EARLY IN THE MORNING, while I am deep in innocent sleep, the newspaper hits my porch with a pornographic thud. I learn that it is possible to make love on the Capitol steps, that some congressmen make it in Capitol Hill men's rooms and that others wend their way down to Florida, there to share ahouse with a fetching lady lobbyist who has posed in the altogether for a men's magazine. I reach for the paper, wrap it in a playboy so my son won't see it, and then I read about the pandas.

Ah, poor Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling. They are Washington's romantic little couple -- the couple, in fact, that can't couple. They are written about in the newspapers as if they are human beings. The word "love" is used and "courtship" is mentioned and people talk about "spring" and "personality" and "romance" and use all the sort of silly words that we can no longer use when it comes to human beings.

When it comes to people, no circumlocution is used. The people will not allow it. They do what they do right outthere in the open -- like pandas do. They pose in the nudeand they go on television shows to promote their new careers as naked people and they argue before all the world about property. They do what they do in restrooms and al fresco on steps trod maybe moments before by Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls and one of them is now threatening to tell the worldhow she entertained -- heh, heh -- congressmen.

If you want to know about all this, about the seamier sides of life,about a town that makes Las Vegas look like Lourdes, then Washington is the place. The press here will spare you nothing -- okay, a little -- and, of course, the people in this city will do their part to give you a little entertainment with the morning paper. For instance, one lawmaker said he spent a number of days living in the house with the lady lobbyist and never noticed her.

But when it comes to the pandas we draw the line. About them we have been told next to nothing. All we really know is that getting them to mate has been one of Washington's most enduring and expensive projects, exceeded only by construction of the Metro. It has takenup reams of newsprint, but we cannot find out in the newspapers what the problem really is. We cannot find out, from apress that will hide nothing about humans, why it is that we had to import from England one Chia-Chia, a panda of the male persuasion, who is supposed to do to (for?) Ling-Ling what poor, troubled, overworked, anxious, dominated, mother-smothered Hsing-Hsing could not do.

A lot of this is just plain silly. We are talking not of human beings, but of animals -- pandas. They are, in fact, an endangered species andthe reason the National Zoo is so eagerly trying to mate them is so it can increase the world's supply of pandas and also learn something about how they mate. There is some suspicion that whatever stops them from mating in captivity stopsthem from mating in the wild also.

In the case of Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, they have a problem. To say more than that would be indelicate and, worse, would put the pandas inthe same boat with members of Congress, movie stars and singers of rock-and-roll songs. bSuffice it to say that everything might have been worked out long ago if Ling-Ling did notreward Hsing-Hsing's clumsy efforts with a bark, causing him to run away. This is what I would do, too.

Now you know the story, and a sad one it is. But there is also something charming about it. And there is also something charming in the way the newspapers write about the pandas as if they were people. It is because the people here, as we all know,act like animals. This is why Washington has fallen for the pandas. They are our isle of romance in a sea of lust, some of it not even heterosexual. They are our Prince Charlesand Lady Diana, a little touch of Rick and Ilsa ("Of all the lousy panda cages in all the zoos in all the world, she walks into mine!") in a city that has gone awfully hard and cynical. You have to live in Washington to understand.

Butif you do, if you live here and hear that newspaper hit theporch and cringe at what it might bring, it might have occurred to you by now that there is a way to combine the worst of Washington with the best of Washington to get Hsing-Hsingto mate with Ling-Ling. Make her a lobbyist.