'Twas late of an April evening, and not a creature was stirring -- not a mouse, not the cat, not even the Kojak reruns. The clock in the family room said 3:15; it wasn't talking about midafternoon. The cookies had been gone since 1:45. The couch felt awfully soft. Why not sit back and close my eyes for a second? . . . .

"Mr. Levey? Mr. Levey who writes Mr. Robert Levey's Washington?"

"Well, not exactly, but you're close enough."

"Mr. Levey, may we bother you for a minute? We realize your time is precious, but we're graduate students in political science, and . . . ."

"And you want to look at the old Teapot Dome microfilm? Hey, sure, just call The Post's public relations office in the morning and they'll . . . ."

"Uh, Mr. Levey, we're not interested in Teapot Dome."

"You're not?"

"No. We want to talk to you about an idea you once had. We'd like to do a term paper on it."

"I can't remember the last time I had an idea that was worth a term paper."

"It was your idea about regional government. About how silly it is to divide the Washington area into two states, one federal no man's land, six counties and 14 incorporated towns. About how we should create a new state called Beltwaymia."

"Oh, yeah. Thanks for remembering. That was a fantasy I had one day when I was at a dead stop on the Beltway for two solid everloving cottonpicking hours behind an overturned tractor-trailer."

"Mr. Levey, we're eager to develop the idea. We'd like to ask you a few questions about it."

"So polite, these grad students. Go ahead. Ask."

"Who would the governor of Beltwaymia be?"

"Well, it can't be His Lordship Marion Barry. Everybody in the outlying regions would be afraid he'd stick a prison next door to them. It can't be Jack Herrity. He's already everywhere in Fairfax County -- ribbon cuttings, hearings, every TV news show there is. How can he be more places than everywhere? It can't be Mike Barnes. He'd spend a week in Nicaragua right in the middle of the gubernatorial campaign, and then wonder why the locals thought he wasn't spending enough time on them. I guess it'll have to be George Bush. They tell me he's looking for something to do until '88."

"How would you get Annapolis and Richmond to give up the necessary territory to Beltwaymia?"

"For political science students, you don't know much about practical politics. Richmond has been dying to disown Northern Virginia for decades. And you think they wouldn't cheer in Annapolis if Montgomery and Prince George's suddenly decided to go away? No, amassing the turf would be the easy part."

"What would the major industry be?"

"What it is now: Fast food restaurants. The first law the new Beltwaymia legislature would pass would be called the Equal Grease Amendment. On any corner where a McDonald's or a Roy Rogers is already doing business, a Wendy's or a Hardee's would have the right to open up right next door. It would do wonders to relieve overcrowding in the Mac's and Roy's parking lots."

"What do you see as the major cost savings in the new state of Beltwaymia?"

"You'd save big bucks just about everywhere you look. You'd need only one state police force that never shows up when you need them. You'd need only one state highway snow removal crew that never plows the roads until it's six hours too late. You'd need only one motor vehicle bureau to put you on hold and never come back on the line. I'm telling you, it would be perilously close to paradise."

"What would the flag look like?"

"It'd be a great big ring, to represent the Beltway. Right in the center would be a huge truck, tailgating a teeny little car."

"What would the major political issues in Beltwaymia be?"

"Well, I imagine Metro would be the biggest, and where to find the money to finish it. That's true now, of course. But in Beltwaymia, no jurisdiction could blame the others, for a welcome change. I also think that drafting a statehood charter would be a real political circus. Remember how the dreamers at the D.C. statehood convention voted to guarantee a job to every citizen? I can't wait to see how that meshes with the right-to-work laws in what used to be Northern Virginia."

"One last question: What would be the greatest unifying force in Beltwaymia?"

"No doubt about it -- our new National Football League team, the Beltwaymia Bandits. They'd play their home games in a new domed stadium right in the geographic center of the area -- the Pentagon parking lot. They'd coax George Allen out of retirement to be the coach. They'd sell Redskin Park and set up the new team offices in an office condo near Tysons Corner. Hey, it can't miss."

The strains of the national anthem roused me from my slumber. "We begin another broadcast day," the TV announcer said. He sounded positively delighted about it. I picked up the cat and stroked its chin. "Seymour," I said, "do you think you could get used to George Allen -- again?"