Week before last, kind of on a whim and kind of as new decor for soon-to-be-finished shelves in the old dining room, The Observer bought a fire truck.

No, it’s not a real fire truck (though we wouldn’t mind having one of those too). It’s a Structo: a 1960s jet-age-styled hook and ladder truck, three feet of solid steel, red on red, with a little gumball light on top and whitewall tires and a boom that cranks out head high when fitted with the extra ladders that hang on the sides.

We got it off eBay, that great recycling yard of American pop culture, but we can remember back when you could stroll into any department store in the country and — with just the right amount of squealing and whining — walk out with one just like it, in the box, with the price tag attached. The Observer spent many a summer day with a truck just like that, seeing if we could, with the help of God and large rocks, take the manufacturer up on that “Guaranteed for Life” tag printed on the back of the carton (in hindsight, maybe that’s why they’re so dear on eBay).

Sitting here in the Observatory, blowing off work to play with our new toy (we had it shipped to the office for the gloat factor), The Observer couldn’t help but remark about the sorry state of child recreation these days. Not to be too knee-socks-and-get-the-hell-off-my-lawn about it, but toys circa 2006 are in a pitiful state. Sure: no lead paint, no chokeables, no sharp corners to stub the hell out of your toe on in the middle of the night. But also no fun. Everything now is plastic and battery-operated and safe. If you ram them together, you get no satisfying crunch and spray of shards. If you want your toy fire truck to make a noise, you push a button on the side instead of pinching up your little mouth and saying, “Vroom! Vroom!”

And they wonder why kids would rather stay inside and play video games until they get as pale as Michael Jackson.

The Observer hasn’t been sleeping well lately.

Mostly, it’s because we’ve been dreaming about zombies.

We ain’t talking about W voters, either. These are the classic, blank-eyed Living Dead, hordes of ’em, filling the streets, accosting us at work, stopping by the house for a leisurely chase through rooms that seem to be floored with flypaper. (We’re not that spry, but we’re fairly sure that anywhere outside of Nightmareland, The Observer could skunk the Hades National Olympic Team in the 100-yard dash. In dreams, however, we’re always just a step or three ahead of their dirt-clotted paws.)

Somewhere out there, we’re sure there’s some Freudian psychologist reading this and saying, “Ya, der zombie dream. Verrry interestink.” As for us, we’ve tried to puzzle it out without much success. Does it mean something? Everything? Nothing?

Then again, maybe it’s a premonition. Just in case it is, you might want to send $22.99 (plus shipping and handling) for our new book: “The Observer’s Pocket Guide to Surviving the Zombie Holocaust.” Filled with useful tips, it’s a book no zombie fighter should be without.

If you’re the nice almost-a-doctor who stopped to rescue the prone husband of The Observer from his point-blank view of the icy sidewalk and the yellow mutt running circles around him, thanks. We were so surprised to see a nice stranger with our dog at our door and our husband, who broke his right arm last year, in your car clutching his left arm that we forgot to express our appreciation. It was a little nippy Sunday in Little Rock — an unarguably wintry 24 degrees or so — and The Observer’s old man might just have frozen right there to the sidewalk, looking like a tossed out Christmas tree in his ancient, puffy down jacket. You’ll make a good doctor, looks like.

Meanwhile, we’re making a suit out of bubble pack for the spouse.


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