We begin today's festivities with two readers who are irritated and one who wonders whether she should be.

Irritation Victim Number One is Terri Hundley, of Marshall, Va. She says she was driving west on Interstate 66 the other day when "lo and behold, there were five Virginia state troopers lined up on the side of the road near the Falls Church ramp . . . .waiting for cars with less than three people in them. Don't you think this is an excessive waste of taxpayers' money? I certainly think that one car would have been plenty."

I do, too, Terri, unless something special -- or especially difficult -- was going on at the Falls Church exit at the time.

Remember that, at 55 miles an hour, and without benefit of a police radio, you have no way of knowing what those police officers were doing. Maybe they had just pulled over a member of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. If so, I'd say five cop cars would have been too few, if anything.

Then again, those officers may indeed have been there to paper the world with HOV tickets. So I figured it was worth asking whether the state police have a quota of tickets to meet along I-66 -- and whether the HOV lanes are where they try to meet it.

Sgt. Michael Clem of the state police's Arlington office said his officers can write as many or as few HOV tickets as they want. "We don't tell them they have to write 50 tickets for HOV violations a week," Sgt. Clem said. He added, however, that officers "are expected to ticket when they see violations."

So, all told, Terri, I'd say five police cars in one place is not necessarily an indication that taxpayers' money is being wasted. I would say just the opposite about the HOV restrictions themselves, but I'm afraid that battle is long since lost.

Irritation Victim Number Two is Dave George of Alexandria. He says it's time for me "to speak out against those ill-mannered Orioles fans who yell 'O!' at the start of the last line of the national anthem when it is played at sporting events."

Dave says it's bad enough that Orioles fans do this at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. But "now this boorish behavior is surfacing in Washington at Bullets, Capitals and even Redskins games. If we can't banish such childishness altogether, let us at least send it back up I-95 where it came from.

"What do you think about this? Do you agree with me that it is out of place during the playing of the anthem?"

Sorry, Dave, but I don't.

I see a great difference between tampering with the national anthem at, say, an Arlington National Cemetery funeral and tampering with it at a sports event. At the funeral, there is -- and must be -- dignity. At the ball game, dignity is out of place. People are there to root and to have fun. It's no slur on the anthem or the country to slip in a little boost for the Orioles at the appropriate place.

In fact, widespread "O's!" at Washington sporting events may do Washington some good in the long run. One major reason we haven't gotten a new major league baseball team is that the owners of the existing teams think there's no baseball interest here. Granted, we could show our baseball interest in quieter, more fiscally sound ways -- and we have. But to hear "O!" at a hockey game sends a faraway baseball team owner a clear message.

Incidentally, Dave, there hasn't exactly been a tidal wave of "O's!" at local sporting events.

Lou Corletto, the public relations director of the Capitals, said that "people don't do it as much at Caps and Bullets games as they do at Memorial Stadium. For instance, last night I don't think I heard a single person." Redskins PR director Charlie Taylor adds that he has heard "only a smattering of 'O's!' " at RFK Stadium over the last three years.

In the Wondering If I Should Be Irritated category is Cay Smith of Northwest.

She notes that it's just a little over a month until Monday, Jan. 20, the day when Martin Luther King's birthday is celebrated as a national holiday for the first time. Cay wonders whether local retailers will treat MLK Day as just another excuse to have a sale, as so many of them now do on Washington's Birthday, Lincoln's Birthday and Columbus Day, among others.

Garry Curtis, manager of the retail bureau for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said that D.C. area retailers are "very unsure of what kinds of plans they'd like to make" for MLK Day.

"Nobody has been planning a sale that is new and different for that weekend or that Monday," Garry said. "But they have the day marked on their calendars and they're aware that it is a day when potentially more people will shop."

However, since this is the first MLK Day, retailers will probably wait to see what happens in 1986 before deciding to bump MLK Day up to the frenzied shopping levels of other national holidays. For the maiden MLK Day, "it's clear that no one has a banner ad set for that day," Garry said.

That's a large relief. Like Cay Smith, I'd hate to see a man who stood for justice and goodness be remembered mostly because you could buy a cheap TV set on the holiday commemorating him.