In the immortal words of Frank Ward O'Malley, life is just one damn thing after another, but who knew we'd have to face this? Bad times, really bad ones, are ahead.

Doonesbury's taking a lam.

Blame it all on Garry B. Trudeau. He's reached the dangerous age of 34 and needs a breather. As he says, investigative cartooning is a young man's game. Not a mid-life crisis, he insists. It's just that he has to iron out a few problems on his cartoon strip.

"For almost 15 years," he says, "the main characters have been trapped in a time warp and so find themselves carrying the colors and scars of two separate generations. It was unfair to stretch their formative years to embrace both Vietnam and preppy. My characters are understandably confused and out of sorts. It's time to give them some $20 haircuts, graduate them and move them out into the larger world of grownup concerns. The trip from draft beer and mixers to cocaine and herpes is a long one, and it's time they got a start on it."

So it's not forever, he says, only a lull in the action, say 20 months or so. Small consolation. In today's world, that sort of absence leaves a void that can't possibly be filled.

Think of it. Life without Duke, Zonker, Joanie, Mike, Andy, Lacey, Honey, Zeke, Roland Burton Hedley Jr., MarveLous Mark Slackmeyer, B.D., Rick and Thudpucker. Life without more tales of Mellow, more reports on the latest Gerald R. Ford Pro-Am Summer Biathlongolf and tanning contest at Rancho Mirage, Calif., where, in past years, by assiduously applying the training lotions "Gaucho Glow" and "Alamo Sunset," some of the truly legendary tans have been displayed: the '67 Sinatra tan, the '73 Cher tan, the '77 Andy Williams tan.

How can we exist, as we plunge deeper into the '80s, without further patented Tours of Ronald Reagan's Mind? Who has such instant access to the famous Reagan "Clipping Collection," containing 10,000 items stored in shoe boxes, culled from Collier's and Liberty Magazines in the 1930s and updated with whoppers from TV Guide and Reader's Digest? Where else can we find first- hand Reagan's prize "Red Menace" clips from Boy's Life or his special files of "Right to Life," "Gun Control" and "The Soviet Threat" clippings?

Grim days ahead, for sure.

Lest you think Doonesbury offers only another left-leaning Liblab point of view in America's newspapers, remember how impartially he carved up first candidate and then president Jimmy Carter.

It's 1976, before the election, and the Doonesbury gang is in the midst of a football game huddle. The subject of presidential politics arises:

"Jimmy C.? You're a Carter man, Terry?"

There's a lot to be said for him, Zonk!"

"Wanna talk about it?"

Well, for one thing, he's real shrewd: Jimmy Carter says that if he's elected, government will become as full of compassion and love and decency as the American people themselves--including lots of folks like me!"

"But you're a mean, selfish bigot. Terry!"Then you admit he's shrewd."

Four years later, a different scene. The place: the nation's capital. The background, looming over the fence: the familiar sight of the Washington Monument.

Louis the gardener kneels to his work behind a wrought iron fence, his watering can and tools spread out before him, and carries on a conversation with his employer, whom we never see.

On the third daily Doonesbury installment depicting Louis' conversation with his boss, this dialogue takes place, stretched over four cartoon panels:

Louis, panel one, wtill tending the garden, head bent to the earth, planting a bulb: "You know, Mr. President, in a way I'll be a little sad when the cirsis in Iran is over. . . "

Louis, panel two, glancing up: "Being in charge of the Rose Garden during your long and lonely vigil, I feel like I've been parts of history."

Louis, panel three, rising and warming to the conversation: "Why, I was here to witness the shock of Day One, the dark fears of Day 17, the soaring hopes of Day 93, and, of course, the setbacks and disappointment of Day 113. Remember Day 113, sir?"

The president, his voice coming from the left of panel four: "The Massachusetts primary?"

Louis, still impassive: "Un . . . yes, that, too."

And, for fair measure, year in and out Doonesbury has offered some of the sharpest criticisms of the press -- pardon, The Media -- to be found anywhere in print. For instance:

Roland, wearing his ever-present little Channel 7 cap, arrives on Campus in Zonker's room. The dialogue, spread over four days:

Roland: "Hey, partner!"

Zonker: "Roland! Roland Burton Hedley Jr. long time, man! What are you doing here?"

"On a gig! I'm working for ABC News now! Doing a mini-documentary on this year's campus mood:"

"Aha! The ever-popular state-of-the-student story!"

"Right! I was out at your commune, and Mark told me you were living on campus now!"

" Yea, we moved into the dorm last week."

Roland, taking notes: "What is this, some sort of trend?"

"Un-huh. We got the idea from "Time." "

Roland, explaining his assignment: ". . . and so when I told them that I had contacts with some typical college students, they went wild! I've become sort of the resident youth expert at CBS News!""

"CBS? I thought you said you worked for ABC!"

"Did I say CBS? What a slip! I gues it's because I know Cronkite personally!"

Roland, continuing: "Anyway, it's going to be a hard-hitting documentary on the latest campus moods! It should run sometime next week on the NBC Nightly News!"You mean ABC!"

" On . . . God, how embarrassing! Jack Chancellor would just kill me!"

Roland, while shaving in preparation for his interviews, gives Zonker the secret of his success:

"The trick, little buddy, is to ask the tough question at precisely the right time! You also have to really know your subject! This piece on students is a good example! I want to get under the skin of the typical college student, really see what makes him tick! I want to show our viewers where he's been, and where he's going! The whole direction of today's young people!"

Zonker: "Sounds like a major story, Rollie!"

Roland: "It is, ol' chum! At least 45 seconds!"

Zonker: "But can you count on people to sit through it?"

Now Roland is at the type writer, with Zonker looking over his shoulder,

"I don't understand, Roland! Why are you writing the voiceover if you haven't even done the story yet?"

"It saves time, Zonker! Besides, the network frowns on correspondents drawing any original conclusions anyway! That's why we always use the 'remains to be seen' signoff! Here's how it will go on this story! 'Whether or not students have really changed remains to be seen. But on "You'd be surprised! Even with that, we get letters!"

News of this magnitude, shattering as it does our daily regimen and savagely destroying one of the few remaining props that help us begin each day, tempts one to rise in revolt.

Say it isn't so, Trudeau. You've no right to leave us in the lurch. Where is your sense of responsibility, your public duty, your obligation to uplift, deflate, delight, puncture and please?

But on reflection, that can't be allowed to stand as the right reaction. As a far greater figure once said, "No, it is wrong. That's for sure."

So, begrudgingly, you're entitled to a break. Besides, you promise to bring Doonesbury back. And what better time than in 1984.

At least we'll have an antidote to George Orwell.