Getting fooled again

By Carolyn Marsh | Aug 21, 2009

I spent a few days last week in Little Rock, Ark., known to some for its hot springs (I suspect he was misinformed) and to others for those days in 1957 that changed the course of this nation forever. Or at least gave promise of doing same.

It’s a lovely little town, home of Ted Danson of “Cheers” fame and the Clinton Presidential Center. Depending on who was driving the trolley, Danson and his wife, the actress Mary Steenburgen, were or were not in residence in their sky-top condo. All the drivers agreed that the trolley (one of several) cost $860,000, and it was pretty nifty, except for the earsplitting whistle the driver let every single child on the trolley (and some adults too, but I’m not telling) sound to his or her heart’s content. Unhappily, the barbecue did not meet my expectations—even though getting it required a $25 round-trip taxi ride to and from Corky’s Ribs & BBQ in North Little Rock. For that I could have stayed in the hotel and had filet mignon, medium rare. On the other hand, I saw a lot of North Little Rock I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

There was a sweet little museum where Davy Crockett stayed on his way to Texas and the Alamo. Or maybe he stayed in one of the little houses on the museum grounds. In any event, the Bowie knife is the centerpiece of a wonderful display of knives, which includes a step-by-step explanation of how a knife is made. Who knew Tang was more than a disgusting powdered orange drink? I didn’t spend much time in the exhibit called “The Gun in Arkansas History,” partly because I couldn’t remember if Arkansas is one of those states where you can carry a gun in a museum and partly because I have such mixed feelings about guns. They are beautiful objects, so wonderfully designed and the best so skillfully and lovingly made, but unfortunately for one reason above all others: to take lives. I remember preparing to travel to Ethiopia in the late 1960s and being advised to take a gun. To the question, What kind? the response was, One that will stop the shifta (Ethiopian highway robbers) in their tracks. We got the .357 Magnum through Customs in London (so trusting, the British) but then developed cold feet, so our friend John stowed it in a safe deposit box in the Bank of London. For all I know it is there still. And a good thing too, as at our first border—Belgium, no less—the border guards literally took our Land Rover apart. I wonder if they could feel the exceedingly strong sense of relief we exuded as they went through our harmless possessions.

I loved the Clinton Presidential Center (and don’t ask me why it’s not called a library; if George W. Bush can have a library, so can my cat Hattie). It is, in fact, much more than a library, though the huge spaces are defined by rows of high shelves containing—if the blue bindings are to be believed—daily agendas. I could have wandered around there for a long time, but Clinton’s administration lasted only eight years. He exchanged letters with a lot of people, ranging from Dom De Luise to Sheryl Crow and dozens of heads of state, and if he wrote the letters himself, he has as much a way with the written word as he does with the spoken. I felt sometimes as though I were intruding on his privacy.

The obligatory video reduced me almost to tears. It helped me remember vividly the hope Clinton brought to so many of us, our joy at a righteous victory, our utter belief that this time it would be different, and that the things he talked about that we wanted so badly to come true would, indeed: peace, prosperity, an end to poverty and hunger and rancor, universal health care, restoring the earth—all those wonderful dreams that so quickly turn into nightmares. If I love The Who for anything, it is for the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” though we always are.

Down the street from the Clinton center, Heifer International is headquartered in one of the greenest buildings in the world (I missed the tour but was glued to the video). It is one of the best organizations in the world (if you don’t know what it is or what it does, that’s what the Internet is for), and I thought, as I watched children and adults ramble around the learning space with a high degree of interest and attention, that maybe, finally, unbelievably, joyously, somebody had gotten it right.
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