Last Thursday, the Observer looked down to find himself in the middle of a runway of a fashion show. No, we weren’t modeling fashions for the awkward and lanky. We were just drinking beer and milling about in Ciao Baci, the Hillcrest house-turned-Bistro, when an unseen voice came over a PA and announced that, along with dozens of others crowded in the atrium of the restaurant, we were standing “in the show.”

Box Turtle, the nearby boutique, was hosting its semi-annual spring fashion show, and organizers had snaked a line of blue painter’s tape through the restaurant to demarcate runway from crowd.

For the most part, the crowd could hardly be described as fashion-show glamorous. Dressed-up maybe. Perhaps the lone representative of the fashion forward: a man leaning against the bar sported a foot-high Mohawk.

The fashion statements were left to five local designers and their 25 models, all of whom had at least some sort of contingent who screamed wildly when they preened by. No one, however, got anything approaching the fevered support the crowd gave 10-year-old designer Augusta Fitzgerald and the models who walked for her.

Fitzgerald was making her fashion show debut, and gobs of her peers and supporters filled the aisles like hungry paparazzi, waiting with bouncing anticipation for their brothers and sisters and classmates to shimmy by, so they could scream, “Work it!” and click off shots on disposable cameras.

When Fitzgerald finally took her designer’s lap at the end of the show, her contingent could hardly contain themselves, screaming, “Augusta! Augusta!” in hopes of getting her attention to pose for a picture. But she was already through the door.

John Brummett was among the throng that went to hear biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins of Oxford University expound on the merits of science over God. Brummett mused:

“Right there on the Bible Belt’s buckle, they had to bring in extra chairs. ... Everyone seemed friendly, ranging from those giving extended applause to those asking only the most polite of challenging questions.

“I’d asked Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School, if he expected trouble — a shouting demonstration from zealous religious believers, perhaps.

“ ‘Could be,’ he said.

“Someone had called him to explain that the state Constitution prohibits atheists from holding office, which, while true, is long superseded by federal rights. But Dawkins was not seeking office, Rutherford replied. But you’re advancing atheism, the caller countered. ‘No, I’m advancing ideas,’ Rutherford concluded.

“Rutherford, a church-going Methodist, said the left got mad at him for bringing in Karl Rove, so it was fair for the right to get mad at him for bringing in Dawkins. Those probably are symmetrical devils. ...

“Dawkins ... got asked about the uncommon preponderance of religious practice in the United States, where we have a far greater church-going population than any other developed and well-educated Western nation. His answer was surprising. He speculated it might have to do with our insistence on separating church and state.

“In Britain, the state has an official religion, the Church of England, and children are required to be exposed to it. The result, Dawkins said, is that religion becomes ‘boring.’ Look inside a church in England, he said, and you’ll see four old ladies — ‘cramming for finals,’ he joked, quoting an Australian friend.

“To the contrary, he said that the United States, by separating religion from government, bestows the allure of freedom on religion and makes it a matter of ‘free enterprise, like selling soap flakes. And sell it they do.’ ”


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