PEOPLE SAY my hours are awful - 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the Metroplitan Desk of The Washington Post. But I love the lobster shift and I love the work. It gives me the opportunity to play the newspaper game and wear a dozen different hats in the course of a week - reporting, writing, editing, layout and makeup. Monday

The last deadline for the Post's Final edition is 3 a.m., though we can get late-breaking news into the paper up to 3:30, if it's a major story. So I usually help out on the desk, wherever I can do the most good, editing late copy or writing headlines or filling in as news editor. Sometimes I go down to the fourth-floor composing room and work with the printers on layout.

After 2, my vigil begins. I listen to two police scannrs - one for D.C. and one for Maryland and Virginia - and get on the phone to check with police in D.C., the suburbs, Baltimoree and other localities, collecting the nightside news and crime log.

I also spend a lot of time on the phone, playing doctor, lawyer, priest, judge and jury or psychiatrist for callers. Night people are different: insomniacs, the curious, concerned, disturbed, scholars and thieves, young and old. During my tenure in this job, I've directed authorities to four callers who voiced intentions of suicide.

A sobbing lady called one morning about 4 from a Crystal City high-rise to complain about breaking up with her married boyfriend in the Navy. She sounded desperate so I tried to keep her talking.

"Do you know how to make a stinger?" she asked. I didn't know but I told her to hold on. I ran off to the Style department and found a recipe book for mixed drinks, then gave her complete instructions for the perfect stinger. That seemed to cheer her.

"One more favor," she asked. "If I make a batch of stingers, will you come over, keep me company and help me drink them?"

This Monday night was slow. No major crimes fire or traffic problems in Maryland or Virginia.

D.C. Sec Squad has a case involving a 4-year-old girl and 7-year-old boy. Sodomy. Also an attempted rape and robbery of a lady waiting for bus.

Marine police on the Bay say a 1976 Dodge found parked on the Bay Bridge is registered to a Bethesda woman. The Coast Guard is still searching for two weekend jumpers. Tuesday

Have been keeping tabs with Homicide all night to see if anything new developed in the fatal stabbing of Al Ballinger of the Post's stereo department. I've known Al since 1948 and no nicer guy ever lived. A longtime bachelor, he was married last year and just recently moved into a new town house. Homicide tells me they have the name of a witness but they can't find him.

This is the third death on our fourth floor in a week. Too bad the nut who slashed my two rear tires last Friday didn't get it instead of Al. If I catch him, he will.

A number of callers say that political literature lists Charlene Jarvis, as our paper reads, as Charlene. Might check with the lady and see if she's Christine or Charlene.

It took traffic four hours to clean up the mess on southbound 295 - one dead, two critical at D.C. General. Master Patrolman Frank Strother of Traffic says a motorcycle driver going around 70 mph failed to negotiate a turn and ran into the side of a '76 Ford. His buddy came right in behind and crashed his cycle into the overturned cycle. These two downed cycles caused the tanker's driver to slow down, but the Sears driver didn't and killed himself when he plowed into the rear of the tanker. Wednesday

Robbery reports a number of street holdups this morning with Homicide finding a dead male, no name or fixed address, in the 3300 block of M Street NW.

No trouble with the church pages tonight. I handle the early church makeup for Friday every week and leave the page proofs with the city editor and city copy editor.

Montgomery County police say James Warfield of Clarksburg, northbound on 355, crossed into path of a tractor-trailer, was pushed into a ditch, flipped and crushed to death. It took rescue workers 15 minutes to cut out the car salesman from the wrecked auto. The truck driver suffered a broken arm.

When children call me at 7 a.m. with questions about government, I try to assist them because I know they are doing homework assignments.

I also hear, now and then, from people who have their own "Watergate" story that they want the Post to break. Sometimes they say it is bigger than Watergate. Thursday

A family squabble led to the fourth bridge jumper of the week in Maryland, according to Marine police. The man was arguing with his wife as he approached Benedict Bridge on the Patuxent. Stopped the car in the center of span, took off his watch, removed his shoes and wallet, then walked to the railing and jumped. Left his wife sitting in the car.

Baltimore dispatcher has ten tons of happenings but no local names. Howard County police report finding the body of a partially clad woman in the bottom of a sewer in Ellicott City. No ID at this time.

I hate it when my little homicides, fatal accidents, fatal fires, rapes, unusual robberies go unused. This happens frequently - no space left in the newspaper. I feel that all of this news should be used. People often call in, asking what happened in the traffic accident they saw going home from a party.

I leave a note for the Virginia desk on a press conference scheduled by Arlington police on the surrender of Michael G. Levine, brother of an Arlington policeman, in connection with a murder in Cleveland. Sandra Boodman will cover, Doug Chevalier will provide art. Friday

Two night callers offer a tip: More ladies of the night are being brought into the city and forcing the locals out of action. These out-of-town hookers can be spotted by the expensive clothes and professionalism, says one caller. Also says the hooker imports are working the M Street restaurant corridor and disturbing patrons. Might check out the expanded business zone.

Catching bad headlines is an endless game in our business. Somehow the "r" got left out of "Shirt." "Amuse" becomes "Abuse." We make fixes for the late editions, but there is no way to call back the thousands of papers already in trucks, on their way to home delivery.

Howard County police arrest a man for the murder of a girl found in the bottom of the sewer.

Tactical units in Fairfax County conclude two months of investigation this morning with a drug raid that nets two adults and two juveniles.

A Fairfax cruiser collides with a speeding auto on Old Keene Mill Road. A Fairfax County police sergeant and two boys injured.

This week has been quiet than most. When a bit story breaks in the early hours, however, I get on the phone and wake up reporters and photographers, even editors. Otherwise, I enjoy talking to people and making the police rounds. Some callers bring tears with their incredible tales; some are infuriating. I lend a shoulder to cry on, despite the hour.

It's 9 a.m. Time for me to say good-night.