And every day we see things to protest against, but who has time? The alarm clock (wee from Tokyo) always falls off the table when you go to shut it up, and then you have to do your teeth and shave and discover you're out of socks except the solid black ones and the subway escalators at Tenleytown are not working as usual and you have to be ready with your ID card to get in the office and dear God the burdens of the day flock in like buzzards and don't forget you're going to have to wrangle with Jeff about his latest cockamamie project.

Besides, there are so few high causes that don't have a price tag somewhere. It really is troublesome to find a cause without a hassle. And yet we are animals with souls, and need the sensation of virtue from time to time. Naturally, you want a protest that's safe, where you meet fairly nice people.

Thank God for South Africa, the best protest buy in today's market. The cause is undeniably virtuous. You get to march around. Your friends don't avoid you. People don't call you a nincompoop. The embassy is easily reached by bus or cab and parking is not too bad if you take your car.

The law says you can't protest within 500 feet of the embassy, but if you find yourself uncontrollably revved up, go ahead. Get closer. You may get arrested.

Not everybody is up to that. Still, you may get to chat with celebrities and ride to the jail with them, and even if the others are only lawyers or politicians on the make, at least they won't smell bad and you won't be in jail long. Maybe they've got VIP lockups separate from nasty criminals. Even an hour is a pain in the neck, but against this inconvenience you must weigh the rush of being arrested for your virtue.

They aren't going to prosecute you, so you won't get fined. South Africa is all very well, but you wouldn't want to have to pay $100 or get sentenced to two months in the pokey. Because it's such a nice cause the prosecutor says shucks, don't pay no attention to no statute, good buddy. Not only can you dodge penalties but you may get your name in the paper with Ditsy Fawg and other trend-setters.

It burns me up when I think of the guys in Mississippi who protested a few years ago. They didn't know doodly beans about picking a good protest. A buddy of mine who lived near that dam in Philadelphia, Miss., actually went around calling himself a "moderate." You could get killed for calling yourself that. You weren't supposed to be moderate, you were supposed to be like those tin-pot preachers exhorting you to man the ramparts for the Southern Way of Life. Protest could cost you real money and wide contempt.

I knew one family dropped from the Delta Cotillion because they went around saying blacks shouldn't get shot on the highways and subversive things like that.

The rhetoric of guys like my friend Billy lacked fire. He did arrange to be notified at any hour if James Meredith (a black figure of the day) came to Philadelphia and got arrested, and sure enough that happened. But it didn't happen in secret because Billy's network started phoning all over the place, to Jackson and Washington, and in no time the jail started getting calls from figures of clout. The arrest of Meredith came months after Billy foresaw the possibility and arranged with a good deputy to phone him at any hour if Meredith was quietly arrested for going through a stoplight. When the day came, Billy's plan worked. Enough important people knew of the arrest to forestall any regrettable accidents.

My old friend, alas, never said anything worth quoting except a dirty joke or two. He flat never learned how to soar. I wish he were alive today, to come to Washington and join the great protest at the South African Embassy. Guys like him really deserved to take part in a protest safe as soup and a lot more fun.

South Africa is so different from Mississippi. Here you can holler all you like and do your fist and look mean and still get home in time for two toddies before supper, and have it on the record how you freed South Africa.