Gary Martin, of Chantilly, says his friend is there every weekday. As Gary steps from the Metro escalator, en route to his office on 17th Street NW, his eye flits to the top of Admiral Farragut's statue in the square that bears his name. There, atop the admiral's head, is a seagull.

It isn't particularly unusual for birds to perch on the heads of statues, especially in downtown Washington. But Gary had always thought that most perchers were pigeons, and so had I. What's a seagull doing so close to the hubbub of K Street -- and so far from any sea?

Joan Smith, a biological technician at the National Zoo's birdhouse, said that seagulls are actually quite common in downtown Washington, especially around the Mall and Hains Point. The reason they like the D.C. scene has nothing to do with power, politics or pinstripes, however.

Seagulls are "big scavengers," according to Joan -- and the passersby in Farragut Square are big snack-dispensers. The gulls perch on the admiral's head because they know that lunch is about to be served, over and over again.

Gary says he isn't sure that the seagull he sees each weekday morning is the same one, day in and day out. In fact, Gary told me that on some recent mornings, he has spotted not one seagull aboard Adm. Farragut, but two. Perhaps the word is out among the scavenging set.

However, it doesn't seem to be out among the Farragut Square pigeons.

I have just returned from an investigative reporting trip to 17th and K. Plenty of pigeons were in the square, but they kept leaving and returning, restlessly. Meanwhile, two seagulls sat atop the admiral and waited. When someone dropped a crust of bread, they pounced. Then they zipped back up to their perch and waited some more.

I guess this proves that, whether you have a hard shell on your back or not, slow and steady still wins the race.

Alas, her letter is written in partially indecipherable longhand. I can make out her first name (Eleanor), and I know she lives on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring. But her surname will forever remain a swoopy mystery.

That's a pity, since Eleanor Whoever deserves full credit for an excellent question: Why did I recently use the phrase "lucked out" when "lucked in" makes more sense?

Eleanor notes that if you're lucky, you're said to be "in luck." The phrase "lucked out" suggests that you're out of luck -- just the opposite of what I (and every other user of "lucked out") intended.

In about half the cases, Eleanor has a point. I have often written phrases like, "He lucked out when he found a $100 bill on the sidewalk." Better would have been: "He lucked into a windfall when he found a $100 bill on the sidewalk."

However, let's say I was thrown into a cage with a ferocious man-eating tiger, and the door was left unlocked. That's clearly a case of "lucking out" of a dangerous situation. I'd never write that I "lucked in when someone forgot to lock the door."

So, Eleanor, I give you half a loaf. But I give you the whole bakery for your underlying point: Writers should always be as precise as possible, and as wary as possible of slang.

Alan Wachter was heading downtown on the Blue Line at about 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 9. The war in the Persian Gulf hadn't started yet, but tensions were high.

They got higher that morning. Two Air Force colonels, on their way to the Pentagon, were studying the map of the subway system. As Alan and dozens of other commuters overheard, the two colonels began arguing about whether the train they were on would take them where they wanted to go.

After a couple of minutes, Alan couldn't resist. "We're going to war in a week, and you can't find the Pentagon?," he said.

Full stars and bars to one of the colonels, who replied:

"This is a different war zone."

Consumer rebates seem to be out of favor lately. Perhaps the following tale tells us why.

Barry D. Nussbaum of Annandale bought a something-or-other over the summer (he says he can't remember what it was). In September, just as school was reopening, he received the $2 rebate check he had been expecting.

But Barry wasn't expecting the phrase that was printed across the top of the check. It was:


Irv Kupcinet in the Chicago Sun-Times: The family that prays together reads the headlines together.