Job security is a problem these days, but one recent RIFee thinks it has gotten ridiculous. Here's the story of James Carroll, who says he was rapidly unhired by the Toledo Blade because he wasn't a member of Washington's clannish Gridiron Club.

It started on March 22 when Carroll, a 30-year-old statehouse reporter for the Orange County (Calif.) Register, was interviewed by the Blade. Two days later, Blade executive editor Albert Cross offered Carroll a job as the newspaper's Washington bureau chief. Carroll accepted, gave notice to his editors, rented an apartment in Alexandria and then returned to Sacramento.

On March 30, he got a call from Cross. Forget the job, Cross said. "I was told that the publisher had decided it would be good to have a member of the Gridiron Club in the bureau," Carroll said. "I was incredulous."

"Oh dear, dear, dear," said Gridiron vice president Charles McDowell when told the news. "If true, I feel like that's Alice in Wonderland . . . It's preposterous, utterly preposterous."

The Gridiron, a group of 60 mostly male daily newspaper reporters, is considered highly exclusive by its fans and highly irrelevant by its critics. Every year it has an elaborate white-tie dinner. This year, as in past years, Blade publisher Paul Block attended. Ronald Reagan was there with his wife, Nancy, who performed her much-publicized "Second Hand Rose" routine before 600 political and journalistic significants, many of them either the familiar reporters or reportees of network news. Block had such a good time at the March 27 dinner, Carroll was told, that he felt it would be better to hire a Gridiron member. Club members traditionally invite important guests to the annual, off-the-record dinner.

Block called Carroll's statements "nonsense," adding that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Blade's sister newspaper published by his brother Bill, already has a Washington correspondent who is a Gridiron Club member. "That sufficed, as far as we were concerned," Block said.

In Carroll's place, the Blade hired Roland Powell, 60, a veteran correspondent for the Buffalo Evening News. "I didn't know anything about this when I was being interviewed," he said. "It's a strange thing. Obviously, if that really happened, I feel badly."

Asked if Powell was hired because he belongs to the club, Block said, "Heavens, no." Asked why Powell was hired instead of Carroll, Block said, "We can't get into the nitty-gritty of personnel matters in any company." Cross, the editor whom Carroll says called him, would only say, "I think the whole situation's unfortunate."

(Steve Wharton, a Virginia real estate agent who rented Carroll his apartment, said yesterday that when he called the Blade for references, "they confirmed that he'd be starting in early May." Wharton said he was "virtually positive" that the man he talked to was Cross.)

Block, a second-generation publisher who has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Columbia University, was described by several former employes as strong-willed, conservative and, in the words of one, "somewhat eccentric." By his own count, he has attended a half-dozen Gridiron dinners, the last few as a guest of Milton Jaques, the Post-Gazette Washington correspondent. "It doesn't mean very much to me," Block said, adding that this year's dinner "was a little bit more exciting, but also longer. There was more to eat."

Block's 27-year-old son John also works in the Blade's two-man Washington bureau. In a story first published in the Washington Journalism Review, John Block said that Carroll visited the bureau in March, believing he had been hired. "I don't get to the main dinner," Block told WJR, "and I have to admit the thought has gone through my mind . . . maybe he Powell will let me go next year."

John Block was covering Ronald Reagan at the European economic summit yesterday and could not be reached in Versailles for comment.

Meanwhile, Carroll has his old job back and has retained a lawyer, David Karabinus, who said he's "considering" filing a lawsuit. Asked what the charges would be, Karabinus said, "We're not sure at this time."

Carroll, who said he "wasn't laughing about it for the first couple of weeks," seems to be in slightly better spirits these days. His lesson? "Don't trust them until they sign the dotted line," he says. "But I don't have any heavy message, except--if you ever get a phone call from the Toledo Blade, watch out."

And the Gridiron Club?

"I just don't know how to figure out a publisher who would think that way," said McDowell, the longtime Washington correspondent for the Richmond Times Dispatch. "Are you running a newspaper or a banquet-booking office? . . . I'm outraged for the young man, sure. But I'm not anxious to get so outraged that I have hypocrisy coming out of both of my ears."