Category Archives: 1993 Pulitzer nominee

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Cloudy Public Image Has Primates Up in the Air

Mirthology column,
1st run Thursday 20 August 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

When things get so bad you have to hire a public relations expert — indeed, have to raise the money, a lot of it, to retain one — you indeed are desperate.

We apes — monkeys, primates, whatever you want to call us — are that frustrated.

Indeed, that is our problem: What you call us.

Each of us species has a specific identity, such as chimpanzee, orangutan or gorilla. And, from a personal point of view, there is lowland gorilla, highland gorilla and my breed, midland gorilla.

We midlands are an easygoing set, but we’ve had enough racism, sexism and, from you people, humanism. It’s humiliating.

If I hear “Gorilla My Dreams,” “monkey’s uncle” or “aping” somebody’s mannerism one more time, I’ll just beat my breast all afternoon. How much pummeling can one creature take?

We’re all up the same tree. That’s why we put out a call for a consultant.

The first appointment was free. She said I first should speak for myself, for ourselves, and get this off my chest, so to speak. If that doesn’t work, to use a political line, then she’ll start shooting the ads in five minutes.

So here is my piece: Humans should have the sensitivity to refer to each ape by species. Of course, any individuality referred to after that would be greatly appreciated.

We want you humans to get to know us personally, see how big our sign language vocabulary is, how we can fashion crude tools out of rocks.

Yet, I know you readers are busy hunting and gathering; we all are. So until we can get together for a hearty dinner of shoots and bugs, I will be content if you see me as a midland gorilla, not any old gorilla, not any old ape, not any old monkey and not any old primate.

Speaking of primate, we know some of you people have problems with that term, since it refers to the theory of evolution. It doesn’t jibe with how you believe humanity came into begin, separate from the animals in general and not descended from the ape family in particular.

Believe me, we feel the same way about you.

I don’t mean anything petty by that, but I know exactly what you mean. Just because I like most humans doesn’t mean that I relish being related to them, or some of the other subgroups.

I could tell you stories about some of my — our? — interspecies cousins. They are called lowland gorillas for a reason.

Our P.R. consultant has proceeded to customize her standard marketing campaign of newspaper advertisements and broadcast public service announcements. She’s cutting out the school packets and reducing our bill!

This is because you people already are doing a fine job with your offspring. Not only do biology textbooks give our common names but also our Latin species classifications. Then you quiz the students rigorously.

We could implant politically correct knowledge better ourselves.

One part of the campaign will be to encourage more visits to the zoo. Come see that we apes relate to each other exactly like people do, but with absolutely no shame.

Lastly, we intend to take some initiative and bring the zoo directly to you — your offices and your neighborhoods — a “zoomobile.”

We love barbecues. Have you ever grilled fruit on skewers on the patio smoker? Delicious, anytime of the year. Since it may be dessert for you and our main course, we’ll eat slowly.

The mobile zoo project does have its limits. It will leave the baboons on the other side of the zoo fence and moat.

You’ve seen how nasty they can be. Be grateful that you don’t have to live near them.

We great apes know better than to bring baboons around. It could very well soil the reputation we’re trying to build.

You just have to draw the line somewhere.


Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Americans Save Time by Spending Money

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 2 April 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

One of the most annoying things about the rest of the world suddenly agreeing with us Americans is guilt.

Just about everybody is freely electing presidents and legislators, and writing constitutions, just like we in the West. In economics, supply and demand has caught on, too.

So why do we Yanks give each other furtive glances when we learn yet another country is imitating us? We serve as an example, and look at whom we’ve been electing. Look at this season’s crop. Maybe it’s not that bad.

Capitalism is unnerving under the microscope as well. We still have to acknowledge it is the only economy that works on the long term and overall is the most fair. Yet the free market is different from democracy — they’re two different beasts.

If this is so, then why is our currency inscribed with republic slogans like “One of Many” or “The People Rule”? Shouldn’t our dollars remind us of the U.S. economic motto, “Let the Buyer Beware”?

On second thought, that would be disastrous. If people read and heed that wisdom, fewer coins would be exchanged. Then there’d be a recession.

Wait, we’re having harder times now without that motto jingling in our pockets. Maybe the solution is to combine mottoes, to “The Buyer Rules.”

On third thought, you couldn’t take that to the bank. There, the Benjamin Franklin rule is “A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned.”

That’s what we were taught, back when banks would start up a youth account with a $1 deposit. The personable teller would give a child some board folders with notches in which to stick dimes and quarters. That’s back when saving wasn’t more complicated than a “passbook account” plus the occasional bonus toaster with a $200 deposit. Interest rates, compared to the inflation of the time, were negligible. A gimmicky incentive — like a bonus — was needed.

Later, certificates of deposit and money-market savings increased interest greatly, but then earning also fluctuated widely. The free casserole dishes were stopped.

Franklin’s motto changed to “A Penny Saved Is Two Pennies Earned in 15 Years at Your Bank, or 10 Years at My Bank.”

This line of reasoning may sound cynical, but I’m the innocent sort who’s pleasantly surprised — indeed grateful — for any amount of interest accrued. I’d better be pleased; earning are dropping through the floor these days. Any positive bank statement is welcome in my mailbox.

When the old-timers advised us to “Save for a Rainy Day,” they weren’t advocating mutual funds of NOW (Negotiated Order of Withdrawal) accounts, just that spending is the opposite of saving. If your don’t buy, you have more money. The cookie jar doesn’t bear interest, and it can crack, so the bank keeps your money as a public service.

So here’s a proposed motto for our times: “A Penny Saved is a Penny Not Spent.”

Who am I kidding? You? You know better than that. Me? I ought to have more sense by now.

How about this one, “A Penny Saved Today Is a Penny to Spend Tomorrow.” That’s honest. But time goes by so quickly now, today is tomorrow. If automated teller machines could give advice, that’s what they would say.


Steam Rises between Rider’s Tub, Rub


Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 18 June 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock


Dowel Jones the stick horse has been stabled at my house, the Bengalow, for some time now. He rode here from California some years ago, carrying my imaginary college roommate … but that’s another tale. Suffice it to say that Dowel had cabin fever and needed a long ride.

“It’ll clean your spark plugs,” I told the low-tech Dowel but was referring to my spoiled preference for cars with their stereos and air conditioning. I loaded my bags onto the hobby horse’s hardwood torso, mounted and headed to Hot Springs National Park.

“I’ve done almost everything in Spa City,” I told my broomstick companion as he trotted down the grassy highway shoulder as dawn began to overtake the night. “Watched the races, ate at the restaurants and climbed some hills, but always by motor and never visiting any spas. Let’s splurge on baths and massages. I’ll write it up for a column and write off the weekend.”

Dowel snorted.

“Dowel, want to check out the fillies at the Oaklawn track?” The toy pony showed his teeth at me. Anything but puns for he of the blue-and-white head and red-yarn mane.

By arriving at the bathhouse before it opened, 6:30 a.m., we got in without waiting. After paying about $25 a head, the clerk gave me a lock box for my valuables and strapped its key on my wrist. I went through the humans’ door and Dowel trotted under the sign “Animals and Miscellaneous.”

“Welcome, sir,” said a tall young man in white T-shirt and dungarees. “Here’s your dressing room. Take off your clothes then open the curtain, and I’ll have a sheet to wrap you in.”

The area looked like a locker room, except that it was clean and had no odor. Keeping in shape on my own has kept me out of such places since high school.

He led me through the “pack room” to one of seven tubs along the wall, each separated by a marble partition. He filled the tub while monitoring its temperature, 100 degrees. He took my sheet, and I sat down slowly: The heat took some getting used to.

He briefly swabbed down my limbs with a washcloth, turned on the whirlpool and left for 20 minutes, giving me time to think.

Not that many years ago, such mineral therapy was believed therapeutic for many ailments. Now it’s a luxury.

Only a few decades ago, water did not run in virtually every residence. Public baths and showers were commonplace.

Men didn’t often shave at home with safety razors, either. They visited the barber several times a week for his straight blade and leather strop. When was the last time you trusted somebody putting a knife to your throat?

Men and women visited the baths, putting themselves in the hands of smiling attendants when most vulnerable, buck naked. Is it any wonder that Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe naively queued up for showers in what they thought were labor camps after long train rides in old cattle cars?

The water whooshed around my legs.

On the other hand, we moderns have gained virtually complete privacy, but with it anonymity and distrust. We’re safer that way, but we have to work at loving those outside our families, congregations or neighborhoods.

The attendant startled me. It was time to get vaporized. Next to each tub was a metal box the size of a booth shower. It had a horizontal hinged partition halfway up with a hole for the head and a stool beneath.

I sat on the towel-covered seat and decided against the “head-out,” five minute steam treatment in favor of two minutes with my head inside the sweltering cube. My sinuses could use the cleaning.

Knowing I had only 120 seconds is what kept claustrophobia at bay, but not, somehow, boredom. Neck-stretching exercises passed the time. The steam burned my hands or feet if I moved them.

From there the attendant draped me in a fresh white sheet and led me to the nearest of the nine white tables in the middle of the pack room. He wrapped a steaming-hot moist towel around my neck as I lay on the cushioned vinyl, then tucked the sheet tightly around me.

I couldn’t move. I had to trust a stranger while soaking the shroud in sweat, thinking about lost values and almost-forgotten vulnerabilities.

Twenty minutes later he led me to a too-brief, cooling shower. From there I got yet another fresh white sheet and headed for the “cooling room” and its six white vinyl tables under four slow-moving ceiling fans.

After 10 minutes a heavy-set gray-haired man called to me from the rubdown room. He used warm, scentless lotion from unlabeled squirt bottles, washing off excess with rubbing alcohol as he finished a side or limb.

The massage was anticlimactic, having expected to have been left in a floating state the rest of the day. Yet I have to admit that I had no aches for the next three days.

I got to the deposit-box counter before Dowel, fetched my wallet and headed back to show my gratitude to the attendant with two dollars and three for the masseur.

Dowel was waiting for me at the outer door.

“Five dollars seemed about right to tip,” I said to the horse. “What did you give yours?”

“Splinters,” he whinnied.


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.


Ask Not for Whom the Porch Swings: It’ll Spin for You

Mirthology, 1st run Thursday 4 June 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock Jr.

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Now that the country has been broadsided once again by mass violence, we either can get together and clean up the mess, or stay in our seats and ask ourselves who is to blame.

Then we can gather those we identified and ask who they fault. At last, we can bring all of the above together and square them off before an audience.

That is how you get “spin” news, the dozen-year-old phenomenon that competes with what-happened-when “hard” news.

I’m Ben Pollock. This is “Nightfall.” Welcome to my home, the Bengalow. I see there’s a big crowd this evening. Good thing you brought your lawn chairs. Who needs television when you have a front porch?

Tonight, we will ask penetrating questions of two masters of “spin doctoring” — that is, inflating the importance of opinion on a news item past the impact of the event itself. Because these leaders of leaders are not accustomed to being interviewed about being interviewed, they have asked for partial identities, just Bill and George.

Also, after the opening backgrounder, we will speak with the creator of this format, Ted. Not Teddy.

“Thanks for listing me last, even though I am sitting between the politicians on the porch swing. It’s because I have the shortest legs. While I have your attention, I’d like to point out that the event that brought us here is truly a traged- …”

Not yet, Ted. You surely remember the format; you tested its rules.

First, our introduction.

Commentary is as old as news itself. Just look through the Bible. But until the late 1970s of our era, newsmakers and commentators — and their followers and listeners — never mistook the event for its spin, that is, its immediate rather than historical significance.

At the time, the media was faced with a significant event, the taking of the U.S. Embassy in Iran and the holding of 52 people inside. Day in, day out, correspondents reported on negotiations. Swarthy gunmen made threats.

That was it. Television news producers were frustrated with repeating the same story for what was to last 444 days. The media felt hostage as well.

Ted rescued journalism. Late every night, he asked soon-to-be-famous people their opinions. When the inevitable disagreements ensued, the audience grew. This was not news, but it was conflict, and drama sells. The genre spread.

George, why has spin grown more important than any crisis?

“Events by themselves have little meaning. It’s how they affect people that makes them important.”


“George always says nothing. I must point that out.”

Bill, my question?

“Oh. Events, riots for example, show how the American people react to poor leadership.”

Ted, wouldn’t you rather host “Wheel of Fortune”?

“Who needs another game show? I want to try your first question. Spin is big because often its topic is so small it soon will be forgotten. Yet journalists have to file something by deadline.

“The rest of the time, spin takes control because its subject is overwhelmingly huge. We can reduce the crisis to manageable proportions by trivializing it.”

George, this is a question from an old magazine cartoon: If a tree falls in the forest, but the media aren’t there to cover it, has it really fallen?

“Nothing has happened until I announce my sadness, meet with aides, fly over the site and declare an emergency.”


“I wouldn’t fly over it. I’d take a bus. After the natives are polled, I’d express dismay and declare an emergency.”


“First, I’d ask Bill and George if the tree fell, but off the record, because nobody believes our leaders. I can no longer simply report the tree falling, because nobody believes the media, either.”

It’s now pitch dark outside the Bengalow so here is the last question. Could any of you exist without the other?

“No. I need an opponent.”

“No. I need a target.”

“No. I need the ratings.”

This has been “Nightfall.” For a tape, transcript or subpoena, please write.


Bachelor’s Pad Home to ‘Pet’ Pals

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 3 September 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Like others who have grown accustomed to being single, I have gradually surrounded myself with pets. They take the edge off loneliness, but the responsibility of ensuring their well-being accompanies a very real love.

Both the duty and the affection provide an obligation to get up in the morning then a longing to return quickly after work. Pangs of guilt now diminish the pleasure of a weekend away.

Different people require different pets. How do you know which is right for you? As will be obvious in a couple of paragraphs, the traditional answers don’t always fit. I’m left with showing what has worked to make my bachelor pad a home. Maybe this family will enlighten you.

One repeated explanation is that pets are said to resemble their masters. My 8-year-old cat has dark brown and butterscotch splotches over a white body. I don’t, except after dinner.

Maybe personalities are what’s similar. That leads to another question. Do we pick from the pound the animal that hits us right in the vanity, or does the beloved pet over the years come to imitate our mannerisms?

My calico’s unpredictability never has ceased to amaze me. I surprise others at times, myself. If the mood strikes, B.C. (Ben’s Cat) will play fetch with a small toy, just like a dog. I usually don’t imitate other species’ games; humans’ are sufficient.

This cat is friendly only with me and one or two other people. More than that, and she hides behind the claw-footed tub. I use social masks to hide; they’re more convenient and less prone to mildew.

B.C. may resemble me but then is nothing like my other pets, which vary from one another as well. If they resemble me as well, who am I?

Dowel Jones is a stick horse I found at a crafts show last fall, named for a fictional hobbyhorse I have long written about. In the flesh, or wood, he looks far different than imagined. The one stabled in my apartment has a blue-and-white striped mane, not polka-dotted as I had thought. Unlike, B.C. Dowel loves parties and gets in front of any camera. I, of course, remain an arm’s length away.

I spoil B.C. and Dowel. My other pet, too, is spoiled, but in a biological sense. I love this pot of single-cell organisms, my sourdough starter. After nearly a year, the two cups of liquid remains unnamed, primarily because the pet pot is as much a them as an it.

It takes up less room than my cat or horse, with simple maintenance requirements. Every day it gets stirred half a minute with a chopstick. Much like brushing the cat, once a week I take out a cup — much like shed fur — then feed it with fresh water, sugar and dehydrated potato flakes.

(Other people’s starters instead are fed some flour mixed with milk or water, but as discussed before, people match their pets.)

The starter and I play on weekend mornings, making loaves or muffins or pancakes. The potato-sugar-water dinner is its reward. For the rest of the afternoon, it sits on the kitchen counter, gurgling as it digests. Then back into the fridge for a long nap.

Isn’t this a pet? My sourdough starter is docile, performs tricks sometimes more amazing than yeast. Best of all, it will listen to me for hours, unlike my cats, who walks off after a while.


If Death Comes in Threes, then Taxes Grow on Trees

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 30 April 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

I didn’t need a head shrinker; of course, I was fine. A little stressed. Maybe. No, home life was fine, knock on wood. It was work. My co-workers’ superstitions about death were getting to me.

Wait, what am I telling you for? I have an appointment with a trained, experienced psychiatrist. Let him figure me — that is, my problem — out.

* * *

Dr. Sigmund Flloyd Loofah came in as I was studying his genuine leather couch.

“Call me Sigmund Flloyd,” he said. “‘Doctor’ is too stiff. I’m a Southerner. We all go by our first two names, like John Lloyd or Rita Mae.”

“Too many syllables,” I said. “How about Siggy? Sometimes a Sigmund is only a Siggy.”

“You’re the boss,” he said, then caught himself. “I mean the patient. You’re not the boss, because that means you’ll be paying me. That won’t be necessary. I don’t care to charge my patients. Billing creates paperwork, and I can’t be bothered.

“Besides, if I have no income, I don’t need to pay taxes. All that time making records thus can be devoted to considering important matters of the mind.”

Great, I thought, but what’s the catch? All I came for was to find out why death seems to come in threes. Loofah spied my confused look.

“There is one famous patient who over the years has insisted on paying me. That covers all of my expenses. You may have heard of her, I’m sure.

“You’re telling me that one single patient really does a rich doctor make?” I said.

“She comes in for one hour but has me bill her for 40. This isn’t a medical write-off like psychiatric care would be, but a business expense, as in psychiatric consulting. For her, old Sigmund Flloyd is one fat deduction. She even bills herself then computes my tax.”

Then why did Loofah make an appointment for me and my question?

“Your phone call intrigued me. I like deep thoughts,” Loofah said, reading my mind. Maybe I was reading his. This is my column, after all. “You wanted to ask about death.”

Finally, we were considering me. Loofah certainly liked to talk, a problem with all professional listeners like therapists, lawyers and journalists. Off-duty, you can’t shut them up. Loofah, by his fortunate arrangement, or arranged fortune, was always off, except for one hour a week. This wasn’t that hour.

“In offices and diners, Siggy, everyone waits for death No. 3. Maybe they worry it is going to be them.”

“Nonsense, my boy. Ours is the high point of civilization, at least until tomorrow. Yet people like order. Religion, like a big dust mop, can miss the corners. In the modern world, a few ancient superstitions act as a portable vacuum cleaner. Bust that dust!”

That wasn’t good enough for me. “The only way I can justify death in threes is to find other patterns,” I said. “First, there has to be a time limit. Two days can work, and that can be stretched to a week or more to catch that quota.

“Second, you need similarities: Three famous people, any field; three locals, at least within the region; or three relatives, even distant cousins. Movie stars work great. You can always throw in a ‘B’ actor with two screen legends. It wasn’t their fault they got crummy roles.”

Hold on. “Am I rationalizing in every direction?” This thinking out loud seemed to have given me the answer.

“Death can come in twos or sixes. All you have to do is define the parameters. It really just comes in ones. That’s enough. Thanks, Siggy.”

Loofah smiled.

“A good psychiatrist allows a patient to find his own solutions. Besides, it gives me time to think.

“What else did you want to say about taxes?”


Get Rich Quick: Enroll Sometime

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 9 April 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

“Time Management 2001.” Students, if that is not what you signed up for, then you’re in the wrong room. Please take the door at the rear of the classroom so as not to distract those of us who are not lost. That way, both you and we will be using our time efficiently.

That can be our first lesson, and a free one for you people leaving now. This is The Golden Rule of Business Organization: “Do Unto Others … First.” Here is its Time Management Corollary: “Waste Not the Time of Others Who Would Waste You.”

That may sound harsh, but business people are tough guys because these are tough times, and nobody is in business for their health.

So why am I a teacher and not a zillionaire mogul? For my health, like I just said.

Most profitable business time management course will teach you future executives that delegating responsibilities is the way to success. That is not how the classes themselves are run, but that is what they profess.

That disparity is key to why you will find my class different from the others. This is THE diet plan that REALLY works.

Oops! Those are my notes from my Monday-Wednesday class. Actually, you’d be surprised how similar they are.

You may have taken one or more of those other courses, either through a college’s continuing education program or perhaps from a video-and-workbook system that you bought from a television program or magazine advertisement.

Those classes are so routine that all of them can be summarized in a single word — delegation — and its one-sentence definition: Delegation is the art of getting other people to spend their time so that you don’t have to waste yours.

My TM2001 is so sophisticated it cannot be reduced to a single sentence. It takes a whole paragraph to explain its key word.

My organization theory is based not on delegation but on procrastination. That’s right. Put off today what can just as well be done tomorrow — or next week. This includes encouraging your staff to procrastinate. Then they will like you.

On the other hand, I also will show you how to deny to your supervisors that you are procrastinating. It’s not that she or he will think you are lazy if you are caught but will believe you want their cushy job.

Your ambition is safe with me.

… What? You in the back row think that I’m a charlatan? And you’re reminding me that none of those new successful companies would hit the Fortune 500 list of top businesses if any division of their organizations procrastinated?

OK, young lady, you’ve got me there. But you must remember that such upstart companies soon learn that if they are to evolve into blue-chip corporations they will soon need a thick, insulating layer of bureaucracy by the time they “go public” and sell stock.

Thanks for that question. It brings me to the last point of this first session, alluded to earlier. Successful business efficiency courses do not practice those delegation skills that they teach, but procrastination.

You want an example? I’ll give you one next week.


If It’s in Print, Believe It (or Not)

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 17 September 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Too many people — and you’re probably one of them — disbelieve everything they read.

Oh, come on, now. You know who I mean.

The other 50 percent (statistical margin or error plus or minus 49 percentage points) trust every word. After all, “they” wouldn’t print it if it weren’t so.

The writer is setting up the reader to look ignorant, right? No, look at this as a lesson in school. Then we can play in the garden.

News reports’ inaccuracies and perceived biases come from basic fallibility and plain disorganization. To overcome these, serious journalistic periodicals, like this one, have three ways of proving their integrity.

One. Naming people who are quoted shows you that you can call them up yourself if you don’t believe the media.

Two. Attributing facts or opinions to “anonymous” subjects occurs after readers find the identified sources in the phone book and call them during dinner.

Readers should phone news makers after bedtime. Reporters have mealtimes reserved for their calls.

Did someone say food? Vine-ripened sliced tomatoes, topped with fresh chopped basil, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and speckled with sea salt.

That sounds inviting. … Wait, who said that? Never mind.

Three. There have been two number threes.

The obsolete method of demonstrating press sincerity — after cited and discreet attribution, discussed above — was the direct observation of the reporter. For example, the scribe on the police beat would count the number of fire trucks outside the burning building.

This was phased out because readers stopped trusting fact-gatherers.

Currently, the reporters asks the battalion chief how many united are parked in front of them. The official instinctively asks not to be named.

Now, nobody believes either of them.

Awarding-winning journalism may need only three roads toward a convincing truth, but some writers get away with a fourth.

Federico, is that you?

OK, the fourth method is not taught in journalism school, but it is standard, You should know about it. Columnists, how-to-ers and other experts may announce the truth, like this:

“Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.” Sez who? Sez me.

“Shred newspapers for a cheap mulch.” Why? It’s common knowledge.

But if everyone knows how to bake bread and slow weed growth, Ben, why bother writing it?

Because only some people know such things, Federico. The rest need advice.

Students, you say you can’t see him? Then let’s go meet the mischief maker. It’s time for that recess, anyway.

Federico is a two-foot sprite responsible for the garden at my home, the Bengalow. In his cotton tan tunic and oversized sun hat, he looks like a back-to-the-earth Jewish leprechaun.

He tries to ensure that I write responsibly. Federico spends the rest of the day disproving any garden manual that I hope will increase my harvest.

When I transplant sweet bell peppers, this sprite switches them for jalapenos. He ensures that carrots planted in April won’t mature until the next March, then be 2 inches long.

I don’t foul up everything; Ben needs little help. If you look closely, folks (go ahead, walk on the lettuce. It bolted to seed before he remembered to pick it), he has five tall, spreading tomato vines. Look at all the leaves! Now, count the fruit. Both of them. He over-fertilized.

Thanks, Federico. I admit to being fallible and disorganized, but only a little. If only I could find a neighbor to count my tomatoes for you. Unfortunately for me, he wouldn’t want to be identified for the record.

Class is dismissed. We’ve had too much sun for today.


Jet Lag Strikes the Occidental Tourist

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 15 October 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Having experienced jet lag, a condition some hard-hearts believe to be psychosomatic, I now can verify that it causes misery, having made my first overseas trip. And to think I was once was a skeptic.

The malady arises from your body traveling at a faster speed than it’s accustomed to and your circadian rhythms lagging behind in arriving at wherever all of you are going.

Jet lag affects both arrival and departure and said to be is much worse on one end than the other. Which one seems to depend on whether the direction is west or east, or maybe clockwise or its reverse, from a solar point of view.

Advice on how to quickly counter the affliction regrettably is inconsistent.

Some suggestions are impractical in their delivery. For example, you can study the scientific approach in a full-scale book. But, as for other ailments, time-saving personal advice abounds.

Despite the drawback of quite possibly being wrong, companions’ tips seem tempting while you’re simultaneously revising your flight schedule (for the umpteenth time), packing six sets of clothes in a two-suiter grip, reading two “concise” 600-page travel guides, and trying to remember what safe place in your flat you had chosen to hide your passport.

Friendly Tip A: Schedule nothing for two days after you land, and rest.

Friendly Tip B: While high over the ocean, down a tranquilizer with some wine.

Both hints must be discounted. Vacations are short enough as it is without laying about the room, either by choice or by hangover.

Thus the first sound suggestion is to avoid any sedatives before or during the flight. Alcohol ultimately is a sedative. Reduce stimulants — yes, caffeine — beginning a couple of days before your trip.

The idea is to reset the body clock as efficiently and naturally as possible.

On arrival, set your travel alarm and take a little nap. Then take some air. Walking outside tells your internal clock in the most primeval way what time it really is and to snap out of that tempting lethargy.

The above paragraphs enabled this tourist to gawk, snap photos and beg passers-by for direction back to the hotel within hours of clearing Customs.

On your return to the States, you will find that your friends had wonderful senses of humor and kept one jolly fact to themselves, perhaps due to revenge from envy: Jet lag awaits at home, too.

Now, a quick nap is insufficient and perhaps impossible. You couldn’t have avoided the coffee and beer while on vacation because that is how you avoided the drinking the plain water. You didn’t get sick, did you? That’s another column. You remind the office about their Tip A and ask for another half-week off. Your colleagues instead propose a little Tip B with them after work — today.

So during the next fortnight, you sluggishly return to the routine.

Having been hit with jet lag a first time, I now realize it is like an allergy. It takes less each successive time to set off the symptoms.

Even my morning exercise — to get reacquainted with the American sun — almost forced me back to bed immediately afterward.

I instinctively have strolled around the neighborhood clockwise, having had that direction forced into me when skating in a rink during childhood. Going the other way had been disastrous on those young limbs.

Since my internal clock was trying to re-reset itself, I then realized counterclockwise would be the best route from now on.

The twist worked, but my next trip will have to be south of the Equator.