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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 14, 2005

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


Dove Cookies, Loyal Customers, Outer Banks, and Harry Potter

In case there's ever a time in your life when you fear there might not be a substance on Earth that is chocolaty enough for you, fear not: Dove will come to your rescue.

Dove ice cream bars were the ones that proved to me that you can, in fact, have too much chocolate. I realize that for true chocoloholics, that puts me beyond the pale.

So I review the new Dove Cookies for you, not for me.

They come in three flavors, all surrounded by so much packaging that you might expect to find the crown jewels inside. Instead, you get either "Mint Chocolate Serenade," which was the hit of my little test group (they disappeared almost immediately); "Toffee Chocolate Tango" (my own favorite); and "Beyond Chocolate Chunk," which consists of a standard chocolate chip cookie whose bottom has been dipped in thick chocolate.

Dipping a chocolate chip cookie in chocolate makes it a chocolate cookie, period. Since the part of the chocolate chip cookie I like the best is the cookie part, and with the Dove version you could not taste it at all, to me this cookie was a complete failure.

Personally, I wouldn't go out of my way to eat any of them again -- they're just too rich for me. But for those who think "too rich" is an absurd idea when it comes to food (or, for that matter, money), these cookies might be the perfect solution.

*

When two new Walgreen's drugstores were built scarcely two miles apart on Pisgah Church Road, my family suspected that Walgreen's was trying to take over the world.

Well, they just might do it. I had always thought that all drugstores were created equal, but Walgreen's really does carry more of the brands we buy and of the quality level we insist on.

Which means we'll happily stop in to pick up this or that item; but when it comes to our prescriptions, we have spent too many years with Kinard Drugs. When they became Kerr Drugs we stayed with them; when they moved to Lawndale we followed them.

It's not just sentimentality that keeps us loyal. They've provided services above and beyond the call of duty, and we don't easily forget.

It's the same reason we stay with Steve's Friendly Amoco on Green Valley Road in Friendly Center. When we first moved to Greensboro nearly 23 years ago, someone recommended what was then "Mike's Friendly Amoco." Steve was already the manager, and when Mike retired, Steve bought the station.

There are only a few jobs that we take to other service centers -- mostly warranty work at the dealership. Why? Because Steve and his crew have done excellent work for us for all these years, and when the rare but occasional mistake has occurred, they've made good.

Could we find a station closer to home? Probably. Are there other mechanics in Greensboro as good? Maybe. We'll never know, because when you get good service from good people, you stick with them unless they change their way of doing business.

When someone earns my trust and trusts me in return, they receive my loyalty as a customer. It's a little like marriage: You stop looking for someone new.

Those who shop by price alone deserve the shoddy results they so often get.

*

I'm not a fan of black cherry soda, but the Diet Black Cherry from Boylan Bottleworks is a wonderful exception. It's the closest thing to the sangria-flavored Peñafiel soda that is so hard to find (there's a shop on Market Street next door to Leblon that usually has that.) But the Boylan black cherry has no calories, and that makes it my friend.

The trouble is, I have no idea where to find it in Greensboro. I first noticed it when on vacation in the Outer Banks last week.

In fact, shopping for food in the Outer Banks is quite the adventure. You see, Food Lion has apparently claimed the OBX as its territory, and while I have nothing against Food Lion or its myriad happy customers, we learned long ago that it is simply not our grocery store. They clearly, chain-wide, do not care about the things we care about in a grocery store.

So it's nice that there are a few alternatives. There's a grocery store called Seamark (just a couple of miles north of the bridge where 64 joins 158) that is markedly better -- for us, at least -- in the selection it offers. That's where I found my Boylan soft drinks.

Along with excellent produce and deli foods, which is important to us, since we live on salads and vegetables and cheeses when we're staying at the beach.

But from Salvo, where we stayed this year, it's thirty miles each way to get to Seamark. When we needs something in less than an hour and a half (depending on beach traffic), we used to have to resort to the Food Lion about fifteen miles away in Avon.

Now, though, there's a small new store called Village Grocery at the first light when you enter Avon from the north. It's a little closer and has a lot more of what we like to buy than the big chain store.

There are terrific restaurants in the Outer Banks these days -- Ocean Boulevard (at about milepost 2 on Highway 12) is superb, with an ambitious menu and excellent service.

The truth is, the best food at the beach is served at our house. The pasta and vegetable salads we ate were better than anything on anybody's menu, and they served fifteen people without costing an arm and a leg.

But you can't eat that way unless you can find the fresh, ripe ingredients within relatively easy driving distance. Which is why having fine grocery stores at the beach is every bit as important as having fine restaurants.

*

Speaking of restaurants, there is one experience I have to warn you about. Ordinarily I don't bother with negative reviews of anything except bad movies, but I have to make an exception for the Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre at the Ramada Inn on the beach in (I believe) Kitty Hawk (it's hard to remember where one town leaves off and the next begins).

Dinner theatre is an honorable tradition -- and, at the beach, it should provide honest summer jobs for talented actors.

One does not expect haute cuisine at such theaters -- after all, the food is not the star of the show -- but the Ramada Inn offered a reasonably edible buffet of what seemed to be well-prepared frozen prepacks. So my complaint isn't about the food.

It's about the truly wretched script and the shoddy, shouty performances. It's not that they were amateurs -- though when you charge money for a theatrical experience, one expects something that can reasonably be called "professional."

Instead, what we got was a collection of lewd insults hurled back and forth among actors supposedly arguing over an inheritance. Not for one moment was anything said or done in the "play" remotely believable or interesting.

And while I appreciate bawdy wit as much as the next man -- Shakespeare, after all, was a master of it -- this script contained "zingers" with no zing. It was dirt without style, and I couldn't believe they allowed children to enter.

"It all goes over their heads," the ticket taker assured me. She was wrong, of course -- our eleven-year-old got the jokes. But if she had been right, there was nothing else in the show. There were no jokes that weren't dirty. There was no plot that wasn't crude. So if children didn't get the dirty stuff, they got nothing at all.

Apparently they subscribe to the idea that if a child is old enough to understand the joke, then it won't do any harm. But this is not so. There's a world of difference between hearing crudities spoken in low voices on the playground and hearing them spoken loudly (nay, shouted!) in a dinner theater where your parents are listening and, presumably, laughing.

The message to children is: This is an acceptable way to talk and act for the entertainment of others. And it isn't.

To be fair, there were people there who had come many times before -- very nice, intelligent people. So perhaps there is some value in the experience that eluded me.

But elude me it did. If you find yourself wondering whether it's worth a good bit of change and two hours of your life on your week at the beach, our answer at least is a resounding no. Watching sandpipers dance out of the reach of the waves and sandcrabs emerge at dusk to skitter across the beach is far, far better entertainment.

Watching ice melt is better entertainment.

*

We used to go to Myrtle Beach every summer -- and I'm sure we will again, because we had a lovely time there. (We went to the family beaches of Cherry Grove, actually, and only drove down to Myrtle itself when we were in the mood for restaurants and shopping and crowds of people.)

But for the past five years it's been the Outer Banks for us, and we love it there.

There are trade-offs, of course. For instance, the ocean: Myrtle Beach is in a deep bight of coastline, so the waves are usually much milder and the beach slopes so gradually that there can be more than a hundred yards of difference between high tide and low tide.

The Outer Banks, however, form a cusp that is much more pounded by waves, and the beach usually has a far steeper drop-off. So low tide does not reveal wide expanses, and there is no sense of gentleness to the water.

Of course, if you want gentleness, you have the Sound just behind the long, skinny islands. That's where you go to swim or jet-ski or sail or kite-surf. Myrtle has nothing remotely comparable to the Sound.

Then again, Myrtle has a whole slew of condos, so that each building can disgorge hundreds of people at a time. That's why even at low tide, you often have to stake out a place three or four rows back from the wash of the waves.

In the Outer Banks, where it's mostly rental houses with lower occupancy per square foot, there was always plenty of room for everyone to be as close to the water as they wanted.

Everything is closer together at Myrtle -- but farther away. Because the roads at Myrtle Beach are so crowded that it takes forever to get anywhere. In the Outer Banks, there are a lot of miles of two-lane highway, and now and then you can get stuck behind an RV or truck or trailer that is merely going the speed limit.

But compare fifty miles an hour on Highway 12 with the twenty or fifteen that you can easily find yourself going on Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach, and I think the OBX wins this one hands down.

We've stayed in Duck, Corolla, Avon, and Salvo, and we enjoyed them all. But for us, the Salvo area was by far the most convenient. Salvo, Rodanthe, and Waves form the three villages that were once called Chicamacomico (it looks hard, but it's easy and fun to pronounce).

They're close enough to the major shopping areas of Nags Head and Kitty Hawk that you don't feel isolated. But they're far enough south that you're away from the crowds and heavy traffic if you want to be.

And you're close enough to the lighthouses and villages and many unspoiled beaches and marshes of Hatteras Island -- and the ferry to Ocracoke -- that you get more of the variety that the Outer Banks has to offer.

If you're thinking of the Outer Banks for a future summer vacation, check out Outer Beaches Realty. They have by far the best and most informative website -- http://www.outerbeaches.com. Their staff spends many hours just taking picture of the rooms in the houses they have to rent, so that you can make a truly informed decision about where you want to stay.

*

Speaking of shopping at the Outer Banks, our favorite beach store was Kitty Hawk Kites -- not one of the little watersport rental shops, but the big store on 158.

They have a great selection of interesting stuff that I hadn't seen anywhere else -- including some of our favorite all-cotton t-shirts, tank tops, and sweatshirts. (Nobody carries all-cotton sweatshirts, but they do!)

We found, for instance, self-reloading pool squirters. You hold them with the back end just under the water and squeeze them. The water is forced out of the aiming end at your victim, and when you release the squeeze, the tail end automatically draws in water for your next shot. Way better than a mere squirt gun.

We also found a tiny electronic game of 20 Questions, which does a surprisingly good job of asking questions and making appropriate guesses -- as long as you aren't thinking of something too detailed. For instance, it will guess "dog," but not "Pomeranian."

Another favorite place to shop is on Driftwood Street in Nags Head. There are a half-dozen galleries on this little road between highways 158 and 12. Sally Huss Gallery is the most delightfully jampacked knickknack shop I've every visited -- we always come away with something delightful that we've seen nowhere else.

Right across the street, Lighthouse Gallery and Gifts offers interesting and creative ocean-themed art -- paintings, prints, sculptures -- along with the predictable lighthouse ceramics.

A little farther along is the gorgeous Jewelry By Gail, which, for people with our budget, is more of a museum than a place to shop seriously; but the eponymous Gail does gorgeous, quirky, beautiful designs. Every now and then, in the back room where the work of other jewelry designers is featured, we find something we both want and can afford.

That whole neighborhood is full of galleries that offer pleasant surprises for a wide range of budgets.

One of our favorite galleries, though, is a new one: Pea Island Art Gallery in the southernmost building in Salvo. We passed it a couple of times on our morning walks, and finally succumbed to the temptation.

Inside we found what we expected -- something of an artist's co-op -- but the quality was surprisingly good and the art and photography quite original. We expect to return many times in the future.

Our favorite was a series of photographs by Curtis Krueger that featured "Mrs. Davis' Chair."

It seems that Krueger was intrigued by a metal chair on the porch of an elderly neighbor lady's house, and asked if he could borrow it. He took it down to the beach and shot many picture of it, getting different effects in relation to the light and the scenery. Then he returned the chair.

Mrs. Davis was so charmed by the work he did that when she passed away, she left the chair to him.

So in honor of her friendship, and because the chair really is intriguing, he set out to photograph the chair in the midst of the scenery of all fifty states. The project is now complete, and will soon be a book; in this gallery you can see and buy many prints from all the states.

Krueger has an inspired eye for scenery -- he is truly a master photographer -- but the chair adds scale, irony, humor, and poignancy to each composition. It was hard not to buy every one of them. Fortunately, we couldn't afford more than a few. For the whole collection, we'll wait for the book.

*

And now it's time to talk about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I'm assuming that you've read it. If you haven't, then Stop Reading Now! Because I'm going to talk about the ending and other matters that will spoil everything.

I mean it. Stop.

Because this is a worthy book in a great series, and even though I'm going to complain a bit, I'm mostly going to join in the speculation about what's really going on.

And that means I'm going to give away the ending.

You have been warned.

First, though, the complaints. In the previous books, Rowling (pronounced, by the way, to rhyme with "bowling") has taken care to let each book stand on its own. You could begin the series with any of the books and find it a complete and satisfying read.

Half-Blood Prince, however, seems to exist only to set up the seventh (and purportedly final) volume. While the ending definitely ends the book, it does not do so in any kind of satisfying way.

For instance, we spent a long, long time waiting for Harry to find out what horcruxes are. Then at peril of life and limb, Harry and Dumbledore find one. Only it turns out to be a fake -- a substitute, and somebody else got it first. (How, we can only imagine.)

Often there is something we were waiting for, only to have Rowling have it casually mentioned by one character or another that it already happened, only offstage, where we couldn't see it.

A huge amount of time is spent repeating the same gags about Ron snogging his girlfriend and making Hermione jealous. If we're in such a hurry that we must skip over promised events, then why must we see this so often we want to slap everybody involved?

She also shows other signs of series-itis. For instance, Hagrid does nothing important in this story at all. That's fine -- but because he is a Beloved Character, she felt obliged to bring him in far more often than his role in this story warranted.

The kids weren't taking his class anymore; that happens; get over it. But because she was too attuned to her fans, she wasted a lot of pages showing us what we already knew about Hagrid and repeating the old jokes. Does she think she's writing a Joan Hess Maggody book, where the same characters have to appear in every book and do exactly the same "madcap" things?

So if you aren't already a fan of the series, and started reading it with this volume, you'd be puzzled as to what all the hooplah is about. She simply assumes we know and like everybody, so we have a tearful funeral for a character that we would not love if we had not seen him in previous books, and spends a lot of time with Hagrid, who does nothing whatever of interest in this volume.

But the fact is, I have read the other books and I do like and care about the characters, and since I have every intention of reading the final book as well, I don't even mind that this book exists only to set up the last one. All is forgiven -- if the final book brings everything to fruition.

The trouble is that Rowling obviously plans to deny every important thing that happened in this book!

We are left with all the characters believing that a certain hated character committed a foul murder and that a certain beloved character is dead as a doornail.

But careful readers will realize that Rowling has set it up so that it will not be a cheat when she reveals that it's all a scam.

OK, here's where I name names and really wreck this book for you if you haven't read it yet:

About the "murder": Dumbledore tells Draco that if he turns to the "good side" he can make it seem as if he died, so that Voldemort can't take vengeance on him.

Then, when Snape is about to cast the fatal spell, Dumbledore speaks to him pleadingly. This is, of course, pure theatre: Dumbledore is the quintessential Gryffindor, which means that courage is most important to him. He would not cower and whimper. He only acted that way to make it more convincing to the Death Eater witnesses, who would expect (and savor) such an attitude.

Dumbledore did indeed fall from the tower and seems to be dead -- and everyone believes it. But there's magic in this world. He is buried in a magical sarcophagus perched on magical catafalque, and his familiar is a phoenix, which rises from the dead.

There may have been hundreds of weeping witnesses at the funeral, but what we don't have is any serious proof that Dumbledore is completely, irrecoverably dead.

What we do have are plenty of indications that he might very well be alive, and that it suited his purposes to have Voldemort absolutely believe that he was dead.

Furthermore, to have Snape be the killer seems believable, but Dumbledore trusted him and he was not an idiot. Note that Snape never actually strikes against any of the Order of the Phoenix, and that he rushes Draco out of the place without harming anyone.

He has every opportunity to strike Harry down. The excuse is that Voldemort wants to kill Harry himself, but then why not take him along? Snape had the power to do it, certainly.

Instead Snape does something else. He teaches Harry what he needs to do to prepare for his final confrontation with Voldemort; he must learn to hide his thoughts (occlumency) and to subvocalize all his spells so his enemy can't anticipate his every move.

Snape is not a murderer; Dumbledore is not dead. Instead, they pulled off a scam to convince Voldemort absolutely that Dumbledore is dead and Snape is a loyal Death Eater. No one can doubt Snape now. Which means that Voldemort won't be looking for Dumbledore to oppose him any more, and he will hold Snape as his most trusted lieutenant.

So when Harry faces Voldemort in the final battle, he will not be alone.

It's even possible that Dumbledore stayed alive using his own horcrux. We heard much about how it took a murder to tear your soul in pieces in order to save bits of yourself in various artifacts. But Dumbledore might have been able to bring off a similar feat using other means.

(He might even have killed his phoenix -- harmlessly, but no less wrenchingly, in order to do what Voldemort would believe to be impossible to anyone who was not committed to evil.)

As for Voldemort's horcruxes, I fully expect that the final horcrux will turn out to be the lightning-bolt scar on Harry's forehead, inadvertently created when Voldemort killed Harry's mother and father. That's why Voldemort can't let anyone else kill Harry -- it would kill a part of himself. That's why the scar throbbed so whenever the disembodied Voldemort was near.

So in the final battle, when Harry thinks there's still one horcrux left, he realizes that the only way to kill Voldemort completely is to kill the bearer of the last horcrux -- himself.

Perhaps Rowling is planning on having Dumbledore rush out of the bushes to save Harry magically at the last moment before he offs himself (for the good of mankind).

But personally, I hope she has a huge battle inside Harry and that Harry finds a way to subdue Voldemort's soul-fragment within him through love, which has been established as the most powerful magic of all.

Isn't that really why we've been shown so much of Tom Riddle's past in this volume? So that when push comes to shove, Harry can overcome his enemy with compassion for his tortured past?

Meanwhile, Rowling has set Harry free from the confines of Hogwarts. He will doubtless go to the school from time to time -- indeed, where but at Hogwarts can the final confrontation with Voldemort possibly be?

But it will be a depopulated Hogwarts, with only the ghosts, centaurs, merfolk, Finch, and Hagrid still in residence. Oh, yes -- and Dumbledore's sepulchre, where he may just be waiting for his phoenix to revive him.

So the final volume, while it will have the same characters and the same settings, will be a whole new quidditch match -- much more freedom of action for Rowlings' all-growed-up heroes, and everything in place for a bangup climax full of surprises.

Though of course I spoiled those surprises with all these brilliant and correct guesses.

(And before the humorless write in, please notice that this was an ironic and self-mocking statement.

(Not that this will stop those who are most grimly determined to condemn me. Because my having expressed the idea that anything about the Harry Potter series is less than perfect will make me a virtual Death Eater in the eyes of some of the most fanatical readers.

(It's just my opinions and my guesses, folks. Nothing I said erased a single word of any of Rowling's books. Check for yourselves -- all the words are still there.)


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