There is no connection between today's subject and the fact that America will elect many of its national leaders by sunset. That said, let's learn a little about hot dogs.

The spur for this voyage into the gastronomic murk is Robert J. Kirchner, now of Derwood but once upon a time a Californian. We Easterners know that them-there Westerners have weird notions from time to time. To my Eastern mind, Robert has one of the weirdest. He says the expression "hot dog" does not mean the same thing in his former home as it does in his present one.

On this coast, Robert has observed (correctly, in my view) that a hot dog is just the tubular piece of meat. But in California, Robert says (laughably, in my view), it's not officially a hot dog until the piece of meat is wrapped in a bun.

This dispute has led Robert into some irritating misunderstandings since he moved east. For example, he says he has attended barbecues and potlucks in this area where someone has airily chirped the day before, "I'll bring the hot dogs!" But that person shows up with just the meat. So someone else has to run out to the store and buy buns.

What do they call the linked pieces of meat in California? Wieners, or frankfurters, according to Robert. "A wiener is just that -- a wiener," he says. "A bun is just that -- a bun. And only when the two are combined is a hot dog created."

Is the man right, or is this another plot by California to take over the world as we know it? I asked researcher Cathy McCulloch (who has lived on both coasts) to check into it.

The first thing Cathy discovered was that the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes no distinction between frankfurter, wiener and hot dog for purposes of labeling. You can put any of the three expressions on a package of tubular pork products and be correct in the eyes of the law.

The second thing Cathy discovered was Jose Muguerza. He is director of technical services for Esskay of Baltimore, one of the largest wiener/frank/hot dog producers in the world.

Jose didn't pass judgment on which name is correct. But he did say that Robert Kirchner is correct about California.

Out there, "it's a wiener before the bun and a hot dog after the bun," says Jose. Meanwhile, it's "frank" on the East Coast north of Baltimore, with or without the bun, according to Jose. On the East Coast south of Baltimore, it's a "wiener," with or without the bun.

The third thing Cathy discovered was that experts in the business know the difference between wieners and frankfurters, even if consumers do not.

At Schaller and Weber, a well-known hot doggery in New York City, Cathy discovered a Mr. Gerard. He declined to give his first name. But he explained to Cathy that throughout his 39 years in the biz, which began in his birthplace of Stuttgart, Germany, frankfurters have always come eight to 10 links per pound, while wieners have always come exactly eight links to the pound. In addition, wieners are longer and thinner than franks, and their casings are thinner, Mr. Gerard said.

But what's a hot dog, Mr. Gerard?

Once they're put in a bun, frankfurters and wieners both become hot dogs, he replied. But neither becomes a hot dog before the bun.

I realize you're probably bored or hungry by now, and maybe both. I also realize that we have only delayed the real world war: whether one should put the mustard on the tubular pork product or on the bun. (I vote the former.)

In any case, Robert Kirchner, thanks for a provocative idea. I owe you lunch sometime. The menu? Anything but those.

Here's one for the Rough Justice Department, Cellular Phone Division:

Like me, Joan W. Rodriguez, of Falls Church, has never understood how a human being can drive a car and hold a car phone conversation at the same time. Inevitably, you wind up with too few hands or too little concentration, or both. Something's got to give.

Last month, Joan finally learned what that something is. It's a compulsive car-phoner's bumper.

She was backing out of a suburban parking lot. Two spaces away, another car was doing the same. That driver was already chattering away on his car phone.

"Noticing a light standard within inches of his car, I watched, fascinated," Joan writes. "The next thing I saw was his getting out and walking around to look at the passenger side of the car.

"I resisted calling out, 'Serves you right!' But I did chuckle all the way home."

From John Macomber, of New Carrollton:

Thanksgiving is when the mother pig says to her babies, "Eat slowly. You're making humans of yourselves."