Since the day Alexander Graham Bell first used the telephone to order his sidekick, Watson, upstairs, the phone has been used as an instrument for good and evil. Herewith, two telephone stories, one mildly amusing, the other slightly alarming:

At the new K Street disco called Images, management has shelled out $8,000 for a soon-to-be-installed telephone booth that is the first of its kind in Washington. Called an "Excuse Machine," the booth features various recorded sounds that can be played while chatting on the phone. Drop in your 15 cents and select the appropriate background sound: an airport (as in, "Darling, I'm delayed here at O Hare by snow -- I just don't know when I'll be home"), a bowling alley, a hair salon, or a busy street corner.

The inventor of the Excuse Telephone, Dale Raulerson of Design Management of Atlanta, says it's "just for fun and not meant to hurt anyone. (He also installed another novelty item in the disco, a "ghost piano," a baby grand whose top is raised to display standard piano innards. But request your favorite tune and the unmanned instrument begins to play; the inventor declines to discuss the secret of its operation. The piano cost another $12,000, says Images co-owner Jimmy Ingrams.) Oh, there's one other background noise you can choose in the Excuse Telephone: the floor of the U.S. Senate.

In California fast-talking telephone swindlers are using the good name of the U.S. government to sell office supplies to unsuspecting churches, civic groups, small businesses and others gullible enough to think anyone calling from Washington must be honest.

New West magazine reports that phone operators in Los Angeles with WATS lines identify themselves as government employes calling from a bogus Washington agency such as the "Central Disbursement Agency." They inform the party on the other end of the line that a discontinued federal program has resulted in a surplus of supplies that can be distributed for a low cost to "qualified" organizations.

The pitch, which succeeds partly because of America's love of a bargain, is in fact for low-quality goods at marked-up prices. And of course the U.S. government has no involvement in the telephone schemes.