that same day, Bill found a phone booth somewhere or other. He dialed O for operator. "Listen, you're not gonna understand this . . . ." he began, when the operator answered. Then he went through the entire story. Then he deposited a quarter and walked away, feeling cleansed in a way few of us ever do.

The quarter was 5 cents more than Bill needed to deposit to make himself even with Bobbie. But Bill says it was a nickel well spent. I'd have to agree -- especially when the nickel supports operators with hearts as big as Bobbie's.

If you're a newcomer to these environs, you missed the early days of Metro's Farecard machines. Count your lucky stars, you devil, you.

You'd try to buy a Farecard, but the machine would reject your paper money for absolutely no reason. Often it would reject every one and five in your wallet for absolutely no reason.

It got so bad that people around town invented a new category of currency -- "Metro Money." These were utterly seamless, creaseless $1 and $5 bills. Farecard machines wouldn't accept anything less pristine.

After a couple of years, though, Metro was able to adjust the machines so they'd accept slightly (or even greatly) crinkled bills. Everybody has been living happily ever after for quite some time.

But now the problem has reversed itself.

Now Farecard machines apparently won't accept bills unless they're slightly crinkled.

This startling story begins a couple of days ago, when my wife Jane was trying to photocopy some stuff at the Library of Congress. For that, you need change. She had none.

A change machine sits beside the photocopier, but it wouldn't accept Jane's virtually virgin dollar. She consulted a staff member, who told her to rumple the bill slightly and try again. She did. It worked.

To remember what to do the next time she was in the same situation, Jane invented a mnemonic motto: "Wad it with rage, smooth it with remorse." She told me about the motto that night. I thought it was very clever -- but I was sure it would never apply to any other change machine.

The next day, I was sprinting for the subway when I heard a deep male voice shout, "Hey, Bob!"

It was my friendly neighborhood kiosk attendant. Known him for years.

"Got one for you," he bellowed.

"Well, what the heck," I said to myself, as I screeched to a halt. "I've been late for dinner before."

The attendant marched me over to the bank of Farecard machines. He produced a packet of $1 bills that had never been touched. I know because they still had the bank wrapper around them.

"Go ahead, try one," the attendant urged me. I slipped the top bill out from under the wrapper and inserted it. The Farecard machine spat it back.

"Try the next one," my guy urged. I tried it. The machine spat it back.

"This happen on the other machines?" I asked.

"You want to try, be my guest," the attendant said.

I tried another machine. Spit. Another. Spit. A fourth. Spit.

I told the attendant the Library of Congress story. He said if I wanted to wad up one of his $1 bills with rage and smooth it out with remorse, I was welcome to.

I took one. I wadded it as if George Washington were my mortal enemy. I smoothed it as if I were preparing a rare butterfly for mounting. Then I inserted the bill. The Farecard machine gobbled it right up.

"What do you make of it, my man?" I asked.

"I don't know what to make of it," the kiosk attendant said.

The legend of Farecard marches on.


Many gifts to our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital come from the parents of "alumni." But there is another kind of Children's graduate -- staff members who are now retired, but who once helped to make Children's the caring place it is.

One such retiree is Daisy Jones of Northwest. Her husband Charles sent in a $25 contribution the other day, with this note:

"Instead of buying Christmas cards and buying stamps to mail them, my wife Daisy suggested we donate the money to Children's Hospital.

"My wife is 85 and I am 78. The wife is a retired Johns Hopkins registered nurse and did nursing at the old Children's Hospital years ago. It is a pleasure for us to send a check."

Pleasure to receive it, too, Joneses. Any other ex-staff members out there who might be inspired to do the same?

The voice on the phone was friendly, but also puzzled. "Bob," it asked, "do you ever wish you could take all those checks you get and somehow double and triple them?"

Yes, friendly puzzled voice, I often do. But there is a way to accomplish that monetary multiplication -- and I want to be sure that every reader who works for a large corporation is aware of it.

It's called the matching gift program.

Many large private employers will match your gift to Children's with one of the same size (or, at some companies, with one that's twice the size of yours). This year, more employers offer this benefit than ever before.

If you work for a company with a matching gift program, I urge you to obtain the necessary forms right away. Many companies are trying to close the books on 1987 right about now. They don't want matching gifts paper work to spill into January. If you wait too long, your company might not match your funds until the middle of 1988, or later.

Where to obtain forms or information? Try your personnel or employe relations department. And if you do make a matching gift contribution to our Children's campaign, please be sure to enclose the filled-out forms with your check.


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