One of The Observer's guilty, if infrequent, pleasures is stuffing our face at the Catfish Barn (the parking lots of Catfish Town, Catfish Hut and Catfish Trough always seem to be full) in Bryant. There, for a reasonable charge, you can eat catfish and shrimp and broccoli casserole and onion rings by the dump truck full, if you have the benefit of a gullet that breaks the laws of quantum physics.
Last week, however, our appetite was challenged. From the moment we walked in, the restaurant had the radio tuned to a contemporary Christian station.
Normally, The Observer changes the channel on Christian rock so fast you'd have to film it in slow motion to actually see our hand move to the dial. Clan Observer had arrived a bit early for dinner, so we assumed the music was just for the benefit of some Born Againers on the wait staff who had been prepping the restaurant for the evening rush — that as soon as more people started filing in, the boss would turn it off or at least down. However, it seemed to get even louder — especially after we flagged down a waitress and told her we were godless liberals and the music was beginning to burn our ears.
Song after song, painfully earnest, slightly whiny young men professed their love for Jesus over the worst kind of preprogrammed keyboard beats — except (and we're not making this up) for an interlude when the DJ broke played a painfully earnest, slightly whiny white-dude RAP SONG about Jesus.
Don't get us wrong. We've got nothing against The Lord. The Observer and the J-Man go together like catfish and pickled tomatoes. Our beef is with crappy music played loudly while we're eating out. And after listening to a solid hour of contempo-Christian soft rock, we can tell you that — bar none — it is the crappiest music in the universe (and keep in mind that we're figuring the catalogue of Ray “Guitarzan” Stevens into that equation). At this point, we'd pretty much rather listen to looped tape of a brass band falling down a flight of stairs.
Rock and roll is supposed to be about sex and death and motorcycle crashes involving girls named “Ruby.” It's supposed to be about Dead Man's Curve and “Layla,” Jim Morrison's barely-contained crotch bulge and Lou Reed singing: “And the colored girls say: ‘Doo-doodoo-doo-doodoodoo-doo…' ” To the good folks of Bryant, we say, believe us, even Jesus doesn't want to hear the phrase “Rock me, Jesus!” — especially while trying to eat his weight in catfish fillets.
Alltel graciously gave away ponchos to the attendees at the dedication of the Central High Visitors Center and the event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Central the following day, all outdoor celebrations under cloudy skies. They were white, and the hoods peaked a bit once they were pulled up, which a few did when the skies opened up for a time Tuesday. More than one person observed what a dreadful picture that would make if all of the thousands in attendance had reason to pull on their ponchos. Luckily, the rain abated, and Little Rock was spared another famous photograph.
In our grim determination to keep off the beer gut without actually giving up the beer, The Observer began that most masochistic of hobbies: distance running. So last weekend we discovered for the first time something that's old hat to runners around here: the River Trail.
We struck out early Sunday morning from over by the Arkansas Queen, enjoying the small-town-downtown feel of the north side of the river. We hoofed it west down a mostly-empty two-lane blacktop then hit the trail, lush and unoccupied, just us and the chiggers and the swampy smell of the river as we pounded our joints into powder. A few more miles of pain and we passed fairways and dog parks and families with bicycles, then the Big Dam Bridge in all its glory. Then more soccer fields and putting greens, office parks and train tracks, Cantrell Road and Episcopal Collegiate School, overpasses and oil-stained pavement. Finally we arrived in downtown Little Rock, where the saner citizens moved slowly and comfortably throughout their day, giving our smelly sweatiness a wide berth. We felt like a movie crew member who accidentally stumbled into the shot and messed up all the pretty people. We apologize if we flung any sweat on any guests leaving the Peabody. We tip our hat to those who have worked so hard to give us such a fine place to torture ourselves.