Weird neighbors 

A beautiful, sunlit afternoon was had last Sunday at The Observatory, a memorable afternoon of light, warmth and laughter after a week of frigid days when the sky looked like an old wool sock and The Observer was forced to break out the BIG coat and gloves. Yeesh. If we didn't love this state so much, we would have high-tailed it for Florida around the time the thermometer hit 15.

A bit of set up: The Observer was strolling around the new Goodwill in far-west Little Rock weekend before last when we came across a piece of questionable history. It's called the massaging roller, a sort of low sawhorse, filled with belts and pulleys and the world's heaviest electric motor, all capped with a truly terrifying cylinder made of turned maple rods. Plug it in, and in addition to the smell of burning ozone, you get a crazy mechanical whirring, the knobbed rods spinning in a way that just makes you want to stick your finger in there and see what fresh hell would result, along with a trip to the emergency room. A little online digging later found that it was the invention of Dr. John Kellogg of Battle Creek Michigan, the famous quack who invented Kellogg's corn flakes and prescribed all kinds of wacky and pointless treatments to late-19th-century hypochondriacs. (Ever seen "The Road to Wellville"? He's the guy played by Anthony Hopkins.) Back in 1963, we learned, the thing sold for the equivalent of over $1,400, guaranteed to do everything from increase circulation to melt fat.

The contraption was $10 at Goodwill, though, and The Observer really needs a new high-torque electric motor for our belt sander, so we couldn't pass it up. And so, with Spouse looking on incredulously, we paid our sawbuck and lugged it into the back of her Honda.

There the beast sat all week, waiting for the weather to break. On Sunday, the sun shining and the day glowing and May-like, our friend Amy came down to visit Spouse.

Amy's a singular, lovely soul, one of the few non-relative people The Observer has allowed to breach the dome of awkwardness and questionable humor that scares off most people long before they become our friend. She used to work at the Arkansas Times a long time ago. Before that, she was one of the first non-African-American waitresses to work at a certain famous local barbecue joint, DJ'ed a blues radio show, got a large tattoo of a rooster, got married under an honest-to-God maypole (which the Observer built), and generally has excelled at being one of those people who spends her life being as non-normal as possible. Spouse and I love her like a sister, her tendency to drink all The Observer's medicinal whiskey, a sip at a time, not withstanding.

Amy had her ukulele with her on Sunday — yes, she's learning to play the ukulele, and ain't doing half bad at it — and she and Spouse sat on the porch of The Observatory in our red chairs, and talked, and laughed, and generally acted like people who hadn't seen the sun in a week, which they were. Meanwhile, with daylight burning, we went over to Spouse's Honda and lugged out Dr. Kellogg's machine, meaning to cut the contraption up with our reciprocating saw, keep the motor and haul the rest to the curb.

It says a lot about Amy that when she saw the thing, she had to try it. Protest we did about dismemberment and long hair caught in the belts, but nothing doing. Before long, The Observer squinted, plugged it in, and grimaced as the digit shredding cylinder whirred to life. Just as quick, ol' Amy had the machine dragged over to one of the chairs, where she proceeded to use it as a footstool ("IT FEELS AH-MAY-ZING ON MY CALVES!") while playing the ukulele, working her way through "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," and "Amazing Grace," and a serviceable rendition of "Tiny Bubbles" while The Observer's good scotch from the top of the fridge flowed and the January sunlight came down through the bare trees, gold as whiskey.

When she left a few hours later, Amy made us promise to spare the beast, a piece of history she contended, too valuable to sore ankles and legs to kill for its guts. We reluctantly complied, lugging to back over to the back of our van and tumping it in, where it remains. Ukulele is clearly our weakness.



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