To some, it soothes. To others, it jars. To Bonnie A. Reynolds, of Spotsylvania, Va., it rankles. The culprit: music piped into stores.

Bonnie's beef is not the choice of songs (although to my mind, that's often fertile territory for a scowl or two). Her complaint is the volume.

"I stopped getting supper at Roy's several months ago because they started playing weird music so loud," Bonnie writes. Then, just before Christmas, "I stopped at Hardee's on King Street just off 395 for a quick breakfast. They were butchering Christmas carols. I won't go back.

"Even when they play music I do like, I cannot stand it so loud. Is this general policy everywhere? I bought earplugs, but they don't help all that much."

Lest you think that Bonnie is an atypical grump, or that only fast fooderies ratchet the noise level up to the rafters, consider this report from James McDonough, a salesman from Richmond who spends about two days a week roaming Northern Virginia.

"I had a couple of hours to kill," James writes, "so I stopped in a strip shopping center in Vienna to hunt for a birthday gift for my wife. I parked in the third rank of spaces from the door of a big chain drugstore. They were aiming music out into the parking lot, and it was so loud it almost made the hubcaps on my car shake.

"A three-year-old was walking with his Mommy past the store, and as soon as the kid heard the 'music,' he started to bawl. I felt like telling him, 'Kid, that makes two of us.' "

Care for three? Here's an excerpt from John Poltroon's letter of Dec. 29:

"I spent an hour last week in a shopping center near my home in Rockville which shall remain nameless, but which rhymes with Flight Splint.

"I now know where John Denver went to die. Throughout this vast shopping arcade came a cascade of musical Denverian glop. It was so loud that you wanted to flee to northern Frederick County -- that's Frederick County, Alaska. The last thing it made you want to do was buy anything. I came away with my brain literally seared by noise. Believe me, Bob Levey, 'Country Roads' is not meant to be played as loud as this."

What's going on here? Is this an oversight by the forces of commerce, or a carefully hatched plot? How common is "COUNTRY ROADS!!!!"?

Penny Spriggs, the assistant manager of a K mart in Silver Spring, said the piped-in music in her store is simply a way to make the "atmosphere more enjoyable. We don't play it too loud -- just enough to hear it," she said.

Ann Mroccyzski, who works in the Toys R Us store in Rockville, said the management is under orders never to let the piped-in music blare. "We have to listen to it 10 to 12 hours a day," she noted.

A supervisor at Fair Oaks Mall who asked to remain nameless said her office has received "only a handful" of loud music complaints over the last year. In every case, the supervisor said, an employee had turned the volume knob up too high. The knob was immediately turned back down, and that was that.

No manager would go on record as saying that he or she cranks up the volume to attract attention or heighten shoppers' blood pressure. Still, I suspect that's the case, and I hope it'll stop, for the sake of both sides, and the ears of all.

Thanks to Mary Allman, of Southeast Washington, for a lovely addition to our oxymoron collection.

Mary was visiting in Kerrville, Tex., when she noticed an item in the local newspaper. Seems that Joy Grief had twice won the local duplicate bridge game.

Nan Asman, of Northwest, saw a Bumper Sticker For Our Times:


Mag Garth, of Gore, Va., was interested in ordering some stamps from the Philatelic Sales Division of the U.S. Postal Service. Off went a letter of inquiry. Back came an internal contradiction.

In the left-hand corner of the order blank, the following appears:

"Help speed mail delivery. Please use all capital letters with no punctuation in addresses. Follow this example:



"DULUTH MN 55803-0034."

And how did the order blank list the sales division's address? You guessed it:

"United States Postal Service

"Philatelic Sales Division

"Box 449997

"Kansas City, MO 64144-9997."

Martin Buxbaum calls it his shopper's prayer:

May the Lord and Taylor have Macy on us.