On the final afternoon of the 1985 General Assembly, Del. Robert R. Neall (R-Anne Arundel) chewed a lollipop stick and toyed with a crossword puzzle. "What's a Tasmanian mountain?" he asked idly.
His colleague on the conference committee, Baltimore Democrat R. Charles Avara, fiddled with his pipe. And R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, yawned from his seat on the window sill, as they waited for three representatives from the Senate to negotiate differences over Maryland's $220 million capital budget.
"Here they sat," Mitchell (D-Eastern Shore) said dryly. "One was chewing a lollipop stick. One was smoking the wrong end of a pipe. And the other was trying to jump out the window."
That's the way it goes on the 90th and final day of the legislative session, known by State House regulars as "sine die." There's a little crisis, a little comedy, a little posturing, a little fun.
The longest day of the session ended precisely at midnight when both chambers adjourned to applause. In the House of Delegates, four pages continued tradition, showering confetti and balloons on House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin from the balcony above. "May the Lord and our constituents have mercy on our souls," he said in a brief congratulatory speech to the delegates.
One of the crises of the last day occurred at the conference committee meeting on the capital budget, when Mitchell stalked out over an ongoing dispute about how much control the House could retain over the location of a new maximum security prison. He was followed by a smiling Neall, who had spent much of the meeting eating shrimp and crab appetizers and congratulating himself on the paper balls he managed to lob into a distant wastebasket, and Avara, who shook his head ruefully at the senators who urged him to stay.
"Sorry, guys," he said, "but this is what they call peer pressure." Their differences were resolved later and the work went on.
After 89 increasingly intense days of work -- covering everything from black-bear protection to interstate banking -- the final day had its own special character.
"In a word, hectic," said Senate President Melvin (Mickey) Steinberg (D-Baltimore County).
From morning on, the marbled entrance in the State House was crammed with lobbyists, reporters, tourists and legislators cornered between sessions. Their collective voices increased from a hum to a roar by mid-afternoon. Food, that abiding commemorative gesture of sine die, first appeared in the lounges as sugared doughnuts and progressed later to great platters of cold cuts.
But many lawmakers were looking ahead to the parties that would follow the adjournment; most would be held in the Senate and House of Delegate office buildings. Privately, sine die regulars mourned this year's absence of Baltimore Del. Hattie N. Harrison's annual bash at the Hilton. Harrison said she didn't have sufficient time to plan her party this session, but promised her fabled merrymaking, an institution since 1973, will return next year.
Before the legislators could even begin to think about celebrating, however, they had to complete their work. On sine die, there is no tomorrow.
"Don't push!" laughed Margaret Rytelewski, a secretary to Eastern Shore Republican Del. Richard F. Colburn, as Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's) rushed by her in a narrow hallway to make the final roll call vote for the Citicorp bill.
"Arrggghhhh!" Maloney replied as he raced to his chair.
On the opposite side of the building, in the Senate lounge, Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's) huddled with two other senators and three delegates in a conference committee meeting on the proposal to ban phosphate detergents in Maryland. Watching from a doorway was his daughter, Jan Dorman, along with his grandson, 14-month-old David Weiss. The boy toddled about, looking at the racing pages and legislators with wide curious eyes.
"This is the grandson my father talked about in one of his speeches, the kid whose clothes are still white, despite the fact that I don't use phosphate detergents," said Jan Dorman.
A couple of hours later, Sen. Dorman was seen strolling the brick sidewalks of State Circle alone, catching a few minutes of serenity before the afternoon frenzy.
"Actually," he said, "it's been much calmer around here the past few years. But I had to get some fresh air before I went back in."
For some people today, there was no such thing as a low profile, however temporary.
In honor of the occasion, Del. Frank B. Pesci Sr. (D-Prince George's) wore a scarlet sports jacket that ensured his continued visibility wherever he went.
"On sine die for the last seven or eight years," Pesci explained, "I always wore a Hawaiian jacket with lots of flowers and colors. It got to be known as my sine die jacket.
"A couple of delegates saw me last summer wearing this jacket and said, 'Why don't you wear that on sine die day?' And I figured I would. This one stands out like a blinding light and it has been a topic of intense conversation all day. Some people said, 'When is band practice?' And others simply said, 'What do you do when the batteries die?' "