The Observer's pal and sometime deputy got bit by a spider recently. We're not talking about one of those helpful little critters that skitter around the barn, building webs, keeping flies out of the sugar bowl and teaching curious little pigs touching life lessons. No, this was apparently one of the nasty ones: a brown recluse possibly.
Her bite started off as an itchy place on her leg last week. Over the weekend, however, it went full-on Mt. Vesuvius, requiring a quick trip to her family doctor for some antibiotics and painkillers. Our pal is taking some time off to recuperate, but last we heard the antibiotics (and whammy painkillers) are working their 20th century magic. As for The Observer, we've spent the last two days randomly swatting at our clothes and examining our hide for red spots, sure the same octo-assassin that nommed our pal is slipping in, has slipped in, or will slip in for the kill.
As of last week, The Increasingly Old Fart who rides herd over The Observer these days has been an employee of the mighty Arkansas Times for 10 years. Don't let anybody ever tell you that's not a long time. Just ask your average reporter or ex-con. Still, because we don't like to make a fuss, we marked the date quietly and didn't mention it to anyone. On Friday afternoon, 10 years forgotten, The Observer had gone home to hang with The Kid for a late lunch on Junior's last day of summer freedom when we received an urgent message from HQ: Times Editor Lindsey Millar needed us to come in right then, and see him as soon as we got to the office for a meeting. We've never been summoned for a meeting. All the way in to the office, the Devil who has a summer place on our shoulder was telling us that this was it, The Other Shoe at last. This was how our life at the Arkansas Times was going to end. "P. Allen Smith is a powerful gardener in this town," we imagined Lindsey saying. "He hated your cover last week and pulled some high-level strings. Here's a box for your stuff." We got back to the office and rushed in, but Lindsey begged off, saying we would talk in a minute. The Observer went to the desk and sat there. If we had any nails left to chew, we would have chewed them. That's the way it's always been for us — this fear that the good things in life are balanced on a knife edge, just waiting for a hard gust of wind. At our elbow, the phone piped up: a request from the publisher to meet in the sales office. We finished up a few things, then strolled out of the newsroom. And there, before us, was a cake. And standing around the cake was our work family, those people who have literally watched The Observer grow up as both a reporter and a human being over the past 10 years. Speeches were made. Gifts were given, and Your Old Pal cried like a sap in front of everyone. It was truly a day to remember. Eventually, The Observer told our First Day Story, which we've never told anyone: On my first day of work, because I wanted to make a good impression, I got dressed in the pre-dawn and kissed my sleeping wife and son and drove to the Times offices at Markham and Scott in the dark, then sat at Bob Lancaster's old desk that I would soon come to think of as my desk. I was so nervous that I wrote a note on a tiny yellow Post-it and put it in the desk drawer that said "You can do this." It's still there, to this day.
After lunch, I looked down and noticed that I was wearing two different shoes. They were both black, but otherwise they weren't even close — one square-toed, the other pointy, one with 12 eyelets, the other with six. I was so embarrassed that I had to show somebody. By then, the great reporter Michael Haddigan was in his office, across the newsroom from me. I remember he had a canoe paddle in there for some reason, and he always seemed to be swinging it around. I went over to his office door, and pointed out my shoes to him. He looked at my feet for a second, then looked at me, grinned that crooked, Magnum P.I. grin of his, and said: "You're going to fit right in."
And so I have.