The Community Pianist 

The Observer and Bride of Observer (henceforth known as BOO... because we said so, that's why) were motorvatin' through Stifft Station a while back, coming down Plateau Street, to be specific, when Boo spied a young man playing the piano on his front porch, surrounded by candles. That's not something you see every day, so we circled the block and came back, coasting slowly along with the windows down until we heard it, a rambling, jangly sound that's unmistakably piano. It was one of the first evenings after the summer's heat finally broke like a fever, and our Community Pianist was clearly reveling in the cooler air, leaning hard on the keys. As Boo had reported, he had had indeed surrounded himself with flickering flames, giving the whole scene a real "Elton John Plays 'Candle in the Wind' " air, even though this fella appeared to be playing something decidedly more honky-tonk. He had his back to the street, and didn't seem to pay us any mind. After we'd sat there a while idling, though, he turned and maybe smiled when we waved (it was dark, you see), but never let up beating the ivories. After a while, we motored on and left him to his melodies.

Thanks, Community Pianist. We've come to love our neighborhood down in Stifft Station over the years for all kinds of kooky reasons, but you might be our current favorite — up there with the sea of broken window glass behind Pizza D and the short-legged weinercat that roams the 100 block of Maple St. Here's hoping that as the winter comes on, you'll raise our chilly spirits with another impromptu recital. We'll definitely be back for the drive-thru concert if and when that happens. And for Vishnu's sake, do yourself a favor and put a tip jar on a stake out by the street, dude. The Observer is always ready to kick in some money for a little free entertainment.

The Observer works in a newspaper office, so we've learned to love the coffee pot over the past 10 years; nectar font of the scribbling gods, jump-starter of many a vapor-locked brain when it came time to squeeze out a final photo caption. That said, we've never particularly liked coffee. Even when it's good, it just seems bitter. Back in the old days before we started trying to do something about our equator, we used to spike our java with enough sugar to put a kindergartner in permanent time out. Once we swore off the cane, we substituted mass quantities of exotic manmade sweeteners. We're probably going to grow a claw-handed baby arm from the middle of our forehead at some point.

Recently, though, The Observer started thinking about tea. We loved iced sweet tea as a kid (a little too much, as our dentist can probably tell you), but hot teas always just seemed so ... British. The other day, though, our colleague Mr. Bell was having some, and offered us a classy little bag-o-leaf that turned out to be just a lovely experience. Later, another pal — seeing us looking forlornly at the ancient box of Decaf Lipton in the Arkansas Times breakroom and deciding that friends don't let friends drink ... — gave us a sachet from her secret stash of Darjeeling.

Suddenly, to our Manly Man shame, we were hooked. Over the weekend, we bought a whistling teakettle, and we've got four boxes of various teas at home right now. We even took a trip to Teavana, the tea store in the Park Plaza Mall, which we had previously avoided — along with Build-a-Bear Workshop — like it contained the last surviving vial of smallpox.

Call us a fancypants, because Lord knows we have called our self that over the past week or two, but there is just something so lovely about a cup of good tea. There's a calming little ritual to it, and The Observer needs all of the calming he can get: open the paper envelope, pull out the bag, unfurl the string with the flag on the end, plunk it into a cup, pour the hot water over the bag, then watch the water slowly go from honey to maple like some kind of magic trick. Add honey. Add milk. Add a little sugar if you're feeling frisky. While we know there are folks for whom this will be fighting words, The Observer never got that similar sense of wonder from a cuppa joe.

That makes us a teasnob now, we guess, though we're clearly on the lowest rung of the teasnob ladder. We didn't, for instance, buy one of those $100 cast iron teapots from the place in the mall (want one). We haven't even ventured into loose-leaf teas (yet). We've not even replaced our big, honkin' coffee mugs with dainty little teacups (that one we actually don't regret). We're getting there, though. As a matter of fact, we'll get a little further there right now. Cheers.



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