I am periodically overwhelmed by a sense of dread. It is nearly always caused by the fact that no matter how many coupons I clip, how many money-saver dinners I prepare, how many exotic vacations we eschew, the cost of living is creeping up on our income.

What happens, asks my secret self, when it costs more to live than we are bringing in?

This feeling occurs regularly after I have been to the supermarket. Most recently it was caused by the fact that the cost of a gallon of milk went up 4 cents. There was no announcement of this price change; it just happened. In addition to bringing on a sense of dread, the price hike also made me feel angry, helpless, frustrated and cheated.

The elation that went with tuna fish at 57 cents a can disappeared when the price soared back to 97 cents, and again when the price of Doritos (my children's favorite junk food) jumped inexplicably from 89 to 99 cents in one week.

I also experience this sense of dread at the gas station. Last week unleaded gas cost 99 cents; this morning it was $1.08 a gallon.

Why do we pay more for gas when profits are higher than ever? Who are the winners in this game? The presidents of the oil companies, the chairmen of the board and the boards of directors who know their year-end bonuses will reflect those heavy profits?

Who are the losers? You and me -- who have no alternative but to swallow hard and pay the higher prices. Nuts.

Not only do I feel that I am being exploited when I eat and drive my car, but when I go to the doctor and finally get so sick I end up in the hospital, where I can watch the prices go up all day long.

The president is right. There is a crisis of confidence, not in the people, but in the leasters (including politicians on both the left and right, business men, oil men, and bankers). I don't believe that this inflationary spiral is the free-enterprise, fair-profit motive at work. I think we are being manipulated by greedy men (believe me, they are all men) who spend their every waking moment thinking up new ways to gouge the consumer.

It is time for the Middle Class Revolt. We must devise a system to beat the System before it beats us.

As a first step I propose that the District government sponsor a series of town meetings where the public can confront various segments of private industry and question them about their policies. One week the public would meet the heads of supermarkets, the next the heads of gas and fuel companies, and so on, repeating the cycle every month or two. The public does have a right to know.

For example, at the town meeting with supermarket executives, I would like to know the answers to the following questions:

Why does milk cost over $1.90 a gallon in Washington and only $1.49 two hours away?

Why does butter cost $1.83 here and $1.47 there?

Why does the price of eggs plummet at Easter time and skyrocket a week later?

In order to make these town meetings work, public relations executives would be forbidden to answer the questions, only executives with responsibility for decision-making. Setting up this system of communication between the public and private industry would not, of course, solve all the problems or bring down the prices, but better understanding between the two groups would help defuse some of the public's anger. And perhaps accommodations could slowly and carefully be worked out.

Meanwhile, it's time to go back to the supermarket. I dread seeing what new and bigger number is stamped on the milk today.