I've been to Crystal City to see the collapsible sawhorse, which I doubt will ever fly because it is reasonable, highly useful and makes a lovely noise when the five pieces of wood snap into portability with four bright KLOKs.

Other examples of American hi-tech were on display at this roundup of new inventions sponsored by the Department of Commerce, including an Independent Bathing System. The show coincided with the snow storm and is all over now and only heroes got out to see it.

Well, now, let's just see how this naked-lady-in-a-bath works. The folder given me showed Godiva sinking into a warm tub. Investigative reporters, commonly a jump ahead (why not an Interdependent Bathing System?) were dashed to see merely a white bathtub with no mermaid, no nothing, except an oblong white plastic object like an oversized volleyball expired on the tub floor. But wait, it has a lifeline:

A hose connects it with the shower head. Turn on the water and the ball or balloon swells up to the very rim of the tub. You step in the tub, sit on the revived volleyball, touch a little flap, and the water pours out of the cushion into the tub. You control everything. You can sink down as far as you like. To get out of the tub you reverse the process, and the cushion raises you back to the tub rim.

On the theory that you never know when a quadraplegic aunt will visit you and need help with the bath, I almost bought this thing, though I have no such aunts at the moment.

This may be the place to say that some men like toys. I know that the honor of the sex requires us to give the continual impression we like caves and leopard skins and are hastening back to both, but the truth is that some men, especially those who grew up in no-nonsense households, never really worked their way through Bathtubbing, Camphor Boat 101, or Drain Glug 2 and what we have not learned we are condemned (as Santayana so cleverly said) to repeat.

I am aghast, by the way, at the number of Americans who missed camphor boats. These were small toy boats of some pre-Celluloid make, with a little clip on the bottom into which you stuck a hunk of camphor. When set on the water the boats sputtered about like the Missouri searching for a mud bank to ram into. And this "Camphor Boat 101" that I speak of is merely the course of study by which a small boy learns to spend two hours with the camphor boats in the tub. A difficult course, not easily mastered. I got as far as stealing blocks of camphor from the place the silver was kept (don't ask me why people kept blocks of camphor with silver but they did), but I had a cruel nurse who thought a bath was for washing dirt off and who sat there like a Sugar Bowl clock relentlessly ticking. So like many of my generation I never worked through Bathtubbing, and my subsequent development was to that extent impeded. Of course one carries on and damn the torpedoes, but one bears scars.

To this day I hate being a house guest because when I let the water out of the tub I, of course, stop it repeatedly, then release it to hear it go Glug and Galupph. This commonly upsets the host who thinks his plumbing has gone haywire, and I have no intention of telling him I've been playing with the bathtub drain again. It's better to stay at a hotel where they neither know nor care about the drain.

Well. There we all were, standing around the Independent Bathing System looking humane (handicapped aunt, etc.) and intelligent (hydraulic flow equals E equals M) and wishing we were rich and brave and without heavy burdens and could take the thing home and ride slowly up and down on the hydraulic cushion adjusting a valve here and a glug there.

There was a lot of computer junk at the show, some of it fringed with yapping kids who probably invented it. Apart from making it easier to establish a police state, the main thing computers do is teach you that a fi-replace is the same thing as a fireplace (you can learn something new every morning if you have nothing better to do) and this is the sort of insight we have all gained now, though it would have baffled us a while ba-ck.

I could find nothing at the show to help people fly like a bird. Surely there is some mistake here? Americans have always invented flying machines, commonly with feathers and hinges, but I saw none.

This nation has also long led the world in inventions for dogs. Say you're at work. Let not poor Fido starve, and there used to be fine inventions by which bowls shot out of the wall from time to time to feed and water the mutt.

There used to be patented exercise wheels. One of them (when old Pompey jumped in for his daily dozen) turned a washing machine. You put some water in the machine, dumped your socks in, connected the gears to the exercise wheel and set off for the day. When you returned the socks sparkled and the dog had muscles.

Not now. Something has gone out of the American Dream. I picked up a magazine about robots, as if we needed to manufacture some.

But be of good cheer. God and John E. Taylor of Wichita are in the plan still. He invented the collapsible sawhorse. He was still showing it to sensible people when I left. He sold manufacturing rights for $50,000, he said, and a 5 percent royalty. KLOP and the thing snaps shut. Anybody who ever carried sawhorses through a bathroom door will understand. I should have asked him about fingers, but it looked pretty safe when he did it.