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At the Bazaar.

Sipping a Cool Milkshake.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007, at 7 p.m. (EB)

dingboar In town, where the blazing sun towered high overhead, we detected pockets of tension and shortness of patience. On the manic streets and hot sidewalks, every second minion was obviously out of sorts or off kilter. The sudden emergence of the new semester seemed to have caught half of The Others off guard, as if they hadn't known it was coming.

At the sandwich shop, we encountered three slack-jawed servers, who were caught in the throes of dog-day summer boredom. Full of studied indifference, they managed to transfer the mesquite chicken on wheat to our waiting hands, but left the impression they would rather be somewhere else, maybe anywhere else than standing in front of a customer.

In a parking lot by the library, a very important old guy in a white shirt (with tie) honked the horn of his red Jeep (blue faculty sticker) at a University-branded white van that was not moving swiftly enough to suit his impatience. It was a rude kind of honk, one that we've heard before, a honk longer than a tap, but not quite long enough to convey the strain of seething anger that precedes active rage. The van driver honked back. Ditto the Jeep. They sounded like quarrelling geese.

The day was fast becoming frayed around the edges. Wanting to eat our sandwich, we wandered over to the Union Mall in front of the library. There was a bazaar going on. The energy hit us like a cool milk shake with a cherry on top.

We sat on a bench to get our bearings and eat the chicken.

A pair of great white rectangular tents, one to the north and another to the south, rose to the height of the young trees that stretch in twin rows across the center of the concrete and grass plaza between the Union and Mullins Library. Booths, tables, cabanas, carts, and banners anchored the eclectic gathering, providing points of contact for the many hundreds of students who were moseying amidst it all. Student organizations proclaimed their ideas and ideals. University departments promoted their services and opportunities. Local merchants and businesses advertised their wares and specialties. What a country! What a bazaar!

We entered the tent to the south. It was open on all sides, shady in the heat. There we met Emma Neal of Salem, Arkansas. She had come to the bazaar to champion the cause of world peace. After inviting us to the Peace on Earth Music Festival (September 15 at the Greek Theatre), Emma listened politely while we asked her if she thought the world could actually achieve peace.

"That's a tall order, given the state of humanity," she said. "But I think every forward step we take just might keep us from slipping backwards into chaos." We asked Emma how she fit into the festival, which is sponsored by the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Equality. "I'm one of the vice presidents," she said. "I have a really long title, but...." Her voice trailed off into a private thought, maybe about some distant and soothing meadow at Elysium, where the souls of fallen soldiers find their eternal rest. "You really should come. It's a non-violence festival aimed at teaching people that violence is not the answer, that we can do better." Emma is a sophomore. Her major is sociology.

At the table of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, we accepted a piece of candy and listened to the melodic voice of Connie Jiang as she explained the purpose of her group. "We want to promote friendship and the exchange of cultures. Our main goal is to create friendships," she said. The president of CSSA, Connie was born in Guangzhou, but moved with her parents to the USA soon after her birth. "It's not far from Hong Kong," she said of her birthplace. Connie, who now calls Tulsa her home, invited us to CSSA's "Welcome Party 2007" at The Gardens on Saturday afternoon. Connie's major is International Business.

Outside the tent, next to the fountain, Austin Brown, an associate minister for Christ on Campus, told us about a Friday night outreach he calls the 2AM Grill. "We go to Dickson Street after midnight and serve hamburgers and hotdogs to folks going home from the bars," the soft-spoken young man explained. "I see it as an opportunity to build relationships, and just to show people that God cares about you." We asked Pastor Brown if he had seen the wild-eyed young men of the faith who parade up and down Dickson Street on Friday nights wielding their black-and-white posters of hell fire and damnation. "I don't know about that," he replied. "To me, Jesus is love."

By now the "Razorbash," the name given the event by its organizers, roared loud and happy. The students were fully engaged, roaming the open-air mall in search of treasures and trinkets, old friends and fresh ideas. We heard music, laughter, bawdy banter, and the pitch of salesmen on the hunt. Three very young men tossed a white Frisbee skillfully through the crowd.

Wishing Pastor Brown all the best, we sauntered over to a boisterous band of promoters in control of huge tubs filled with sloshing ice and plastic bottles. They were shouting, "Get your free water! Ice cold free water!" Asking for one of the bottles, we were thwarted by the qualifier. "Gotta cell phone?" the man in charge asked. "Can't have your water until you put the phone number of Eureka Pizza in your cell phone." Aware that our half-hearted protest was falling on deaf ears, we decided we didn't want to pay a price for something free and moved on, still thirsty, muttering about false advertising, and determined to order our next pizza from Domino's.

In the great white tent to the north we met Latoya Bankhead and Mary Chu of the Diversity Alliance. With a smile and impeccable manners, Latoya stood to shake hands and introduce herself. "We just celebrate the differences in everyone," she said. Latoya, a junior whose major is Biology, graduated from the Episcopal Collegiate School of Little Rock. She smiled at her friend Mary, president of the Alliance. "We promote diversity on campus," Mary said. "Not just with racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also sexual orientation and religion." She said that last year the Alliance had about twenty members, "very under-represented on campus. But it's starting to get a lot better." A graduate of Little Rock Hall High School, Mary is a senior. Her major is psychology.

We looked down the row of tables behind us and spied the "What Is Genocide?" display at the east entrance to the tent. There a young man sat in earnest conversation with a woman standing on the other side of the table. The young man's hands moved through the warm afternoon air like those of a conductor guiding his musicians through an opus, maybe Schoenberg's Transfigured Night.

We hurried past the conversation to catch Aaron Millstein, who had just left his table outside the south tent and was striding purposefully toward his next class. It would convene in just a few minutes, but Aaron decided to take the time to visit.

"Hillel means hello," the tall, confident young man explained. "It's the name for the Jewish Student Association. We have probably forty or so Jewish kids on campus, but most of our members overall aren't really Jewish. They just want to learn about the faith and how it's practiced." Hillel hosts a Shabbat dinner every other Friday as a way of promoting fellowship and openness. "Most of us aren't too religious," he said. "We just like to get together and visit and make everyone feel welcome."

Aaron, a political science major and senior from Mountain Home in the Arkansas Ozarks, offered a strong handshake and a quick farewell. We watched him race toward class on the wings of a refreshing zephyr.


Save That Backpack.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007, at 4:10 p.m. (EB)

dingboar Got a stylish new Jansport Big Student White Scatter Dots? How about an Air Vital Pack in Thai Redpepper? Or an Osprey React Pack in politically astute Rainforest Green? Maybe with a nicely loaded and very pricey HP Pavilion or 17-inch MacBook Pro nestled securely inside? Last question: Do you shudder at the thought that some slimy knave might steal your pack while you're engaged in necessary pursuits like shopping for new textbooks, writing instruments, and recycled binders at the University Bookstore?

Won't happen if you take advantage of the Backpack Valet Service. Bookstore associates have set-up a secure area in the hallway just outside the entrance. There under bright light the diligent sentinels patrol, watching over student rucksacks. The service is free, too. "Last year one backpack with about two-thousand dollars worth of stuff in it was stolen during the early semester rush," an earnest valet at the check-in check-out table said. "We'll be here for two weeks making sure it doesn't happen again."

It was mid-afternoon, and the line at the bookstore stretched 25-deep from the cash registers at the front door to the merchandise shelves at the backside of the main room. Outside, freshly liberated shoppers were trading in their valet tickets for knapsacks and packing them with brand-new goodies. Thief, be foiled!


Help a Hog at the Peace Fountain (EB)

Monday, August 20, 2007, at 7:50 a.m.

dingboar First day of school!  We were greeted on the eastern edge of the Peace Fountain at 7:30 a.m. by Brian Harris, a sophomore from Fayetteville, who sat at the "Help A Hog" table. For a moment we thought he was an animal rights activist, but he politely set us straight. "I'm here to help lost Hogs," he said cheerfully. "I give them directions." An idea of the First Year Experience (FYE) office, the Help a Hog table provides a momentary anchor for freshmen who can't find their classrooms. "I'm just one of many who'll be at the table today," Mr. Harris said. His major is Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship.

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