I needed razor blades. I popped into a downtown drugstore at lunch time to buy a 15-pack. The blades came in a package that was about the size and shape of a deck of cards. As I paid, the clerk slipped the blades into a plastic bag large enough to hold half a week's groceries.

"Thanks, but I don't need a bag," I told her.

The clerk replaced it in a dispenser as if I'd done something graceless, inexplicable, incomprehensible and possibly fattening.

"Can I ask you something? Do any other customers ever turn down a bag?"

"No one ever has," the clerk said, "and I've been working here for three years."

Before you rush out to buy stock in plastic bag companies, consider this. A large percentage of the items sold in a drugstore are small enough to slip into your pocket or purse. Yet here was a major chain drug outfit reflexively bagging everything it sold, regardless of how big the items were. Why? And why do so few customers Just Say No?

The reason, I suspect, is that we like being flattered, and a plastic bag somehow fills that bill.

Here I was, Joe Customer, buying something utterly utilitarian. I wasn't feeling especially dignified. But when the clerk tried to cloak my plebeian purchase in (wow!) its Very Own Bag, it's as if she was saying to me, "You're a special person, Levey, and you now have a special package of special razor blades with which to lacerate your special face."

No, I didn't buy into it, and I hope you won't, either. Not if you want to see drugstore prices stay within shouting distance of reasonable. (You don't think those bags are free, do you?) And not if you want your offspring to live in a biodegradable (rather than a biodegraded) world.

Shannon McDonald, of Alexandria, can tell you all about how silly this bag-everything mania has gotten.

She recently bought a 50-pound sack of cat litter at the grocery store. The checkout clerk placed a cute little plastic bag around one end of the sack. The bag covered approximately one-tenth of the sack. It couldn't have protected the cat litter against rain, dust, snow, pestilence or a sudden attack of tsetse flies. But the clerk slipped the bag on anyway, because it was expected.

Let's stop expecting. Let's exercise our purses, our pockets and our common sense. As Shannon McDonald neatly puts it, "this is one area where small efforts could yield huge results."

They're still repairing the Maryland leg of Route 50 near the Beltway. But the resulting arteriosclerosis is less painful than it might be thanks to the sign the Maryland highway people have put up.

"Be Prepared for Sudden Aggravation," it says.

Ben Willis, of McLean, says they ought to spell it "piece dividend," because everybody wants a piece of it.


On we struggle, on we straggle. We're beginning to get within sight of the finish line. But will we zoom past it?

That's always the question. But this year, if things continue the way they have, it's a question that isn't rhetorical.

We're aiming for an all-time record in this 43rd consecutive year of fund-raising for underprivileged kids in our community. We hope to reach $275,000 -- not just because it'll feel good if we get there, but because that's how much money we need to help send all 1,100 kids to camp who are scheduled to go between late June and mid-August.

However, if we continue at our current pace, we're going to fall short. Maybe far short.

If you've never contributed to our Send a Kid to Camp campaign before, I urge you to do so -- right now, while you're thinking of it. It's a great way to help a kid have two weeks of good, clean fun.

But your gift pays dividends that last longer than a dip in the pool. If a child from a tough part of town is sent to a beautiful spot in the Virginia countryside by total strangers like you and me, he may decide that the world isn't so terrible after all. Our community can use that kind of attitude.

So please get on board our train. Be part of a Washington tradition. Give the least fortunate children among us a taste of life outside the hot, crime-ridden city. Many thanks.


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

In hand as of July 14: $171,127.87.

Our goal (as of Aug. 10): $275,000.