ON THE DAY OF JIMMY Carter's press conference, when Ronald Reagan was in California and George Bush was God-knows-where, when Teddy Kennedy was in the Senate and Jerry Brown was on the Coast and Phil Crane in the House and Jerry Ford on the Nile, Lawrence W. Gildberg paid $75 for the hire of the Mayflower's Hotel's Pan American Room, another $18 for a gallon of coffee and $9 more for a dozen prune danish and announced that he was running for president. Really.

There was a sign outside the room saying "1980 Presidential Announcement of Lawrence W. Goldberg" and inside was Goldberg and another man and just one other reporter. Goldberg and the other man sat in the back of the room, behind nine rows of empty chairs, holding his statement, whispering to each other. Goldberg stood and approached us to explain the poor turnout.

"We'll be starting later," he said. "I understand it's snowing out."

Lawrence W. Goldberg was dressed in a blue suit, red, white and blue striped shirt and a brownish tie.He is 53 years old, tall and sad-faced with brown hair. He says he is a former editor and publisher of something from Media, Pa., who ran for Congress in 1956, finishing fifth in a field of nine. Not much more is known about him because not much more did he volunteer. He is either married or not, wealthy or not. He is a former B-29 pilot, he says, whose compulsion to run for president arises from a not totally unjustified fear that the Bill of Rights has been taking it on the chin lately. Specifically, Goldberg is concerned about a Supreme Court decision allowing police to search newspaper offices. This is not an unreasonable fear.

Lawrence W. Goldberg returned to the back of the room where the other man was still seated. This candidacy of his was either going to be a joke, or something instructive -- a handle to say something about Jimmy Carter. Four years ago, after all, Carter was about as unknown as Goldberg, kissed off by about everyone, running for reasons that were hard to figure out and given such a chance that some reporter thought it was funny to have Hail to the Chief played for Carter at a candidate's breakfast. Carter never got the joke. He went off to New Hampshire.

So I went to the Goldberg announcement and so did a reporter for The Des Moines Register and, after a while, a reporter for the Associated Press showed up, Goldberg spotted the new arrival and came down from the back of the room to introduce himself. He looked around the room at all the empty chairs.

"We'll be a little late," he says. "We originally had to be out of this room at 11:15 because they had to set up for lunch, but now they're not. We can start later." Goldberg then went back to his seat in the back of the room. After a while a woman came in and chatted with Goldberg and then he said something to the other man and then they all moved to the front of the room. Goldberg went to the lectern, stepped behind it and then stepped forward.

"I feel pretentious up here," he explained. "I could just as easily do it down there." He paused for a second and then reconsidered. "I think I owe you some sort of presentation." He stepped behind the lectern, picked up his statement and began: "Good morning. My name is..."

And then he read his statement. It was four pages long and he read with voice you use for a roomful of people, nodding the way speakers do to various parts of the audience. When he finished he said what was written on his prepared statement: "I would be pleased to respond to your questions at this time."

So we played along. We asked some questions about his plans and his financing and his age. Each question got a monologue for an answer, a torrent of words that went down blind alleys and then backed out and then went some other way. The words kept coming -- more and more and more words.

He said that anything could happen, that there was always the chance of victory, that he was not a stalking horse for anyone, although, he pointed out, some others might want to make the race. He had some money, some savings that would carry him through the year and then maybe he would get matching grants from the government.

He had already had this success, this warm reception, this interest at some colleges. He mentioned something about Colby College. We all nodded and took notes and after a while you wanted to yell stop -- stop) -- this is not serious. You cannot be serious. This was not supposed to be so intense but he went on and on until, finally, he stopped. We grabbed our costs and put our pads into our pockets and went for the door.

"Take some danish," Lawrence W. Goldberg said.

Later that day, Jimmy Carter held his press conference and the other potential candidates did their thing and no one told Lawrence W. Goldberg that it was not the snow that kept the press away. So he went down to the Federal Elections Commission to register as a candidate and then he said he was going to do what he knew he had to do -- "I'm probably going to go up to New Hampshire now." My heart sank.

In New Hampshire, it really snows.