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The smoke of yesteryear 

It's been a good 15 years since The Observer indulged in The Sticky Icky, Mary Jane, pot, or whatever it is the kids are calling it these days. We never really cared for that floaty, disjointed, can-we-stop-the-ride-and-get-off? feeling, and besides: It's illegal. All that said, we're still inexplicably drawn to those purveyors of fine glassware that the kids used to call "head shops." This is in no way to draw a parallel between those establishments and the illegal substance known as marijuana. Nope, no connection at all. Why would you ever think a thing like that, officer?

Last week, after lunch, we motored past a shop we hadn't noticed before on Seventh Street downtown, across the street from McDonald's. Before The Observer could stop himself, we'd parked the Mobile Observatory out front. Inside — along with prominent signs declaring that the goods for sale there are NOT for illegal use — was the most mind-boggling array of pipes we've ever seen, with long, high glass cases packed edge to edge: delicate, colored-glass amoebas; water-pipes topped with grinning skulls; sprawling, welded copper fantasies; multi-chambered Pyrex hookahs that looked like apparatus from labs where they cook up yellowcake uranium, equal parts "Cheech and Chong" and "Young Frankenstein."

We didn't see the Apple iBong, but it's clear that smoking technology has come a long way since we were a customer. The mellow young man behind the counter said the place has been there three months, but was currently in limbo. It seems the owner, a young fella in his 20s, had recently passed away. Folks that young generally don't slow down long enough to write wills, so the fate of the store and a sister ship in Springfield, Mo., is yet to be determined, the clerk said.

The Observer made one more lap around the establishment, then said our goodbyes and walked out into the gray overcoat day. Oh, to be young, we thought — to be 19 again, before we shouldered the grain sack of responsibility. Then we thought of the owner of the shop, not much older than 19, and yet stone dead. Doesn't matter how young you are, The Observer thought. In life, as in glassware, there are no guarantees.

Last night at the gym, The Observer saw an older gent working out in a full business suit: black wool jacket, white shirt, tie, slacks, polished black loafers and black dress socks. He was also wearing a pair of large, over-the-ear headphones. Seeing him there, amongst all the folks in their sweats and sneakers, was bizarre enough that we suspect he might have been one of the Men in Black. Even the boys from Area 51 have to keep in shape, we suppose. Along with conversations about God and whose mama makes the best cobbler, The Observer tries to stay away from talking about politics as much as possible, especially when company comes to visit. No sense poking the bulldog with a stick unless you have to. All that aside, we have to say something about these young folks getting pepper-sprayed at the University of California at Davis. If you haven't seen the video, watch it. Here's the scene: a bunch of students, sitting on the ground with arms linked, doing nothing but being somewhere the cops and campus officials don't want them. An officer in riot gear walks up, lifts a can of pepper spray heroically aloft, then proceeds to hose down the protestors' faces, strolling along the row like a man inoculating his tomato plants against hornworms. Ever been chopping hot peppers, and touched your eye? Multiply that times a million and you've probably got an idea of what those kids were going through. Does it really matter what they were protesting for or against? Later on in the week, a friend posted a picture to Facebook: At first glance, it appeared to be the famous painting of the signing of The Declaration of Independence, that document that includes the phrase: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Only difference from the original portrait was that some rabble-rouser had photoshopped in the officer from the UC Davis video, him pepper-spraying ol' Tom Jefferson and that earlier band of young protestors who dared defy an order to disperse and move along. Might be funny if it weren't so sad.

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