Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
August 8, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Fred, St. Cloud, Movie Snacks, Death by Meeting
I'm not sure what motivated two members of the original Dixie Chicks to form the band Court
Yard Hounds, whose self-titled album was just released.
On the one hand, one might suppose that they wanted to distance themselves from the
obnoxious, fan-alienating remarks by the other member of Dixie Chicks during the Bush
presidency. Then again, who remembers or cares? (Well, I guess I remembered. And, come to
think of it, I guess I cared.)
On the other hand, it might be that, seeing the success of Taylor Swift's genre-bending version
of pop-country (or whatever we're calling it), they wanted to move away from traditional
country sounds and become something new. Or at least become like somebody else who actually
Unfortunately, the album consists of forgettable songs.
Well, not really forgettable. They're actually almost unhearable. The songs are playing, there's
sound, it's not unpleasant, but the more you try to concentrate on them the more they music and
words just float away, like a dream you're trying to remember as it disappears from your
memory in the morning.
It's not that the album is bad. It just has no particular reason to exist. Which is a shame, because
"Court Yard Hounds" was such a great group name, and now it's been used up.
I have no objection to bending the boundaries of country (or any other genre). In fact, my
favorite female country singer right now, Carrie Rodriguez, tears up the genre walls with songs
that are almost brutally real, and a voice that reaches inside your thorax to poke at your organs.
But this is like the opposite of Carrie Rodriguez. Where Rodriguez sets aside some of the
cliches of country music to become more real, the Court Yard Hounds set aside the cliches in
order to bring in another set of cliches from another genre.
Evaporated music, that's what it is.
Fresh Market had a nice endcap display of bottled water labeled, simply, "Fred." The smaller
bottles are shaped like flasks. Now, this is a dumb move if you need to be able to put the bottles
in car cupholders. We've had fits with Fiji water over the years for that very reason.
But if you get into the spirit of the flask, then you can imagine tucking it into the breast pocket of
a suitcoat or sport jacket. It really does fit in the breast pocket of a shirt. So the design might
actually be more convenient, depending on how adaptable you are.
Still, it comes down to flavor. And you can't actually do effective taste-tests on water when it's
ice-cold from the fridge. That's because even mediocre water tastes fine when you freeze your
Nor is it fair to taste it when it's been outside in the temperatures we've been having lately --
eighties and nineties. Warmish water isn't as refreshing as cool, and as St. Paul said, you want
to spew it out of your mouth.
You have to taste it at room temperature -- if the room is kept below 70 degrees.
So here's the word on Fred. It's not obnoxious, like the French still waters. (Evian makes me
want to have a glass of ginger ale, just to clear my palate, and Volvic is scarcely better.) Nor is it
startlingly brilliant, the way Fiji was when it was first sold in America (now it has become
It's simply good enough.
For me, though, the real pleasure is still Hint Water. It's the perfect soft drink -- purified water
with just an overtone of fruit flavoring added. No sugar, no electrolytes or vitamins or minerals.
Just a touch of flavor. It's delicious cold, at room temperature, or even a little warm. And it has
been keeping me alive when I get dehydrated from exercising or doing yardwork in this weather.
And, unlike most bottled waters, you really can tell Hint from all the others in blind taste tests!
I already reviewed the book The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud; now the movie is out, and
it's definitely worth seeing. I really, really liked the book, and the film adaptation is better than I
feared, though not quite perfect.
I was surprised, though, that on the Friday night of its opening weekend it was so sparsely
attended. With Zac Efron in the lead, you'd think it would draw a larger audience. On the other
hand, I've seen very little publicity about it. Quite possibly nobody knew how to sell it.
They had the same problem in adapting the book into a film. The book was both intriguing and
moving; so is the movie, but less so, because of the choices they made.
And yet I can't argue with them about most of the changes. In the book, Charlie is 15, much
closer in age to his little brother Sammy, when they both die in a car wreck. (Charlie is
miraculously revived after getting a glimpse of the afterlife with Sammy.) But most of the
movie takes place five years later, when Charlie is 20. The age difference between 15 and 20 is
not great enough to justify casting someone else as "young Charlie," and yet it would be hard to
make Efron convincingly 15 years old. Far simpler to make him 18 at the start.
The trouble is that at age 18, with Sammy still about eleven, the age difference is too great for us
to really feel the closeness between them. Yet they couldn't make Sammy any older or we lose a
lot of the pathos.
Another choice: In the book, we eventually see Sammy's spirit come to fruition -- no longer a
little boy. It makes us feel how important it is that he moved on, no longer trapped in the
graveyard holding pattern that had occupied the brothers' lives for five years. But in the movie,
perhaps to avoid confusion, they leave him young, so we get no visual sense that he has really
moved on. It's almost the opposite of what the ending was supposed to do.
I'm sure it was budgetary considerations that made them decide not to show us the extremely
vivid scene in the storm, where Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew, looking like Molly Ringwald's
daughter) loses control of her would-be round-the-world sailboat yet handles herself with
remarkable control. Such a scene would have been incredibly expensive; but it also was
important to make us buy both her apparent survival and her near-death experience.
As is so often the case, the book told the story very well, and all the things that are missing are,
But these are almost quibbles. They have only a slight dampening effect on what is otherwise a
good small movie. I think the only real problem is the pretty-boy picture of Zac Efron that is the
main image on the poster. They actually have a story here, yet you'd never guess that from the
No, we didn't come away from it as moved as by Toy Story 3, or as provoked into conversation
as by Inception, or even as vividly entertained as by Salt. But we felt good. We felt as if we had
our money's worth.
And Zac Efron is still a remarkable young actor who is still waiting for his first grown-up role
to knock people's socks off.
While we were at the Carousel theater, we noticed that they are selling something that I have
long wished for -- healthy snacks! I've already reviewed Greensboro's own healthy snack food
company, Good Health Natural Foods. Their avocado oil potato chips are simply the best
I've ever had.
Well, now -- and for only one dollar -- you can have a small bag of chips in the movie theater.
They also have the same company's Humbles Hummus Chips and Veggie Stix -- products I
haven't seen at Earth Fare yet. Naturally, I sampled them, and they were as delicious as I
Just think -- you can go to the movies and have something delicious and nondestructive to snack
on. For a ridiculously low price.
And if you happen not to have Good Health Natural Foods products in your local store, you can
order anything you want from them online -- though, alas, only in case lots.
In case you don't know, that's a lot of potato chips or hummus chips or polenta chips or veggie
stix -- but perhaps it's not too many. For instance, "Humbles Baked Hummus Chips Variety
Case #2" contains three 3.5-oz. bags each of the olive oil, lemon & feta; roasted red pepper;
sesame garlic; and sea salt flavors. Three bags of each? That gets you through three barbecues
or TV nights with friends. And it costs $32.95, which amounts to less than three dollars a bag.
You can get to their shopping page at http://www.goodhealthnaturalproducts.com/ghnf_shop/ghnf_shop.html
I've recently been reading business books by Patrick Lencioni, and I have been astonished at
the man's good sense and writing ability.
Lencioni's shtick is "fables" -- fictional case studies that read like not-bad short stories,
complete with believable and interesting characters with believable reactions to the ideas that
Lencioni is putting forth.
I've read three of his books so far -- Death by Meeting, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,
and The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. I read each of them in a single sitting --
about two hours, including marginal notations, comments to my wife, and other sidetracking.
All three were excellent -- and potentially transformative.
I began with Frantic Family -- its bright yellow cover caught my eye in the Atlanta airport and I
had it half-read after the short flight home to Greensboro. The story is of the family of a
management consultant who made the mistake of commenting to his wife that their family was
not as well-managed as a business.
Naturally, she took it personally, though he didn't mean it that way; yet as they talked, he began
to explain the principles he used to help businesses get back on track. They realized that while
not all the techniques applied to family life, many of them did.
By the end, the wife is taking these ideas to her friends, and while most of them are polite but not
interested in changing their lives (at least at first), one does give it a try. They find out that the
Of course, that's fiction. But it rings true, and as I talked about it with my wife, we began to talk
through the principles in regard to our own family life. The most intriguing of the Three
Questions from the title is, "What makes our family different from all other families?"
The discussion that this question provokes can be fascinating. Most of us go through our family
lives without really examining what this small community we've constructed together actually
No, I'm not going to bore you with our own responses to the book. But I promise you that if you
really go through the steps that Lencioni advocates and teaches so effectively, it can make a
difference. Even if you don't think of yourselves as particularly frantic.
Here's Lencioni's genius: He doesn't flood you with "seven" or "ten" or "fifteen" principles.
Three seems to be his limit in these three books, and even then, they aren't rules or one-size-fits-all prescriptions. Instead, in each case he offers a method for a family or a company or a
manager to discover for himself what will work in his particular situation.
The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees) is probably
the best of the books as a story. The CEO of a company retires after a corporate buyout leaves
him well-to-do, but -- unable to bear retirement -- he takes on the management of a local just-getting-by restaurant.
It has pretty good food, but mediocre employees -- lots of mistakes, a morose attitude. It's
obvious they don't really like their jobs.
But that's the problem a lot of people face -- even when they have their dream job! It's what
they worked for and yet they're miserable. Why?
I was impressed with the three things that Lencioni has this manager do in that restaurant. I was
mentally applying it to jobs I've had and jobs I've seen, and I realized that Lencioni is right
when he says that these principles are obvious and relatively easy -- and hardly anybody does
Instead, "managing" usually consists of making the lives of the workers under you even more
hellish by requiring them to fill out more reports or attend more empty meetings, when the things
that will raise their morale and make them happy, committed employees (cutting back on errors,
raising productivity, etc.) are so simple that, really, they're more or less how a decent person
should treat everybody.
And yet managers almost never do them.
Here's the coolest thing: You don't have to be a manager to make use of the book. You can
apply some of the techniques to your own work, and others you can use to help make everybody
around you happier -- at work and at home -- whether you have any authority over them or not.
The third book, Death by Meeting, isn't quite as good a fable -- though it's still very good. The
problem is that when you're describing a destructively dull pattern of meetings, it's going to be,
well, dull. Lencioni does as much as is possible to make it entertaining, though, and the
solutions he offers are smart and sensible.
The problem here is that, unlike the other two books, the ideas in Death by Meeting cannot be
implemented without the cooperation of those in charge of a meeting. Believe me, if you start
using his techniques to make meetings more effective without the boss signing on first, you will
be looking for a job in short order -- or attending mandatory counseling with the corporate
Yet I've been to so many tedious meetings that desperately needed a dose of Lencioni's common
One thing I appreciate about Lencioni -- especially in Frantic Family -- is that he includes the
idea that smart, effective people can also have a committed religious life. No, he doesn't preach
at all -- he just takes it for granted that it's not aberrant to be a churchgoer. Since this reflects
the lives of most people in the business world, at least around here, it's nice that he doesn't jam it
under a bed or into a closet. It's just there ... without being intrusive.
The books are not long, but like good fables, they contain a lot more than the word count would
imply. Whether you're a leader or a follower or a self-employed loner (like me!), these are
entertaining and useful books.