Neil Simon, the playwright, specializes in provoking gut-rumbling laughs. But January's biggest hoot may not have come from the National Theatre stage, where the latest Simon masterwork is playing. It may have come from Marge Weiss, of Kensington.

Marge and her husband are senior citizens. Like many seniors in the Washington area, they have long been aware of -- and have often taken advantage of -- the National Theatre's policy of giving half-price discounts to people 65 and older.

The National sets aside 60 senior-discount seats for each performance. Unsurprisingly, they're snapped up almost as soon as they go on sale. So several years ago, to keep things semi-fair and semi-nonchaotic, the management adopted the following senior ticket policy:

Any senior citizen could purchase two discount tickets for any performance. However, the second ticket had to be used by a spouse, and the purchaser had to show proof -- not only that the spouse is 65 years of age or more, but that he or she has the same surname as the person buying the tickets.

The howls were as predictable as they were loud.

How could the National discriminate against single seniors who wanted to go to the theater with a 65-plus friend? Besides, many single seniors are widows or widowers. Why reopen those painful wounds?

What about a wife who never took her husband's surname? What about the humiliation a senior might feel at being asked his or her age by a clerk who's young enough to be a grandchild? And what about a senior citizen who's married to a non-senior? Discount for one? Both? Neither?

The National granted that these were all valid questions. But management said it couldn't think of a more equitable or a more efficient way to administer the program. The imperfect world, and an imperfect senior citizen ticket program, rolled on.

Then Marge Weiss showed that absurdity could be heaped upon imperfection.

She and her husband are friendly with another senior citizen couple. The other couple had tied the knot very recently -- so recently, in fact, that they had returned to Washington from their honeymoon only a few days earlier. The new bride had not yet had a chance to obtain a new driver's license or Medicare card in her married name.

Marge figured that the National would make an exception to its policy under the circumstances. She called to see if her hunch was right. It was utterly wrong. Different surnames, no discount tix, said the phone-answerer.

"We're still laughing," says Marge.

"If I had been sitting there, I would have waived" the rule, said Harry Teter, the National's general manager. Since he wasn't, he asked me for Marge's address, and I provided it. By now, Harry has probably contacted Marge and made amends, in the form of two senior-discount tickets to a future performance for a certain pair of senior newlyweds.

Granted, I would go insane in about five minutes if I had to administer the National's senior-discount program. And granted, there has to be some order to the process or it would be overrun in seconds by the aggressive and the quick.

But the National is dead wrong when it says there isn't a better way. How about a Senior Citizen Club? Each member gets two or three pairs of discount tickets a year. The "other" ticket in each pair goes to whoever the member chooses. Tickets are given out, as they are now, on a first-come, first-served basis. A computer keeps track. Presto. Peace.

When last we heard from Robert Lane, of Fairfax, he had spotted a hilariously misspelled road sign near his home. Robert wrote to me and enclosed pictures. I publicized the erroneous sign into an early grave.

Recently, Robert and his camera provided an encore. In Centreville, near the subdivision of Newgate, just off Braddock Road, there stands a road sign that says:


A few blocks farther down that street, there stands another sign. This one says:


Which do you think is correct, Robert Lane? "Your guess is as good as mine," our suburban sleuth says.

No guess is necessary. According to the Fairfax County government, AWBREY is correct. A spokesman in the county's sign shop said that one of the sign-preparers simply goofed.

You might say that's patently obvious.

Bob Orben says that Christopher Columbus didn't know where he was going, had a potentially mutinous crew and was entirely dependent on borrowed money.

Back then he was called an explorer.

Today he'd be called a candidate.