Category Archives: 2000 Loose Leaves

Loose Leaves columns from 2000

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.”


Americans Can’t Just Let It Snow

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

How did you like that snow? Surprised by it? Surprised it lasted like it did? You shouldn’t be. Weather folks had it nailed all along, give or take half of a day.

For all the times we make fun of the TV meteorologists and the National Weather Service, not to mention the private forecast services, nobody admits how often right they are these days. When they are wrong, it’s usually only by a matter of hours.

Sometimes, weather-people are very wrong, but 90 or 75 percent chance of something falling does mean 10 or 25 percent of no precipitation. Odds like that would bankrupt race tracks and casinos in a week. Why didn’t we trust this?

You remember the winter storm. Forecasters said early in the week, with certainty, snow would fall heavily by Thursday afternoon. It might start as early as late Wednesday.

Snow began at 11 or so Thursday morning, and it came down heavily from the start. That’s a pretty accurate forecast. Plans by schools and businesses were set for Thursday when nothing fell by very late Wednesday.

Forecasters also said it would not warm up until Sunday and then only just above freezing.

The snow as predicted stayed on the ground, melting to slush in clear or lightly clouded skies, then refreezing in the night so as to snarl traffic to Saturday shopping and Sunday school. That was an accurate forecast, too.

Let’s open! Let’s close!

Oh, the poor, poor weatherman,
We love to mock all that he says.
We seek ever-greater acumen,
Then do what we want anyways.

Forecasters have radar, cell phones,
Satellites see what gravity prevents.
Nothing’s sure, on this make no bones,
But eighty percent should give sense.

Hundreds wrecked in the first six hour,
But thankfully no one was killed.
From sliders walkers had to cower,
Cars had to collide, then they chilled.

Up to thousands per fender-bender
Post-deduct’s, dents costly to fix. The
rest to your choice of tow trucker,
Pray premiums won’t rise for kicks.

Hospital crews thankfully on hand,
Yet they were not too often needed.
Clinics now keep banker’s hours, can
That be ’cause banks now over-seeded?

Woe are we who must commute by slide,
Paper carriers made the hills at times.
Thanks come to stores open with pride,
Close cafes for repast in pastimes.

We can stay home with our Internet,
For twenty a month we are all set.
Until ice snaps precious phone poles,
Then we’ll sled, build fires, drink cocoas.

Superintendents, supervisors,
Why’d you wait ’til noon to lock up?
Trust the TV, there’s no precedents,
Fear it’d cost test scores or markup?

Those who live in hurricane-land
Skeptics too so they teach us little.
At first siren some flee the sand,
The rest seen worse, stay noncommittal.

Our Cape Fear lies everywhere,
The place Fate stops to look around.
For once our snow and ice melts in air,
Floods and twisters will come aground.

Just timidly I trust newscasting,
Despite these claims of confidence.
I hate to feel like I am lying,
When I cancel some appointments.

We claim to want to know the future,
We pray for truth, we bet for sooth.
Science, history guide ever better,
Prophecy though sure we keep aloof.
Oh, the poor, poor weatherman,
We love to mock all that he says.
We seek ever-greater acumen,
Then do what we want anyways.

We’ll figure out, one of these days, that we Americans can take a day off for a good reason like a strong threat of snow and nothing bad will happen. We won’t go broke. Our children won’t suddenly turn ignorant.

Western European countries, with better-educated children and often higher standards of living and stronger business productivity, give employees months off every year with no concern.

We could learn from such economies. Or we could push ourselves, metaphorically, up very close to stoplights on icy roads, begging for a green light before the yo-yo behind the yo-yo behind us jumps the gun, and cracks all of our bumpers in a bucket brigade of snow.


Assault with Deadly Pun Reflects on Gag Order as Juvenile

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 11 June 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

He was just a puppy. He didn’t mean to be mean.

“I can’t believe he actually broke skin, that he got a chunk of that police dog,” said a tabby cat, who worked for a tabloid.

Yet the frisky terrier, accidentally or not, drew a little blood when he nipped the mature German shepherd. In turn, the K-9 took a practiced bite out of that puppy’s hide he will never forget.

Puppy was 8 months old; isn’t that about 14 in human years?

The question for all the assembled pets and wildlife in the suburban yet rural subdivision was how to punish Puppy.

The court could order him shunned for a period of time or bit again, this time officially and under sanitary conditions.

The court could “go human” and pop his snout with a rolled-up newspaper. First the officers of the court would have to roll up a newspaper, bind it and then figure out how to pick it up and swing it.

The critters, however, were getting ahead of themselves.

Maybe that’s why the judge wanted to muzzle everybody.

First, they had to play fair. Guilt — or innocence — must be proved.

This was a formality. There were witnesses, many of whom were elders of the community.

The incident happened in a yard surrounded by a tall wooden privacy fence. Animals in other yards did not see it. They depended on cats to sit on the fence and screech out the events as they had occurred and now to report on the trial.

At least Puppy didn’t kill anything. That’s been happening a lot in other neighborhoods. Pups, kits and cubs have been getting way too frisky.

It’s the age we live in, thought many. It’s the Internet, reasoned others, but they were shushed by those who noted that when it came to computers they were all paws and claws. A few animals blamed an increase in fumes from gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles.

In an effort to be fair, the judge — who by the way happened to be a canary who escaped from her cage a couple of falls ago — announced a muzzle order on every creature.

A muzzle order is like a gag order, but muzzles work on snouts and beaks better than balling up a sock with which to gag a pet. Besides, dogs and cats tend to see sock knots as toys, not threats.

“I forbid the cats to tell the other animals what’s going on. You cats should not even show photographs. You’ve already named names so that cat’s out of the bag,” said Her Honor.

This is just a puppy, for heaven’s sake,” added Judge Canary.

“Oh, you want the catbird seat to yourself?” said Tabloid Tabby.

“Watch it, kitty, or I’ll find you in contempt.”

“We cats think you’re scared of messing up a case like this,” taunted Tab-Tab. “Back when you wanted this high perch, you promised openness, in both half-court and full-court rules.”

“Are you calling me yellow?” retorted the canary.

“Oh no,” said the cats, in unison.

The canary gaveled the trial open with her beak.

The shepherd testified first, explaining how he was the street’s alpha dog and kept all the creatures in line. This puppy usually was like the other babies, but. …

“He just popped up out of nowhere, bird-dogging me.”

“Sir, I’ve had enough of the fowl comments. They’re offensive to some of us and now are part of the muzzle order,” said Judge Canary. “I’m ready for a bird bath. Case adjourned until after I preen.”

The cats had a field day for lunch. They crept along the top of the wooden fence and told all the cats and dogs — as well as a rabbit and three turtles — what happened.

The muzzle order on photographs meant nothing. The felines had no digital cameras, and they could not work film.

The cats could, however, paint word-pictures. They described Puppy, his mommy and the schnauzer that must have been the sire.

The cats paid special attention to the judge, noting how her robe fit and how it clipped her wings.

Judge Canary returned, and she called Puppy. She yelled a second time and again. He was just a puppy. On the fourth call he ran up.

Puppy explained how all puppies play rough and usually the adults indulge them.

“I was teething, right?” said Puppy, wagging his tail.

The prosecutor, a ferret, objected. “This puppy’s canines grew in weeks ago, Your Honor. This was a malicious act.”

Puppy’s representative, also a ferret, noted how the wound was minor.

“Let’s wrap this up, you weasels,” said Judge Canary.

“We’re not quite weasels. We’re rather domestic, Your Honor, and surprisingly smart,” they said together. They proved their intelligence by immediately resting their cases.

Judge Canary ruled fairly and quickly, for this was no kangaroo court.

Puppy was guilty of course. The cats too were guilty, of all the mews that’s fit to print. The ferrets were guilty of burrowing in strips of newspaper. The police dog was guilty of following his training and instinct.

Judge Canary flitted off to a high branch. The view was better. Plus, she was out of range.


Tapping Trees to Sing and Shop Amid Thoughtful Growth

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 21 May 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Jasper Jacks was surprised by the outcry over his Wise Acres shopping center. He could think of many reasons why residents protest, but they only had one.

Let’s see, he thought: College Avenue at Starburst Lane is the busiest intersection not just in Fayetteville but all of Northwest Arkansas. In fact, for blocks all around, there are dozens of stores.

“So you think, Jasper, that residents are worried about air pollution from cars and traffic congestion?” consultant Fenster Wiggle said. “Do you think they’re pro-business and worried how one more department store will profit when within blocks there’s Stage, TJ Maxx, Goody’s and Wal-Mart, not to mention the mall with Penney’s, Sears and Dillard’s?”

“Surely they’re not anti-growth,” Jacks said. “Nell Jung, that’s the lady in the tree, has a mobile phone, and her platform is built of cut timber.”

“Their cause is thoughtful growth. Thoughtful growth is not necessarily more expensive but is time-consuming. It takes time to figure out how to build well. Cleared land will be naked of nature for generations,” Wiggle said.

The two executives met at a picnic table in Gulley Park. Wiggle liked the lesson it eventually would teach Jacks. Gulley’s trees generally stand on its perimeter; most are young. It’s a huge, hot field, great for throwing flying discs but not for shady, lazy, all-afternoon picnics.

Wiggle pulled out his cell phone and called Longhand the poet.

Then Fenster stood and waved, for the black-hatted, blond-ponytailed versifier was swinging on a swingset 100 yards away. Longhand didn’t own a cell phone.

* * *

(We interrupt this satire to bring you a fable.)

Once upon a time there was a man who lived in a pretty old house in a pretty old neighborhood.

The azalea bush on the shady east side bloomed and flourished. The azalea bush on the sunny west side dropped more leaves with each passing season.

One morning the man went out with a shovel. He was going to dig up the sad azalea and replace it with a baby bush that would thrive on sun and heat.

From out of nowhere, Goldie the cat walked up.

“Meow. I like to nap beneath that azalea. It will be two years before the new bush is tall enough for me to hide under,” said Goldie.

“Cat, I own this house. I can do what I want,” said the man.

“Meow, then. I am going to sit on top of this azalea bush right here and yowl and embarrass you to the neighbors — until you go away,” said Goldie.”

Goldie jumped on the bush. The bush was spindly, and she broke all of its stems. It died.

MORAL: Knock, knock?

Who’s there?


Azalea who?

Azalea bracelets, pot roasts and clothes.
I’ll pay the rent and the light bill,
Then azalea some more of those.

(We now return you to our regularly scheduled satire.)

* * *

Fenster first recommended that the name of the anchor department store be changed.

“Dohl’s is too ethnic,” Wiggle said.

“No, our tenant is proud of the family name. It’s … it’s German, isn’t it?” said Jacks.

“Dole’s. It’s middle America,” Wiggle woozed. “D-o-l-e-s is as American as pineapples and bananas.”

Longhand recrossed his legs. He hated business meetings. He hated meetings. He hated business.

Prompted, Wiggle told Jacks he should do two things to cancel the negative publicity of tree-sitter Nell Jung.

The first task was to underwrite Jung’s Heart of Gold Consensus.

“They won’t take money from Dole’s or me,” Jacks said.

“Yes, it will. All these groups need funds. You are not to tie any obligations to it.”

“Whoa, really?” asked Jacks.

“Jasper, just give them a big check every quarter with absolutely no strings. Some of its membership spontaneously will be reluctant to cross you.”

“Whoa, really?” said Jacks.

Jacks wrote a check to the Heart of Gold gang. “What’s the second thing?”

“Dole’s has to have a theme song that appeals to the protesters. Shoe and computer company commercials use revolutionary rock songs. Longhand has parodied the one about the Kent State shootings. Also, this ditty will encourage customers to charge purchases.”

“I don’t do ditties. I don’t parody,” Longhand said. “I am a poet. This is an homage to a classic street anthem.”

Longhand strummed his ukulele and sang:

Tin Lizzies on Dickson Street,
We gotta move retail uptown.

La la, spring in the air,
La la, spring in the trees.
“Nell, how’s the view up there?”
“Great, Earth. Your day to seize.”

If we didn’t mine and harvest,
How could you and I drive to cafes?
Our plunder makes life full of zest;
The kids will fix this in future days.

For sale at Dole’s I owe.
For sale at Dole’s I owe.

Jasper Jacks smiled as he opened his checkbook again, humming the melody. It brought back memories.

“She’ll come down,” he thought.


Bush Versus Gore in Verses Leaves Voters to Curses

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 6 August 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — The first presidential debate was held just last night. Due to its nature, improvisational rhyming, it was short. Due to its participants, a winner could not be determined by the panel — or Nielsen ratings.

Moderator Evan S. Murgatroyd, the longtime, veteran, pioneer, acerbic, curmudgeonly but never quite lovable political commentator, guided the discussion, asking the questions, calling time sarcastically when the candidates stalled to think of iambs.

Here are the rules as given by Murgatroyd in a submarine hero sonnet, where the rhyme scheme is aabb ccdd eeff then a willy-nilly zz couplet to close:

The rules are just these, you men to elect,
Respond to issues in rhymes you select.
These are samples of the heroic couplet,
Advice? Stay simple with five feet to vet.

As “expert” I can call every shot,
Folks let us call races, like it or not.
My guess: That today’s debate won’t decide
Your preference, no pollsters will abide.

The rules: Each gent will have an opening
Then I follow with questions for reckoning.
You can rebut or, as you want, to veer
To talking points, for so many an ear.

Results are counted by Whitewater Inc.:
Implications, no convictions, just stink.

Murgatroyd then asked the Democrat, Vice President Al Gore, to open.

Thank you, Evan, to have a verse debate,
At last a chance to dance. Hope it’s not too late.
You know me, Al, moderate to the core,
Strength through compromise makes me not a bore.

Gov. George W. Bush then gave his opening stanza after applause for Gore died down. That did not take long. Applause for Bush never was lengthy, either. It is a long time to November, fortunately.

Good Evan-ing, hah! How about Steven-Evan S.?
Was that a nickname you can reminisce?
There’s my sophomoric frat-boy humor
That’ll elect me, then be Dad, with honor.

“My first question,” said Murgatroyd, abruptly, “is what will each of you do about the economy.”


Reagan and Dad cut taxes, push the ticker,
In the ’80s, we helped rich get richer.
“Trickle-down” was the idea. It was a peach;
It didn’t say how to be nice, each to each.


I balanced the budget in the ’90s, I recall,
Perhaps Bill helped. First in decades, “you all.”
Despite pleas from GOPs to cut all tax,
I — or we — cut spending to a low max.

Murgatroyd then asked about foreign policy, with Gore stonily silent and then delivering the first quatrain. During this, Bush fidgeted and counted syllables on his figures. As the audience saw, the Ivy League education of both prepared them more than adequately.


I took mere diplomats eight years while Bill
“Rassled” world leaders, kept them from the kill.
I’m “rarin’ ” now, is that vernacular?
Big Al’s polished, no need for wool-puller.


This may be my first time to the world plate,
But Texas its own melting pot, at quick rate.
Fie to Europe, the other continents:
You to yours. I heed my constituents.

The debate continued, to Social Security and Medicare. The Democrat and Republican found rhymes for those easily enough, both looking to their predecessors and then pronouncing their individuality, their uniqueness.

What tripped the men up were questions from the audience. On a surprisingly unified front, they winked and then talked plain English, giving answers that anyone could read on their pamphlets or Internet sites.

There was no concluding verse from either. As the expert on the television that night, Murgatroyd gave himself, not the candidates, the last word. He went for long lines.

I, Evan S., have heard every word, not only tonight,
But for months of platitudes we have nil insight.
We, both voters and pundits, have created this mess,
We admit having melded the parties, made them coalesce.
Al, George say: We’re for change. We’ll make things as they could.
Both add: We stand for the old days, when times were as they should.


Penny Wise, Dollar Smart, Grand Genius: Regis, Pound Me

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 22 October 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Penny wise and pound foolish is not a recipe for gluttony. Who needs to follow a recipe for that?

We heard it from our elders, who got it from a bloke named Robert Burton who coined the maxim in the early 17th century.

Those of us who remember the 20th century may know people who saved remnants of bar soap to eventually combine into a mass big enough for a few more washes.

When the toothpaste is almost out, how much time do you spend squeezing two or three more dabs? Two minutes? Ten minutes?

That’s as compulsive as molding soap — and penny wise.

Your family size toothpaste costs around $2 and lasts, what, four months?

That’s 120 days, 240 brushings. You putz in the bathroom for less than a penny’s worth of mint polish? You’re late to work, go already!

We are still so economical that we comparison shop for bottled water.

We gauge home computer models for features we might need. Do I need video-editing software when I don’t own a digital camcorder — but I might.

Back when a dollar was worth a dollar (I’m almost 43 so my dollar was worth a dollar in the 1970s), I mused to my childhood best friend Dana Daniel how you can’t compare worth and price.

My example — I don’t know how Dana put up with me — was that for three drive-in lunches you could buy an album. The meals would be long digested and gone while the LP would last for years. One record equals a couple pounds of burgers and fries and Cokes (no Perrier in Fort Smith at that time).

We were only 16 or 17 so no revelation came from such musing, unless we concluded I was nuts.

The nation may be at record-high employment, but with little effort you can spend yourself broke.

Since my wife calculated that she spends $50 an hour at discount super stores, she goes just once a month. She’s there 2 1/2 hours and it costs $125.

Me? I am much better shopper. I can spend $125 at Wal-Mart in half the time.

Being armed with coupons helps just a little. Coupons work only when (A) you need the item and (B) you need that name-brand form of it. After that, discounted items are frills, which is why manufacturers still offer coupons.

Our hunting for bargains keeps the economy robust.

Does it make sense to go to Kmart for odds and ends, among which is spray cleaner, then later go to Wal-Mart to finish out the shopping list and see the same cleaner for over $1 cheaper?

Meanwhile, you discover some of what you bought at Kmart was a buck cheaper, proving the total at either store still works out about the same.

Would you buy a second bottle of the spray at Wal-Mart and the next day return the first to Kmart?

Well, it was a dollar.

Gas costs almost $1.50 a gallon, and the extra shopping trip takes 40 minutes of valuable time, not to mention killing a lunch hour.

Factoring in all of the costs to evaluate the multiple excursions is the true waste of time. I’d rather just assume I am dollar smart.

To live in America, we don’t need to act like paupers. Times are good, let’s enjoy all we can buy. Nice paper to write on stirs my creativity. My favorite is 8 cents a sheet, including shipping for the mail order. For 8 cents, however, you make a photocopy down the street that already has writing on it.

A basic computer today can be $1,500 or $1,800. Why not get the bigger one?

Then it will be too small in five years instead of four. It’s just $300. Not counting sales tax.

You buy a car, a few grand more than others because among other attributes it has side air bags. What price safety? I’m a grand genius.

Life insurance? First you sign. Then you pay. Last you undergo a physical.

“You mean my having to take a little cholesterol pill despite being in ‘excellent’ health kills the ‘preferred’ premium, and I have to pay $400 more?”

For that $400 I might as well enjoy eggs, yolk and all, a few times a week.

Eat, drink and surf the Net, for tomorrow we pound foolish.


Some Mondays Made for ‘DPs’ Who Can Take Them

Loose Leaves, 1st published Sunday 3 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Some Mondays need more than 24 hours.

My wife is doing some work for a project in London. We decided I would join her there for Thanksgiving week.

TW Express 7608 was to leave Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at 4:18 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, arriving 5:35 at St. Louis. TWA’s flight 720 was to leave at 7:30 p.m., arriving 9:50 a.m. Tuesday at London’s Gatwick airport.

I am told to be at the airport by 3.

Around 9 p.m. Sunday I phone a good-bye to my mom in Fort Smith. Two hours later I write my wife an e-mail of last-minute thoughts about our romantic getaway, but the computer tells me the phone is dead.

Maybe No. 1: Maybe I should have gone to a pay phone and punched the phone company’s repair number Sunday night.

I wash a load of laundry while packing, writing and phoning. There is a gurgling in the walls. Two weeks earlier the bathroom flooded, but everything has been OK since.

Maybe No. 2: Maybe I should call a plumber every time there’s an overflow or a leaky tap.

By 2 a.m. Monday I am packed. Bet I can ignore the noise and the dinky seats and snooze for most of the long flight.

I am up at 7. Oh no, the bathroom floor’s a soggy wreck. I try to call the plumber but — the phone is dead, still.

I borrow a neighbor’s phone. The mechanized phone-company voice tells me that the problem is within the house. I am to unplug every phone line, wait five minutes then replug one to see if the dial tone has reset.

It does.

The plumbing dispatcher listens to my story and says the sewer is backed up and recommends a couple of “roto” services.

The one I call tells me someone will be at the house about noon, calling me at work so I can meet them.

The roto people do not phone, and I leave my half-day of work. I call and learn a man will be at the house by 2. At 2:02 I phone and learn the man will be there any minute. I load the car.

He arrives at 2:45. I phone the neighbor, and she comes over with a book to read. I give her my house key and a blank check for the expert.

(Her reward is anonymity — and, later, a tin of English chocolate.)

I hit the airline counter at 3:25. The ticket agent tells me to relax, that my flight to St. Louis is a little late.

What about the flight from there to London? She tells me TWA 720 itself is at least 35 minutes late, which leaves me just enough time.

At the gate, TW Express announces its plane has a maintenance delay and that its passengers will leave about 5:30. What about the TWA to London? It is at least 35 minutes late, I am told by another agent, and that with hustle I can make it.

Maybe No. 3: Maybe I should not believe two airline officials with the same information.

We leave Arkansas about 6 p.m. It arrives at the B-concourse gate about 7:20.

The departures screen says the 7:30 flight is — on time.

I make the C-concourse gate at 7:29. Really.

But the door to the jetbridge is locked.

The agent there tells me two things. Boarding for any international flight ends 30 minutes before departure. Second, my 7:30 flight left — four minutes early.

Please, someone laugh.

For most of the rest of Monday I hang out at two TWA service counters and the TW Express service counter.

The next flight to London leaves at 7:30 Tuesday night, the same No. 720. Going to Cincinnati or New York or Dallas or Atlanta for another airline will get me to Europe at best at 8 a.m. Wednesday instead of 10 a.m., at a cost of sleeping in a chair at one of those airports.

TWA offers me a night at a St. Louis Holiday Inn and $15 for its restaurant. For 24 hours of meals? That gets me a $10 voucher for airport food. TW Express gives me a $9 voucher for more airport food.

Eventually I get five or six coupons for 1,000 frequent-flier miles each and a whole $50 off my next TWA ticket.

Also, TWA gives me a plastic pouch with razor, folding hairbrush, toothbrush, mini-toothpaste and a packet of Woolite for my underwear.

The Holiday Inn extends the noon check-out to 2 p.m. I use the time calling my travel agent, the big airline and its regional partner.

Finally, TWA gives me a ticket exchange, allowing me to return home a day later, thus returning my full week’s vacation. Ordinarily, changing an advance ticket costs $75 plus the difference between discount and full fare.

The inn’s waiter at breakfast Tuesday asked me if I was another “DP.” That’s short for “Distressed Passenger.”

This DP gives him $3 cash after learning TWA’s voucher may not be used for tips.

At this point Monday was over just about everywhere, and I got to London at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday — give or take.


Au Revoir, Adiós Hasta Mañana

Loose Leaves, first run Tuesday 4 April 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Anyone who said he was not afraid of John R. Starr is a liar.

The Little Rock newspaperman died April 1. He was only 72; but, when I joined the “Arkansas Democrat” 15 years ago, he already seemed ancient, with white hair, thick glasses and a history of heart disease.

From the time Walter Hussman Jr. hired him as managing editor in 1978, Starr crafted a statewide newspaper with fire, building a newsroom staff that in late 1991 toppled the venerated “Arkansas Gazette,” owned in its last years by Gannett, a media conglomerate not accustomed to losing a cross-town war.

Starr’s corner office may have been only a 12-foot square. It seemed smaller with walls hidden by tall, filled bookshelves and piles of newspapers and documents falling across alternating black and white squares of Linoleum that dated the second-floor newsroom. Starr and his confidence filled the rest of the space.

A reporter or copy editor would squeeze in, move papers for a place to sit, barely breathing, having been summoned by memo or e-mail: “Come see me. JRS.”

Most of the time, Starr just wanted questions answered. He advised reporters on research and interviews, offering source names and numbers from his Rolodex. He did relish teaching.

Because I was wire editor and because his first two decades in journalism were spent with The Associated Press, he usually asked me what national and world coverage the wire services were transmitting. Rarely but still too often, he asked me why the hell the “Gazette” had some piece and we did not. That could ruin a whole week.

Still, it taught reporters and editors to think fast. You could not lie. Starr would not accept, “I don’t know.”

He would tell you the best answer, if you did not have one: “I made a mistake. I am sorry. I will do better.”

If you repeated those sentences, Starr would let you leave, trembling less than if he had caught you, an “idiot,” trying to hide or shrug off a “bonehead” gaffe.

We all have nightmares from Starr. There was the week of the ground attack of the Persian Gulf War with debates on running reliable AP copy or taking chances on secondary wire services’ not-quite-confirmed rumors — guessing what the “Gaz” might run.

There was the day and night of the final tweaking of the “Democrat,” rather, the first tweaking of the “Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,” when he called me a “second-grader.” More accustomed to being an “idiot,” “second-grader” really stung.

We both knew I was neither, for I would not have stayed employed.

There are two kinds of editors: The copy-based editor who fidgets with words and the editor who inspires, instructs or intimidates subordinates into reporting or editing an article fully, fairly and clearly.

Starr was the latter. He developed reporters, experienced or fresh from college. He scared copy editors into doing their work perfectly all of the time, an impossibility, or quitting.

He had another side. The gruff, moody Starr talking baby-talk with an ankle-high yippy dog was as surreal as seeing him treat Norma, his wife since 1948, as tenderly as a delicate, rare porcelain vase. I saw him do both.

Starr retired as managing editor in mid-1992, months after Gannett shut down the “Gaz” and sold the assets to the Hussman family.

We reporters and line editors tried to be inconspicuous when Starr was in the newsroom. This habit was so developed that few of us looked up when post-retirement he paid infrequent visits to the renovated third floor.

On one such visit, I was trapped. We were standing by the bulletin board, when he told me to call him Bob, not Mr. Starr. My name remained “Pollock,”never Ben.

Bob is what friends called him. John R. Starr was his byline. Strangers called him John. People who should have known better called him John Robert. His enemies called him lots of things. They even called him at home. Bob, who did not shirk from a fight, who did not flinch from direct and caustic criticism, always kept a listing in the phone book.

Most readers did not realize he retired, for his column continued. When any public figure strayed from public service, Bob continued to pounce. The only changes were an increase in travel columns and a reduction from daily publication.

If Bob did not suffer rocks through windows or worse, it must have been because neither as editor nor columnist did he play favorites. He would enthusiastically praise or sneeringly condemn the same public official or policy as his thinking developed — or reversed. He was reluctant to admit mistakes, but he would do so, cleanly and with his head high.

Columns and editorials have little influence. Studies have shown few voters are influenced by punditry. A reason editorials and political columns continue, however, is that the powerful, who desire flattery and fear criticism like the rest of us, do take them seriously.

As vituperative as pundits seem to be on cable “news” talk shows, they are show biz. When Bob blasted a politician or coach for falling short, he meant it.

I am not sure Bill Clinton could have won two presidential terms or survived the impeachment had not Bob toughened him. If Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes a senator from New York, it will be partly because as a campaigner and politician she learned how to deflect Bob’s criticism and never take his praise for granted.

Bob’s legacy, however, should be his stewardship of the “Democrat.” Until this week, I would worry that people would see his columns as his prime accomplishment. Now I predict his editing and columning will be remembered equally.

America may not see tough newspapermen again. We have become too nice, taking elaborate pains to defend solid journalism or sincere opinion.

In 1988-90 I wrote a humor column for the “Democrat,” hidden in a Wednesday mailer to non-subscribers that wrapped around grocery ads.

On another post-retirement newsroom visit, Bob told me he only seemed to have ignored my essays.

“Would I have let it run if I didn’t want it to?” Let’s take that as a compliment.


London Calling: Keep Left Against the Rail to the Way-Out

Loose Leaves column, 1st published Sunday 17 December 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

LONDON — If it’s true you can’t really know a city in just a week’s visit, then you probably cannot fully describe it in 1,500 words. Here goes.

Wednesday, Nov. 22

My wife has been here since Nov. 5, as a computer analyst for a multinational corporation.

I get to her hotel about noon. After a lunch, we shop on nearby Finchley Road. I would buy tea for home at the modern Waitrose supermarket there but all is sold in the States: Twinings, reliable; PG Tips, bitter; Jackson’s, boring; and Tetley drawstring, hearty, at Wal-Mart.

With her coaching, I succeed in beating jet lag by staying awake until after dinner.

During the afternoon — evening might as well begin at 4 because that’s when it gets dark — I had to remind myself not to walk into cars, which here barrel down at you on the left.

It’s better, however, to look both ways at any crosswalk in case it is for a one-way street. You must really twist around, 210 degrees or so. Though the city is flat, the streets are rarely straight.

Most cars, as well as trucks and vans, are tiny, in models never seen in the States. Gasoline is about four times as expensive.

Thursday, Nov. 23

Thanksgiving is not celebrated here; it’s a regular work day. Some folks here, though, tell us they are thankful — that the U.S. no longer is a colony.

We are to take the subway almost everywhere. The London Underground is as clean as a long-established transit system can be. Also, it feels safe. But where’s the trash can for my gum wrapper?

There are almost no trash cans on the street or in the Tube. Finally, a sign says they were removed years ago because of package bombs. Oh.

From the Tube stop we walk to Westminster Abbey, passing Big Ben, which is on one corner of Parliament, itself a grand, huge structure. That old clock tower in pictures seems dismal brown. In person, it is a brighter yellow-brown with gold leaf at the top. Because so few skyscrapers sit in the area, Big Ben remains a stumpy but inspiring landmark, day and night.

We plan to only spend an hour at the ancient Abbey, because we just want to see its Poets Corner. We end up walking reverently through all of the little rooms. Slowly considering the crypts and memorials to Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and other monarchs, prime ministers, military leaders and explorers thrilled the schoolboy in me.

The Corner turns out to be a large room or wing that memorializes not only writers but architects, actors and composer George Frederic Handel. Some are buried under engraved squares of the floor. Others are just memorialized with floor squares, busts or stained glass.

It may sound hopelessly Pop Boy but seeing the recent movies “Elizabeth” and “Mrs. Brown” (about Victoria) made the Abbey worth devoting hours to.

We then walk to the pedestrian part of the Embankment railroad bridge. We crossed the Thames to see the Poetry Library.

This public lending library, on the fifth floor of the new Royal Festival Hall, claims to have two copies of all 20th century poetry books published in the U.K. and many other books in English.

In the open shelves I found three books by University of Arkansas Professor Miller Williams. “Adjusting to the Light” and “Distractions” each had been checked out three times, and “Living on the Surface,” had 10 date stamps.

Afterward we attend a Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel at the Tower Bridge, across from the Tower of London. Christy’s boss hosts the feast for his crew and their bemused British clients. His wife gave the chef her North Carolina family Thanksgiving recipes. The food, view and irony were great.

Friday, Nov. 24

We end up spending the afternoon at the exhibit, “Painting the Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000” at the National Portrait Gallery.

The museum is just off Trafalgar Square. That overlaps with the Piccadilly Circus neighborhood, which might as well be Covent Garden. Soho is near here, too. Bloomsbury is next door, somehow. It’s all West End.

Whatever you call it, this area is where it’s been at for decades and is it ever groovy, baby.

We shared a pot of tea and milk in the Portrait Gallery’s top-floor cafe. As we left, we heard music. Looking down the three-story atrium, we discovered a recital of a women’s vocal sextet, Aurora Nova. We took the back stairs down to the folding-chair audience.

The women were singing Benjamin Britten’s 1943 “A Ceremony of Carols.” Toward the end of “Recession,” the six unmiked singers walked to that escalator and got on just as they began repeating “hallelujah,” leaving behind their director Patrick Craig, on harp. At the top, still singing, they disappeared, the sound fading.

The six singers soon reappear, to our hearty applause. Craig explains when he saw that escalator creating a literal recessional was “irresistible.”

After intermission, Aurora Nova sings 1940s swing classics, with Craig on piano, ending with songs that mean so much to wartime Londoners, “White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again.” The older folks there have tears in their eyes, and so do we.

Any event we attend that night would fog the gallery’s images and the Christmas recital’s glorious chords so we stroll past the neon lights of the West End. We begin a nightly habit of returning to the hotel on the top of a red doubledecker bus to see the city at night, especially holiday lights.

Saturday, Nov. 25

We devote today to the flagship Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. That is in the West End, too. Harrods is old and elegant, on the order of the main locations of Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Marshall Field in Chicago.

We went into Soho, just for pizza. After a long week, this was to be an early, restorative night.

Sunday, Nov. 26

We return to the Embankment Pier to take a narrated cruise down the Thames to Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. That is where the Prime Meridian, separating the Eastern and Western hemispheres, was set.

Also here is the ultimate newspaper promotion. On the pavement outside, along the first few yards of zero degrees longitude, is a scrolling red-on-black digital readout of the day’s headlines of The Times, exhibit sponsor.

A green laser beam shoots out a hole in the main observatory’s 0-longitude gable. We stay past dusk and see this invisible line made visible shooting across the Thames toward London.

Our having seen “Longitude” months ago helped persuade us to see the observatory. This TV movie told how 18th-century clockmaker John Harrison fought bureaucracy and petty politics for decades to invent a succession of spring-loaded clocks to calculate geographic position on boats, which saved countless lives. Here, we see Harrison’s inventions.

We return via Docklands Light Rail to take in West End theater. We wanted British actors, not some Broadway show. That’s what New York is for.

We choose a 90-minute reading of new and classic poetry benefiting the Arvon Foundation, which subsidizes writing classes and retreats.

The host was British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. His voice was nearly as sonorous as the main reader, actor Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient,” “The End of the Affair”).

Motion reading his own “Serenade,” about a favorite horse accidentally killing its rider, the narrator’s mother, was my favorite. He stumbled once, obviously revising a line on the fly, which was reassuring to this writer. Second favorite was everything Fiennes uttered.

On this day we traveled by foot, boat, taxi, train, subway and bus.

Monday, Nov. 27

We decide skipping the British Museum would be an oversight. Besides, several friends warned us not to miss its Elgin Marbles, reliefs and statues from the Parthenon temple in Greece.

We also examine the Rosetta Stone that translated several ancient languages.

The museum echoed deafeningly from teachers calling to chattering schoolchildren and from translators shouting several languages, not to mention the hammers and drills of the restoration of the famed Reading Room, unfortunately closed a few more days.

We failed to see the entire museum. Deliberately.

The second stop following a promised 10-minute walk that really took 45, was the British Transport Museum. The Underground and buses fascinated us enough to schedule that.

The Transport Museum turned out to be in Covent Garden, next to its famed open market. It was so late we went straight to the Transport’s gift shop.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the city hired Deco and Nouveau artists to illustrate everyday signs (Keep right, Visit Kew Gardens). This being commercial art meant that the gift shop’s reproductions might as well have been original.

Tuesday, Nov. 28

The trip home to Arkansas was blissfully uneventful.


No restaurant ever rushed us out after a meal. Only one offered free coffee or tea refills. Restaurants did not always have restrooms.

One pound equals $1.50, give or take a few pennies.

Mouse pads are called mouse mats.

Going online as a visitor gets expensive. Use of the many Internet cafes or public library branches that contract with them, however, makes it affordable, about $4 an hour, on their computers.

An exit is labeled as “Way Out.”


Shady Hill Rest Home Residents Thrive on Loving Care, Lick Bowls Clean

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 9 July 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Maybe it’s a happy circumstance for the hermit side of me, but my wife and I have become increasingly reluctant to entertain visitors. The house has taken an odor.

Yesterday, in the fresh air of the yard, I figured it out. Our house, Shady Hill, has become a rest home.

We are the nurses of and custodians for two elderly cats.

Like all nursing homes, two odors predominate: Bodily waste and disinfectant cleaners.

Maybe Shady Hill smells fine but for the weather. The slight stench took over in this past month of strong, daily rains. Cloud cover reduced the times that the air-conditioning cycled on. Smells settled in. The unpredictability of the rains forced us to keep windows shut, to keep the sills dry. Smells settled in.

Then again, Champagne turns 19 in August, and B.C. had her 16th birthday in late May.

We now live in the Shady Hill Rest Home.

Though older, my wife’s tabby, Champagne, is healthier than B.C. A tortoiseshell of medium-length fur, Champagne was a little heavy before marriage gained her a half-sister. B.C. (for Ben’s Cat) did not like company and chased Champagne around the house frequently. This gave both cats high stamina and renewed health. Champagne slimmed down.

B.C. doesn’t slap Champagne but about once a week now. Every couple of days they touch noses when their paths cross, without hissing. Progress.

Champagne had a setback in 1997. While we were reading in the living room, we heard a thud from the kitchen. Seconds later, Champagne carried a mouse to my wife’s closet, where she left the carcass as a token of love.

Champagne evidently leaped to surprise her prey. She quickly developed a limp that our veterinarian diagnosed as spondylolysis. The huntress had to be kept locked in a bathroom for days to restrict her movements. The limp went away after several months.

The only jumps she makes now are to our bed, but she uses a Rubbermaid footstool. She knows that two 12-inch hops are more comfortable than one giant leap for a good nap on a quilt.

Our Fayetteville vet has pronounced Champagne in remarkable physical health, like a cat years younger.

Mentally, she can’t always hit the top of a scratching post.

Always vocal, Champagne has a distinct lingering cry after Mommy goes to work. In the last year, Champagne howls several times a day — and night — when we are out of her line of sight.

If I hear the yowl, I walk around to where she can see me. She can’t hear so well. Champagne starts as if surprised then relaxes her ears as if, “Oh, there you are.”

Her other sign of aging is that she obviously believes that if all four paws are in the litter box, then the ensuing evacuation must fall into the box.


Fortunately, Shady Hill has plenty of old newspaper. B.C. hears fine but listens rarely; she still has all her wits. She loves high places and jumps almost as high as when a kitten. Though younger, B.C. has beat one illness. Blood tests indicated in 1998 that she needed a daily thyroid tablet.

In 1999, more tests proved her thyroid normal but an inactive pancreas was causing digestive problems. B.C. gets one Viokase tablet twice a day crushed in with a bit of smelly canned cat food to disguise the taste.

You can pill a cat for a week, but it cannot be done month in and month out. B.C. can regurgitate a pill, only slightly dissolved (due to the lack of pancreatic enzyme), a half-hour after pilling, according to scientific observation. It went all the way down and comes all the way up.

During her bad weeks, B.C. leaves, er, samples when either urge comes upon her too quickly to trot to a litter box. The only solution, and I’ve tried them all, has been to leave newspaper on the floor near her favorite places — by my writing desk and by the family computer.

While Champagne has become quite friendly when she gets to know you — it took me nearly two years of dating her mother — and is shy otherwise, B.C. is a traditionally aloof cat.

B.C. never has liked being held. For most of her life, she only would get on my lap when chilled. Yet, get on her level — floor, bed or shelf — and she is affectionate.

In recent weeks, however, B.C. has taken to following me like a puppy. When home I cannot be out of her sight. B.C. insists on being stroked. I now can brush her for much longer than three minutes, but that might irritate her skin so I don’t. She even jumps on my lap in summer.

At night, she climbs repeatedly on my chest and looks at my face, purring. After a few minutes she’ll resume her spot of 16 years between my ankles. If I mistakenly fall asleep on my stomach, she will nuzzle my face, waking me up enough to turn so she can rest her forepaws on my front.

I love the attention.

But what if B.C. is telling me something?