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Born free 

Strolling through the River Market in the dawn toward the desk the other day, The Observer saw it lying in the street in front of the Main Library: a rain-colored brassiere, adorned with a spray of tiny crystals. It was a fancy number, clearly more show than substance, not one of those space-age uplift jobs designed by balding, slide rule-toting engineers at Hughes Engineering and Aircraft; not one of those serious chunks of foundation, all steel and blind rivets and beige, three-way stretch. No, this was the unmentionable of a lass who thought she might have a fair-to-middling shot at having it mentioned by someone she sought to impress before the night was through.

Whoever she was, she'd unhooked it, let it flutter down here in the street below the face of the library like a paper bird. The Observer stopped, and stared at it in the gray morning. We thought of smiling girls in cars, racing the night. We thought of women we have known, faces half-lit in dashboard glow. We thought of the kind of girl who would think nothing of shedding her underthings — which is to say, our kind of woman — first throwing out her elbows to unhook in the back, then performing that sweet bit of acrobatics unique to the double-X chromosome: losing her bra without taking off her shirt, arms darting up first one sleeve, then another, like disappearing rabbits. Ah, the mysteries of women, with answers unknown to man should he live a thousand years!

Standing there on the sidewalk, we thought of her rolling down the window of a fast-moving car. We thought of alcohol burning blue in her veins — alive, amazing human being, smiling, eyes half-lidded. Into the chill night, she tipped her hand, still smiling, the bit of cloth streaming out in the wind for just a second before it left her fingertips and found the dark. To flutter down. To land there. To be discovered by an older-by-the-second Observer in the harsh daylight of a drizzling morning.

Whoever you are, thank you. There is no gift like the gift of the imagination. As for the rest of you: if you happened to see a portly man with a gray beard staring fixedly at a forlorn and discarded brassiere by the library one day last week, let us say: The Observer is not a pervert. It's just that the most forgettable of things strike us as beautiful sometimes. It's both a blessing and a curse.

The Observer was in the middle of writing a piece for the paper last week when the unthinkable happened: the office Internet went down, and the great, bubbling font of information went dry and stayed that way for a long time.

The Observer has grown up as a reporter in the age of instant answers, and that has spoiled us rotten. When we watch some old-timey newspaper movie — "All the President's Men," say — the thing that strikes us is never the dogged determination or how reporters dressed like reporters even back then, it's the lack of computers on their desks.

Though The Observer often jokes with a colleague that, as soon as a solar flare fries the worldwide electrical grid and plunges the world back to the 1880s, we're going to make a killing in the newspaper business, the fact is: the thought of doing it The Old Fashioned Way is straight up terrifying. We have no idea how newspaperfolk got it done in the old days, much less got it done on deadline. A telephone, a bottle of whiskey and directory assistance, we guess.

So it was something like a nightmare when the Internet went on the blink the other day, Yours Truly on deadline, and in desperate need of a definition of the word "polity." First, we thought of shouting around the newsroom, asking if anybody knew the definition. Then we remembered that more than entertainment can be gleaned from objects called "books."

Since we started here, there has been a 20-pound dictionary on a stand in the corner, gathering dust. Sheepishly we approached it, sniffed at it, turned a few pages just to get a feel for the action. Soon, with growing confidence, we flipped through to the "P" section, and the definition of "polity" rose before us: "a politically organized unit within a religious denomination." We knew that!

Still, we fear for our post-Apocalyptic career plan.

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