You know how those rumors start.

Everybody says he and she would be just great for each other; their names are linked before they've hardly done more than say hello: and then one day they're spotted together in the park in the springtime.

And right away, everybody's saying she must be pregnant.

Well, she's not. The National Zoological Park has had to keep telling that to curious callers, and Ling-Ling herself, the Chinese Giant Panda whom everybody's buzzing about, finally had to hang a sign on her cage: "Despite all my hopes, I am sorry to tell you that I am not pregnant."

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Nevertheless, the rumor persists. People will say, somewhat snidely, "Well, how do they know she's not pregnant?" as if Ling-Ling's zoo-keeping chaperones had been derelict in keeping their eyes on her behavior. Or even, "How does she know she's not"?

She knows, and they know, the one sure way. Ling-Ling, through no fault of her own, is a virgin.

The story of her courtship by Hsing-Hsing is one of the least inspiring love stories in history. In previous years, the excuse has always been made for Hsing-Hsing that he was really too young to be a lover, let alone a father. However, even his fond supporters at the Zoo are beginning to change the excuse from "youth" to "incompetence."

Zoo spokesman Billie Hamlet, one of those who watched the non-events, was asked what the problem seemed to e. "Just lack of talent, I guess," she replied.

This was last month, when Ling-Ling was in her estrous season or, in the common parlance, in heat. Hsing-Hsing then approached her with what has been described as "nothing anyone could notice."

Another problem was that he approached her "in the ear flap, on the wrist and even on the right foot . . . . "

Ling-Ling tolerated this for awhile under the optimistic impression that it could be classified as foreplay. She then did what any normal, healthy woman would do - she hauled off and swatted him one.

So that was about it, and the folks who still hope to make a match of it are desperately talking about Chinese love songs, candlelight, wine and "fluorescent paint on the target."

But they'll have to wait for another spring. Tune in again, same tune, next year.