We thought maybe our friend had had one too many Easter eggs when he called the other day to tell us about the strange poles in his neighborhood. Not another Polish joke, we thought to ourselves. But this turned out to be an honest-to-God aluminum pole that somebody had stuck in front of a stop sign on the corner about two months ago. Just a pole . . . about 12 feet tall . . . with nothing on it. Since then, our friend claims to have seen other poles just like it on other corners. Now that the ground is softening, the poles are falling down all over the place. He also said that one time somebody saw a group of official-looking supervisors from the city government near one of the poles and asked them what it was for. The answer? "I wish I knew," said a spokesman for the group.

Well, we called the city's office of transportation policies and plans, where a pleasant gentleman reported back that some day those poles are going to sprout new street signs with lettering that may even be legible. The poles, and thousands more like them, are part of a federal highway-safety project to name the streets in 5-inch-high letters (they're now 31/2 inches) and provide two signs for intersections that now have but one (usually where you're least likely to notice it when you're lost). The beautiful thing about the poles, we were told, is that the aluminum makes them "maintenance-free." That's great, if you don't mind their falling down now and then. Maybe when the signs are finally ready, whoever first pounded those poles into the ground will pound a little harder.