A Deputy Observer wrote in recently to tell us about his recent conversations with Melvin Pickens, the famous "Broom Man" who walked the streets of Little Rock for at least 40 years with a bundle of brooms and mops over his shoulder, selling them to whoever wanted one. He's been featured on the "CBS Evening News" and in most every local publication, including this one.
Mr. Pickens, we hear, is currently in a rehab facility down on Markham after a stay in the hospital. Our deputy's dispatch from the scene continues as follows:
"I stopped by and visited with Melvin today and he was in good spirits and he loved having the opportunity to visit. Melvin has grown a mustache and it looks like he is starting a beard.
"I know many of your readers are friends of Melvin. By the way, for some reason many people have told me that Melvin is approaching 90 years old, but they are way off. The way I remember his age is that he told me that he was in the 10th grade at Henry Clay Yerger High in Hope in 1947 when Jackie Robinson became a Brooklyn Dodger. That is the reason he is still a Dodger fan today. Melvin was born on July 14, 1932, and he just turned 83.
"A third party told me a story about the recently departed Buddy Sutton that might interest your readers. Buddy ate often at Ozark Country Restaurant on Keightly Drive. That was one of Melvin's regular stops. One day about 10 years ago, Melvin asked Buddy if he wanted to buy a broom and Buddy replied: "I got a deal for you and this is it. I will buy all of your inventory once a year and I will put it down on my calendar if we just greet each other the other days of the year." Melvin agreed and went and got his total inventory of brooms and mops and Buddy wrote a check for several hundred dollars to Melvin that day and he continued to do so once a year until Buddy's recent death."
A quaint, old-fashioned kind of story, then, about brooms and sales and the ever-blossoming need for friendship. Still, we wonder what Sutton did with all those mops and brooms.
The Observer came home from work on Monday afternoon to find The Observatory hot enough to grow a sizeable crop of medicinal ganja inside, the air conditioner by the back stoop having mysteriously gone on strike. In early August, the relief of September still a mirage shimmering at the edge of a month's worth of 90-plus-degree days, these are the times that try Observers' souls.
We are ashamed, in our old age, at how dependent we've become on all this cooled and conditioned air. As you know by now if you've watched this space for a while, The Observer was one of the last Arkansas lads to grow up in a non-air-conditioned house, way out in the boondocks of Saline County. Paw was a roofer, you see, and had concocted the idea somewhere along the way that sleeping cold and working hot was a good way to get laid smooth out by heatstroke, a dangerous thing when one is 20 or 30 feet in the air. We know living without AC it's possible, somehow, because we survived it. What's more, we don't recall it being all that terrible, except on the nights when the cat knocked the screen off the window and we woke to find our bed covered in dismembered junebugs, minced by the whirling blades of the box fan on the sill.
Where has that contented child of the summer gone? We wondered as much last night when The Observatory was a sauna, all her lovely windows painted shut — The Observer and Spouse to bed at midnight, the Old Man of the manse up at 3, to sulk in the convection oven living room, waiting on the air conditioner repair man, sleeping somewhere in his own chilly house. We are no longer the tanned boy who took it all in stride, The Observer thought, dabbing sweat. Gone conditioned, like the rest of the world. Lost to comfort, and semi-glad for it.