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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 my maneuver.

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 partisanship.

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 minutes.

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 poison.

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 Brazil.

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 standard.

When I asked, "Are either of you Italian," Oztalay said, "No, but the machine we use is!"

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 small cup.

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 word, fantastic.

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 store.

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 it.

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 instance).

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 mean.

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).


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