A way-back-when acquaintance of mine with more money than sense is proposing to acquire the venerable old House of Dominoes and turn it into a think tank. It would serve as a kind of conservative antidote and satellite razz to the Clinton Library, if I read his proposition right.
He thus describes his "vision" for the project: "Papers are filed and a grant is got. There's a mission statement, with ringing quotations from Edmund Burke and John Randolph of Roanoke. An impressive number of whereases and be-it-knowns adorn and dignify the application. Politicians of high standing pose handing over the first check. There's a five-year development plan, at the end of which position papers on the great questions of our time commence to be emitted. … What do you think so far?"
I think I might throw up, actually.
Just imagining the hillbilly clip art bound to be inset into those ponderous position papers is enough to creep me out. All those wet-behind-the-ears would-be George Wills and Ann Coulters countrying up their Teutonic tracts with wacky crackerbarrel misspellings, substituting apostrophes for the final g's in all their gerunds, and incorporating "Thunderation!" and "Aye doggies!" as interjections.
Footnote and bibliographic references to a-kickin' and a-gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
Enough to make a boy named Sue's flesh crawl.
It wasn't to ask my blessing or solicit a donation that this visionary contacted ol' moi. He thought I might have some residual intellectual property rights to political soliloquies and lamentations that I overheard and transcribed at the House of Dominoes over the decades and passed along mostly verbatim to you-all, and he was generously offering to take those rights off my hands.
He needn't have concerned himself. The opinions expressed at the House of Dominoes during the times I spent there were the sole and exclusive property of the imbeciles, drunks, slicks, sharps, whoremongers, and sons-a-bitches who expressed them, usually in terms that I had to edit slightly, or extensively, to give them a minimal mainstream presentability.
I seldom shared those opinions (and therefore couldn't lay claim to them), and my indifference to them often got me in trouble. If you've ever had to experience a first-degree hoorawing while trying to concentrate on a moon hand with shooting potential, maybe you'll sympathize. If not, well, I can't say Momma didn't warn me about going in there in the first place.
Maybe I do qualify, however, as the House of Dominoes' last amanuensis, having given the domino philosophizing of the period from late Eisenhower to middle Clinton its most extensive exposure, in fact its only exposure, and in further fact its only acknowledgment. I can still give you a broad outline off the top of my head. To wit: They didn't much like Kennedy but didn't appreciate somebody just up and shooting him; Johnson was just a big b.s.'er but at least he didn't talk with an accent; Nixon was crazy and needed a swift kick in the ass with a hobnailed boot; all of them after Nixon needed a swift kick in the ass with a hobnailed boot, just on general principles. Especially Jimmy Carter for the interest rates and what he let the Assahola Khomeini get away with.
That kick with a hobnailed boot is a continuing, perhaps definitive, House of Dominoes theme.
I had no immediate predecessor as unofficial note-taker and minutes-keeper at the House of Dominoes. First to hold the position as far as I know was Uncle Pink Willoughby (1880-1958), who recorded the so-called Spit Can Debates in his private journal back in the Progressive Era, when the hot topics were women's suffrage and prohibition. Uncle Pink was all over the former but short-shrifted the liquor question except to ridicule the Anti-Saloon League position with unfunny period Irish jokes in poor imitation of Finley Peter Dunne. These stole from his manuscript's integrity, if you ask me.
Uncle Pink showed a curious hesitancy on evolution, and Col. Shepherd, who knew him, told me one time he thought he knew the reason. Uncle Pink looked so much like a monkey - "he had such a striking simian aspect," Col. Shepherd said in that classy manner of his - that he simply couldn't bear the suggestion that one might be cavorting around in his very own family tree. Pops Crutchfield, eavesdropping, said, "Yeah, just looking at Uncle Pink, you would've swore he'd just run off from the zoo."
Uncle Pink's twin brother, Uncle Punk Willoughby, was said to look even more like a monkey, and the mirror-like perspective on his brother, described as more of a chatterer, smaller and slighter, who liked to dance around acting silly, must've weighed or preyed on Uncle Pink's mind, too. He obviously found the whole subject just terribly oppressive.
It was Uncle Pink who either coined or first picked up on that historic House of Dominoes expression about the hobnailed boot. It's an expression with a Prussian quality that probably came out of the First World War, and indeed Uncle Pink's first use of it was in one of the middle journals: "It is the opinion of yours truly that this Ohio miscreant [Harding] could use a swift kick in the arse with a hobnailed boot." Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, and Truman subsequently received the same compliment, and Uncle Pink did Cap'n Harry the honor of letting him wear the boot and kick MacArthur with it.
Uncle Pink broke a nib in 1953, five years before he was run over and killed by the runaway pulpwood truck, and he never wrote another word of popular cultural community history. "He said he'd got tired of it anyway," Col. Shepherd said. "I just don't think he ever got over that monkey business."
When I assumed the mantle some years later, I tried to do more direct quotes and tighten up the attribution, but it's amazing how similarly the policy questions emerged. Here are paraphrases of two of my relatively recent House of Dominoes dispatches: For all this stupid sex stuff, Bill Clinton needs a swift kick in the ass with a hobnailed boot. And: Either this Bush Boy needs his head examined or a swift you-know-what you-know-where with a you-know-what.
Not much of a think-tank foundation, if you ask me.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.