`CLASSIConnecticut' - the nutmeg state

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YOU might as well cancel those plans to vacation in the Catskills or on Cape Cod this summer. When you hear Connecticut's new slogan, you'll be drawn to my home state like so many asteroids into a black hole. Don't read on unless you enjoy being hopelessly ensnared by slick advertising copy. I have warned you: ``CLASSIConnecticut, the pride of New England.'' It is times like this when I feel embarrassed to hail from the Nutmeg State. This silly motto is symbolic of the pressure Connecticut feels, sandwiched between those two larger, better-known, and more alluring entities: New York and Massachusetts. We feel inferior to our neighbors and therefore try much too hard to measure up.

Still, we have much to feel inferior about. We are small (the third tiniest state) and provincial to a fault. In a day when American politics has shed its smoke-filled-room image, our governor is a saloonkeeper. He is a nice enough man except for the fact that he can't let a single sentence escape his lips without at least twice working in the full, formal name of his fiefdom. Here's a likely quote: ``We here in the state of Connecticut are proud of our new slogan which will bring many new friends to the state of Connecticut, thereby boosting the revenues of the state of Connecticut.'' In his last reelection campaign, it was as if the two candidates were vying for the post of third selectman of a remote Vermont village.

One of our proudest boasts is that there is no income tax here. The flip side to this alleged achievement is that the 7.5 percent sales levy is among the most regressive in the nation. Our coffers are either empty or overstuffed, depending on economic forces beyond our borders. In addition, our southwestern counties have been overrun by New Yorkers seeking tax shelters.

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When our only major league team, the Hartford Whalers, finished next to last in their division in 1986 - thereby, oddly enough, qualifying for the National Hockey League playoffs - and were defeated in the second of four rounds, they were given a rousing parade through the capital's streets. Many players were somewhat sheepish about the accolade. Said one astute puckster, ``Parades are for winners.'' But not in Hartford. The idea was, this may be as far as we ever get, so we'd better celebrate now.

Benedict Arnold was born in Connecticut. He was a genuine local hero until his defection and ever since we have been casting about desperately for replacements. Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam (who migrated here from Massachusetts) filled the bill, but he is described by one modern history as ``brave rather than competent.'' He was also acclaimed for dispatching the last wolf in the state by crawling into its rocky den (where a plaque now graces the entrance) and shooting it. And yet he performed this supposedly meritorious act only after ordering his slave, who refused, to perform the chore. Connecticut didn't discover the legend of Nathan Hale, hanged by the British for spying, until half a century after the Revolution.

It is not that there isn't much about Connecticut to recommend it. That hockey team of ours is even better this year and regularly beats its competitors from New York and Massachusetts. The first military-industrial complex was estabished here by Yalie Eli Whitney. The Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered sub, is back home in Groton and open for touring. There is even a book (with many, many pages) of Connecticut firsts. Indeed, my state is both densely populated and pastoral. Mark Twain, that well-traveled and hard-to-please critic, fell in love with Connecticut and spent most of his last decades here.

Yes, it is a very nice place to live. But it may not be such a grand place to visit. It certainly isn't classic or the pride of New England. Its epithet should be more restrained. How does this sound? ``If you loved New York, you'll like Connecticut.''

David Holahan is a free-lance writer.

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