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Pizza with grief

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Taking a break from Christmas shopping on Friday night, the Observer and Spouse stopped in at a pizza buffet in West Little Rock, Yours Truly always drawn as moth to flame by the idea of a potentially infinite amount of pizza for one money. The Observer has never quite made my belly live up to the promise of that magical statement, "All You Can Eat!" but the Good Lord willing, I'll get there someday.

The place was packed with families on their night out, a kid's well-attended birthday party in progress on one side of the room, with boys and girls of 5 or 6 running up and down the aisles and enjoying life. The party eventually wound down, and the leftover cake was boxed. The guests donned their coats and filed out into the rain, still smiling. When they were gone, a waitress went into the party section and started clearing the tables. When she was done with that, she took something sharp and began popping the party balloons affixed to each table, one by one: Pow! Pow! Pow!

The Observer looked up at the noise, startled. That morning, someone had gone into an elementary school somewhere far away and did the unthinkable. Somewhere, classrooms stank of blood.

Pow! Pow! Pow!

And in that moment, The Observer realized the room had fallen silent — as silent, anyway, as a restaurant full of families ever gets. The murmur of adult conversation seemed to have instantly stilled. I looked around, and all over the room, people were staring, their faces in bone-deep pain, like the faces at a funeral.

No one spoke, or seemed to move. The waitress, oblivious, kept on — Pow! Pow! Pow! — the balloons seeming to evaporate before the blade. The people watched her from their tables, not seeming to breathe. For a good 10 seconds, it was like that: a sad, thorough silence, punctuated by a sound kissing close to gunshots. And The Observer knew that every grown mind in the room was probably thinking the same thought on this saddest of days: Why?

It's hard to believe it happened, even though The Observer was there, but it did: a room full of people brought to spontaneous, silent mourning. It was one of the most surreal and beautiful moments I've ever witnessed in my life.

Finally, the waitress finished, then stood there, working her jaw and shaking the noise out of her ear with the tip of her finger. Only then did the assembled congregation turn back to their families.

A young woman The Observer knows well said in the wake of the slaughter of 20 children by yet another deranged white boy with access to a semi-automatic assault rifle that she was behind the Founders 100 percent: They meant for people to have guns and so we should.

And those guns, she said, should be exactly the same guns the Founders had in mind when they conceived the 2nd Amendment: muzzle-loaders, smooth-bore pistols whose flint had to be precisely knapped, the Kentucky rifle pea-shooters.

Hedging our bets that the celestial curtain will not, after all, fall on the 21st, we are still shopping for the 25th. (It's our opinion that the Mayans just ran out of room on that round stone they were carving the future into. You know, like when you try to letter a banner or something and you end up with "welcome hom.") Nothingness is no excuse. What some don't get is that it's the journey, as is said ad nauseum these days. It's the thinking of and procuring the perfect item.

This year, The Observer and Spouse have gotten each other the same present, as betrayed by the shape and feel of the two wrapped packages under the tree. So I guess the Mayans were right. Hell has frozen over. It's lights out.

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