A moving letter from Chevy Chase:

"I am 81, and I am entering a retirement home," a woman writes. "The fees are four times my monthly rental here {at an apartment house in Friendship Heights}. I do get in return one meal a day, my apartment cleaned weekly and other services. As I am no longer capable of living alone, it seemed the only solution.

"My monthly income is half the cost {of the retirement home}. The rest must come from my savings. It took me 20 years to accumulate it. How long will it last to pay what I'm entering into?

"I am scared to death. Panic has set in. But I signed a year's lease and must go through with it.

"Do you, or your readers, have ideas on how to adjust?"

I have no sure-fire ideas, Ms. Chevy Chase. Perhaps some readers do -- and they are hereby invited to submit whatever they think might help.

I can only offer general guidance, born of experience in my own family, and the families of friends.

First of all, you are not one step from taking up residence on a heating grate. Even in this age of public funds cutbacks, there are still federal and state programs to house elderly people who can't take care of themselves any more, and who can't shoulder the whole financial burden.

Second of all, you mustn't feel that your panic is out of line. Anyone who digs into savings just to survive feels the same way.

Third of all, you have political momentum on your side. No segment of the population is growing faster than the elderly. As more people your age confront this issue, politicians will confront it, too. And when pols confront a problem, they usually aim bucks at it. That's no sure thing, heaven knows. But somewhere down the road -- maybe not far down the road -- money may be available to help de-panic people like you.

Fourth of all, you won't have to face the stress alone. I don't know of a retirement home that doesn't offer informal discussion groups or counseling for residents. And those residents will be birds of a feather in terms of age, experience and (often) financial circumstances.

None of this will erase what you're feeling, Ms. Chevy Chase. But it may help you realize that things are not hopeless.

Never let it be said that Levey fails to do his part for romance.

This peal from a lovelorn gent reached my mailbox last week:

"Dear Bob:

"I'm a fireman at the 23rd and M Street station. As you can imagine, we have a lot of idle time between calls. A favorite pastime is girl watching.

"I have become absolutely enchanted (from afar) with a girl in the office building across the street. She has the most incredible green eyes I have ever seen . . . . But alas, I am too shy to just walk up and introduce myself. I would be mortified if she shunned me.

" . . . . Bob, I'm really infatuated. If you could print something in your column and ask her to just give an encouraging smile to a poor fella in fireman's duds, I know it would help. A warm smile would be all I would need to give me the courage to ask her out. I plan to mail her a copy of the column in case she misses it.

"I'm just going to sign myself 'Anonymous.' If the other guys knew who wrote this letter, there would be no living it down.

"Thanks, Bob. Wish me luck."

I hereby do, my firefighting friend. Let me know if the rendezvous ever takes place.

It's not right up there with nuclear war as a source of concern, but Elijah White of Hamilton, Va., raises a good point nonetheless.

He was having lunch the other day at the Marriott snack bar at Dulles International Airport. In the serving area was a sign that read:


"How many adults do you suppose worked together to produce this sign?" Elijah asks. "How many in positions to order it corrected have seen it since it's been on public display, but haven't known the difference?"

I don't know the answer to either question, Elijah, and I couldn't reach the manager of the snack bar to ask. But you're oh-so-right to raise your hand and cry "Foul."

So many people who run businesses think that errors of this sort don't make any difference. They say people come there to buy, not to read.

But when I see RECEPTICAL on a sign, some little piece of me says, "This place isn't serious. This place isn't careful. This place isn't where I want to buy a tuna fish sandwich."

Long and short of it: Poor spelling makes a difference -- at the cash register. All who would write RECEPTICAL, or excuse its use, please note.