Standing on the corner of Second and LaHarpe the other day, waiting for the red hand to turn into the little man so we could walk, The Observer saw a junk trailer go by. They’re pretty common down in these parts, what with our proximity to Sol Alman’s scrap metal business on East Ninth Street.
The trailer, tugged along by a wheezing old pickup, looked like it didn’t have many more miles before its own meeting with the pile at Sol’s. It was weighted down with enough junk to keep a bad sculptor busy for weeks: hot water heaters, bike frames, what looked like the nose cone from a jet. What caught The Observer’s eye, however, was at the top of the heap: an old typewriter.
It was one of the good ’uns: huge, sturdy, with keys that looked as big as half-dollars (albeit some of them missing), its sheet-steel body painted hearse black. Inside, we knew, was the deliciously complicated gadgetry that we used to love to watch work as a kid, the letter blocks wonking up and down, somehow managing to strike next to the place of the one before.
Though The Observer is a member of the generation that mostly saw the manual typewriter as an antique instead of an option, being po’ as a youngster made sure we started writing on a model close to the one borne to glory on that trailer: a Smith-Corona, with its own black travel case.
A word processor soon followed, and another, all the way down to this one we’re tapping at now. But our first love will always be that old Smithy. When you opened the case, we remember, it smelled like paper and ink, maybe sweat — maybe whiskey, elephants walking in tall grass, jet fuel, blood, fresh sheets, dust, and drying paint. Maybe arsenic and old lace. It smelled, we remember, like poetry.
It was an old chest of drawers, rather than a typewriter, that sent The Observer on a wild goose chase to antique stores over the weekend. Our pursuit of a chest (no snickers please) took us over to Brinkley, where the once antique but now restored to contemporary life woodpecker has taken over. We couldn’t find what we wanted in the Main Street antique stores and flea markets so we decided to abandon both our hunt and the blistering heat and head to Gene’s Barbecue. Temperatures have not returned to normal when it comes to the town’s love affair with the ivory-billed woodpecker. The waitress at Gene’s said the latest interest is in getting a picture of the bird. The million dollar picture is what they all call it. The Observer decided it was about as likely as finding a chest of drawers we liked, getting that a million dollar picture, so we headed to the Highway 17 bridge, the entry to the ivory-bill “hot spot,” the area of the most sightings in the past couple of years, with a camera. We sat and waited on the bank. Zillions of yellow butterflies flew up out of the weeds, but no ivory-bill. At the Dagmar Wildlife Management Area our luck took a turn for the better, in the form of a wildlife officer for Game and Fish who offered us a bottle of cold water. Our hero. He started talking about the bird without even saying its name, said he figures he’s seen it before without really knowing it. Said there were kayakers on the Robe Bayou that day, looking for the bird. We laughed in that knowing, superior way of woodsmen and women about kayaking in a slough in 100 degree heat, about finding the bird, and about the million dollar picture.
And then, almost in the same moment, he held up his camera and we held up ours. Doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
Our West Little Rock correspondent tells The Observer that she’s watched with interest as the lighted American flags in front of Jennings Osborne’s houses on Cantrell Road have changed since the invasion of Iraq began.
For those who don’t pass that way often, two huge American flags done in lights make up Osborne’s current light display. One of the flags has the image of an eagle flying over it. The other flag has the words “God Bless America and George W.” over it.
At times a few stripes on the flags have gone out for a week or so, and then been replaced. Lately, our correspondent notes, the lights on the “eagle” flag are all working, but every star and most of the stripes (all except four) on the “George W.” flag have gone out. She sees a parallel in how the American people feel about this war — they support the troops, but the war is losing its luster. Draw your own conclusions.