Category Archives: Fables

Any morals, direct or inferred, are for entertainment purposes only

Some Very Important Folks Visit My Diner

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 22 February 1989 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1989 Ben S. Pollock

Sometimes, days off are best spent reading. I took a recent break from work to finish a long novel I had been plodding through for weeks.

The story begins with a Bombay-to-London jet being blown up high over the English Channel. Two people miraculously survive, and the book details how they deal with the ensuing celebrity.

Ceci Davidson illustration, 1989
"The Fertile Crescent was deserted, understandable for the time of day." Ceci Davidson illustration, 1989

I hit the last page in midafternoon, and to celebrate I donned my Panama and walked from my home, the Bengalow, to a nearby café, the Fertile Crescent.

During the three-block walk I decided that someday I would read the prototype of the surviving-a-29,000-foot-fall fiction genre, “The Satanic Verses,” by Salman Rushdie.

The Fertile Crescent was deserted, understandable for the time of day. I took a corner table. The quiet, however, was not going to last a minute more.

“Garcon, table for three. The name is Mose,” grunted an older man who entered. His voice carried but was surprisingly soft. He carried an exquisite walking stick.

The waiter looked at Mose askance, because the place was empty save for me and my hat.

The gent chose a large round table in the middle, under a skylight.

“Be sure to show my brothers over when they arrive. One is Jess; he’s got a beard. The other is Mo; I haven’t seen him in ages, or I’d tell you what he looked like. Mo won’t even let his picture be taken.”

The descriptions were unnecessary for just then two men walking in, arguing.

“I saw the parking place first. That why I deserved it,” said a bearded fellow, Jess apparently.

“You always take life too seriously. You could’ve driven your rig around the block again, and maybe a place would have opened up,” said a curly haired bloke, obviously Mo.

“If you still had your camel, Mo, you could’ve left it on the sidewalk,” Jess said.

“Don’t dare me to repeating my Jess-and-his-donkey jokes,” Mo said.

“Boys, boys. Simmer down and sit over here,” Mose said. “Garcon, quit hiding behind the bar and bring us menus.”

“I didn’t see your ‘Veda,’ Mose,” Jess said. “And where’s Aaron?”

“He’s sitting in the rig, because I parked by a fire hydrant,” Mose said.

“You must still hate feeding nickels to parking meters,” Mo said.

Mo ordered a cheeseburger, Jess took a bacon cheeseburger and Mose asked for a California avocado-and-sprout salad. Their table was bathed in sunlight.

“Thanks for coming, boys, though I’m sorry we’re not getting along any better,” Mose said. “Now let’s plan that surprise party for Dad.”

“The idea is great, but what are we celebrating?” Mo asked.

“His birthday, of course,” Jess said. “Mine is real important, and Dad’s should be bigger.”

Mose laughed. “No one knows when Dad was born. It’s his big anniversary we are honoring. After all, the time I led the gang across the water and when I climbed the mountain are great anniversaries, and Dad’s should be grander.”

“Just because you’re the oldest, Mose, doesn’t mean you’re right,” said the brash Mo, youngest of the three. “Every day is an anniversary for Dad.”

“My point exactly,” Jess chimed in. “Dad always told me he loved me best, and I say birthday.”

“Geez, Jess, Dad just said that because you’re the middle son. Middle children always get coddled,” Mo said. “Besides, Dad said I was the favorite.”

Once Mose claimed he was his father’s pet, the bickering grew annoying. I gave the waiter some money and bought the men a round of Nirvanas.

They looked toward me and smiled appreciatively. I tipped the brim of my Panama. Mo wanted his cocktail straight, Jess on the rocks, and Mose wanted the rim salted. The trio were silent while they ate and drank.

“Dad’s favorite day — and the one we should surprise him on — is the Sabbath,” Mo said, and the others, surprisingly, nodded in agreement. “Shall we say two weeks from Friday?”

“Nothing doing,” Mose said. “Saturday.”

“No way,” Jess said. “Sunday.”

The ensuing argument shook the windows. After one of the brothers — I couldn’t tell which — thundered, “If only we could have settled this when we were mortal.” I tried again to pacify them.

I ordered three Moon Pies.

The chocolate calmed them, and soon they were happily talking about a three-day bash and to include Dad in the final planning. Having all three sons together for a few days would be enough of a surprise for him.

“There’s at least one thing we can thank Dad for,” Mose said as they were leaving the café. “We’ve all been blessed with great tans.”


Cloudy Public Image Has Primates Up in the Air

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

By Ben S. Pollock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe me, we feel the same way about you.

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

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

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

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

We could implant politically correct knowledge better ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You just have to draw the line somewhere.


Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

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.


Steam Rises between Rider’s Tub, Rub


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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock


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

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

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

Dowel snorted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The water whooshed around my legs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dowel was waiting for me at the outer door.

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

“Splinters,” he whinnied.


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.


If Death Comes in Threes, then Taxes Grow on Trees

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loofah smiled.

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

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


When the chips fall, make lemonade

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

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

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

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

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

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

My other two complaints, however, had a shot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Get Rich Quick: Enroll Sometime

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

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your ambition is safe with me.

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

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

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

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