"Do you have any idea why the White House is so fixed on this hour for the signing of the INF Treaty?" Secretary of State George Shultz asked protocol chief Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt in 1987 before Mikhail Gorbachev's first Washington visit.

Roosevelt didn't know, only that the White House insisted on deciding every minute of the schedule. And that Nancy Reagan did not intend to accompany Raisa Gorbachev to the National Gallery of Art, nor permit Barbara Bush to do it. Instead, Obie (Mrs. George) Shultz was designated.

Roosevelt thought it "a bit outre'" that Nancy Reagan "could overrule" the State Department and the National Security Council on "the dates and desirability" of foreign visitors.

Even so, "Donald Regan's revelations about Mrs. Reagan's use of an astrologer were a shock," she writes in "Keeper of the Gate," Roosevelt's autobiography just published by Simon and Schuster, in which she talks about her seven years in the Reagan administration.

"I was bewildered from the very beginning when dates for state visits had to be confirmed with Mrs. Reagan before they could go forward ... the reasons were always a bit murky," writes Roosevelt. And she cites other evidences of Nancy Reagan's management style.

At an annual White House diplomatic reception, Mrs. Reagan "insisted the President leave as soon as the receiving line finished, giving him no chance to converse and mingle... ." Roosevelt also notes that the president never made the tour d'horizon speech expected of the occasion, and so the ambassadors had nothing to write in their reports. And Roosevelt continues, "Once I actually heard the President protest as {Nancy} pulled him away from the party."

Roosevelt calls the 70 or so Reagan state dinners "flawless, with one exception -- the entertainment. The word was that President Reagan did not like opera or heavy classical music. So our foreign guests were often subjected to has-been popular singers and other marginal performers who were not up to White House standards. Even when they had a great opera star, such as Sherrill Milnes, they asked that he not sing opera."

Roosevelt does praise the First Lady's hard work, her appearance and the way she expressed affection for her husband "without appearing smarmy." She acknowledges Mrs. Reagan's efforts against drugs, her hard work, her looks and clothes, but she writes that "more than any negative press or carping critics, {Nancy} undermined her own reputation and place in history by writing an autobiography that barely mentions her most important contribution."

Roosevelt writes that she "observed her for almost eight years but I would not presume to say that I know her or understand her." And she adds that the First Lady "was not an easy person. She often appeared cold and secretive, uninterested in most people, yet she had a curious vulnerabilty and valued uncritical loyalty above all things."

Roosevelt said Mrs. Reagan never complimented her or her staff for their work -- "even when I paid my farewell call on her," though she was "punctilious" about writing thank-you notes.

Roosevelt's book is also notable for the revelations of just what the protocol chief and her assistant chiefs did besides tell people where to sit at state or official dinners:

They translated a Redskins-Cowboys football game to the king and queen of Nepal; pressed the Portuguese president's trousers at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; arranged (she doesn't remember the details ) the disposition of a trunkload of elephant meat left behind in a hotel by an African dignitary; and negotiated with the Secret Service so that the members of the Omani delegation did not have to check their ceremonial daggers at the White House door.

The perils of protocol are many. When Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles made a visit to California in 1983, the footman carrying the queen's jewels was accidently left behind in San Francisco. On the same trip, Prince Philip, put into a bad temper by the U.S. Secret Service, "tore out of the car and slammed the heavy, armored door in my face, just as I was following him. He could have done me serious injury. Suddenly, he reversed his stride ... and apologized for losing his temper."

Roosevelt cites the occasion when "Zairian thugs accompanying President Mobutu" physically threw Julie Andrews, a protocol officer, off a helicopter (prior to takeoff), and two of his entourage "were overheard complaining that our protocol officers had small breasts!" Roosevelt said the Zairians complained to Catherine "Bunny" Murdock, deputy chief of protocol for visits, because she didn't call girls for them.

(The former protocol chief adds that the Zairian Embassy was "among the worst offenders" of embassies that didn't pay their bills to local establishments -- until she "let it be known that we were considering reporting to Congress and the press every embassy indebtedness of more than six months duration.")

Roosevelt is one of Washington's great do-it-yourself stories.

What everybody wants to know, to mimic the soaps, is how a little Tennessee girl -- the daughter of Arab immigrants -- came to marry a member of one of the country's oldest and most distinguished families and to hold the envied office of chief of protocol for seven years. All this without being either a campaign contributor (she gave $250 to George Bush's primary campaign when he was running for president against Reagan) or an opponent of abortion rights.

The other day, Roosevelt, fresh from the attentions of her hairdresser, in her handsome Georgetown house, talked of the evening when she entertained the Reagans in her dark brown dining room overlooking the pool, and their 40 security people at a separate but equal dinner in her garage.

Roosevelt admitted she did have credentials for the job: She'd written for Town and Country magazine and for several newspapers, including The Washington Post. Her husband, Archie Roosevelt, was the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. His cover as a CIA agent was as a foreign service officer, and Lucky had been on three tours with him. She pays tribute to him for helping her immensely with his good taste and knowledge of the world. She learned the "excitement of knowledge" from her Lebanese-born mother, Najla Showker, who after her husband's death went back to school in her mid-forties to become a professor of linguistics.

What really precipitated Roosevelt being chosen as protocol chief was a luncheon she gave for Nancy Reagan in her first year of her husband's term to meet "out-of-town writers." Roosevelt, outraged at criticism by the press of Mrs. Reagan's "redecoration of the White House family quarters and about her acceptance of a gift of china," also wrote an op-ed page article for The Washington Post extolling the First Lady's virtues and complaining the press was not giving her a chance.

Today, as she looks back on it all, she's proudest of what her work did to put state visitors and diplomats in the proper atmosphere for world peace and George Shultz's serious negotiations. She ranks the secretary of state high (though she was concerned because he became "more and more disenchanted with the Arabs").

And no matter what new visitors and new problems are to come, Roosevelt likes to think the efforts she put in the rebuilding of Blair House, the president's official guest house, will serve the cause of world peace. Especially now that the sprinkler system doesn't unexpectedly flood the place, and the trees lifted over the house into the courtyard finally have watering pipes installed, albeit as an afterthought.