Life at lunchtime was never complicated in the good old days. At noon I would walk to the local five-and-dime, climb up on a stool, order a hot dog and a cup of hot chocolate, lay my 20 cents on the counter and used the extra nickle for a bar of candy.

It never dawned on me until the third grade that I had been sitting on the same stool and eating the same meal for two years, making it roughly 54 yards of hot dogs consumed.

I was told then that the combination had gone up a nickle and there went the candy bar.

In junior high, social awareness took hold when the popular cheese sandwich went from a quarter to 30 cents. After a brief meeting we protested by refusing to sing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" in an assembly until the price came down. They gave in We sang.

In the late '40s New York and school brought Orwell's "Down and Out in London and Paris," alive for me. Horn and Hardart and their pot of beans, a roll, and coffee - all for 85 cents - was mainstay for many months.

There I made friends with a waiter from the Waldorf Astoria. He served lunch to Herbert Hoover, who lived down the hall from Gen. Douglas MacArthur in teh Waldrof Towers.

"Here was a guy," he would say, "who made his first million when he was still a kid. Every day at lunch he surrounds himself with the leaders of banking and industry. I serve maybe eight people meat and potatoes and all the poor guy can eat is baby food."

About this time Benny Berman, who now moves plates around Duke Ziebert's was working at teh Mayflower Hotel, where he started in 1936. A customer he served well who had his own table was J. Edgar Hoover.

"It was all silver service," he remembered. "The finest-eating people in the country would come there. It was gracious living, no hurrying. They talked about the war and politics. The captain would come to the table and make the customer fell like the King of Siam. I was the first American waiter there. They were all Europeans"

In those days, according to Benny, "You could get meat, potatoes and a vegetable for about $4 when most places around town would charge $1.25 for the same meal.

"There would be ice sculptures surrounding caviar. Sauces mixed at the table by the captain. There was a captain for every for tables. It is a lost art today."

In New York in the '50s, while life and lunches were turning less gracious in Washington, a cartoonist friend solved the problem of costly lunches.

I followed him into Wollworths. Turning, he said, "They have pretty good chop suey in here." He picked up the tab for $1.90.

Sidewalk stands with good sandwiches, cafeterias offering chicken, salami, pastrami, soft bagels, egg creams, made Fun City a standup Fat City at lunch. My meals were around $1.50 and I wondered if I would ever sit down again while I ate.

When the first child was born out went the "Diamond Jim Brady" style of life. It was a hot dog and an orange drink, still standing up, at Nedicks. The whole package set me back about 75 cents as I wondered how many more yards of hot dogs I needed to cross the goal line.

Duting that time in Washington a popular, medium-priced lunch spot was Jack Hunt's across the street from the USIA.

I was long and narrow and shaped like a dining car on a railroad. Jack sold seafood and steaks. It was popular with White House correspondents like Dan Rather and Tom Craven. Ed Murrow also would drop in for lunch quite often.

The lobbyists were still doing business, going to the more expensive places like the Mayflower. In the early part of the '50s the conversation was about MacArthur being removed by Truman and paranoia set in during Joe McCarthy's swing through the government.

Paul Garvey, a veteran USIA hand now retired, who said he always stuck with the then 45-minute lunch period for government workers said, "I returned from the Far East during that time and was appalled at the fear of the people."

"I invited a lady friend to lunch and asked if she wanted a cocktail," said a fellow who frequented Hunt's. She looked all around the restaurant and said, "No thanks, you never know who's watching and will turn you in." In the late '50s conversation turned to Gary Powers and the U-2 incident.

The Sans Souci was just another medium-priced restaurant in the early '60s when the Kennedys came to town. Jackie put a French chef in the White House.

"It was Camelot," said Garvey. "It was a lift from the Eisenhower years. The People were still recovering from the McCarthy era. Politics and gossip became the biggest conversation."

Tony Greco, an ex-marine from Brooklyn, went into building restaurants in 1959, and in many ways Greco's restaurant career reflects the growth of lunches in Washington.

He moved into Washington by opening two small carry-outs, boutht into Jean-Pierre, built and owned a piece of Tiberio, sold out and bought the Rive Gauche five years ago, and has recently opened his new place, "The Buck Stops Here."

New restaurants are opening up all over town and, according to a Chamber of Commerce spokesman, a half-million dollars are spent on lunch each week in D.C.

One lunch from the Rive Gaude Tony Greco remembered went like Beluga caviar, 2 ounces each . . . $112

Two double shots imported vodka . . . $20

A bottle of Dom Perignon champagne . . . $65

Rive Gauche salad, house dressing . . .$7.50

Turbot mousselin . . . $60

Montrachet white wine . . . $85

Venison . . . $32

Chateau Latour, 1959 . . . $150

Raspberry Romanoff . . . $12

A dessert wine-Chateau D'Yquem . . . $110

Two snfiters Martell Cognac Estra . . . $30

8 percent tax . . . $54

20 percent tip . . . $148

total $885.50

The bread and butter, Greco pointed out, came with the meal.

I headed hot dog with sauerkraut, to help add a couple of feet to my lifetime yards of dogs.