I don't know what it is, but we've been here three years, and each time July 4th rolls around "wife of" never gets a chance to see the fireworks or even take part in some of the tribal customs.

I had high hopes this year because we arrived in Washington on time and had received several exclusive invitations. But as usual, things went awry and we weren't able to attend the best of them. Let me tell you what we missed.

1) Dancing by the Sugar Foot Cloggers on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Old Post Office. Congressman Otterbach asked us to accompany him. He was not participating in the dance but a friend of his mother was.

2) An informal picnic (no ties, of course) in Malcolm X Park, where Muhammed Ali was going to speak. Sen. Pod, who invited us, said he was bringing along his Rhodesian Ridgeback.

3) A package tour for diplomats from soft currency countries, organized by a colleague of Baron Spitte, to go and eat the free hot dogs at Gaithersburg fair grounds and then on to JKJ Chevrolet to take advantage of their $1-over-factory-invoice sale. Mr. Ambassador wasn't interested in the free hot dogs because he only likes them split and grilled over mesquite. Baron Spitte said it was an all-or-nothing deal.

4) A combination garage sale and zucchini and sweet potato BBQ organized by "wife of" Lionel Portant. Popsie Tribble said, "Unles you buy one of Portant's old manual typewriters, you don't get to eat."

The reason we didn't attend any of these festivities is because at the last moment Melvin Thistle Jr., from State, actually asked us to his home for a 4th of July picnic. I told Mr. Ambassador that Congressman Otterbach and the Sugar Foot Cloggers had first priority, but Mr. Ambassador said that Thistle added, "There's something we have to clear up that's been left adrift for too long a time."

Then Thistle Jr. put us into a real panic when he announced, before hanging up the phone, "By the way, Mr. Ambassador, you'd better wear a tie."

Beverly, there are strict rules in Powertown about ties and parties. Men wear white tie to the Gridiron, black tie to Popsie Tribble's dinners and striped, dotted or paisley ties for everything else -- except picnics. Picnics are always no-tie affairs; it says so in the Green Book.

Well, at first glance Thistle's back yard looked innocent enough for the 4th of July: the trestle tables offered the traditional fried chicken, potato salad and watermelon, along with little American flags. But the "wives of" had already been pushed to a side huddle when we arrived, and the Powerful Jobs from the Pentagon, the White House and State were all wearing the soberest of ties. Dots only. Now I knew what a "working picnic" meant.

As soon as we managed to choke down some chicken, Thistle Jr. rose and spoke to the assembly.

"Mr. Ambassador," he said, "have you ever read the Declaration of Independence?"

Humiliated, Mr. Ambassador replied, "Regretfully, no."

"Let me read you," Thistle continued, "the part where your country is mentioned."

This came as a shock, Beverly. We had no idea Canada was in the Declaration of Independence. I whispered to Mr. Ambassador that he was really falling down on the job.

Mr. Ambassador told me to shut up because Thistle began to read to the now silent company.

It was hard to understand at first, but finally I heard something like this.

"For abolishing the free system of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary government. . ."

Mr. Ambassador said, softly, "Oh, God, that's Quebec."

Thistle went on. And it got even worse.

". . .and enlarging the Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these Colonies."

Mr. Ambassador said sotto voce to "wife of," "The signers say that we made a land grab from the United States."

That must have been the serious part, Beverly, because the Powerful Jobs seemed less agitated about our rotten behavior over Quebec. But they all exchanged significant glances when Thistle dropped that "enlarging its boundaries" part.

Mr. Ambassador couldn't take it any longer and interrupted undiplomatically. "What is it, Thistle? Are you making territorial demands?"

After a lengthy silence, a White House person spoke. I noticed there were a few watermelon seeds splattered on his tie.

"Ambassador," he said, "Don't you think our grievances must be addressed?"

That's what you call formal diplomatic language, Beverly, which means that nobody really knows what's behind the words. I still don't remember how we escaped, but I can tell you the fried chicken didn't sit too well in Mr. Ambassador's stomach that night. We missed the firewogain (third time around) because he insisted on sending a telegram immediately to Ottawa.

Beverly, I told him I thought it was all a joke but he said that Thistle's July 4th picnic might have been a subtle hint about things to come. Now there's a lot of paper going back and forth from the embassy to headquarters speculating if, when and where the invasion might take place.

Your best friend,