'We're two old ladies," my caller said, "so I guess we must have looked like easy marks." If time is any measure, the women were about as easy as marks get. Within seconds, two young men had ripped the purses from the hands of the women and had fled.

The "hit" came as the women (ages 65 and 77) were leaving a video rental store at the Eastover Shopping Center in Oxon Hill. The thieves held the door for the women, in an apparent show of chivalry. But when the women were half in the store and half out, the thieves pounced.

The women were not injured, although one of them was knocked down. And they were very fortunate to get their purses back within a day, thanks to the Prince George's County and D.C. police departments. Both purses had everything in them except the cash.

My caller said she'd like to alert elderly women to be careful of young men who open doors for them in shopping centers. I'm happy to do that, but I'd like to issue another alert, too.

According to area police departments, women can make a snatcher's life much more difficult if they carry purses with shoulder straps. To grab a clutch bag is a piece of cake. To wrestle a bag off someone's shoulder is much more difficult. It takes a lot longer -- and the longer a thief is in one place, the more likely it is that he'll be seen and caught.

The two ladies at Eastover may have been "old," but their age had less to do with their being singled out than the fact that they carried easily snatched clutch purses. Women of all ages, please note.

Speaking of purses . . . .

Please, gentle readers, do not form a line around the block with your pockets turned inside out. Just raise your voices in song for a gas station owner who really cares (and so few of them do).

Marsha Pinson of Bethesda had a flower arrangement to deliver to a surprise party. But she was running so late that she accidentally left home without A) her purse or therefore B) any money.

Marsha soon noticed that her car was running on fumes. But gas stations don't usually offer credit (or gas) to people without A) or B).

Still, what harm was there in asking? Marsha stopped at one station and begged for $5 worth of gas. She said she'd come back and pay as soon as she could. The attendant gave her a look that seemed to ask, "Did you arrive from Mars this afternoon, or did you come last week?"

The next place Marsha tried was B.P. Auto Services on MacArthur Boulevard NW. Owner Bill Raab listened to Marsha's tale, and pumped $5 into her tank without so much as a twitch. Marsha brought him the money the next day.

"She sounded like she was in need," said Bill, and she "looked like an honest person. So I thought I'd help her out. Every once in a while someone leaves a wallet at home and I'll help them out. I guess I've been lucky. I've never been burned."

The first person who breaks that string deserves to be burned himself, Bill. Let's hope there never is a first person. In the meantime, Marsha thanks you, the star of the surprise party thanks you -- and everyone who has ever needed a friend at a critical moment is glad to know that such friends still exist.

Computers have helped retailing in just about every imaginable way. But they've hurt in one recurring way. They've turned some counterpersons into broken records. The name of the tune: "The computer won't let me."

The latest spin of this tiresome platter came the other night in Bethesda, at a Pizza Hut outlet on Wisconsin Avenue. Caroline Sullivan had a coupon that allowed her to buy two medium pizzas for $13.99. That was $6.01 less than the regular price. Being a graduate student (which is a synonym for pauper), Caroline was delighted.

She didn't stay that way long.

Being a discount pizza vet, Caroline knew that coupons sometimes require you to buy a certain kind of pizza. She phoned the Bethesda Hut to check. No such limitations, a voice told her. One of the pizzas could be pepperoni (Caroline's burning passion) if she wished.

However, 20 minutes later, at the Hut's counter, an employee broke out the broken record. Caroline was told she had to accept two plain pizzas, or pay full price for one pepperoni and one plain.

Couldn't they please make an exception, especially since the pepperoni pizza had been cooked and was sitting right there? "Sorry," said the employee. "Whoever talked to you on the phone was wrong. The computer won't let me do it."

Asked to comment, Pizza Hut public relations director Roger Rydell said this:

"We have 5,000 restaurants around the country. You're bound to have some misunderstanding like that. I'm sure it was an isolated incident and we'll be more than happy to make it up to her."

Too late, Roger. Caroline has taken her pizza trade elsewhere. Your computer let her do it.