Among our senses, humor remains hopeless mired in sixth place. But I've often thought it could crack the first five if we'd only use it more.

Unfortunately, there are occasions when a pretty good joke is laid out like a banquet, but the invited guests are, if you will, afraid to take a bite.

Such was the case last week here at The Post, when the business and finance section ran on its front page a spoof written by Robert J. Samuelson.

In Samuelson's story, Jimmy Carter becomes so frustrated by battling inflation that he turns the presidency over to Federal Reserve Board chirman Paul A. Volcker.

The fingerprints of satire were all over Samuelson's piece.

He "quotes" Carter as saying that, although he hates to quit, "I must put the interest of America first."

He "reports" that, before stepping down, Carter induced Vice President Mondale to quit and appointed Volcker secretary of state.

Then Carter talked Warren Magnuson and Tip O'Neill out of exercising their rights of succession, thus clearing the way for "Secretary" Volcker (Fat chance in the real world).

Finally, tongue nearly crashing through his cheek, Samuelson "reports" that Volcker intends to serve as both President and Reserve Board chairman.

Thus, inevitably, Ralph Nader has sued Volcker, Samuelson tells us, on grounds that Reserve Board members must "devote their entire time to the business of the board."

Introducing all this to a waiting world was a headline that read: President Volcker: Testing Perservance

The head won the door prize for spelling "perseverance" correctly. But it may have contributed to the misunderstanding of Samuelson's piece

It would have been simple to have put President Volcker inside quotation marks, or to have "signalled" to the reader that what followed was in fun.

Still, a mere headline can't account for the two dozen calls the financial editors received.

Almost all the callers were seeking reassurance that Carter hadn't really quit, I'm told. But once they were told that Samuelson had been kidding, they turned into complainers.

The essence of their message: We trust you, Post. Don't play with us.

The essence of my message: Relax and enjoy it, folks. It's all too rare.

A few days ago, this correspondent attempted to dropkick Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias into Chesapeake Bay for using the Congressional Record to extol Baltimore.

The question was whether Mathias was off his rocker for confusing The Port City with Heaven. In many ways, most of them obvious, I thought he might be.

Just take a deep breath on a downtown Baltimore street some day if you are wondering what I mean.

But so many loyal "Baltimorons" wrote in to protest that I am developing tendinitis of the fingers from opening all the nice letters about Little Italy, the Maryland Science Museum and the renewed Inner Harbor area.

So color me convinced. I sincerely apologize. Not only do I love the Orioles, but, like a latter-day Will Rogers, I have never met a Baltimore crab cake I didn't like.

And as H. L. Mencken might have put it, people apparently aren't any more awful to each other in Baltimore than anywhere else.

Perhaps the final word on the subject should belong to the 10-year-old son of Elizabeth Bowersox-Patrick, a Baltimore-bred woman who now lives in Fredericksburg, Va.

Her son calls the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel the "Horrible Tunnel." His mother writes that, although she loves her birthplace, she "couldn't agree more."

Me, neither. But a thought won't leave my head alone.

What if the young lad is innocently trying to say "harbor" with a Baltimore accent?

Fickle Finger of Flagrant Flubbery Award to the Federal National Mortgage Association.

Last Friday afternoon, it was raining at a pretty good clip upon the lawn in fron of FNMA's new Wisconsin Avenue headquarters.

At the same time, the sprinklers were sprinkling upon the same lawn. At full blast.

There is no better example of what the 1930s must have been like in Washington than the Kennedy-Warren Apartments, which sit in high-ceilinged splendor beside the National Zoo.

But now, the K-W has become an example of what happens when you leave the English of the 1970s in the hand of landlords.

K-W tenants got a memo the other day warning that the water was going to be cut off the next Monday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

"We trust this will not cause undo hardship," the note read.

No, No, not at awl.