SHE WAS SHORT, slight, dark-haired and seated that night deep in one of those canvas chairs from which their is no exit. At first she talked, but then with the arrival of more guests and the pouring of more wine she quieted, faded, said less and less until she said nothing at all. A couple of times she tried to get a word in, but she wasn't fast enough, and soon she did nothing more than smile and nod -- dead space in a circle of loquacious people. People like her will miss Ed McMahon.

Not that you can tell. Precious little is written on McMahon and oodles on Carson who is, after all, star of the show. When Carson announced he was thinking of calling it quits, I have to admit I read all the newspaper stories thinking that I cared. It only occurred to me later that I didn't, that I resent the way he talks about his work as if it's stoop labor but mostly I resent how after 17 years I know so little about him. Say what you will about Johnny Carson, he does not let you in.

I don't know if he's a Republican or a Democrat, whether he favors aboration or not, whether he ever All I know is that he exercises daily, has weighed exactly the same for 17 years and plays tennis with Don Rick'es -- one good habit balancing the bad. This, after 17 years, is not exactly a relationship.

This is not the case with McMahon. The man tells you plenty by just looking at him. His weight is all over the place. Like us, he has a body that won't take orders. Some nights his hair won't lie down and he seems to have those dark days when, for reasons probably having to with fits of selfloating, he dresses to pulish himself. There are nights he looks just awful. You have to like a man and now that he is leaving the slow, or threatening to, there is even more attention being paid to him. Why this is the case is beyond me since it is a rule that there is no place to go from television. This is known as the Henry Winkler Rule or the Joey Bishop Rule or the Barbara Felden Rule. Call it what you want, it is the rule that overnight changed Farrah Fawcett Majors from a television star into a shampoo. Carson probably will become a talcum powder. It is what will become of McMahon that worries me.

Why I should be concerned is something that I could not figure out. McMahon is probably rich and will always find work. He'll get by. Nevertheless. I carried him around in my head and none of it made sense until someone told me that McMahon's mail is heavy from people who feel sorry for him and identify with him. Every night, Ed McMahon gets discared. Every night, inevitably, he winds up ignored. For Ed McMahon every night is a lousy party. (Text Omitted) the opening announcement and then he chats with Carson. But then, with the arrival of the first guest, he starts to fade. He moves over one on the couch. With each succeeding guest he moves farther and farther down the couch until not even his voice can be heard. No one tries to include him in the conversation. I bet Ed McMahon gets lots of letters from wives who go to dinner parties with their husbands.

In this sense, Ed McMahon gets to represent anyone who was ever dropped for someone else. Anyone who was important or interesting or whatever until someone better came along. He is everyone who cannot make their presence felt, who is ignored at parties, who gets pushed out of the conversation group until you wind up going into another room, sometimes sitting by yourself. He's me on nights when I cannot find my tongue, when no one finds me interesting or cares to find me interesting, when waves of insecruity wash over me and I sit, like that dark-haired lady at the party, silent, on the end of my own couch -- all dressed up and in my new pleated pants.

So now at the end of 17 years, a toast to Ed McMahon. I wish one night when he's alone at the end of the couch and the camera is not on him, he would slip away and call me. I'd tell him I know just how he feels. I'd tell him anything he wants. Maybe then I could get him to introduce me to Johnny.