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The observer, Jan. 24

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The Observer took a spin through Chester, a wee town in Crawford County, last Sunday, trying to remember what it was we'd once known about it.

Our Google search Monday failed to turn up any famous incident. But what we could find was astonishing, a mountain of facts. For example: Historical tornado activity there is less than the average in Arkansas but “95 percent greater than the overall U.S. average.” The Chester Water Works had a few violations in 2002, thanks to a little coliform creeping in, and the average age of the homes there is higher than the state average. An astonishingly keen Joint Auditing Committee found that $75.22 in state turnback funds for the streets weren't deposited in the Street Fund in 2004.

There were percentages for divorce, race, household size. Because there are only 99 people living in Chester, some of this data could get pretty personal. For instance, 2 percent are of French ancestry, and that means two folks in town, and surely everyone knows who they are. Another 3 percent are Dutch and 6 percent are German. We can't envision much sectarian warfare there, though, no fist fights on Front Avenue, the main drag. There are also 2.9 lesbians in Chester, Census data shows. We figure everyone knows who they are, too, and nobody cares about that either. We're not sure they're so happy about whoever pocketed the $75 for the Street Fund.

Our own census of Chester found 14 sleeping dogs (seven in one yard, next to a sign stuck in a tire that read “Beware the Dog”) and a sleeping cat, a slumber number high enough that our teen-ager proclaimed if we saw one more we probably ought to get out of town fast. But the wide-awake rooster — in a cage on the porch of the Chester Mercantile store, a one-story stone affair — was our canary in the mine, so we stopped and bought a cherry Coke.

In all, we counted 20 dogs, five cats, a rooster and a great blue heron in a ditch, or one animal for every 3.6 residents of Chester.

The Observer has always been a big ol' lummox, and ever since we turned one of our aunt's new and much treasured faux-Windsor chairs into a pile of nicely varnished kindling at the age of 14, we've learned to take it easy on other people's furniture. At home, all our furnishings are somewhere between U.S. Government Issue and two cinderblocks with a board across them. When traveling, especially to the homes of friends and loved ones, we avoid spindly furniture like the plague, and have made a habit of slowly lowering the ol' tush into a chair as if there was a bomb under the seat.

Over the weekend, however, The Observer got a reminder that you can't outrun the laws of physics forever. While visiting a friend's place of bid'ness, we chanced to sit on a wooden bench just outside the door. It was a really nice bench; curvy, held together with brass hardware and made of some exotic wood that smelled like the inside of a cigar box.

It wasn't as if we took a running leap at the thing. Nonetheless, one second, The Observer was parked on a sturdy and well-made bench. The next second, there was a dry rending sound like a cough and we found ourselves sitting in a pile of chopsticks. If someone had been there to film the moment, it probably would have looked like one of those high-speed videos of a drop of milk splashing on a flat surface — with The Observer as the milk drop (or should that be: the last moments of the Hindenberg? Oh the humanity).

Few times in The Observer's life have we felt so hang-dog guilty. We offered to pay, but were refused. The best we can do, then, is offer up the above confession. In lieu of a spiritual adviser, we'll prescribe our own penance: four Our Fathers, light a candle for Our Blessed Lady of Mortise and Tenon Joinery and lay off the damn cupcakes.

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