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The Observer savors the rain

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The Observer is joining a gym right now, one of those temples of doubt and pain that all our experience in life has taught us to avoid. It's not that we're adverse to exercise — we used to get quite a lot of it back in our Strapping Young Lad Days, up until the point when we got Educated and slovenly. The problem, we suppose, is that we don't necessarily like the idea of pointlessness, and a lot of workin' out feels just like that. A goal is something we can get behind — move that pile of horse dung from over there to over here, pick up that hammer and carve that block of granite into a presentable likeness of Milton Berle — and if we've got to expend some ugly fat doing it, so much the better. We don't know, however, how we'll feel about walking endless miles on a treadmill — especially one that's not even connected by a series of cloth belts and pulleys to a pea sheller or corn thresher or Granny's washin' machine. It all seems so ... what's the word we're looking for ... First World. Believe us when we say: we're about 99.7 percent sure that the majority of people in Guatemala and Somalia and Pakistan are not spending their time building machines to fake the feeling of walking up stairs. They just, you know, actually walk up stairs, or at least don't eat all the crap that makes them need to walk up stairs in the first place.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know: The reward for exercise is health; maybe a few more years kicking around planet earth; endorphins — not to mention the exhilaration of not looking like the less-attractive brother of Dom DeLuise when we face the mirror. We can live with that, we guess. Here's an idea: maybe we should tape a stick to the brim of our hat and tie a corndog to it. That'll get us motivated. Either that, or lead to some calorie-burning wrasslin' with other poor saps at the gym.

By the time the clouds finally opened up last Tuesday and doused downtown Little Rock with rain, it had been so long that The Observer barely remembered what it looked like. Summer in Arkansas is no picnic, friends. After it's been in the trip-digits for a week or more, we find our self actively wondering how folks used to do it back in the old days before air conditioning. Then we remind the ol' brainpan that Yours Truly grew up in a house without AC.

Our father was a roofer, and somewhere along the way, he'd gotten the idea that if you slept in an air conditioned house, you were more likely to get heatstroke on a hot roof the next day. Maybe there was something to that. He was a smart ol' cuss. Until we were 19, The Observer made do with box fans and ceiling fans and copious porch-sittin', just like our forebears of old. When Ma and Pa remodeled their house — a big, two-storey saltbox out in the wilds of Saline County — they blessed it with porches all around; some screened, some open. We spent nearly every teen-age night of our life there on the front porch in a swing, listening to the crickets and the swish of the ceiling fans and the creak of the chains. It definitely made us the person we are: prone to sit out in the heat and simmer on July nights, long after everybody else on our block has fled inside.

We remember the summer rains. When you grow up without air conditioning, you tend to remember the rain. We recall the rain in June, July and August with the same love and reverence the Israelites must have remembered Manna. Every black cloud on the horizon was a cause for hope — and not only because Daddy made his living fixing leaks.

We remember standing on Ma's porch, leaning against a turned porch post, comfortable and strong in our own skin as only a 16 or 17 or 18 year old can be, watching the dogs romp and shake in the downpour, the water standing on the brick walk and in Ma's flower beds in puddles. We remember sticking our hand out into the drip from the roof — gutterless — and then bringing the cool water to the back of our neck. We were too young and green back then to think "This is what it is to be alive," but we think it now.

All these years. All these years. The house sold, the dogs dead, our father 10 years in the grave. But The Observer is still here, and so is the rain. We're going to stop writing now, and go down to the parking lot, and stick our hands in it.

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