1981 -- a year between elections, a year of unresolved crises and wary scrutiny of new political leaders. Not the beginning of a decade nor the end, this New Year somehow seems to hold the promise of sweeping changes.

If only someone would tell us what those big doings will be.

"Predictions for the New Year?" replied a woman who answers telephones at the District Building. "If I know what was going on around here, don't you think I'd sell it to somebody?"

Still, the ambivalence of our expectations makes street-corner seers of us all. Here is a handful of Washingtonians, among them a stripper and a zookeeper, the mayor and a medium, to offer their outlook on inscrutable 1981.

"For my first prediction," said the Rev. Hazel Cassell, professional psychic and healer, after four days of meditation, "I see that 20,000 persons will be cut from the D.C. government payroll . . . I see a fire in a large nursing home, but I think it's going to be in Maryland . . . . Vincent Reed will have a very good year. He will spend much of his time writing and traveling and investments will be good for him . . . I see that Mayor Barry will have health problems . . . Nancy Reagan will not take D.C. by storm, and will have several unpleasant social experiences."

Cassell, 39, a former social worker and D.C. public school teacher, said the spirits have visited her since she was a child, though she has only given readings for the last 12 years. The vibrations for her D.C. predictions were strong but not exhausting. Nationally she sees: "The resignation of two Reagan cabinet members, and a cure for cancer will be found in an herbal extract . . . A record number of healthy babies will be born to women in their 40s and 50s and I see a record number of house fires in D.C. and across the nation."

Rev. Cassell also foresaw the capture of two men whom she said were responsible for the deaths of several black children in Atlanta this past year, the fall of the prime interest rate to 17 1/2 percent and increasing difficulty for a black person to buy a home in the metropolitan Washington area. "For myself," added the former student of social work at Howard and mother of one, "I just hope next year will be better than 1980."

"I worry about the postinaugural political atmosphere," said Mel Boozer, lecturer in sociology and race relations at the University of Maryland and president of the D.C. Gay Activists' Alliance. "Both in terms of legitimately hostile attitudes toward minorities and on the part of minorities themselves, taking a defensive posture. That's a worry. Now the hope is that people in minority groups will be strengthened by having to pull together."

Though Boozer is successful both politically and professionally, anxiety is corroding his usually confident demeanor. "'81 is going to shape the politics of '82," he says carefully, shifting the exam papers he has begun to grade. "I think there are people on the horizon who are going to use scapegoating to advance their political careers. There are going to be hard times ahead with the crime rate, the unemployment rate, the housing problem. It's part of the national picture, but locally with all these problems, it's going to be easy to turn negative. Politicians are going to have to make some hard decisions and I think we're going to have a lot of pressure to escape humane responses and to adopt expedient ones.

"I expect a certain amount of ranting," he concluded.

"Fred," 35, a White House guard who asked to be identified only by his heavy veil of Old Spice cologne, said, "In regards to President-elect Reagan, I think he's going to cut down on a lot of unnecessary spending." A native of Northeast Washington, "Fred" has protected several tenants of the city's most coveted temporary housing. His thoughts on the new administration:

"(Reagan) will probably travel back to Pacific Palisades -- that's his home -- most weekends I would say, every chance he gets. From what I hear he likes it out there. As for predictions," he said, pushing aside his hat with one finger to scratch at thinning red-gold hair, "they'll probably have their friends over once in a while. I feel there'll probably be a little more parties. Of course, he's from out there; there'll probably be more Hollywood celebrities coming in. As far as how big these parties are going to be," said "Fred" with a judicious nod, "that I don't know."

Mayor Marion Barry, heading into his third year in office, offered this statement through spokeswoman Kathy Williams:

"My strongest hopes and aspirations for the coming year are a greater degree of local autonomy and progress toward recovery from the budget crisis . . . In particular, I am seeking congressional approval of a fixed-formula federal payment, so that we can improve our financial planning, as well as a level of federal payment which more realistically reflects federal obligations towards the District. I am also seeking approval of a number of other home-rule-related measures and a funding which would compensate the District for the pre-home-rule causes of the city's deficit problem.

"On a personal level I hope to increase the amount of time I will be able to spend with my wife and my son, Marion Christopher."

"I'm gonna get me a girlfriend," said 10-year-old Darryl Blackeney, who spent about half of 1980 in school, and the rest of the time selling newspapers to the rush hour crowd at K and 15th streets NW. In 1981, he said, "I'm going to get better grades and go to the 7th grade. I'm getting me a racing track and some clothes and a coat. And I'm gonna get me a girlfriend." A hint of a smile.

Diane Semenuck, 22, a topless-bottomless dancer at Archibald's on K Street NW: "This place supposedly used to be Washington's first topless club, so since they made it bottomless, it's been really crowded; you can hardly find a seat. It's been really nice. So I think in 1981, this is going to be the best club in town; people will be lined up around the block to come here," she said with a proud glance around the lunch-time crowd, all clothed male customers and undressed female dancers, all eyes riveted to the stage.

"It's a really healthy atmosphere," she explained, straining to speak over loud jukebox music. "I love working here; the management's really super; they never try anything, you know, funny. We don't get the trash types in here. The tips have been just great since we went bottomless about a month and half ago -- I've averaged about $150-$200 a night in tips," she said, pointing to a thick wad of bills neatly folded between her pink garter belt and pinker thigh.

"The only thing I'd rather be doing is singing. But I don't sing, so I dance for the feeling. I just hope that people are seeing what I'm feeling rather that just looking at my body" -- for the moment loosely encased in a transparent negligee and G-string trimmed with bunny fur -- "and gushing over it, and I guess I just want to improve, to make more people happy with my dancing. I want people out there to say, 'I'm going to Archibald's because Diane is working.'" Then she strode over to the stage to wait her turn to strip to her favorite song -- "Guilty," by Barbra Streisand.

"I think we'll see mortgages change as we know them -- It's absolutely the end of the 30-year mortgage. I can't see why a lending institution would want to lend over a 30-year period for a fixed rate -- I think that's history," said 31-year-old financial wunderkind Jeffrey N. Cohen. The millionaire real estate developer recently decided to sell his one-third share of D.C. National Bank stock for a $1 million profit, to bid for control of two other banks.

"Economically I expect things to get worse before they get better, but for things to improve around April, when a different economic philosophy begins to take hold. I think, generally speaking, various industries are beginning to believe that Washington really is the capital, and Washington as a city is going to continue to grow. . .

"But the rules of the game are changing Jan. 1, with NOW accounts, changes in the S&L's (savings and loan associations); they're looking more like banks, they can issue checks like banks. I'd say five years down the road, they'll all be like one big institution.

"Personally," said Cohen, the subject of a recent article in The Washington Post describing opposition to his attempt to buy a controlling interest in a Hispanic-owned bank, "I'd like to see my name in The Washington Post a lot less."

"We're going to go for a repeat of last year, putting them together during the female's annual spring heat and see if we get a natural mating, then, if we don't, we'll try the artificial insemination," said Dr. Robert Hoage, special assistant to the director of the National Zoo, on the ill-fated plans to produce panda progeny. "Whether we have a baby, the odds will be the same as last year, 50-50. We just had a seal baby though, so things are going well."