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