Category Archives: News, Spin

Current events as they move toward history. Or oblivion.

White Males Easily Run Afoul of Taboos

Mirthology, 1st run Wednesday 28 March 1990, Arkansas Democrat’s Mid Week Magazine

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

Caption for illustration by staff artist Steve Scallion: Artist’s rendition of Andy Rooney in a high-top fade. Rooney had recently suffered some big-time misunderstanding. [“CBS” is “burned” in above Rooney’s left ear; he’s wearing a tux.]

Editor’s note: In a tradition begun just last year, humor columnist Ben Pollock Jr. writes a serious column for the April Fool’s Day edition. He says this is like dedicated partiers staying home and sober on New Year’s Eve. He didn’t how similar.

Steve Scallion augmented photo, 3-28-1990
"To write is to risk misunderstanding. ... To write is to be misunderstood. That is more accurate." -- Steve Scallion augmented photo of Andy Rooney

To write is to risk misunderstanding. That warning may not stand for high school term papers, which often are all but copied from reference books. Yet, if you’ve penned a love poem to someone who’s not ready for it, or taken a stand in a letter to the editor. …

To write is to be misunderstood. That is more accurate.

As a suburban Dallas reporter nine years ago, I wrote a “blotter” item on a woman’s rape in her apartment. The police report had unusual facts. The victim had three roommates. None was home. All four were flight attendants.

I included these facts in the brief to indicate to readers one may not be safe even when living in a house full of professional people, whose jobs require intelligence and strength and whose training includes basic self-defense.

Fair reporting, fair assumptions, right?

One of the roommates phoned me after the story came out. She believed co-workers could identify the victim, whom I didn’t name, because of their unusual living arrangement, although I didn’t give the address. Non-airline people, she added, think all flight attendants are bimbos and by mentioning their jobs implied the victim “asked for it.”

She called me sexist. She was wrong, but I felt awful.

Months later, I got a tip about a nightclub in my middle-class suburb, On weekends for a couple of months, a Jamaican disco had been set up in an Irving union hall.

I drove over one Friday afternoon to talk to the proprietor while he was setting up. He said this was a branch of a club he owned near downtown Dallas. A Trinidadian, he told me in a melodious accent how his clubs kept émigrés from all the Caribbean islands from feeling isolated.

I returned that night with a notebook, camera and date. I already had conceived my feature’s “lede” (opener): Irving has grown so cosmopolitan that it now accommodates such examples of cultural diversity as reggae and calypso music.

A sign above the cashier’s table and money box read: Please check guns and knives.” The club owner explained there’d been trouble in the parking lot a couple of weeks earlier.

A few patrons were dancing. None was boisterous. Drinks were sold from a couple of coolers. I bought my girlfriend a beer and me a soda.

Before writing the story Saturday morning. I made a few phone calls. They caused me to change the story to hard news.

The police, for example, didn’t know about the club but were interested in that sign. The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it had not approved a license for “Tropical Delights 2.” The union hall’s manager, who rented it occasionally to make money for the local, thought this was a service organization.

My last call was to the proprietor. He was angry that I interviewed the authorities.

“You must not like black peee-ople. I thought you were my friend. You don’t like black peee-ople,” he said.

I apologized over and over, saying color had nothing to do with thorough reporting. He wouldn’t believe me – or was he trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty? Either way, he was wrong, but I felt awful.

Tropical Delights 2 was shut down, and the club owner fined.

Columnists, because they don’t deal directly with facts but with their impressions of them, have to be even more careful. No matter how straightforward the writing, some readers will miss the point. Some will be offended inadvertently.

Long before the two examples above, I had learned misunderstanding cannot be eliminated. I still write and revise carefully to minimize confusion.

For months, I have jotted notes for a humor piece on how some good-looking, masculine fellows wear shower caps in public.

I am white; the men nursing their “soft-curl” perms are black. I would add in this essay that white women who wear curlers in Wal-Mart and dress their children only in diapers are just as tacky.

Such a column would be called racist. My even-handedness would be called window dressing to disguise prejudice. We’ve all seen this before.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague stole my thunder and wrote deftly about the ridiculousness of the latest hairstyles of young black men and women.

The columnist wrote as if unconcerned with potential criticism. I envied her obvious disdain for disclaimers, apologies and explicitly stating good intentions.

Yet, the column did have implicit protection. The columnist’s “mug shot” shows a handsome black woman. She won’t be called a racist.

My photograph with a similar column, which I now will not write, would, therefore, be a picture not of a social critic but of the enemy.

Wait, I’m not the enemy. Here’s my disclaimer to prove it: I have great intentions, and I apologize for any offense my words will ever cause. I don’t mean anything I say.

Happy April Fool’s Day.

-30-

And Whatever Happens, You Heard It Here, First

Voices (op-ed) column, 1st run Monday 13 April 1987 in the Arkansas Democrat
By Ben Pollock Jr.
Guest Writer
Editor’s note: Ben Pollock Jr. is a copy editor for the Arkansas Democrat.
Copyright 1987 Ben S. Pollock

Clip of my 4/13/1987 column
Clip of my 4/13/1987 column

My favorite gadfly, “Biff” Mumsword, let slip last night a political bouquet sure to shake up Arkansas Democrats.

Hanging out in bars pays off. Particularly if you drop a few big names.

Here goes, and remember, you heard it here first.

Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., fresh from leading a tour of the “clean plate” nutrition club to the Soviet Union, soon will form an exploratory committee to help him “decide” to run for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

Of course, Pryor has already decided to run, or so I’m told. And here’s the other shoe to drop — straight from the best barkeep, amateur astronomer Dr. “Buster” Morgenstern, proprietor of Casa Nova, the Mexican-Cajun cantina where I wait for politicos to stop by.

Morgenstern says Mahlon Martin, director of the state Department of Finance and Administration and Arkansas’ leading economic indicator, will manage Pryor’s campaign.

Neither Pryor nor Martin, nor for that matter anyone connected with them, will confirm this, but that never stops me.

My contacts with the Clean Plate Club did talk over dinner and drinks, though we had to delay our conversation for Morgenstern to finish nailing another star to the wall.

By the way, the blackened bluefish is delightful.

The clubbers — who include boom-or-busters Jack and Witt Stephens, retail king William T. Dillard, discount king Sam Walton, chicken a la king Don Tyson and a modern major general — prefer I refer to the group by its official name, the Good-for-You Council, although the other newspaper calls it “Star Wars,” which the administration in Washington insists is the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Where was I? That’s mean cuisine. I wish I had a personal computer and a telephone hookup at my central Casa Nova table, where everybody knows my name. Then my columns could write themselves.

With Sen. Dale Bumpers red-shirted and the Legislature having stymied Gov. Bill Clinton, Pryor will be left holding the bag (of cliches), my sources assured me.

Mahlon Martin is a patient man and knows the numbers. He is willing to wait for higher office but in the meantime can build valuable contacts, not to mention experience, by running Pryor’s race.

It was Martin’s doing, after all, that kept Pryor’s name from being mentioned as a presidential contender too early. The public accountant certainly had me fooled.

You should keep an eye on Pryor, now that I’ve begun the rumors, but I would suggest also watching Martin. He perhaps could be the first Arkansas politicians to fool all of the people all of the time. I have that on good authority.

* * *

Brummett's column ran day later, 4/14/1987. Coincidence?
Brummett’s column ran day later, 4/14/1987. Coincidence?

While Biff Mumsword was taking care of business at a pay phone, a political animal in red satin gym shorts came up to me and purred, “Bubba, can you spare a dime?”

I told her ethics came before anything and that a direct contribution would constitute a conflict of interest for my newspaper.

“I heard you all had deep pockets,” she cooed.

“That was inflation, honey,” I replied with some remorse.

By this time Morgenstern had switched off Casa Nova’s neon sign. The waitresses had begun putting the chairs on the tables.

It had been hours since members of the Clean Plate Club cleaned their plates and emptied their glasses and were chauffeured home to their wives. Biff, it turns out, had a dime.

After a long, hard night of reporting, I had a column for today’s editions.

If some other newspaper tries to claim an exclusive on Pryor and Martin, remember — you read it here, first.

-30-

Just the FAQs — Frequently Asked Questions about Lieberman

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 13 August 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

As a public service — or not — here are frequently asked questions about the presidential campaign, now that it’s gotten interesting.

“FAQs” like these — and those on the Internet and toaster-oven manuals — are invented, not collected, but you knew that, right?

Question: Does experience in Washington matter for a president?

Answer: Jimmy Carter didn’t have any and neither did Ronald Reagan. Dwight Eisenhower did not practice D.C. politics until winning the presidency — twice. Reagan served eight years, too. Bill Clinton was only a governor, like Carter and Reagan, and he’s about to complete eight years. If you are inferring that George W. Bush does not have “it,” then you can’t tell by these guys.

Q. Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney is from Wyoming. Does that make him a cowboy?

A. No.

Q. Republican presidential candidate Bush is governor of Texas. Is he a cowboy?

A. Gosh, no. Reagan is the only elected cowboy in recent decades.

Q. Did you hear that Senator Joseph Lieberman is … is … a Yankee?

A. Some of my friends have been from Connecticut. He might as well be from Iowa or even Arkansas.

Q. Why have essentially all the newspapers and the TV people said in their first sentences on his selection that he’s Jewish?

A. They couldn’t think of anything bad to say about him.

Q. Should I say “Jewish person” or “Jew”?

A. The way some people say Jew — with as hard a soft-g as can be mustered and the rest almost a sneeze — they make it sound like an epithet. If you don’t intend a slur, do the ish. Instead of saying “that Jew Democrat,” try instead, “that sincere Jewish vice presidential candidate.”

Q. I take my Sabbath off, and Saturday, too. What’s the difference with the Hebrew Sabbath?

A. You can count on Sen. Lieberman working Sundays while Al and Tipper Gore go to church. Lieberman and his wife do no work from sundown Fridays through sundown Saturdays.

Basing their practice on what many call the Old Testament and they call the Hebrew Scriptures, they won’t cause animals to work, either. Because machines have replaced horses and oxen, the Liebermans will not ride in cars or planes on Saturdays. Their light bulbs are on timers, because in olden times they would not set fires on Shabbat.

The Liebermans on Saturdays attend synagogue and otherwise focus on spirituality — no games — contemplation not recreation.

Q. What if something big comes up?

A. Here’s Lieberman’s answer: “I’ve always felt that — and the rabbis have encouraged me in this and Jewish tradition does — when you have a responsibility to people that can protect or advance their well-being or their lives, then you’ve got to do it (work on the Sabbath).”

On Saturdays when the Senate met, Lieberman was known to walk to work.

Q. Will Lieberman as a vice president, if elected, wear his religion on his sleeve?

A. Observant Jews wear their religion on their heads, with a skullcap called a “kipah” or more commonly, “yarmulke.” In the South, this is pronounced YAH-muh-kuh.

Q. Speaking of that, why are Jewish commentators looking squeamish on TV?

A. They’re more uncomfortable with a Jew in such a prominent role than those Goyim who have to work to be open-minded.

Jews more traditional than Lieberman say he is too worldly by serving in government. More liberal Jews worry that Lieberman will embarrass them by his piety or just being in any limelight.

Most American Jews are liberal to the point of being non-religious. They think they can “pass” as Gentiles. But Gentiles always know.

There’s a saying whenever you have two Jews you get three opinions. So Gore being Christian makes them a good team, no?

Q. Did you hear the one about how one night a priest, a preacher and a rabbi take a table in a club? Nearby, an Irishman, an Iraqi and an Israeli sit side-by-side at the bar. And a farmer, the farmer’s daughter and a traveling Jewish peddler sit in a booth. The bartender yells, “What’ll you all have?”

A. All these characters … is this a very long joke?

Q. I’m asking the questions here. Hey, how come you don’t have an answer?

A. This is a joke, right?

Q. The clerics point to one another and tell the barkeep, “As God as our witness, we’ll share a large gin martini with a cocktail onion, straight-up.” The immigrants laugh, slap one another on the back and say, “We all ‘I’s.’ Up means no ice. We too drunk one onion-up martini.” The rural rubes point to one another and say, “We don’t know city ways. We’ll have what thems is havin’, a martooni up with a sweet-onion. With three straws to chaw on.”

A. That’s clever but not funny. You should keep asking questions.

Q. I had one setting and three jokes. Maybe I couldn’t decide.

A. That’s the punch line. “Whenever you have to choose, you have three up-onions.”

-30-

Chandra Levy Taken by White Slavers Hired by Crazed Politicians

Loose Leaves column, 1st run Sunday 15 July 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

It wasn’t even Friday the 13th yet, but the week wrecked me from the start. Somebody said something vaguely insulting. The home repair was delayed a few days, again. My computer crashed; what’s new. Got a chain-letter e-mail from somebody I thought knew better. Something healthy I cooked disagreed with me.

Took the normal summer’s heat personally, too.

Bad weeks and bad days come up sometimes. They are just a collection of coincidences. Some coincidences start from the actions of other people, who may be superstitious.

Superstition seems to be increasing, despite the presence of not only more verifiable knowledge but knowledge that’s ever easier to find and understand. Yes, from the Internet.

Developed gossip is a form of superstition.

We smart people presume Internet information from legitimate companies and institutions to be more current and factual. We know to remain skeptical.

Some electronic information sell people can’t-live-withouts, troubling hoaxes or whole belief systems.

Friends and acquaintances you thought knew better e-mail you old-fashioned chain letters, asking you to relay them on to others for money or just luck. They send you inspiring anecdotes that history easily disproves, or horrible tales quickly found listed on sites that categorize contemporary, “urban” myths.

I could attribute the lousy week to cutting a couple of such chains.

Instead, I daydreamed of withdrawing $500 cash from an ATM then driving out, for about $300 worth of gasoline, junk food and cheap motels (and Wal-Mart for a change of underwear) then driving home in a week or a month on the remainder. This would clear my head of 40-something years of false notions, met goals and discharged hopes.

I fantasized I would decide to do this spontaneously one morning, leave the office that noon, calling my wife from a pay phone after crossing at least one state line. Let the office fire me for going AWOL. On my return I would take a sweaty but simple job at a bakery.

This is not just my fantasy. Thousands of U.S. adults go “missing” every year. Some return. Some never come back, having embarked on new lives. Very few are kidnapped or bludgeoned into the actually rather-rare amnesia.

Crime is decreasing, according to FBI statistics. People may be abandoning families for a breather or forever, but no epidemic of psychopaths exists, despite arresting images on TV or other screens.

This is, yes, enormously frightening, depressing and frustrating for the loved ones left behind. Nor are relatives and friends assured by a culture — not just the ratings-addled media — that thrives on gossip, paranoia and a drive for combining facts and coincidences into cohesive if false wholes — logic, common sense and knowledge of human behavior be damned.

Certainly I hope Chandra Levy cut and dyed her hair, hiding out to figure out the rest of her life, having merely run away from being a 24-year-old (three or six years of adulthood under her belt) Californian feeling stuck in a Washington federal internship, having fled a romantic or just sexual relationship with a married father of children her age.

That we have quit discussing the murder of the wife of actor Robert Blake — and tax cuts and campaign finance reform and summer boat safety — to focus on Levy and her ex-lover, an obscure US congressman from California’s fertile belly, and to gab about allegations of his other flings and associations, is pathetic.

What mythology, what common theory are we craving? Post-communist conspiracy? White slavery? Internet pornography-fueled anarchy?

Superstition, in a word?

Say you, a rational logical person, are driving along last Friday (the 13th!) and the hypothetical car up ahead is driven by a regular guy who still holds only a couple of superstitions, left from childhood.

The guy sees that a black cat just crossed the road ahead of him, so he slams on his brakes then swerves around to “avoid the path of a black cat.” You and the dope collide.

The superstitious guy simply made a bad call, never mind his reasons, which had an impact on you, and your car.

The people you tell this to at the office coffee urn turn superstitious (and you thought all their only superstition was to tally celebrity deaths, arguing if putting a musician in with two actors adds up to three). They say the black cat caused bad luck on both you and the other driver.

What can you do but return to the scene of the accident, walk to a nearby yard and take a photo of the hypothetical cat sitting on a shady porch, near its hypothetical owner?

He had a bad day, having almost lost his kitty. He thought about running away but didn’t because the cat needs him.

The cat has one white paw.

-30-

9-1-1, a National Call to Emergency, and We’re Low on Gas

Loose Leaves column, 1st published Sunday 16 September 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

TUESDAY — Here it is, 2 p.m. Gas-station shenanigans hold up everything.

Earlier today, I was wrapping up some family business in Fort Smith, and after lunch was driving along and saw that outside a couple of filling stations were two-block lines of vehicles for gasoline. What is this, 1979, the Tehran Embassy takeover and the threat of dollar gas?

It made sense with the morning’s continental terrorism. What’s it mean? War? Attacks eventually here in Middle America? Loss of our conveniences?

I phoned a newsroom colleague. He said reported rumors of shortages were found to be unfounded. That was not convincing people against precautions. He had topped off his own tank.

He warned that some stations hiked their prices, either to make a quick buck or to slow sales in case refineries fell short later, though they had plenty of crude on this awful Tuesday. We agreed that if I found a convenience store with a short line to go for it but otherwise not to sweat it.

If there is to be a shortage, what will waiting hours in line buy today: An extra week of cruising? When we’re out, we’ll be out.

What’s an hour and maybe a five-buck overcharge compared to that cloud over Manhattan? Mundane.

The first stations on the road to Springdale all have lines; some are $1.58 or $1.69 as before, but some post $2 a gallon or more. The Fayetteville area surely will be the same.

I exit at little Mountainburg for a station a couple of miles from Interstate 540, closer to old U.S. 71.

The C-store has up to four cars at each pump; none has to idle along the road. I spot a pump with no line, just one car about to be fueled.

What’s taking that car so long? I can’t believe I just did what I always avoid doing in groceries and banks. The shortest line always takes the longest. Now, I am pinned and cannot move. Look at the driver. A little older than me, she’s fussing and fidgeting. These are credit-card-accepting pumps. This new to her? The least she could do is shrug, acknowledge me. Must be a Yankee. Doesn’t she know which end and which side of the credit card to stick in? If she doesn’t figure that out soon, I’m going to, I’m going to, well, I’m going to honk my horn. She could ask the clerk for help. Her face is blank. National Public Radio now is giving details about the Pentagon hit and the crash near Shanksville, Pa. That woman looks about grimly and focuses on nothing. I look around. Everyone looks serious. Hey, this is one gorgeous day. Late summer’s first hint of a clear fall afternoon where air conditioning finally is superfluous. Two guys in a car on the right are talking. By the gestures, it looks like one is asking the other if he wants anything inside. They’re muscular, with contemporary shaved heads. He’s going in. Glad I’m not in that line. This day, get your gas and leave, buddy. He’s back, already, with bottles of Mountain Dew. My leader just started to pump fuel into a nondescript, not-too-old sedan. It must hold a hundred gallons, and she must have the pump set at “eyedropper.” Doesn’t she need to be somewhere, too? This is to be a day we’re all going to remember, “9-1-1 — the nation’s call to emergency.” Will our memories be of sitting just outside a gas station canopy waiting to funnel in overpriced petroleum that’s cheaper than anywhere else in the world?

She’s done!

It’s tough, but I manage to smile at her, be neighborly like the Southern boy I am. She just drives off, looking only toward the road.

Why am I so mad? I never get like this. Almost never.

Sheesh, gas now is 50 cents higher. Might as well buy some. I’ve waited this long.

The pump display orders me to insert my credit card again. The diagram next to the read-out shows the card should go in the other way, unlike all other pumps, surely. I should have looked. Now I’m mad at myself.

With receipt in hand — for just seven gallons — I return to the freeway. The anger dissipates. That happens quickly when anger’s unfocused, unorganized: Mad at my fellow customers. At the store. At how predictable this is. At how unpredictable the hijackings are. At how that’s left all of us feeling.

We could guess our formal and personal response to Iraq invading Kuwait. This just started, though. It is so different from everything.

Should we laser the anger, train and hone it into soldiering? That’s going to be needed.

What about the anger that propelled people smart and fearless enough to learn to fly commercial aircraft around obstacles, above the din of screaming passengers, squarely into buildings? What’s their problem?

-30-

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.

-30-

Sure-fire Method Can Take Off Years

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 25 May 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

An effective way to reclaim youth is to study today’s young people and adopt some of their ways. If you can’t do as they do, then understand what they’re up to. If not that, at least be aware of what they’re doing. It worked in our parents’ time; it can work now.

A succession of generations has followed entertainment, appearance and other cultural bits unique to the coming crew with success. At your next reunion, study your old classmates. The ones for whom time stands still appear like you remember them not because they look like their yearbook pictures but because they look like today’s high schoolers.

My mom embraced rock ‘n roll much more readily than my father in the 1960s and ’70s. Mom wanted to keep up; Dad was positive no young musician could approach Goodman, Miller or Ellington. Mom would play tapes of Blood, Sweat & Tears or James Taylor. Eventually Dad admitted admiring Paul Simon’s clever lyrics in catchy melodies and accepted the sentimental genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Yet the current fogey generation has kept hip-hop at arm’s length. It’s all rock ‘n roll — and at 40-plus years, rock has surpassed the Big Band Era in longevity — and some of today’s top performers are our age, if not older.

To stay young, we must give fair hearing to rap. More of today’s lyrics than in our adolescence are intended to be intelligible and not buried under a bog of instrumental licks. Hip-hop songwriters concentrate more on meter and rhyme than many disco and post-disco stars.

Urban musicians have an agenda that strides past losing your one true love. Songs often consider equality and opportunity, as well as rights. Some stars pretend to be bad for the marketing appeal. Some really are gangsters.

So what? Some vocalists and sidemen of my dad’s era got arrested for doing dope or punching someone.

Stylish young men today allow their pants to ride down while their boxers stay visibly at their waists. We fogeys, with the beginnings of middle-age spread, accomplish this with little effort.

Wearing tattoos makes sense only in that it drives adults nuts. We fogeys are sure their appeal will fade by age 30, depending on the wearer’s career prospects. Yet tattoos never fade.

But, in an effort to be “in” or “groovin’,” I’ll try a rub-on tattoo that will fade away in a week. The problem is, however, the only temporary tattoos I have found so far are intended for pre-schoolers. I don’t think I can jump into the nearest mosh pit during a rage party with Tweety Bird on my forearm.

Why has punk hair returned so soon? Spikes and mohawks, shaving parts of the scalp in designs, were “hip,” or “hep,” in the new-wave movement. Dying hair a different, unnatural shade every month had passed from Britain to New York to LA then through the suburbs and out to pasture by 1984.

If swing can return, why not punk? OK, I’ll borrow my wife’s styling gel and the leftover Halloween hairspray and get on with it.

While body piercing seems masochistic to me, Dad seriously would claim that listening to the Rolling Stones was his definition of self-inflicted pain.

Doesn’t getting a ring put through your navel both tickle and hurt?

I could wear an earring on the occasional evening out. Clasp, not pierced, however.

Men having a single, pierced ear goes way back. A book I just bought has a picture of the painter Rembrandt as a young man, holding a musical recorder and sporting an earring.

Which ear? At a Stanford dorm cafeteria about 1978, I asked this of a fellow student who sported a gold stud. This guy explained that on the East Coast the left ear meant gay and the right meant straight but that it was the opposite in California.

Maybe he said it the other away around.

This New Yorker living on the West Coast then announced he went both ways. For once, I had a retort. I asked why then he didn’t wear two earrings to announce he was bicoastal and bisexual. He was offended. Nobody at the table even smiled.

Whenever I retell this, no one still laughs.

Soon, perhaps, I will choose an earring, make a note of which ear Sting wears his on, and wear one to work. I will find a temp tattoo in the shape of a box turtle and put it on my neck. From a Dippity-Doo jar, I will shape my curls wildly, then throughout the day spritz my hair with water and reshape them often.

You’re only as young as you feel. But we fogeys can only go so far.

Otherwise, if anyone objects, or “disses,” me, maybe I would take a cue from today’s headliners. Maybe I would whip out the guns that I might buy, borrow and steal. Maybe I would plant bombs I might make from stuff found in the garage and under the sink.

Oh, to be young again.

What changed?

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Arkansas History Revised with Croquet as Catalyst

Guest column, 1st run Friday 4 July 1986 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben Pollock Jr.

Editor’s note: Ben Pollock Jr. is a copy editor for the Arkansas Democrat.

Copyright 1986 Ben S. Pollock

 

Steve Clark was “two-ball dead” and Mahlon Martin, wickets ahead, smiled while he considered his next shot. Neither had money on the croquet game, but they were gambling something more important, the future of Arkansas.

Clark, the attorney general, and Martin, director of the Department of Finance and Administration, were playing croquet by rules unfamiliar to them, evening the odds.

On June 14, as part of the Sesquicentennial Salute to Statehood Weekend, Clark, Martin and their partners — also state officials — stood on a three-quarter-size U.S. Croquet Association greensward playing tournament six-wicket, one-stake rules.

Their bet was noble, and crucial. Clark’s winning would mean elected state officials were tax-paid employees and all state workers would be forbidden to do business with the state.

His win thus meant studying the appropriate state law and, with no more interpretation than reading it on face value, announce intentions to enforce it.

Martin’s stake was outside any law. By trouncing the state’s attorney, Martin would never have to play Clark again. In fact, no state employee would be allowed to play games with any colleague, citizen or group of the Land of Opportunity.

Political game-playing is beyond the law, for no legislator or governor has had the nerve to forbid it. But on a level field of sport, a duel under a hot Sesquicentennial sun could change the state’s operations forever.

Tom Rystrom, a local businessman and president of the Little Rock Croquet Club, and I, pooh-bah of the Arkansas Democrat’s Mallets Aforethought croquet team, explained the rules and crossed our fingers.

As neutral observers, we advised Clark that he was in a figurative “sticky wicket.” Playing the red ball, he was dead on his partner’s yellow ball and on Martin’s blue. Clark could not “roquet,” or hit, yellow or blue until he cleared his next wicket.

Martin, having just made his hoop, was now free to send Clark’s red far from the jaws of Clark’s next hoop. The chief accountant confidently smacked red with his blue ball.

Martin placed blue against red for the “croquet” shot.

But the temptation of sending Clark’s ball sailing, a defensive move, countered popping red an inch or two while blue traveled to its next, the last or “rover,” wicket. Then, on his continuation shot, Martin could clear that final wicket and, with the extra shot awarded for clearing the hoop, “stake out” to end the game — and the state’s game-playing.

Mahlon Martin opted for offense. He made Clark’s ball tremble and end his ball’s travel a mere yard before the next hoop. Unfortunately, he grew overconfident, as is so common on the greensward, and his ball bounced off the rover wicket instead of going through, ending his turn.

Steve Clark stilled his mind and guided his ball an impressive 20 feet through his wicket, getting another turn.

He then began a “break,” or roqueting other balls, since red now was “cleared of deadness,” to make the remaining wickets. Red smacked the stake with a thud reminiscent of a wooden baseball bat hitting solid.

Thus the state’s history was revised, for on June 19, a mere five days later, Clark announced certain business dealings of all state employees constituted conflicts of interest.

Martin meanwhile sent memorandums to all state workers explaining that while officials and other employees may not profit from the the state directly, they certainly could play games with us as before.

* * *

The croquet game did occur. You can ask the participants. Besides, I have a photograph.

I made up the play-by-play, because I had to leave for work in mid-game. And the bit about the bet also was an invention. But don’t you think the time of the croquet match and Clark’s legal opinion more than a coincidence?

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