I keep waiting for the Lord to smite Channel 26 hip and thigh.

But no. Instead of crumbling cinders (which would be just) she goes from strength to strength. At this very moment she luxuriates, like some flickering Babylon with all her tinsel triumphs fresh upon her.

All the same, I shall point out the rot.

This wicked station has (at last) completed its (interminable) Membership Week, a thing I first learned about while trying to tune in "Fawlty Towers," the main cultural offering of the fall, only to discover the station was ending her day a full hour late because of repeated and prolonged blatherings through the evening to raise money for the station.

The very thing they are proud of now -- the financial triumph of Membership Week, during which the audience pledged billions of dollars to support the station -- is a veritable cancer that will bring the house down, sooner or later.

As you know, Channel 26 is the community TV station, the cultural and educational station, that from time to time ("every damned month," as our greatest poets would say) resorts to hucksters who get in front of the cameras and commence braying for us to send them some cash.

"Hi," some loon begins, "I'm Dunstable Dimwit and with me in the studio is a celebrity you know and love, Lucretia Brockleigh."

"Thanks, Dimwit. Yes, friends, this is a great night as we begin [enter our 210th consecutive night, etc.] our Membership Week. You are about to see 'Nancy's Kittycat' on Masterpiece Theater. But now the phones are ringing [a tremendous electronic jangling is heard] as you, our audience, phone in your pledges."

At this point the celebrities, having run out of literate conversation, begin to look blank like lemurs abruptly awakened and let out of their cages, but after a few efforts at speech they switch us to a humanoid who is startled to find the camera turn upon it, but who recovers with a jerk:

"Oh. Thanks, Dimwit. Here we have a valuable electric feather duster which is yours [pathetically pointing a finger at the camera in imitation of a professionally produced commercial].

"All you have to do is pledge $5,000 and this mop -- excuse me, feather duster -- is yours absolutely free. Just telephone us [here the screen lights up with the phone number] and say you want to support our gorgeous efforts down here and be sure to ask for the mop. Uh. Feather duster. And now back to Dimwit."

Caught by surprise, that notable states:

"Uh." But continues:

"You're about to see 'Nancy's Puppy,' and, gee, nobody can do these cultural dramas like the Brits, can they, Lucretia?"

"Right, Dimbo. But nobody. And they're brought to you right here on Channel 26. But some of you out there are watching our shows without sending us any money. What you should do, right now, before high culture goes under forever because you're a slob, is phone us and --"

"Let me interrupt you with a flash," cries Dimwit. "Jerry Jock of Jonestown has just phoned to pledge a substantial gift to help in our sacred mission."

"Mercy," cries Brockleigh, whose lit-up face suggests she has just seen the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven, "just think of that."

And then, the ectasy fading somewhat:

"Why don't you join Jerry Jock and genuinely enjoy the jolly gestalt of a generous jift. Uh. Gift. "

Of course, these peddlers are neither so attractive nor so brief as I have portrayed them. Twenty minutes at a whack is not too much for their stamina or their witlessness and these long sessions continue through the night, and night after endless night.

If a commercial station tried to promote itself to the extent it got an hour behind schedule, all hell would break out, but a cultural station can do it and nobody complains.

Why? Because everybody knows a cultural station is like a pitiable person with severe birth defects: cheerful patience is the attitude to adopt, hardly expecting normal competence, normal literacy or normal courtesy to an audience. e

Channel 26 has now worked itself into the bizarre notion that it is custodian of high culture in this capital and that any extreme, therefore, of cheap hucksterism is justified.

They do not believe what I believe: that Channel 26 could drop dead tomorrow and "Nancy's Cow" would be made available on some other station, so that culture would continue as before.

The Metropolitan Opera and many other outfits also rely on gifts from audiences, but they do not demean themselves, nor infuriate sane people, in their pitches. You might think Channel 26 could learn from them, but by now they may be past the ability to learn anything.

And what is there for them to learn? No matter how tedious, no matter how blatant, no matter how gross their appeals are, the audience goes along and sends in the lettuce for "Nancy's Pig."

God knows, nothing shocks me at my age, and this is not a great federal case, anyway. Merely another batch of loons destroying civilization under the guise of promoting it.

Channel 26 is hardly the unique vessel that bears the precious wine of civilized life, but even if it were, you might notice there is no culture so gorgeous or so precious that it should be maintained by the efforts of tin-pot peddlers.

Here is what should be done:

First, the station schedule should reflect accurately the intolerable delays caused by their endless self-promotion, so that viewers would at least have a fair shot at missing their babble.

Second, the station should wake up and join the world of living men and women, and should adopt a more becoming modesty, a more nearly acceptable respect for and courtesy to its audience.

Third, it should drop dead.