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It's been a tough year all over and it's getting tougher. And it's been an uncommonly mean one in Little Rock.
Around noon one day a man walked into state Democratic Party headquarters a couple of blocks east of the state Capitol, and, wholly without sane context, shot and killed the chairman.
A bright, talented young woman known publicly for her engaging on-air work with a local television station got brutally beaten to death in her own bed in Little Rock's old-money neighborhood in the middle of the night.
You can go on line and see Little Rock ranked as one of the most violent places in the country. You can read comments on blogs that warn passers-through that the city is no safe place for civilized people to stop. But some of us are reasonably civilized and altogether content here.
There is much to do and much to see and many exceptional people with whom to associate. You can see an arty independent movie, eat sushi or Italian food, play clay-court tennis, listen to lofty lectures at the Clinton School, take your physical ailments to a world-class physician or stroll across the Arkansas River on a spectacular pedestrian bridge.
And each year in early December, you can line up in the cold more than an hour early in hopes of getting a pew seat in the sanctuary of a local Methodist church. There you can assemble with friends and neighbors to watch a bunch of guys you know, in tuxes with red ties and cummerbunds, performing their annual Christmas concert. You bring a book or newspaper or crossword puzzles to pass the time between this essential early arrival and show time.
You do it because the evening is guaranteed to put you in two vitally ennobling spirits, that of community and that of the holiday season. This is the River City Men's Chorus and four of those guys up there in it are tennis players at the club. Several are doctors, a couple of them acclaimed surgeons. The dean of the law school is up there. They're nailing sacred numbers, singing in Latin. They're doing a Jewish song and African drum thing with tricky hand-jive choreography. They do all these kinds of songs because, you see, we're all one community, marbled and melded in our differences.
Then, after intermission, they turn to the familiar and happy secular songs, “Jingle Bells” and so forth. Then, inevitably, they do something goofy. The other night it was the “Reindeer Hula,” with audience participation. You undulate you arms to the left four times, then turn and undulate your arms four times the other way. And repeat. And repeat.
People tell me I undulated my entire body; that I really got into it from the lower regions; that I was Elvis with the pelvis. Well, of course. That was the point. My left knee locked up on me on one turn, but I shook it off quickly and re-gathered myself, losing only one undulation to a grimace and an “ouch.” At least I hope ouch was what I said. We were in church, after all. And we were dancing. That's something to say for an old Church of Christ boy.
What a journey this life has been. You only wish you could have beheld the entire assembly of several hundred, undulating, swaying, pointing, guffawing. That would have been your real Little Rock right there. But sometimes it's right even for a journalist to be a part of the scene, not an observer of it.
At the end they sang “I'll Be Home for Christmas” — you know, if only in my dreams — for a missing bass singer. He's in Iraq. He'd e-mailed twice to tell his musical mates that he missed the intense rehearsals and camaraderie and that he wished them good luck for the show.
As I turned to leave from my fourth-row seat, I saw tears getting wiped from eyes. A couple of tennis buddies wanted to know how I'd liked the show. I said I would need a substitute for the tennis league this week because I'd thrown my knee out doing the hula. We laughed.
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