A FRIEND in Columbia was at work...


A FRIEND in Columbia was at work during the first two earthquakes, and feeling like he had missed out on an experience. When he finally was at home for Quake III, he didn't recognize it for what it was, thinking perhaps snow had fallen off the roof. (This was, after all, just after the big blizzard.) As if explaining the lyrics of a rap song, his kids had to tell him what he had heard.

But when he was awakened at 3 a.m. the other day by a loud bang, he felt newly savvy. Quake IV, he realized sleepily. That morning, reporters called the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., which said the temblor hadn't registered on their instruments.

Our friend was offended. Hadn't registered? What was wrong with those people? Does it take a major quake in San Francisco during the World Series to get their attention? He felt like someone who had filed a report of a flying saucer with a smirking police officer. Do they think there's something wrong with me? Maybe Congress should withhold the funds from that earthquake center until they get their seismometers calibrated correctly.

Then came Quake V, in the morning while he was shaving. Just a muffled boom, smaller than the others. He called The Baltimore Sun. They rang up the usual seismologists, who at first said the quake registered zero on the Richter scale.

Zero? Nothing? Meaning no quake? No, the Richter scale, which is logarithmic, can go into negative numbers.

Still, this seemed like the ultimate affront. He was proud that he now knew an earthquake when he heard one (instead of having to depend on teen-agers), and felt a need for affirmation. And how much respect did those wise-guy scientists show him and his earthquake? Zero.

Later readings showed a .9 Richter reading. About nine-tenths of a small comfort.

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