THE REAGAN forces were sitting back relaxed at headquarters. Ronnie was sticking to the script as they had written it for him, and everything had been going well. Then suddenly, out of the blue, Reagan decided to ad-lib his opinion on the environment, and the sulphur dioxide hit the fan.

One of the aides rushed in with a wire story. "Ronnie just announced the battle for clean air is over and attacked the volcanic eruption of Mt. St. Helens."

"Okay, can the jokes. The election isn't won yet."

"I'm not kidding. He said in Ohio that Mt. St. Helens had released more sulphur dioxide into the air then had been released by automobiles in the last 10 years."

"Automobiles don't pollute with sulphur dioxide."

"Well, don't get mad with me. I didn't tell him to say it."

"Get him on the phone . . . Ronnie, where are you? . . . You think you're over Los Angeles? Aren't you sure? . . . You can't see because it's all brown smog down there? Ronnie, why did you get into the clean air thing without checking with us first? . . . I know it sounded like a good idea comparing Mt. St. Helens with pollution but, Ronnie, you got it all wrong. Cars pollute with nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and other gases. Mt. St. Helens' sulphur is peanuts compared with what man-made pollutants are doing to the atmosphere . . . I know you're not a scientist, Ronnie . . . apeople want their president to have the facts before he speaks. Can you see the airport yet? . . . You can't see anything but dirty clouds . . . Los Angeles isn't going to like what you said about the battle for clean air being won.

"Ronnie, remember how you promised you would not say anything unless we we put it on cur cards for you? . . . I know how much you hate EPA Everyone hates EPA, but you're not going to win votes attacking it when no one can see Los Angeles. "And while I've got you on the phone, why did you have to attack trees? People love trees . . . Yes, you did attack them. You said that 93 percent of all nitrogen oxide pollution comes from vegetation. You got nitric oxide mixed up with nitrous oxide. Trees give nitrous oxide, which is harmless and nontoxic . . . I'm not loading you down with a lot of chemistry, Ronnie. But this is the kind of stuff the other side can throw at you to prove you don't know what the heck you're talking about. Now all they're going to be asking you for the next week is what do you have against trees . . .

"What are you coughing for? . . . The smog is getting into the plane . . . No, it's not from the trees, Ronnie . . . it's from the automobiles down below that you can't see. You are going to have to make a statement when you land . . . You want to say everyone is nit-picky and just trying to get away from the real issue? . . . That's the best you can come up with? . . . Why don't you say you are still an environmentalist at heart and your words were taken out of context? That should give us time to come up with something better . . . "By the way, did you really say the old slicks off Santa Barbara are good for people's health? . . . I was afraid you did . . . Yes, Ronnie, it could present a problem . . .

"Ronnie, people don't like oil slicks, natural or man-made . . .

"Please don't talk about oil slicks again . . . We'll send you new cue cards so you won't have to deal with the clean air issue at all.

" . . . Of course, you're your own man, Ronnie, and you have a right to say anything that comes to your mind. But stay away from trees unless you know the difference between nitric oxide and nitrous oxide.

"Are you still trying to land? . . . You're going to in spite of the smog? . . . Okay, Ronnie, good luck. But for heaven's sake, stay indoors while you're there. We don't want you to get sick from the pollution . . . Do I have any good lines for you as you get off the plane? . . . How about this: You come off smiling, not coughing, and you say, "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree . . . " No, don't memorize it. Write it down, Ronnie, write it down."