The Observer Nov. 24 

The Observer recently signed up on Friendster, the Internet networking site. It’s not the kind of thing The Observer would normally do, but a few of our friends asked us to, so we begrudgingly went along.

To get started on Friendster, you have to create a profile, which consists of listing a few details about yourself, like where you went to school, your hobbies and your favorite books and movies. You can also upload a photo (most people do, it turns out).

Then you connect to your friends by mutually agreeing to be friends. That way, you can see the profiles of all of their friends. If you see someone you know — or someone you want to know — you can send him or her an e-mail and ask to be “friends.” And so the network grows.

Eventually you find yourself sitting in front of your computer looking at the profiles of all these people you don’t know, but who are only one degree removed from you. Many times The Observer is surprised to see how many potentially interesting people are living in the same place with many of the same friends but whom he has never met.

It prompts all kinds of questions. Could this person be the love of our life, or is she only appealing in words? Is this a universe of lonely people, or are they not really trying to meet anyone and instead just want to share their happy “friend” vibes?

It makes The Observer feel lonely and strangely connected at the same time.

In the mail came a postcard advertising a house for sale at 328 Charles St. The house is full of history, the card points out. Hattie Caraway’s campaign manager once lived there. In the 1950s, it was the residence of a sports editor at the Arkansas Democrat, and Brooks Robinson, Joe Garagiola and Elijah Pitts were guests.

The house is priced at $549,900.

We were struck by the history. And we were struck by the fact that a house for sale for more than a half million dollars was once the residence of a newspaperman.

You know what newspaper people say. We’re in it for the money.

Sometimes we can’t imagine the ways young children will elaborate on things we tell them. The anti-drug message delivered at Gibbs Elementary many years ago, for example, left The Observer’s child panicky every time we picked up a Coca-Cola. Fearful her mother was a drug addict, she pleaded, “Coke is bad for you!” We had to explain the difference between the drug and the beverage, though it’s no wonder she was confused.

The Observer’s friends left their young child in the care of her favorite babysitter for a weekend. While they were gone, a teen-ager was tragically struck by a car and died, and the baby-sitter went to the wake, with the child in tow.

When The Observer’s friends returned from their trip, the babysitter was apologetic. She told them she’d taken their little girl to the wake, and that she hadn’t expected the coffin to be open. The child had seen the deceased.

The daughter took it in stride, however. But she had a question. Why wasn’t he flat? she asked her father.

What? He was confused at first. And then it dawned on him. His chickens had come home to roost.

He’d told her, in an effort to keep her safe and sound, that the grease spots she saw in the street were what was left of flattened children who hadn’t looked right or left when they crossed the street.

The Observer has found that in general, kids are unbothered that nature is red in tooth and claw. Death is only abstract.

Our brother was forever finding dying animals and showing them off when we were kids. Like the run-over snake that he then disembowled on a board in the alley so all the kids could look. The featherless baby bird that fallen from a tree on Palm Street. We made baby bird faces, opening and closing our mouths.

Our own child was unperturbed, even interested, when the vet shaved the fur off her cat to clean a wound. Last week, The Observer’s friend, walking a couple of boys home from elementary school, saw in the yard across from her own a female Cooper’s hawk clutching a freshly killed pigeon in her talons. She quickly got binoculars for the boys so they could see the facts of life.

They were interested for a while, but then the television hailed.

When we were young, there wasn’t anything half as cool as disembowled snakes on TV.


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