PITTSBURGH (AP) _ At age 72, George Beshenich doesn't know the meaning of job burnout. He's been performing as a fire-eater for more than half a century and has no intentions of snuffing out what he considers a hot career.

''I started out back in the days when carnivals and circuses were big time,'' he said. ''Back then, you could seriously consider fire-eating as a vocation the same way people consider computer programming today.''

Precision is the key ingredient to eating fire, according to Beshenich, who's better known as ''Smokey George.''

''Because of the moisture of the tissues in your mouth, you can actually hold fire for a short time without any harm,'' the Pittsburgh resident said. ''You can only take a flame in your mouth for about six to seven seconds, and you have to learn how to judge that. Also, you have to hold your breath.''

Beshenich learned the skill from another fire-eater during a summer job with a carnival in 1932.

Although Beshenich has smoked cigarettes much of his life, his doctor assures him his lungs are like a non-smoker's. That's because he's never inhaled.

''See, I couldn't get in that habit because if you get absent-minded and inhale just once with fire in your mouth, it'll be your last act,'' said Beshenich, who performs at Pittsburgh night spots. ''I'm not joking when I say you can't afford burnout in my vocation.''

---

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Elegant in sports coat and tie, the boy reached for the mound of potatoes shaped like a duck and ripped off its head.

The lad next to him picked out his duck's eyes and crunched into them, gulping when he realized he'd just chomped a pair of peppercorns.

Meanwhile, their classmates - or at least the girls - listened to etiquette tips from Robert Kocher, manager of the Riverview Restaurant.

''We'll be glad to know this when we get to high school,'' said 12-year-old Melissa Smith. ''But I think the boys don't really care.''

Instead of the bologna on the menu that day at St. Paul's Episcopal School in New Orleans, the seventh- and eighth-grade students began their lunch with shrimp cocktail. Cranberry juice or milk filled their wine glasses.

The lesson in manners was not the students' idea, said middle-school coordinator Ann Hergenrother.

''Their parents thought it would be nice to teach them about dining at an elegant restaurant,'' she said.

Stephen Crawford, 14, went to the heart of the matter: ''What's for dessert?''

''Profiteroles,'' answered chef Stephen Juliusburger. ''It's pastry filled with homemade ice cream, but you've got to eat all your vegetables first.''

---

DARBY, Mont. (AP) - The public schools in this rural town received an anonymous $50,000 donation last week, the same way a fire district 50 miles down the road received an anonymous $25,000 gift a week earlier.

Darby School Superintendent Dale Huhtanen had been told the money was coming, but didn't believe it until the check arrived Monday with a letter specifying that the money should be used for library needs.

An officer in a Chicago bank called him Dec. 30 to ask about the needs of the west-central Montana district.

At the end of the conversation, the woman added casually, ''Well, you'll be receiving a check for $50,000.''

Both school officials in this town of 600 and trustees of the Missoula River Fire District, which received a $25,000 donation the week before, said they plan to respect the donor's privacy. Both checks were from Boulevard Bank in Chicago.

A bank employee told Huhtanen only that the donor needed a tax write-off.

The district will have no trouble spending $50,000, Huhtanen said.

''Our libraries don't even have a card catalog system,'' he said. ''We're really short on reference materials. We're not going to have any trouble at all.''