The muggy heat of summer soon will give way to the cool, crisp days of autumn. As summer memories begin to fade, one last look at summer is offered today by Washington Post staff photographer Linda Wheeler and staff writer Robert F. Levey.

No way it came on little cat feet, this summer of '77.It came in like a lion, bucked like a bronco, occasionally crushed us like an elephant sitting himself down. If heat is what defines a Washington-area summer, we are defined, dear Lord, we are defined.

It wasn't especially lazy, hazy or crazy here this summer. Metro fired its second-stage rocket. Water became the latest vanishing memory. Interstate 95 became Interstate 395 for reasons known only to the guy who remade the signs. And yes, alas, the Senators were still gone.

But we coped, Washington! And we set some records.

First, the unsurprising: we called air conditioning repairmen more times this summer than ever before, according to 15 of the area's largest.

Second, the gluttonous: we bought more gasoline in July and August then ever before in those months.

Third, the curious: we bought less deodorant this summer than in any since 1971, according to the area's four largest wholesalers. Perhaps we have just invented The Summer When Sweat Became Acceptable.

But equally personal signs of summer were elsewhere, and everywhere else.

Kevin Marshall of Wheaton, bored with summer and "sick of living at home," joined the Army one Tuesday morning at the Bethesda recruiting station.

Lenore Solomon and her 17-year-old daughter Elly assaulted Saks Fifth Avenue one Wednesday for the clothes Elly will need when she goes to college for the first time this month.

And Jason Johnson spent much of the summer at a Northwest Washington neighborhood pool perfecting a diving board maneuver called the "double-rock."

Others dealt with a Washington summer by noting its surefire signs.

Ed McGurdy of Alexandria discovered one. He says you can always tell it's summer in Washington when you can steer your car from one side of the 14th Street Bridge to the other during rush hour and not need the entire length of the bridge to do it.

Alice Adams, a Bethesda waitress, says she knows it's summer when the boss reminds her to give every customer a glass of water.

Ann Azarian of Washington says she can discern summer only too well. She sits at the cash register of her L'Enfant Plaza shop and wrestles with crossword puzzles, not customers.

One August day, a visitor came up with a nine-letter word for "transitory." Said Azarian: "You ruined my day's work." Not in an ephemeral way, either.

Summer in the Washington area means the pool and the bike path and the volley at the net. It means New England and Nags Head - or dreams of them, anyway.

It means a choice between three kinds of plums at the grocery, and any number of new junk novels. It means getting to know the kids, catching up on letters, washing the car, falling in love.

It means loose.

At Ocean City, the exalted refuge, looseness approaches slackness. No thump, bump or bustle on that sand. It's lie there and let the sun descend.

If Ocean City didn't become the tee-shirt capital of the world this summer, it is staggering to imagine the place that did. For about $4, at every third shop along the boardwalk, anyone could buy a tee-shirt that said anything. Yes, anything.

And everyone wore anything, in progressive degrees of tacky.

Along with Rocky, Farrah, Bud and Schlitz, Ocean City favorites this summer included I'm A Satisfier, Foxy Lady and I'm A Virgin (But This Is An Old T-Shirt).

Parents went overboard on Kid For Rent - Cheap. Meanwhile, jockistry was so big that last season's laugh-getter, Property of Alcatraz, was utterly overtaken by Property of Penn State Athletic Dept.

By late August, boy no longer met girl in Ocean City: Northwood Gymnastics met I'm Polish And Proud Of It.

Boy and girl tended to have met already when they arrived at the area's summer loll-and-listen arenas: Wolf Trap Farm Park and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

As always, picnicking on the lawns came with the territory. As always, performers ran the gamut. And as always, mosquitoes made memories.

But not for Johanna Blount, an accountant for the General Services Administration, who came out to the pavilion one Friday night to hear Jesse Colin Young, a California troubador. She called the music and the setting "the one thing that makes summer bearable here."

Jimmy Butler of Northwest Washington happened by. He overheard Blount. "Hey," he postscripted, "you can't watch television all year."

Nor can you forever contemplate the wonders of Creve Coeur, Mo. So there were Ed and Virginia White, cameras in respective hands, piling out of a Gray LIne tour bus and heading for the main gate at Mt. Vernon.

"You know," said Ed White, a high school English teacher, "we put off coming for the last few years, what with Watergate and everything. Didn't like the way Washington sounded."

White asks the ticket lady for "two, please, dear." He takes a picture of Virginia as she stands in front of the sign that declares Mt. Vernon to be Mt. Vernon. Then Virginia takes one of him. Then they walk in.

I don't mind the heat that much," said Virginia White, a secretary. "It's as bad as this back home. We just wanted to come for the bicentennial, but without those crowds. I guess this is our own bicentennial."

The Whites stay carefully on the paths while all round them are short-cutting via the main lawn. They do not object when two teen-agers cut in front of them in line. Only Ed speaks during the tour of the Washingtons' home. "Think what this place would sell for today," he says.

The stables, the kitchen, the storerooms, and they are done. At the refreshment stand, Ed is saying that "Washington isn't as bad as I expected. Not near as bad. I could even live here."

Then he spots Virginia in the process of buying a shirt that reads: Virginia Is For Lovers. "Whoops," he says. "Guess we've been here too long."

No such danger confronts the species known as the Washington Summer Intern.

They come and housesit and "discover" Georgetown. They work hard and save little. They are distinctive in their enthusiasm - oodles more of it than the "lifers." But after three months, it's back to Campus Drive.

In early August, though the setting was D Street SE, a Capitol Hill townhouse whose owners were in Grenda. Six young people from the University of Missouri had taken over. All graduate students, they were about halfway through a government summer with agencies only half of them had heard of a year earlier.

The vote on the big questions was split just as the jug of Almaden was.

Does the government do a useful job? Three ayes, three nays. Would they consider careers in government? 42 Would they consider careers in Washington? 4-2. Is government work as tedious as everyone says? 3-3.

"The main thing that gets me is that we aren't working up to our abilities." said Ed Zallone. A chorus of amens and right-ons followed. "But this has to be golden for our resumes." added Gloria Gorinski. And they toasted each other.

So let us follow suit.

Here's to the lady who was waiting in the stamp line one July morning in the post office at 14th and I Streets NW. The man in front of her had bought three nines. Only then did he dicover that he had only a quarter.

The lady pushed two pennies across the counter. "Have a good summer," she told the man, before he went into shock.

And here's to the Montgomery County newspaper (one presumes it would want to remain nameless) that circulated itself at a summer pace. Copies of the Aug. 4 edition were still in newsboxes at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road on Aug. 13.

And here's to the man at National Airport who drives a minibus for a rent-a-car company. One day, a bad day, the air conditioning went on vacation. Our man bought a fan with his own money, mounted it on the dash-board - and aimed it at the riders, not at himself.

Here's to the volleyball players beside the Lincoln Memorial. May they gain ever more converts. And here's to the summer bees who packed the Library of Congress every afternoon. May this be the year the dissertation writes itself after all.

And here is to Zygmunt Zyzywulski of Chevy Chase.

Although he has not yet answered his phone, despite 10 tries at a variety of hours, he will be cheered to know that his listing, last in the Maryland Suburban directory, has survived the summer inside a phone book at Union Station.

No one tore it, or massacred it with graffiti, or pencilled another phone number over it. We must have been too busy - which must say, in some small way, that this was a summer of our content.