Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger writes that the "strangest period" in Richard M. Nixon's 5 1/2-year presidency followed Nixon's landslide reelection in November 1972.

"Triumph seemed to be no surcease to him," Kissinger says in the first installment of his memoirs published in Time Magazine for Monday. "He withdrew into a seclusion even deeper and more impenetrable than in his years of struggle. Isolation had become almost a spiritual necessity to this withdrawn, lonely and tormented man."

Kissinger served first as Nixon's national security affairs adviser in the White House and later succeeded William Rogers as secretary of state for Nixon and Nixon's successor, Gerald R. Ford, in 1974.

On the evidence of a Time summary of the installment, the first part of Kissinger's memoirs, beginning in 1968 and ending with the Vietnam peace treaty of January 1973, contains no foreign policy revelations.

Kissinger has been working on his memoirs since he left office. A second volume covering the second Nixon administration and the Ford administration is in preparation. Publishing sources have said that Atlantic Little Brown paid Kissinger a $2 million advance.

The first Time installment presents personal observations of Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev and now-deceased Chinese leaders Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai as well as Nixon.

It recounts generally familiar details of the opening to China that began with Kissinger's secret trip to Peking and culminated with Nixon's Shanghai Communique of 1972. It describes the successful avoidance of a Soviet-American crisis when Moscow began constructing a submarine base at Cienfuegos in Cuba in 1970.

The Time summary does not mention more controversial subjects. It contains nothing on the secret bombing of Cambodia, begun in 1969, or the Nixon-Kissinger Vietnam policy.

There are also puzzling aspects that may result from the material being a summary of what is an excerpt of a book. Kissinger's representative arranged this way of making some of the material public in an attempt to satisfy those who have bought the various rights to publication.

For example, Brezhnev is described as difficult to deal with in part because "while you were being most persuasive, he could be concentrating not on your remarks but on forcing food on you."

However, only Chou, whom Kissinger praises as "one of the two or three most impressive men I have ever met," cuts off conversation by pressing food upon Kissinger.

Kissinger's description of the post-1972 election time as the strangest period of Nixon's presidency is also somewhat puzzling in light of later events.

Kissinger's comments about Nixon's character are similar to private remarks he made at a banquet

"Baseball's a hard sell in Houston -- especially with the kind of team we've got," Jones said. "But these Texans are catching on . . . now that some of us guys from New York are explaining it to 'em."

Few things ought to run more counter to Houston's tastes than a low-scoring, Punch-'n-Judy team with a conspicuous proportion of star blacks and Latins.

Houston does not cotton to ambiguous gray areas, or too much subtlety. Down here by the Gulf when you drill, you either hit a gusher or come up dry. This is mostly a black-or-white town -- either enormously rich or shanty poor.

Not surprisingly, this city's taste in sports is perfectly suited to the gargantuan Oilers with their 270-pounders who look as if they just stepped off a rig. Bum Phillips, in his 20-gallon hat, is the ideal Houston coach.

Yet, it is a testimony to Houston's ingrained boosterism, and its innate respect for "a winner," that Astro home attendance reached 1,900,312 on today's final home date -- almost doubling the club's average the previous four years.

That gate total, slightly above the NL norm, is credible but deceiving. The Astros drew a quarter-million more in '65 when the only attraction for a last-place blub was the opening of the domed "Eighth Wonder of the World."

Novelty is still a bigger draw here than baseball.

"We've finally caught people's attention this season," said low-key Astro Manager Bill Virdon. "Maybe this big series with the Reds will put us over the top and we'll sort of catch fire."

"This weekend is really the first time we've filled the park without bribing people with giveaways," reliever Joe Sambito noted. "We're more accustomed to being outdrawn by several high school football games on the same night.

"When the Oilers played Pittsburgh earlier this month on TV, we were in a pennant race and only drew 11,000."

The surprise of this weekend was not that the Astrodome drew 133,079 for three days -- any town anywhere could fill that many seats for such a showdown. Rather, for the first time, the standing-room-only total was larger than the no-shows.

True, every day there were 3,000 to 4,000 empty seats here in choice locations. Folks with true Texas cash don't think twice about buying a block of box seats, then not using them. However, those 5,000 SRO tickets, with people standing in line from 9 a.m. were a measure of grass-roots popularity.

"Can you imagine thousands of empty box seats in Fenway Park for a series with the Yankees?" uttered Jones, disbelieving.

Much about Houston and its Astros is hard to grasp. Not only have fans here not mastered the game's fine points, but many of them aren't too strong on fundamentals.

Several times a Red hitter foul-tip-ped a two-strike pitch, only to see thousands of fans rise in an ovation for what they mistook for a strikeout.

Today, the goggle-eyed crowd in this baseball big-top was totally dumbfounded by the two plays that sank their Astros.

In the fourth inning, with Cincinnati leading, 2-1, Red pitcher Frank Pastore poked a single to right. Ray Knight, trying to score from second, appeared to be out by six feet at the plate. Umpire Joe West called him safe, detecting, he thought, that catcher Pujols had juggled the ball.

The crowd was both incensed and confused. Its rage was half-hearted. When the next hitter, Dave Collins, tripled into the right-field corner, the madness increased.

Pastore almost collapsed, stumbling home with a galumph.

"I thought I'd broken my drive shaft, said the rookie (5-7), who pitched his first big-league complete game this afternoon.

When the throw to home bounced 20 feet away from Pujols, Collins headed for the plate. And so did a lot of other folks.

Astro pitcher Vern Ruhle, no one knows why, stumbled into umpire West and Pastore, then stepped directly in front of the plate just as Collins and Pujols were diving for the dish for opposite directions. Collins' slide flipped Ruhle head over heels. Everybody went down in a heap. West yelled, "Safe!" making the Red lead 6 to 1.

"I thought there was a brawl going on at home plate that I didn't know about," said Collins. "I never saw such a mess. I just dove head-first into the middle of it."

In any number of baseball-crazed cities, such a sequence of doings -- a nexus of extremely debatable calls and screwy plays, all bundled up with a sudden terrible turn of events for the home team's pennant chances -- might have brought bedlam. Imagine Yankee Stadium.

This Houston congregation booed a little. But, essentially, the group was a great disappointment to anyone expecting the vigilante justice usually accorded to outlaws and wrongdoers in Texas.

The loudest ovation of the afternoon was, fittingly, not for the Astros, but for the Oilers. By the sixth inning, with the baseball team still behind, 6-1 (not exactly an insurmountable deficit), half the crowd had gone home. Those who remained all seemed to be watching or listening to broadcasts of the Oilers' overtime football game with that other Cincinnati outfit. Every sudden-death NFL play brought groans and cheers from the throng at the very instant it was happening.

When a winning Oiler field goal hit the crossbar and bounced through for the victory, this baseball crowd gave a standing ovation.

Dave Concepcion of the Reds stepped out of the batter's box agape.

"Houston has the loudest crowd in baseball, because it's indoors and the sound can't escape," said the Reds' Joe Morgan. "But they also have the quietest crowd when things go wrong."

"Our folks sure closed up shop in a hurry today, didn't they?" Houston's Jones chuckled. "Real, long time baseball fans wouldn't do that. They'd try to pull you back."

In many ways, Houston fans resemble those of Los Angeles, just as both towns are sprawling, expresswaygorged and architecturally similar with their mixture of ultramodern skyscraper and old Spanish.

As with Angelenos, Houstonians are curious about the latest fad, dedicated to what is chic. Their commitment lasts as long as the pennant race.

Just as Hollywood has its flow of Beverly Hills gazers, so the stream of cars here rolls through the tract mansions of River Oaks a community graced by the sort of opulent beauty that can only flourish in the absence of conscience. If a tennis court could be put in a swimming pool, River Oaks would do it first.

Nothing holds the public eye here for too long. Perhaps only in L.A. could so many people have left such an important game in the last week of September by the fifth inning.

The Astros' minor miracle is that in a town devoted to neon they have managed to make inroads in the public mind with a team that runs on candlepower. Even the Baptist churches on Main Street here advertise with blinking signs. The Astros are selling the sacrifice bunt and the infield hit.

On days like today, it is clear just how far the gutty Astros have gone with an essentially medicore team, one that has barely outscored its opponents, 555-552.

"Most other teams would prefer to see us win," claimed Morgan of the Reds, "because the Astros aren't a real, complete baseball team. The Astros have hustle, enthusiasm and two pitchers -- J. R. Richard and Joe Niekro. That's about it.

"Really, should they win it all?

"When they get behind, they're helpless because they have no power, only speed, which they can't use then. I shouldn't say they run the bases well, but they do run. They put on pressure."

The Astros' basic weapon -- one which annoys opponents like Morgan -- is the Astrodome with its distant fences, dead air and fierce noise. Foes are anesthetized here. Batting practice is like sodium pentathol; You can see the sluggers' eyes glazing over.

No team has ever matched these Astros for split personality. They were 50-31 at home last year, 24-57 on the road. This year, it's 52-29 at home and 34-40 away.

Therefore, it seems justice triumphs in that the Astros should play their last seven games on the road. If they can win a flag outside this dingy manusoleum, then they will have beaten the charge that they are a team tailored to a fluke park, a fatally flawed team that shows its true disabilities in any other stadium.

What with the Astros heading for Atlanta and Los Angeles, while the Reds finish with six games at home in Riverfront Stadium, the Astrodome may have seen its last game of '79.

Nevertheless, these last three days have been a watershed in Houston baseball. With two gritty wins in three games, the Astros proved that if they are a limited team, they are a courageous one.

Houston also proved itself to be big league.

For once, the Astrodome had more fans standing in the back aisles than it had empty seats in the skyboxes. That, for a town with Texas tastes, was a giant step. in Ottawa in 1975 that became public only because a microphone had been left on inadvertently. Then, Kissinger called Nixon an "odd, artificial and unpleasant man."

Kissinger praises Nixon for his efforts "for a revolution in American foreign policy so that it would overcome the disastrous oscillations between overcommitment and isolation." Nixon, he says, "saw before him a vista of promise to which few statesmen have been blessed to aspire, a new international order that would reduce lingering enmities, strengthen friendships -- and give hope to emerging nations."

Nixon told Kissinger to use the words "direct, hones, strong . . . fatalistic" in describing the American president to Brezhnev when they met to plan the 1972 Soviet-American summit.

He also told Kissinger to tell the Soviet leader he was not subject to political pressure because he faced a reelection campaign.

The Time summary contrasts the Chinese favorably with Brezhnev. Kissinger says Brezhnev's "hands were perpetually in motion: Twisting his watch; flicking ashes from his ever-president cigarette . . . clanging his cigarette holder against an ashtray. He could not keep still. While his remarks were being translated he would restlessly bound up, walk around, engage in loud conversation with his colleagues or even leave the room without explanation and return."

Mao, who was 76 when Kissinger met him, struck Kissinger as "warning by his bearing that there was no point in seeking to deceive this specialist in the foibles and duplicity of man."

"I have met no one, with the possible exception of Charles de Gaulle, who so distilled raw, concentrated willpower . . . he dominated the room, not by the pomp that in most states confers a degree of majesty on leaders, but by exuding in almost tangible form the overwhelming drive to prevail," Kissinger said.

Kissinger describes the State Department, which he later headed, in unflattering terms in the one mention it gets in the summary. Secretary of State William Rogers gave Nixon and Kissinger a list of proposed amendments to the Shanghai Communique "as numerous as they were trivial," Kissinger says. Nixon was enraged and said "he would do something about the State Department at the first opportunity," the excerpt says.

The summary relates some of what Kissinger calls the absurd lengths that White House advance men went to in efforst to make Nixon look good.

In 1972, an advance man decided that the tan furniture in Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's office would not flatter Nixon and was about to order the office redecorated in blue.