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The Observer has been having some trouble with thieves searching our demolition-derby-quality ’92 Volvo, which we now leave parked on the street unlocked to prevent further broken windows.

One morning last week, something caught The Observer’s attention as we walked past the car. There was a bundle in the back seat. We opened the back door and saw that the bundle was a man in a parka, sound asleep. We angrily rousted him — and immediately regretted our sharpness. “I was cold last night. I was cold last night,” the man said. As he shuffled off, he said quietly, “Thanks for not shooting me.”

We were steps from a warm house. A light rain was falling. We don’t know where he was heading.

But now we know where, on cold nights, the folks who have an encampment below Ozark Point on the wooded hillside overlooking the Riverdale shopping center go. Or at least where one of them finds shelter.

The Observer printed her late grandmother’s fruitcake recipe in the Times a couple of years ago. Then we baked it, and found it a little too buttery. Omit half the butter; it’s better that way. So much better, we’ve found, that we’d even serve it to friends, and we can’t say that about all our cooking.

We offered to bring it along on an outdoor excursion with friends the other day. “Want some of my grandmother’s fruitcake?” we asked. “As long as it wasn’t actually baked by your grandmother,” came the reply. Now, really.

Just a few pairs of eyes do not a great Observer make. It helps when other Observers share what they’ve seen around town. Like the scene described here, contributed in recent weeks by a volunteer Observer:

“At exactly 7:30 each morning on a desolate stretch of Izard Street between Capitol Avenue and Sixth Street, an array of birds gathers on the utility lines above and in the largely dead and hollowed out trees along Izard. Up drives a late model SUV and an attractive, well dressed lady emerges and carefully scatters food for the urban wildlife. Nuts and seeds are carefully placed in the hollows of the trees and then the distributor gets back in her car and patiently waits for the avian and squirrel crowd to descend onto its daily rations. This nice benefactor drives from Conway each morning and detours from the direct route to her job at Dillard’s headquarters. She used to work at the old Dillard’s just a half block from the feeding location. Her job move has not hindered her morning banquet each morning for old friends.”

We have a new place to go on New Year’s Day. It’s the Big Dam Bridge.

The day dawned sunny and cold. We grabbed the dog and headed to the bridge to get the long view on the year.

The river churned furiously under the dam, roaring in response to recent rains, louder than we’ve ever heard it. An immature bald eagle fished. A dog the size of Secretariat galloped over the bridge, flinging some slobber our mutt’s way. Small fry on little wheels effortlessly pedaled up and over as grown-ups on their Christmas bikes huffed their way to fulfilling New Year’s resolutions. Three children were running. Running! Bragging about how tired they were, how far they’d run!

Hundreds of ring-billed gulls swooped over the bridge so low we could see their feet tucked into their warm feathers. Above, white pelicans flew in their wavering strings against a brilliant blue sky. Clean blue sky, white birds, new year, good start.

The Observer received a notice in the mail right before Christmas —what timing! — that we were the incredibly lucky winners of a pot of money in the “2006 Trans Atlantic” lottery. And to think — we didn’t even enter it!

The notice came with a check for us to cash on a Canadian bank that would “assist in paying the cost of processing” the prize. So of course we took the check and headed straight downtown — to the Attorney General’s office.
In this particular lottery scam, you lose by depositing the phony check and then writing a real check on your account against it for a huge sum and sending it to the “processor.”

Getting the mail made us blue. Not that the money wasn’t real, or that it proved that crooks exist in the world. No, we got down because of whom these cheats prey on. It seems, alas, we’ve finally made it onto mailing lists that target the elderly.

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