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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
July 15, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Utah vs. North Carolina

I have lived nearly 20 years in North Carolina. At various times in my life I have also lived in Utah, for a combined total of 14 years. Having just spent the past three weeks in Orem, Utah, teaching a writing workshop, I have been struck anew by the many contrasts between the states.

Mountains. Utah -- peaks like freshly sharpened pencils. North Carolina -- peaks like rounded pencil nubs.

Utah -- Wasatch Mountains loom over the valleys, visible from everywhere. North Carolina -- so many trees, often the only way you know you're in the mountains is from the low speed of the truck directly in front of you.

Utah -- slopes are rocky and brown and dry except for two green weeks in June. North Carolina -- slopes are soft-looking with lush green deciduous trees, and absolutely astonishing in autumn.

Winner: A tie.

Beaches. North Carolina -- unspoiled coastal islands in the south, charming Outer Banks in the north. Water at bathtub temperatures all summer, with calm waters of the sound for swimming and water sports and gently sloping beaches for playing in the waves. At low tide there's so much beach that there's room for everybody.

Utah -- Great Salt Lake is the Dead Sea of America. Freshwater lakes are icy cold, no surf, no beaches, covered with fishermen and wall-to-wall water-skiers wherever the mosquitos don't kill you outright.

Winner: North Carolina by a country mile.

Urban amenities. Utah -- sidewalks everywhere, on both sides of the road, even in residential neighborhoods, so children can play hopscotch, ride small wheeled vehicles, learn to rollerskate and ride training bikes without getting body parts mooshed in tire tread. North Carolina -- children are kept indoors to play videogames and get fat, or sent out to play in the street to test the theory of evolution by seeing whether survival of the fittest improves the gene pool. (Not noticeably working so far.)

Utah -- roads designed with shoulders wide enough for joggers and bikers; white lines provide a hint to drivers where they might wish to avoid hitting fragile life forms. North Carolina -- no shoulders on roads; year-round open season on joggers and bikers; "bike paths" that lead nowhere, designated solely to keep bike riders from slowing down smog-causing vehicles.

Utah -- streets laid out in grid pattern, numbered so that address tells you exact location, though it's still anyone's guess which roads will actually get you there. North Carolina -- streets laid out by drunken farmers following lost cows in the 18th century.

North Carolina -- Major roads all named for some church so they sound "historical"; minor streets named for ex-girlfriends of developers or by random combinations of "lake," "field," "view," and names of trees. State law that no road can go for more than mile without changing its name makes for confused drivers asking directions of joggers, which promotes "friendly" North Carolina image, since joggers, grateful not to be run over by drivers, cheerfully give directions to streets they have never heard of before.

Winner: Utah.

Local government. Utah -- idiotic, paranoid, and venal actions of state legislature, city governments, and school boards all done by Mormons.

North Carolina -- idiotic, paranoid, and venal actions of state legislature, city governments, and school boards all done by non-Mormons.

Winner: North Carolina, hands down. At least in North Carolina we don't have to hear idiots, wackos, and crooks tell us they "prayed about it" and "felt guided" to vote for grotesquely stupid laws and policies.

Lottery. Utah -- so far, the state does not sponsor a regressive tax pretending to be a game, preying upon the poor and hopeless, hurting children whose parents waste their scant earnings on lottery tickets, and encouraging people to think of gambling as "helpful" and "fun" instead of wasteful and stupid.

North Carolina -- the same, except that North Carolina has a governor and legislature grimly determined to mismanage the state's finances until it looks like we "need" a lottery.

Winner: A dead heat, but it looks like the loser is going to be North Carolina by an easley.

Speed limits. North Carolina -- traffic data show that 35 mph is maximum safe speed in residential areas. Therefore the posted speed is 35 mph.

Utah -- same traffic data, but posted speed is 25 mph, on the theory that everybody's going to go ten miles over the speed limit anyway. Therefore drivers going the real safe speed are given tickets, and fanatic law-obeyers keep traffic at a crawl.

Winner: North Carolina, by ten miles an hour.

Climate. North Carolina -- so humid that graham crackers bend and cold cereal gets soggy even before milk is added. Utah -- so dry that your skin peels whether you had a sunburn or not.

North Carolina -- six months without rain are called "drought." Utah -- six months without rain are called "summer."

North Carolina -- can get sneaky sunburn when hazy conditions make the sun invisible without blocking the ultra-violet rays. Utah -- high altitude and bone-dry air make the sun's rays burn any exposed skin within minutes. Cars left out in the sun get so hot inside that the glue on Kleenex boxes melts and the boxes fall apart.

North Carolina -- snowstorms every few years close schools and businesses, providing cool surprise vacations for the whole family.

Utah -- snowstorms every winter. Nothing closes.

Winner: North Carolina.

Religion. Utah -- true believers are convinced that everyone who doesn't attend church with them must be miserably unhappy and therefore needs converting.

North Carolina -- true believers are convinced that everyone who doesn't say "Jesus" every fifteen minutes must be going to hell and therefore needs shooting.

Winner: Depends on which group is aiming at you.

Overall winner. We're still in North Carolina, so you know what our vote is.


Hideous Ice Cream Flavor of the Week: Chicken Lettuce Fudge.


Remember the party game Scruples? At first it was so much fun, thinking and talking seriously about difficult ethical situations. The trouble was, people would get upset because they thought that those who disagreed with them were accusing them of being immoral. And then there were the people who really were immoral and lied about their ethical choices solely in order to win the game.

So we made the proper ethical decision and stopped playing Scruples.

Now there's a new game called Zobmondo that has all the great features of Scruples, and none of the problems.

Zobmondo's premise is to make the players choose between two equally horrible, but different, alternatives.

For instance, in the "Pain, Fear, Discomfort" category, players would have to decide: "Would you rather slide down a 1,000 foot rope with every part of your body covered except for your hands - OR - wearing only gloves and socks?"

In the "Food, Ingestion" category, players would discuss: "Would you rather be made to lick 1,000 public telephone receivers - OR - eat half a cup of ear wax?"

I can tell you right now that the only category that was so disturbing that we had to ban it from some games was the "Food, Ingestion" category. Apparently some people have such vivid imaginations that the mere discussion made them physically ill. For some of us, however, that was our favorite category.

I think the dividing line comes between those who used to mix together ghastly combinations of leftover foods on their school lunch trays, and those who gagged when they saw it.

There is a reasonably simple gameplay and scoring system that could actually lead to somebody winning the game, but we rarely play it to the end. We're such talkers that it can take us an hour just to get through a single round.

I've never played a better party game. Or at least I've never played a better one that didn't require you to get down on the floor and contort your body in order to touch brightly colored circles on a plastic mat.


You have to be completely obsessed with food to want to read Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food, by Felipe Ferrnandez-Armesto.

Since I am, I read it and enjoyed it greatly.

While the author is European by origin, he writes in English with perfect clarity and a charming tone. He has a delightfully caustic spin on cultural mores, and no patience with foolish nutrition fads, which makes me trust him on topics I knew little about.

Be warned, though. There are some topics -- particularly when he's discussing snail-ranching in human pre-history -- that will sound like the worst questions from the "Food, Ingestion" category in Zobmondo.

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