Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
The last time I was in the House of Dominoes when it was this hot, Dollar Short, the moon-shooting fool, now deceased of course, told me, “Everybody talks about the hot weather but nobody does anything about it. Damn all the talking. I'm ready for somebody to take the bull by the horns.”
His buddy Day Late said, “Amen to that, but you can count me out as far as messing with any bulls.”
“It's just a figure of speech,” I explained to Day Late, doing my duty as official grammarian of the House of Dominoes.
“Well,” Day Late said, not acknowledging.
Then he said, “I seen on TV where they turn loose a bunch of bulls and these people in Spain are out there on the street running alongside of them, and I told myself, ‘If they're doing that of their own free will, they just about have to be feeble-minded.' I mean the people not the bulls.”
“Wally Hall ran with them once,” I mentioned.
“I rest my case then,” he said.
“I knew you meant the people not the bulls as far as the free will,” Dollar Short said. “I'm a dim bulb usually but I know only human beings get to choose their lot. Them and cats. But not bulls. Especially not one of these rodeo bulls, with the dewlap. Them are some mean suckers but it's not because of any choice they made.”
“What you need, as far as somebody that can do something about the hot weather,” Day Late said, “is another Homer Berry.”
I remembered Homer Berry. He was our last famous rainmaker in these parts, from North Little Rock, as I recall. Worked with a smoky barrel in the back of an old pickup. Fumes from it seeded passing-over clouds, milking them of their moisture rather than allowing them to bear the precious stuff on to other precincts. In theory anyway.
Hock Tooey remembered him too. We thought Hock was napping, hat pulled down and his chair comfortably tilted against the drink box, but he opened a bloodshot eye and said, “You boys won't believe it but I rode shotgun with Homer Berry on two of his most famous cases.”
This claim was met with near comprehensive indifference, and I was only being polite in asking Hock what exactly riding shotgun for a rainmaker entailed.
“He'd stop ever once in a while and I'd have to get out and stir some stuff or throw in some briquettes,” he said. “I never mastered the art of it myself.”
The indifference gave way to apathy, which you get a lot of in this kind of weather.
“His radio didn't work either time,” Hock said, “but he wouldn't let me fool with it. He said I might blow something up.”
“What's the point of this fairy tale?” Dollar Short said.
“I'm just telling you,” Hock said before snoozing off again, “whichever town Mr. Berry doctored for, it wouldn't be no 109 degrees there. It might be over in the next town, but not in one of Mr. Berry's.”
This is Dollar Short: “That was a long time ago. Quacks ruled. People were credulous but on the whole I think they were happier. Ol' Huckabee changed it to where you didn't try to force it to rain to cool things off, you prayed for it to. You'd pray for two or three weeks, then when it rained six months later, he'd say, ‘See? There's your answered prayer. Now give me a campaign contribution.' ”
Praying is not really doing anything proactive about the weather, the parlor grammarian noted. It grabs no toro horn. “Yeah,” said Day Late, “it's more like we're saying maybe if we just grouse around long enough, Super Mario will take pity and do it for us.”
If you know dominoes, you know what a “sweater” is, and here's a remark that a sweater threw into the conversation at this point: “I don't see why if he could change the course of a cyclone just to get that old 700 Club slime weasel to shut up, he couldn't stir up a cool front for our bona fide suffering old-timers. Even without being asked.”
“On such matters ours is not to reason why,” the grammarian said.
“Maybe yours idn't,” the sweater said. “Mine is.”
“Mine too,” Dollar Short said. “That's what I was saying to begin with.”
One of this crew — it doesn't really matter which, now, does it? — had the notion that the moral responsibility for doing something about the Arkansas weather belonged to ... well, to Jerry Jones.
I'm not sure I followed it, but it had to do with him and Sheffield having filled their giant pokes by gouging Arkansas biscuit cookers half to death in something called a buy-back scheme, and how, instead of spending it on a billion-dollar football field that the Cowboys don't even need, he instead ought to install a WeatherGard system over much of Arkansas that would deflect extreme temperatures and fairly apportion the Natural State precip.
I didn't even know there was a WeatherGard system, patent pending, but there you go. I did know that while our little hick domino parlor had an official grammarian, the Dallas Cowboys opted for an official brick, and I think I know which designation bodes best for western civ.
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.