Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
The Observer has been having a run of powerful bad luck recently. I won't get into exactly what, lest I call more down on my head along with the locusts, but trust me: It's been a rough couple weeks. Let's just say it variously involves a large tree, the recent Lear-strength hurricane that struck Little Rock, a guy damn near getting his lip shot off, a busted foot and the heaviest tube-type color TV ever made. Let's leave it at that.
While Yours Truly has managed to banish most other forms of superstition, hoodoo, deliverance-seeking, karma-believing and spook-fearin' from my life in recent years — yes, even the iron cross of organized religion, which I shed on the road awhile ago and never once checked for in the mirror — my belief in bad luck stubbornly persists, the last of my youthful fears and backwater bugaboos.
I blame my childhood. Back when The Observer was a working as a roofer in the family bidness, an age ago, luck was a religion among the hard men, guitar pickers, pool hustlers, chain smokers, ex-cons, wife beaters and low-to-no-counts that Pa used to hire up for his shingle crews. Walking under a ladder was like slapping somebody's grandma off the porch. Fistfights broke out over the privilege of picking up a found penny and its attendant halo of golden luck. A bird pecking at the window was a reason enough to pull the drapes for days and refuse all entry except by a parole officer or the warranted police. Attempting three on a match was liable to get you shivved.
Once, with The Observer at the tiller of a ladder-hung Ford pickup that should have been put out to pasture, crushed and melted, or sunk to the bottom of the sea as an artificial reef 10 years prior, I was driving through Little Rock with two fellas — Bufkin and Bear — when a black cat darted across the street ahead of us. Quick as a snake striking, Bear licked his pinkie finger and smeared three quick Xs on the cracked windshield, just below where the rearview mirror should have been. Bufkin, simultaneously, made a gnarled ring with his thumb and forefinger, then forcefully spat through it onto the dashboard. They then proceeded to argue, loudly, for the next hour and a half over whose bullshit was more bullshit — whose bad ju-ju repellent was sure to rain damnation down upon if allowed to stand, and whose had pinged the ominous black cat path-cross away into the summer air like a speeding bullet off Superman's chest. I meanwhile, wondered why luck restoration apparently had so much to do with spit.
Bear is 15 years worth of dead now, by the way, killed back when The Observer was in grad school, the life smushed out of him on a twisty road in Saline County by an overturned car and a belief in his inalienable constitutional right to never wear a seatbelt. Meanwhile, Bufkin is a fire-and-brimstone preacher in the ugliest corner of North Louisiana, last I heard. I'll leave it up to you, Dear Reader and Friend, to decide who came out on the lucky end of that deal. That said, I will tell you that a black cat ran across The Observer's path as I drove down Maple Street a few weeks back. Before I could stop myself, I'd whipped three quick X's onto the windshield of Spouse's car. A block later, for good measure, I applied Rev. Dr. Bufkin's remedy, rolling down the window and spitting through the ring of my finger and thumb. One of them has to work, I figured. Better safe than sorry. No sense tempting ruination in matters so potentially grave. Then I laughed at myself for being such a fate-haunted bumpkin.
Given my recent run of troubles, though, I'm beginning to wonder if I canceled something out, or didn't spit forcefully enough, or am finally paying for all those mirrors I broke as a kid, the boomerang of fortune spinning back through the cosmos to find me here on the sill of 40. In the end, I guess, I may just have to grit my teeth and make my own luck, as folks have been doing since time immemorial in these parts. Between now and then, though, The Observer calls dibs on any pennies found on the sidewalk.
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