All posts by Ben

Tapping Trees to Sing and Shop Amid Thoughtful Growth

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 21 May 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Jasper Jacks was surprised by the outcry over his Wise Acres shopping center. He could think of many reasons why residents protest, but they only had one.

Let’s see, he thought: College Avenue at Starburst Lane is the busiest intersection not just in Fayetteville but all of Northwest Arkansas. In fact, for blocks all around, there are dozens of stores.

“So you think, Jasper, that residents are worried about air pollution from cars and traffic congestion?” consultant Fenster Wiggle said. “Do you think they’re pro-business and worried how one more department store will profit when within blocks there’s Stage, TJ Maxx, Goody’s and Wal-Mart, not to mention the mall with Penney’s, Sears and Dillard’s?”

“Surely they’re not anti-growth,” Jacks said. “Nell Jung, that’s the lady in the tree, has a mobile phone, and her platform is built of cut timber.”

“Their cause is thoughtful growth. Thoughtful growth is not necessarily more expensive but is time-consuming. It takes time to figure out how to build well. Cleared land will be naked of nature for generations,” Wiggle said.

The two executives met at a picnic table in Gulley Park. Wiggle liked the lesson it eventually would teach Jacks. Gulley’s trees generally stand on its perimeter; most are young. It’s a huge, hot field, great for throwing flying discs but not for shady, lazy, all-afternoon picnics.

Wiggle pulled out his cell phone and called Longhand the poet.

Then Fenster stood and waved, for the black-hatted, blond-ponytailed versifier was swinging on a swingset 100 yards away. Longhand didn’t own a cell phone.

* * *

(We interrupt this satire to bring you a fable.)

Once upon a time there was a man who lived in a pretty old house in a pretty old neighborhood.

The azalea bush on the shady east side bloomed and flourished. The azalea bush on the sunny west side dropped more leaves with each passing season.

One morning the man went out with a shovel. He was going to dig up the sad azalea and replace it with a baby bush that would thrive on sun and heat.

From out of nowhere, Goldie the cat walked up.

“Meow. I like to nap beneath that azalea. It will be two years before the new bush is tall enough for me to hide under,” said Goldie.

“Cat, I own this house. I can do what I want,” said the man.

“Meow, then. I am going to sit on top of this azalea bush right here and yowl and embarrass you to the neighbors — until you go away,” said Goldie.”

Goldie jumped on the bush. The bush was spindly, and she broke all of its stems. It died.

MORAL: Knock, knock?

Who’s there?


Azalea who?

Azalea bracelets, pot roasts and clothes.
I’ll pay the rent and the light bill,
Then azalea some more of those.

(We now return you to our regularly scheduled satire.)

* * *

Fenster first recommended that the name of the anchor department store be changed.

“Dohl’s is too ethnic,” Wiggle said.

“No, our tenant is proud of the family name. It’s … it’s German, isn’t it?” said Jacks.

“Dole’s. It’s middle America,” Wiggle woozed. “D-o-l-e-s is as American as pineapples and bananas.”

Longhand recrossed his legs. He hated business meetings. He hated meetings. He hated business.

Prompted, Wiggle told Jacks he should do two things to cancel the negative publicity of tree-sitter Nell Jung.

The first task was to underwrite Jung’s Heart of Gold Consensus.

“They won’t take money from Dole’s or me,” Jacks said.

“Yes, it will. All these groups need funds. You are not to tie any obligations to it.”

“Whoa, really?” asked Jacks.

“Jasper, just give them a big check every quarter with absolutely no strings. Some of its membership spontaneously will be reluctant to cross you.”

“Whoa, really?” said Jacks.

Jacks wrote a check to the Heart of Gold gang. “What’s the second thing?”

“Dole’s has to have a theme song that appeals to the protesters. Shoe and computer company commercials use revolutionary rock songs. Longhand has parodied the one about the Kent State shootings. Also, this ditty will encourage customers to charge purchases.”

“I don’t do ditties. I don’t parody,” Longhand said. “I am a poet. This is an homage to a classic street anthem.”

Longhand strummed his ukulele and sang:

Tin Lizzies on Dickson Street,
We gotta move retail uptown.

La la, spring in the air,
La la, spring in the trees.
“Nell, how’s the view up there?”
“Great, Earth. Your day to seize.”

If we didn’t mine and harvest,
How could you and I drive to cafes?
Our plunder makes life full of zest;
The kids will fix this in future days.

For sale at Dole’s I owe.
For sale at Dole’s I owe.

Jasper Jacks smiled as he opened his checkbook again, humming the melody. It brought back memories.

“She’ll come down,” he thought.


Proposals for Drake Take Flight

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 2 February 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Love. Midway. Drake. What do these airports have in common? These fields were relegated to secondary status by progress, that is, bigger and newer nearby airports.

Dallas and Chicago, homes of the first two terminals, respectively, are larger than Fayetteville and have been able to support multiple sets of runways for decades. Major airlines have been using both their urban and suburban airports to profitable success.

Fayetteville, although its heart is as big as Big D and Chi-Town’s, might have to face the jet stream as Drake’s remaining airlines heed the lure of big, new, nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (3XNA2 in Phonetic Pig Latin). Yet Drake’s gates’ losing flights need not be the end of the facility.

As recently closed military bases throughout the country have been modified or out-and-out changed to the eventual benefit of their communities, so Drake Field may have a fresh life and provide benefits for the greater Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers area into the next millennium.

The first proposal should be the most obvious. Make Drake Field an international airport. It may be smaller than the typical U.S. international airport. It may not accept flights of the supersonic Concorde. Still, the business benefits would be tremendous.

Just having private and charter flights come in from around the world would create a host of related businesses and new jobs. There would be a need for warehouses and duty-free shopping malls, as well as the building of homes for U.S. Customs agents and kennels for their contraband-sniffing dogs.

Or Drake Field could be named a national park. If a row of closed bathhouses along a busy, divided street and across from a row of souvenir shops can make up a national park, as in Hot Springs, why not here in Fayetteville?

If not a national park, let’s flood it and create a sanctioned wildlife-wetland area for rare plants and animals. We must act now, while Arkansas has clout in Washington. That is clout we have there, isn’t it?

Drake Field could be privatized. Now that Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market concept of a sub-supermarket is up and running, the Bentonville giant ought to spin off another combination of one of its departments and the downtown of yore. The prototype could be set up in the old Drake terminal building for customer testing.

Let’s put the even money on a “Wal-Mart Square Hardware”: where a fellow could buy one carriage bolt or 12 dozen. There the greeter would welcome you from a rusty stool at a counter marked with cigarette-burn marks and coffee rings. With Wal-Mart’s celebrated vendor contracts, a penny nail still would cost you and me just one cent.

A step between the airport commission and a business is a not-for-profit facility. Let all the area icons of capitalism join forces and foundations. Imagine the crowd at the ribbon-cutting for the (Your Name First If You’ve More Than)-Walton-Hunt-Jones-Reynolds Center for Applied Sciences, Industrial Arts and Cultural Diversity.

Such a charity would keep people flocking to this part of Fayetteville for drafting classes, typewriter repair, long arithmetic, charcoal grilling, home economics and six-pack-net quilting. If these fields were viable, they wouldn’t need non-profit status, and the corporations, not their foundations, would take good care of them. If some of the fields take off, then, as businesses, they still could be run from the terminal, tower, hangars and sheds.

You may think I’m a dreamer for believing Drake Field has a future. Yet just in recent weeks an aviation school has announced it would move to Drake.

So maybe you should hear this idea: a satellite campus of the University of Arkansas for satellite technology. Yes, the Arkansas Space Administration (ASA for short) would give students hands-on experience with all facets of unmanned telecommunication orbiters, from assembling and lift-off to mistakenly crashing into Beaver Lake.

The rocket launches should not be any noisier than the daily plane count at Drake in 1997, if you average out the decibels over a year.


A Dinner with Andre

Guest column, 1st run 18 June 1994 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Copyright 1994 Ben S. Pollock Jr.

Heaven may very well be like a bakery. Think of the smells: wheat bread, onion bagels, cinnamon rolls and doughnuts. The counters are white, its staff is dressed in white.

Conversely, good bakeries are like heaven on Earth. Where would our two Andre’s restaurants be placed?

The bistros endure, but robbers killed owner Andre Simon in the newer restaurant, a renovated cottage in the between-the-wars neighborhood called Hillcrest. They got only $70.

Inspired, neighbors have begun meaningful enterprises in his name. I’m not sure this unpretentious man would approve, so let’s interview him in the third Andre’s, which never closes.

“Regret putting up a struggle?”

He answers crisply with that no-nonsense, French-Swiss accent.

“It was stupid, yes, but how was I to know how it would end? You cut straight to the point.”

“I don’t have much time.”

“I have all the time. All the time.”

Andre moves from around the white counter.

“So you don’t see any lesson in your murder?”

“These things happen. May I rest in peace. Continue to, that is,” Andre says, seating himself at my table, itself clothed in white linen.

“You may see no point, but your tragedy motivated everyone around Beechwood Street. They beefed up Neighborhood Crime Watch.”

His eyes glint.

“Those people don’t see the town is simply growing, getting big-city problems. They’re getting big-city advantages, too. They wouldn’t want to give their malls back, would they? Look at me. I expanded to two gourmet restaurants. I earned good money with a dozen tables at each.”

I press on.

“Your old neighbors want more police, too. They’ve even offered to hire their own, just to work that area.”

“What good would that have done me?” he yells, annoyed not with his end but with me. “Some guys hungry for excitement and easy money were driving from clear across town and saw my sign. They came in during dinner — what Neighborhood Crime Watcher would have suspected any more than perhaps tardy busboys? After a minute of commotion, it was over — in front of a house full of workers and customers. Patrolling police would not have suspected a thing until the shots. Then it wouldn’t have mattered.”

“So, Andre, you’re saying police are useless and homeowners should draw their curtains and lock their doors?”

“Just because I’m dead, don’t put words in my mouth. Neighbors always should look out for one another. As a community grows, so should its police force. Just as obvious is the fact that impulsive crimes like mine can’t be prevented, except one way.” He pauses for effect. “Some people always have tried to get something for nothing. Yet society now has created the right to be lazy.”

I thought angels would be tranquil, but Andre is just warming up.

“Publisher’s Clearinghouse constantly invites you to enter sweepstakes: You don’t need to lick your own stamp. States promote lotteries: Big money, no effort. Casinos are creeping in everywhere: Worship luck, not effort. So why shouldn’t these kids keep guns handy for quick cash?

“That makes as much sense as me, the late Andre Simon, working seven days a week for years. For what?”

“So your old friends could find some meaning? So a writer could find some?” I ask.

“Smell! The bread’s done. I have to go to the ovens. Anecdotes like me scare people. Then statistics prove crime is stagnant or even declining. Together they have always said. Be cautious, but live. Bon appetit.”


You’re Invited to a Special Benefit Roast, But It Won’t Be Much Fun

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 6 August 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Ever wonder what you’re doing wrong if you’ve never been asked to one of those fund-raising roasts? Me, too. Why, I’m almost an executive. So where’s the invitation?

Why is success in a community measured by being obligated to attend a mediocre evening’s entertainment in black clothes for a good-size buck, albeit one for some good cause? Heavy dinners followed by well-intentioned speeches are tedious for anybody, no matter whether you’re wearing a suit or tuxedo, an office dress or evening gown.

Let’s have our own Special Dinner. You’re invited. They’re not.

“Dear (name): We would be utterly honored if you and your delightful life partner, M–. (name), could attend our dinner, a fun-filled benefit roast for the Donenough Foundation. Rather than a guest of honor, the institution of the mock testimonial itself will be gigged. Bow ties required. R.S.V.P.”

Thank you all for coming tonight. Because of your generosity, after we pay for the dinner and the hall, the Donenough Foundation will be able to clear a week’s worth of expenses.

Since this is an amateur affair, we will flag each joke with an exclamation point — the equivalent of a talk show applause light. So if you don’t get it, fake it!

Because this dinner excludes the exclusive, we considered serving a freshly prepared meal that many would like. Yet our overriding goal was to offer a typical roast, to see what we have been missing.

This explains your small salad with tired lettuce, followed by either dry prime rib with salty au jus or baked chicken over mushy rice. You also had the option of having your brown-and-serve roll made soggy by being served atop the canned string beans or the gravy-drenched mashed potatoes.

Most of you, regrettably, missed that generous introduction of me, offered while the peach cobbler with aerosol whipped topping was served. Clinking forks against plates provides necessary atmosphere!

The time has come for the self-deprecating remark.

Hearing all my colleague’s quips and heartfelt opinions has been a privilege. It will take me through next week to decide which ones were which!

The body of the talk is nigh.

We are here to celebrate the roast. For those of you who are vegetarians, we instead will applaud the cow. Do I hear moos … or boos? Oh, you’re calling out “booze”!

The Friars Club apparently invented the roast as a parody of the testimonial.

For the traditional testimonial to have filled the tables, the guest of honor must have been not only successful and widely known but also well-liked. A city the size of ours still can handle only one testimonial a year. Roast are offered almost once a month, and this hotel room has reservations to the turn of the century!

Roasters since the Friars have aspired to be Don Rickles, who disguised bile as sarcasm.

Each roaster thus tells a few stories then offers the same tribute: “But in all seriousness, folks, this person is the most generous professional I have ever known. And I really mean that.”

Thus the conclusion tonight turns somber.

What does the lighthearted testimonial dinner say about society? Why do we need a roast of fraternity hijinks and jokes on aging to help some charity? Direct donations feed more funds straight to the goal.

I move that next year, let’s have another $50-a-plate roast, then offer diners with discretion the option of sending $35 to the Donenough Foundation, skipping dinner and pocketing $15.

But in all seriousness, folks, tonight’s roast has been the most generous we professionals have ever known. And I really mean that.


Bush Versus Gore in Verses Leaves Voters to Curses

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 6 August 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — The first presidential debate was held just last night. Due to its nature, improvisational rhyming, it was short. Due to its participants, a winner could not be determined by the panel — or Nielsen ratings.

Moderator Evan S. Murgatroyd, the longtime, veteran, pioneer, acerbic, curmudgeonly but never quite lovable political commentator, guided the discussion, asking the questions, calling time sarcastically when the candidates stalled to think of iambs.

Here are the rules as given by Murgatroyd in a submarine hero sonnet, where the rhyme scheme is aabb ccdd eeff then a willy-nilly zz couplet to close:

The rules are just these, you men to elect,
Respond to issues in rhymes you select.
These are samples of the heroic couplet,
Advice? Stay simple with five feet to vet.

As “expert” I can call every shot,
Folks let us call races, like it or not.
My guess: That today’s debate won’t decide
Your preference, no pollsters will abide.

The rules: Each gent will have an opening
Then I follow with questions for reckoning.
You can rebut or, as you want, to veer
To talking points, for so many an ear.

Results are counted by Whitewater Inc.:
Implications, no convictions, just stink.

Murgatroyd then asked the Democrat, Vice President Al Gore, to open.

Thank you, Evan, to have a verse debate,
At last a chance to dance. Hope it’s not too late.
You know me, Al, moderate to the core,
Strength through compromise makes me not a bore.

Gov. George W. Bush then gave his opening stanza after applause for Gore died down. That did not take long. Applause for Bush never was lengthy, either. It is a long time to November, fortunately.

Good Evan-ing, hah! How about Steven-Evan S.?
Was that a nickname you can reminisce?
There’s my sophomoric frat-boy humor
That’ll elect me, then be Dad, with honor.

“My first question,” said Murgatroyd, abruptly, “is what will each of you do about the economy.”


Reagan and Dad cut taxes, push the ticker,
In the ’80s, we helped rich get richer.
“Trickle-down” was the idea. It was a peach;
It didn’t say how to be nice, each to each.


I balanced the budget in the ’90s, I recall,
Perhaps Bill helped. First in decades, “you all.”
Despite pleas from GOPs to cut all tax,
I — or we — cut spending to a low max.

Murgatroyd then asked about foreign policy, with Gore stonily silent and then delivering the first quatrain. During this, Bush fidgeted and counted syllables on his figures. As the audience saw, the Ivy League education of both prepared them more than adequately.


I took mere diplomats eight years while Bill
“Rassled” world leaders, kept them from the kill.
I’m “rarin’ ” now, is that vernacular?
Big Al’s polished, no need for wool-puller.


This may be my first time to the world plate,
But Texas its own melting pot, at quick rate.
Fie to Europe, the other continents:
You to yours. I heed my constituents.

The debate continued, to Social Security and Medicare. The Democrat and Republican found rhymes for those easily enough, both looking to their predecessors and then pronouncing their individuality, their uniqueness.

What tripped the men up were questions from the audience. On a surprisingly unified front, they winked and then talked plain English, giving answers that anyone could read on their pamphlets or Internet sites.

There was no concluding verse from either. As the expert on the television that night, Murgatroyd gave himself, not the candidates, the last word. He went for long lines.

I, Evan S., have heard every word, not only tonight,
But for months of platitudes we have nil insight.
We, both voters and pundits, have created this mess,
We admit having melded the parties, made them coalesce.
Al, George say: We’re for change. We’ll make things as they could.
Both add: We stand for the old days, when times were as they should.


Penny Wise, Dollar Smart, Grand Genius: Regis, Pound Me

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 22 October 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Penny wise and pound foolish is not a recipe for gluttony. Who needs to follow a recipe for that?

We heard it from our elders, who got it from a bloke named Robert Burton who coined the maxim in the early 17th century.

Those of us who remember the 20th century may know people who saved remnants of bar soap to eventually combine into a mass big enough for a few more washes.

When the toothpaste is almost out, how much time do you spend squeezing two or three more dabs? Two minutes? Ten minutes?

That’s as compulsive as molding soap — and penny wise.

Your family size toothpaste costs around $2 and lasts, what, four months?

That’s 120 days, 240 brushings. You putz in the bathroom for less than a penny’s worth of mint polish? You’re late to work, go already!

We are still so economical that we comparison shop for bottled water.

We gauge home computer models for features we might need. Do I need video-editing software when I don’t own a digital camcorder — but I might.

Back when a dollar was worth a dollar (I’m almost 43 so my dollar was worth a dollar in the 1970s), I mused to my childhood best friend Dana Daniel how you can’t compare worth and price.

My example — I don’t know how Dana put up with me — was that for three drive-in lunches you could buy an album. The meals would be long digested and gone while the LP would last for years. One record equals a couple pounds of burgers and fries and Cokes (no Perrier in Fort Smith at that time).

We were only 16 or 17 so no revelation came from such musing, unless we concluded I was nuts.

The nation may be at record-high employment, but with little effort you can spend yourself broke.

Since my wife calculated that she spends $50 an hour at discount super stores, she goes just once a month. She’s there 2 1/2 hours and it costs $125.

Me? I am much better shopper. I can spend $125 at Wal-Mart in half the time.

Being armed with coupons helps just a little. Coupons work only when (A) you need the item and (B) you need that name-brand form of it. After that, discounted items are frills, which is why manufacturers still offer coupons.

Our hunting for bargains keeps the economy robust.

Does it make sense to go to Kmart for odds and ends, among which is spray cleaner, then later go to Wal-Mart to finish out the shopping list and see the same cleaner for over $1 cheaper?

Meanwhile, you discover some of what you bought at Kmart was a buck cheaper, proving the total at either store still works out about the same.

Would you buy a second bottle of the spray at Wal-Mart and the next day return the first to Kmart?

Well, it was a dollar.

Gas costs almost $1.50 a gallon, and the extra shopping trip takes 40 minutes of valuable time, not to mention killing a lunch hour.

Factoring in all of the costs to evaluate the multiple excursions is the true waste of time. I’d rather just assume I am dollar smart.

To live in America, we don’t need to act like paupers. Times are good, let’s enjoy all we can buy. Nice paper to write on stirs my creativity. My favorite is 8 cents a sheet, including shipping for the mail order. For 8 cents, however, you make a photocopy down the street that already has writing on it.

A basic computer today can be $1,500 or $1,800. Why not get the bigger one?

Then it will be too small in five years instead of four. It’s just $300. Not counting sales tax.

You buy a car, a few grand more than others because among other attributes it has side air bags. What price safety? I’m a grand genius.

Life insurance? First you sign. Then you pay. Last you undergo a physical.

“You mean my having to take a little cholesterol pill despite being in ‘excellent’ health kills the ‘preferred’ premium, and I have to pay $400 more?”

For that $400 I might as well enjoy eggs, yolk and all, a few times a week.

Eat, drink and surf the Net, for tomorrow we pound foolish.


Time to Turn Over New Leaf — or Not

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 9 November 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

I’d like to think I was a normal, tidy homeowner. The neighbors here seem to disagree. You can tell by what they don’t say, those odd silences when our paths cross putting outgoing mail out in the mornings, checking the mailbox in the afternoons. The way they wave and seem to glance at all the leaves in your yard with disdain. Maybe it’s pity.

Our fellow residents here are as critical as the ones we left in Little Rock. They’re nice as can be, but isn’t that for show? Surely I am not paranoid, nor am I feeling guilty about not having begun to rake.

Don’t they know how busy we are?

During the spring and most of the summer — until the drought joyfully dried up our sparse tufts of grass — I mowed my yard within a week of its needing it — a week after it turned shaggy. I edged once, maybe twice.

The leaves began falling three weeks ago. Maybe four. Or five. Six weeks at the most. I think I was waiting for the first frost. That came about a week ago. That caused another bundle to leave our oaks, maples and dogwoods.

This made the azalea bushes nervous. They seem to look through their chirpy little oval leaves up to the bare trees nearby and say, “What do you mean, next?”

The weather in a day jumped back up 30 or 40 degrees: Perfect raking weather, but, of course, I couldn’t take off from my job.

Then the first weekend after the first frost arrived.

We luxuriantly loafed Saturday, but Sunday the guilt began about noon. Cars drove by, and people pointed. Or may have pointed. Car windows are so deeply tinted these days, who knows? You have to use your imagination.

So I then read the three local newspapers. Finally, I got out the rakes, gloves, a tarp to rake leaves onto and the electric leaf-blower-slash-vacuum-mulcher.

I didn’t want to bag unshredded leaves and leave them on the curb for the city crews to pick up. We compost for an organic yard and garden beds.

Last spring, I created a 3-foot-wide bin from 48-inch wire fencing. A few weeks ago, I wired up three 3-foot-diameter bins from 36-inch-high fencing.

The compost cylinders are against a stone wall out back.

One has kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy but eggshells are good) from throughout the year mixed with a few leaves I chopped in the spring. The others were ready for 100 percent leaves.

My wife raked the tree debris into tall piles, and I poked the leaf-vacuum nozzle in them.

We worked all afternoon, repeatedly emptying the leaf blower-vac’s nylon bag into the three yard-tall bins and part of the 4-footer with finely chopped leaves and perhaps a candy wrapper or two.

I wore a paper dust mask and a pair of $1 safety goggles. The rote work allowed me to daydream.

“Dr. Pollock, Dr. Pollock, you’re needed in surgery. Stat! Hurry! So don’t change! The yard mask and goggles are fine for Fayetteville General’s O.R.”

Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa, goes the instrument monitoring my patient, the once-feisty bachelor millionaire, the old rake.

(Who am I, Walter Mitty’s nephew?)

As the afternoon wore on, the faster I got. Was it because the bag unhooked quicker from the leaf blower-vac? Maybe something broke; that’s why it started coming off easily.

Or was it because my goggles got progressively more caked with sweat and leaf dust and I simply couldn’t determine how thorough I was plowing through the leaf piles.

Then the unseasonable heat began falling. Mosquitoes came out. Should I stop and spray insect repellent? No, we must press on.

It also was getting darker. I needed to hurry to finish the front. The back yard would have to wait for another weekend, perhaps another year.

My wife finished raking, leaving me several piles. She probably was reading the paper, or perhaps performing chores — dinner … please, please let dinner be one of them.

The sky grew dark; so my speed increased. Between the almost-opaque goggles and the twilight I simply could not see, but I could guess by kicking where the piles seem to have been. No leaves meant I completed that spot.

The neighbors surely were lined up at their windows, silently cheering at how clean the Pollock yard was.

It was only the next morning when I saw how many leaves were left on the lawn. Before Sunday, they were up to 6 inches thick; now grass and compacted dirt could be seen in patches, next to the last brown and yellow leaves, up to 3 inches thick.

Did I leave them? Perhaps a major leaf fall occurred during the night. I sought solace from Organic Gardening magazine. A recent issue reported fallen leaves are good for the lawn. Chop some for compost and leave the rest to naturally fertilize and protect the lawn: You don’t see deer and bears out raking up verdant meadows and forests, do you?

My neighbors, however, are not animals. The growling I think I hear when I fetched the papers in my robe probably comes from their cursing the organic leaf fall that will stay on the lawn until the lawn mower comes out in the spring, three weeks after theirs.


Some Mondays Made for ‘DPs’ Who Can Take Them

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 3 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Some Mondays need more than 24 hours.

My wife is doing some work for a project in London. We decided I would join her there for Thanksgiving week.

TW Express 7608 was to leave Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at 4:18 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, arriving 5:35 at St. Louis. TWA’s flight 720 was to leave at 7:30 p.m., arriving 9:50 a.m. Tuesday at London’s Gatwick airport.

I am told to be at the airport by 3.

Around 9 p.m. Sunday I phone a good-bye to my mom in Fort Smith. Two hours later I write my wife an e-mail of last-minute thoughts about our romantic getaway, but the computer tells me the phone is dead.

Maybe No. 1: Maybe I should have gone to a pay phone and punched the phone company’s repair number Sunday night.

I wash a load of laundry while packing, writing and phoning. There is a gurgling in the walls. Two weeks earlier the bathroom flooded, but everything has been OK since.

Maybe No. 2: Maybe I should call a plumber every time there’s an overflow or a leaky tap.

By 2 a.m. Monday I am packed. Bet I can ignore the noise and the dinky seats and snooze for most of the long flight.

I am up at 7. Oh no, the bathroom floor’s a soggy wreck. I try to call the plumber but — the phone is dead, still.

I borrow a neighbor’s phone. The mechanized phone-company voice tells me that the problem is within the house. I am to unplug every phone line, wait five minutes then replug one to see if the dial tone has reset.

It does.

The plumbing dispatcher listens to my story and says the sewer is backed up and recommends a couple of “roto” services.

The one I call tells me someone will be at the house about noon, calling me at work so I can meet them.

The roto people do not phone, and I leave my half-day of work. I call and learn a man will be at the house by 2. At 2:02 I phone and learn the man will be there any minute. I load the car.

He arrives at 2:45. I phone the neighbor, and she comes over with a book to read. I give her my house key and a blank check for the expert.

(Her reward is anonymity — and, later, a tin of English chocolate.)

I hit the airline counter at 3:25. The ticket agent tells me to relax, that my flight to St. Louis is a little late.

What about the flight from there to London? She tells me TWA 720 itself is at least 35 minutes late, which leaves me just enough time.

At the gate, TW Express announces its plane has a maintenance delay and that its passengers will leave about 5:30. What about the TWA to London? It is at least 35 minutes late, I am told by another agent, and that with hustle I can make it.

Maybe No. 3: Maybe I should not believe two airline officials with the same information.

We leave Arkansas about 6 p.m. It arrives at the B-concourse gate about 7:20.

The departures screen says the 7:30 flight is — on time.

I make the C-concourse gate at 7:29. Really.

But the door to the jetbridge is locked.

The agent there tells me two things. Boarding for any international flight ends 30 minutes before departure. Second, my 7:30 flight left — four minutes early.

Please, someone laugh.

For most of the rest of Monday I hang out at two TWA service counters and the TW Express service counter.

The next flight to London leaves at 7:30 Tuesday night, the same No. 720. Going to Cincinnati or New York or Dallas or Atlanta for another airline will get me to Europe at best at 8 a.m. Wednesday instead of 10 a.m., at a cost of sleeping in a chair at one of those airports.

TWA offers me a night at a St. Louis Holiday Inn and $15 for its restaurant. For 24 hours of meals? That gets me a $10 voucher for airport food. TW Express gives me a $9 voucher for more airport food.

Eventually I get five or six coupons for 1,000 frequent-flier miles each and a whole $50 off my next TWA ticket.

Also, TWA gives me a plastic pouch with razor, folding hairbrush, toothbrush, mini-toothpaste and a packet of Woolite for my underwear.

The Holiday Inn extends the noon check-out to 2 p.m. I use the time calling my travel agent, the big airline and its regional partner.

Finally, TWA gives me a ticket exchange, allowing me to return home a day later, thus returning my full week’s vacation. Ordinarily, changing an advance ticket costs $75 plus the difference between discount and full fare.

The inn’s waiter at breakfast Tuesday asked me if I was another “DP.” That’s short for “Distressed Passenger.”

This DP gives him $3 cash after learning TWA’s voucher may not be used for tips.

At this point Monday was over just about everywhere, and I got to London at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday — give or take.


Let Sun Set-tle Year 2000 Crisis

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 16 March 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

The solution for the Year 2000 problem is for everyone to turn Jewish.

“Y2K,” as it is abbreviatedly known, refers to older computer programs reading years in two digits, which might assume the last ’00 and not the next ’00. The fear is that bank accounts might be erased because nearly all of us had zero balances in 1900 and that airplanes might crash because the air-traffic-control system had nowhere to go but up, back in 1900.

But to think, if not become, Jewish might be the best way to prevent millennia mayhem. This is the Jewish year 5759. It refers to the number of years, according to tradition if not scientific calculation, since Adam was born.

What a week that was.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, is the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri. In the 1999 Gregorian calendar it falls on Saturday, Sept. 11. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, like the one that sets when Easter and related Christian holidays fall.

Thus, come September the year will be 5760. We’ll have 240 years, not 9 1/2 months, to worry about the next millennium, 6000. Jews are not known to worry compulsively.

Besides, the individualistic, disorganized approach for which Jewish people are known will prevent videocassette players from flashing 00:00 at the top of the Hebraic year 6000. Why? Because Jewish new years do not begin at midnight sharp, but at about sundown on the evening before the day itself.

So sit back and “nosh” on a snack and a beverage.

Relax, because it does not matter if the Jewish New Year begins at midnight or whenever the sun gets around to setting. This holiday occurs on the first day of the SEVENTH month.

According to the Exodus Chapter 12, the FIRST month in the Jewish calendar is Nisan, whose first day falls in this Gregorian year on Thursday, March 18 — well, the first day of the first month begins at sunset Wednesday, March 17.

Put your feet up; the millennium will be here either sooner than you think, or much later.

What do the Jewish people celebrate in their first month? Why the holy festival of Pesach, the Passover, celebrating the exodus of slaves from Egypt.

This spring agricultural celebration doesn’t begin on the first day of Nisan. God through Moses in the Hebrew Scriptures calls for the eight-day Feast of Unleavened Bread to begin on the 14th of Nisan (sundown Wednesday, March 31).

“Hey, what’s a couple of weeks,” the Lord says. “It’s the vernal equinox. Plant crops. Smell My early flowers. See a sunset. And Happy Rosh Hashana — in six months.”

We should feel commanded to post Jewish calendars next to the Ten Commandments in our public schools and open courts.

You don’t have to be Jewish to successfully debug your home computer. Just click on the Date-and-Time icon in your Microsoft Meltdown Manager or Apple core menu and change today from Tuesday, March 16, to Tuesday, Adar 28 — after switching from the “U.S.” to the “Israeli” setting.

There you go, 240 years free of millennial worry years, give or take six lunar months.

With this simple, 3,760-year change from Gregorian to Hebrew, arguments about whether the 21st century begins Jan. 1, 2000, or Jan. 1, 2001, fade in seriousness.

I am fading in seriousness.

To return to the secular, humanistic world, many people seem not quite to understand the arguments of those who boringly insist that Jan. 1, 2001, begins the new century. This is America. Let’s just outmaneuver them.

Let us agree, and lobby Congress to legislate, that next year begins not the 21st century but the 20th. This will make life easy. The 2000s are the 20th century.

This is so easy to remember, we should have done it centuries ago.

It is the basest logic. For 99 years; or 98 years; or 97 years, two months (or three months since March is the third month) and 16 days, this has been the 1900s and therefore must be the 19th century because they share the first four letters.

The 1800s comprise the 18th century. Our beloved country declared independence in 1776 in the 17th century.

Freedom is what this is all about. We will not be told what to do or what the truth is, especially when the truth is obvious like this. We know we are smarter than preceding generations.

The president will back us on this and get Congress to go along. If there is anyone who ought to want to turn back the clock, it is Bill Clinton, give or take a few months, and a sunset or two.


Drawing’s on the Blank Side of My Brain

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 21 March 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

Research in the 1950s found the left and right halves of the brain have different functions, and experiments in the 1960s proved the left hemisphere is in charge of logical number crunching — straight-line thinking — while the right side intuitive connects parts — finds the whole picture.

The left half thus is the computer and the right the artist. There’s no accounting for taste.

This is insufficient to explain some human weaknesses. I can however, and the latest diagnostic medical equipment isn’t refined enough to prove me wrong. The brain is not halved but quartered. My drawing skill indicates I’m right.

The physical separation of the brain is lengthwise, according to computer tomography (CT scan, $800) and magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI, $1,100, with 10 wallet reprints another $20). Philosophically, the brain also can be halved again, crosswise over the hemispheres.

The bottom half is in charge of reluctance, inertia, timidity and laziness. These three halves — left, right and lower — comprise the Trilateral Omission.

What about the fourth half? The top is simple and pure. Its function is to hold a hat.

The brain bottom makes you work hard to get a noble project off the ground, then reverses electrical polarity and lets you off the hook a week or two later with absolutely no effort.

I can prove this by my desire to make pictures. Other people have the same problem in sticking to exercise, diet or even a schedule of reading the Great Books. We know these activities are good for us, and can be pleasurable, but such motivations are not enough to drive the Trilateral Omission.

This effect is wholly inactive during childhood. Then, parents and teachers enforce habits. The brain bottom matures in adolescence, when the onset of acne, dating and driving force judgment calls — and their consequences.

The decisions can be narrowed to choosing acts of commission and omission, hence the origin of the effect’s scientific name — the term “commission” disqualified for already having a reputation.

The Trilateral Omission has never been reported in any scientific or academic journal, and hence is not subject to verification. Aren’t we lucky.

The T.O. theory is the only explanation I have for being otherwise perfect — I exercise regularly, eat nutritiously, write creatively and play euphonium — yet have no will power to develop graphic skills.

I have tried to enjoy this hobby ever since taking an introductory art course in my senior year of college a decade ago For one to three times year since, I have taken evening drawing or watercolor classes. But when I wake up on a Saturday and consider whether to spend the morning with an open pad and sharp pencil, I go back to sleep.

Experts say adults must admit their childlike selves exist inside, which needs to be let out for self-actualization.

I know my childlike self. It comes and goes as it pleases.

That is why I need classes to be artistic. My inner child needs an authority figure. If the continuing-education teacher did not assign projects and supervise me, my paper would remain white.

I enjoy painting once I get started and have been told I have some artistic talent that, with guided practice, could blossom. For me, these incentives are insufficient.

The hemisphere scientists believe this is my analytical left brain intimidating my imaginative right brain into a paralysis. Psychologists have the solution: The right brain must trick the left into retreat. Easy? Sure.

I haven’t had a community adult class in about 10 months. For a fraction of the tuition I could train myself, my imaginative right brain realized. Buying a lot of extra art supplies would prevent the right from feeling guilty — a left-brain trick — when I create catastrophes by this trial-and-error teaching method.

My brain’s bottom half hasn’t fallen for this ruse. I think it is in charge of writing this column, as a matter of fact.

“I think.” Who’s doing this so-called thinking? Who’s in charge here? The top, hat-holder half?