Columns » John Brummett

Dear diary: On the road in Fayetteville

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FAYETTEVILLE - These are observations from a brief trip to this nationally acclaimed place to live, mainly to oblige a kind invitation to speak at the Rotary Club's annual awards banquet for "service above self." Several years ago, near the end of Dr. Dan Ferritor's term as chancellor at the University of Arkansas, the school's lobbyist, Richard Hudson, gave me a tour of the campus. He pointed to a barren and age-decayed building and said, sadly, that it probably would come down soon. Historic preservation activists, bless them, would hear nothing of it. The next time someone asserts plans to level a barren and age-decayed building, they ought to be provided an overnight stay at the Inn at Carnall Hall on the campus of the University of Arkansas. That's the very 98-year-old building, a former women's dorm, that university officials intended in the mid-1990s to demolish. But then they found the restoration money, as they always can if they really try. Now it is a charming, tasteful inn with third-floor rooms providing lovely views of the campus green. The inn's restaurant, Ella's, is a sufficient enticement in its own right. None other than Phil and Ruthie Kaplan stopped there for dinner Thursday night. This was a mere few hours after the end of testimony in the Nolan Richardson trial, during which Kaplan was the university's lead attorney. The Kaplans had wasted no time availing themselves of the end of the Richardson action, saving closing arguments, to hie toward Kansas City to visit a grandchild. As is their custom, they were cutting the drive in half for a night's stay in Springdale just up the bypass. But they didn't want to miss the chance for dinner at the inn. We bumped into them as we returned from the awards banquet and as they departed after dinner, and we all went back into the lounge to enjoy the leather seating and try to keep from talking about the trial. Kaplan did tell me, after I asked, that Houston Nutt is a fellow of contagious enthusiasm impossible not to like. Hmmmm. I always took him for a blowhard, the enthusiasm a veneer for marginal competence. I must ponder whether these are mutually exclusive characterizations. Humanity bustled at the Bud Walton Arena. Wal-Mart was holding I did a double-take the next day when I saw a newspaper picture of David Glass, the Wal-Mart executive committee chairman, whooping it up on stage beside Halle Berry, the actress. Wal-Mart apparently is less conservative than I. You see, I find most of the sex on the modern movie screen unnecessary and cynically exploitative. Halle Berry, gorgeous and talented though she be, represents much of what I find offensive. There was that dreadful move, "Swordfish," in which she all of a sudden dropped a newspaper to expose her bared and ample breasts. She denied reports that she got paid extra for this simple exhibitionism, which would make her nothing more than a gentleman's club stripper, or Janet Jackson. Then there was that spectacular movie, "Monster's Ball," in which, yes, the story required that the viewer see and understand the erupting and desperate passion between Berry's character and Billy Bob Thornton's. But that could have been sufficiently conveyed by the deep kissing and desperate groping on the couch, and the ensuing collapse to the floor, he atop her. The rest of it was gratuitous. It's not the sick, female-abusive pornography of the graphic cottage industry. But that's not to suggest it contains an iota of redeeming value. Anyway, there Halle stood, helping out with the Wal-Mart cheer. It turned out she was representing Revlon's new lip gloss. Thus her appearance provided a testament to the priority of merchandising and marketing over conservative sensibilities, even at Wal-Mart. When was the last time Wal-Mart got attacked from the right? And by a guy people call liberal? Some days the world turns upside down.

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