Newsboys get to be fixtures, and 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW belonged since who-knew-when to James Lanham Jr.

From a makeshift shelf in front of Bassin's Restaurant, Lanham sold papers with a smile - and an opinion.

He would tell you this guy Carter was wrecking the country. He would tell you how rotten the Russians are. He would say he couldn't remember a more humid August even if he could remember five.

He was the kind of newsboy who could remember the shortstop for the 1937 Giants off the top of his head. And the kind who didn't mind being called a newsboy 50 years after his boyhood.

But Lanham's customers really knew very little about him.

They never had a clue, for example, that Lanham, Md., is named for Lanham Jr.'s dirty beard and torn clothes and never have the slightest idea that Junior could have been one of the Washington area's biggets landowners if he had taken over his father's real estate business.

Many of his customers never even knew Lanham's name. And now they never will.

Two weeks ago, he went home to his apartment on nearby 12th Street NW without selling his Posts. He said he wasn't eating and didn't feel well. This followed a couple of mornings when regular customers said he seemed to be moving slowly, almost staggering.

The next morning, his roommate found him in bed, dead at 60 of what the D.C. Medical Examiner's Office later found was lumbar pneumonia of the left lung.

The morning after Lanham's death, Bob Dunagan, who handles the downtown street sales circulation route for The Post, put one of those big green newspaper dispensing racks where Lanham used to stand.

It's still there. And according to Dunagan, it's going to stay there.

"I had to," Dunagan said. "It just doesn't pay to put a man on that corner anymore. Not with the hotel and the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue coming."

But some of Dunagan's customers are mad about it.

They know the circulation boxes are more efficient than James Lanham Jr. could ever have hoped to be. And they know they can't bring Lanham back to the corner - or to life - by wishing it.

But a lot of them are not only newspaper readers; they are newspaper reporters, with offices in the National Press Building up the block. They buy a lot of newspapers, and they say they like to do so from a person, not a cage.

As Sheldon Wesson of Fairchild Publications put it, "A machine can never have a humorous, philosophical attitude."

The machine that replaced Lanham will be happy to accept a quarter for a 15-cent paper and not give back a dime. But as Wesson points out, it's hardly the same as all the times the boys from the press building would slip Lanham a quarter for The Post and tell him to keep the change.

Nor is the machine going to be capable of the kind of whimsy that Lanham used to display. Was it raining? Lanham would move his stand a few feet into a covered alcove between Bassin's and the parking lot next door. "My suburban location," he used to call it.

Granted, bemoaning the disappearance of a newsboy is a little like wishing the Model T were still roaming the streets. But surely, until construction of the new Pennsylvania Avenue complex begins, there's somebody somewhere who isn't made of wire mesch, and who has a memory for shortstops.

* * *

Belated thanks to Hazel M. Lieb, of Beltsville, who writes to say she's full of sympathy for the battles I and my forebears have fought in trying to get Levey spelled and pronounced correctly.

Lieb, of course, knows the problem pretty well from her own experience.

She has seen more than enough envelopes addressed to Leib, Leeb and Lib, thank you very much. Not to mention the sloppy types who write it Lied or Lier.

Meanwhile, Lieb says she has to struggle constantly to make it known that she'a a Lieb as in Libra, not a Lieb as in women's lib, or a Lieb as in library.

In my own case, the spelling errors tend to limit themselves to Levy or Leavy.

Once, somebody who hoped I was French made it Levee (accent on the second syllable, if you please).

Another time, a correspondent must have misheard the separation of first name and last. His letter was addressed to Bob Blevey.

But remembering how to pronounce LEE-vee ought to be a snap.

Levies are taxes. Levees are what you build beside a flooding river. I, like you, want as little as possible to do with taxes or floods. Therefore....

Jerry Brown from President? One postcard scribbler out there insists that Ms. Ronstadt's friend would be far better suited to the vice presidency.

"After all," says our man, "who better than a Zen Buddhist to occupy the Navel Observatory?"