Dentist Examines Gift Horse

Copyright 2008 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — That would be me, a metaphorical dentist, just for the morning. Even though as a journalist, ethics forbids me from volunteering in politics I have over the years taken on other tasks outside the newsroom. It’s a nice way to meet interesting people, and one actually gets to be creative and help others. I’ve been a stagehand and musician for amateur theater, played in community bands, been a web master for a couple of groups. I’ve ushered and manned concession stands at any number of fundraisers and also big-name concerts where such actions get you in free.

These have been fun, but there is a dark side. It might as well be politics. I helped one weekend afternoon — 20 years ago but I’ll never forget — at a volunteer telemarketing event. The group was phoning to ask for donations, very direct. I was at a low spot financially and made my time my contribution. In between calls these people would compare notes. Everyone knew everyone and would be unbelievably nasty that so-and-so only pledged X, when everyone knows the spouse made a killing on Y deal last month. Then the next volunteer would top that with her report. All they knew was the couple’s public story or perhaps mere gossip. I grew up in a small city and learned from listening to compassionate grown-ups like my parents that you don’t know if someone leases that fancy car, is in unbelievable debt, is faking a stable marriage. These phoners were hostile, which was more pronounced as I recalled seeing them act like dear friends to the people they jeered. I never volunteered for this group again, nor ever gave them a nickel. But I have to suspect most groups I’ve helped over the years must have an element of this.

To give non-profits their due, sometimes their leaders have to be diplomats. I know two feature journalists — give me an hour and I’ll think of others — who report or review community productions (from fine art to music to drama) but also act in their productions or edit their newsletters or fulfill other tasks. Behind their backs the others are vocally resentful. I don’t believe the two I’m thinking of have much clue how universally they’re despised. They must suspect but believe it’s only a few people and then it must be something like professional jealousy.

My understanding of this is how I have come to represent Crystal Britches in some pieces here. She doesn’t want love or people to change their minds about her necessarily. She just wants to be understood. As brilliant as she is, she has failed to get empathy and has asked for help.

She is not like the other volunteers I have mentioned, who by being placated with jobs or board spots offer good publicity or free advice (yes, lawyers who freely draft incorporation papers or accountants who complete IRS forms tend to become non-profits’ beloved members). Crystal Britches is welcomed because she is loaded.

Crystal Britches serves on any number of Ozarks organizations because at unpredictable times she writes exceedingly generous checks. Rogers-Bentonville have about six women and four men who are like this, and Fayetteville-Springdale have five women and three men whose eccentricities have to be ignored through forced grins, just to get a jackpot from twice a year to once a decade.

Crystal Britches is her real name. Really. It’s on the Internet so it must be true. She also wears crystal britches so it’s her nickname as well. You have seen her, but you may not have realized who she is. She’s either in her 60s and looks it, though trim and athletic, or in her 50s and spent too much of her teens and 20s in the sun. She stays fit by walking nearly everywhere. For distances she rides a motor scooter. She wears shorts even late into the fall and starts again too early in the late winter — like today. The muscle tone is admirable but the skin? Well, you’d have to be her age to admire her legs, I guess.

She wears plastic rain suits during inclement weather, vinyl poncho on top and clear pants below. You see her at the Fayetteville Farmers Market, where the vendors all know her. She shows up at the Walton Arts Center box office 15 minutes before curtain to buy returned tickets. You never see her at any of Northwest Arkansas’ 38 annual benefit dances — maybe she sends them anonymous cashier’s checks — though gentlemen of her acquaintance know she’s won regional awards in competitive ballroom dancing.

There’s more to say — as she’s asked me to ghost for her — but I’ll leave details for future stories from the Chronicles of Crystal Britches. -30-

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