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The Observer, Nov. 29

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Trolling the Internet the other day, The Observer happened upon a rather alarming story in the digital equivalent of the New York Times. It seems that a company called Sorenson Genomics is test-marketing an over-the-counter paternity test at RiteAid drug stores in California, Oregon and Washington. For only $29.99 and a laboratory fee of $119, the Identigene kit can finally let you know whether the rooster you thought sired your chick is actually the one you thunk it was.

The Observer, for our part, hopes that this terrible new technology never makes it to Arkansas — land of diamonds, ducks and questionable parentage. How do you know who your daddy is? Because Momma told you so. The social carnage in Faulkner County alone would be horrific.

For now, The Observer encourages all of you to eat, drink and be merry this holiday season. Enjoy it while you can. If the Identigene kit makes landfall in Arkansas, Christmas dinner is bound to be a whole lot more awkward next year.

This year's winner of the Most Unintentionally (We Hope) Creepy Business Name Award, spotted on a pick-up truck on Interstate 30 earlier this week: Mid-State Aftermarket Body Parts.

Who wants aftermarket body parts? For that matter, who wants market body parts? Unless they come fully assembled.

Like a lot of folks, The Observer's mental way-back machine is wired through our nose. Give us a whiff of something we once smelt, and we're there again, be it Grandma's cookies or our first dog, wet from the rain.

This time, it was the smell of asphalt. The Observer's dear old Daddy was a roofer, and though he had mostly moved on to rubber roofing by the time we signed up for miserable summer duty, every once in a while he had occasion to wheel out the old pumper kettle — an ancient war-wagon, scabbed with hardened pitch. Heated to 700 degrees, the obsidian-hard asphalt inside became as liquid as tomato soup, a roiling tar pit that might suck down mastodons. And then there was the smell: Dense, oily, primordial — simultaneously sharp and heavy — enough to make your eyes water; enough to make women walking by frown and raise a hand to their noses.

The Observer stepped out the door of the offices of the Arkansas Times today, and caught a whiff of asphalt, made even more pungent by the cold wind. Nothing in the world smells like that. Somewhere, we knew — maybe across the river — somebody was mopping one on. And suddenly, we were 16 again, varnished in sweat, standing next to our now-long-dead father and staring into the black maw of the kettle.

“It smells like money,” he said.

Local television crews were at the airport the day before Thanksgiving, looking for a story on dreadful Thanksgiving travel. One reporter gamely pursued that tack with The Observer's child, though the child made up a line of one at the security entrance to the gates. Security waited on the passenger instead of the other way around.

Back in the car, we heard NPR going on and on about dreadful Thanksgiving travel, predicting bad weather and misery at O'Hare. That happened to be where The Observer's child was traveling, and when she called in from Chicago we asked if things were bad. No, she said. She got into O'Hare on time, her next flight was only two gates down on the same concourse, and did she have to lug her luggage around everywhere she went?

NPR was still talking about O'Hare and sure missed flights when our child's plane to Indianapolis arrived, on time. So what was on the 5 p.m. news? The terrors of travel at Thanksgiving, right at the top.

The point? The media — which we happen to know intimately — can make something out of nothing when it has to. Like in the race for the Republican presidential nominee.

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