The Observer, Feb. 2 

Even a red-hot Arkansas sports enthusiast like The Observer was unfamiliar with James Rector until T.O. visited the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame last week.

Rector, it turns out, won the silver medal in the 100-yard dash at the 1908 Olympics. (The Observer didn't begin following the Olympics closely until 1912.) He was, the hall says, "the first Arkansas athlete to make a significant national or international impact."

There are lots of people in the Hall that The Observer is familiar with, of course, and lots of memorabilia associated with them — George Kell's jersey, Scottie Pippen's shoes, Billy Ray Smith's helmet. Will one of those cute little gymnasts now at the U of A donate her tights some day? Let us hope.

Kids will doubtless be most impressed by two big stuffed bears — a grizzly on four legs and a polar bear on two — that were killed with a bow and arrow by the famed Pine Bluff archer Ben Pearson. Really big bears.

On the way out, T.O. passed an odd painting of Joe Ferguson running with the football. Ferguson was a great thrower. He ran about as well and as often as Ryan Mallett.

What kept The Observer away from this place so long? Ignorance and apathy, one supposes. Don't fall prey to them. The sports hall of fame is in Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, and is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Kids 6 and younger get in free. For 6 through 17, the price is $3; for 18-61, it's $6. Those older than 62 pay $4, active military with proper identification, $3.

The Observer was surprised to stumble across a couple defoliating a tree in a city park over the weekend.

Truthfully, we thought at first the couple might be foliating the tree. Or calciating the tree, if there is such a word. The word we're looking for would mean either putting on or removing shoes from a tree.

As it turns out, they were slicing down the shoes. They've been doing this for some time, since throwing shoes up into the tree's high limbs seems to be a popular pastime among people who, for some reason, see nothing wrong with throwing away their footwear.

The couple said they'd been told the shoes were a sign that drugs could be purchased at the spot. If true, it would mean that almost every block along Markham Street was a place to deal, so many power lines above the street have shoes dangling from them. And now that we think about it, that's probably right.

The defoliators have collected dozens of pairs of shoes from the tree, which they donate to homeless shelters. (They previously left some at the homeless camp nearby, but after the homeless trashed their campsite, they lost their shoe donations.) One pair, they said, looked like it cost a couple hundred dollars. They kept one pair; the male half of the defoliators was wearing them.

We are flexible, and hanging an oak with dozens of pairs of shoes might, under certain conditions, be considered art. Like bottle trees. A statement about disaster, perhaps, or a reference to strange fruit. But The Observer doubts the running shoes, slippers, baby shoes and strung-together high heels were part of an aesthetic or political statement. We think kids were just wasting shoes that someone else paid good money for.

If the shoe-throwers think they'll overpower the shoe-removers, they should think again. Here's how determined this couple is: They don't even have tree loppers. They borrowed a neighbor's pool pole, removed the net and taped a knife to one of the naked prongs. An act involving far more creative activity than shoe-flinging.

It was Spouse's birthday over the weekend. We're partial to birthdays, with all the presents and cake, but she seemed a little glum about it. She'd argue the point, of course, but the beautiful girl we loved in our youth has only gotten prettier with time.

With the world as her oyster and the offer of eating anywhere in town for her b-day, Spouse thought a bit, then said she wanted some chicken from Popeyes. "Anywhere in the world you wanna eat, and you pick Popeyes?" The Observer asked, to which Spouse answered in the affirmative. Her wish was our command, so chain chicken it was.

On reflection, her choice was really not that surprising. She has always been a spicy lass, a lover of the simpler things — not to mention a reliably cheap date. We hope that last doesn't get us in trouble.


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