Don’t you just hate it — The Observer does — when people carry cryptic signs around in public? What is their problem? The Observer says, “If you’ve got something to say, say it. Make yourself clear.”

Otherwise, the audience you seek to persuade will not be aroused, but only confused, as The Observer was left confused by a sign carried by a man on the sidewalks of downtown Little Rock. It said: “John Kerry is N.S.A.”

Apparently, the sign said something on the back too, because we’d seen him flip it over for some passers-by off in the distance, where we’d first noticed him. But as he drew near us, he kept the “Kerry/N.S.A.” message outward. We thought about stopping him and asking him to turn the sign over for us, or to explain what he was up to, but we’ve learned it’s not a good idea to strike up a conversation with these people. You’re likely to get more conversation than you can handle.

So The Observer is left to speculate. “John Kerry is Neat, Sagacious and Articulate”? “John Kerry is Nicely Self-Assured”? “John Kerry is Needing Some Asparagus”?

If any reader has information on the import of this sign, please contact The Observer. A.S.A.P.

Some things are even harder to interpret. Like rocks. Our Ouachita Mountains correspondent has been trying to, checking out old quarries chipped out of the outcrops in those hills. The rocks left behind tell him the quarries were made by the Native Americans who once made a living in the Ouachitas, and their size tell him how long the quarries were used. The rocks say lots of things, but they take some learning to read.

Anyone could read the gravestone he found. It was newish, set alongside the original, placed in the ground in 1865 to mark the final resting place of Mary Conatser. Mary died at the age of 35 in Pike County during her family’s trek to Texas. We know this because some of her husband’s family (but not her husband) stayed behind, and her oral history has passed down. Some knew she was buried but had forgotten where the grave was; some folks knew there was a grave, but didn’t know who Mary was. Our correspondent was able to put two and two together, recorded the site, and now Mary will not have to rely on memories to be remembered.

Hiking back to the car, our correspondent saw an old shack and decided to check it out. There he saw two things that needed no expertise to interpret: They were alive — not pretty, but alive: two baby vultures. That shadow he saw? Mama’s, circling over our correspondent’s head, saying: Go away. These little lives are mine to care for, not yours to worry about. You can’t see into the future.

Speaking of babies. The Observer, expecting Offspring No. 1 sooner than we care to think about, recently signed up for a package of parent-to-be classes at a local hospital. Who better to prepare us than trained medical professionals, we thought.

But as we started marking class times down on our calendar, we noticed something a little … well, disconcerting. We’re not entirely sure that those trained medical professionals quite have their priorities in order.

It’s apparently going to take eight hours to teach The Observer how to squeeze the little sprog out — here’s hoping that’s longer than the actual childbirth process — but only 90 minutes to show us how to keep him alive after they kick us out of the hospital.

Fortunately, they’ve built the probability of failure into the class schedule: We’ll spend twice that long in Infant CPR, learning how to revive the poor booger once we’ve killed him off.



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