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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 27, 2008

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


Showerheads & Band-Aids, Essays, Corrupt MP3s

I suppose fifteen years is long enough for a showerhead to last.

Especially because, when we moved into our house fifteen years ago, we bought the best Waterpik handheld showerhead they had at Lowe's at the time. And Lowe's, like every other big box store, carries only the brands and models that they think a lot of customers will buy.

So we bought the model that is now called "Shower Massage 6 Mode." It's all plastic. And we liked it. And it lasted fifteen years. So when the leaks became too annoying, I headed back to Lowe's and bought exactly the same model.

The trouble is, it comes in a box. No, that's a good thing. I approve of knowing that all the parts are there and nobody else has been using it. The trouble comes from the fact that the hose is sort of folded up inside the box. So when you hang it up, the hose has a definite preference about which way it's going to bend and twist.

So when you place the handheld showerhead into the socket it hangs from, the hose forces it to twist in whatever direction the hose has come to prefer.

I know from experience that after a while -- a month? -- the hose relaxes and gets used to its new home. Kind of like a cat in a new house that finally agrees to use the litterbox where you put it.

But until the hose concedes defeat, when you turn on the shower so the water will get warm before you step into the shower, you can find yourself sprayed with icy water -- which also gets all over the floor.

Or you can find that the showerhead insists on pointing against the back wall of the shower, so you have to keep readjusting it -- unless you give up and press yourself against the wall in order to take your shower.

This is annoying. And I suppose it doesn't happen with the fancy metal-coil hoses on the expensive Waterpik models that they don't sell at Lowe's.

The problem is that there isn't enough friction between the base of the showerhead and the socket it slides into. So the hose's directional preference can twist the head in whatever direction it prefers -- there's no resistance, no grip from the socket.

Now, having described to you one of the most trivial problems in the universe (and yet so annoying when you're trying to deal with it), I will tell you the solution that I found. Band-Aids.

Specifically, the Johnson & Johnson Activ-Flex Finger-Wrap Band-Aid. This is a bandage strip with no pad -- it is adhesive along its entire length. It's designed to be waterproof. It's very thin. And its surface has far more friction than that smooth plastic socket on the shower fixture.

One Band-Aid, wrapped around one side of the socket so a nice, high-friction patch runs down the inside surface, did the trick. Now the hose doesn't have the strength to turn the showerhead in the socket.

Believe it or not, this is a circumstance where duct tape would not have worked. It's not waterproof enough, and it's too thick. And it's ugly. The Band-Aid is almost invisible. Especially when I have my glasses off in the shower.

There. I've made your life better. (That is, if you happen to buy the cheapo plastic model showerhead.) Isn't this column worth every cent you paid for it?

*

At the end of a recent issue of Publishers Weekly they had an essay by Sloane Crosley. It was funny and yet also smart. So I looked at the author's bio and learned the title of her book of essays, I Was Told There'd Be Cake.

The language can be rough sometimes. If you're squeamish about that, you won't enjoy the book. But if you can get past her casual use of the F word, even in essay titles, then these are really delightful stories-with-commentary.

"The Ursula Cookie" is Crosley's real-life version of The Devil Wears Prada -- and precisely because it is not turned into a well-structured novel, it feels more real -- and funnier.

No surprise that one of the best essays is the first one -- what, you lead off your book with something marginal? I don't think so. "The Pony Problem" is so painful you have to laugh.

It seems she got in the habit of using ponies as a joke. She gets up from the dinner table and says to her guests, "Can I get you anything? Coffee, tea, a pony?" Someone invites her to a party, and she asks, "Will there be pony rides?"

Well, it extends to guys she dates. They arrive at the first date and say, "I have something for you," and she instantly comes back with, "Is it a pony?"

It never is. But on the next date, count on it: There'll be a pony. A plastic toy pony, of course, or something similarly small and cute. But since none of these relationships lasted, she's stuck with a pony collection. She can't exactly display it. But she also couldn't bring herself to get rid of it. These ponies had become part of her history. Her sad, depressing history of relationships that failed or never even got started.

My summary doesn't begin to tell you how sad and sweet and acid and biting her story is. All I can tell you is, it's a great essay.

Let me quote a bit from the opening of "Sign Language for Infidels":

"... I can say with a solid degree of authority that I am a selfish person. I spontaneously forget the names of more people than not, unless I want to make out with them. I will take the last square of toilet paper off the roll without thinking twice. I tip taxi drivers so poorly I'm amazed none of them have run over my foot while speeding off. Once I became so annoyed at a boyfriend's excessive use of my overpriced shea-butter-based shampoo that I went out and bought him some Prell. 'You're so considerate,' he said. 'Yes' -- I clenched my teeth -- 'that's true.'"

The problem with quoting from a highly entertaining essayist is that I am an essayist and this is an essay, and the difference between her writing and mine will make it painfully obvious to you that I am not Sloane Crosley.

Now, according to the theorists who keep telling us that if we raise teachers' pay, we'll get better-educated children, all that needs to happen to make me as good as Sloane Crosley is to pay me more.

This does not work any better in essays than in the classroom. Paying a bad teacher more does not turn him or her into a good one. Likewise, raising my pay would not make me better.

It only works if you fire the bad essayist and replace him with a good one -- who charges more. Ditto with the teachers. Which presupposes that there is a pool of excellent essayists and/or teachers out there, only waiting for the pay to improve before they enter the workforce.

Fortunately for my sinecure here at the Rhino, I am so cheap, and good essayists are so expensive and rare, that my job is safe. To get the good stuff, you have to spring for the fourteen bucks and buy Sloane Crosley's book.

*

I've been touting Amazon's mp3 download service lately. But all is not perfection. I downloaded The Very Best of Stan Freberg mostly to get his Christmas satire, "Green Christmas."

If you don't know Stan Freberg's work, he was one of the great satirists. He had a radio program in the 1950s, full of the kind of sketches that Johnny Carson later did.

His "John and Marsha" bits were hilarious -- they consisted solely of an actor and actress speaking each other's names, but with different meanings each time. Naturally, we improvised our own John and Marsha skits at home -- it was a great clowning-around concept, and it wasn't hard to memorize the script.

If you weren't alive in the 1950s, or owned no radio then, you might remember his ad campaign for Sunsweet prunes in the 1960s. Because prunes were thought of only as a natural laxative, it was not regarded as cool to buy and eat them -- it was like confessing your problem to the grocery checkout clerk.

So Stan Freberg was hired and in 1967 came out with a campaign that addressed the image problem directly. But the pretense was that prunes were uncool because they had pits and wrinkles, not because they loosened the bowels. Sunsweet, said the commercials, has removed the pits, thus solving half the problem. "Today the pits," said the announcer solemnly. "Tomorrow the wrinkles."

It worked -- prune sales rose 400 percent. And even those of us who were unconvinced (dried fruit generally nauseates me -- it's a mouth-feel thing) remembered the delight with which we first heard the commercial.

That's Stan Freberg. But for me, the very best thing he ever did was his "Green Christmas" parody. My dad made a reel-to-reel tape compilation of Christmas music, which he used to play through loudspeakers on our front porch during the holiday season. "Green Christmas" was our favorite selection from the tape -- we'd rewind it and play it over and over.

So it's not just funny, it's also nostalgia. It's part of my growing up.

I bought the album from Amazon and downloaded it. Then I listened to "Green Christmas."

It was fine till I got to the end. Then it fell apart in electronic corruption. You couldn't hear it, and it stopped well short of the end.

At first I thought it was the download that got botched. So I went back to Amazon and bought just that track. Helpfully, Amazon remembered that I had bought the album, and nudged me: Do you really want to download this track again?

Wouldn't it have been nice if their software had not just nudged me, but also given me the option of downloading again the tracks I had already bought? I mean, they recognized me, they knew I had paid for it, why not have a button you can press that says, "I botched the download, can I try again?" No such luck.

So I went ahead and bought the track again. But, to my disgust, it had the identical flaws. Obviously they had botched their electronic rip of the album, so everybody who downloaded that album would have a botched version of the "Green Christmas" track.

I wrote to them. I explained the problem. And their solution was ... to give me my 99 cents back. They even told me that it wasn't their policy to give refunds, but they were making an exception in my case.

But I didn't want my 99 cents. I wanted a clean, clear copy of "Green Christmas."

So I gave up and went to iTunes and bought the same track. And guess what? It has the identical corruption and collapse at the end!

Wait a minute. How could iTunes and Amazon both get their file corrupted in exactly the same way? What's going on here? Has Amazon bought their mp3 stock from Apple? Is somebody ripping somebody off?

Look, I'm trying to pay for something that has real value to me. I've now bought it three times -- though Amazon did refund me for one of the times. But the fact remains that both the leading download services are offering the identical corrupted track.

So I'm giving up. I've ordered the CD of The Very Best of Stan Freberg -- from Amazon, of course -- and I'll rip it myself. If the flaw is on the actual CD, I'll find the LP somewhere. I'm going to get a clear, complete version of this track if it kills me.

Meanwhile, I also tossed into my order Tom Lehrer's That Was the Year That Was, in order to get the "Vatican Rag" and "Werner von Braun."

Oddly enough, I don't actually like Lehrer's versions of his own satirical songs -- he wasn't a very good singer. Stan Freberg had much better production values and gave a much better performance.

No, I have nostalgia for these songs because of other people performing them. People who actually watched Lehrer's show "That Was the Week That Was," which I never did, not once. But my friend Roger MacDonald used to do a great performance of "Vatican Rag" upon request -- I have distinct memories of him performing it for all passersby in the tunnel of the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU.

And my friends Clark and Kathy Kidd gave such a stirring rendition of "Werner von Braun" that the refrain of "dat's not my department, says Werner von Braun" still runs through my head at odd moments.

Alas that neither of the two big mp3 download service yet offers Lehrer's work.


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