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Things occasionally happen in Washington that people outside the Beltway just can't understand.

Recently, David Watkins, a top White House aide, used White House helicopters to play golf.A lot of spoilsports complained that this was a waste of taxpayers' money. Watkins didn't see it that way. The Marine helicopters were not being used in Haiti at that moment, Watkins had finished his work for the day and everyone knows that a golf outing is essential to the smooth running of a great country.

When the firestorm struck, Watkins gave another reason for the helicopter ride. He maintained that all he was doing was making a dry run in case President Clinton decided to play the Holly Hills course some time in the future. He was also curious to see if the club's golf carts had air bags. "It was purely a business trip," he said.

Unfortunately, Clinton blew his stack - or whatever a president blows when one of his staff fouls up. He reassured the American people that they would not have to pay for whirlybirds.

The cost was $13,129.66. Watkins, a very wealthy but frugal man, announced that he had no intention of chipping in one golf tee because he didn't think he had done anything wrong.

Pan to the White House - the president calls his entire staff into the Oval Office and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a slight problem. David Watkins took off in one of our helicopters yesterday to play a round of golf at a country club near Frederick, Md. Because he was photographed boarding the aircraft with his golf clubs, the helicopter blades have hit the fan.

"I have assured the country that the American taxpayer will not have to pay a dime for Dave's game. Since he insists that he did nothing wrong, I am asking senior members of the White House staff to pass the hat."

An aide says, "That's fine, sir. I'll just donate the money I had set aside to send my kids to summer camp."

Another aide says, "Clara and I will put our house on the market."

The president says, "You don't have to do that if you don't want to."

A staffer called Louie chimes in, "Of course we want to. Today they bash Watkins for flying off to play golf - tomorrow it could be one of us."

Fortunately for the staff, Watkins finally announced that he would foot the damages, seeing how he was a millionaire and everything.

Watkins refuses to apologize for his joy ride. But he did agree to donate his golf clubs and shoes to the Clinton Presidential Library.