Life in Washington beyond the marble monuments:

From the front window of our house in Wesley Heights, all day every day I see a stream of cars from Maryland, Virginia and the District cruising restlessly back and forth like beagles sniffing for hares, looking for parking spaces. In front of our walk, a man in a green Buick from Virginia is forcing his way into a space much too small. He presses his rear bumper against a car already parked and pushes it backward to make room for his Buick. He succeeds, but at the price of scratched paint and a bent grille on the car behind him. And there you have it every day -- the law of the jungle, fang and claw, on 44th Street in Northwest Washington.

A Maryland Chevrolet pulls away after its impressively fastidious driver has cleaned his car of soft-drink cans, paper cups and plastic-clamshell containers from the fast food stores and dumped them at the curb and then finished his housecleaning by pouring out the contents of his ashtray, leaving our street to look like the top layer on a sanitary landfill.

When I climb in to drive away in my own car, instantly one of the cruising hunters pulls up and waits for me to get out. If I am not prompt enough, he will honk impatiently or even pull up alongside and ask why I am taking so long.

It is all the more irritating because there are two free or low-priced parking garages about 300 feet away.

After we moved in here 12 years ago, we heard a small office building with retail stores was to be built out on New Mexico Avenue, a half-block away. In fear the streets would become parking lots, the Neighborhood Association threatened lawsuits. The developers promised to build parking garages. They did. But now almost nobody uses them. Instead, people insist on parking in the streets. The garages stand nearly empty while our streets are jammed with cars and litter, and often there is the sound of rending metal and shattering glass.

In time the D. C. Department of Traffic, trying to help, came out with its new stickers and signs restricting non- resident parkers to two hours during the day. That would solve the problem, they said. It didn't. It made it worse. Instead of the all-day (or all week) parkers we used to have, there is now constant turnover, one car out and immediately another in with even more fender-scraping and trash dumping. The two-hour limit is ignored.

Since other residential neighborhoods in our city live with the same problem, I suggest we install the system now used in Cambridge, Mass.: in a neighborhood designated for sticker parking, the city should change the signs to read NO daytime parking without a sticker. This may not be feasible in every neighborhood in town, but it certainly would be in some like ours, where off-street parking is easily available. The objection I already hear is that this would mean visitors could not park. The answer would be, as in Cambridge, for them to leave a card on the dash saying something like "Visiting at 3324." If the police wanted to check, they could ring the doorbell at 3324 and ask.

If there are legal questions (and there are always legal questions) it does seem that if the city has the right to limit non-resident parking to two hours then it must have the right to eliminate it entirely.

This may not be the world's best idea. Has anyone a better one? If not, what is the alternative? To continue forcing city residents, including our elderly folks, to return from the supermarket on rainy days and park a block or two away and carry their heavy bags home? Must Washington's residential neighborhoods look and sound like overstocked used car lots?

Why do we have to put up with this?