Time capsules

December 28, 1997|By Lisa Pollak FEBRUARY

Leave it to an astronomer to spoil the New Year's party. There you stand with a pointy hat, a glass of Korbel and a nice glow, and here comes some wise guy who has seen the big picture. A picture to dwarf any silly human-centered notion of time. New Year? Stop, already.

After peering through the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, a scientist at the Space Telescope Institute in Baltimore said the other day that they now know how much time remains before our solar system dies because the sun has burned out. Nothing special. Just another death of another star in a universe crowded with them. But astronomer Howard Bond says we have another six billion years. Mark your calendar.

Whatever else is going on in the Milky Way, where nothing is anything if it can't be calculated to the nth power, life on Earth is measured out with coffee spoons, as T. S. Eliot wrote. The calendar provides 12 scoops, each further divided and subdivided, down to the soccer game at 10 a.m. and the dinner party at 8 and the very moment when you saw the headline "PRINCESS DIANA DIES IN CRASH," "McVEIGH GUILTY," "MISSED CHANCES DOOM O's."

Mark time in a parade of names and faces. Then, for no particular reason, draw a line at December 31 and look back, as mortals say, on 1997. A year or a millisecond. It depends on which end of the telescope you choose.


His parents were expecting a girl. But here he was -- an 8-pound, 7-ounce, unmistakable baby boy -- born at 6: 21 a.m. on the first day of January. They named him Ryan August Beard, their first surprise of the new year.

The same day, an Israeli soldier opened fire in a crowded marketplace in Hebron, wounding six people. Peruvian rebels still held 74 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima. John and Patricia Ramsey proclaimed their innocence on CNN in the strangling death of their 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet.

On the second day of January, Ryan August Beard went home to Cockeysville, to a house full of flowers and a pinewood cradle made by his grandfather. The same day, in a West Baltimore barbershop, a 3-year-old boy was shot and killed on his birthday.

The year's debut brought other discouraging news. Bill Cosby's son was shot to death, two bombs exploded at an abortion clinic in Atlanta, 23 people died in a commuter plane crash near Detroit and testimony concluded in the civil trial of O.J. Simpson. In Baltimore, three Korean merchants were shot, two fatally.

Ryan August Beard slept through it all. He slept and nursed and cooed and grew. It was all he could do. Until one day, at the end of the month, when he looked up at his mother -- "a-goo," she'd been saying to him, imitating his voice -- and did the most wonderful thing she'd ever seen.

He smiled.

After yet another dismal performance in 1997, the month of February is being canceled by its organizers.

"We just couldn't keep up with the competition anymore," explained Lee Pin, spokesman for "February, Less Is Best." "Don't forget, we have to produce top-flight material with two or three fewer days than everyone else. After something like 2,000 years, it was enough already."

Radical as it is, February's termination was not unexpected. The once proud month -- birth month of Washington and Lincoln, not to mention Benny (Jack) and Bono (Sonny) -- again failed to give a strong account of itself in 1997, spitting out news items of the most uninspiring sort. It was a month of Dow Jones updates and unemployment figures. A dispiriting showing, indeed, for a month that in one breathtaking year alone (1964) produced the Beatles' first American landing and Cassius Clay's first heavyweight championship.

Ah, but that was a brash February of bygone years. Today's February is a month of fits and starts, a 28-day holding action lacking in conviction and stick-to-itiveness. In February 1997, Riddick Bowe joined the Marines and quit 11 days later. Kenneth Starr resigned as Whitewater prosecutor and then re-upped. Kurt Schmoke canceled a gun buy-back in mid-draw.

It was a thoroughly unoriginal month, recycling tired O.J. and Kevorkian scraps. The Super Bowl was the month before, the Final Four the month after. The sporting highlight was word that Jim Hunter would be calling Orioles games, a depressing reminder that the greatest baseball announcer of all was lost to us.

So good riddance to February. Its elimination will get us to the Oscars sooner, and to Little League games and sun-splashed picnics at Oregon Ridge. Better still, it will free us from the most guilt-inducing holiday of all, Valentine's Day. Quick! Before the florists and Hallmark Cards find out.

Adios, February. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Michael Ollove


March was a conspiracy.

How else could all these things happen in one month?

The "Five Fingers of Fear," a quite possibly pornographic sculpture by a Maryland Institute student placed across from a ++ Catholic church, was smashed to pieces.

A prolific maker of bluebird houses died.

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