The Observer, Sept. 9 

The Observer and Spouse spent the Labor Day weekend painting Junior's bedroom. (Yours truly will surely suffer for the statement above, given how little we actually helped.)

Junior's bedroom has been a sickly green for going on five years now — call it "vomit" — a color made even more unflattering by the dark woodwork and doors. Last weekend, buoyed by the prospect of an extra day of leisure and one less day of toil, we pushed all The Kid's stuff to the middle of the room, threw down a drop cloth and got started.

Did The Observer mention how much we hate painting? We start fine, but fade quickly. By the end of any painting job, we're doing a pretty good impersonation of those kids in the fence whitewashing competition at Tom Sawyer days in Hannibal, Mo., slathering it on with no mind for runs, drips or errors. Our lovely bride, however, is a machine, and pressed on. When she was done 12 hours later, the woodwork was a creamy white and the walls a shade bluer than sky. Spouse was liberally covered in both hues from hairline to foot.

Scrub as she might, when we went visiting on Labor Day, and people asked what color she painted the room, she held up her elbows, one blue, one off-white. "See?" she said, and her smile was brighter than anything you're going to find at Sherwin-Williams.

The Observer has lived in Little Rock for many decades, and so we are surprised when we find ourselves on a street we've never been on. That's the way it is when you've lived in a place longer than half its neighborhoods have existed, when your own neighborhood was once near the city limits. You figure you've seen it all.

So we found ourselves walking down Valentine Street early Sunday with the old dog, who now gets to go wherever she wants and won't go wherever she doesn't want anyway. She wanted to go south on Valentine toward the interstate, up a hill we've never gone up and past two churches we'd never seen or heard of, one in a little white clapboard house, the other next to it, a large new brick affair, set amid older homes.

We turned east on Sixth Street toward music we could hear. We thought it was coming from a shiny Cadillac parked in the drive in front of an old two-bay garage, but it was coming from a stereo system at the back of the neat, mostly empty structure, a space obviously made for socializing. Outside the garage, potted plants stood in a neat group, each poised atop an overturned fruit basket or a cube of wood. We were wondering about the plants when our dog started sniffing the grass.

Bang! A side screened door to the house opened and a man came out waving his hands, Off the grass! Off the grass! He was older man with a grizzled beard and an expression that was more exasperated than angry, like we should have known better. We apologized, showed him our plastic bag that we'd intended to use if we needed it and he shook his head and said that wasn't the problem. He pointed to the screen door and said there was a Rottweiler behind it "and he's trained to stay on the grass so he [our dog] has to stay in the street." We complimented him on his ability to train his dog to stay in the yard and he nodded and headed back to the house, yelling to someone in the house that he'd taken care of things.

We'd hoped the compliment, which we really meant, would start a conversation. We wanted to ask, "Why are each of your potted plants on pedestals? How long have you lived here? Do you entertain in the garage? What's the story with the tiny church around the corner?" There was something really fascinating about this old man, who wasn't angry but insistent, who made us feel stupid for letting our dog walk on his grass but not insulted. We wanted to tell him we'd lived for nearly 60 years in Little Rock, but had never been on his street. He probably wouldn't have given a damn, but he's old and we're old and it would have been nice to compare notes.


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