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Memory and the rain 

The Observer is getting older — not old enough to get the Senior Slam at Denny's yet, though sometimes it seems like it — and we're starting to feel the years. Case in point: last Thursday, on the way to the Fortress of Employment, we motorvated into the E-Z Mart on Markham just across the street from the Blind School to grab a no-calorie Coca-Cola and a pack of gum. At the counter, the woman running the register was chatting with a customer about one of those crime scene investigation television shows, specifically: about how FINE one man who stars on that show is. Once she noticed us, the young woman on our side of the counter stepped aside. Our purchases were totaled up and debit card swiped. But when we went to put in the double-secret number to access the card, we found that our PIN had apparently taken wing and flown away, out through the hazy windows of the E-Z Mart and into the autumn sunshine.

We stared at the buttons on the keypad dumbly for awhile, willing the number back up out of the murk of grade school memories, snippets of conversation, old phone numbers to apartments in other states, the faces of people we have known, flavors, smells and sounds. But it would not come. Finally, we had to admit to the clerk that we'd forgotten a number we've literally used every two or three days for five or six years. Leaving our sorta-breakfast, we scurried out the door in shame. Sigh.

We didn't get the number back that day, either. Or the next. Still don't have it at this writing, in fact, though we periodically stroll to the ATM machine down the block and stare at the keypad until a bead of sweat rolls down the small of our back.

We suspect early-onset Alzheimer's. Either that, or our memory banks are simply full and flotsam is being cast over the rail to make more room.

It was raining on Tuesday, a good, honest November rain. The Observer was, as is the custom of our forebears, without an umbrella. Like our supply of folding cash, when there's a good deal to be had (see item above), we have never had an umbrella when we needed one at any time in our life.

We park every day in what folks in the newsroom call The Birds**t Lot. It's the free parking down under the overpass, the one we retreated to a few years back when we realized that we couldn't really justify paying $45 clams a month for private parking, just so we could spring from car to door in 30 seconds and thereby stave off as much exercise as possible. Pigeons roost in the girders of the overpass. Randomly but fairly regularly, we come out from work and find The Mobile Observatory painted bumper to bumper with what a first grader might call bird dookie. Hence the name.

The Birds**t Lot is a good quarter mile from the office, and the morning and evening stroll has done wonders for our disposition over the years, especially as summer waned and autumn came on, our shadow falling out skinny before us on the way back to the car at quittin' time.

We're always looking for Observation opportunities, and this morning, walking through the rain to the office with a detour by an ATM in the River Market, we decided to listen — to really listen. Most folks don't do that half-enough, Yours Truly included, and the world can be a symphony on a rainy morning.

A delivery truck hissed by, pulling up a spray. On the north wall of the Main Library, water fell from the high, gutterless roof and clattered like thrown bells on the awnings at street level. In front of the Arkansas Studies Institute, water gurgled and whispered over the street, turning, glistening, forking and combining and forking again, finding its way to low ground. On Clinton Avenue by the ATM machine, the raindrops pattered — footsteps on velvet — in the fallen leaves.

We're normally not one to dole out advice like Oprah, but here's some, maybe the simplest and best we've got: Still yourself and listen. Listen in the quiet moments. Listen even when water is running down the back of your neck, maybe even especially then. There's a whole, beautiful world out there, just waiting to be heard.

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