Hiding behind his oversized black-and-silver sombrero and draped in a scarlet serape, the man at the caboose of the conga line broke away and sang:

We've had a little problem

Over at the EPA

No matter what we try to do

It won't go away.

The Congress gives me headaches

All it does is moan and grouse

But now it's not my worry

It's that of Ruckelshaus.

Man ana, man ana

Man ana is good enough for me.

Three standing ovations later, the serape-clad president of the United States still was crooning. Ronald Reagan put in a surprise on-stage appearance Saturday night and sang "Man ana" before some of the nation's biggest political and journalistic names and powers at the Gridiron Club's 98th annual evening of political lampooning.

After hearing himself gibed by a chorus line of Washington journalists, Reagan responded with his own song and dance.

Now take that poor old Phil

Habib, he's working night and day

To try and end the fray.

But I know that someday soon

We shall all enjoy peace

And I don't mean the Mideast

I mean Baker, Deaver, Meese.

Man ana, man ana

Man ana is good enough for me.

My staff is always worried

I might pop off and misspeak

And then I'll have to take it back

And act so mild and meek

But I can tell you this much

I'll always know my facts

Tho' wish I'd kept my mouth shut on that corp'rate income tax

Man ana, man ana

Man ana is good enough for me.

Now I fight the mighty

Battle of evil versus good

Just like in my old movies

Way back there in Hollywood.

My words are fire and brimstone.

Yes, I often quote the Lord

'Cause how'd I scare the Commies just quoting Jerry Ford?

Man ana, man ana

Man ana is good enough for me.

You ask me if I'll run again

Well I'll reveal tonight

I've got a big announcement that I bet you'd love to write.

When everything recovers and

The country's on the go

I'll come out on the White House

Lawn and tell you yes or no

Man ana, man ana,

Man ana is soon enough for me.

The Gridiron Club Dinner is the annual off-the-record chaffing of Washington officialdom by the mightiest of the Fourth Estate. To respond to its spoofing, the club always invites a keynote speaker from each party.

A lofty clique limited to 60 journalist members (most of them male), the Gridiron exists solely for the purpose of this yearly white-tie musical show and roast. The members invite 550 friends and sources, this year including six Cabinet members, five Supreme Court justices, numerous congressmen, journalists and businessmen.

Other highlights (according to the usual well-informed sources) at the clannish, six-hour Capital Hilton dinner:

* Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), speaking for the GOP, reflecting, "History buffs probably noted the reunion at a Washington party a few weeks ago of three ex-presidents: Carter, Ford and Nixon--see no evil . . . hear no evil . . . and evil." This brought down the house.

* "I don't know about you," said Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), "but I have to wonder about an administration that wants to sell Yellowstone Park and buy Times Beach, Missouri."

* Businessman John Bigbee, a limited Gridiron member, dressed in a pink paisley dress crooning "The Lane Kirkland Song": Look for the union label/ When you are buying/ Your new candidate.

* A Caspar Weinberger impersonator singing "Fifty Ways to Hide a Missile." His backup quartet was four generals with rubber cone heads acting out the verses.

* Washington Post political reporter and columnist David S. Broder, dressed as a pregnant woman, singing:

I went to the clinic just to get myself a pill

They said they'd tell my daddy, that's the Reagan-Schweicker squeal

Now I'm fat with baby, but in amonth or more

I'll leave a little bundle

Outside Peggy Heckler's door.

* Reagan in a speech saying, "I haven't seen a crowd like this since we distributed surplus cheese." Then, assessing his would-be Democratic challengers, he said Sen. Gary Hart had no chance because "the country won't want a president who looks like a movie star." And: "Imagine Alan Cranston running for president at his age. He won't have the problem I had--the press won't be bugging him, does he dye his hair?"

* Redskins fullback John Riggins, in the finale, dancing all over the stage and leading the audience and cast (accompanied, as they had been all evening, by the Marine Corps Band) in "Hail to the Redskins." Kicker Mark Moseley was close by.

* Former EPA administrator Anne Burford accepting the club's invitation, and then not coming.

* Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin on hand to listen to Reagan sing and dance hours after Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, in a Pravda interview, called Reagan's recent strategic proposals "insane."

* And finally, White House deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver nodding off at one point during the show.

Being asked to address the Gridiron is what candidates' dreams are made of. It is a powerful arena for political image-making. Or breaking. When her popularity was at a low point last year, Nancy Reagan astounded the crowd by showing up on stage in yellow boots and pantaloons and mocking her rich tastes with special lyrics to the tune of "Second Hand Rose." And, so eloquent and funny was Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in 1981 that Washington's high order thought he must be paving his presidential election road.

Which is why John Glenn, the presidential candidate known as less than an energizing speaker, was being scrutinized by inside Washington Saturday night. Glenn took the opportunity quite seriously. As late as Saturday afternoon, Glenn caucused with Washington humorists and speech writers--Mark Shields, Dick Drayne, Frank Mankiewicz and Art Buchwald--to go over his remarks.

Dole, famous for his acerbic wit, was a tough rival. Last week, columnist James Reston of The New York Times predicted Glenn would flop. Shrewdly, Glenn opened with a little self-deprecating humor.

"As many of you know, Scotty Reston thinks it was a mistake for me to accept this invitation because I can't give a funny speech," he said. "So after reading his column, I turned to Bob Strauss for advice. And Bob said, 'John, don't worry. Just give the same speech you gave at the '76 Democratic Convention. The whole damn country laughed at that one.' "

And after a string of laughs, he turned to Reston and said: "How am I doing, Scotty?" Everyone laughed heartily.

Generally, the reviews were good.

"I think Glenn's speech helped him politically," said John McLaughlin, the conservative who was an aide to President Nixon.

"Glenn's speech was softer," said New York mayor Ed Koch. "Dole's wit was more caustic."

Some Doleisms:

* "Vice President George Bush has a big smile on his face tonight. Someone must have recognized him."

* "My good friend Rep. Jim Wright D-Tex. is here--the man who taught Leonid Brezhnev how to blow-dry his eyebrows."

The club is long on history and snob appeal, and as usual, the theme of the show performed by the nation's top journalists was politics. And no one seems to escape the singe of the club's members.

Take the Big Three presidential advisers. They fell prey during the Republican segment of the show, which was titled "Ronald Reagalby." Sample lyrics of the Ed Meese song to the music of "Side By Side":

Oh we ain't just a barrel of monkeys

We're Reagan's top-ranking flunkies

With a shiv in each hand

Divided we stand

Side by side.

We're Meese and Baker and Deaver

Each with a razor-edge cleaver.

Murderous strife

Brightens our life

Side by side.

Baker joins with Deaver

To give Ed Meese the sack

Ed Meese grabs a cleaver

And knifes them both in the back.

When we've all had our quarrels and parted

The next round has already started

With a shiv in each hand,

Divided we stand

Side by side.

The affair historically has been an idyllic place to cozy up to the powerful, making memberships--as well as invitations to the dinner--coveted commodities. The Toledo Blade last year reportedly hired a reporter for its Washington bureau, and then promptly rescinded the offer in favor of someone who was a member of the club.

Among those present Saturday were First Lady Nancy Reagan, the Vice President and Barbara Bush, Defense Secretary Weinberger, Secretary of State George Shultz, Chief Justice Warren Burger, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, OMB director David Stockman, presidential press secretary James Brady, presidential advisers Edwin Meese, Michael Deaver, Fred Fielding and Richard Darman, and House Majority Leader James Wright.

Critics of the club always have maintained the group is a bunch of elitists nourishing the intimate relationship between journalists and the people they cover. Lyndon Johnson, who sat through one six-hour event, called the entertainment "about as much fun as throwing cow chips at the village idiot."

But boosters maintain it's just good-old-boy fun for a night. As the club's motto goes, "The Gridiron may singe, but never burns." Some of the lyrics, though, did seem to approach blowtorch quality Saturday night.

Too bad Anne Burford, a recent Washington casualty of enormous proportions, missed her song. As sung by a Robert Burford impersonator to the tune of "The Girl I Married," the lyrics went:

The girl that I married the other day

Was keeping our secrets at EPA

Her neat and skillful style

Has brought lawsuits, subpoenas and writs by the pile

And when those committees began to dredge,

We claimed executive privilege.

'Til she wedded

We all shredded,

And poor Rita Lavelle got beheaded.

Now here's our solution

There is no pollution

On file.


While insisting--and resisting

She was left in the wind slowly twisting.

If you get the headlines it's back to the bread lines

For you.

Between skits the assembled ate seafood and pasta portofina; duckling medallions; grilled filet mignon and frozen chocolate souffle'. Tickets this year were $95. "But nobody pays that, of course," explained Gridiron President Charles McDowell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Where it all comes back to in the end is the publishers."

The segments roasting the Democrats assessed the state of the party and the suitability of the candidates for president. McDowell, in the opening address given in the dark per tradition, gibed the Democrats for such a profusion of not-very-interesting presidential candidates.

"If these people are the solutions," he said, "the problems are worse than we thought."

Sample lyrics from the Mondale song to the tune of "Maybe This Time":

Maybe this time, I'll excite you

Maybe this time, I'll win

Maybe this time, I'll delight you

Now that Teddy's not in.

Never mind the past

I'm on fire at last

No more nice guy anymore

Like the wimp I was the time before.

The Republican satire took out after the administration. The Caspar Weinberger Missiles song, to the tune of "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," went:

To help our president get the country on the mend

We're pushing the MX missiles as a peace dividend

And when they ask us where to put them we pretend

There must be 50 ways to hide a missile.

We're spending billions for the poor folks ev'ry-where

So why don't we all relax and give the Pentagon its share,

There must be 50 ways to hide a missile.

Just run 'em on a track, Jack

Put 'em in a sub, Bub,

Or load 'em on a truck, Buck,

Just leave it to us.

Hide 'em in a gorge, George,

Stash 'em on a plane, Jane,

Hitch 'em to a train, Lane.

Just leave it to us.

The Gridiron Club was started in 1885 during the first Cleveland administration, a time when reporters were looked upon with even greater suspicion than they are now. It became a goodwill dinner of sorts, with political big shots gracing the tables. Over the years, the event has not been low on action. Back in 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt got into such a loud shouting match with one senator that everyone forgot about dinner.

Nothing quite as dramatic happened Saturday night. But by near 2 a.m., the crowd still was reviewing the evening's fun in overflowing Hilton suites.

As Dole put it: "It's good that we laugh at ourselves or millions of others will do it for us."