We are now in Phase 5 of the Great Gasoline Crisis of 1979.

In Phase 1, we didn't believe there was a crisis.

In Phase 2, we thought it was a crisis that affected only California. People began telling California jokes, e.g.: A Roadside sign at the state border that says, "You are now leaving California. Resume normal conduct."

In Phase 3, we were thunderstruck to discover that gasoline was also difficult to buy in our own neighborhoods.

In Phase 4, we tried to find some way to beat the game, so that we could continue our previous driving habits without being inconvenienced.

Now we're in Phase 5. Having found that there is no way to endrun the shortage, we're getting patriotic. We're thinking in terms of conservation.

One suggestion that has caught my fancy is the one that would have each person forgo the use of his automobile one day a week. Pick any day you like. The government gives you a windshield sticker that specifies the day you won't drive; then if you're caught driving on that day, you're in trouble.

I like it, but it has some drawbacks.

Suppose you're a doctor or nurse, or anybody else who is subject to call on his day off. Suppose you're a member of a Pepco emergency crew called out to repair downed wires. Suppose you're a policeman or bus driver or bartender, and your workday doesn't end until after midnight but the next day is the day your sticker says you won't drive.

Back to the drawing board for some perfecting amendments on that one.

Meanwhile, I have a proposal of my own to offer. For the duration of this emergency, I'm willing to let my lawn get along without its weekly mowing. Until OPEC brings down prices, the lawn could be mowed everyother week instead of weekly.

If other patriots join me in making this great sacrifice, half our Saturday and Sunday mornings would be silent. One's first thought upon awakening would not be, as it now is, "A helicopter is about to land on my roof!"

The neighborhood lad who does the mowing wouldn't have to top off his mower's tank so often, and millions of other mowers across the land would also fall silent every other weekend. A man might actually get caught up on his Zs twice a month, and OPEC's revenues would plummet.

The only thing that worries me about my plan is this: Are we psychologically prepared to cope with all that silence on two consecutive weekend mornings? I'm not sure I could, but I'd be willing to try. It's my patriotic duty. I'm in Phase 5, too.

NUMBERS GAME

Speaking of topping off gas tanks, John Mang Jr. asks how this practice can account for the present shortage of gasoline. "After everybody has topped off for the first time," he points out, "the usage of gasoline would be constant afterward, wouldn't it?"

It seems to me it would. The real question, I think, is: How big a factor is that original act of topping-off?

Let's try some curbstone arithmetic. Many motorists don't bother to top-off, but let's suppose 50 million vehicles each carry 5 gallons more than they normally would. That would be a 250 million gallon drain on our reserves. If each of 50 million cars carries 10 gallons more than usual, that would siphon off 500 million gallons.

In 7 million barrels of oil a day go into gasoline and there are 42 gallons in a barrel and the conversion rate from oil to gasoline is 44 percent, my calculator says we use just short of 130 million gallons of gasoline a day. If those numbers are right, topping off has shifted perhaps a four-day supply of gas from storage tanks to auto tanks.

If our reserves are so skimpy that a four-day loss is enough to trigger a buying panic, we're in more trouble than I thought.

VOICE OF EXPERIENCE

"Children are a great comfort to you in your old age," notes Bob Orben, "but, like Social Security, it's nowhere near as much as you had expected."

LIFE'S DARKEST MOMENT

Brief report from Don Epperson of Austin, Texas: "I recently went to a new dentist. When I saw his certificate hanging on the wall, I remembered there was a Wendell A. Ashton in my high school. But when I saw his white hair and deeply line face, I decided he was too old to have been in my class. However, I asked him whether he had ever attended East High School. He said, 'Yes.'

"'When did you graduate?' I asked.

"'In 1936,' he said.

"'You were in my class,' I said.

"He looked at me closely, then asked, 'What did you teach?'"