In the hour before Mike Beebe took to the state Capitol steps to deliver his inaugural address, the scene was as you might imagine it. Guests arriving from all directions, cameramen readying their equipment, event staffers scurrying about.

It was a chance to observe and be observed. You could tell the rich campaign contributors by their fur coats and fancy suits. The mood was a boisterous one. Everyone was taking the opportunity to say hello, introduce themselves and generally marvel at the happy occasion.

Everyone except Gen. Wesley Clark. As The Observer walked past his entourage, we were acknowledged by everyone except the former presidential candidate. It was only at the last possible moment that The Observer noticed Clark was wearing headphones, staring up into the sky as he listened to whatever he was listening to.

It reminded The Observer of an insolent teen-ager being dragged to some formal event against his will.

Of course, this particular event was a pretty important one for a politician. Maybe Clark should think twice before running for office again.

The Observer, a man of legendary thoughtfulness, struck again this Christmas. He followed up some boffo gifts to his wife in years past — a handsome steam iron one Christmas; a still serviceable plastic funnel one Valentine’s Day — with a rain gauge.

Mrs. Observer got a quizzical look on opening the present. “Don’t you remember saying you wanted one?” The Observer asked. He was sure she had.

Anyway, vindication came with a rain of near Biblical proportions. Unfortunately, the rain gauge was already in the repair shop when the rain hit last Friday. Gorilla Glue had been required to reattach the glass measuring cylinder to the brass spike on which it was mounted. So the gauge missed a good bit of the early rainfall.

It was a glorious rain for the parched earth and The Observer. Every few hours, Mrs. Observer strolled to the front window to take a peek at the latest reading. And then to instruct The Observer to sally into the downpour to dump it out and start anew.

It seems that Smith and Hawken supplied a very handsome rain gauge, but one not so practical for monsoon season. It only measures to 3.5 inches. The Observer emptied it twice, after a late start, and is watching it steadily rise yet again as this is written.

Mrs. Observer admits her fascination with rain gauges. But still she stressed, “No barometer next year.”

After dropping the spouse’s car off at the mechanic on a recent frigid morn, The Observer made one of our semi-annual jaunts through the city on foot, hands jammed in pockets and belly full of sludgy coffee from the Broadway McDonald’s.

We hadn’t gone far when something stopped us in our tracks. At the corner of Sixth and Spring, we noticed a line on the sidewalk — a wavering trail of rusty red paint no wider than a pencil, as if dripped from a fast-running hole in a bucket. The line came at us down Sixth and crossed the street. Then it headed away until it bled into the general cracks and grayness of the sidewalk at the limit of our vision.

While we’re rarely struck by moments of epiphany (we’ve found that those moments are never the sips of godlike knowledge read in novels — more often, coming as they do in the midst of The Observer’s seldom-poetic existence, they just seem corny and overwrought), we had one then: We were thinking that morning about a story we’re working on, the tale of a local murder; one life smothered out, several more yet to be wasted in prison. Maybe it was the earliness of the hour, or having our boiler stoked with caffeinated diesel, but for a moment, The Observer remembered the killing, and thought: This line is our lives, the blood-dark thread, coming from somewhere undetermined and stretching out of sight. Who knows where it might end?

After a second, the thought was gone. The paint became paint again. The sidewalk became a sidewalk again. The Fates retreated, and we were left embarrassed, feeling too big for our philosophical britches. After a second more, The Observer turned and hurried on.


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