Most of Washington (at least the 350,000 who work for the government) was off duty yesterday. Many essential employees, postal aides and private industry workers who had to carry on as usual are bitter about the bonus government holiday.

Whatever your status on Thursday, holiday or not, it was a special day. Some people took in all the inaugural activities possible; more watched it on TV. Some used the time to visit with friends or children home from school, or trying to find a gas station to recharge car batteries that died during the current cold snap.

Whethe working and grumbling, or off and happy, however, most of us in this federal town have jobs (which pay real money) to go back to today.

Not everybody can make that statement.

On Wednesday - to the sorrow of our hard-working Post switchboard - this column ran a special telephone number and asked people to call in with "horror" stories if they had to work, and why. The object was to get a handle on the people who will be on the job today, and maybe, let them let off a little steam. They did!

At least 126 people got through the two busy lines we had set up for the "horror" stories. Many more apparently tried. We got the messages and the point.

Private industry workers, at least those who called, were bitter because so many of them had to work while the town's major industry, the government, was closed. Postal employees called to complain that they are government, but they will be working. Woodward & Lothrop workers called, saying inauguration day is a heck of a time for Woodies to take inventory. Employees in other places wondered why they have to take a day of vacation when the government they help pay for gives its people the day off.

A teacher in Prince George's County wanted us to note that she had to work but had been told she could watch TV (at noon, which, she pointed out, is the regular lunch hour anyhow.

A colleague in The Post newsroom wanted to know why this column was "bleeding" for the few government people who have to work when Thursday was a regular day - a super-special regular day - for people in the news business. And so on.

Of the 126 calls, 125 of them were from people who were unhappy because they had to work yesterday. The one call that wasn't altered the story a little bit. It was from a young woman who, very politely, asked if I'd been swamped with calls?I said yes. Were they all from people who had to work? I said yes. Can you stand one more complaint, she asked. I said yes.

"I've got a horror story, too," she said.

"I don't have to go to work Thursday. On Friday. Or next Monday.I didn't have to go to work last week either. I haven't worked since I came to Washington in March."

From the voice I'd guess she was relatively young, obviously intelligent and certainly articulate in our brief chat. She said she had tried nearly everything. She had been told - as educated women often are - that she was "over-qualified." She also had the misfortune to enter the job market as a time when there are more people looking for work than there are employers looking for workers.

At this moment there are 65,000 people in Washington waiting for fewer than 2,000 career job vacancies in the white-collar side of the federal service. Last year the ratio of applicants to jobs was 30 to 1 here, and 24 to 1 outside of Washington.

During 1976, slightly more than 220,000 people (that's about the same number as the population of Charlotte, N.C.) took just one of the tests for government clerical and administrative jobs. Many more people tried to get other government jobs that are filled under different tests or through different selection systems.

Of the 220,000 who tried that one job test, about half of them (112,000) were rted "eligible." That means they could he hired. Of that number only 11,180 were actually given jobs because of their test scores and the availability of positions. Obviously government jobs, or any kind of job, look good to a lot of people.

So maybe there is something worse than having to work yesterday - like not having a place to work today.