The Observer's son comes to The Fortress of Employment from time to time to hang out after school. It's good, we think, to introduce him early to the fast-paced world of international commerce (that's called sarcasm, son. You'll learn it someday).
Last week, with all the computers in the office occupied and having just finished the book he'd been working on for awhile, Junior was bored stiff by 3:30.
The Observer, being the Tolerant Parent (Spouse would probably call us the Reckless Parent), suggested that he take our cell phone and walk the three blocks to the Central Arkansas Main Library Building. He's almost 12.
When The Observer was that age, we loved the downtown library on Louisiana Street, and would come up with almost any excuse to get there. When The Observer's mother was 12 or so, her own parents would routinely kick her and her siblings out of their Little Rock bungalow on summer mornings and tell them to not come knocking until lunchtime. They'd take the bus downtown and have the run of the city until noon — and sometimes until dinner if they had a few bucks for a Royal Crown Cola and a Moonpie. Ah, the good ol' days.
This is a different age, of course, though The Observer knows from hard crime statistics that the city is no more dangerous for 'tweens today than it was in 1969 or 1979 or 1989. Junior, however, is a child of this worry-wort age. When we made our suggestion to Junior, he looked at his Old Man like we had just suggested he go down to the zoo, slather himself in steak sauce, and climb in the lion cage.
"Dad," said the apple of our eye, "do you WANT me to wake up in a small room with a bucket to poop in?"
These kids today.
A few weeks back, The Observer wrote about our new neighbors, who bought the house next door to us down in Capitol View, bringing a little life back to a place that had been saddled with a For Sale sign for way too long. One of the things we didn't mention is their car.
In one of those sweet coincidences that only seems to happen to us, our new neighbors own the exact same car that Spouse owned when she and The Observer started dating: a forest green 1993 Toyota Tercel two-door coupe. Same interior, same pinstripe, same wheels, same everything. Spouse bought hers brand new a few weeks before our first date — a plain Jane model that didn't even include a radio.
That Toyota was the car we really fell in love in; the car that ferried us to New Orleans on our first road trip as a couple; the car she drove to both our college graduations; the car that took us away from the church on the day we were married; the car we drove on our honeymoon; the car that moved us to two years of graduate school in frozen Iowa, and braved the drifts to carry us through two Midwestern winters; the car that brought us back home again to Arkansas.
Spouse's Toyota was sold off years ago after getting drilled in the rear quarter panel by a cell-phoning SUV pilot.
It was long in the tooth by then, using too much oil and leaking too much water. It has probably long since been melted down to become tin cans, or an I-beam, or maybe even the car that features in someone else's dreams. But it is no exaggeration to say that it lives on; that it features somehow in every memory of The Observer's twenties — including our earliest days as a husband and father.
We can't tell you how lovely it is to walk outside The Observatory every morning to get into our latest ride and see that Toyota sitting there in the sun, paint faded but still green as new grass.
We can't tell you how lovely it is to think, just for a second, that we're 22 again instead of closing in on 40, with everything still ahead of us like open highway.