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The Observer, March 18



The Observer, like everyone else, hates it when we have car trouble, but we're beginning to look forward to the aftermath a bit. When the Mobile Observatory conks, we take it to Foster's Garage on Ninth Street, the venerable old joint that's been in Little Rock since the days of steam. After we drop off the car, the situation always affords us an excuse for a morning walk in this city we love, hoofing it through downtown to our Fortress of Employment on Markham near the River Market. We don't do it half enough, which would be obvious to anyone just by looking at our ample frame.

This morning's sojourn was perfect enough that we were worried — honestly worried — that some wayward 8 a.m. drunk or cell phoner was going to run a red light and drill us to the Sweet By and By. That's the way it always happens in the movies, anyway: At the moment of the hero's greatest happiness, the rope snaps on the piano being hoisted high above and it falls in slo-mo, down, down, down only to cut away to spare us the gooshy parts at the end. It still could happen. The day is young yet.

While you might think we're exaggerating when we use the phrase “Greatest Happiness,” we're not. This morning's stroll was sublimely perfect: just nippy enough to need a jacket, the city flushed clean and dustless by the night's rain. The sun, the sky — like a smooth, upturned bowl — and a hint of breeze. Hands in pockets; earbuds screwed in ears and catchy, 10-year-old pop music on the ol' MP3 player. Son in school and healthy. Spouse at work and healthy. Yours Truly on foot but healthy. Problems miles away, we walked.

Downtown, two guys with leaf blowers ranged back and forth over the sidewalk, scattering the fall. Downtown, a pretty girl walked with her lunch in a white plastic bag. Downtown, in the window of Bennett's Military Surplus, an old machine gun sat in the window, stilled, covered in haze. Downtown, a guy stood behind a white panel van in an alleyway, staring into the open doors like he was wondering what to do next.

We fear that our days of high adventure are behind us. The Observer is a creature of memory now — as we all are when you take a second to think about it. But to be perfectly honest, we like it better this way: making memories that don't flash like bursts of light, but instead burn themselves slowly into us like heated iron. The present is so fleeting, but the past stretches out behind us like a wide gulf, and is with us, always. We're not all that smart, but we do know that you have to pluck up those good memories when they come floating by. We're not gonna like paying the mechanic's bill, but we do enjoy the idea that someday, when things are gray and bleak, we can think back and remember how lovely it was to walk there, warm in the sun, cursed and blessed for a moment by the automotive gods.

Speaking of plucking up fleeting treasures, the Found Footage Festival came to Market Street Cinema last Friday and The Observer may've pulled something amidst all the belly laughing. The idea behind the festival, which isn't so much of a festival as it is a traveling showcase, is that the age of VHS produced an almost endless cache of bizarre hilarity that's just waiting to be rescued from thrift stores, truck stops and trashcans across the country. To that end, programmers offered a montage of '80s exercise videos that included Milton Berle in drag, Jazzercise with actual dancing elephants and a new-mother-with-infant routine (“is your baby feeling the burn?”); clips from what was billed as “the world's first nude pop video”; and, special for the Little Rock audience, a newly cut trailer for “Little Marines 2,” an '80s film shot in Central Arkan-sas that might represent the nadir of our state's not very rich film history — but definitely in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way.
The Observer left hoping for a TV show (there's a possibility) and, more than ever before, committed to never doing any-thing stupid on camera. Or anything at all on camera. Because if there are people rummaging through trash in search of the dumb stuff we used to do, just think about the field day future generation video hounds will have when that's just a keystroke away.

The barn swallows are back. Purple martins will be next. The Observer is watching.

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