I was a grown man before I was willing to believe that Mother Bell is capable of error. The telephone system had always worked flawlessly for me, and I took it - and the water supply - for granted.

In more recent years, I have received enough complaints about telephone company goofs to realize that the Bell System suffers from growing pains, the same affliction that plagues most large organizations these days.

Consider two reports that reached me on Wednesday. The first was from Albert L. Meyers. Preparing to move into a new condominium, Meyers on May 11 visited the C&P office in Wheaton, where a courteous salesman helped him pick out his plug-in phones and schedule installation for June 23.

In parting, the salesman said. "I'll be on a new job by June 23, but whoever is on duty here will have no trouble finding the record of this transaction and getting your equipment installed. Famous last words.

On June 22, the courteous salesman's replacement spent an hour looking for the record of the Meyers transaction, then ruled that the phones couldn't be installed until June 28.

"Every day that week," Meyers told me, "telephone installer were in our building, but even though were had taken our plug-in phones with us, the men said they weren't permeitted to install them until the 28th." I don't make the rules, mister I just follow them.

The second Bell System goof, says Sam Shaffer, "made a nonperson of me." Sam is now "tapering off" after serving Newsweek as a corespondent for many years. A friend of his who had to obtain Sam's phone number from another friend, asked him, "How come you're not in the phone book?" Sam was, as Jane Ace used to say, dumbfloundered. He had been in the local phone book for decades. Now be found, he's been out since January.

A call to C&P was answered by a MsScott who checked her records and then said. "I'm sorry, Mr. Shaffer, but we dropped your name after we received a call asking us to drop it."

"That call wasn't from me." Sam protested. "Do you mean to say that just anybody can call in and say he's Sam Shaffer and wants his name left out ofthe phone checking back to see if the call is authentic?"

"I'm sorry," Ms. Scott said, but it is not our policy to verify such reqyests."

That, like the water shortage, left Sam a little shaken. A good reporter would have called back, but I guess Mother bell isn't as newsmen are supposed to be.