WRITE a column about arms control and the reader mail trickles in - some very technical, some very emotional. Write a column about the Soviets and the faucet opens up.
Write a column critical of the press and you hear from a lot of old chums in terrible anguish; journalists can dish it out, but are immensely thin-skinned when on the receiving end.
Write a column about the president - any president - and the mail flows in about equally from those who revere him and those who despise him.
Write a column about the Baltic states and there comes a deluge of reader mail. Every reader from, or with relatives in, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, writes to remind you of the history of those brave little lands.
Write a column critical of the rulers in Nicaragua and there comes an avalanche - could it be orchestrated? - from those who do not share my view of that duplicitous and shifty regime.
But there is one subject guaranteed to draw more mail than any other - the life and times of our household dog.
About once a year I indulge myself and any dog-loving readers by giving a little update on the situation. As Holly, our latest Labrador, has just turned one year old, this is an appropriate time.
So, serious readers, and all non-dog-lovers, stop here. Every dog has his or her day, and this is Holly's.
Holly now weighs in at about 70 lb. and the family, the cats, the house, the furniture, and the car have just about survived her progression from puppyhood to approaching adulthood.
There have been some casualties. We have, during the past year, lost a wrist-watch, a TV remote-control switch, and a pair of reading glasses, all left unguardedly within Holly's grasp.
We also lost one of her leashes - which she returned to us after several hours neatly compartmentalized into three-inch strips. Several plastic drinking and feeding bowls look like they went through the San Francisco earthquake; we are moving to stainless steel.
The house has become the hiding place for a collection of leaves, twigs, branches, and broken rake handles, dragged in from the garden as treasure, along with a dozen or so tennis balls in varying stages of decay.
This is a dog of endless enthusiasms. She has wanted to participate in various school field hockey and softball matches, and been restrained only with difficulty.
All newcomers to the house are instant friends, to be received with a lather of jubilation and enthusiasm.
When a family member departs house or car, leaving Holly behind for just a few seconds, there is an anguished scene as if we had left for Swaziland, and a two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. The greeting upon return is tumultuous.
A lot of the time, Holly thinks she's a person, and some of the time she gets treated like one. Our 12-year-old orchestrated a birthday party for her that included a visit to McDonald's (Holly had her hamburger outside), and Miss Plum's ice cream parlor (where dogs get ice cream free).
For presents she got a ball with a tinkling bell in it, a solid rubber dumbbell ``for training and play,'' and some bones from the local butcher. The bones lasted longest.
Anyway, Holly's getting smarter as she gets older. She used to patter over to my bed in the early morning, give me a lick on the nose, and signal: ``It's time to get up.''
Now, on these dark winter-like mornings, when I sometimes have to get up at 5 o'clock to write a column, she opens one eye, snuggles back down in her L.L. Bean bed, and signals: ``You go ahead, I'll look after everything here.''