Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 20, 2009
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Snow, Handy Poison, Gnam Gnam, Glee
I admit it. I love driving in snow.
Which is idiotic. My all-wheel-drive car is no more immune than anyone else's
to sliding and skidding over a packed layer of snow.
Just because I learned to drive in snow country, so I got plenty of practice
inducing skids and spins and slides in snowy parking lots (the Rocky Mountain
winter equivalent of drag racing), doesn't mean that my snow-driving skills
make me the master of weather!
So yes, I drove around during the big storm last Friday night, long after rush
hour was over and the smart people had all locked their cars and gone inside
to drink hot chocolate and watch television.
Being a snow snob, I was even thinking, This isn't that much of a storm after
all. In the mountains and farther north, they were getting record-breaking
snows; where I live, we got three paltry inches. Dangerous? Poof. Piffle.
Almost not worth noticing.
Of course I drove slowly and carefully, as we Expert Snow Drivers always do.
But even we ESDs can't see through a layer of snow to ascertain exactly what
is going on under that white shiny surface.
That's why I found myself inadvertently drifting onto the grassy median on
Cone Blvd. My reflexive return to the roadway was enough of a jolt to put my
car into a spin.
Fortunately, it was late enough at night there was no one on the road near me.
I knew all the right things to do -- turning into the spin, not braking, letting
the car drift to a stop.
So I didn't spin off the road onto the shoulder or the median. I stayed in the
driving lane, facing the opposite direction. As I was making a Y-turn to get
back in the right direction, another car approached -- but the driver was
careful and driving slowly, so he could stop in plenty of time to let me complete
Here's the part that makes me feel like six kinds of idiot: I actually enjoyed it.
That's right: I, who regard skydivers and hang gliders and bungee-jumpers and
ski-jumpers and snowboarders and even carnival ride riders as complete idiots
for voluntarily adding to the amount of danger and terror in their lives -- I got
the adrenalin rush from that spin.
I need to get some good, strong tire chains and, during the next snowstorm,
use them to attach my car's bumper firmly to a bold in the wall of my garage.
How many of you are carrying around in your purse or car convenient little
containers of fruit-flavored poison? How many of you leave these nicely
scented poisons out on your counter and encourage your children to use them?
An awful lot of you, without a clue that that's what you're doing!
I know this because I got an email about it.
Most of the time, the dire warnings circulating on the web are either complete
fabrications or have only a few grains of truth.
There are even some complete falsehoods that now claim they are "verified by
Snopes.com." Of course, if you go to Snopes, you find that the opposite is true
-- usually they're completely debunked by that genuine public service website.
And I have to think: Once the senders of such "warnings" lie about whether it's
verified by Snopes, I no longer have to make any effort to assume the original
posting was made by someone of good will or good intentions.
What I don't get, most of the time, is the motive. Of course, during seasons of
political madness (i.e., election years) the motive is usually extreme
But what causes people to lie about the "dangers" of things that aren't
dangerous? Or to spread malicious rumors about companies or individuals?
Not that it's anything new. This is what gave gossip a bad name -- the
eagerness of people to leap to false conclusions and spread the reputation-killing lies as widely as possible.
And we swallow it up. Supermarket tabloids and their slick little cousins that
pretend to be competing with People but are really competing with National
Enquirer thrive on our eagerness to believe the worst.
The mainstream press in recent years has been little better. Even in our
hometown daily, malicious bits of racist gossip were printed without any
serious fact-checking, and were instantly believed by important people in city
government. It resulted in the destruction of our police department and the
savaging of the reputation of honorable people.
I make it a point not to forget the name of the reporter whose reckless and
incessant acceptance of unchecked lies created and fueled the damage. Once
someone has brazenly lied to me, I don't have to listen to or read anything they
have to say, ever again.
The people who forward false stories via email are not doing anything new. But
the web provides them with a means of disseminating the tales nationwide in
There are people -- friends, even -- whose email address I have blocked
because they cannot be persuaded to take me off the list of addresses to which
they spread stories that they are too lazy to bother to check before forwarding.
So no wonder that, when a friend of mine, a scientist in family studies, sent yet
another dire warning, he apologized at the outset "if this turns out to be
another web-hoax." He only sent it along because it reached him from a doctor
whom he trusted.
What kills me is that it took me exactly three seconds to verify the story on
Snopes. But even my friend didn't bother to check for himself! It's as if
because someone is a doctor, the email he forwarded can't be false -- yet my
friend, a scientist, did forward the story without checking it! Why did he trust
the doctor to be more careful and reliable than he was himself?
What matters is: The story is true.
And the poison you carry around with you, or leave out in the kitchen or your
kids' bathroom, is hand sanitizer.
That's right -- those little containers you buy so that everybody can be germ
free are, in the hands of small children (or even teenagers!) a potentially deadly
That's because they contain alcohol. Why else do you think they go on your
hand as a gel and then seem to magically disappear? Nearly two-thirds of the
gel consists of alcohol, which evaporates quickly.
The equivalent of 120-proof liquor. And the manufacturers give them such
lovely, enticing, flavorful odors!
Smell is an important component of taste. So kids put on the sanitizer and
then lick their hands. Mmmm, delicious. And intoxicating!
I remember that when I was a kid -- seven or eight years old -- I really loved
the tangy orange flavor of chewable children's aspirin tablets. I distinctly
remember my forays up onto the kitchen counter to reach the little bottle on
the top shelf. I only ate four or five of them at a time.
That's right -- a blood thinner, and I was eating them by the tiny little handful.
I must have been walking around with blood so thin that if I had cut myself I
would have bled myself dry in fifteen minutes.
My point is that children are idiots. That's why they have to be cared for by
adults until they're thirty. Um, I meant eighteen.
And if they once get the idea that hand sanitizer is delicious, they'll keep
licking it and licking it.
Ingesting three squirts is enough to intoxicate small children so thoroughly
that their lives are in danger.
Because of all the social customs surrounding alcohol, we might forget that it
is a powerful poison, and the danger is in exact proportion to the body size of
the person imbibing it.
It is also highly addictive, so the kid who takes a taste of it out of curiosity can
easily find himself or herself craving more of it. Binge-sanitizer-licking
becomes a problem for some teenagers. They don't even know that they've
become alcoholics! They just know that they want more of it ... all the time.
Little kids, though, are in far greater danger, because the three licks that make
a teenager drunk can kill the little kid.
Alcohol is, in fact, a good disinfectant. That's why they rub some on your arm
before giving you a shot.
Merely pouring rubbing alcohol on your hands wouldn't work -- it would
evaporate before you could spread it around.
What hand sanitizers do is mix the alcohol with a gel so that, like napalm, it
will cling to your skin long enough to get spread around for more complete
coverage. And they add attractive scent so that you'll perceive your hands as
smelling fresh and clean.
Nothing about this is evil. It's not a conspiracy. But it is a danger.
I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't own and use sanitizers. I'm suggesting
that you not leave it out where kids can get to it. The rule should be: If you
wouldn't put a nice dispenser of fruit-flavored rat poison in that place in your
house, don't put hand sanitizer there, either.
You can keep it in your purse -- unless you routinely leave the purse where the
kids can get to it unobserved.
Or use sanitizing wipes rather than gels -- there's no record of kids swallowing
the wipes to get a dose.
Or ... here's a thought! ... wash your hands!
Check it out for yourself. Here's a link to the story as reported at Snopes.com:
If you've lived here for any length of time, you probably remember Gelato
D'Oro, which was associated with the Janus theaters.
(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I apologize -- but Greensboro is
one of those places where people, including my wife and me, actually give
directions by using historical references. "Come on down Lawndale and turn
left onto the road that used to lead to the Janus; if you get to where the Krispy
Kreme used to be, you've passed it" -- it's a perfectly sensible direction, even
though the Janus's former location is now a muddy pit in a vacant lot.)
When we first moved here, the word gelato had the power to make my mouth
water. But when we actually tried it, we were so disappointed. It tasted good,
and it may have an "ice" rather than "ice cream," but it certainly wasn't gelato.
Not that creamy smooth, subtly flavored concoction that is called glace
(pronounced "gloss") in France and sorvete (sor-VETCH-ee) in Brazil.
But Gelato D'Oro was hardly alone in offering non-gelato under a false name.
I've found the same thing all over America, even in restaurants that should
have known better. Only in Santa Monica, California, have I found a couple of
gelato shops that offer the real thing.
Well, guess what, Greensboro? We have an authentic gelato now, and not only
that, it is extraordinarily good. It would hold its own anywhere in Europe or
The name of the shop is Gnam Gnam, which I find clever -- it's simply the
Italian way of spelling "Nyum nyum." You know, the onomatopoeic sound of
deliciousness that is already used in Greensboro by the College Hill diner Yum-Yum.
But if you choose to pronounce the silent G, nobody's going to care. As long as
you get inside the door and taste the gelato!
The owners, Selim Oztalay and Denise White, are not Italian. Oztalay is
Turkish born (though he speaks American English without a trace of accent),
and he and White met in Germany, where they both lived at the time. In other
words, they know what the best gelato is supposed to taste like, and meet that
When I asked, "Are either of you Italian," Oztalay said, "No, but the machine we
The Italian gelato machine is responsible for the absolutely perfect texture --
smooth, never gritty with ice -- but Oztalay and White are responsible for the
absolutely perfect flavors.
The cinnamon is not overdone -- the flavor is subtle enough that you can enjoy
it on the same cone with other flavors. The lemon is tart tart tart -- exactly the
way I like it -- but you can taste the lemon flavor, and not just the sourness.
Even the grapefruit is delicious -- sweetened enough to be palatable, so it can
almost convince you that you like grapefruit, even if you don't!
The raspberry is made from real berries, so there are little seedlets as part of
the texture of the gelato, and the mango is simply the best I've had.
The tradition is to serve gelato with tiny scoops, about an inch across. But you
get plenty of them -- and right now, at least, when the weather is cold and the
store is new, they have plenty of time to let you put as many as four flavors in a
When I dropped in for the first time -- just as the snow was starting to fall last
Friday afternoon -- I nobly made the sacrifice of ordering two small cups, each
with four flavors. The next day, when I brought my wife to get her first taste, I
ordered four more flavors. So I have sampled a dozen flavors and they are, in a
In fact, theirs might be the best pistachio I've had since I left Brazil in 1973.
(The nuts are finely ground, so it doesn't really interfere with the smoothness of
the gelato by forcing you to chew.)
The stracciatela (chocolate chip) is exactly right in flavor (though I could wish
for the chocolate to be sprayed more evenly through the gelato); the cocoa
crunch uses chocolate-covered rice crisps, and may be my favorite; and even
the simple chocolate and vanilla are good enough to be worth making a trip to
The folks at Gnam Gnam have a perfect location. The shop is in the same
building as Fresh Market, and I imagine the customer overlap is pretty close to
one hundred percent. Even on a snowy day, people were stopping for gelato on
their way into or out of the grocery store -- which is what I was doing, and
intend to do as often as possible.
A small cup (up to four flavors, remember!) is $3.25 -- $3.50 with tax. When
you order a hand-packed carton to take home, they put it in a container that
remains frozen for at least an hour, even in a hot car on a summer day.
If you do take it home, though, remember that gelato only has its perfect soft
smoothness at a temperature warmer than your freezer is likely to have. So get
it out of the freezer and uncover it fifteen minutes before you're going to serve
Gnam Gnam isn't just about the gelato, either. For one thing, they carry the
Italian mineral waters from San Pellegrino in orange and lemon flavors
("aranciata" and "limonata"). And there are plans to expand to include pastries
in the morning and sandwiches later in the day.
(While coffee and alcoholic beverages are irrelevant to me and my family, I have
no reason to suppose that their offerings in those categories are not up to the
high standards of the rest of the shop.)
The shop itself is lovely and classy, and since, for the time being, the owners
are the servers, their charm and graciousness set the tone for the whole
experience. Two weeks into existence, the Gnam Gnam already has regular
customers who chat with the owners and each other like old friends, even
though they only met when the shop opened!
Folks, gelato doesn't replace ice cream -- I'm still going to 31 Flavors and
Bruster's. Comparing them is like trying to compare donuts and cake, or
muffins and biscuits, or M&Ms and Hershey's Kisses. What's the point? They
both exist, and I'm glad!
Since our fifteen-year-old is in the drama program at Weaver Center, which is
academically demanding, we almost don't see her during the school week --
between homework and rehearsals, she's either at school or at the computer in
our "library" (a bedroom filled with bookshelves, with the closets turned into
computer carrels) until she drops into bed exhausted.
Which means that television shows we used to watch as a family, my wife and I
now watch together, without her.
Except for one: Glee.
We really enjoyed the pilot episode, which ran last spring on Fox with the heavy
promotion of American Idol ahead of it. So when the first full season began this
past August, we started taping them, intending to watch them as a family.
And we continued taping them until this week, having watched none. Because
there was, quite literally, no chance for all three of us to watch an hour-long TV
show together through the entire fall.
Well, the other night, trapped indoors by the snow, we actually started
watching. We got four episodes in, until it was definitely bedtime -- but we
loved the show.
And, of course, hated it.
We loved it for the clever writing, the good music, the outstanding acting,
singing, and dancing, the delicious humor of it.
We hated it for the way it depicts high school as a moral sinkhole where
everybody is having sex or talking about having sex or stupidly believing you
can get a girl pregnant without actually having sex; we hated the marriage at
the center of the storylines, where the greedy wife is lying to and manipulating
her husband through guilt, while the husband is carrying on a pretty open
flirtation with a guidance counselor at the school.
Yet we're able to talk through the moral cesspool aspects of the storylines and
recognize that these are exaggerations just like everything else. In short, we're
not going to let our repugnance for most of the characters' behavior stop us
from enjoying the musical comedy.
The comedy is rather reminiscent of Scrubs -- that is, it is surreal and aware of
itself; it shows things that really happen, but exaggerates them for comic effect.
And, as in Scrubs, the story can switch into powerful and real emotions at any
point, without even a hiccough. It's quite a ride.
I especially admire the way the musical numbers are worked in, and what they
consist of. There are some original songs along with many covers of songs from
every genre of music (one of the best numbers was a country song, for
Matthew Morrison, playing teacher and guidance-counselor-flirter Will
Schuester, carries the show magnificently -- he has the same kind of charm
and self-assurance that lets Simon Baker dominate The Mentalist.
But the rest of the cast is up to his level, or close enough. And while we have
the cliches of social castes, all the kids are excellent performers, even those
who hate Glee Club and are trying to destroy it.
The real show thief, of course, is Jane Lynch as the evil cheerleading coach.
Wickedness has never been so deliciously and hilariously portrayed -- she
plunges into each episode with sleeves rolled up, and mixes brazenness with
sly wit in a way that must make the writers very happy. They can clip a page
of the phone book, hand it to her, and she'll make it funny and meaningful and
I'm assuming that each of the kids in Glee will get episodes that focus on them
-- for instance, the "gay kid," played by Chris Colfer, did an absolutely
wonderful job with what could have been nothing but an exercise in dutiful
political correctness. I assume there'll be at least one episode focusing on the
"wheelchair kid," "the big black girl," and pretty much everybody else.
But even when they're not the focus of the episode, every one of the actors is
very good. Yes, they sing way better than any group of kids you're likely to find
in any non-specialized high school -- in most school, if you have one kid at this
level, he or she will dominate every play and show and then graduate; the next
kid that talented won't show up for three or four years, if ever.
In fact, my favorite episode so far is the one where Kristin Chenoweth plays
that dominant student, who, not having quite graduated, returns to the high
school as a ringer fifteen years later. A drug-popping alcoholic, she performs
brilliantly (since Chenoweth was one of the stars of Wicked in its original
Broadway run, that's hardly a surprise), and her acting is dead on.
Yet the regulars on the show -- kids and adults -- hold their own with her,
which is quite incredible, actually. It's a bold thing for a TV series about
performers to bring in one of the best Broadway performers ever and ask the
TV actors to share the screen with her. But they brought it off.
I'm only four episodes in. Maybe I'll get sick of the soap opera aspects of the
story, the way I did with Friday Night Lights after the first season. But for right
now, I consider Glee to be the first and only show about musical performers
that is worth watching (and yes, I include The Monkees and The Partridge
Family in that).