The man picked up the phone in the Washington exchange area and, intending to dial 301-224-2612 to reach the new Red Lobster restaurant in Annapolis, forgot the 301 and dialed 224-2612. And who did he get on the phone? The Capitol Hill office of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

At an odd hour when Kennedy answered the phone himself, one such caller asked "Who's this?"

According to Kennedy, "I said, 'Senator Edward Kennedy.' And he said, 'Very funny, I'm President Ronald Reagan. What time do you serve dinner?' "

The senator's experiences were contained in a letter he sent to Mike Royko of the Chicago Tribune, who in a recent column had recounted his own problem: The phone company assigned an 800-prefix number identical to Royko's number at the newspaper, and the columnist got lots of misdirected calls. When the phone company suggested that Royko change his number, Royko said heck, no, that it was his number first.

Kennedy, who still shares the seven-digit number with the Red Lobster, wrote Royko that he gets so many such calls that he sometimes disparages the restaurant's food or concocts tales to deflect callers' demands that he accept reservations. But on the whole, he said, he tries to be polite.

Kennedy blamed "those idiots in Congress who broke up the telephone company" -- misplaced blame, since the breakup was mandated by the courts, not Congress, and since area codes and 800 numbers preceded the breakup.

Oh, do I remember! My own after-prefix home number, then in Mount Vernon, was the same as the number later assigned to the Maryland uninsured motorist fund in Glen Burnie. There seemed to be an awful lot of uninsured Maryland motorists.