Category Archives: 2001 Pulitzer nominee

Anybody can nominate anybody for a Pulitzer: Publishers, agents, moms, the writers themselves. Send: Writing samples, bio etc. — and $50 — details at The honor’s in being a finalist. No dishonor in entering the contest, thus being a nominee.

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.


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.


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.


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?


Fidgeting or Sleeping, At a Musical Galop

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

Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

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

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

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

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

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

Dowel Jones snorted, in his laughing way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And the Winner Is Hands-Down

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

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

Here’s your host, Pooh-bah Ben.

Hello, everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now, on with the show.

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

And the winner is — the Fayetteville trash sack!

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

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

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

And the winner is — the pencil!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Travel Writers Ought to Take a Walk Like Real People

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

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

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

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

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

Where do travel writers get their imaginations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May his memory be for a blessing.