It's hot:

Traffic lights and fireplugs ripple in front of your eyes. The sidewalk bakes like pot pie. The puddles you think you see in the distance vanish before you reach them. The sun beats at the nape of your neck, and as for respiration, air might as well be porridge.

"Hot enough for you?" someone asks.

You want to be nasty. Instead, you turn away, blotting your brow with a handkerchief. What you really want to do is go home.

Night brings no relief.

In your hot bed, you dream dreams of boiler rooms, melting watches and branding irons. You have visions of steam-vents and red-hot pipes lining a tunnel without end, amen. The words "Tierra del Fuego" keep flashing at the base of your brain.

You wake in a fever, the sheets by your bed in a heap.

You suffer.

Ah, but you suffer wrongly.

Don't fight it, friend, just go with it. There's a whole hot world out there.

Get hot. The hotter the better. Be a hothead. Hum a hot number, hotfoot it over to a hot time.

Take a certain Mrs. P.G., a 37-year-old Washingtonian for whom the heat's a treat.

"I'm energized by the hot weather," she chirps. "I work harder and get more done. Last Sunday, I did all my housework and didn't even work up a sweat. But I love working up a sweat.

"I hate winter. I hate sledding, skiing and skating. Winters, I spend all my spare time in a hot tub with a hot toddy. I don't go out.

"But summer -- there's tennis and picnics. I paint the house and work in the garden. Summertime things are just neater."

That's the spirit. Now, won't you join the fun?

Aw, c'mon. It's hotsy-totsy. Guaranteed.

Just take your cue from the compendium of hot stuff below. HOT AND HEAVY: Hardly anyone visits Gabriel Herrera these days at the Madison Hotel at 15th and M, so why not go cheer him up and shed some extra pounds in the bargain? If you're a male of the species, you can sweat in his sauna and lie down on his massage table. Catch him weekdays, noon to 9. Sauna $10; with massage $25. By appointment. Call 862-1720. "It's a slow season for us," Herrera advises, "so it's very easy to get an appointment." IN HOT WATER: Make like a lobster at the Watergate Health Club. For $12, parking included, you can spend two hours in a whirlpool bath, steaming at 100-plus degrees. Facilities for men and women. Open weekdays 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., weekends 10 to 6. Call 337-7055. Drawn butter not provided. HOT HANDS: Speaking of Watergate, you might want to ring up ex-mastermind G. Gordon Liddy and challenge him to an incendiary test of nerve and skill. When it comes to mano a mano, very few can hold a candle to him. CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: If you have a cat, and nthing better to do one afternoon, look around for a tin roof and install him there. Invite Tennessee Williams. Either he'll remark how clever you are or call the ASPCA. HOT FLASH: Put some pizazz in your hot summer day by hanging out with Roy C. Sullivan, a retired park ranger from Waynesboro, Virginia. Ranger Roy, who used to work in Shanandoah Natinal Park, had been struck, by seven lightning bolts as of June 1977. When we called him up last week, he sounded a touch distressed. "I was struck the other day, but I'd rather not talk about it." For the record, it's not seven, it's eight and counting.

HOT POTS: For a mere $183.50 plus timers and controls, you can own a kiln. Manufactured by the L&L Co. of Pennsylvania, this brick-lined, steel-jacketed marvel runs on 110 volts and generates 1800 degrees. Bigger than a breadbox -- 14 3/8 inches in diameter and 13 1/4 inches deep -- it'll fire a lot of clay ashtrays. HOT ROCKS: Now is the time to think seriously about that sauna you've always wanted. For about $1,800, you can build your own from pre-cut western red cedar, ignacious rocks and Finnish-produced heating controls. Charles Miller of American Physical Fitness Co. in Vienna says complete assembly of the Metos model, which accommodates four people sitting or two lying down, should take about 16 hours. Set aside two sweltering days. HOT DENIAL: Rumor long has had it that British diplomats in Washington once received tropical hardship pay. A staffer in the British Foreign Office's information section was willing the other day to confirm it, but embassy administrator Ronald Tidy said the whole notion is poppycock. Happily, the contradiction was resolved by Len Muir of the press section.

"We get this question at least twice a year," Muir said hotly.

"Washington was never a hardship post. Of course, from 1924 to 1928, the entire embassy staff would decamp during the summer to Machester by the sea in Massachusetts. In 1929, because of naval treaty negotiations that were going on, the staff was ordered to stay in Washington through the summer, and, in fact, the annual exodus to Manchester ceased.

"By way of compensation, the local staff was allowed, in addition to their month's annual leave, to take two weeks leave every two years on condition that a, they did it between 1 July and 31 August, and b, they left the Washington area. They couldn't just sit at home and expect extra leave.

"When the new embassy on Massachusetts Avenue opened in 1930, the practice was stopped altogether. The new location was considered to be so far away from downtown Washington that it provided a healthier climate. It should also be noted, by the way, that Washington was never listed officially as an unhealthy climate." Got that? HOT SPOTS:

The Eastern Airlines baggage area at National Airport (112 degrees July 16, when the outside temperature hit a record 103).

The Pepco pOtomac River Electric Plant in Alexandria (125 degrees July 16).

The Tompke Aluminum Co., at 4201 East Monument Street in Baltimore (1300 degrees, any given day). Therein lies a furnace, capable of melting 100,000 pounds of aluminum all at once. It operates 16 hours a day, but you'll need some fancy chatter to get close. Insurance risks, says plant manager Peter Darby. Anyway, it's nice to know it's there. HOT CROSS BUNS: They're out of season. But there's nothing wrong with croissants and French bread. You can watch them being made, and even get a taste, at Vie de France in Vienna. A bakery tour can be arranged by calling Debbie Shank a week before you want to come (703/734-9426). "We start production on the French bread about 3:30 in the afternoon. Croissants are early." THAT'S A HOT ONE, HA!: In July 1940, Washington sign painter Jack Goldsmith was hailed as a visionary when he shoved ice cubes and handkerchiefs into his Panama hat. "Ice-conditioning," Goldsmith called it. "If the system gets too cold, you merely add another handkerchief." HOT CAKES: The German Apple Pancake at Three Chefs (Annandale, Arlington, Falls Church and Woodbridge) takes half an hour to make. But that's okay: It also takes half an hour to eat. HOT ROD: Drag over to Maryland International Raceway for a day in the bleachers. Gates open 2:30 Saturday for the stock-car time trials, with the main event at 7:30. "Probably our most spectacular thing is the funny car burn-out," says general manager Todd Mack. "The drivers spin their wheels into huge billows of white smoke. The fans go nuts." Take Route 301 south to Route 234, then left on 234. $5 admission.

Or, if you really want hot rods, how about a nice excursion to Three Mile Island? HOT TIP: Like your heat horsey? Trot over to Timonium, the only game in town right now. Nine races a day, Monday through Saturday, starting at 1, except Wednesday when the first race begins at 3, Take I-495 to I-695 West toward Towson, use Exit 83 N, turn right at Padonia Road, right at the first traffic light (York Road) and into Timonium Fair Grounds. $2 admission, but if you're hot, you'll win it all back for sure. HOT TODAY: If you slide into Clyde's and ask for hot buttered rum, they may give you a once-over instead. So try The Third Edition, 1218 Wisconsin Avenue NW, where barkeep Nick Volkov will be happy to whip one up -- even though, as he says, "it's a pretty weird-tasting drink." HOT PROPERTY: It's not a moment too soon to start saving for the tag sale of the year. That's September 6, when the District of Columbia Police Department will auction off a warehouse-full of unclaimed stolen goods at the D.C. Armory, 19th and East Capitol Streets. "It's a yard-sale freak's delight," promises Officer James Money of the property department. "We got bikes, mopeds, TVs, stereos, fishing rods, stoves -- you name it. I'm telling you, it's a scream." He says arrive with an open mind at 7 a.m. HOT PURSUIT: If jogging in the park gets boring, bare your teeth and chase cyclists. BE NOT SO HOT: In 1974, University of Texas scientists announced they had achieved brief temperatures of 200 million degrees. HOT PEPPER JELLY: You'll need 1/4 to 1/2 cups red or green hot peppers, chopped; 1 1/2 cups chopped bell peppers; 6 1/2 cups granulated sugar; 1 1/2 cups vinegar; 1 bottle Certo (liquid pectin). Note: remove seeds from pepper. Chop peppers with vinegar in blender or food processor until liquid. Bring this mixture plus sugar to a brisk boil in a large pot; let boild three minutes, stirring occasionally. Add Certo and let boil one minute. Remove from heat and let sit five minutes before putting in jars. Strain or add red food coloring if desired. Let cool completely. Makes six to eight small jars. RED HOTS: The folks at Ferrara Pan Candy Co. in Forest Park, Illinois, move about nine million pounds of these cinnamony-tasting treats -- that's 13,500,000,000 Red Hots -- every year. Salvatore Ferrara 2d, a third generation candy man, says they've been made the same way since 1910. Even the package looks the same. And the price (you still can pick up a 10-cent box) hasn't changed as much as you'd think. But there's one big difference. "Lately, a lot of people have been dropping Red Hots into their bourbons and waters," Ferrara says. HOT, HOTTER, HOTTEST: You decide:

The Lamb Vandalu at the Tandoor Restaurant, 3316 M Street NW. Even Jagdish Katyal, Tandoor's owner, thinks it's hot. "Unbelievable," as he puts it. "It's very good for your health, like a medicine for the body. It can even cure a cold."

Hot Chili and Garlic sauce -- served with pork, shrimp or chicken at The Thai Room, 5037 Connecticut Avenue NW. Packs an eye-popper of a wallop.

Kedjenou Poulet a L'Etouffee at Baobab Restaurant, 2106 18th Street NW. Chef Tidiana Diarra says this West African specialty, a favorite of Ivory Coast, is the only dish that doesn't come with hot sauce on the side. "And no one ever asks for it," he adds. HOT UNDER THE COLLAR: Now don't fly off the handle.Senator John Tower of Texas said it, we didn't: "I don't know any restaurant in Washington that serves chili worthy of the name." The diminutive Texan says the chili situation is so bad in these parts that he has to make do with his own prize-winning recipe. To wit: Sear three pounds of meat until the color of one of Tower's Saville Row suits, add 15 ounces canned tomato sauce, one cup water, one teaspoon Tabasco, three heaping tablespoons chili powder or ground chili peppers, one heaping tablespoon oregano, one heaping teaspoon camino powder, two chopped onions, garlic to taste, one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon cayenne powder, one level teaspoon paprika, a dozen red peppers and four or five chili pods. Simmer an hour and a quarter, then add thickening (two heaping tablespoons of flour mixed with water). Simmer 30 more minutes.

As to blanket condemnations of restaurant chili, we'll let the senator take the heat. HOT FLICKS: When it comes to that straight shot to the viscera, there's little to compare with the flicks that simmer. It never matters if the theater is, as they say in showbiz, cooled by refrigeration.Before the curtain falls, you're guaranteed to have staggered into the lobby, eyes wild, lips parched, a hoarse whimper in your throat: "Water -- Coke -- Pepsi -- I'll even take a Tab . . ."

It's a sorry spectacle, all right. Hot flicks are not for the cold-hearted.

There are a few scorchers, however, you might wish to sample in the privacy of your home. Just kill the lights, flip off the central air and hunker down for a long, hot summer.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Melina Productions, 1962). Washington and Moscow simultaneously test two nuclear devices at the North and South Poles. The earth careens out of orbit and toward the sun. Temperatures rise. Teenagers riot. Bring a high-pressure hose and a tube of tanning lotion.

Lawrence of Arabia (Columbia, 1962). Peter O'Toole wears a kaffiyeh and rides camels. Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn are in a bad mood. So are the camels. Don't forget to shake the sand our of your shoes.

The Flight of the Phoenix (20th Century Fox, 1965). A transport plane piloted by Jimmy Stewart crash-lands in the Sahara. Water grows scarce. Ernest Borgnine goes crazy. Bedouins slit Peter Finch's throat. Stewart stops shaving. Ditto on the sand.

Lawrence is available at the Prince George's County Library; the other two can be gotten through major film-rental outlets. SOME LIKE IT HOT: On his travels as a rock concert security specialist, Washingtonian Mike Evans, like many of his rock-star clients, is always in search of "the incredible kick." Evans' mot momentous discoveries to date: jalapeno peppers stuffed with crunchy peanut butter (Dallas) and Cajun Chef Hot Sauce (New Orleans). When not on the road, Evans reports, he polishes off a giant bottle of Tabasco every two weeks. HOT LICKS: Jazz at One Step Down Lounge, 2517 Pennsylvania NW, where it doesn't take many to make a crowd. Saxophonist Warn Marsh is the featured attraction 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $4 cover. Or, if Dixieland and ragtime's your pleasure, call the Potomac River Jazz Club (573-TRAD) for a list of goings-on about town. Hotcha! HOT TIMES: Nothing so homey as a crackling fire. So have a few close friends over and roast chestnuts in your fireplace. Gather 'round the ivories and sing "Summertime," "We're Having a Heat Wave" and "It's Too Darn Hot." If you invite Richard Nixon, by all accounts a pretty fair paino player, he can accompany. He always liked a warm hearth in the summertime, too. Remember? HOT LIPS: You can hire the services of a fire-eater to amuse and amaze your friends, Brian Suddeth (301/262-2452) and Ed Sparrow (765-6000) are two who'll eat the heat. Sparrow, a 20-year veteran who likes to show up in a tuxedo ("This is a class act"), not only eats fire, he can spit it 20 feet.