DEAR BEVERLY,

Sorry to hear that the muffin craze is waning and George has no option but to retool the machinery in your mall basement stall into bagel- makers. Sonny Goldstone, who should know about these things, says that bagels have always had more market appeal than muffins. I'm sure you and George are doing the right thing, despite the capital investment.

I must say that, over the long haul, Sonny has been a steady friend, which is something I cannot say about Lionel Portant. I've already mentioned how many times he's walked away from me at parties, and then, when "wife of" maturely accepts the fact she's got something Portant is allergic to, he comes up and treats me like Princess Di. Portant's hot-and-cold technique is not only directed, I'm glad to say, at "wife of." Baron Spitte, who's never been too crazy about the Powerful Press, says that Lionel Portant has become too big for his boots. He's on the verge of being a media celebrity and shines on you only when he thinks you or your country are involved in some scandal. The last time Portant spoke to me was during our election, when one of the candidates was shown patting a lady's bum on the evening network news. You have to work hard for your country to get Portant's attention.

I'm not sure why Portant's pronouncements are treated with such respect. When I asked the Baron (I realize, Beverly, he's not an unbiased observer), the Baron said, "It's because he has a hooded personality. Which means people are never quite sure whether he's being prophetic or sanctimonious, profound or merely obscure, arrogant or self-confident, irresponsible or breaking a brilliant news story. Portant's genius is that he creates doubt in your own judgment."

Well, Beverly, not everyone thinks that Lionel has a hooded personality. Look at Popsie Tribble. She sent me a perplexing invitation, which reads: "Come to a Round- the-Table With Lionel Portant."

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked when I saw her.

"I'm giving a series. You're lucky to be in on it. Every month I ask five Powerful Jobs, with "wives of" and a mixer couple -- that's you and Mr. Ambassador -- to listen to what Lionel Portant has to say. It's like having an Aspen Conference in Georgetown."

"Why should I go to lunch with Lionel when I can read and see him on the TV?"

"This is off-the-record stuff," Popsie announced.

"I thought White House Persons, Mr. Secretaries, Senators, even Mr. Ambassadors talk off-the-record, not the media."

"Lionel's just been to Cuba for four days," Popsie replied, "and was warned by Castro not to reveal all." Popsie sounded a little defensive.

"Have you become a Lionel Portant groupie?" I asked.

"He's been helpful to Dexter. And it's always good to give the Powerful Press a little boost."

Mr. Ambassador snorted when I told him about the Round Table. "Why doesn't Popsie ask Beverly, instead of Portant, to talk about Cuba? Didn't she go there for two weeks on one of those package holiday tours?"

Beverly, I've been living in Washington so long that I forgot we had diplomatic relations with Cuba. You must know more about Cuba than Portant. I remember you telling me that it was cheaper than the Mexican fat farm.

Anyway, we went to the Tribbles, albeit reluctantly, knowing that you'd make a better expert than Portant.

Beverly, you'll be happy to know that things didn't go as well as Popsie expected. Lionel flatly refused to say anything revealing about Cuba because of the contractual arrangements he's made with his publisher. He's saving all for the book. I'm not sure what the title will be, "Lionel Portant talks to Castro" or vice versa.

Melvin Thistle Jr. from State got so angry with Portant that he called him a traitor.

Mrs. Portant, who's one of those protective "wives of" (I Stand By My Man, etc.) told Thistle Jr. to cover his weak chin by growing a Castro beard. Popsie didn't mind that because she likes a bit of controversy. But being the perfect hostess, she tried to make up for Portant's silence by making her own conversation livelier. The Cuba libres loosened her tongue, and she begged a White House Person to let her sing La Cucaracha on Radio Marti.

Lionel Portant gave Dexter Tribble Cuban cigars as a present. I can tell you that he was pretty annoyed when Thistle Jr., after all the fuss, lifted half the box when he left.

Actually, Beverly, all was not for naught. Sonny Goldstone, who came to hear about the investment climate in Cuba, got so disgusted with the events that he became interested in your bagel venture. He offered to speak to the CEO at Nabisco about franchising you. Your best friend, Sondra.