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Flower power 

There used to be a huge mural of a flower on the side of a building near the corner of Main Street and Third in downtown Little Rock: a vast, lush bloom of some sort (we've heard it called a rose, but it looked to us like something else, maybe a camellia), easily two stories high and done up in Miami pastels, the flower sprouting from a ring big enough to be God's hula hoop.

We emphasize "used to be" because we noticed last week that it had been painted over, the whole building shellacked in a lifeless and muddy brown and accented now only by a sign advertising lofts. It shocked us a bit to see the mural was gone, mostly because we didn't know how long it had been gone. It felt like opening the newspaper and finding the obituary of a person we hadn't seen in years.

We've been looking at that mural most of our life, first from the rooftops of downtown back in our roofing days, and then for the past 10 years while walking out the door of the Arkansas Times heading to the Mobile Observatory every day. From the southern side of the building where The Observer works, there was a clear view of that mural, especially in the evening sun.

A memory: Back in elementary school, we found a stock photo in our Social Studies book of a hardhat running a tower crane from high above a generic city, but we were able to I.D. the streets below as Little Rock's, because we could see that mural, the great flower small enough from that high that it looked like it could be plucked and pinned to a man's lapel.

In recent years, the painting — faded, peeling and neglected — was still beautiful, but beautiful in a different way than when it was fresh. That's the way big outdoor artworks are for us: pretty in the beginning, but more lovely somehow in the end, after the shine is gone from the paint and the wind begins to pick at them. Old murals — old Grapette signs, old signs advertising cigars, old signs advertising insurance agencies — never fail to remind The Observer of time, the relentless march of it, always sweeping things out the back door so other things can come in the front. Things change. Nothing stays the same.

Once we saw that the flower was gone, we started poking around on the Internet, trying to find out something about it — who painted it and why — but that great electronic library yielded up nothing but a few artsy black and white shots of it, taken from afar. It's too late now, but can anybody out there tell us something about it? We need to know.

Last week, in the Michigan state legislature, a female representative had her speaking privileges removed for the day after she used the word "vagina" during a debate about a bill that would restrict access to abortion.

Rep. Lisa Brown had the figurative Scold's Bridle put on her after ending a speech with: "Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means no." House Speaker James Bolger said Brown's femme finale failed to maintain the decorum of that august legislative body. The same day — probably not coincidentally — another female legislator had the muzzle slapped on her due to a failed attempt to attach an amendment to the bill. Her proposed improvement: a man seeking a vasectomy would have to prove his life was in danger from a testicular cause in order to be approved for the sperm-stifling snip-snip. Would some men's fascination with turkey frying, assault rifles and/or 90-mile-per-hour, signal-free lane changes on the freeway qualify as testicle-based life endangerment, we wonder?

The Observer, long a fan of words and offending delicate sensibilities with them, talked all this over recently with a pal who happens to have two X-chromosomes. She was kind enough to pen the following response/biology lesson to the He-Man Woman-Haters of the Michigan legislature:

Vagina. Labia majora. Labia minora. Cervix. Clitoris. Uterus. Fallopian tube. Ovary. Pudenda. Pudendal cleft. Grafenberg Spot. Hymen. Mons pubis. Vulva.

What should Rep. Lisa Brown have said? "Va-jay-jay"? "Down there"? "Holiest of Holies?" "Yoni"? "Tuzzy-Muzzy," "Hoo-hah" or "Cooter"?

You've got to wonder, like Woof from the musical "Hair" did: "Father, why do these words sound so nasty?"

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