Monday, December 8, 2014

Art in the Ozarks, Part 2

The whole point of the trip to NWA was to go to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. B and M and I went twice—on Friday evening and again on Saturday afternoon. My apologies for no decent building photos--it was raining like mad when we were there.

The Moshe Safdie design is quirky and doesn’t really shout Palace of Culture in the way that some museums do. There’s no grand portico and entrance and instead, you enter by taking an elevator from the parking lot down to the lobby level. Once in the lobby, they ask you to fork over your zip code. That’s it. The place is free. They don't even take your photo ID if you use one of the museum's acoustiguides!

"Kindred Spirits" by Asher Durand, 1849
"The Lantern Bearers", Maxfield Parrish, 1908
 The galleries are large and handsome; I loved the permanent collection.

"Worth the Wait" by Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman
The State of the Art exhibition was fun, too. I was pleasantly surprised to see the work of my friend Nate Larson in the show. State of the Art seems like such a super idea--it makes you wonder why no one had the idea to travel across America in search of cool non-New York art scene stuff previously.

I can't recommend the museum and the exhibition highly enough. 

An unexpected highlight of the trip was the Daisy Air Gun Museum in Rogers, Arkansas. (You didn't think I could skip it, did you?)  The museum is just a couple of rooms worth of stuff but nicely done. The exhibits are mostly you guessed it, Daisy Air Guns, but there were “didactic materials” i.e. text panels that explain the history of the company. Interestingly enough, the company started as a sideline for a windmill company in Michigan but as rural electrification put windmills out of business air rifles became the company’s bread and butter.

I loved the old art from Daisy advertisements. The modeling agency offered the boy in the red vest an actual Daisy Air Rifle and much to his dismay, his mother wouldn't let him accept it.

There was a gift shop, or a gift nook, actually, where they sold seconds of Daisy Air Rifles, ammo, and slingshots too. The clerk told me that they couldn’t ship slingshots to certain states- New Jersey among them. Presumably this is because Gov. Chris Christie makes too tempting of a target.

At the Daisy Air Rifle museum I picked up a rack card for the Rogers Historical Museum and immediately said—lo and behold!—they have an exhibit on Victorian funerals! It was just two blocks away—how convenient.

The funeral exhibit was only slightly larger than the gift nook at the Daisy Air Rifle Museum, and if you were in elementary school you might find it interesting, but it really wasn’t directed at adults.

The museum maintains a Victorian bungalow as a house museum in addition to its modern exhibition space. We took the house tour, but I think our docent would have done better with a different audience. The extremely gracious woman insisted on walking us out to the car in a heavy rain with her golf umbrella. I have to admit, I was a tad scared she was going to get in the car with us. I think it was a slow day at the museum.

We took in a second E. Fay Jones chapel, the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel. Another glass lantern in the woods, it was similar to Thorncrown Chapel. There was no funeral home music—just the sound of heavy rain on the roof. There was no custodian about, so I was left wondering about snow removal. This chapel, built 11 years after Thorncrown Chapel, was more elaborate and therefore probably had a plow on a garden tractor or even a snowblower instead of the plain old snow shovel with wheels that they have at Thorncrown Chapel. 

Of course I couldn’t go to Bentonville w/o stopping in the Walmart Museum, which is behind the façade of the first Walton’s 5 & 10, on the main square in Bentonville. It’s from this little speck of a store that a mighty empire (or cancer, if you prefer) grew.

I know people of my age and socio-economic stratum, whatever that is (as in doofus hipster-wannabes) tend to think that Walmart is a manifestation of hell on earth and that we should steer or our Subarus and Priuses to Mom and Pop stores where the stuff is made in a better class of Chinese prison, the employees belong to the Beer of the Month Club, and so on.

I shop at Walmart from time to time and I’m mostly grateful to Sam Walton & crew for building a better mousetrap. Yes, there are things I’d like Walmart to do differently, but the same goes for Apple, Google, and lots other Fortune 500 companies. What's more, without Walmart, we wouldn’t have the website People of Walmart.

The Walmart Museum is just a few rooms and tells the Walmart corporate story in direct and unassuming way. The largest single display is Sam Walton’s office, displayed just as it was when he died in 1992. It reminded me of seeing John Wanamaker’s office preserved in his namesake Center City Philadelphia department store when I was a kid.  I think Sam Walton’s  office looks remarkably like Jimmy Stewart’s preserved office in the Jimmy Stewart Museum.

The Walmart Museum doesn’t have a gift shop, but there’s a faux 1950s soda fountain, with the friendliest soda jerk-ettes ever.

Saturday night we’d planned to go to the gala tree lighting in the Bentonville town square but it was rained out. We did, however manage to walk through the square on our way to dinner just as the lights were turned on. The lights are great; I can only imagine what all the entertainment and whatnot would have been like.

Dinner was fine, and afterward we had a couple of drinks in the finally open 21C Museum Hotel bar, hosted by Brandon, a bona fide hipster who makes his own mustache wax, and no I am not making that up.  He’s also an Anglican priest (seriously) and through the power of God transubstantiated C2H5OH into the body (or was that the blood?) of Jim Beam through a ritual involving vigorous agitation of a cocktail shaker. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this since his business card identifies him as not only a mixologist and craft cocktailier but also a "retrotender".

After sampling Brandon's handiwork, I was racking some Z’s on my last night in Arkansas when at 2:30 am Sunday morning I was awakened by someone pounding on the door across the hall.  I went to the peep hole and saw a short woman in a stretchy black top, black yoga pants and neon running shoes pounding angrily on the door immediately across the hall from my $299 per night (plus tax and valet parking) room.

GIVE ME MY FUCKING PHONE!!   (This is a direct quote.)

She kept pounding on the door.


Exercise clothes and running shoes. I couldn’t imagine where she would have gone in Bentonville, Arkansas at this hour dressed like that. Hell, I couldn’t imagine where she’d go in the daylight dressed like that. I’m a strict constructionist on this issue—and think that you should only wear workout gear on the way to and from the gym. But it does seem to be the outfit of the moment of women of a certain age and social class. One size fits, or rather more often doesn’t fit, all.

Since I valued my personal safety especially those parts covered by my Lilly Pulitzer boxer shorts, I passed on the opportunity to open my door and offer her unsolicited fashion advice.  Even though she really needed it.

Whoever was in the room must have been completely deaf or be the type of person who starts smoking just for the joy of quitting. She pounded relentlessly but no one opened the door. She wasn’t about to be deterred. 


Good lord, was that her entire vocabulary? She was like a living, breathing Arkansas Chatty Cathy and that little record inside her was stuck.

I said to myself, Fuck this noise. (Another direct quote.)

I picked up the phone by the bed and pushed the button for front desk. A woman picked up.

This is Rick Bryant in 202. There’s some sort of disturbance in the hall outside my room.

The woman said, “Yes, we know, we’re taking care of it.”  I thought, well, you might already know about it, but you’d have a hard time making me believe that you’re taking care of it.

Since World War III was still going on when I hung up, I went back to the door to check out the action.  The woman in the black outfit had been joined by hotel staff and a man who looked like James Gandolfini, only larger and not dead.  He wasn’t wearing a shirt. Not a pretty sight, but, in retrospect, it did add a grace note—make that a few bars, actually---of Ozarks white-trashiness. 

Unlike me, the J.G. look alike (only larger and not dead) didn’t seem to have body image issues. I’m embarrassed to take off my shirt on a New Jersey beach and here’s Large Marge’s cousin in all his shirtless glory in the middle of a donnybrook outside my $299 (plus tax and valet parking) room door.

Have you no pride? Put a shirt on for Chrissakes.

That didn’t happen. So much for the mental telepathy I thought I might have picked up at Christ of the Ozarks.

The J.G. look alike (only larger and not dead) seemed like the type of guy who wears black off-brand underwear. Unless he’s screwing someone who’s not his wife, then he wears the black Calvins that he keeps at the back of his underwear drawer since he thinks they mold his balls into an impressive wad. Were he gay, he’d have been a hit at Ozarks Bearfest. He’d bring not only the love handles but also the boyfriend drama.

Presumably the hotel employees were trying to bring peace to the warring parties. They had that deer-in-headlights thing going on and were not exactly taking control of the situation. The combatants were irate and perhaps irrational. I’m not entirely certain that there wasn’t a film crew for The Real Housewives of Arkansas just out of my field of vision.

Woman: Give me my fucking phone.

Man: It’s not her phone it’s my work phone.

Woman: I just want my fucking phone.

Man: Don’t you touch me. She touched me.

(Yes, this is what they actually said. I took notes.)

Repeat ad nauseum.

The players moved out of my frame but not out of earshot so I went back to bed and covered my ears with a pillow.

This wouldn’t happen at Wynn Las Vegas I thought to myself. Those clowns would have been thrown out in all of about 2 minutes.  And Wynn Las Vegas never has had a coffee stain in in the carpet in front of the credenza. Yes, I was entering the bitchy phase of sleeplessness.

Yeah, we’re handling it." That’s a statement that ranks right up there with “The check’s in the mail” and “Of course, I’ll respect you in the morning” and the famous third big lie that I don't need to repeat here.

I should have picked up the phone and said, "If you’re handling it, why does it sound the same as when you weren’t handling it?"

The noise came and went for a while. A sound night’s sleep wasn’t in the cards.  I wonder if the guy in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas felt this way when he sprang from his bed to see what was the matter? Perhaps I’m a curmudgeon, but I was in no mood to dash out a rhyming couplet or two in anapestic tetrameter.

The commotion heated up at 4:00 am so I peered through the peep hole again in time to see the desk clerk unlocking the door across the hall. Two policemen were with her, and the James Gandolfini-doppelganger (only larger and not dead) was there too. Ms. Yoga Pants was nowhere to be seen.

The desk clerk stood sentry holding the door open while the policemen watched the guy dress and pack his black rolling suitcase. He must be better at traveling lightly than I am because it didn’t take long before he was zipping his bag. He was escorted out by the police and the unhappy looking desk clerk.

The situation was finally over. I had to resort to the help of Big Pharma in order to get to sleep.

I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels. Not many cost $299 a night (plus valet parking), but there have been a couple. I’ve NEVER have I had my own personal community theater production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? before. Especially not with a 2:30 am curtain. 

Perhaps I should have intervened. I’m not sure what I could have done to get them to act like reasonable humans and not like two rude assholes. Perhaps the sight of my Lilly Pulitzer boxer shorts and my "Reason Number 23: Domineering Mother" t-shirt would have been enough to diffuse the situation. But I don’t think so. They were pretty intent on fighting.

When I checked out the next morning, I asked the desk clerk—a chirpy sort and not the woman who was on duty at 2:30 am—what had happened the previous night. The desk clerk  said that they didn’t really know what to do (duh) that the night auditor had to go upstairs and sort it out.

Nice. Mortimer Snerd to the rescue, I thought.

She told me that the police took the woman to jail, since she’d scratched the man. The police took the man to the airport. Frontier justice, Arkansas-style apparently.

Later that day, we spent some time in Fayetteville at a Confederate Cemetery and then flew back to Pennsylvania.

Except for that last night’s stay, it was a great time in NWA. I’d seen lots of great art, some wonderful architecture, met nice people and even laughed at a convenience store called Kum & Go.   Being kept awake by the couple fighting over the fucking phone at 2:30 am. in not something I'll forget. Spending a pile on a hotel does not guarantee a good night's sleep. 

P.S. I wrote the manager of the hotel the day I got home and said that I thought my last night should be comped or severely discounted due to the disturbance that kept me from sleeping. His response was, and I quote:

I would like to apologize for this unfortunate issue, our night audit team is indeed trained to try to defuse the situation and if all else fail as it was the case, then to call law enforcement as they did. Those situation are usually delicate and unlike hotels of much larger size like the one you mentioned we do not have a full security staff and we have to rely on the local police. 

I am at your service to answer any questions you may have and if you find it in your heart to give us another chance, please contact me directly as I will gladly extend a very special rate and a complimentary upgrade (depending on occupancy). 

A very special rate and complimentary upgrade (depending on occupancy).  Wow!

The web site of the 21C Hotels chain advises travel writers and bloggers to contact their Director of Corporate Communications. I wrote to her on November 25 and received an away message. I wrote again two days after her away message said she'd be back at work. She responded the same day and said she'd respond as soon as she was back at work at the home office in Louisville. I'm still waiting to hear from her. 


  1. Amusing as always, Rick. I hope your high praise for the good parts of the trip (Monte Ne, Crystal Bridges, chapel architecture, etc.) doesn't get lost in the great narrative of your last sleepless night.

    1. Except for the hotel, it was a great time. (What's not to love about Monte Ne chicken?) The hotel would have been ok--I understand they can't prevent people from fighting--had its post-fight customer service been better.

  2. You had me at, "The Lantern Bearers."