Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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CV for a Cemetery

My mom wanted me on the board of an historical cemetery. I thought it would be awesome – it’s a great old place with lots of ghost stories and locally famous – and infamous – people buried there. Including a truckload of my ancestors.

“I need your resume,” she told me.

“Mom, I hardly think that my work history has anything to do with why I might be qualified to serve on that board.”

“So dress it up. Emphasize your genealogy research and your history research. Talk about your volunteer work.”

In other words, she wanted me to re-craft my resume entirely.  Therefore, I did exactly what I always do when given an irritating assignment: I procrastinated.

A week later: “I really need your resume.”

Two weeks later: “If you don’t get me that resume I can’t nominate you.”

Three weeks later:  “I need it today.”

Crap. And I was having so much fun putting it off.

“Just write something. I’ll rewrite it to suit our nomination style.”

Had she said this in the first place, I could have whipped off a few relevant paragraphs and been done with this a month ago. But she said she wanted a freaking resume. So after lunch, I sat down and wrote:

Anne has a keen interest in genealogy and history, and has done research on both in this particular cemetery, once regrettably denting the side of her car as she took a turn too sharply around a certain walled plot in the northeast corner of the place.  Her interest in these disciplines began in high school, when in 1976 she won the esteemed and coveted Annual Ninth Grade History Award at All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi, mostly to prove to a certain boy that she was smarter than he was. It must have worked, because that intimidated lad has refused to this day (over 30 years later!) to come to class reunions.

Her interest was fed her freshman year at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, when given the task of charting the genealogy of Zeus’s progeny she instead charted the genealogy of the entire Greek pantheon. While mostly accurate, her work earned her a C for failing to follow directions. Her professor was not interested in reading that much. Anne didn’t really care, since being right was all that mattered. When she graduated from Colgate in 1984, her major was English, not Greek.

With no immediate better use to put an English major, Anne returned to her Arkansas roots the following year to go to law school.  Anne clerked for Justice David Newbern at the Arkansas Supreme Court, then worked for a state agency or two until her secretary, one Gennifer Flowers, decided to hit the front page of the papers and not return to work. Anne opened her own law practice in 1993 and has remained in private practice ever since. Today, after 16 years in the trenches of litigation, Anne is a managing member of the law firm Almand, Orsi & Campbell, PLLC, which handles civil litigation.  Both she and her cousin and law partner, Donald K. Campbell, III, have generations of ancestors buried at this cemetery, stories about whom they occasionally pull out, dust off, and tell to their children and other passers-by, whether or not such innocents are especially interested.

Anne has maintained a moderately noticeable profile among local bar and statewide bar associations. She joined a whole slew of them in 1988 immediately after getting her J.D. from UALR Law School and passing the bar.  In 1993 she was made Parliamentarian of the Arkansas Association of Woman Lawyers, then served as  Vice President in 1994-1995, and as President in 1995-1996. She remains a member of the group today.  She has been a member of the Pulaski County Bar Association since 1988, and served as co-chair of the Hospitality Committee in 1995-1996. Likewise she retains her membership in the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, for which she chaired the Domestic Relations Division in 1997-1998. She was a member of the American Bar Association from 1988-1996, when membership became prohibitively expensive. Most of her bar activities have been through the Arkansas Bar Association, for which she has served on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Committee, Probate Law Committee, Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Committee, Women and Minorities in the Law Committee, Mock Trial Committee, Online Legal Research Committee, Civil Litigation Committee, and Access to Justice Committee.

Very conscious of the fact that not everyone has access to the legal system in a meaningful way, Anne donates her time and expertise through two of Arkansas’ legal services organizations. The Center for Arkansas Legal Services helps clients in the central Arkansas area, and Anne is one of the attorneys who accepts legal representation of clients in need who meet low income guidelines. Anne volunteers in rural areas of the state for Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly, another legal aid program that ensures that senior citizens with limited assets and income can access the legal system.

She has served on the boards of other historical societies, including Scott Connections in Scott, Arkansas (Director, 2007-2008), and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Arkansas (Director, 2006-09; and Board of Managers 2009-present). This spring Anne was selected to be the state’s Regent of Gunston Hall, the Northern Virginia home of founding father George Mason, a position she will hold for the next four years.

Anne is active in several of her family’s businesses. She is on the board of directors of ARNO, Inc. and Pioneer Farms, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Three Rivers Title Services, Inc. since 1999.

For pleasure, Anne loves to grow herbs, read, and write short stories. She maintains two blogs: one is purely for pleasure and the other is purely for work. She is also working on three novels, none of which she ever expects to finish unless the Fountain of Youth is found and she drinks copiously from its non-Stygian depths.

“Very amusing, my dear. I will extract the pertinent information to send out to the rest of the Board, omitting the humor, sad though that makes me.”

She will extract the pertinent information? That means most of what I wrote will end up in the trash.

And I worked so hard to get it to her!

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Arkansas, Creative Writing, History, Lawyer, Personal | 1 Comment

Freethinkers Win Lawsuit and Get Their Seasonal Display

Yesterday in Little Rock, ground was broken on something amazing.

I say it’s amazing, because here in the Bible Belt, there is precious little tolerance for non-Christian points of view. If one isn’t Christian, one is unknowably alien, and to some, one is completely suspect.

Isn’t this a Christian nation? (Well, no, actually this country isn’t a theocracy at all.) Without Christian values, aren’t we likely to devolve into moral depravity? (No. Christians don’t have a monopoly on moral behavior – never have had and never will have.) But we all should accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior! (Says who? Jesus? That has all the logic of a parent whose justification is, “Because I said so!”)

“Anne, you’re an atheist.” I hear the condemnation, and I take umbrage. I prefer the term “polyatheist.” There are a lot of gods I don’t believe in. And no doubt, anyone reading this is also a polyatheist. There are lots of gods that have been worshipped over the eons of humanity, and I’d bet my money that not a single reader of this essay believes in very many of them.

Christianity adopted many pagan traditions as it evolved. Celebration of the solstices and equinoxes are among those traditions. Christmas falls within a few days of the winter solstice, as does Hanukkah. Likewise, do the celebrations called Saturnalia, Maruaroa o Takurua, Deuorius Riuri, Amaterasu, Yule, Bodhi Day (also known in Buddhism as Rohatsu), Hogmanay, Soyal, Zagmuk, Beiwe, Shabe-Yalda, Lussi Night, Meán Geimhridh, Brumalia, Lenaea (the ancient Greek Festival of Wild Women), Alban Arthuan, Choimus, Inti Raymi, Maidyarem, Karachun, Makara Sankranti, Ziemassvētki, and Perchta. This list is by no means exhaustive. We will never know the many ways the winter solstice and the days surrounding it were marked by paleo-humans, but they left unwritten records of the fact that the event was noted and celebrated. Places like Stonehenge make drawing this conclusion inescapable.

So what is so groundbreaking in Little Rock?

The fact that a group of non-Christians have been allowed to place a display on the capitol grounds explaining the significance of the winter solstice. Last year the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers asked the Arkansas Secretary of State for permission to erect a display and were refused the opportunity. This year, they again asked permission and again, were denied. So they filed suit through the ACLU.

And WON!

This, in a place where the State Constitution makes discrimination against atheists legal!

You don’t believe me? See Article 19, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution:

“No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”

Last February a rational thinking legislator tried to get a resolution passed to pave the way to repealing that section of the Constitution, but, sadly, it went nowhere.

But hope springs eternal. Perhaps even Arkansas will someday be seen as progressive, or at least not medieval.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Arkansas, News, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If I Had Known Then What I Know Now

Do you ever wish you had known at 23 what you know now?

At 23 I was passionate, opinionated, brave, and uncertain. I was passionate in my relationships, opinionated about what was right, brave to do what terrified me, and uncertain that I could do it. At 47, of course, I’m still passionate and opinionated. I bravely embrace change, just like I always have, even though a part of me is terrified by it. But instead of being uncertain about my abilities, I am only uncertain as to how to help my own child bridge this awkward abyss between childhood and adulthood. Being even more passionately opinionated in my dotage keeps the rest of the uncertainty at bay.

Knowing what I know now, I would make my 23 year old self choose differently about some pretty substantial things. I would require my 23 year old self to make it on my own where the weather was tolerable. I definitely would not allow my 23 year old self to return to Arkansas. The summers are just too damn brutal.

Sure, I should have gone to graduate school. But I should have gone for history or literature, not law school. I should have followed my own dream, not someone else’s. It wasn’t my idea to go to law school. My dad planted that seed, and although I don’t regret having a career that I can pick up or put down at any time, I do wish it was more transportable. (How do I hate the summers in Arkansas? Let me count the ways…)

There is lots of advice I would give my younger self.

* Follow your dreams. You want to study paleoarcheology, be a writer, go on a dinosaur dig, or live in Greenwich Village? Do it. Don’t mistake the dreams other people have for you as your own dream. Be sure of whose dream you’re following.

* Travel. Everywhere. Maintain your rucksack in good condition and stash money away for no purpose other than to pay for plane tickets, cheap meals in exotic places, and museum fees. It’s okay to sleep in a train station or on the steps of a cathedral in Europe when you’re 23.

* It’s not love. At least not yet. Lust, pheromones, and heat, yes. But it is not love and you can live without that person because someone else will be along shortly to scratch the itch. For the love of Pete, don’t get married, start having babies, and acquire a mortgage yet. You’ve got too much to see and do before you’re chained down to all of that. Love doesn’t develop until the bright flush of physical desire dissipates and you’re used to each other’s most annoying habits and bodily functions, and you’ve decided not to commit either murder or seppuku over them.

* Run toward things, not away from them. I was terrified of looking for something different, but I hated – absolutely hated – my sales job just after college. It was worse than waiting tables, and I was truly horrible at that. But going back to school a year graduating from college was a cop out. I made the decision to go back to school – and back home – because I hated my job. I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. I was running away, not running toward something. There have been so many times I have wished I could take a mulligan on that one.

* If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. If you can’t move to a new place by loading everything you own in your car, you have too much crap. Get rid of it and don’t buy more. It’ll save on the interest you pay for those credit cards, and it will simplify your life. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. Unless it’s prescribed medication.

* There is no reason to be bored, ever. With so much in the world to see, do, and make, boredom should not be a concept within your realm of familiarity. If you’re bored, it’s because you won’t open your eyes to the world around you. Go to a park. Visit a museum. Watch a river flow. Go to a bookstore or library.

* It’s okay to fail. Fear of failure prevents us from doing so many things, and more often than not it is a hollow fear. Robert Sculler asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” We should never assume failure. If we assume failure, we try nothing and therefore achieve nothing.

* Screwing up is okay, too. Stupid mistakes are also a way to learn. Granted, they aren’t the best way, or the least painful way, but they are effective. And the next time, we slow down and think things through more carefully.

What advice would you make your younger self heed?

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Arkansas, Lawyer, Personal, Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Tree Splooge

Spring is a miserable time of year.

First, there’s the weather. The damnable, changeable, hot-then-cold-again weather. The tornado, thunderstorm, wildly fluctuating barometric pressure, what the hell do I wear today, blustery, windy, knock me on my ass, fifty degree temperature spread in a day weather.

Then there’s the plants. You think it’s warm. There has been a recent series of beautiful warm spring days so you go to the local nursery and buy plants. You know, those tender annuals or baby herbs or vegetables just sprouted that make your mouth water with the promise of zucchini to come and tomatoes heavy on the vine. You put them in your car. You ferry them home. You place them where you want them and tamp the cool soil around their delicate stems, and after spending a day soaking up natural Vitamin D you go to bed, tired but fulfilled from a day playing the farmer, only to wake up shivering because you turned off the heat and the indoor temperature now matches the outdoor temperature of about 27 degrees and all the work you did yesterday is for naught. You vow next year to give it a week even after the frost-free date before you buy so much as a single packet of parsley seeds, knowing full well that spring’s siren song of false seduction will lure you to the nursery for that fateful waste of valuable money on plants doomed to die by the next sunrise.

The very worst part of spring, though, has to be the trees. Tall, bare-limbed, they stretch themselves and shake off the winter by emitting tentative tendrils of leaves, and before even the first leaf is full formed, the oaks go into full rut.

Oaks are horny bastards.

Because of the oaks, heinous fuckery most foul is visited upon me. Each fall the acorns hit my deck sounding like scatter shot, someone’s Daisy BB gun with an automatic clip, a terrorist squirrel at the helm of a acorn-grenade launching Gatling gun, firing hell bent for leather at my precious darling deck which never hurt anyone. Acorns are the demon-spawn of oaks. To create those diabolical children, the oaks engage in a springtime orgy that makes Bacchus himself blush at the pure wanton sex those oaks put out there for all the world to see.

The mighty oaks are masculinity personified. Baring their knotted chests, in Spring they take a deep breath and grimace, and from every pore pop squiggly spermatozoa, wiggling and waggling at other oaks, daring the other oaks to take a breath themselves and shoot back tentacles of spermatozoa in a war of silly string battle-inspired posturing and thrusting. It is indeed heinous fuckery most foul, as the foul squigglies waft their pollen and fill my unsuspecting gutters with their decaying carcasses.

Victims of these oaken battles of male dominance are cars, covered in a greenish yellow dust that hides the metallic grays and greens and reds. Victims also are the furniture, helplessly stationary in their designated positions, the flat planes of which act as a breeding ground not for acorns but for that same greenish yellow film that coats unprotected patio furniture and wafts into the cracks of car windows someone forgot to roll up.

Victim also are my sinuses, and Jack’s, and the sinuses of my receptionist (who I think has had a sinus condition since November). The virile oaks seek to splash their splooge on every available surface, in hopes that all the world will turn into acorns proving their masculine Darwinian fitness. In Spring, we walk through breezes of tree splooge morning, noon and night. Those damnable trees believe, like so many Arab IMers, that the world is a woman, open and panting for their splooge to fall fertile on something and make an acorn of it.

There is a scene in Christopher Moore’s classic Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings in which a pair of female oceanographers are studying sperm whales, and upon seeing a mating pair are delighted at their rare good fortune – until, that is, the female whale moves one way and the male moves the other just at the moment of his ecstasy. The two women are drowned in a sea of sperm whale splooge and instantly turn lesbian, seeking never again to encounter such a substance again.

That is also the novel in which I first encountered the term “heinous fuckery most foul,” uttered by a caucasian Rastafarian surfer called Kona.

My nose is stuffed so much I can’t sniffle. My cough barks deep within my chest. Today, I identify totally with those two female oceanographers. If I never experience tree splooge again, it will be too soon.

The oaks are virile indeed.

The fuckers.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Arkansas, Environment, Health, Humor, Personal | | Leave a comment

A Midget Comes to Chigger Hollow

Midget truck drivers didn’t show up in Chigger Hollow every day. In fact, there weren’t any midgets at all in Chigger Hollow, so when one did show up it was momentous.

The semi pulled into the parking lot of the Chat ‘n’ Chew convenience store about 4:30 in the afternoon. Norma Rae started a fresh pot of coffee. Usually truck drivers could be counted on to buy a couple of cups, even if it was late in the afternoon. Hearing the water begin to drip through the grounds of the Biff Brand coffee, she perched herself back on the duct-taped vinyl stool behind the counter and went back to her True Confessions magazine.

Out of the corner of her eye Norma Rae noticed a woman coming into the store. The woman was followed by a child. Norma Rae didn’t take much notice because the State Trooper from up at Possum Grape had told her in casual conversation that women and children don’t tend to be convenience store robbers. Men were the ones to watch out for, and if a man came in alone, followed by another man, and neither one parked where she could get a description of the car or the license in case of their quick getaway after a robbery, she should take special notice and ease the handle of the shotgun close to the edge of the shelf underneath the counter.

Popping the top on another Coke Zero Norma Rae turned the page in her True Confessions. “I Was a Teenage Pasta Wrestler” looked to be an interesting article. The picture of a pretty girl with a pouty mouth, who looked for all the world like Rhonda Sue Ellis, the valedictorian of Chigger Hollow’s Class of 1995, just with blonde hair, was inset on top of a black and white photo of two women completely covered in ragu and grappling with each other to the cheers of abnormally handsome young men who hung on the perimeter of the wrestling ring.

The woman came to the counter with a large cup of coffee and a package of chewing tobacco. Without looking up, Norma Rae scanned the two items. “Four eighty-seven,” she said, holding her hand out and sneaking another look at the black and white photo. Was the woman on the left wearing a top? Was that a mushroom in the spaghetti sauce or were her nipples hard from the excitement of the contest? She took the five dollar bill from the customer and handed her a dime and three pennies. Norma Rae was well into the first paragraph of the article when someone cleared his throat.

She looked up. She didn’t remember seeing anyone come in after the woman, and she had been alone in the store. She peered over the display of breath mints and beef jerky but didn’t see anyone. She went back to True Confessions.

This time a cough made her look up. No one was standing at the pay counter, which stood as high as her ample chest when she wasn’t sitting on her stool. Norma Rae remembered everything Danny Kitchens, the State Trooper from Possum Grape, had told her and she eased the butt of the shotgun toward the edge of the shelf below the counter.

“Hello?” she asked uncertainly.

“How much for two drumsticks and half a dozen biscuits?” a man’s voice asked. Norma Rae jumped.

“Drumsticks are eighty-five cents each and biscuits are five for two dollars,” she said. It must be a short guy, because he was apparently hidden behind the tall display of Slim Jims. She moved off her stool and peered around the display. She didn’t see anyone.

“I want six biscuits, not five,” the voice said.

“Six biscuits are, um…” Norma Rae cursed herself for forgetting where the calculator was kept. She was terrible at math.

“Are they the same price whether I buy five or if I buy, say, three?” The voice seemed to be getting impatient, but Norma Rae still couldn’t figure out where its owner was standing.

“Well, no,” she replied, her tone conveying her obvious opinion of such a dumb question. “Five biscuits are two dollars. Three biscuits are less than that.”

“So are three biscuits a dollar twenty?”

“How should I know?” she snapped. She stood on the foot rest rung of her stool and leaned out over the counter, hitting her head on the cigarette display above the cash register. “Damn!”

A cup of coffee appeared at the check out counter. Norma Rae leaned out again. This time she ducked. The voice belonged to the kid. No, to the midget. The kid was a midget.

“I’ll have to ring it up to get you a total,” she said, staring at the man. Despite his stature he was the most perfect specimen of virility Norma Rae had ever seen. Muscular arms reached up to slide a package of Mentos onto the counter next to the coffee. The arms were attached to a wide chest bulging with well-chiseled pectorals, which were clad in a tight navy blue t-shirt.

Norma Rae could not help but let out a breath of amazement. “Oh, wow,” she said eloquently, her eyes wide with awe.

“What, you’ve never seen a dwarf before?” the man asked. His eyes had narrowed and his lips curled into the manliest sneer Norma Rae had seen since Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” video on MTV.

“No! Oh! I mean, I’m just surprised is all,” she managed to babble.

“Are you going to let me buy chicken and biscuits?” the Perfect Specimen demanded.

“Oh! Yeah! Um, do you want spicy or traditional southern?”

“Southern. And I want six biscuits.”

“Do you want any mashed potatoes or turnip greens with it? Bessie Maydar makes the greens and they are to die for. She mixes in just a little mustard greens and some hot sauce while they’re cooking and they come out good enough to make you feel born again without ever going to church.” Norma Rae knew she was babbling but she couldn’t stop. Now why did she tell this Perfect Specimen of Virility Bessie’s secret ingredients? Bessie had sworn her to secrecy on the back porch while they were each into their fifth margarita one night. And “born again?” Where the hell did that come from? Norma Rae was Seventh Day Adventist, and except for the occasional cuss word she was true to her faith.

“How much?” Evidently this Perfect Specimen of Virility was on a budget.

“Ninety nine cents.”

“Not a dollar?”

Norma Rae shook her head. The power of speech was rapidly exiting her brain the longer she gazed on his biceps.

“My name’s Norma Rae,” she said. Then she realized that not only had the Perfect Specimen of Virility not asked, but that he seemed surprised that she would even share the information.

“I’m Willy,” he said.

“So do you want the greens?”

“Okay, fine. Two drumsticks, six biscuits, and a side order of greens,” said Willy the Perfect Specimen of Virility.

“That’s five forty five,” said Norma Rae after punching the order into the cash register.

Willy gave her a ten dollar bill. She gave him change.

“Are you going to get my food?” Willy finally asked, and Norma Rae realized that she was still leaning across the counter staring at him.

“Oh, god!” she exclaimed, hopping down from the stool. Now she was really embarrassed. She had taken the Lord’s name in vain in front of the Perfect Specimen of Virility and she was acting like a dummy. Shit! She hurried to put the chicken and greens in a Styrofoam container, and put six biscuits in a small paper bag. She climbed back up on her stool and leaned out to hand the container and the bag across the counter and down to those wonderful waiting arms, which she could imagine wrapped around her in a bear hug so tight it would make her groan.

“Can I get anything else for you?” She asked hopefully.

“Nope.” Willy reached for the coffee and Mentos, arranged his load, and headed for the door.

“Wait!” cried Norma Rae.

The Perfect Specimen turned around.

“Come back soon,” she murmured weakly.

Willy the Perfect Specimen nodded solemnly and went out the door. Norma Rae didn’t even realize she had failed to charge him for the coffee and Mentos.

to be continued….

April 17, 2008 Posted by | Arkansas, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humor, Writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Have a Red-Bellied Woodpecker!

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

I spotted him on the big oak in my back yard a couple of days ago. He was hopping up its trunk, rounding the whole thing, just hopping and looking.

Then yesterday I heard him pecking on my neighbor’s oak that is outside my office window.

Today I saw him again, on my oak.

I haven’t caught a picture of him yet, but I think he must be nesting nearby.

The coolest part is that I am not a bird watcher or a bird feeder.  I may go get some seed to keep him around, though.

How cool is a woodpecker!

January 26, 2008 Posted by | Arkansas | , | Leave a comment

My Neighborhood

I live in an historic neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas. The neighborhood used to be its own town, but as Little Rock spread west along the Arkansas River, the city annexed the little village of Pulaski Heights and called it “Hillcrest” because it was spread along a U-shaped ridge overlooking the floodplain. A levee was built to keep the river out of the floodplain, and I look northward out my back windows and see the Riverdale area, where Alltel has built its headquarters and where there are lots of apartments.

Here are two photos, looking in the same direction, one on a day when there’s a fog on the river. I can’t see the river itself from my house, but I see across it – those cliffs in the distance are in the city of North Little Rock, on the far side of the river.

My house was built about 10 years ago in a neighborhood dominated by turn of the century stone cottages, Craftsman bungalows, colonial revival houses, the occasional Victorian or Edwardian home, and one gorgeous Queen Anne mansion. The lot where my house sits used to be the yard and garden of the stone house next door – the one where the beagles live. I showed you a photo of the beagles in my last blog. Other than the original city of Little Rock, known as the Quapaw Quarter, Hillcrest is the oldest neighborhood in the city.

I have some pretty affluent neighbors. For instance, a block away is the huge stone mansion where Winthrop Paul Rockefeller lived until his death of leukemia last year. His wife, Lisenne, and their kids still live there – some of their kids go to the same school as Jack. Win was the great-grandson of the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. His dad, Winthrop A. Rockefeller, was governor of Arkansas back in the 60’s. He’s noted for commuting the sentences of every inmate on death row – none of whom went on to commit another crime. Win was running for governor himself when he was diagnosed with the blood disorder that killed him.

My house was designed to fit the architecture and scale of the neighborhood. In the other historic neighborhoods, there have been problems with new homes being built that don’t fit the neighborhood’s style. Fortunately, Hillcrest has a great Property Owner’s Association that is active in city government and zoning matters. A few non-conforming homes have been built, but not to the extent in the other two old areas of town.

Although we were Little Rock’s first suburb, we are now the area referred to as Midtown, the center of Little Rock. The state capitol is less than a mile from where I live. I can get almost anywhere in the city quickly from here, except the far west suburbs of the city. Little Rock is a fairly small city (Pop. abt. 185,000), but the urban sprawl is awful.

My front door is flanked by sidelights of stained glass done in a Frank Lloyd Wright style. It’s pretty in the daytime, but at night it glows yellow and I think it’s gorgeous. Of course, it’s mine, so I would, right?

More stained glass is in the topless turret, stretching the length of the turret on the east side of the house. The stained glass stops at the stairs, which spiral down inside the turret. I think it looks pretty at night, too. It sets off that new garage door just… so.

All this is leading up to an invitation to visit. I’ll give you a tour of my abode. Come on in. I’ve left the front door open for you.

December 9, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

See-Mint Ponds

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I have a little landscaping project that is intended to make my cliff of a back yard seem less cliff-like, and less dominated by azaleas. The first thing I had to do was make more sunshine. As much as I hated doing it, this meant I needed to remove two of three really huge oaks that were in the back yard.

My neighborhood is over 100 years old,and those trees weren’t young when the neighborhood was created. Although I love the shade of the trees in the summer, there was way too much shade. I have one patch of ground about 10×15 feet in which grass will grow. So, I took a deep breath and stocked up on firewood. It’s piled under the deck stairs now.

To give you some idea of how steep the yard is,I took this picture. The deck stairs, under which the two ex-trees are stacked, are just barely visible in the far right of the photo. The fence, which is 8′ high, follows the contour of the yard, about to where the yard took a sudden 5′ dropoff. The main portion of the swimming pool is in that area below the 5′ dropoff. It meant, theoretically, that not much excavation needed to be done.

Theoretically.Of course, that was before we discovered that the reason the drop off wasn’t more than five feet was because there had been some fill added to the lot. Prior to the fill, the electrical lines for the house had been laid in that area. So we wouldn’t have to flip which end was deep and which was shallow, I called the electric company to see what it would cost to move the lines. I nearly choked when they told me that the price would start at about $17,000.00. Suddenly, the shallow end of the pool became the deep end. Now the pool is being built almost entirely above ground, even though it really doesn’t appear to be that way. However, the deep end needed to be made deeper.

Naturally, that meant that the excavation needed to be done through pretty much solid rock. With a jackhammer on the excavator, the pool crew began
digging again. I’m getting lots of really nifty rocks that I hope can somehow be used in the stonework I’m going to be doing.

After the excavation was complete the day after Thanksgiving, it rained. I am so pleased to report that it appears that my new swimming pool will have no problem holding water successfully. This is what the newly excavated deep end looked like a week and a half ago.

My contractor, aware that I wanted to save money wherever possible, suggested stocking it with catfish and foregoing a concrete lining. Mmmmm. Them’s good eatin’.Not wanting to disappoint my beloved son, who has his precious little heart set on clear water (yes, it’s all about Jack), I declined the contractor’s suggestion, despite the possibility of a business investment in the catfish business and possible tax deduction for business use of the property. Sadly, a zoning variance would probably be required and that’s just more trouble than I want to go to.
After making a basic form of the pool’s walls and lining it with rebar, the contractor started spraying cement through about 6 miles of hose that came from my front driveway, snaked along the side of the house, and finally made it to the back yard.
Let me tell you the crew had a fabulous time blowing the last of the drying concrete out of those hoses at the end of the day, too. They really looked like they were having fun. I have never seen so many grown men playing with rubbery tubes like that. It was inspiring. Here are three of them enjoying a hose orgy in my back yard. Their little party gave new meaning to the term “tube snake boogie.”

After a second day of fun with concrete hoses, the pool pretty much looked like a pool. The excavator was still back there, though, because there is a mound of mud and rock about 10 feet tall, and a Japanese Maple needed to be moved. The contractor wanted to wait as long as possible to move the maple so it would be dormant and hopefully not die. Finally, though, it just had to be moved.

With the Japanese maple gone, it’s much easier to see the shape of the pool. All of these pictures have been taken from the third story deck. Isn’t my yard looking lovely?

Here’s the Japanese Maple in its new home on the other side of the yard, near the only spot where grass grows.

My neighbors’ beagles are delighted with all the activity in my yard. They are very busy doing their allotted doggie-duties, and miss my dogs very much. If Frog-Dog and Missy Mia were home and not at their Dad’s for the duration of the construction, they, along with the beagles, would be loudly and frequently discussing the contractor’s shortcomings and directing the laborers from South of the Border as only truly great canine foremen can do.

December 7, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas | , , , , , | Leave a comment

My House….

I love my house.

No, no. Not Aramink – although obviously I loved Aramink or I wouldn’t still use the name. Places are important.
What I mean is that I love my house – the one I live in right now.
Here it is, post-Jack’s-encounter-with-the-garage nearly a year ago:

I used to have two garage doors. Now I have just the one, and it really does make getting in and out of the driveway a lot easier, especially with stone walls on either side.

That odd roundish projection between the garage and the front door houses the staircase between the top and middle floors. I call it the topless turret. Isn’t it scandalous?

To the left of the front steps is a little flagstone courtyard with a raised bed and fountain. The azaleas are gorgeous in the spring. A big old oak dominates the bed, and a stone wall just the right height for sitting marks the border. I have a smaller herb bed in the patio, too. (No, not that kind of herb – it’s right in front, for Pete’s sake!)

My house is perfect for Jack and me. It is three stories tall and clings to a cliff. The back of the house, which overlooks a wooded park, is all windows. It feels like we’re in a tree house, since we’re up in the canopy of the temperate rain forest. Jack’s bedroom and bathroom, and the main living areas (including my office) are on the top floor. My bedroom and bath are on the middle floor with the garage, laundry room, and another tiny little room I use as a sewing room. The bottom floor has Jack’s party room and a huge workshop. It also has an area that hasn’t yet been completely finished out. I’m planning to do something about that this spring.

From the upper deck of our house, off the kitchen and living room, we can see north across the Arkansas River to the cliffs of North Little Rock. We can also see west across the park to the other side of Hillcrest, which is the name of the historic neighborhood where we live. I took these pictures about two weeks ago.

When we moved in the back yard really needed help. The house clings to a cliff, and the back yard was pretty steep. When the house was built a patio of native Ozark stone was built around one of three huge oaks in the back yard. A wall bisected the yard about halfway down the cliff. One side of the wall was even with the ground nearest the house. The ground on the other side of the wall was 5 feet below that. Did I mention that the house sits sort of on a cliff?

Not much grew in the back yard but those big oaks and a herd of overgrown azaleas. I bet you never knew that azaleas roamed the south in herds, now did you? Unfortunately, they do. The herd that was in my back yard had pretty much outgrown the grazing land, too. One of the sad truths about southern landscapes is that people tend to show very little imagination when it comes to shade planting. Azaleas and hostas are the staples. Ferns get thrown in as afterthoughts. Yawwwwwwn.

I’m engaged in a little landscape project now that should eliminate the boring sameness of the cliffside azaleas. It involves removing the three-level koi ponds (which leaked) and installing one somewhat larger pond that people can splash around in. No, despite the helpful suggestions of some, I won’t be stocking that particular pond with catfish.

Wanna see?

December 6, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas | , , | Leave a comment

Confessions of a White Wench


Tragic factoid about this Wench of Aramink: her skin is so pale it’s translucent, and she’s never had a suntan in her life.

It doesn’t bother me until someone says something like, “Dang, girl! Didja just crawl out from under a log or somethin’?” Or, “You need a little color to look healthy.” Or, “Put on some pantyhose. Those legs are blinding me!”

Every year I let myself get bullied into going to the beach the week after school breaks for the summer. It’s not hard to bully me into it – I love the smell of salt water and I like to snorkel. In fact, I like swimming so much that I’m going to put a pool in my back yard. The plans are drawn and the bids are rolling in! I feel a little inadequate next to the already-tanned sun worshippers surrounding me. Slathered in sun block I play in the surf and then I hide in the shade under the beach umbrella to read my book. Since even the reflection from the sand can give me a burn, I can’t stay out long. I head to the condo and read some more, and sleep, and feed my 360 addiction.

Sometimes I just feel a little silly spending money for a week at the beach when I can’t be in the sun more than a couple of hours a day without getting second degree burns. Even with SPF 5000 I can only stay out an hour or so at most without painful results.

I have ended up in the hospital with second degree burns from the sun on not just one but two occasions. For that reason, I am really, really careful.

The first time it happened I came down to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with a couple of friends from college over spring break. It was my sophomore year of college. From Hamilton, New York, we drove first to Arkansas. These two friends of mine were from Auburn, New York, and Springfield, Massachusetts, and had never been in the South at all. We stopped in Memphis and went to Graceland, which had just been opened to the public for the first time. We toured the Sun Records studio and went to Beale Street, home of the blues. Then we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas.

Several things of note happened to my friends in my hometown. They ate fried catfish and tasted okra for the first time. They were surrounded by southern accents and for a change it was their way of speaking that make people say “huh?” And they met Bill Clinton. It was primary season, and after losing the office two years before he was running again for his second term as governor. My dad was a rather influential politico even though he never ran for office himself, and Clinton stopped by my parents’ house while we were eating pizza. He joined us and we had a great visit talking about the difference between college life in the Northeast and real life in Arkansas, education, and what we all wanted to be when we grew up. Not surprisingly, Bill said he wanted to be president.

Ten years later when Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, one of the girls who had come home with me that year for spring break called me. “Isn’t that the same guy we ate pizza with?” she asked.

“That’s the one. Remember he said he was going to be president someday?”

“Yes! I didn’t think he really meant it, though!”

“Oh, he meant it. He’s always meant it.”

But I digress. On with the sunburn story:

From Arkansas we headed due south to New Orleans, another one of my favorite places in the world. I showed my friends what live oaks look like when their spreading limbs are hung with Spanish moss, and what Bourbon Street sounded like before the street musicians were banned. We rode the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue and strolled in Audubon Park. We saw cockroaches so big they sounded like 747s when they flew at your face. We went to Cooter Brown’s to sample some of the exotic beers. Then we headed back east along the coast for some quality beach time.

We bypassed the Mississippi and Alabama gulf shores and headed across the border into Florida. We stopped about 40 miles into Florida and pitched our tent in a state park on the beach. I showed them what sea oats were so they’d be sure not to pick them. They were amazed at the whiteness of the sand and at the whiteness of my skin.

We hit the beach early our first morning there. We only had two days to spend in Florida before we had to head back to school. The ground back at Colgate would be white, too, but with snow, not with sand made of quartz crystals. We wanted to make the most of our time.

After about four hours on the beach, we decided to find food and a movie. I changed from my bathing suit into shorts and a t-shirt. I was a little pink, but not red. By the time we finished eating I was shivering. By the time the movie was over I was nearly crying with the pain. We went to sleep in the tent and the next morning I woke to see a blister the size and shape of a baseball had grown on my upper left arm.

The three of us spent that morning in the emergency room of the local hospital. Every inch of my exposed skin was bubbly with burn blisters. After declining the doctor’s invitation for me to stay as his guest in the hospital, we decided to head back toward Colgate a day early. We stopped in three more emergency rooms on the way back. Each time my skin was punctured, drained, smothered in salve, swathed in bandages, and treated as gently as possible. Each time I was granted stronger painkillers. Each time I was advised to check in for an extended stay. Each time I declined.

We got back to Colgate in the midst of a blizzard. Clad only in my bathing suit and unable to put on shoes, I limped from the car to my apartment through the wind and snow. I missed a week of classes and finally went to the campus medical clinic. Once again, I was punctured, drained, smothered in salve, swathed in bandages, and treated as gently as possible. This time I was given antibiotics as well as painkillers. My entire body was puffy and swollen from the burns.

After another week I was able to put on clothes and go to class. I swore I was done with the sun. Anything that could hurt me that much was to be avoided. I came out of the experience with lots of new freckles and a permanent hypersensitivity to the sun.

I didn’t remember for long, though. The summer between my junior and senior year in college, my friend from Auburn, NY and I loaded a couple of backpacks and headed to Europe with our Eurail passes and our passports. On the Amalfi coast of Italy, near the Island of Capri, I did it again. My friend and I had separated to travel with different people we had met along the way and were going to meet up again at Brindisi, Italy, where we’d cross into Greece. I sent her a telegram at the American Express office, the place we had agreed would be our contact point: “REMEMBER FLORIDA STOP I DID IT AGAIN STOP MEET YOU IN VENICE TWO WEEKS STOP”

No, I don’t mind all that much that I don’t have a suntan.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, Environment, Health, Travel | Leave a comment

Hate Mail, Anyone?


Recently I was asked to write about internet harassment and threats from my professional perspective. The friend who asked this of me is on the receiving end of some nasty communications from someone who evidently doesn’t realize that criminal conduct can very easily take place at a computer keyboard, and is punishable as a crime by imprisonment and a fine.

The federal government regulates interstate and international communication pursuant to the Commerce Clause. That clause is found Article I, Section 8(3) of the U.S. Constitution. Not surprisingly, Congress has enacted a specific statute addressing harassing communications. All states have their own laws regarding harassing communications which are enforced within the state. When the people involved in the communication are in different states or different countries, or when at least one of them is in the District of Columbia, the federal law applies.

The current federal law, 47 U.S.C. Sec. 223, addressing harassing communications was first passed June 19, 1934. Yes, even that soon into the advent of private interstate telecommunication there were harassment problems. Some things just appear to be human nature.

I hope that I can cut through the legalese and give you an ordinary person’s “translation” of what the law says. The law mostly addresses telephone calls, but because of the nature of the world wide web, which is accessed through telecommunication, the law applies to users of the internet as well.

I’m not addressing commercial communications, which is what “SPAM” mostly is. This blog is intended to address only personal communications.

These are the actions that can get a person fined and a prison sentence of up to two years, whether the accused person does it or if he simply allows someone else to use his telephone or telecommunications device to do it:

1) Knowingly make, create, or solicit and then transmit obscene communications or child pornography under the following circumstances:

a) with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person; or

b) to a person under the age of 18;

2) Anonymous telephone calls or the anonymous use of a telecommunications device, including a computer, whether or not conversation or communication actually happens, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications;

3) Repeatedly making a telephone call or using a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication actually happens, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives the communications; or

4) Causing the telephone of another person to ring repeatedly or continuously, with intent to harass any person at the called number.

There are a couple of important things to note.

First, there doesn’t actually have to be communication. That is, the person receiving the communication doesn’t have to open the email and read it for it to constitute harassment under this law. If the sender is stuffing the recipient’s inbox with unwanted emails or sending lots of unwanted text messages to the person’s cell phone, harassment is obvious. If you go to your inbox and see 47 messages from one person in a the space of a couple of days, you know that harassment anticipated by this federal statute is taking place. People just don’t do that innocently.

Second, there has to be some evil intent on the part of the person sending the communication, except in the case of porn being transmitted to a person under the age of 18. In other words, if someone is just smitten with you, and emails you fawning poetry and love notes several times a day, they aren’t in violation of this law unless they really mean to bug the crap out of you. (Yes, in this situation “bug the crap out of you” can be a legal standard.)

So that’s the law in a nutshell, explained in ordinary language. I’m sure there are questions that you might have with specific scenarios. I’ll do my best to respond to them if you put them in your comments.

Disclaimer: I cannot give advice as to state law other than that of the State of Arkansas. This blog and the comments to it are not a substitute for a consultation with a legal professional in your jurisdiction about the specific facts affecting you. No attorney-client relationship is established by this blog and the comments to it.

May 29, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, Lawyer | 8 Comments

Tacky Architecture for $200, Please, Alex

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As many of you already know, I spent part of my formative years as a Virginal intern for Bill Clinton. No, I never got up close and personal with his cigar. I don’t have a blue dress from The Gap, either.

There are lots of tacky things about our buddy Bill. Now, I won’t for a minute pretend that I think he was a bad president. I didn’t think too much of his philandering, but honestly, his peccadilloes were well known at the time of the New Hampshire Primary in 1992, when my secretary (yes, dammit, MY SECRETARY) at the state agency where I worked as an administrative law judge, Gennifer Flowers, said she was “tired of all the lies” and told all to The Star, that fine newspaper that is the bulwark of political reporting in the US grocery store lines. This moonlighting nightclub singer had been engaged in an extramarital affair with then-Governor Bill.

Two terms and some fundraising dinners later, the inevitable William J. Clinton Presidential Library was built on land purchased with taxpayer dollars by the city where I live. When the design for the building was unveiled, a collective gasp of horror went up among those of us with a modicum of taste in things architectural.

It looks like a trailer.

A very big, oversized, can’t-deny-the-resemblance-to-a-rectangular-house-on-wheels trailer.

Dear god.

We are so proud that Arkansas can be represented by this larger than life replica of substandard architecture. The architects said that the building “symbolically realizes a central theme President Clinton defined during his administration– Building a Bridge to the 21st Century. It is also in harmony with its natural surroundings”.

Are they kidding?

Its natural surroundings are a riverbank in one of the poorest states in the nation. This state also happens to be part of Tornado Alley, where house trailers act as magnets for the world’s most destructive winds.

We can only hope.

Hope. Wasn’t that the town where Clinton was born?

March 29, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas | Leave a comment

Pluto Reinstated! Bravo, New Mexico!


Memorial text for HJM054

Y’all aren’t gonna believe this.

New Mexico is in the process of passing a resolution that makes Pluto a planet again as long as it is viewable from an observatory in New Mexico. That’s right. If it can be seen with a really powerful telescope in New Mexico’s skies, and it does take a REALLY powerful telescope, Pluto can be a planet again, at least as long as it lingers over New Mexico.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, Tuesday will be “Pluto Planet Day” at the New Mexico State Legislature.

It seems that the person who discovered Pluto 75 years ago, Clyde Tombaugh, was a resident of New Mexico. Well, it took the high-powered telescopes and clear skies over the state to see something that small, so naturally, in order to discover the planet/planetoid/asteroid he would come to name Pluto, Tombaugh pretty much had to hang out in New Mexico. That obviously meant setting up housekeeping there. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the feats of our native sons.

So “as Pluto passes overhead through New Mexico’s excellent night skies, it [shall] be declared a planet” for the duration of its pass.

I’m glad the New Mexico legislature has time to address this thorny issue of the demotion of Pluto’s planetary status and to rectify it.

Bravo, New Mexico!

Better to deal with Pluto than the immigration disaster overflowing your borders. In the great scheme of things, bucking the scientific community to declare Pluto a planet again is a terribly important thing to do.

I’m just glad Arkansas isn’t jumping on this bandwagon.

March 11, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, News, Science | Leave a comment