Category Archives: 1999 Loose Leaves

Loose Leaves columns from 1999

Here’s Everything I Know So Far

Loose leaves, 1st run Tuesday 30 March 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Want some advice? Most, but not all, of the lessons from Mom and Dad remain sound. Isolated quotations from articles or interviews still jump to mind. Bill Clinton’s Rules of Politics resonate years after I first read them. I’ve even come up with a few of my own that I’ve seen nowhere else.

Sharing new and old sayings is appropriate for a humor columnist in April Fool’s season. Just as serious drinkers stay home on New Year’s Eve, amateur pranksters should take their jollies in early spring while pro punsters should be figuratively sober for once. Hence, a serious column.

Dad’s five sayings stayed in my wallet for years. He gleaned them from his post-war generation. My father, may his memory be for a blessing, lived by them. As the 20th century ends and careers have overtaken both jobs and professions, all but No. 2 remain true.

  1. Luck is for the prepared.
  2. There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.
  3. You don’t make this morning the friends you’ll need this afternoon.
  4. Your friends like to see you do well — but not too well.
  5. Just tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you said.

Mom still likes to tell me:

  1. Don’t be a sheep.
  2. He who does not speak is not heard.
  3. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

In this time of constant, professional rumor-mongering, where there is smoke, there often is no fire, just dry ice. The victim of gossip must try vigorously to find and expose to air those carbon-dioxide cakes so they can evaporate to nothing.

Some odds and ends of aphorisms have stuck to me over the years.

  • “Don’t fall.” “Get up.” The favorite corrections of the Kirov Ballet school’s Alexander Pushkin, teacher of Mikhail Barishnikov.
  • “The ‘force’ is in you. Force yourself.” Harrison Ford.
  • “One should always leave the dinner table a little hungry.” Max Perkins, editor of novelists including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
  • “One is never drained by work but only by idleness. Lack of work is the most enervating thing in the world.” John Steinbeck.
  • “Only a very mediocre writer always writes at his best.” W. Somerset Maugham, about Dorothy Parker.
  • “If there’s no dancing there, it’s not my kind of revolution.” Emma Goldman.
  • “Happy people don’t need to have fun.” Jean Stafford.

My friend Meredith Oakley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock had the statehouse beat for years and still covers it as a political columnist. When Clinton was governor he told her his personal guidelines. I read them in Oakley’s column a long time ago. She since has published them in her book On the Make: The Rise of Bill Clinton, (Regnery Publishing, 1994).

Bill Clinton’s Rules of Politics (reprinted with Meredith’s permission)

  1. Most people are for change in general, but against it in particular.
  2. Never tell anyone to go to hell unless you can make ’em go.
  3. Whenever someone tells you, “It’s nothing personal,” he’s about to stick it to you.
  4. Whenever it is possible for a person to shift the heat from himself to the governor, he’ll do it.
  5. Under enough pressure, most people — but not everybody — will stretch the truth on you.
  6. You’re most vulnerable in politics when you think you’re the least vulnerable.
  7. When you start enjoying something, it’s probably time to leave.
  8. Never look past the next election; it might be your last.
  9. There’s no such thing as enough money.
  10. Don’t drink in public. You might act like yourself.

Wonder if the president would change or add to these?

Having thought about them for ages I set seven original maxims to paper long ago, which I haven’t referred to since. I just found that leaf in a notebook. It’s dated June 6, 1991. Later that day, I met the woman I would marry.

  1. A man or woman who could be considered a scoundrel [having fluid morals] in one scope of activity often is a scoundrel [having fluid morals] in other areas.
  2. People who strongly believe in fate are not controlled by the heavens but by other people. Manipulators can smell them out like dogs sense fear in a pedestrian.
  3. People are as busy as they choose to be. (If she wanted to see you, she’d find a way.)
  4. People generally do the things they want to do and generally avoid doing the things they do not want to do. As for any thing in the gray middle, that thing generally will not be done, either. There are three shade of gray: (A) A wholly neutral or ambivalent opinion on this thing to do. (B) Partly want to do the thing and partly not want to do it. (C) Changing their mind several times over wanting to do the thing.
  5. Relationships move only forward or backward, grow or decay. Dating relationships that seem to be merely stable, or wavering, really are moving toward dissolution. Yet with vigilance, marital relations have a joyful stability.
  6. In a consensual yet submissive relationship between adults, the passive partner is in charge. Healthy partners exchange dominance in different parts of their lives. In unhealthy relations, the passive partner decides to leave, not the dominant one.
  7. A relationship may well be over when the standard question “How was your day?” suddenly is perceived as an invasion of privacy.

A few weeks after our marriage in 1993 I came up with an eighth rule.

8. Couples are most prone to argue, about anything, when they are tired or hungry.

So far, no one save for my wife has ever admitted the truth of No. 8.


Variety of Uniformity Informative

Immodest proposal for modest kids

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 12 October 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — It was dawn. Oscar Hapgood was in the park, as usual, foraging for breakfast, when Duff McDuff ran up to him, yelling, “Oscar, they want me to wear a uniform to school. Help!”

Oscar, an executive turned vagabond, wadded up a newspaper sheet and wiped the dew off a bench with it. “Elaborate, please, young friend.”

It seems Duff’s homeroom teacher told the class how the School Board decided to ban individuality, so far as apparel was concerned. Uniforms would solve education problems. This was so obvious that neither from-scratch scientific experiments nor surveys of test scores, criminal records and demographics were needed.

The board appointed a special committee of board members, parents, teachers and others.

“That’s good news,” said Oscar. “A standing committee would deliberate something like this for months. But an ad hoc committee means you don’t need to worry for at least a year.”

“Maybe, Oscar. But Teacher said our district probably will do this real soon because of the school shootings and drugs and stuff.

“Teacher said the uniform will be knit sport shirts and twill trousers. Or we can wear T-shirts with the school emblem. The shirts will be white or red. The pants will be blue or khaki. Khaki is tan, right? Girls can wear skirts. Same colors.”

Lastly, Duff said, only white or black athletic shoes, of any brand, are allowed.

Oscar wondered, with all those choices, where was the uniformity of the uniform?

Little Duff read Oscar Hapgood’s smirk. “It’s to give us freedom of choice.”

Duff said gangs inspired the uniform theory. Their members so enthusiastically wear blue or red that they maim or kill one another over infractions of their dress codes.

Parochial students, with more strict uniforms, seem to be smarter, study harder and are just more serious, Duff was told.

Church schools have above-average, average and below-average students, just like any school, Oscar replied. This fact relieved Duff considerably.

The school board also was worried about socioeconomic indicators. The teacher said less-fortunate parents don’t dress children as chicly as wealthier parents. Uniforms would de-emphasize materialistic status.

Yet, Duff noted, children are real sleepy in the morning; so, if all their clothes are alike, they can dress with their eyes closed.

“Oscar, you can help me,” Duff said. “Go to the committee’s public hearing tonight, OK?”

Duff ran off to school. Oscar pulled from his sack a soprano recorder and blew Handel and Hendrix riffs, while thinking what he could say.

“Uniforms are a grand idea,” Hapgood said to the standing-room-only school board room. “This has such genius that children already are wearing only three or four outfits already.

“The unofficial uniform is old-fashioned jeans or new-fashioned cargo pants for the trunk and T-shirts and flannels for the torso, for both boys and girls. Almost all wear athletic shoes now. Nearly everyone’s hair is too short. The dress codes that schools and districts already have can take care of any problems of taste, distraction or liability.”

“This is good preparation for adulthood. Hamburger joints have uniforms as do repair shops. Business suits are so similar they can be termed uniforms as well, for women and men.

“If change is needed in school, the fairest and most equal way to keep children from envy of any sort is for them to attend class naked.

“They won’t be able to conceal weapons that way, either.”

The special committee gasped, as one. The chairwoman glanced over to the security guard, who nodded his readiness, at her signal.

“This would have to start in all grades simultaneously,” Oscar continued. “This is the absolutely most effective way to teach children how they are all alike while all being different. Teachers should not dress for class, either. Of course for physical education, appropriate supporters and pads should be donned.

“Yes, a few perverts hang around school yards. They would be thwarted by the fact that children would go to school dressed then leave all their clothes in lockers. There’ll be robes and flip-flops in the halls to grab for fire and bomb drills.”

“Mr. Hapgood, your time is up,” the chairwoman said suddenly.

But a couple of the committee members started whispering. They thought Oscar made a good point and asked the chairwoman to let him finish.

“Thank you, good people,” Oscar said. “Now that my proposal got your attention, all I need to say is that you are wasting your time and everyone else’s. Children learn through every aspect of their lives how they are alike as well how they are different Why doesn’t this committee instead try to raise standards of education?”

The next speaker proposed hiring local seamstresses for hems and cuffs. The last speaker wanted the contract for bolts of his polyester-cotton cloth.

Oscar dropped by Duff’s house afterward. Duff had watched the speech on the cable government-access channel.

“Were you serious, Oscar? My tushie would freeze on a plastic chair six hours a day,” Duff McDuff said.

“I am only as serious as I have to be,” Oscar Hapgood said enigmatically.


Proposals for Drake Take Flight

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Time to Turn Over New Leaf — or Not

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

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

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

Don’t they know how busy we are?

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

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

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

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

Then the first weekend after the first frost arrived.

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

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

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

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

The compost cylinders are against a stone wall out back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Who am I, Walter Mitty’s nephew?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


The Search Is Continuing, an Elegy

Loose Leaves, first published Tuesday 20 July 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

I got out of kindergarten one day —
Perhaps all us kids were free: Class canceled?
Jan-girl had the TV volume up high
So Mom, Sis, me would find no word muffled.

Dark horses, a long box with flag draping:
Gee whiz, gloom can fly into antennae?
Three-year-old in winter coat saluting
On such a sunny day, a little boy just like me.

When we click the Everything Box now
We soon regret there’s just one line of news.
Clicking channel to channel, all somehow
Report, “The search for the plane continues.”

It’s all we can do to keep death at bay;
A good theory: Take one day at a time.
Else eat, drink; when the sun shines roll the hay,
Expecting a giant’s leaps for mankind.

Some of us stave off death with routine,
Some block death’s glance with adventure.
We daily work grunts use the former scene,
Did you gamble three lives on the latter?

You have a wedding, attend others’ vows,
Did you try to live so long, taking no cuts?
Some in our group steer only toward big wows.
Let me paint a picture: “Still Life with Ruts.”

It’s fall again, two-hand touch so no harm,
cradling that football in the compound,
fending off all comers with the other arm.
We cannot let fate tackle those who bound.

Live as long as you can, return lobs,
Cruise through college, come what may.
Take a position, then find better jobs,
Hail, Business. By George, keep death away.

Avoid the limelight, your mom may have taught,
You then would be seen as better than most.
To stay a private public man, not caught,
Bar no tests, we saw few warts that’d cost.

John, you’re supposed to be better than us,
No, we expect you to be just like us.
Go ahead: Excel, lord it over us,
Risk your perks, waste gifts, mock our public trust.

Did peer John hit that late-thirtyish point
When we think we finally have crested.
There we dare to ask (maybe he didn’t),
Can descent on cliff or knoll be bested?

Starting middle years you have to wonder
Does eating sensibly really matter?
Why not sport at 38 with some wings?
No devil, you, but not yet an angel.

I, perhaps we, thought that you would remind
Us of Jack, Bob, Ted, after you turned gray.
Then, your own man, not to be left behind,
Run and win a Senate seat, come what may.

Sooner or later, right? That’s the motto
Of daredevil, playboy, sometimes a hero.
Why couldn’t you keep death an arm away?
Sorry it was sooner. Sorry it was you.

* * *

Several readers of the recent “Loose Leaves” column about bread have asked about details on sourdough in particular and baking in general.

I own several cookbooks with terrific bread recipes. Here are two books I especially recommend. Neither, however, covers bread machines.

For beginners, “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen, $18.95, paperback 303 pages, 1995, new revised edition, Ten Speed Press.

If you’ve baked some already, “Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands,” by Daniel Leader with Judith Blahnik, $25, hardcover, 332 pages, 1993, William Morrow & Co.

As requested, here is the Potato Herman Sourdough Starter. It came from the June 17, 1992, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Place 1 cup water, 1/2 cup table sugar and 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes in a 1-quart, non-metal jar and mix well with a nonmetal spoon. Cover jar with paper towel secured with rubber band (to allow the starter to breathe). Leave jar on counter for several days, stirring once a day. When real bubbly, feed Herman (recipe follows) and let sit on counter 3-4 hours, until bubbly again, then use or refrigerate.

To use in a sourdough-bread recipe, first mix required amount of Herman with an equal amount of flour and let sit out 3-4 hours.

Feed Herman after each use or weekly when not used. If not baking with Herman, dispose of 1 1/4 cups of starter then feed by adding 1 cup water, 1/2 cup table sugar and 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes. Stir with nonmetal utensil and recover jar with paper towel secured by rubber band. Refrigerate.


Balladeer Commandeers All the Ears

Loose Leaves, first published Tuesday 13 April 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Gus Donenough stood up to silence the Donenough Foundation board so that he could introduce the poet. Nearly everything was ready for the upcoming Live-Stock Town Fair. Plenty of artisans had signed up for booths. The musical acts had signed contracts. The community fair logo was redesigned.

“You directors thought we should have a theme song this year,” Gus said. “Longhand here is the right man for the job. He knows us and the area, and his grasp of prosody is loose as is his grasp of reality. So the price is right.”

Longhand was seated next to Gus. He wore a tattered photographer’s vest over a T-shirt and khaki cargo pants with buttons, not Velcro. Pockets top and bottom were bulging with who-knew-what. His hat was floppy, broad-brimmed and black, likely from a military surplus store. Below were faded red Converse canvas shoes.

“Don’t be off-put by Longhand’s long flowing blond hair, ladies and gentleman,” Gus said. “It’s a wig.”

Longhand loped to the lectern in the dark-paneled conference room of the Donenough Foundation. He smiled vaguely then began a sing-song chant.

* * *

When the year rolls over to spring
With pollen in the air,
Pack up kith, kin and lawn chairs, bound
For the Live-Stock Town Fair.

There’s sharp brown peaks topped with pine trees
Printed on souvenirs,
But our soft hills sport scraggly oaks:
This logo drawn after beers?

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Thousands already have come and gone
When we get to Live-Stock
We park in mud, we trek in mud;
We’re tough, each a weekend jock.

We spot candy apples, corn dogs,
Onion blossoms, funnel cakes.
Our noses pull to concessions:
Lord, the prices. What high stakes!

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Well fed, we head to the craft stands
Hot, sleepy and nearly broke.
But eager for culture, we ask,
“What’s fine, what’s really folk?”

There’s pottery, carvings and quilts
Fired, cut or loomed so dear.
After 23 booths we realize
It’s the same as last year.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Bet we get the shows we pay for,
The price of admission.
This band never had a video
On cable television.

Surely children will be amused
By juggler, mime or clown.
Longhand plays to that captive queue
That waits as if knees bound.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

On this, our first spring day outing,
Skin turns beta carotene.
You’d think Live-Stock’d have a table
Selling lots of sunscreen.

Have we missed any artisan,
Bypassed a face-painter?
Quick, gather family and bags
Before we grow fainter.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

* * *

“Members of the board, may I have a motion?” asked Gus.

“Have we paid this guy yet? someone asked.

The directors moved to each put a dollar bill in Longhand’s hat.

The resulting radio and TV announcements drew a record 355,000 people to Live-Stock, according to Donenough Foundation estimates. Longhand was invited to appear on local-access cable television, a career highlight.


When the chips fall, make lemonade

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 27 July 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Is there no justice anymore? I kept trying to commission a kangaroo to hear my two litigations, but Rent-A-Roo has been booked solid for weeks. Apparently, they’ve been kept hopping with all the other nuisance-negligence and frivolous-favoritism lawsuits that have been filed recently.

I’ve been injured in accidents I’ve admittedly caused myself.

Not infrequently, I heat the kettle for tea and slosh the boiling water over the mug onto the laminate from where it sluices to my tender waist (I’m leaning on the cabinet).

The defendants could include the electric company; the oven maker, seller and installer; the mug maker; the countertop maker, seller and installer; and my favorite tea company for getting me hooked on caffeine in the first place. I was thinking of suing the estates of Herr Fahrenheit and Monsieur Celsius, for setting the boiling point of water dangerously high.

Then again, I don’t have a hope to win a scalding-beverage complaint. Judges, chancellors and even arbiters by now surely are sick of hearing them.

My other two complaints, however, had a shot.

Because I was blaming myself, I also was my plaintiff’s defendant and vice versa. The last thing I needed, therefore, was legal representation; I would have had to hire at least two lawyers. Not only was I a plaintiff representing himself but also I was the defendant and the defendant’s attorney.

Binding arbitration now was the only way to go, with my cat, B.C., as magistrate. B.C. is wise beyond her considerable years, 15 as of Memorial Day weekend. She would be fair. Being an independent feline, she never favors her owner.

B.C. first demanded a signed release absolving her of blame for when I accidentally step — and sometimes slip precipitously — in something she’s left on the floor during the night.

I signed because of the need for justice in my two complaints, even though I could have gotten a pretty penny from “old gray whiskers” herself, the animal shelter that sold her to me and cat-care books I bought, all of which treated hairballs as a “minor inconvenience” and not life-threatening to nearby humans.

B.C.’s disclaimer didn’t mention the media. Comic strips and TV treat hairballs lightly. They’re not funny, and my rights are violated when the media poke fun at me and others like me. “Others like me” … hmm, class-action action?

B.C. jumped up onto her favorite blanket on her cat ladder. She only appeared asleep by the sunny window.

Your honor, last week in the kitchen I scooped ice and poured lemonade into a plastic tumbler to take with me to work. I honestly tried to be careful but I hit a rut at the end of the driveway and the cup leaped from the holder and sloshed down my leg.

Specifically, an ice cube hit the reflex point at the knee, so I kicked the floorboard. I didn’t feel that because the ensuing frostbite from the lemonade froze my toes.

The car sustained damage, too. The acid from the lemon melded the carpet fibers, and the sugar made everything sticky.

Your honor, within weeks, there were ants. I would’ve cleaned the floorboard, but it constituted evidence.

What, B.C., you say you have observed there is no carpet in the car and that’s why it appeared to have melted?

And you’ve found in favor of me, the defendant, and that me, the plaintiff, owes myself a million dollars? Yes, ma’am.

Oh, next case. I bought a bag of tortilla chips but in driving away from the store I couldn’t help but open the bag and munch.

Since of course I was focused on driving, I don’t notice that I was gobbling chips too big for my mouth. The corn crispies abraded the corners of my lips. With all that salt on the chips, my mouth stung for hours.

I admit that “chip lip” is not the responsibility of the bakery, the store where I bought the bag or Mother Nature for producing the salt, the corn meal and the partially hydrogenated oil.

What, B.C., if I make you wait for din-din, for an “unreasonable” 15 minutes to finish watching some TV, I certainly can make myself wait for treats, too?

Meow. You’ve found in favor of me, the plaintiff, and that me, the defendant, owes myself a million dollars? Yes, ma’am.

A man who represents himself in court,
Certainly has a fool for a client
And an ignoramus for a lawyer.
A man who acts as his prosecutor,
Is presumed guilty until convicted.


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?


Helpful Household Hints neither Hamper nor Hinder

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 17 August 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

This fact is not common knowledge, perhaps because I just made it up, but all columnists not only know one another but work in the same room. Eli the household hints writer in fact sits in the next cubicle. She had to run out to get her car fixed and asked me to fill in.

Dear Eli,

I was just replacing the baking soda in the refrigerator, where you say it removes odor, and it occurred to me I could use it to bake with. It is called “baking” soda after all.

I looked in some cookbooks and there was baking soda in almost every quick-bread recipe. The muffins were delish. Next I’m going to bake a cake.


Hi, Tish-a-bish,

That’s a great idea, baking with baking soda. I’ll have to add it to my next edition of “100 Ways to Use Baking Soda.” Now it’ll be what, 101?


Dear Eli,

I was carrying a jug of vinegar to clean windows but accidentally spilled some onto kale simmering on the stove.

Eli, it was a big mess of greens and I hated to throw out the whole pot. So I thought I better give them a little taste to see if I could salvage them. That tablespoon or so of vinegar perked the taste of those leaves right up. No one in the family got sick.

Eli, did you know just about all bottled salad dressings have vinegar? Pickles, too. Vinegar must be some kind of preservative, too. What a condiment!


Hi, Fred-he-said,

You readers are just filling my thick calendar-organizer. Here I am having to rewrite my baking-soda booklet, and you write in. Now I have to throw out my “98 Ways to Use Vinegar” and make it what, 99, 100, 101 for flavor enhancer, homemade dressings and pickling brine.

Dear Eli,

I was just about to wad up newspaper to polish the mirror with when I saw in it an article about refugees in Kosovo. I had no idea of their troubles!

Then there was an article about the president, and I just had to read it. Then there were some comics, and they tickled me so much they made my morning.

There’s a whole world out there. I didn’t clean the mirror until after lunch.

Just wanted to share my new use for newspaper. We’ve been subscribing for years, not just to clean glass with but also for the pets to poop on. My Henry takes the rest of the paper to use in the yard.


Hi, Kim-Simmer,

You know, if it wasn’t for newspapers, I wouldn’t have a job.

Dear Eli,

Henry here. Was going to send a note come fall but, since the missus is addressing you an envelope, thought we could save a stamp.

Back in the spring I spread newspaper real thick in the garden beds and put transplants in holes I cut out with a pocket knife. Sure enough, no weeding.

Another hint. I discovered that pantyhose were good for more than “squash hammocks.” That’s where you tie the nylons to trellises or stakes so squash and melons are hoisted off the ground: Good for circulation.

To make a long story short, I was messing around in the shed, and I tried on a pair. Pantyhose are much better than support socks in keeping the blood circulating. Now I wear them under my suit at the bank.

Hi, Henry-oh-henry,

I see the men are catching up to the women with smarts. Gals, have you tried wearing panty hose? Bet they’d work great under dresses.

Dear Eli,

I bought a paper shredder. Now I have confetti for parties and to stuff pillows with. As I was throwing away the box, I saw the label showing how you can destroy documents so the garbagemen won’t get your account numbers. What a snoop could do with the top of my electric bill I don’t want to know.

While sprucing up, I came across five crates of old love letters. I once was pretty popular. Through the shredder they went. Then I thought of our electric bill. Now there’s chopped love letters on top of the blown-fiber insulation in the attic.

If my beloved Weimar only knew what was in the ceiling above the bed!


Hi, Lovey-dovey,

Weimar may never know, but thanks for sharing with the rest of America.

I was getting worried about you readers. No one was coming up with unusual, or at least trivial, alternate ways to use household items. There you came along, and put your dirty laundry, so to speak, between you and the hot sun.

Have one last letter here that renews my faith in you practical folks.

Dear Eli,

I figured out a way to make razor blades last three times as long. Now that triple-bladed cartridges have come out, I buy a five-pack, take them apart, and have 15 blades. I fix a single blade in my locking pliers, lather up and away go the whiskers.


Hi, Nick,

How’d you get your name?

Got to run. I’ve got two publications to revise. Hugs.