There are all sorts of elves running around at Christmas time. Some of them aren't like the ones in the storybooks.

A few days ago, 11-year-old Erin Spiropoulos was shopping at the Zayre's store in White Oak with her mother, Betsy. "She wanted to go look at purses and scarves, and I wanted to go look at slippers and shoes," Betsy recalled. So mother and daughter separated for a few minutes in the busy store.

As Erin combed the purse aisle, she stopped for a moment to reach down and adjust her sock. As she straightened up, Erin came face to face with a young man wearing an open-collared shirt. He said: "Are you planning to pay for those socks?"

Erin replied that she had owned the socks for quite some time, and hadn't bought them at Zayre's. The man appeared not to believe her. He flashed some sort of a badge at Erin and said she'd have to come with him.

Erin started crying. "I have to get my mother," she said, and she ran off to search for her. By the time Erin found Betsy, and the two of them notified the manager, the man was gone.

To its credit, Zayre's responded to the situation superbly. The manager rounded up every male employe in the store right away, and held a "lineup" in front of his office. Erin said none of the employes had been the man who approached her. That's no surprise, since Zayre's security officers work under cover, and do not carry badges.

The long and the short of it: the badge-flasher was not a Zayre's employe. Betsy Spiropoulos reported the incident to the police, but they haven't had any luck yet in finding the man.

What was the badge-flasher really trying to do? "I think he was trying to abduct my daughter," said Betsy.

I think so, too. Which gives me the willies when I think about all the girls who will be shopping by themselves all over the area in the next few days.

Please, parents, sit down and discuss this tale with your children -- especially if your kids are old enough to be roaming the aisles of a store by themselves. Please tell your kids that they don't have to go anywhere with anyone, badge-flasher or not, if they haven't done anything wrong.

If you prefer, you can put it this way:

There's an elf wandering around who has a strange imagination instead of a crinkly smile.

The souvenir thief has struck again. This time, his victim was Michael Parsons of Silver Spring.

Michael's car used to have Alaska license plates CAA 760. He parked the car overnight on Oct. 31 at the corner of 22nd and H streets NW. The next morning, the car was there, but the plates were gone.

Michael wonders why someone would do this. He speculates that a George Washington University student lifted the plates to improve the decor of his room in a nearby dorm.

I can't swear that the thief goes to GW. But I think Michael has the thief's motives exactly right -- especially since the plates were from someplace exotic.

According to the police, most license plate thieves are looking for a way to transfer a stolen car without attracting attention. An Alaska plate would draw lots of attention. So if a local car thief is looking to steal a plate, the only kind he'll consider will be D.C., Maryland or Virginia.

If a thief is looking for a souvenir, he'll be looking for something with a reputation, or a cachet. The police say souvenir thieves prefer Hawaii, California and Alaska tags -- or any vanity tag that's especially funny.

Foreign tags are an endangered species, too, the police say. Leading the foreign missing-in-action list are tags from the Philippines.

Why those? "Apparently people think Imelda Marcos' shoe shopping was funny, so they've gone shopping for Philippines license plates," one detective told me.

Prevention tip from the same detective: Use conventional nuts and bolts to attach your plates, but make sure they're dripping wet when you hook them together. This will produce rust, which will make it much harder (and more time-consuming) for a thief to unscrew the plate.

Thank you, Leonce J. Wilson of Silver Spring, for the first Nov. 11 thundersnow story (and probably the last) to make me laugh.

Leonce has been an avid bowler for the last 25 years in the Tuesday evening Rebel Rouser League, which rolls at Congressional Bowl in Rockville. But avid is one thing and expert is another.

Leonce has an average that hovers steadily around 170. But bowlers often reckon scores in terms of a three-game series -- and Leonce had never turned in a three-game series of 600 or more in all those years of trying.

Says our bowling buddy: "It finally got to the point that I figured if I ever hit 600, hell would freeze over."

You guessed it.

On the night of Nov. 10, Leonce J. Wilson bowled a 600 series for the first time.

The next morning, everything froze over, hell no doubt included.

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

It could have happened to anybody -- which is exactly why the anonymous good deedster did what he did.

The object of his goodness was Kathleen Kerndt of Springfield. Kathleen was doing some Christmas shopping when her black Camaro blew a tire on the Beltway, near the Braddock Road exit. Kathleen had just started trudging off in search of a phone when a truck honked and pulled over.

"The fine gentleman changed my tire -- and wouldn't give me his name or address," writes Kathleen. "He said that I was someone's wife or girl friend or daughter, and that he hoped someone would do the same for his family.

"So you are receiving a $25 check for Children's Hospital. God bless the man who helped the woman in the black Camaro. I hope he sees this if you publish it."

I hope so too, Kathleen. But even if he doesn't see it, I know some sick kids up on Michigan Avenue NW who are grateful to him -- and to you.

Make it a habit, I preach each year, from here in the Children's fund-raising pulpit. But I know how it is, and so do you. Money is tight. Or money suddenly gets tight. And the Children's habit gets pushed to next year, or the year after that.

Happily, there are some people out there who are on tight budgets but who don't believe in pushing.

"Enclosed is a check for $10 for the Children's Hospital," write Cyril and Laura Juanitas of Northwest.

"We wish that we could donate more. However, as we are both graduate students, our budget is rather tightly controlled. As soon as we begin to earn real incomes, we hope to increase our commitment."

If you have a "real income," and you're reading this, won't you please send a contribution to our cause? If a pair of graduate students who watch every penny can get the Children's habit, you can, too.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.