"Wake up, typist! Wake up, you pitiful prose perpetrator! There is work to be done!"

I rolled over and looked at the numerals on the digital alarm clock. In glowing green, they read 2:47. I didn't have to check to see if it was a.m. or p.m. When the Ghost of Columns Past comes to visit, it's always an otherworldly hour.

I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and decided to start him out with disarming friendliness for a change.

"How ya doin', Ghostie Baby? Nice to see ya, fella! Awful glad you could make it on such short notice. And how are all the little Ghosties?"

"Do not try to distract me with your trivial pleasantries, typist. I need your undivided attention. A menace has begun to make its presence felt in the city, and I must solicit your help in resisting it."

"Ghostie, you talk the way the guards at Buckingham Palace stand. So stiff. So up tight. Cool out, man! Go with the flow! Now, what's this menace you're talking about?"

"I believe it is called flexiti-i-i-ime!" The ghost invested the last syllable with such force that the house creaked and swayed as if a hurricane were approaching. I was sure Jane would stir at any moment. But she snoozed like a baby.

Disarming friendliness gave way to disarming annoyance.

"You wake me up at 2:47 a.m. to complain about the best personnel idea to hit this town in the last 200 years? Ghostie, you are so far off base, it isn't funny. What could possibly be wrong with flexitime?"

"To understand the answer, typist, you have to understand my mission. As you know, I am a dedicated student of the political process. I believe Washington functions best when it's as big a mess as possible. So that is what I try to assure. I love to watch your institutions being stretched to the breaking point. Those half-hour waits to get out of the Pentagon parking lot -- glorious! Those lines in the banks on Friday afternoons -- fabulous! Those weary commuters trudging up three flights of broken Metro escalators -- just gorgeous!"

"And flexitime threatens this inefficiency you adore so much, huh?"

"You are a master of the obvious, as always, typist. But tell me this: I have reviewed the memory cells in my vast computer network, and I find you have never written about flexitime. Explain yourself!"

"Well, Mike Causey usually covers the federal government, Ghostie, so I . . . ."

"Just like you to rely on excuses, typist! How can you ignore what's happening all around you? Fathers are actually getting home on time for dinner because of this dreadful flexitime! Office workers can actually get into elevators at 8:59 a.m. and 5:01 p.m.! I understand that for 10 minutes one afternoon last week, traffic actually moved on Canal Road and New York Avenue! But you, you noxious notebook-toter, you don't even notice!"

"Ghostie," I said, pointing a finger at him through the bedroom blackness, "you are a very sick man . . . .I mean, a very sick ghost. Have you considered getting professional help?"

"That's what that other typist is always suggesting. What's her name? The one in the Style section. Ann, um, uh . . . ."

"Ann Landers?"

"Very good, typist! Ann Landers! But I usually don't read her."

"Maybe if you were on flexitime, you'd have a chance."

"Your attempts at humor will not extricate you from your mission, typist. Listen closely."

"I'm listening."

"Unless the Pentagon parking lot returns to gridlock, unless fathers start missing their dinners again, unless you use your column to advocate a return to advanced chaos, I will unleash my secret weapon."

"Which is?"

"I will buy a local TV station, and float The Rumor again."

"No! Please! Not The Rumor with a capital T and a capital R!"

"Yes, typist, I must. I will threaten to bring back Willard Scott to do the weather and Warner Wolf to do the sports."

"You mustn't! You can't! Anything but that!"

"Then you'll help me?"

"Yes, yes! Old-style rush hour forever!" And as I said "forever," the ghost was gone.

Jane stirred. "What was that about forever?" she asked.

"Nothing, sweetheart," I said. "By the way, is Warner Wolf still working in New York?"

"Levey," she said, "will you pul-eeze go back to sleep?"