The Observer April 27 

Naked mole rat — it’s what’s for supper!

Or so it seems, thanks to a misfortunate arrangement of advertising in the Arkansas Times’ just-published Dining and Entertainment in Little Rock guide. A reader, after recovering from a bout of nausea, complained to the Times that, while she likes the Little Rock Zoo, its advertisement picturing its latest mammalian addition, the hairless, wrinkled, long-tailed, teeny-eyed and toothy Heterocephalus glaber, was an ill-conceived choice in a dining guide. Yes, the naked mole rat page is one of many pictures of animals in the guide, but the rest are dead and breaded and fried, or in some other delectable form. We can imagine the hungry reader flipping the pages, visually devouring the Faded Rose’s pictured steak, Bare Bones barbecue, Brave New’s salmon, Sekisui sushi and then, with the salivary glands in full gush and mouth wide open, there on the mind’s fork is a naked mole rat, and the heaves begin …

We’re afraid we’ve put our reader off the Zoo’s latest offering with the inadvertent inclusion of it among haute cuisine, but you can’t blame the Zoo. It is a Dining and Entertainment guide the ad appears in. And besides, zookeepers have strong stomachs. Ask to see the hissing cockroaches if you don’t believe us.

The Observer likes bumper stickers, the way they pack so much into just a few words. So we print here some that a correspondent writes that he’s seen (or would like to see):

“At least in Vietnam, Bush had an exit strategy”

“Religious fundamentalism: A threat abroad, a threat at home”

“Who would Jesus bomb?”

“I’d rather have a president who screwed his intern than one who screwed his country”

“Stop mad cowboy disease”

“Democrats are sexy. Whoever heard of a good piece of elephant?”

The latter is not a reference to a restaurant special in the dining guide.

There’s a new archeologist at Toltec Mounds State Park down the road south of Scott, Dr. Julie Markin. She has organized a Little Rock chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society, an amateur organization whose roots go far back in time. At the chapter’s gathering last week, Markin extended an invitation to people to help her collect prehistoric artifacts from the surface of a farm field outside Stuttgart before the owner puts his beans in. These centuries-old bits of kitchen and hunting items, churned up by the plow and picked over by people looking for pots and points for many years, will give Markin an idea of what was happening a thousand years ago in the neighborhood of Toltec Mounds.

Pretending to be 20 years younger, The Observer took Markin up on the offer. We put on our tan field pants and clever T-shirt and grubby tennis shoes and ballcap and tried to look like we were the kind of energetic and capable volunteer one can count on to spend several hours in stoop labor. We strode into a deeply furrowed field, performing the agricultural equivalent of an aerobic step class, as if it were something we do every weekend. We then wallowed on all fours in a circle, tethered to a red flag by a five-meter-long string and putting in a brown paper bag everything that was lying atop the newly rain-washed dirt.

Several things occurred to us as we picked up the flakes of rock that were the leavings of tool-making, plowed-up bits of pots and what we imagined was burned bone. The first was that if one wanted to grovel in the dirt, a more lucrative place would have been at the diamond mine at Murfreesboro. If one wants to find a diamond there, one goes after a rain, when the rocks lying near the surface are revealed.

Second, we pondered how much the river valley southeast of North Little Rock had changed just since our childhood, much less centuries ago. Once there was an establishment named Estelle’s at Baucum instead of a fancy residential development, and a working cotton gin, the decrepit remainder of which can still be seen. There was a bait shop/lunch counter, Tull’s, at the turn-off from Hwy. 165 to Bearskin Lake, and mostly nothing along the highway to England except ditches full of spider lilies. What’s left to tell us of Estelle’s? Of Tull’s burgers and Grapettes?

And finally: When we looked up to see all the other volunteers finished and staring at us from their cars on the road, we thought: Landmarks are not the only things capable of falling into decay.



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