Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
The poor mail lady has lugged dozens of mail-order Christmas gift catalogues up the winding road to the Lancaster shanty every day since Labor Day, it seems like, and I was just perusing one with a bold banner on the cover that says “Strictly for Enthusiasts.”
That's a good come-on because enthusiasts abound nowadays. I've personally known old-car enthusiasts, Elvis wart enthusiasts, Mamie Eisenhower erotica enthusiasts, and passionate collectors of scraps of ringside tables that were broken by professional rasslers using them to crack one another over the head with. An example of how bad enthusiasts' enthusiasm can get, a circle of specialists once blew fortunes and committed capital crimes in their madness to own Napoleon Bonaparte's pickled privy member, said to have been knifed off soon after his death by an impious priest. Such hoing-gung yips me out a bit, so I've tended in the other direction, the apathetic direction in which few hoots are ever given, but I couldn't resist a peek into this wish book for those others who live in high-wrought anticipation of their own versions of what for Christopher Walken amounted to just a little more cowbell.
Some swell gifts in there, for just about every variety of enthusiast. But there are some notable exclusions. There's nothing for Nazi paraphernalia enthusiasts, for example, who used to be numerous as rats, and like rats in other ways, too. You'd think there'd still be one stick-on caterpillar mustache available, for use in festive bunker theme parties, or a surviving floating copy of the infamous Von Ribbentrop toe-suckers' guide. (How much would a latter-day enthusiast like Dick Morris pay for one of those?) But no. Nothing at all National Socialist, no Klan regalia since the fitted-sheet fiasco, and nothing Scientological except one obscure L. Ron opus from his peyote phase. Nothing a Moonie would want to give you or get from you, unless he or she, as a kind of pun, were into moon rocks. Or tickets to see Andy Williams at Branson.
Chunks of the Berlin Wall are still obtainable by or for the Commie enthusiast, although the chunks are getting down to where you need a loupe, and only if you're willing to pay a premium can have your chunk authenticated and attested by a living relative of one of the workmen who poured the original concrete. Commie enthusiasts who focus on the Great Terror period can order a hair from one of the Iron Man's eyebrows. These are apparently genuine, but not valuable because they're not rare, the souvenir harvesting process apparently having continued on via Norelco until rust finally concluded the growing season on the cadaver sometime around the Brezhnev ascendancy. No way to tell, though, even by DNA, if it's a true eyebrow hair or an imposter from an armpit or from what Judge Mathis is always calling the crouch.
So Commie memorabilia, yes, but the closest to Naziana in this particular catalogue is that they'll put you on a list to receive a splinter (in a stoppered glass bottle) from one of the trees near the house where Anne Frank hid, if and when there's a court decision allowing the tree to be cut.
The enthusiasts' market has some strange inconsistencies. The Anne Frank splinter will cost you more, it turns out, than a splinter from Noah's Ark. Ark splinters are for spec-only sale by a cousin or former good friend of that wacked astronaut who's made it his life's quest to find the ark and pry its remains out of the high mud of Ararat, his cousin or former good friend hoping thereupon to peddle holy fragments of the thing to the world's truest believers in the category of having more money then they know what to do with. If you act now, you get to pre-order, lucky dog. The ark-splinter duo could've wangled a much richer payoff, in my opinion, but this was, you have to remember, their first ark. Guaranteed 8,000-year-old Turkish shittim, with paleovegetational evidence of unicorn doo.
Another item that caught my eye: For $89.95, you can get the Super Duper Swift-boating Kit, with step-by-step instructions on how you can make up lies about the political candidate you most dislike, and then percolate those lies through the media using weasels eager to publish or broadcast anything a certified swift-boater tells them. With this kit you can ruin anybody, regardless of race, creed, national origin, political affiliation, or sex pref, the ad copy promises, and it cites Mother Teresa and Dr. Schweitzer as icons who could easily have been swift-boated if anybody had wanted to do it and had owned this kit. There's a money-back guarantee if at the reckoning your target doesn't get beat in a landslide, resign in disgrace, or commit suicide. Of course if you do ask for your money back, they'll most likely swift-boat you.
OK, OK, some exaggeration might have crept into the preceding paragraphs of this report. I have a small hyperbole problem, like the sainted Bro.-Gov. But I meant well. And my intention was to make a point about how we celebrate Christmas anymore. It was an important point, but it has slipped my mind for the moment, and anyway, how many more points, important or not, enthusiastic or not, do we need to be subjected to regarding Christmas Now v. Christmas Then?
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.