I can hear it now, "straw Bear, straw BEAR," when the fellow in the little wagon was coming down our street selling strawberries.

And there were other cries, of course, for butterbeans and watermelons, and the ragman's cart was pulled by a mule with a hat (his ears sticking through against the sun, and the tinker banged a great tin pan to signal his readiness for business.

Eh, that was a while back and far away, and I date the general collapse of the standards from the day they lugged off the cypress water trough for the street mules.

Instead, they hung up a tin pail on a pole with a sign that you could get water for the mule at the faucet of the neighborhood gas station. And then (for such is progress) they carried off the pail, too, and we didn't have any more mules for vendors or street cries at all.

Now this was not a heartbreak-type loss. Not the kind of outrage that marshals a common front of protest. It was too trifling a matter to get upset over, and all that happened was a decline of reasonance in the daily air.

Our mortal zoo no longer has straw bears.

When television came along, the commercials were ingenious, but hardly the same as a real mule or a real straw bear and I gave up expecting much of them.

One night, in TV's early days, Eleanor Roosevelt took to the tube, to promote cooking fat - cleomargarine, if memory serves - for the benefit, somehow, of one of those good works she was fond of.

She could charm a slug off a lettuce, and if she had applied herself she had all the makings of the great vendors of my childhood, but of course it was only a one-shot deal for her on behalf of charity. It did remind me at the time, however, that talent will out.

But then there was the long drouth, as you might say, in which nobody sold anything worth mentioning and I assumed the golden age of salesmanship was done.

Yet now I see the fault was mine, for not detecting the same sweet peddlers, the same sweet cries, with us today only in different guise.

My old school (now as so often in the past my gateway to grand horizons) sent me this Monday a circular that authorized me to buy (for a week's salary) a blue china plate with a raised design on it illustrating the old library down there.

Collectors, the letter said, are all on fire to purchase these plates. But they can't. Not unless they went to my school.

Good. That will show the greedy bastards they can't grab everything.

Only we who went to school there have the honor of buying the plates, though we're on our own when the world's collectors come at us begging to buy one.

I thought little about this until Tuesday when another circular from the school's almuni office arrived, this time announcing I could buy a watch with a genuine gold-plated face with the school library engraved on it.

Of course you feel a bit rueful when it dawns on you the faculty has perceived teaching is not going to work out, really, and has gone into the dry-goods field.

But I thought no more about that until Wednesday.

On that day I was honored to receive word of "an historic undertaking" in which I would be permitted to buy a series of gold-plated silver medals of eminent Americans, chosen by our esteemed servant Dr. Henry Kissinger, sometime secretary of state.

Kissinger is quoted to the general effect that his series of medals reflects the spirit, wisdom, high courage, etc., of these great Americans, and another fellow states these silver medals (or "the program," as they call the series) bear the "unmistakable imprint of Dr. Kissinger's knowledge, experience and authority."

At the moment, they say, Dr. Kissinger is "drawing upon his insights into history" but the portrait medals will be ready in November, for all that.

"Perhaps no other man alive," they go on, "today combines his first-hand experience of how individual initiative . . ."

What I like best if the democratic nature of the Kissinger-guided program. Unlike the plates and wristwatches offered by my school, that only we band of brothers are allowed to buy, Dr. Kissinger's medals can be bought by anybody whether he went to school or not.

In addition, at no extra cost, Dr. Kissinger's "overview" of the historial significance of Daniel Webster and so on, will be sent along and so will a certificate of authenticity bearing the Kissinger signature.

When the tinker used to come round, it was always his "in addition" services at no extra cost that persuaded us to give him the loose pan handles to fix. He'd sharpen a knife for you on the side.

Dr. Kissinger is not the only man to have spurts of insight, and it came to me instantly:

We must teach these people melodious cries and give them a mule and put them on our streets.

Along with his unique insights the great secretary has mastered a melodious English, very like the cantaloupe man of our old neighborhood, and my old instructor of Chaucer at school is ideally suited (I always thought, from the beginning) to ride about with a wagon of wristwatches and plates.

"JefferSON, JefferSON, fine bright JefferSONS, the cry would soar.

And we would not trot out and buy Jeffersons, as we once bought butterbeans, and the wagon mules would wear strawhats and drink out of brand new cypress watering troughs and the air would ring once more and the lovely past (an historic past, needless to say) would be recaptured in our time.