Motoring down 16th Street after dropping Junior off into the great rush and whirl of Central High School at 8:30 a.m., The Observer saw the young couple there by a car parked along the concrete wall of the stadium, both in jackets and school backpacks, her arms laced around his neck, in the warm embrace of a long and lingering kiss. Is there anything more beautiful or fragile than young love, or what passes for love when you're that age? Not in the book of Yours Truly.
The Observer, on the other hand, is an old poot. We've been with Spouse for 20 years now, married for 18, one kid, a mortgage, one cat, and a car note. And we can tell you that love, for us, is history. Not history as in "gone" or "non-existent." Not in the way some leather-jacketed hood in a terrible movie might growl "You're history" over his .45 before blasting a quivering victim to Kingdom Come. No, we mean real history. Births and deaths. Comings and goings. Weddings and funerals. Sickness and health. Joy and remorse. Argument and understanding. Turtles and dogs. Busted washing machines. Plugged toilets. Kids with dookie in their hair. Great meals, great canoodlin', great drives, cold beer, warm nights, pleasant mornings, good coffee. Hot peppers. Slow dances. Holding her hair back while she puked. Hangovers. Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and U2's "With or Without You." Ray Charles singing "Georgia on My Mind" and Nirvana covering Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" Books we have known. The fact that she still wants to hold her husband's hand at least once a day. Long hours sitting by campfires in the dark, staring into the flames and saying nothing, just happy to be in the presence of one another. Doing the terrible pinwheel on the rim of oblivion, as all long relationships must at least once — and some do multiple times — before the end. These are the stitches that embroider an old poot's love, young friends. History.
We thought of all this when we saw you there, youngsters, so full of love. Just so you know, it's probably not going to last, and probably shouldn't. We instantly feel sorry for anybody who says they married their high school sweetheart, just because the world is so damn big and high school is so very small. But you never know. We will say, however, that we once were where you are now, though time has brought us to an even better place. Still, everybody has to start somewhere.
It's fair time! The Observer loves the Arkansas State Fair, another whirl of humanity, full of folks yearning to breathe free — or as free as one can in a place with $7 corndogs — full of light and sound and opportunities to be separated from your cares and folding cash. The Observer loves going out to the State Fair to people watch, to cow, pig, goat and hen watch, to eat and drink things we shouldn't, to hear the carnies bark, to visit the Tent of Wonders, to pay our three bucks to see The Giant Horse! ALIVE! We're not much on riding the rides, but The Observer has been hooked on the experience of being there since we were but a lad, strolling the Hall of Industry, collecting enough free pamphlets, pens, bumper-stickers, keychains and informative literature to stuff a mattress while munching on a caramel apple as big as a baby's noggin. Those, my friends, were the days.
Sure, it's not the same anymore. Not the same as the year when, at 12, The Observer ran around all day with friends from school, found somebody's roll of $60 on the Midway, used those pennies from heaven to eat our weight in junk food, and was stopped by a kindly old woman who beckoned, made me lean in, cupped her hand to my ear, and whispered: "Honey, your fly is unzipped."
So, not the same. Maybe for the best. Like a wise man once said, you can't go home again. Still, the fair provides a fair substitute for that feeling, even now. So, come on. Toss the rings! Three for a dollar! Pay your money and take your chances, fella. Don't you want something nice for your girl there? Ain't she worth a buck to ya? What are you afraid of? Don't you know you can't win if you don't play?