BACK WHEN CONGRESS WAS

debating an immigration reform bill sponsored by a senator who shares my surname, I got a weird message from my apartment answering service: Somebody from Texas "as a taxpayer wants to talk re: Simpson-Mazzoli."

An odd but imaginative prank, I thought. But soon I was being greeted every night by baffling pink slips that told me to return calls to strangers in distant cities. Finally it dawned on me to dial Washington information and ask for Alan Simpson, the senator from Wyoming. The operator apparently chose the closest thing -- Simpson A -- and a recorded voice recited my number.

That same week, while I was at home, two callers rang for their senator, but they were Floridians, not Wyomingites. As it happens, Sen. Bob Graham's number and mine are only a digit apart, and a widely circulated business journal had made a misprint.

Soon after, the building manager wrote me: "A large volume of calls come to the switchboard for Senator Graham. Messages are not taken because of the difference in names. Please advise." I asked the desk clerk to post a sign by the switchboard with both senators' numbers.

Though the messages abated,the fun continued. Over the next weeks I chatted in my living room with a most cordial Sen. Graham, who had misdialed his own number. And I received a phone bill with a $2.66 call from an Atlantic City casino to the Capitol.

One night soon after, as I worked late and moped because my beau was somewhere on the road and hadn't been in touch for days, I called the desk, hoping he had left some sweet reassurance. "Will see you soon," I imagined. Or better: "Loves you madly." Or (sigh): "Wants to talk re: house and children."

The switchboard answered promptly. "Yes, there is a message. One moment please."

My heart fluttered. The voice returned. "Earl Brucek called from Florida," it said. "He's opposed to the bill." ::