Gleam, the neighborhood soothsayer, was sitting in front of his crystal ball when I was ushered into his dark room.

"What do you see?" I asked him.

"Fifty dollars," he said.

"You see $50 in the ball?"

"No, that is what it will cost you before I tell you what 1981 holds in store for us."

"But last year you only charged me $25."

"That was before I was a double digit inflation figure in my ball."

I handed him $50, and waited.

"I see Dunkirk," he said.

"Dunkirk? That was in World War II!"

"I see an economic Dunkirk. I see economists fighting to get into lifeboats and retreat from their forecasts of 1980."

"Do you see a tax cut?"

"I see a tax cut."

"That's good."

"I also see a rise in Social Security, real estate assessments and gasoline prices. Now I don't see the tax cut anymore."

"What do you see now?"

"I see Lee Iacocca."

"What is he doing?"

"A TV commerical for American Express cards."

"That's bad."

"I see Richard Nixon dancing at the White House."

"Who is he dancing with?"

"Mrs. Spiro Agnew."

"I was afraid of that. What else do you see?"

"I see President Reagan."

"Who is he dancing with?"

"He isn't dancing. He's on a horse, taking a ride through the Rose Garden."

"Where is the first lady?"

"She's upstairs, sewing drapes for the bedroom."

"That isn't worth $50."

"Wait, there is a lot more. I see a network sitcom which takes place in a bordello, but it will be done with taste and good humor."

"You don't need a crystal ball for that one."

"Now I see the bordello show being canceled and replaced by a divorced father trying to raise a son in a nudist colony."

"It sounds like it's going to be a very dull year."

"I an now in a supermarket. A lady is trading in her diamond wedding ring for a piece of roast beef. A man is exchanging his new car for a pound of butter. The manager is refusing to take a woman's sofa for a box of Jello."

"Good heavens, Gleam, don't you see anything upbeat in the ball?"

"I see a banker announcing that he is reducing the prime rate to 6 percent."

"That's good. What else?"

"I see two men in white coats putting him into an ambulance and taking him away."

"Is that it?"

"That's it for $50. If you want to ge me another $50, I'll tell you what your new nine-digit postal ZIP code number will be."