"Alan Cranston!" I screamed in my sleep. "Alan Cranston!"

"What?" exclaimed my wife.

"Alan Cranston," I yelled. "Alan Cranston."

Max the Wonder Dog approached the bed. "Alan Cranston," I screamed. "Alan Cranston," the dog barked.

"Alan Cranston?" yelled my son from his bedroom. "Who's Alan Cranston?"

It was four in the morning. Outside, on the damp streets, Washington Post delivery trucks were sneaking through the city on little cat's feet. Soon, almost a million papers would be in place, ready to be sold and thence to be read. All of them would have my column, the one that mentioned Alan Cranston.

Incorrectly!

"Alan Cranston!" I yelled in my sleep. "Alan Cranston!"

I was having a nightmare. In it, I was reading the column that would appear in that day's paper, one taking most of the Democratic presidential candidates to task for not tangling with President Reagan on El Salvador. I wrote (after checking with his office) that Cranston was one of those.

Alan Cranston? It didn't figure. His office must have been wrong. Not Guts-Ball Cranston. He, of all people, would have said something about El Salvador. Alan Cranston is one of the most vociferous critics of the administration's El Salvador policy. And besides, like me, Alan Cranston is a runner.

I would not wake up. In my nightmare, my world was coming apart. This was worse than the nightmare in which the cleaners had put my shirts on hangers rather than in a box. Don't ask why this so upset me, but in the dream it did. It seemed like the most awful thing that ever happened and it did not make it any better, I'm telling you, that I asked for starch and did not get any.

Suddenly, my room turned very cold. The window flew open and Cranston himself floated into the room. He was tall and thin, and despite the cold, dressed in his jogging shorts. Around him, like furies, buzzed Mistakes of Columns Past, squawking their complaints.

Spiro Agnew complained about how I had incorrectly written that he had taken all the liquor from the Maryland governor's mansion, and Frank Mankiewicz, citing a bad 1972 story, said I had probably cost George McGovern the presidency. Suddenly, they quieted--even Mankiewicz.

With a flourish, Cranston showed me Congressional Records from March 1 and March 5, both of which contained his strong denunciations of the President's El Salvador program. He held them out to me, like a cross to a vampire, and I shrank from them in terror, pulling the blanket over my face. Then Cranston whipped out a newspaper. The headline said: "CRANSTON LOSES ON COHEN MISTAKE." I looked at Cranston. A tear formed in his eye.

I have made mistakes before, of course, and there have been times--many times, in fact--when I have awakened in the middle of the night with my stomach in knots after reading in my sleep what I have written while (more or less) awake. This happens about once a week. Then, in the middle of the night when the city is asleep, I survey the wreckage of my career and I think of other things I could do. Somehow, I decide always to go to Oregon. I have never been to Oregon, but it sounds nice.

This time, though, the nightmare turned out to be real. I knew it in my sleep, knew that this was not my usual nightmare, which would amount to nothing in the morning, but a real nightmare--one based on fact, on reality. I had been wrong. I had ruined Alan Cranston's career. Either that, or he would ruin mine. One was worse than the other, but to admit which one would sound egotistical.

"Alan Cranston!" I screamed. "Alan Cranston!" the dog barked. "Who's Alan Cranston? " my son yelled. My family stood around me, but still I would not wake up. I knew what I was doing.

Then, from downstairs, I heard the sound of the paper hitting the porch. I cautiously got out of bed and tiptoed to the window, throwing it open. Outside, the city was still and asleep. I heard something. I cocked my ear, listened hard and heard the voice I feared.

It was Alan Cranston's. "Richard Cohen!" he screamed. "Richard Cohen!"