The witticisms associate the recent leak of coolant from the ship's reactor with the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennyslvania and the movie "China Syndrome."

Paul Long, an Ocean View shopkeeper and an ex-Navy man, says he designed the T-shirts for the fun of it. He says he has sold more than 150 T-shirts at $3.95 apiece, and a commissioned officer on board the Nimitz bought the first one.

Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jim Lois said the shirts are "just spreading a bad perception that there was a problem on the Nimitz similar to the 'Chinal Syndrome.' That was not the case."

Former Metropolitan Opera star Rosa Ponselle, 82, resigned yesterday as artistic director of the Baltimore Opera after 30 years with the company.

Ponselle chose to resign rather than retire, according to Elayne Duke, a persona representative."She does not want to state the reasons for resigning," Duke said. "She will not retire from active life. She will continue on in the same spirit of furthering the careers of aspiring young singers."

Ponselle debuted with the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1917. She was the first American-born singer without training in Europe to star at the Met.

An attorney fro Ponselle said she tried t resign once before but was persuaded by opera officials to stay on.

Cries of "Hail, Caesar" rang out over Fifth Avenue yesterday as a 20th century version of the Roman emperor rode past the public library in a chariot drawn by two white horses.

Clad in sandals and a beige toga "with matching underwear," Alfred Karl, 38, had just won the "Julius Caesar Look-Alike Contest."

He defeated 16 other contestants, each of whom was judged at the library steps as they recited passages from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." Each contestant also posed, full face and profile, with a bust of the emperor. The contest was sponsored by Ferrarelle mineral wate company of Italy, and the grand prize was a cruise aboard the Italian Line's luxury ship Marconi.

Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis, one of the judges and apparently mindful of Brutus, quipped, "The way the winner knows [he won] is if somebody rushes up and stabs him."

One of the immigrant ships leaving Ireland for America in the mid-1800s it was said, "The vigil of the departure was given over to an American wake."

And that's what they held at Hugh Kelly's Irish Times Pub last night to mark the departure from these shores of Jane and Micahel Lillis who are returning to the Old Sod. For the past five years, Michael Lillis has served as the Irish consul in New York and as a press counsul for the Irish Embassy here in Washington.

At the door were black derbies along with funeral-type top hats. The hats might have been used last on St. Patrick's Day: the brims still showed a bit of green under the black shoe polish.

With the abundance of black hats, it looked,indeed, like a wake. But word got out that the food and, more important, the drinks, were free, and soon 250 people jammed the pub, near Union Station, and backed up onto the street.

An Irish wake story was passed around: "When Paddy walked into the room, he missed the casket and knelt alongside the piano. He said his prayers, got up and walked up to the grieving widow to take her hand and say, 'Mike's complexion was a little bad but his teeth sure held up.'"

A bevy of children were running around and it was quite warm in the pub. Leaning against the wall was a two-part air-conditioning unit in its packing crate but Kelly, the owner, promised all that it would be working in July.

There weren't too many complaints, though, as the beer flowed and the food disappeared and various guests took turns commenting on the departure of the Lillises, who picked up about $1,000 of last night's tab. The remainder was absorbed by Kelly.

House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, who arrived about 10:30 and spent his first 10 minutes out on the sidewalk shaking hands with everyone in sight, remarked of Lillis: "When he tells you a story, you can believe it. But you can only believe half of it.'"

That kind of ambiguous comment indicated the mood of most of the guests. "I don't want to see him go," a woman earnestly told a friend at te pub, "but I don't want to see the party stop either."

Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) took the floor to note, for some reason apparently having to do with Lillis' departure, that "When Oscar Wilde came to Niagara Falls, he thought of the flood of new immigrants and said it would be great if it flowed the other way."

Entertainment was provided by The Hags, who billed themselves as the only all-female Irish band in the world and let their hair grow to ridiculous lengths to prove it. "We got tired of the male chauvinism in Irish music," said one of the Hags, Ivy Harper, in explanation.

The American ambassador to Ireland, William V. Shannon, said Lillis was really going on to his next post in Brussels. "His wife Jane, however, will spend the better half of the year in Dublin," Shannon added, "and we will be delighted to have her there." CAPTION: Picture, From left, Irish Ambassador Sean Donlon, Hugh Kelly, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Michael Lillis; by Harry Naltchayan - The Washington Post