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The Observer, Oct. 21

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Drive-by panhandling? That seems sort of lazy, doesn't it? But that's what a reader reports to The Observer.

It seems our reader was at a gas station in West Little Rock filling up the car when two separate people — neither of whom got out of their cars — asked for money. As reader writes: "They just drive up next to you and start talking."

The story given by one of them was the absolute hoariest tale: Out of town, needed gas money. (The Observer fell for that once and later saw the poor broke traveler drinking a latte at the River Market.) Since our reader had just observed the driver score from another gas station patron, reader declined. So the drive-by beggar starts to yell at reader! Besides being annoyed, our reader was a little frightened, being a diminutive sort and alone.

Then our reader saw more front-seat panhandlers, in front of a West Little Rock restaurant. They were hailing folks exiting the restaurant.

The Observer was once yelled at when we turned a woman down who'd asked for money. We'd given her some the day earlier. How about a thank you, we asked? Silly, of course. The poor woman wasn't all there. And she didn't have wheels, either.

The Observer's lovely bride took a ride down to El Dorado to visit the kinfolks a few days back, leaving The Observer behind. While that meant a very non-Observational weekend for us, she returned with a humdinger of a story, definitely one for the Big Book of Embarrassing Familial Lore and just right for the impending Halloween season.

On Sunday, Spouse's mother — now and forever nicknamed Coco by The Observer's son, who decided at a year and a half that the name of her terrier Cody was plenty good enough for his grandmother as well — cooked dinner after church, which brought Spouse's sister and her family to the table for a little sit-down over pot roast and buttered rolls. Spouse's sis has got a son named Daniel, who just turned 5. At one point before dinner, Daniel announced that he needed to visit the little boy's room, and commanded Coco to get The Stick.

The Stick, you see, is a long club, picked up out of the yard. For some reason only clear to a 5-year-old named Daniel, it must be used to keep the ghosts flogged away while he's in the bathroom doing his bidness.

Soon after the decree to get The Stick, said Spouse, dear old long-suffering Coco trooped into the can, then proceeded to stand behind the apple of her eye and solemnly wave The Stick around in the air in a kind of serpentine motion.

This is how it must be to keep the ghosts away. What's more, on particularly spooky nights, Spouse learned, Coco is required to wave The Stick while intoning "Whooooooooo" in her spookiest voice, at which time Daniel must remind himself, out loud, that the noise he hears is definitely not a ghost.

Ain't grandmas grand? Sure, it's kind of endearing now. Check back when he's 16.

The Observer's colleague took a ride up to Indiana recently to attend a friend's wedding, and ended up staying in a Quaker-owned hotel-like establishment. From what we remember of our American Theology 101, the Quakers are an austere and simple folk, prone to abstaining from getting up to what we down here in Arkansas call Raising Hell; dismissive of drink and hooting and hollering and sin in general.

So it was no shock that our deputy Observer and his girlfriend were given a room with twin beds placed a regulation "I Love Lucy"-grade non-fornication distance apart. No TV, either. The best part: Over the beds hung a painting showing — and he swears he is in no way making this up — a family of penitent, black-clad Quakers kneeling in prayer together in their simple cabin as a band of wild-eyed Native Americans peered in the windows and smashed down the door, tomahawks at the ready and bows drawn. For those not up on your symbolism, we're thinking those crazed marauders probably represent that tickling you sometimes get in your naughty parts. Somebody get Alice Walton's checkbook on the phone. We've got another masterpiece for Crystal Bridges.

Fornication discouraged, no booze and no TV, said our deputy, so there was really nothing to do.

You could have always prayed, The Observer said.

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