Washingtonians bedeck themselves each summer in sports clothes with the "correct" status symbols, usually the alligator or its economy-minded fashion cousin, the fox. Both may be trendily right but--for Washington--symbolically wrong.

Think about it. Why would anyone in Washington want to identify with an alligator? If you're a typical civil servant, you feel enough like an endangered species without flaunting one on your chest.

As for the fox, who wants to even think about any fur-burdened creature as Washington weather settles in with its usual dehydration-oven intensity?

What, then, could symbolize exactly how one feels on what passes for a normal summer day in the Capital . . . . . . slimy, sweaty, slow? What else but one of Washington's own summer creatures: the slug.

The slug as a symbol? Why not? Compare it to the alligator. True, it's not as large, but it can command a commensurate measure of awe from any human. Just ask anyone who has ever stepped on a slug barefoot whether he or she would be willing to risk such a confrontation again.

Compare the slug to the fox. True, the slug does not look as sleek and elegant, but it has gourmet tastes. A slug will eat only the sweetest, ripest parts of any strawberry patch, leaving any berry that is less than perfect as a leftover for the frustrated gardener.

And the slug is smarter than either the alligator or the fox. He keeps such a low profile, nobody really bothers him. Except for some sporadic forays by little boys with salt shakers who want to see how fast a slug will shrivel, there are no organized or ritualistic extermination efforts aimed at the slug.

Can you imagine the Virginia gentry mounting up in their red coats for a traditional slug hunt? Do you really think anyone would slog through the everglades of anywhere to poach for slug skins? What would be the point? Where breathes the person who longs for slug-skin shoes with matching belt?

And the slug, to his credit, poses very little threat--except for the disgruntled gardener--to mankind. What emergency-room physician has ever strained dexterous fingers in sewing a jagged wound from slug teeth? What human has ever had to endure a painful series of shots to counteract a bite from a rabid slug?

So the slug slogs along, posing no real danger to anyone, yet commanding a grudging respect; keeping a low profile, yet managing to get the best part of the harvest for himself. His modus operandi alone would make him the perfect symbol for the successful Washingtonian.

But he also identifies the mood of the Capital City as the sluggish economy drags us from one season to another, taking us from the winter to the summer of our discontent. As the sun sucks our seersuckers, puckers our poplins and crumples our cottons, our new symbol will tell the world how we're managing to weather the situation: We just keep slugging