Is there anything more useless than yard tools with their handles broken? Shovels, leaf rakes, a pitchfork, a hoe, an axe. Maybe I could use the axehead as a scraping tool, like the aborigines who inhabited these parts 5,000 years ago. But the traffic through here of bear pelts that need a good scraping has diminished considerably. Mornings scraping run-over armadillos off the street out front is about the only such trade left.
Henry De Tonti, the "father of Arkansas" who lost his right arm in battle in Sicily, maybe could have used the pitchfork as a hand, and in fact might have used something similar inasmuch as his copper or bronze or iron "hand" was described as "articulated." Prosthetically speaking, a pitchfork is about as articulated as articulation gets.
Hoes have become rare as mules, the two great symbols of our lost agrarian culture, nowadays probably no one left under 30 who knows either of them as something other than floozies and drug runners.
A shelf of pesticides never used, scared off by "Silent Spring." Old license plates, all that's left of the fiery chariots they used to adorn. Yeah boy. K cars. The Chevette hatchback.
Hand tools that I inherited from my father and my wife's father, curiously not a bit worse for wear than when I stashed them here in another era or epoch or geological age. Give you an idea of how old they are, there's a brace-and-bit, used to drill holes in planks and walls before there was electricity to run a power drill. Earthworms, crawdads, could make holes faster.
A ball-peen hammer which I'm pretty sure has never hit a lick since it arrived on this particular scene but I kept it around for nostalgia's sake, reminding me of those Butthead days when the sound of it just had to make reference to something vulgar. Said of Pap: "He said ball peen. Heh! Heh!"
And paint. Oh paint. Accusatory paint. The none-quite-empty gallon cans lined up in two rows of six like a hostile jury. Heightening the metaphor, the wire handles might be the earphones of the Nuremberg panelists. Ach, Herr Lancaster, we await your explanation of why a sane man, a moral man, would do such a thing to his parlor ceiling.
They meant the Milk Dud living room, I'm sure. And perhaps the Scrambled Eggs hall that time. I managed to beat the rap on the Stomach Acid garage with the opportunistic lie, when asked if it was going to look that way permanently, "Goodness no, that's just the primer." Paints in colors that never would have occurred to God, to the Impressionists, to self-respecting homosexuals.
The traumatized brushes hang there ready to testify for the prosecution.
If history remembers us benignly, forgivingly, it won't be because of our politicians and their policies, our discourse and its discoursers; it'll be for such stuff as resides there on the middle shelf: WD-40, White Mule work gloves, duct tape.
On the high shelf, seasonal bunches of artificial flowers await their turn on the graves of family and friends at the cemetery. They look pretty forlorn here in the dim light, in dusty plastic bags, all crammed together. But separate them out, clean them off, put them to work, and they can get the job done - dispersing gloom. The colors drink up the sunshine, in a parody of real flowers, or so it seems as you get older and failing eyesight puts a comforting splotchy blur around them, inset into the otherwise gray-green graveyard tableau.
Every year, another new grave -- or two, or three -- wants their attention. The older you get the more of your people die, until the cemetery comes to seem more your element, your milieu, than the marketplace. The cemetery as a kind of Wal-Mart for the erst. Check-out lines that seem to take an eternity, and perhaps do.
For purposes of remembrance, the plastic flowers are actually better. The real ones wilt so quickly and in so doing serve as too sharp and proximate a reminder of the other death they mean to commemorate. The plastic ones foster the same illusion that the embalming aims at: that being continues on somehow, if existence does not.
The progression has its variables but it is roughly this: the Christmas poinsettias, Valentine's roses, something triumphant for Easter, springtime geraniums, something durable and fade-resistant for summer, something more somber, meditative, and orange for the fall, then the Christmas reds again. Seems I've left something out. But no matter. Those honored by these tokens don't take offense and never complain.
I like the plastic yellow roses with the clear plastic dewdrops on them. And one tiny plastic ladybug.
On this matter of remembrancing, political correctness ought to butt out. But on the TV just a while ago, the know-it-alls were going at it hot and heavy. Seems one of the late-night network news programs had read the names of all the American servicemen and servicewomen who have died in the Iraq War, and showed their pictures. No comment, just names and pictures. A modest enough gesture, eh? Well, you would've thought they were burning draft cards and spitting on the flag. The usual crazies (Fox, Rush-on-Blow) were howling that the program showed an "anti-war bias," and even some of the network's browner-nosed affiliates refused to air the piece as patriotically suspect. Or so they said. They also said they foursquare favored honoring the memory of the war dead - only not to the apparently radical extent of speaking their names and showing their pictures on TV.
Make over them posthumously like that, no telling how many of them would be out in they yoonifoams like Ernest T. Bass trying to die for their country.
Anyway, this is Installment 2 of my spring-cleaning report, 2004. This one entitled Cleaning Out the Storeroom.
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.