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The Observer Aug. 4 

Over the weekend, with daytime highs dipping below 90 for the first time in recent memory, The Observer decided to load up the fam’bly and take a road trip to Memphis. One of our big stops was the Memphis Zoo. There are only 1,200 Giant Pandas in the world, folks, and they’ve got two of them. Better see them while you can. In addition to state-of-the-science enclosures, the Memphis Zoo treated The Observer to the sight of several animals we’ve never actually seen with our own two eyes before: the pandas, of course, but also hippos and — drumroll please — Komodo Dragons. By the time we got to the dragons’ lair, we were pretty much pooped. It was close to 11 a.m., and the sun was beating down from overhead. We had 5-year-old Junior in tow, and after three solid hours of walking and looking, we were in “check” mode — as in: how much of the zoo can we check off before we can get in our air conditioned Observatory and motorvate? Gorillas? Check. Ride the train? Check. Giraffes? Checkaroony. The Komodo dragon enclosure at the MZ, like the rest of the zoo, is a thing of beauty. No bars or moats separate you from the big ol’ lizards, just a thick panes of glass. Shielded from the rest of the zoo by a berm of bamboo, it’s adorned with statues and decor from the Indonesian islands the dragons call home. The path curves past several glassed-in pens where the dragons, given their propensity for fighting one another, are kept in their own large lizard-partments. Male Komodo dragon. Check. Exhibit on Komodo ecosystem? Check. Come along, Junior. Female Komodo dragon? Screeeeech! Definitely not check. It took The Observer a second to comprehend what we were looking at. A foot from us, separated by only a half-inch of glass, a 6-foot-long lizard, jaws dripping with gore, was tearing into what looked like a deflated beach ball. Then The Observer saw the snout. A little gang of people had gathered around, all wearing the same awestruck mask of terror. A docent, maybe 17, leaned near the glass, chewed her gum and explained that the zoo’s 27-foot boa constrictor had spit out the meal — a pig — and wouldn’t eat it, so they brought it over and gave it to the dragon. Disney can sing about the Circle of Life all it wants, folks. But until you’ve seen a lizard with a head the size of a Great Dane ripping hunks out of a dead pig, you haven’t seen jack squat. The sun suddenly got very bright. “I think I’m going to puke,” Junior said. Check, kid. Checkamundo. The Observer was not in town when the sixth book in the Harry Potter series came out, but at a rustic and remote camp on the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Tennessee. Toilets did not flush. The night sky was inky enough to reveal the Milky Way. There was no cell service. It was not so remote, however, that a Fed-Ex truck couldn’t find it. The truck came lumbering up the long gravel road to the camp office before noon on the July 16 release date. The camp dining hall, whose only gothic effect was the bat that flew in and out during meals, echoed with happy shrieks of campers who’d been waiting two years for the penultimate book in the series. While select children in the U.K. got their first look at “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” in J.K. Rowling’s Scottish castle, these girls in the American South devoured it in the dark reaches of bunk beds, by flashlight. Lumos, y’all! Back home in Little Rock, The Observer learned, great secrecy and pomp attended the early delivery of the books to the Central Arkansas Library System branches. Cases arrived Thursday at the Main Library and were instantly whisked off to the cataloguers, who peeked into the books just enough to see that they had all their pages and to put the barcode on. (The publisher, Scholastic, forbade any reading of the book until Saturday.) On Friday, a Scholastic representative accompanied librarians Bettye Kerns and Dwain Gordon to each branch in the library system to observe their placement under lock and key until Saturday morning. When The Observer last talked to Gordon, 129 people were waiting for the 64 copies of the book in circulation. The only book, Gordon said, whose reception could compare with boy wizard’s was one by the boy wonder — “My Life” by Bill Clinton.
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