A business establishment frequented by The Observer puts little signs in its lobby supposedly appropriate to the season. “Cold enough for you?” the February sign might say. Well, they’re usually more original than that, but you get the idea. The other day, we saw one that was jarringly out of place.
“These April showers bring May flowers,” it said. April showers? What April showers? To the best of The Observer’s recollection, here’s been no rainfall at Little Rock for approximately three years, in April or any other month. Plant life is dead. Animals are leaving town. And The Observer, who enjoys a good rainfall, is not happy about the situation. We thought about suggesting that the establishment’s employees change their sign to read “This lack of showers will not bring May flowers.” Instead, we went on our way, muttering indignantly and searching the skies for sign of relief. Not a cloud in sight.
The Observer has discovered the charm of Pangburn — so many preserved houses! — and the Little Red River. Thanks to a friend whose list of friends stretches from here to the moon, The Observer got to spend time last weekend at a cabin whose deck perches above the Red. It was Arkansas at its best. The view from the deck was of clear water flowing over shoals. The water was low, yes, but not so low that a fly fisherman, so duded up with waders and net that he looked like he’d stepped out of an Orvis catalog, couldn’t enjoy a morning in the water. He dried his line with undulating tosses and then gently whipped it into place.
A pileated woodpecker flew over at close range, the pattern of his feather color so observable that had he been an ivory-billed we could have said so with certainty. Purple martins burbled, a hummingbird perched on the bare branch above us made squeaking noises. A kingfisher rattled as it flew upriver; quacking ducks zipped downriver, geese honked.
Then, another sound: That of a vehicle backing down a walking path to the river on the opposite bank. The sound of trash being dumped. A crackle, and then … the woods were on fire.
A neighbor summoned the fire department. The fly fisherman hoofed it upriver to see what was going on. We drank our coffee and watched the fire grow higher and then wider and listened to what we guessed were explosions from cans under pressure and other flammables. Smoke wafted across the Little Red to our peaceful deck. Then, a pumper truck arrived and a guy in a T-shirt and jeans — a volunteer no doubt — turned the hose on the fire, extinguishing it.
Arkansas at its worst.
A friend of The Observer’s is of Japanese ancestry. He grew up in Hawaii, went to Rhode Island for college, came to Arkansas for VISTA and he’s lived here, off and on, ever since. Years ago, in an elevator in a downtown building, a man looked at him and asked, “Indian boy?” Our friend said, um, no. “China boy?” Wrong again. The story has brought lots of laughs since; still does. It didn’t need embellishment.
But last weekend, our friend and his wife spent a night in Hot Springs, and at dinner, the waiter looked at our friend and asked, “Chinese?” No. “Filipino?” Our friend decided to answer. “Japanese.” The waiter — of possible Chinese descent himself — turned on his heel and left.
The next morning, our friend’s non-Anglo looks trapped him again. A Hispanic police officer sidles up to him, clearly thinking he’d found another Latino to talk to, tells our friend he’s the only Latino policeman in Hot Springs, that he’s from Brownsville, etc., etc. He’s disappointed to learn our friend’s familial roots are far East, not South.
The 24 hours are not up yet. Our friend and his wife proceed to Garvan Woodland Gardens, where a man striding past asks our friend, “Do you know Gandhi?” Now here’s a twist to the “You’ve got to be from” question our friend hasn’t encountered. No, he says, and I’m not from India. I’m from Hawaii.
“Big Island?” the man calls back over his shoulder.
Our friend’s conclusion: He should join the CIA.