VERY small boy: "What that?"

Large middle-aged woman: "That's a man."

Boy: "What he do?"

Woman: "He's comin' outta the ground."

Saturday afternoons are a busy time for "The Awakening," the famous Hains Point sculpture by J. Seward Johnson Jr. In case you haven't seen him, he is a giant aluminum man who is forever trying to elbow his way up from the earth.

His head is out, the left hand has broken the surface, the right arm reaches to the sky. The bare left leg is flexed, the right foot appears, and he is about to break free with a great shout, sending sod and wood chips flying.

He never makes it.

It is a beautiful afternoon. A regatta of sailboats schoons up the river, 60 of them, all on the same tack, with their spinnakers out. Runners and bicyclists flash past on the sidewalk around the rim of the point. Cars parade slowly by, some of them stopping at the sculpture.

A young man climbs up on the flying beard and takes a picture of the huge face.

His girl wedges herself between the great left thumb and forefinger, and he takes her picture.

They go away and some kids rush up and stare, breathless with astonishment, at the head. The teeth are polished by three years of touching. Each tooth is as big as a child's hand. The end of the nose is polished too.

A houseboat passes, its deck crowded. Everyone gawks. Six cameras train on the sculpture. Across the bay, two helicopters practice standing still in the air. They hover 30 feet up, weirdly poised above some warehouses, then abruptly swish off.

A very active teen-age boy runs up the left shin and clambers onto the knee. "How'm I gonna get down?" he laughs. His pal runs halfway up but slides back. A family, chatting quietly in French, pose with one another before the big right foot. A German-speaking couple discusses the metal, thumping it and examining the left ankle, whose edge has worked free of the ground, revealing that it is hollow.

Now at least 20 people cluster around the work, climbing, photographing, staring. They seem bemused, talk quietly. Only the very young shout. The word ". . . imagination . . . " floats over.

Suddenly everyone is gone and the sculpture is left alone in its silent, frozen struggle. People seem to come in batches this way, rhythmically, like a pulse.

A plane takes off from National Airport across the river, followed by its roar. A man fills a plastic bag of grapes with water from the drinking fountain by the statue. Picnickers toss a Frisbee a few yards away.

Three young women stand on the ground above where the giant's navel would be. They giggle.

"Who thought of this?" one mutters. "What does it mean? What's the significance of it?"