The Observer's old friend, birding partner, radio reporter and freelance writer Nancy King died recently, and one of the remembrances of her that came to light was the article she wrote for the Quapaw Quarter Chronicle in 1993 about the faux Socks.
Christa Belle Fennell, who lived just a few doors down from the Governor's Mansion, found herself the subject of much misguided press attention after Bill Clinton was elected president. Nancy reported that Christa Belle's owner Sam (then 15) rescued his black and white cat from a circle of "paparazzi," and when the press asked where he was taking Socks he replied, "Who's Socks?"
Nancy called the White House asking if Socks had a press kit and reported that a spokesman in the "deadly dull and serious 1600 Pennsylvania Ave." said "with out a trace of humor" that there was no such thing. He could send a glossy 8 x 10, and did. Nancy took that photograph and compared it to other portraits of Socks in national magazines — Time, Newsweek, Life and People — and found they were all of the real thing. "The nation's leading periodicals, it seems, employ photographers not easily fooled by any pretty feline face."
Fortunately for Christa Belle, she was no longer hounded after Socks left for D.C. As Nancy wrote, " 'Her family is from Gilbert, an old Arkansas family,' Tom Fennell says, shaking his head. 'She just wants to avoid all this sensational publicity.' "
The Fennells have their QQC article tucked into a book called "Socks Goes to Washington." It's a picture book, with entries like "My cat bowl once belonged to Calvin Coolidge" accompanied by a cartoon of Socks chowing down. It has this entry too:
"Every now and then, when you're wondering how to pay off a four-trillion-dollar national debt plus an extra sixty billion Bush claims he 'forgot' to mention and you're worried about a sluggish economy and rising unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure and global warming and carjacking and the banks are going under and the schools are getting worse and AIDs is out of control and you're turning back boatloads of Haitians and you still haven't put together a decent health plan and Gore is on your case to save some little spotted owl up in Oregon and you'll probably have to raise taxes on the middle class even though you swore you'd cut them and maybe tax gasoline too which is going to send your approval rating into single digits and every day something weird happens in Bosnia and Somalia and Iraq and the C.I.A. confirmed that Pakistan has seven nuclear bombs and they're not sure but Iran may even have one or two, it's quite soothing to just sit and pet a cat."
Maybe Obama needs a Socks.
Always bookish, The Observer has been even more immersed in printed material than usual. He recently reported on a visit to the grand old used-book store on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. More recently, he discovered It's A Mystery Bookstore in Berryville.
"Of all places," one is tempted to say, but that would be patronizing. Readers live in small towns too. Still, The Observer was pleasantly surprised to find a substantial used-book store on the Berryville town square.
The store buys, sells and trades books, specializing in used paperback mysteries, though other sorts of books are available too, including Westerns. As a boy, The Observer read both the Westerns and the mysteries that his father brought home. In It's A Mystery, he found books in both genres whose covers and titles he remembered from long ago. Zane Grey and Erle Stanley Gardner still live in Berryville.
We bought a couple of books, of course, though the browsing was what we liked best, in a store where we liked everything — the dog, the friendly lady behind the counter, the bookmark she gave us that was recycled from advertising for Milk-Bone dog food. There's a bit of lacy red ribbon attached; The Observer is choosing to think of it as a garter from a gold-hearted dance hall girl in one of those Westerns.
Perry Mason may be frozen in time, but It's A Mystery is not. Check out the website, www.itsmystery.biz.