The Observer has long been a history buff. Last weekend, we indulged that cranny of our troubled psyche with a trip over to Booneville for Arkansas Historic Preservation's tour of the buildings and grounds of the former State Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
The main hospital building — the Leo F. Nyberg building, named after a state senator from Helena who died at the Sanatorium — is a sight to behold; a massive buff-brick pile that still lords over the countryside below, six stories high and exactly a tenth of a mile long. Thanks to the blessings of antibiotics and modern medicine, the hospital is largely empty these days, the patient rooms inside occupied only by dust, flies, and the occasional pigeon.
A good-sized crowd gathered before the steps. The guide started where the epidemic did: with a simple germ, stealing down into a healthy lung. As she described over a loudspeaker clipped to her belt the scourge of tuberculosis and how it spread, a hush spread over the crowd.
After walking through the Nyberg Building, the tour moved on through the massive boiler plant, up the hill to the chapel and over to the guinea piggery, where tiny test subjects were bred and raised en masse. The tour made its way to the children's school, built by the Belle Pointe Masonic Lodge. Inside were bare classrooms, faded colors, and the faint smell of chalk.
The Observer wandered into a large and brightly lit day room at the end of the hallway. It wasn't much to look at. A better view was outside the room's huge windows: springtime on the cusp of breaking through in a leafy riot. As we turned for the door, we caught sight of the floor. There, set into scuff-worn tile, were game boards of all kinds: checkerboards and parcheesi boards and boards for games so old we've never played them. Along one wall was a black bowling alley, with circles for the triangle of pins at the end.
All at once, the tragedy of that place crushed in on us. We saw the sick children who must have played there and died there, all of them staring out those same windows, wishing they could feel the grass under their feet. The Observer stood in that almost-spring sunshine and felt like crying, one denizen of the bright and glorious future, communing with ghosts in a glint of cloudy tile.
The rowdies are going to the picture show.
Last weekend, The Observer went to the movies. We endured the ticket and concession lines and made a last-second grab for extra napkins and a small cup of toxic butter salt. But before we could get past the ticket taker, we stumbled on a belligerent teen-ager, face down on the carpet, hog-tied at the wrists, rambling incoherently in an unknown dialect. Two police officers stood above him, peering down with some bemusement. “What's he going in for?” The Observer asked the ticket clerk. “Who knows?” she replied. “He does this every so often. Never causes any harm to anyone, he just runs off at the mouth and winds up there on the floor before someone has to come and claim him. Don't know who he's with or how he gets here.” Offering a feeble explanation, The Observer said, “Maybe it's the moon cycle.”
Exiting the theater after the film, The Observer had more excitement. We and our cohort were nearly mowed down by a huge four-door land yacht cutting a sharp turn out of the parking lot, blown speakers roaring with the windows down, and “KICKIN'” painted across the rear windshield in white shoe polish. No sooner had the car taken the curb on two wheels, the boys in blue hit the lights and pulled over the driver, who's more than likely soon to be kickin' it on the way to traffic court.
Art can stir folks up, yes it can. Got to say, the action in the lobby and parking lot beat what was going on in “The International.”
The Observer's own teen-ager surprised us with the breezy announcement that she was going to the opera. Huh? Did Lil Wayne write the libretto? Pulling on a new-found high brow as easy as she would a ratty camisole, she was off to Breckenridge to see a performance at the Met on the silver screen. Guess what? The opera — turned out to be “Madame Butterfly” — drew a nearly full house. Turns out many brows among us are high. That's kickin' it.
NEWS ITEM: The purple martins have returned.