Panhandlers always have a story, and right here in Leveyland, you have read some doozies over the years.

Gosh, ma'am, my car got booted, and the cops want $100, and what's that? You don't recognize me? I'm your neighbor. From down the street. I'll pay you back tonight.

Or: Gee, sir, my aunt just died in North Dakota, and I need $1,000 for dogsled fare. Here, take this solid gold watch that belonged to my grandpappy as collateral.

And like that.

In most cases, the panhandler lets his story carry the weight of the pitch. But now comes news from Silver Spring of a panhandler who is relying on a remarkable visual device instead.

My informant is a 16-year-old student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. She lives near the Silver Spring Metro station. She walks home from the station each weekday. That had always been an uneventful hike -- until Dec. 30.

That afternoon, a man rushed up to her on Bonifant Street and asked for her help. He was bleeding quite copiously from the nose, and he kept dabbing at the blood with a handkerchief. He told the teen-ager that he had just been mugged, and needed $15 for a bus ticket to Baltimore.

The teen-ager said she didn't have $15, but would $1 help? The bloodied man said it would. He took the bill from the teen-ager and walked away.

She thought nothing of the encounter until 16 days later. This time, it was 10:30 p.m. In the same block of Bonifant Street, here came the same man, with the same bloody nose, and the same bloody handkerchief, offering up the same story about the mugging and the bus fare to Baltimore. My informant just chuckled to herself and walked away.

If nothing else, the Bloody Beggar should get a plaque from the Screen Actors Guild. If the blood is fake, he prepares for his role more carefully than any panhandler I've ever known. If the blood is real, the mind boggles at what this man must do to induce it. Perhaps he bonks his face on the sidewalk a few times each afternoon to "get ready for work."

Cpl. Carl McVeigh at the Silver Spring station of the Montgomery County Police Department says his people have received no reports about the Bloody Bonifant Beggar.

"Most people don't report something like this," Cpl. McVeigh said. "They don't want to get involved."

The police wouldn't necessarily get involved, either, even if they knew who B.B.B. was. Cpl. McVeigh said he isn't sure B.B.B. is committing a crime. He isn't stealing. And he isn't working a flimflam because he isn't offering anything in return for the money.

In any case, the next time some guy asks you for dogsled fare, you know what to tell him. "Sorry, fella," you should intone, "but I gave all my dough to a guy in Silver Spring who has learned the value of looking persuasive."

Florida Fruit Cocktail 40

Boston Clam Chowder 20

Roast Prime Rib of Beef 80

Coffee 15

No, I am not hallucinating. No, I have not left off a final zero. Those prices, and more in the same solar system, will appear on the menu Sunday at the Occidental Restaurant, where prices have been known to be a lot higher.

But that's the whole idea. Sunday marks the first anniversary of the reopening of this legendary Washington eatery. So the management decided to dust off the 1924 menu for one night, and to charge 1988 patrons what their grandparents used to pay.

General manager Steve Parry says the idea is to thank his regulars and to promote the opening of the upstairs dining room, all in one fell swoop. Steve says the restaurant expects to lose $10,000 on the evening. "That's not so much for a promotion, really," he adds.

A clever idea, Occidentists. May you thrive sufficiently to do a similar promotion in 2052.

One note to you elbow-benders: Liquor and wine will go for 1988 prices. It's like Mama always said, guys. There are rewards for those who eat their fruit and finish their soup.

Just What You Were Dying To Know Dept.:

Tom Marshall of Alexandria writes that 1988 is "destined for greatness."

No, this isn't some position paper from the campaign trail. It's the kind of trivia that only a numbers nut could love.

Why greatness in '88? "Because 1988 requires the greatest possible number of Roman numerals to represent it. Eleven (MCMLXXXVIII)," Tom reports.

"The numeral count will hereafter diminish until it reaches only two (MM) in the year 2000. And unless I am mistaken {Columnist's note: I checked. He isn't}, the count will not exceed 11 for another 2,000 years."