Jelly beans are quite bad for a hound, but my God, you don't think I fed them to the mutt, surely? It was Quiroli's fault -- we play cards sometimes -- and he doesn't think things through.

Before going an inch farther, let's acknowledge we often fail to recognize American life when reading newspapers. Man and boy I have studied; American life exhaustively, and I know it when I see it; but when I read things I say, "That's not life. That is just stuff."

Now you know perfectly well we go through our days in masks and are nice to people and efficient and agressive and all those good things. But secretly the true life of the nation goes on in us and it's not what we talk about in our daily business of making a living.

But this is real life that I speak with you about today, starting with the jelly beans and woe that they entrained, and I do this because it is a universal sort of condition, and now to get on:

Quiroli eats only the white jelly beans and I lean toward the red and purple. Both the yellows and blacks are licorice, which neither of us can take, and the greens are rather Day-glo spearmint, which I eat only under duress.

So it happened after a couple of nights of bridge there were only spearmint and licorice lift in the bowl and that was that and nobody gave it a thought.

Ah, the misery that flows from not giving things a thought.

Several days later, last Saturday, I noticed the jelly-bean bowl was empty except for one green specimen. One wonders, of course, who ate the licorice. But one does not address this sort of question with his full resources of reflection and analysis. Like so much else, it is vaguely baffling and one passes on.

After midnight Saturday -- 2:45 a.m. Sunday -- I was wakened from a just and innnocent sleep by the hound scratching madly on the bedroom door to go outside.

"Go back to bed," I said, and the beast sulked just long enough for Morpehus to cast his benison again, then scratched fit to bust the door down.

One gets up, yes, and leads the dog downstairs and out. There she is ill.

It is this animal's custom, when let out in the middle of the night, to tour the boundaries of the empire while she's about it, for who knows what ax-murderer or iris-thief or cat may lurk behind yon ancient yew tree.

"Come on," I screamed softly, and though the beast was through being sick she had barely begun her tour and I knew that as usual I was going to stand there for 20 minutes by God's clock. No less.

But like all healthy Americans I adapt to fate and, as one of the classical poets recommends, keep an even mind at all times.

I found in the icebox some turkey hash and heated it on the stove. The hound had still only got as far as musing which rarity of the garden to water and was still five minutes away from the shed, the goal of all her pilgrimages, and the garage, which is full of burlap sacks and drying tulip bulbs and similar material that needs inventory.

So there I was stirring the hash, wondering if a gill of water ought not to be added, and turned toward the faucet when BAM. Bam.

With the speed of light and the technique of Hitler a bug flashed through the air, crashed through all Maginots right into the ear canal.

We have never known, most of us, whether there is in fact any barrier between the ear canal and the brain. You may study those posters in the offices' of ear doctors all you like -- they are masterpieces of pictorial uninformation. I woke my wife. She got out the flashlight:

"Can't even see his feet," she said. "Are you sure he's still in there?"

When a bug -- a termite as it turned out -- is buzzing around in your brain you are quite sure.

"They're supposed to like oak," she said with such irony as was left me.

Many of us see no reason to kill animals, even bugs, for no good reason. I applied pressure at a spot I hoped would make the bug back out. The more I pressed, the more he burrowed in. Or drill?

The emergency room telephone was answered by a pleasant young woman recovering (I reckoned) from an overdose of Valium, but after a time the verdict came:

A person with a termmite down his ear canal can wait all right till morning.

Two hours and a half later the buzzing stopped.

How casual and wasteful death is. How little it avails to try to save a helpless creature from doom. Just this week, by the way, a woman told me she had asked her psychiatrist what this feeling of impending doom was, that she kept feeling.

"Impending doom," he said.

For three hours, then, I sat there with the poor termite buzzing (ever closer?) to my brain, then it (the struggle) stopped. The rest of the house had gone back to bed. The hound, back on the bed and much refreshed from her outing, began to snore happily.

Is there a termite society with a consciousness we know nothing about? Were other termites, perhaps anxious for their lost comrade? Was some sad and solemn bug writer at that very moment beginning to collect his thoughts -- a Sophocles of termites -- to remind his fellows that even termites are not gods but must bow to hard fate?

The next morning my ear doctor was (this will astonish you) unavailable. My own guess is that he spends much time alternating between the dives of Amsterdam and those of Paris. But his stand-in kindly returned my call:

"It can wait till tomorrow," he said with the cheerfulness doctors use when they are clearing the decks for a golf game." Pour some gin down the canal," he said.

"Would rubbing alcohol do?" I inquired.

"Oh sure. but I thought -- well sure, rubbing alcohol will do fine."

Doctors always assume if something happens to you at 3 a.m. you have two or three gallons of gin on the table.

Monday came and went of course (my man was still in Paris for the Monday Night Special) but on Tuesday the poor remains of the termite were exhumed and put under a microscope. The doctor and I both peered at a wing so fragile, so exquisitely designed -- and that's all that was left.

"Thirty dollars," said a nice young woman as I left.

A cloud of termites, by the way, had been seen flying about in the back yard, which is how termites first came under suspicion. Another thousand, no doubt.

Now my bridge buddy knows none of this. Certainly he is not responsible. Altogether. If he would eat the licorice jelly beans and not be so prissy about the white ones, this whole business never would have happened. If he would keep his damn jelly beans home it would't have happened. If the stupid hound would stop climbing up on chairs to get at bowls on top of bookcases, it would not have happened.

But these things do happen. And needless to say, during the two days I served as a temporary tomb for the termite I acted as if nothing were wrong. Did my work. Smiled my smile.

There was nothing in the Sunday, Monday or Tuesday papers about bugs in ear canals. Many things go unreported. Primaries, schimaries and other fantasies, but of the real world very little. No wonder we ordinary citizens are uneasy.

I never see a fellow American on the street, with that worried expression that unfortunately characterizes people nowadays, but I think you never know, you just never know, what's bugging him.