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Born free 

The Observer saw him while walking out of The Observatory the other day: a bright yellow parakeet, perched on a branch over the driveway. He was just sitting there, chilling with a wild robin, telling his Born Free cousin, no doubt, of the long nights he spent in the clink, where the only thing going was all the birdseed he could eat. Now he was a freebird, on a warm day when the forecast called soon for cold rain.

The Observer's brother kept parakeets once upon a time. They're cheerful little birds, but ill-suited to life in the cold, hard world, a bright-colored target for cats or bird-eating birds or mean little kids with BB guns. This was clearly someone's pet, either set free by a lazy owner or having made a break for it, convinced that the open window looked better than life in a cage.

Trying to coax our visitor down from the tree, we stuck out a finger. He actually made a go for it, fluttering halfway between branch and digit, before chickening out and buzzing clumsily back to his branch. After that, no amount of cajoling would budge him. We got in the car and drove off, the fat splotch of yellow still huddled in the winter-naked branches of the tree over the driveway. While we were out, we thought to buy birdseed to lure him down, but by the time we got home he was nowhere to be found.

We hope you made it home, little guy, or at least to somewhere dry and warm. You're too beautiful for this world, and it's hard out here on the pretty things.

The Observer made it up to St. Louis a few weekends back, our first trip to that fair metropolis since we came through there in a U-Haul truck bound from Iowa City to South Louisiana over 13 years ago. Our pal Brian Chilson, shutterbug-in-residence for the Arkansas Times, is a proud son of St. Lou, and had given us the 411 on all the things to see, do, drink and eat while we were in town.

One of the places we went, on his recommendation, was a joint called Vintage Vinyl, a big ol' record store of the kind we used to haunt as a lad, but which mostly went the way of the Dodo bird around the time Bush the First was in office.

Though we haven't owned a turntable in years, and don't know if we buy the audiophiles' claims about tunes on vinyl being a richer, fuller sound as compared to digital media like CDs and MP3s, we do miss the records of our youth. Ma and Pa always had a big console-style record player in the living room, walnut and dark as a coffin, along with a stack of records: Percy Sledge, The Temptations, Sonny and Cher, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Janis, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson. Even then, their records were going on ancient, but The Lad Observer always loved that moment of dropping the needle, the gadgetness of the spinning turntable and the arm lowering to the disk, finding the groove, the sound coming on in those delicious crackles and pops, the act so much better than jabbing a button. And then, the music. Oh, the music.

It was a simpler time, but God bless the records, even the ones The Observer's parents gave to our hellion self to use as Frisbees after the last dead turntable went off to the dump. There is a deliberateness to vinyl. It takes some want-to to listen to a record, so fragile and quirky, the sound literally scratched in by a quivering stylus instead of encoded and compressed and reconstituted. Standing in Vintage Vinyl and thumbing through the stacks brought it all back to us: those records, the cardboard sleeves, the big double albums with the lyrics printed tiny inside and the long list of names where the band thanked everyone from The Good Lord to their Indian Guru to their Dutch Uncle. All the bands from our troubled youth were there: Iggy Pop, Motley Crue, The Ramones, Ratt, The Who, Percy, Willie, Fleetwood Mac. Other vinylophiles wandered the aisles, flipping records to look at the backs, sometimes removing the sleeves from the clear plastic envelopes to look them over. Music played over a sound system — sweet R&B — and for a moment we were in the perfect place, surfing the time warp, back to the future at the point of a needle.

And then, the record playing on the hi-fi started to skip — hung up on a soulful croon, soulful croon, soulful croon, soulful croon. And simultaneously, everyone in the store shared a nostalgic, knowing chuckle, The Observer included.

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