Holiday cards from out-of-town friends spread much cheer in their wake. Many of them provide us with opportunities to renew our ties to old and valued friends.

For me, the first card of the season is usually the one from Cincinnati's postmaster. The second is usually from Henry Willard, one of the Willard estate's heirs, who now lives in Florida.

My college roommate, who appears to have become mayor-in-perpetuity of Paso Robles, Calif., doesn't believe in cards. He sends a letter and usually asks. "Why don't your retire, you old fool? Move out to California and I'll teach you how to live."

My brother-in-law's card was postmarkded in China this year and said, "Dear Bernice and Bill: Why don't you leave it all and see how three-fourths of the world lives?We are having the most exciting experience of our lives. Bill would have material for columns for the next 50 years. A remarkable people and a remarkable history. Jack and Lois."

They live in Dallas, and I suspect that what impresses them most is the discovery that China is larger than Texas.

Jack Eggers, John Tallman, Jim Wessel and I grew up together in Cincinnati back in the days when growing up consisted of playing three full games of baseball on Saturday and then hitting fungoes until it got too dark to see the ball come down. As youwill note below, Tallman's love of the game won him a new name. None of us has called him Tallman in 50 years.

Wessel retired from his job with the Associated Press in New York several years ago and now lives on Cape Cod.His card filled me in on all the latest news. He wrote:

"Jack was here in the spring, Ballman in the fall. Jack retired from Sears Roebuck and thanks to their profit-sharing plan, he's doing O.K. Ballman is semi-retired. I'm managing to keep ahead of the sheriff. When I see him coming, I head for the golf course. The way I play, I'm always in the woods, so he can never fine me."

Enclosed was a mimeographed sheet headed, "Christmas Time on Cape Cod Is When:" These entries followed:

"You can have two miles of ocean beach all to yourself.

"The major event of the day is the arrival of the mailman.

"The sound of a car in the neighborhood is so unusual it sends you running to the window.

"The sun sets at 4 p.m. and the neighborhood is plunged into almost total darkness because so few houses are occupied in winter.

"The major problem is trying to outwit the raccoons which, despite all precautions, manage to tip over the garbage container and spread its contents around the yard.

"No one wants to visit you.

"Most bars and restaurants are closed. Their owners are in Florida spending the loot they obtained by overcharging summer vistors.

"There is no waiting on the first tee." SAME OLD STORY

Whether you ride the bus or commute in your own car, rush-hour traffic delays probably try you patience.

Some delays are unavoidable. They are caused by too many people trying to use the same piece of roadway at the same time.

Delays caused by malfunctioing traffic signals are another matter. No law of nature says a traffic signal must get out of synchronization at regular intervals, or stop working entirely, as ours frequently do.

Example: For weeks now, some traffic lights have been malfunctioning on heavily traveled Massachusetts Avenue NW.I refer to those at Whitehaven Street and at 30th Street (the two little streets between the Mosque and the Iranian Embassy). There is so little traffic on these side streets that the traffic lights at both intersections are supposed to remain green for Massachusetts and red for the side streets unless an approaching vehicle on the side street triggers a sensor.

Unfortunately, the sensing mechanism gets out of kilter frequently and is never fixed promptly.

Many policemen are stationed in that area now to protect the Iranian Embassy, so I mentioned the matter to one of them at 4 a.m. recently.

"It's been reported by several of us," the policemen said. "I reported it myself two weeks ago. When I'm on day work, I see traffic backed up because the lights turn red on Mass Avenue in a constant cycle, even when no cars are waiting to get out of the side streets. But the highway people still haven't fixed it."

Question No. 1: Why do our traffic lights malfunction so frequently? Question No. 2: Why does it take so long to send out a repair crew? WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

When you have to say "Thank you" to a friendly OPEC member that wanted to raise your oil price by "only" 33 percent, you're in trouble.