The Observer had a hard day last week and groaned when we got home. Expecting to flop on the couch for the duration, we were reminded we had tickets that night to “Fire on the Mountain,” the Arkansas Repertory Theatre's bluegrass musical about Appalachian coal miners.
The Observer is glad we have a pushy spouse. You can hardly complain about a long day in an air-conditioned office after watching this affecting story of miners, their kin, the toll of industrialization, environmental disaster and loss. Even amid the mournful hill laments, there's redemption in the eternal uplift of honest toil, music, faith and brotherly love.
Bluegrass, blues, folk and gospel by gifted singers and string players moved the crowd. But there was no greater reaction than that to the finale, Hazel Dickens' modern-day union anthem, “They'll Never Keep Us Down.”
The crowd was standing, stomping, clapping and cheering as the cast sang:
We've been shot, we've been jailed, Lord it's a sin
Women and children stood right by the men
We've got a union contract that keeps the workers free
They'll never shoot that union out of me.
The Observer once signed a union card. The election was lost on a tie vote, after grinding management pressure on the weakest in our number. We wondered how many of those stomping at the Rep had ever signed a union card. Or even harbored a kind thought about a union. We wondered if the bankers and doctors and lawyers were listening, but perhaps not hearing.
The show runs through June 22.
Over the weekend, Junior rescued a box turtle. Somehow, the wayward critter had managed to wedge itself into a narrow space under our air conditioning unit. It had been stuck there for who knows how long when Junior came upon it. After a couple of strong tugs, the turtle was free, and Junior ran to present it to his mother.
In not so many words, Junior told Mom, he and the turtle had formed the bond that can only spring from trauma and adversity. He should, he argued, be allowed to keep it — to feed it, pet it, name it Yertle, and let it while away its days in luxury in an aquarium on a table by his bed.
Oh no, Spouse told Junior, this turtle was born free. He had to live in the wilderness, free to do turtle things. Though The Observer argued that a turtle would probably be perfectly happy for someone to hold him captive in exchange for three hots and a cot, our slow-moving friend was soon released into the grass at the edge of the yard.
To satisfy Junior, Spouse promised him that the next day, we'd head to the pet store and buy him a raised-in-captivity turtle, some turtle food and a bowl with a plastic palm tree in it. The Observer had one of those back in the day.
Imagine our surprise, then, when we got to the store the next morning to find that while we could purchase a $600 red-faced hooting tortoise from Belize, nobody sells plain old turtles anymore. Sorry, said the clerk, they carry salmonella, and kids were getting sick. Somewhere around the time that toys and playgrounds both went round-cornered and smushy, the cheapie pet store turtles The Observer grew up with became verboten.
We're thinking about buying a fish.
Over the transom came this note to The Observer from reader Sarah Marks of North Little Rock:
“This morning, my world shattered. As a graduate of Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in Magnolia, I am traumatized to learn that the name of the university has changed to UA Magnolia. WHAT??? Can this be true?
“I have been totally caught off-guard by this name change! So, I checked the university's website. I checked with fellow alum. I checked with a couple of professors down there. I even checked with the administration. No one knows about the name change!
“Could it be The Observer does not fact-check, and simply assumes that every college and university in the state is under the (mis)leadership of UA? After all, according to a large number of people in the state, UA is the only university worth talking about.
“It all becomes very clear to me: This is a conspiracy! DRAT!”
The Observer apologizes, Sarah, for the error made in last week's column. We assure you no conspiracy exists; we make our mistakes all by ourselves.