You'd probably like to have James E. Vesper's problem.

Vesper says that "it's getting down to decision time" on whether to continue "my real love and my real career" as a stockbroker in the Bethesda office of Merrill Lynch or to devote himself to Vesper Environmental Research Inc., which he formed to market his Breath Easy, a non-electric room humidifier.

The former Woodrow Wilson High School quarterback, American University graduate in economics and Commerce Department economist has parlayed his solution to wintertime dryness into a business that racked up $300,000 in sales last season.

He also has to decide whether to sell his business, Procter & Gamble Co., Water-Pik and a third party he won't identify are interested.

The current model, called the Breathe Easy II, consists of a plastic tray that holds a quart of water and has a raised top and sides that support four vertical polyurethane panels. Capillary action causes water around the bottom of the panels to rise along the panels where it can be picked up by air blowing from a heating register.

A two-piece plastic hook-and-latch assembly passes from the front of the humidifier through the back, permitting it to be attached securely to wall or baseboard air registers. A snap-on rear deflector directs heat and air into the humidifier if it is being used with a floor register, convector or radiator.

It can be used with hot-water or steam radiators, although it is not efficient there. The plastic case can withstand surface temperatures of up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Breathe Easy II is available in Washington-area Dart Drug, Drug Fair, Peoples Drug, Rodman and Woolco stores. The retail price is $9.95.

Vesper's venture began one winter's day in 1976 when he awakened with that terrible dry feeling encountered when a forced-air system is really pouring out the heat and the furnace humidifier - if there is one - isn't keeping up.

He took a pan and rigged supports with coat hangers to hold some fiber glass panels vertically. Then he piled books underneath until the construction was level with the wall register. "I filled it brimming full," he says, "Next morning when it was empty, I knew I was on to something."

He claims that "most of the furnace humidifiers don't work because the ductwork isn't insulated and the moisture dissipates" before it can reach the room outlets.

Vesper built a cardboard model and showed it to a friend, Dr. Leonard Rodman, head of the discount drugstore chain. Rodman sent him to see some heating and air conditioning consultants.

He decided to go ahead, and Rodman gave him "the best piece of advice: 'Jimmy, you're going to make mistakes. You have to. Don't kick yourself" when you do.

Vesper went to Rogay Plastics in Rockville and had his cardboard concept modeled in plastic. He took it to Dave Eisenberg, Peoples Drug Store senior vice-president for marketing. Eisenberg "said it was salable and he would buy it," Vesper recalls.

The novice inventor had connections and, being a stockbroker, wasn't broke. But that didn't guarantee an absence of problems:

* Production was delayed for one year because his supplier of fiber glass plates went out of business. Three of the 100 companies he sought replacements from suggested the alternate material he ended up using - polyurethane.

* Getting tooling on time wasn't easy. The tooling to produce the air deflector and the hook/latch each cost $13,000. "My first injection molder wanted half his money up front" for the initial run of 12,000 units.

* "The packaging has been a real bugaboo." The first box cost $500 to develop, but was too thin to withstand constant opening by customers who wanted to see what the new product looked like; the second, which also cost $500, was heavy enough, but not colorful enough to attract customers outside of hardware stores.

The third features full-color illustrations and is being produced by Mideastern Box Co. of Baltimore. It cost $3,000 to develop. The two Breathe Easy models cost $25,000 to develop.

* Selling to stores takes time and expertise. Vesper began by traveling around the country to stores during his vacation time, but then hit upon "the real key to expansion." He attended hardware and houseware trade shows in Chicago, where he met and signed up manufacturers' representatives, who now are selling Breathe Easy IIs to stores across the country.

The first model -- which had a weaker hook and no real air deflector - went on sale in 1979, and 25,000 units were purchased. Production began on the second model last month, and an improved version -- with front air deflector and pouring spout -- will be available early next year.

Vesper has gained four U.S. and three Canadian patents on his humidifier.

"Where am I going with this?" Vesper asked, "It's gotten awful big," and the effort of starting a new company ended his two-year string as top producer in his brokerage office.

"This has been a tough nut -- moving to another field," he said.