The Observer’s yearly pet project, Pub or Perish, went off with nary a hitch last weekend during the Arkansas Literary Festival. Going on four years now, The Observer has hosted PoP, a liquored-up reading series featuring poets and fiction writers both known and unknown, with a little open mic time thrown in to spice things up. This year, The Host had a bit of a lump in the pit of our stomach about moving the event to a new room — the Arkansas Ballroom, deep in the heart of the Peabody Hotel — but the space turned out to be more than fine: a wide, open place walled in glass on two sides, with a million dollar view of the Arkansas River.
The lights were dimmed, and the first writers came to the lectern. Outside our glass house, the world went on. Outside, people went on trying to make sense of senseless things. Somewhere, someone sat sullen and alone. Somewhere, someone prayed for God to send them peace. Somewhere, someone frowned her life away into a television screen. But for a few hours on Saturday night, none of those people was us. In a room overlooking a river that grew increasingly golden as the sun disappeared behind the trees, the poets strummed their lutes, the jug of wine was passed, and all was right — for a while— with at least one tiny slice of the known world.
We started our Saturday in a room at the Main Library listening to the guy who gets several hundred postcards a week from people who tell him secrets. Then we heard a historian talk about Islam and what the president and his people should have understood before dreaming up what’s turned into nightmare in Iraq. After lunch, Arkansas poets read to us.
It was quite a day. We felt our brains crackle a tiny bit with the electricity of new ideas. We could use such a charge more often.
We especially like kicking things off with the Book Guys. We think Mike Cuthbert and Allan Stypeck are sincere when they say they love to come to Arkansas because there are people who’ve kept journals from their WWII internment at Stalag 17 or found a portfolio of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright in storage or have always wondered if their book of poetry by Allan Ginsberg in which he drew a flower and a snake has any value.
They opened the live radio show with banker Virgil Miller talking about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High. He said there would be seats for 5,000 in front of the school, and that he expected presidents and dignitaries and all the people running for president to attend. Which made Cuthbert ask, If all the candidates attended, where would the audience get to sit?
With few exceptions, four people have cut The Observer’s hair:
In middle school, our mother took us to Chad, her mustachioed stylist who looked like Chuck Dovish with a bouffant. With a muffin-sized dollop of mousse, he sculpted our hair into a side-spike, a cut that lifted the hair around our part skyward, like a Mohawk.
During the self-doubting teen-age years, we turned down a blander road to Smokin’ Joe, our small town’s most popular barber, who earned his nickname because he could give a haircut in about two minutes, almost exclusively used a Flowbee and believed, as Houston Dale’s barber apparently does today, that God didn’t intend for men to have sideburns.
In cash-strapped early adulthood, we looked to Jessica, a friend who wears big sunglasses and looks like she can cut hair; she was willing to in exchange for mix CDs. She did fine for about six months until she cut a hole the size of a Sacagawea dollar into the side of our hair.
Now we go to Joey, a smoky-voiced stylist who has a tattoo that says “Heartbreaker” on his arm, and whose clients include at least one fledgling rock star, one Chicagoan, and three New Yorkers. Last week, he wearily speculated on his long-distance draw. “In big cities, not only do you pay out the ass, you pay for the stylist to tell you what you like. They’ll take a s*** on your head and say, ‘I love it!’ ”
“You know,” he said as he eyed a stray tuft of hair. “Sometimes people just want a normal haircut. Normal is in.”