One of the greatest gifts bestowed upon The Observer during our secretive, moonlit coronation at La Petite Roche down below the Junction Bridge some years back — with the mayor and the governor and a certain magical, wish-granting catfish in attendance — was the power and right to eavesdrop on any citizen of Central Arkansas within our earshot, anywhere, at any time. You'd be surprised what you can hear when part of your job description requires you to stick your big ears into other peoples' conversations. People are a lot more interesting than they give themselves credit for, especially when taken out of context.

For example, we were at a local Wendy's the other day grabbing lunch when we heard the following gem passed between two fellas: "These pickles," one said to the other, "taste like cucumbers!" Try the raisins next, dude. They remind me a lot of grapes.

Speaking of grabbing a bite, The Observer and the lovely war bride went out for lunch on Sunday, just the two of us for the first time in too long. One of the things you quickly learn when you have kids is that unless you've got a convenient grandmother or enough money to blow on a trusted babysitter every few weekends, the Together Time can get few and far between over the long haul. Luckily, Junior is finally getting old enough that not only can he be left home alone for short periods, he's pushing for that nibble at independence. While his mother was reluctant to leave him there sans parentis, The Observer — who saw Ma and Pa only at dawn and after dusk in the summertime at his age — is fine with it. Eventually, The Kid and his Old Man convinced her to see it our way.

Given that, The Observer is now dating this girl we once knew in college: a beautiful, charming young lass, who happens to be the woman we've been married to for dang near 15 years. A bit of caution and advice, young wedded folk, from one old married fart: Even if everything else goes great, it's all too easy to forget who the person you're married to really is, what with the duties attached to being Dad and Mom, and both busy besides at winning that bread Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. Rage against that forgetfulness together. Your hearts and the hearts of others depend on it.

We wound up at Vino's on Sunday afternoon, storied bar and sometime haunt of The Observer's troubled youth. Sure, we got the veggie pie instead of the Artery Clogger we both might have ordered at 22, but Yours Truly couldn't resist a beer. Some things stubbornly refuse to change.

We picked a corner table in the nearly empty restaurant, turned off the nearby TV, then sat there and waited on our pizza and just chatted about things. Not the bills or the funny noise the car is making or whether we need cat litter. Just things. We smiled a lot.

Over in the corner of the restaurant were a few parental units and a couple of kids, none of the children more than 6 years old. The Observer, having done our time in the gravel pile of fatherhood, isn't one of those restaurant snobs who look askance at parents who bring their children out to eat, even to a place with a microbrewery in the next room and old beer cans for decoration. Being a parent for awhile teaches you something else, thank God: the uncanny ability to put any voice created by a human being below the age of 8 on the Background Noise channel.

The Observer didn't notice the kids again until one of them came back from the bathroom with Mom. Vino's — being a beloved music venue and bar of some age and renown — has the prerequisite collection of bathroom graffiti, much painted-over and scribbled out and re-inked, some of it near-Sphinxian in its mystery. The men's room door, for example, is currently emblazoned with the word "Dongs" in magic marker, whether for reasons of instruction or sheer, gleeful vulgarity, we can't decide.

On the way back to the table, Mom was patiently noting to junior that though the restroom graffiti is part of the restaurant's decor, we should never, ever, under any circumstances, write on the walls at home. That would be a bad thing.

Ah, the joys of parenthood. Half instruction, half joy, half hoping for the best — or thereabouts. Honestly, we're a little fussy on the math. Whatever it all adds up to, though, two old married types over in the corner looked at each other and passed a knowing smile between us.



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