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The Observer

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We feel a need to quote Winston Churchill again: “You have to take the good with the bad.” We had to take a little of both the other day.

It was too damn hot for early April — March had been the hottest March ever, according to the Weather Bureau — and The Observer knew that this being Arkansas, much worse was on the way. So we were pretty snarly as we entered the River Market for lunch: “You kids get those wheelchairs outside before somebody trips over them!” Little bastards.

And then we were bowled over to discover that the first Arkansas strawberries of the season were on sale, their arrival unannounced in advance. The Observer bought a quart, ate a couple of berries on the spot, and took the rest home, feeling better. The Observer knows strawberries, and we can say authoritatively that Arkansas strawberries are better than they’ve ever been. They always tasted great, but they used to be small. The California berries that were shipped in and sold in the supermarkets were without flavor of any kind, but they were big and beautiful to look at. Arkansas berries have retained their wonderful taste and now they’re big and beautiful too.

But they still don’t last very long. Agricultural science has been unable to overcome that problem. The miserable weather, on the other hand, will be here for, oh, centuries at the least. Only Arkansas tomatoes will provide any incentive to go on living.

Nothing says “You’re an insignificant worm” plainer than not returning the worm’s phone calls. A couple of important persons have declined to return The Observer’s calls in the last week. We’ve learned, painfully, that the chance of being stiffed is greater if you’ve broken down and told the person’s secretary what you want to talk about. You know the drill: “May I say who’s calling? May I tell him the nature of the call?” No matter what you say in answer to the second question — “Life on Mars,” “the West Coast offense” — the person will not return the call once he knows that there’s no immediate danger. He may assign someone else to call for him, but only after he’s sure that the toady can’t or won’t talk about the subject the caller wants to talk about. In such ways is the natural order preserved.

There used to be a local newspaper columnist (now deceased, surely) who had a strategy for defeating the no-callback oafs. When the secretary asked who was calling and what about, the columnist would reply “Tell him it’s his wife’s lawyer, and we have the pictures.” He claimed a high percentage of callbacks.

The Observer is currently daring to be mediocre. We’re trying to sing in a choir of experienced musicians, all of whom can read music. We thought alto meant one octave lower than soprano. Imagine our surprise at our first practice.

We are also taking tennis lessons, coincidentally from a childhood friend who grew up on the courts while we watched from the side. We are worse at tennis than singing, though the choir wouldn’t believe it. It’s a good thing the teacher is an old friend.

We have thrown caution to the winds and taken up needlepoint. And the other night, we cooked Napa cabbage. Next thing you know, we’ll be doing kickboxing.

No, we won’t.

What’s our point, you ask?

We’re wondering if this surge of dilettantism isn’t a reaction to the world around us. Take the telephone. Remember when the only problem with your phone was a cord that didn’t reach far enough? Now you’re lucky if you can hear the person you’ve called on the thing, or if it will work at all.

We just bought a new vacuum cleaner — we didn’t really have to, since The Observer’s mother’s 1950-something model Electrolux still worked, as long as it didn’t have to work hard — and it quit after just a month.

Then there’s modern fiction.

It’s like the whole world has given up a chorus of, “Oh, what the hell,” off-key.

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