Category Archives: 2000 Loose Leaves

Loose Leaves columns from 2000

Fidgeting or Sleeping, At a Musical Galop

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 8 February 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

We gained a second ticket for the Philharmonic when the missis was asked to work late. Who would want to go, I wondered, when my thought was intercepted by my stick horse, Dowel Jones, who called out in a soft whinny from the mansion’s riding, er, writing wing.

I don’t take Dowel Jones out as often as I should. The Walton Arts Center would be perfect. They will let anything in with a ticket.

“It’s an instrumental concert, faithful steed, but we can’t quite call this classical music. We will hear 20th-century works, lots of percussion.”

With the hobby horse there naturally was no need for a car, despite the hills of Fayetteville.

“Why is it, Dowel, that, when I ride you, I am the one who gets tired? You never seem winded.”

Dowel Jones snorted, in his laughing way.

Dowel may seem a toy for a child, but he is one of my dearest chums. He was imagined up at least a year before I found him circa 1989 for sale at the Prairie Grove Battlefield Labor Day Clothesline Fair.

His head is blue fabric striped with white. His mane is bright red yarn. His outer ears are red cloth, but the inner ears have big and little blue stars on white. The reins are sisal. Dowel’s torso is an unfinished oak rod.

Outside the performing-arts complex I dismounted. We were going inside. Mom may be 50 miles away in Fort Smith, but she could get word if we galloped through the center’s art-gallery lobby.

For an evening of serious music we saw an unusual number of children. Some pointed at Dowel, who blushed.

Riding a horse on the sidewalk was much quicker than driving and parking along Dickson Street. We had time for a pit stop.

The men’s room was, as usual, immaculate. Even so, I did not want to lean Dowel Jones against a wall, so I kept him crooked under my arm. The other patrons certainly hurried out, even though it was 10 minutes until curtain.

That was a good thing, we learned, for a sheet of laminated typing paper was taped up telling patrons to mind the time because none of the restrooms has loudspeakers. Lights will not blink, either.

The sign states further that latecomers will not be seated until the first break, perhaps about 15 minutes after the curtain has risen.

I should donate a million dollars to the Walton Arts Center to pay to pull speaker wire through restroom walls so we can hear the tinkling bell and to rig the lights so they can blink on the house manager’s cue.

This was a moot point, a good thing since I don’t have a million dollars. As usual in this hall, latecomers were seated as they arrived. Everyone was as quiet as could be, but you still had rustling and removing of coats along with muffled “pardon me’s” and “excuse me’s.”

From our balcony seats, Dowel Jones and I could see some of the children. Most were a good deal younger than high-school musicians who would have gained greatly from the experience.

This Philharmonic concert was not intended for children, although the Walton Arts Center presents several young people’s shows every season. No program I have attended over the last year was targeted for youngsters, yet they all had a fair number of listless children.

Listless? Children at grown-up events are either fidgety or asleep, or approaching either state. In neither state can they absorb or appreciate what their mommies and daddies paid $12 to $30 for each seat to behold.

Of course, I may not be up on the latest research. Before anyone thinks I am a cranky duff, I do forgive restless adults. An occasional throat clearing and a rare whisper should be tolerated by patron and performer.

If one wants an ideal listening or viewing experience, one should stay home with stereo and TV. People are people.

Even so, the Walton Arts Center offers trays of cough drops to patrons as they enter.

My tolerance leaves no room, however, for cell phones and pagers. I have not heard one yet at the arts center.

The children who sat around Dowel Jones and myself at the Philharmonic were well behaved.

The second-grade and fourth-grade sisters on the front row of the balcony hardly spoke. They kicked the little wall every so often, despite their chaperones’ mild admonishments, but they seemed to pay attention to the program.

A baby had a booster seat in the row above, but he spent most of his time on his mother’s lap. The infant dropped his sippy cup twice, rolling under my seat each time. The second time, the mother just left it until the show ended. She apologized as I picked it up for her. I just smiled.

What was I to say? The covered sippy cup did not spill. Besides, next to the booster seat sat a teen-ager. He drank a can of soda during the concert.

I had strapped a feed bag around Dowel’s neck before the program began. My concert companion neither fidgeted nor slept.

Throughout the show, an intermittent stream of people flowed out. Adults were carrying or tugging their charges through many pairs of knees and then up the aisles.

They carried their bags; they were not coming back. Don’t folks know how children behave, even at their best?

I enjoyed the show. My tail-less stallion did not let the distractions bother him, either. As we trotted out the door, Dowel Jones whinnied and bared his teeth in a laugh, as if to say, horseys are optimists, too.

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And the Winner Is Hands-Down

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 25 January 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Welcome to the Ben’s Academy of Pooh-bah Arts and Sciences Awards Show. Coming to you live from the old Royal typewriter in beautiful downstairs Burbank, we present the Best of the Morning.

Here’s your host, Pooh-bah Ben.

Hello, everyone.

This is not the Golden Globe Awards. As you know, the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tonys have rigorous standards: Their members vote to select nominees and then winners, subject to audit. That still doesn’t mean their standards are our standards.

Golden Globes come from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. How American are the Foreign Press standards?

The Pooh-bah Best of the Morning Awards have one judge, me, which makes them unambiguously subjective. Isn’t that better?

There are only a few reasons any of these shows are watched.

First, beautiful women in slinky gowns (applause). Second, the off-hand remarks comprise some of the best humor on TV (laughter).

Lastly, there is the horse-race aspect: We do want to know whether the music we enjoyed on the stereo won and whether the movies that we remembered days after we saw them won (cheers).

Once we acknowledge that the purpose of the awards is to persuade us to buy tickets, rent videos and purchase albums, then we can just sit back and watch the parade of sequels, I mean, sequins.

The only award contest that measures quality accurately is a presidential election (guffaws).

So now, on with the show.

Our first award in the Pooh-bah Best of the Morning contest is for best garbage bag. Our nominees include the Zippy bag, the house-brand liner from the neighborhood supermarket and the magenta, city-of-Fayetteville, 30-gallon bag, which was introduced just before deadline.

And the winner is — the Fayetteville trash sack!

“I want to thank the Member of the Academy, and I want to thank the mayor and City Council, because my implementation was an administrative decision that they had little to do with. To bring this up short, the Department of Water, Sanitation, Recycling, Storm Runoff and Potability has my undying gratitude.

“Don’t bring up the music yet. I’m not deflated yet. I cannot leave the stage without thanking the Pollock household for putting sharp objects in the recycling box, not in me, so I don’t rip before my time.”

Get that bag off the curb; it’s an eyesore! Now then. The nominees for best writing implement are pencil, fountain pen, smudgy disposable ball pen and computer.

And the winner is — the pencil!

“I don’t know why the Member of the Academy picked me. Everything in my field is a winner. To me, they all get high marks — well, maybe not the computer, hah-hah. The press is going to say this is like the best-supporting actor prize, going to the has-been at death’s door, but let me assure everyone that I have never felt sharper. Thanks, everyone.”

The nominees for best toilet article are toothbrush, safety razor and cup. And the winner is — the razor!

“What a surprise. First I have to thank the cartridges the Face bought. Each lasts 2 1/2 weeks, and that was before the Face started his goatee and mustache, where I now shave only half the skin that I used to.

“I too want to thank the Fayetteville water works. I agree with the magenta city garbage bag. Without the high pressure of the water works, not to mention the hot water provided by the Sears tank in the closet next to beautiful downstairs Burbank, the Face’s whiskers never would be completely rinsed from between my twin blades.

“Whew, am I strapped for time! But, if lather and nubbins were not rinsed off, I wouldn’t be standing here. One thing you can say about me, however, is that I am not dull.”

But that speech sure was. That was the expected wry quip from the quick-thinking host.

The nominations for best part of the day are breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime and nap time.

And the best part of the day is — breakfast, a team award!

“Corn flakes here. I just want to thank the skim milk. Without milk, I’m cardboard. With milk, I turn to mush.”

“Hi, I’m a tea bag. I’d like to thank the technicians at Industrial Light and Magic for digitizing the flow-through concept.”

Sorry, the rest of you can give your thanks in the press room.

The last category is most interesting reading for the most important time of the day. The nominees are the local newspapers and the corn flakes box.

And the winner is — corn flakes! This is Corn Flakes’ second win tonight and third for his career. The corn stalks on which he was grown had won best of show at the Iowa State Fair.

“I want to thank Farmer Jones, the folks at Battle Creek, Michigan, my Teamsters driver and the supermarket where I didn’t sit on the shelf too long at all. You know, an overnight success sometimes takes weeks!

There goes the music. You’ve been a lovely audience. Well, that’s our show. Now, it’s time for a nap.

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Travel Writers Ought to Take a Walk Like Real People

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 10 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

LONDON — Travel articles often are so glib: Here’s what you do, you can’t miss this, tell your travel agent to get you that.

Sometimes it seems the trip journalists don’t spend their own money.

They tell you how to plan five adventures a day. Then every night, you can take in a show followed by a fashionably late dinner. You return to your hotel at 2 a.m. for 10 hours of sound sleep that end at 7 a.m. You hail a cab within an hour, clean, alert and breakfasted.

Where do travel writers get their imaginations?

We considered our London vacation a success though we averaged just a primary and a secondary adventure each day.

My wife was there on business. I joined her for Thanksgiving week.

We always scheduled the best attraction first. If it was any good — for our taste — it would last virtually until dinner. A nice meal comprised the second adventure a couple of times.

The memory of a whole afternoon in Westminster Abbey (we intended to stay an hour) would have curdled if we had been bombarded with the noise and flashes of some West End musical like “Cats.”

Sometimes sightseeing finished the day. Wandering through Piccadilly at night with its Broadway-like lights, stopping for cocoa, was plain fun. Walking to and then through Trafalgar Square with fountain and statues spot-lit another evening was moving.

Our families think my wife and I are finicky. They would be surprised that for most of our six mornings we got by on a yogurt or a scone until mid-afternoon. It was the only way to ensure even one full adventure.

The latest jet-lag cure — staying awake that first day until after dinner — worked. Yet every morning on waking I felt like the mattress was lying on me, with a pack of wiggling dogs sitting on it.

Even though the subway trains often left every five minutes, transportation ate time. We learned to consider if an hour or two at such-and-such was worth a half-hour Tube-and-walk each way. The November sun set about 4, after all.

Exhausted, we returned to the States, still in love. But we weren’t always nice to each other. Most of the meals were terrific. But several restaurants did not have restrooms. Most of the sights were worthy. But how did Museum X get rated a must-see?

Then we remember: We’re strolling to the Embankment to catch a boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich. Stately sycamores border the street. Their yellow leaves cover the ground. You look back to see brown Parliament with golden Big Ben. It’s raining — this is London — but you smell the fallen leaves and the surprising freshness of the water. All sorts of people for centuries have taken this path. …

* * *

When my wife and I were managing a bed-and-breakfast outside Eureka Springs in 1998, we saw Ned Shank and his wife, Crescent Dragonwagon, once in a while.

The couple in the early 1980s founded Dairy Hollow House, the first viable B&B in the Ozark resort town. In the last couple of years they converted the Spring Street site into the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow, a boon for Northwest Arkansas.

As a budding — and now former — innkeeper, the couple would have intimidated me but for their friendliness. They showed none of the competitiveness of others in the tourism industry.

I ran into Ned, by training a historic preservationist and by nature a writer, at a Eureka business one afternoon, and he approached me for a how’s-it-going chat. He remembered me from a small B&B conference. He was big and pale, and with kind eyes.

At a fund-raising concert for the writers’ retreat, my inn’s minivan got stuck in mud at Dairy Hollow. After trying again to drive it out at intermission, I started to phone AAA for a tow, but Ned stopped me. He said he had a four-wheel-drive and a rope, adding neither he nor the vehicle had done this before: Wasn’t this a good time to see if it was up to it?

Ned left the performance — which he was emceeing — and between the two of us, wearing nice clothes, in the dark of a rainy night, pulled the minivan onto gravel. We returned to the dining room in time for the show’s finale.

I still was embarrassed about it the last time we saw the couple, giving a presentation last spring at the Fayetteville Public Library. He remembered the tow and again laughed it off. My Iowa-born wife bought his children’s book, “The Sanyasin’s First Day,” and he signed it while chatting about his Iowa upbringing.

Ned Shank, just in his mid-40s, died Nov. 30 after a bicycle accident.

May his memory be for a blessing.

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