WHAT COULD you possibly do if you spent your New Year's Eve at a post office? Stamp your feet? Put on your party address? Letter rip? Carrier on?

Hey. Whoa. Aaaugh.

The answer to all these questions happens to be yes. And if the person with whom you plan to visit the Old Post Office Pavilion for this year's downtown New Year's Eve party tries any of this side-splitting wordplay with you, react accordingly.

Go with somebody else.

But (and this is important): Go.

Standing in the street this Monday night, amid the wool-hat crush of a roped-off Pennsylvania Avenue, you might feel cold -- but if you learned anything from last year's gathering of 35,000-plus Actual On-the-Street Washingtonians for the all-night, indoor-outdoor concert and midnight celebration at the Pavilion, it was this: warmth prevails.

People were nice to each other. Especially people waiting their turn at the Portajohns. (This has something to do with facing together both adversity and the promise of a new year. And the physiology of beer consumption.)

For this year's expected 50,000, much of the official warmth will emanate from the covered stage out in front of the main steps, facing the avenue between also-closed-off 11th and 12th streets: Washington's own Slickee Boys and Stacey Lattislaw are on stage at 8 and 9:30, respectively; the Four Tops (yes, the Four Tops) go on at around 10:30; and, just before midnight (and an hour-long show by Phylip Jaymes), the countdown and the lowering of a huge lighted postage stamp from the Pavilion clock tower.

The tower's Ditchley bells will ring at this point. Everyone -- even people who don't know from Ditchley bells -- will cheer. A lot of police officers will be there, in regulation poker face -- unlike Mayor Marion Barry, who's also supposed to be there, only not in poker face. He'll probably be smiling; his Committee to Promote Washington is cosponsoring this second annual party with radio stations Q-107 and WMAL, the Pavilion itself, Metro and the Postal Service. Furthermore, every other time the mayor passed through this Federal Triangle section after 9 p.m., he only saw five people on the street. And none of them were registered voters.

Inside the Pavilion, there's a separate but warmer program for those who grabbed the free tickets distributed earlier this month (and for those who have reservations at any of the six restaurants inside -- Cafe Maxime, Fettucine's, Hunan at the Pavilion, Richard's, Fitch Fox & Brown, and Blossoms). Starting at 8, on the atrium stage amid the Post Office's redone retail interior, will be big-band music by the Mike Crotty Orchestra, plus vibist/jazz keyboardist Roy Ayres, comedian Sylvia Traymore and big-screen video doses of the goings- on outside, especially around midnight.

Apart from the restaurants in and near the Pavilion, for which you probably should have made reservations already, food and drink (beer, wine, soft drinks, coffee) will be sold on the sidewalks, in the food concessions downstairs at the Pavilion, at the concessions upstairs in The Shops at National Place across the Avenue, and at various other nearby spots.

Wear a coat. And stash the following paragraphs inside your shoe:

1. Metro will be open until 2 a.m. New Year's Eve. It will be as crowded as rush hour, but much less depressing -- particularly around Metro Center, the closest Red Line stop to the Pavilion, and the Orange/Blue Line's Federal Triangle stop, which is closer still. Hint: Buy a farecard for the round trip when you go in; people who have just rung in a new year generally operate farecard machines with no skill whatsoever, and even less speed. Some even try to do it without money.

2. If you drink -- yep, you guessed it. Cars are evermore complicated -- and lethal -- than farecard machines. And virtually every police department in the metropolitan area will, as they've all promised, be on your case. Get to the subway. Or a cab, maybe even a free one. Which brings us to:

3. 522-FREE. A call to this number from anywhere in the metropolitan area will get you a free cab ride home, courtesy of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, DC-101, Red Top Cab, the American Automobile Association, Budweiser (yes, the Budweiser) and others. If you don't want to go home, consider the other non-driving alternative:

4. Hotels. Many of them, in town and out, will rent you a room on New Year's Eve at a very reasonable price. Some offer free breakfast or a free glass of wine at check-in (as if you needed it); some discount the room if you have dinner there, or attend their New Year's Eve party. Most require reservations, which you ought to make right now.

You may not want to make an entire night of the celebration at the Old Post Office Pavilion. Perhaps you don't have a wool hat. Or you'd just like someplace in which to warm up -- in the spiritual sense and otherwise -- or to cool off and reconsider your resolutions.

A brief sampling follows. You may notice that the suggestions are all in the city, thus accessible by Metro, cab or foot. This was intentional. You may also notice that your favorite bar, which you know for a fact is having a big New Year's Eve party, is not listed. Well, we did that on purpose, too. We hate that place. Why don't you find a new one?


COMEDY CAFE -- Two shows (9 and 11) by New Yorker Larry Amerose, Canadian John Wing and Washington's William Stephenson. Early show is $12.50 or $20.50 with dinner; late show, $17.50 or $25.50. Champagne and noisemakers free. 1520 K St. NW. 638-JOKE.

GARVIN'S AT CAFE MAXIME -- "Star Search" finalist Rosie O'Donnell and New York comic-impressionist Larry Ragland at 8:30. The $49 admission includes a seven- course meal, two drinks, champagne, funny hats and dancing to an 8-piece orchestra from 10 to 2 in the International Square atrium. 1825 I St. NW. 955-6222.


WARNER THEATER -- Two shows (8, $13.75; 11, $16.25) by two of the most durable good-time live acts ever to visit Washington (frequently): Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and the Skip Castro Band. About two blocks from the Post Office Pavilion, no less. Ticketron outlets. Charge-It: 385-0044.

BAYOU -- Two more shows (7:30, $7.50; 10:30, $15) by two more of Washington's all-time favorite party bands: the Nighthawks, and Bob Margolin's blues band. Same bill Sunday. Beneath beautiful Whitehurst Freeway. Ticket Centers. 333- 2897.


9:30 CLUB -- The last two years, the Slickee Boys did New Year's Eve here. They're otherwise engaged (see above), and owner Dodie Bowers wants to have "more of a party" than a concert this year. So there will be tales set up -- with linens -- when the 9:30 opens at 9:30 for deejay fare and a somewhat older-than-usual crowd. The linens may or may not still be on the tables when the band, On Beyond Zebra, takes the stage around midnight. It's $10 at the door, which is at 930 F St. NW. 638-2008.


PIERCE STREET ANNEX -- If you're making the 19th Street rounds Monday night, you may very well end up here. Pierce Street is offering the usual lack of cover charge, plus free midnight champagne/noisemakers, a fortune teller ($5 per palm), Father Time and 1985 Baby lookalike contests ($50 first prizes), deejay dance music by Nards and videotaping of the whole event to go into a time capsule (to be opened next December 31). Co-owner Greg Shiner says you can also bring personal 1984 mementos to place in the time capsule -- your champagne glass, your resolutions, a slice of 19th-century fruitcake, your date's tiara. The usual stuff.