Perhaps you heard the howls (actually, more like hollers) a while back when some hapless Texas bureaucrat proposed that the Lone Star State be known henceforth on its license plates as “The Friendship State.” You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania, according to that state’s plates, but it sounds as if Texans want to check you out first. Texas is, after all, the state where a major-party gubernatorial candidate recently observed that we need to keep our guns because “We may have to march on the government one day if it doesn’t straighten out.” It’s where anti-litter signs say “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Some of us—not just Texans—believe it’s bad enough that the state makes you register your car without making it a medium for tourist advertising.

Actually, though, as Dallas columnist Molly Ivins pointed out, “The Friendly State” probably wouldn’t have raised any hackles. Texans are friendly, for the most part, and don’t mind people’s saying so. But many who would have found the adjective unexceptionable somehow felt that the noun was a little—well, wimpy. Last I heard the sobriquet had been shelved, but the controversy was good for some laughs while it lasted. Ms. Ivins evoked a few of them with reflections on the whole business of license plate slogans. She suggested, for example, “Oklahoma—Land of Recruitment Violations.” Like me, she believes that the only plate a real man would put on his car voluntarily is New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die.”

North Carolina’s sure isn’t one. Our plates say “First in Flight,” which some ,of us believe is too easily construed as “First to Flee.” This isn’t a happy rendering at best, and it’s especially unfortunate given that “Tar Heel” is said to have originated as a reference to the staying power of North Carolina’s Confederate troops. Our plates used to say “First in Freedom,” a reference to the so-called Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence. It doesn’t behoove an employee of the state of North Carolina to comment on the historicity of that event (also commemorated on the state flag), but what we’ve done is to drop a reference to a doubtful but inspiring event to commemorate the undoubted but boring fact that two bicycle mechanics from Ohio made use of one of our empty beaches to test their flying machine. At least “First in Freedom” used to annoy some of the right people, one of whom put masking tape over the slogan—and wound up in court for it, which actually sort of proved his point. “First in Flight” isn’t worth covering up.

Anyway, last year one of our legislators proposed an equally bafBing exercise in banality, when he introduced a bill to make something called the Plotthound our Official State Dog. He was not deterred by our past experience with Official State totems, which has not been altogether happy. Our O.S. Bird, for instance, is the mockingbird, a standing—or flying—contradiction of the state motto, Esse quam videro, “To be and not to seem,” a bird whose sweet song disguises a foul disposition and obnoxious habits.

In any case, the Plotthound bill didn’t get very far, largely because no one had ever heard of this animal. When it was revealed that the creature is German, one commentator asked whether anyone knew what part of Germany it comes from, hindng darkly that we might be about to elevate a communist dog to Official State status. (This was before the Bedin Wall came down.) Once the subject was broached, champions of other dogs came forward (the blue tick hound had a number of partisans), and the debate kept our legislature from doing anything foolish for days on end.

For my part, I think we’ve just scratched the surface here, and I hope our legislators will put their minds to this O.S. matter. An O.S. Food, of course: pork barbecue (with tomato optional, to prevent civil war). But that’s too easy; we need something to keep our legislators busy for a long time. How about an Official State Disgrace? I suggest the North Carolina State University basketball program.

Once you get started, it’s hard to stop. Why not an Official State Roadkill? The sleeping drunk is a possibility (longtime readers of these letters may recall that North Carolina leads the nation in lying-in-the-road deaths), but if the legislature balks at that there’s really only one other candidate. The skunk has a way of pressing its claim, but for sheer numbers the possum has no competition. Other states may feel that they have an equal or greater right to the possum (Texas has the armadillo, of course), but come on: we thought of it first.

And every state needs an Official State Bug. We can leave the boll weevil to Mississippi, the fire ant to Georgia; let the Land of a Thousand Lakes have the mosquito, Maine the black fly, New York the cockroach. North Carolina still has all sorts of possibilities. Some homeowners, for instance, might nominate the termite. Perhaps it would be some consolation when your floor caves in to know that the Official State Bug has been on the job. There’s also a case to be made for the black widow spider: most years we lead the nation in spider-bite deaths. (I know, spiders aren’t insects. That’s why I said “bug.”) But my own nominee would be the common tick. We have a special claim to that critter, too, since we’re always #1 in Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases. And just think: if we made the tick our Official State Bug, next time we redesign our license plates we could make them say “First in Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.”