The Observer, Feb. 21 

Being a bit of a record hound, The Observer dropped into Been Around this past weekend to sift through the store's stock. The place is a bit of a jungle. Records are scattered everywhere, and the owner's organizational system is not the most rigid ever devised. In the right mood, The Observer considers this a strength — plowing through junk makes the good finds all the sweeter.

Still, on this particular visit it was a pleasant surprise to find a crate of neatly filed LPs, all grade-A material. The Observer began greedily eying the stash — but then the owner stepped in and said, Not so fast. The records weren't for sale. Seems that the owner had loaned his friend some dough. The LPs were collateral. Here's hoping for default.

A pot-bellied pig was spotted over the weekend violating curfew, trotting down Kavanaugh in the Heights neighborhood at 10:30 p.m. Reports that reached us said the pig turned north by the Bank of Little Rock.

The Observer had a dog that could find her way home from anyplace. The pig, however, was not heard to say, “Wee, wee, wee.” It might be lost. Or it could be on the lam.

Government drug warriors are closing in on The Observer, and we don't even use drugs. (Not illegal drugs, anyway.) We expect government agents will be kicking in the door momentarily, guns drawn. And then, who knows? Guantanamo? The waterboard?

Already, they are blocking our communications. When we try to read a news article on the web, we get only the headline and the first paragraph. The rest of the screen is taken up by an advertisement: “PLAY DODGE BALL WITH SPARKY WILSON!” it says, next to a drawing of a young man. “USE THE ARROW KEYS TO KEEP SPARKEY FROM GETTING PEGGED.” (As you can see, the young man's name is spelled two different ways, suggesting that the warriors are sampling the marijuana they seize from cancer patients.) Touch those arrow keys, and you're hit by a pile of suspicious data about drugs, along the line of “Marijuana causes blindness!” and “Judas smoked marijuana! Hitler and Hillary Clinton too!”

Poke around on the screen long enough and eventually you turn up a sort-of explanation for this harassment. “You may be wondering who's behind this Web site and what our motivation is. Well, this Web site and the Above the Influence ads you see on TV and in magazines are created for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (a program of the Office of National Drug Control Policy). This campaign reflects what teens across the country have told us is going on in their lives.”

Not this teen. In fact, The Observer is no more teen-ager than drug abuser. How did we get caught up in the Office of National Drug Control Policy's dragnet? The only thing we can figure is that the ONDCP has somehow learned that we receive communications occasionally from a group that wants to reform the drug laws, and ONetc. hopes to offset the reformers' influence, lest the continuance of the drug war be endangered. The drug war provides steady employment for a lot of people who'd have trouble finding work elsewhere.

The first time Sparky and his gang invaded our screen, we sent an e-mail to the ONDCP. The messages from Sparky stopped briefly. Now they're back, the ONDCP evidently emboldened. If The Observer suddenly stops writing, and the government produces a suicide note, don't believe it.

Aggressive panhandlers are not an easy class to defend, but you have to tip your hat and open your wallet when they get creative. In Chicago, a program called StreetWise publishes a paper that the impoverished sell under the authority of a company badge. StreetWise has its emulators and imposters: Once The Observer purchased a soiled copy of the Onion from one.

But we had never witnessed that tactic outside the North until recently, when we bought a complimentary Memphis map from a man on Main Street. It's all over the country, baby!

As Memphis has a vibrant panhandling culture, we were immediately accosted by a different guy who seemed to want a piece of the pie. But he approached us only to chat — you can miss an interesting conversation by avoiding an apparent beggar — and to rib us for giving away our money. No, he said, the only piece of pie he wanted was from his wife. He was going home to a pork chop dinner.


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