On fire 

On Monday, whilst taking a break and relying on others to shoulder the load, The Observer turned on Dr. Zuckerberg's Fantabulous Book O' Countenances around noonish to see a heartbreaking sight: photos of the storied Little Rock haunt, Midtown Billiards, on fire. While Yours Truly had dive bars and hangouts of our own in our youth, we know too well what Midtown has meant to generations of Little Rockians, hence the heartbreak. Seeing your friends lose a thing can be worse, somehow, than losing a thing yourself.

As The Observer writes this, the puddles from the fire hydrant are still shining on the pavement down on Main Street, so there's always some hope, we suppose, that things can be rebuilt. Given the photos we've seen, though, we're not all that hopeful. Here's a line that applies to events featuring both literal and figurative flames: No matter how much you try to put it all back right and shipshape, things are never quite the way they were before a fire.

The Observer knows this from experience, unfortunately. When Yours Truly was but a lad, fourth grade, our house burned. Not "burned flat." Not incinerated, so that everything was lifted to heaven unto the nostrils of God. Just burned, sooted and soaked, so that even what didn't burn bore forever the stink of everything that was lost. What was saved: a few family photos, a wooden chessboard, our mother's round oak dining table, which warped from the heat and steam like a vinyl record left on an August dashboard.

The Observer's family was, thankfully, away on a trip to the lake for the weekend when our tidy little house caught fire in the middle of the night. Some bit of loose wiring, apparently. There's an old story in our family in which The Observer's Dear Ol' Pa, who claimed to have a tickle of clairvoyance, came down with a raging fever just before 10 p.m. that night — a fever that broke like a dry twig just after 2 a.m. After his brothers came to find us at the lake in the dawn, in that age before cell phones, they told him the fire was first noticed just after 10 p.m. and the last embers were finally extinguished just after 2. The Observer can neither confirm nor deny this story, but we will say that there are stranger things to Observe in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

The Observer's parents, clinging on to the hem of middle class, had no insurance on the place, and so we were left with a blackened hole where our home had been, dependent on the kindness of strangers. We would eventually buy a trailer and move in, spending most weekends of the next six months shoveling the charred remains of our everything into wheelbarrows, putting the house back so it could be rented and eventually sold. But there for a hot minute, The Observer was homeless. Even our playground bully, who had tormented us for months during recess, was shocked into silence and then an apology when we told him we didn't have time for his bullshit that day because our house had burned down. A child's world is so often made of a handful of things and spaces, so there is no greater nightmare, we suppose, than having your home burn. Even to a jerk like Jerry.

And so, we're thinking of the folks at Midtown today. Not just the people who run the joint and work there, but everybody who ever shared a laugh or a drink or a kiss there. With the benefit of years, we see now that it's not just kids whose lives are made of places and things.


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