Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
October 3, 2010
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Lockerbie, Billionaires, Women's Suits, Air
The Women of Lockerbie is a play that deals with the aftermath of the
destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over the village of Lockerbie in Scotland on
21 December 1988.
The American parents of a twenty-year-old student who died in the bombing
have come to Scotland on the anniversary of the crash. He had been sitting
directly over the bomb -- no identifiable part of his body had ever been found.
His mother fell apart when he died, blaming herself for insisting he come home
in time for a Christmas party; she has essentially put her life on hold,
consumed with grief. Her husband, who has never been able to grieve since he
had to keep both their lives running, is still trying to help her by reasoning
They find themselves in the midst of a group of Scottish women who also have
their own stories of grief. Eleven citizens of Lockerbie died as parts of the plane
fell to the ground; all of them had to deal with the destruction and debris,
which included many bodies and body parts.
Now the U.S. government has finished with all the luggage and clothing that
was gathered up during the years-long investigation of the bombing. The State
Department official on the scene has decided that the clothing should all be
The women of Lockerbie, on the other hand, want to gather the clothing, wash
away all the blood and fuel and dirt, and return it all to the families. Both
sides are convinced that their way will be best for the families.
The group of women constitutes a kind of Greek chorus, and the device is
powerful as we get a sense of a community whose lives were inadvertently
recentered around a disaster not of their making.
This play is opening tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Weaver Academy for the
Performing and Visual Arts, and playing Friday and Saturday at the same time.
There's also a Sunday matinee (in my opinion a deplorable practice -- isn't
there any day that is off limits for school functions?) at 2:00 p.m.
The play is definitely worth seeing, if only to get the play's many useful and
truthful perspectives on grief and blame after a man-made disaster. If it now
and then trips over a platitude, it makes up for it with fresh, keen insights at
This is a high school production, of course, which means that the actors are all
in the midst of their training, or at the beginning of it. So while the staging by
director Keith Taylor is professional and moving, the acting sometimes
partakes of the excesses of student actors, who don't yet understand what does
and does not work for an audience.
The inevitable tendency of the amateur actor is to concentrate inward, on
producing "feelings." The result is usually long pauses during which, as far as
the audience can tell, nothing happens at all. Often such pauses can seem as
if someone has forgotten a line.
Skilled actors know that with very rare exceptions, you do your acting while
talking. They avoid pauses and instead make the play move forward
vigorously, so the audience is constantly engaged.
But I can hardly fault the young actors at Weaver for flaws I've seen over and
over again from paid actors in supposedly professional productions in
Greensboro and High Point, and in college productions as well.
I simply urge you to be patient with the youthful errors of some of the actors,
appreciate the excellence of those who are farther along in their training, and
give an insightful play the attention it deserves.
I must call attention to the particularly strong performances of cast members
Samantha Matson and Beth Hawkes, who play two of the titular Women --
Matson as a woman who has come to blame Americans for having brought
their war to the air over Scotland, killing her husband and child as "collateral
damage"; Hawkes as a local cleaning woman at the evidence warehouse, who is
trying to help her friends while not losing her job.
Hayden Moses plays the American State Department official with naturalness
and vigor that make him stand out as a breath of fresh air amid so much
gloom. And Sam Jones handles the difficult role of the father so well that we
forget the actor and ache for the man who has lost both son and wife, without
being able to grieve for either.
Back in Shakespeare's day, the "boys' companies" drew audiences for their
plays in real competition with the professional adult companies -- it used to
drive the adult actors crazy, that people so often spent their theatre money on
But when you watch these earnest young actors, with their wide range of skills,
tackle adult roles, it does add a powerful extra dimension to the performances:
We not only care about the characters, we care about the actors playing them;
we invest our hope in both.
Theatre is the art in which the performers' tools are their own bodies and
voices -- they literally throw their whole self into the work as no other artist
ever can. Come and see how well they're doing at it. Besides, it's your tax
money at work -- you might as well come and enjoy the benefits! (There is an
admission charge, though -- $6 for students, $8 for adults. Your taxes don't
get you in free.)
I haven't seen the movie The Social Network, but even so, I can tell you that the
movie has to be better than the book it was based on, The Accidental
Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and
Betrayal, by Ben Mezrich.
Admittedly, Mezrich faced a nearly insurmountable difficulty in writing the
story of the founding of Facebook. After all his research, he had about fifty
pages worth of story, and that's not long enough for a book.
Furthermore, he clearly was never granted an interview with Mark Zuckerberg,
the creator of Facebook, which left a gaping hole that could only be filled by
Even so, Mezrich made an artistic choice that buried him. He decided to write
his account in a "novelistic" way -- that is, concentrating on scenes and giving
us people's thoughts rather than narrating events like a historian.
Before deciding to write your history like a novel, however, it is wise to have a
clue how a good novel is written. Here's Mezrich's constant pattern:
Get inside the head of one of the main participants in the story. Give us
everything they're thinking about and anticipating. Build us up to a crucial
scene of confrontation.
Skip the scene.
Get into the head of a participant after the scene and only gradually bleed out
tiny bits of information about what actually happened in the crucial scene.
Mezrich quite literally has everything happen offstage. We only anticipate andremember, anticipate and remember. I've had fiction-writing students do this
now and then -- and even so, it's a fatal error -- but Mezrich does nothing but
dodge all the interesting scenes.
Not only that, but he has characters "think of" the same things that they just
thought of, over and over again, and then summarizes the ideas that we've
already read about twice, and then summarizes them again, until you want to
scream, "Get on with it!"
This reached its peak of maddening stupidity when he shows a character
heading up the elevator to a crucial meeting, and then shows the same
character coming down the elevator, remembering what happened. We're
shown "scenes" in which absolutely nothing happened, while the scene in
which everything happened is avoided entirely.
Nobody in this story is particularly likeable, least of all Zuckerberg, who is
portrayed here as a mid-functioning Asperger syndrome sufferer with a
relentless selfishness that allows him to lie to anyone and everyone and break
any promise he has made.
Only Eduardo Saverin emerges as a decent guy -- whip smart, so he made
hundreds of thousands of dollars in oil futures before his junior year at
Harvard. It was his money entirely that funded Facebook in its early days, and
during the summer after Facebook started, he blew off an internship and
worked like a dog trying to get advertisers for Facebook so it could start making
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg went off to California to work with Sean Parker (played
by Justin Timberlake in the movie), who started Napster and Plaxo but never
got rich from either. It's clear to me, at least, that Parker maneuvered to cheat
Saverin out of his place in Facebook exactly as Parker himself had had Plaxo
taken out from under him.
The pent-up rage in these computer wizards is obvious, and they share Bill
Gates's utter immorality about taking other people's work without paying for it
or even sharing credit. Whom can you possibly like, except Saverin?
The odd thing is that I'm a lot more at home with computer geeks than I am
with the kind of hard-drinking shmoozers that seem to rule the social life at
Harvard. If there's anything more detestable in this book than Silicon Valley
culture it's Harvard -- everyone totally impressed with themselves while all
they think about is drinking and sex.
There's not one person in the whole book with whom I could spend five
minutes without wishing I could have that portion of my life back. Napping
would be better than spending time with these people. Standing in line at the
post office during Christmas season would be better.
Or at least that's how I felt after reading Mezrich's inept book.
The movie has to be better, because they cast actual humans in the parts, and
because no screenwriter could get away with Mezrich's perpetual dodging of
important scenes. Any movie version would be the opposite of Mezrich's skip-the-actual-scene approach, and therefore would be better.
In other words, don't buy this book; see the movie.
As many women can tell you, it's hard to find grownup clothing in the chain
stores. It's as if all the retailers are going after girls between fifteen and twenty-five, while adult women have a terrible time finding clothing they can wear to
work, or as part of a mature social life.
It doesn't help that fashions for young women and girls are depressingly
tawdry; only a handful of these youngsters have bodies that are flattered by the
clothing they're offered, and often the result is to make them look flighty or way
Where, then, when this is almost all that's on offer, can a serious woman find
serious clothing for her daily life in the business world?
That's where a local clothing store, The Hub Ltd., comes into play. I've been
shopping there for many years -- it's where I can get suits that fit my taste, my
body, and my budget. But what does a men's store have to do with women's
It's about the suits.
Women wear suits, too -- and for a lot of women, an excellent, well-fitting suit
gives them the gravitas that allows them to be taken as seriously as they
The Hub is now doing a significant portion of its trade providing excellent suits
for women (with either pants or skirts) through its website. Regardless of body
type, you can find a style that allows you to enter any meeting or deal with
your staff, knowing you look attractive and smart.
As company president Kent Tager explains it: "Our goal is to offer women the
same kind of quality construction, fabrics, and fit options, that men have been
able to purchase from us for many years. We are using menswear quality
fabrics and making the trousers with an unfinished bottom and fully alterable
seams, as is found on our men's trousers."
Though many of the fabrics are Italian or English imports, all the suits are
actually made in the U.S. -- in New York City, to be precise. The suitmakers
are superb specialists in tailoring to individual measurements, and then hems
are adjusted by local alteration shops when the suits arrive.
But women who live near Greensboro have the benefit of doing fittings right in
the store, at 2921-D Battleground Avenue. Their local telephone is 545-6535;
their toll-free line is 866-482-5836.
Check out the website.
From the Fast Casual website we learn that "The makers of Ben & Jerry's ice
cream have agreed to drop 'all natural' from its retail label, after receiving the
request from the Center for Science in the Public Interest."
It seems that if you use alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, hydrogenated oil or other
ingredients that are "not natural" in the CSPI's opinion, they get testy with you.
And even though they are not a government agency, and the Food and Drug
Administration has not defined "all natural," Ben & Jerry's is going along with
the request simply to avoid trouble.
A Ben & Jerry's spokesman said the company is not changing any of the
ingredients used to makes its premium ice cream, and the label change will
gradually occur throughout its product line.
A friend recently responded to my "greeting cards for the dead" satire by telling
me this story:
"When my mother was on her deathbed somebody gave her a get-well 'card'
that blew up -- a rubber balloon with a spout that closed. Mother blew up the
balloon, and it was still in her hospital room when she passed away. That was
1970, and today, exactly forty years later, the balloon is still inflated!
"It's in my sister's attic. She wants to get rid of it, but she doesn't want to lose
Mother's air. There really used to be workmanship, back in the old days.
Mylar just doesn't stand the test of time."
It may seem almost insane to cling to the balloon because the air inside it was
once inside the lungs of a lost loved one -- you can't see it or smell it, and the
moment you try to examine it, it's gone. But I understand completely.
We really can't send greeting cards to the dead, but we can hold on to relics. I
have my share of them. Memories are precious and nothing compares to them;
but it's also comforting to have something in the physical world that you can
see and touch.
My sixteen-year-old daughter is very much alive -- but I have a Hallmark
"talking" ornament on which my wife recorded our daughter's infant laughter.
Sixteen years later, it still plays that infectious, delightful sound, bringing back
the baby who is now gone -- replaced by the delightful young woman she grew
But we miss that baby, and with that never-ending ornament we can hold on to
the sound of her, just as my friend and her family still know that inside that
deathless balloon, their mother's breath is still there.
Every Day Is Special
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
Thursday, Oct. 7 -- Dow Jones Day
On this day in 1896, Dow Jones began reporting (in the Wall Street Journal) the average of the
prices of twelve industrial stocks -- mostly railroads. Which made sense, since rail was the
means of domestic transportation and was thus an excellent marker of the value of all stocks.
In 1928, Mr. Dow expanded the number to 30 stocks; though the mix of companies has changed
several times, sometimes quite drastically, the number remains the same.
I well remember when the Dow cross over the 1000 line back in 1971, a number it had never
attained before. Now it's hard for me to grasp what it means when the Dow is often ten times as
high -- peaking once at 14,164.
Is that just inflation? A result of the change in the mix of stocks? A sign that Wall Street is
insanely overvaluing the Chosen Stocks?
But then, I'm a part of the large majority of Americans who haven't any significant investments
beyond our individual homes.
The musical Cats, based on whimsical light poetry by T.S. Eliot, premiered on this day in 1982.
When it closed on 20 September 2000, it was the longest-running show in Broadway history
(7,485 performances), though Phantom of the Opera later passed it.
When the original cast album first appeared, my wife and kids and I listened to the cassette tape
over and over in the car. We had our favorite characters and loved all the music. I didn't see the
show itself, though, until it neared its close, and I have to say that the show I imagined was a lot
better than the show I saw. It was, after all, just a bunch of singers and dancers in cat suits.
This is also the birthday of the new Tsar of Russia, Vladimir Putin. It remains to be seen
whether he'll be Vladimir the Great, Vladimir the Impaler, or Vladimir the Trivia Answer.
Friday, Oct. 8 -- National Pierogy Day
I don't even know where they came up with the spelling "pierogy," considering that in Poland
it's spelled "pierogi." But I'm happy to celebrate the day in 1952 when the little meat pies
called pierogies were first delivered to a grocery store in Shenandoah PA.
Though considering that Polish immigrants had been making pierogies for decades before, and
pierogies have hardly become commonplace in American homes, I think this date was chosen
more out of wishful thinking than anything else.
Nor have I yet found good pierogies in America. But the ones I ate in Warsaw back in August
were absolutely brilliant. If we could get that quality level here, I have no doubt that they would
catch on -- at least to the level of Chinese potstickers or Italian ravioli, which they resemble.
Ozzie and Harriet debuted on the radio on this day in 1944; the show came to TV in 1952.
Arguably this was the first-ever "reality show," since Ozzie Nelson was a real bandleader and
the cast consisted of his real wife, Harriet, and their real sons, Dave and Ricky. Of course the
episodes were completely scripted -- but there's a lot more scripting in "reality shows" today
than people let on.
Saturday, Oct. 9 -- Universal Music Day
I'm not sure that the rest of the universe commemorates this day, but any occasion that
"advocates, celebrates and encourage profound gratitude for music, musicians, music teachers
and music making" is all right by me.
When my parents were growing up -- and even in my own childhood -- music was still
something that most people expected to make for themselves as often as not. Records were
scratchy, radio was staticky, and at parties it was fun to gather around the piano and sing from
the sheet music of popular songs.
Now hardly anybody makes music. Far fewer kids learn to play piano; even guitar seems to be
fading. Orchestras, operas, and dance companies stay funded only by transfusions from donors
and tax money. Why? Because the sound from cds and satellite transmissions is so perfect that
few of us feel we can compete!
Still, many of my most treasured childhood memories are singing in the car with my mom (and,
occasionally, my dad) as we sang hymns or old popular songs and standards on long car trips.
Or we'd gather around the piano and sing from sheet music -- I did a mean "Ol' Man River"
when I was five -- and work out harmonies with each other on the fly.
This is supposed to be Leif Erikson Day, but come on. Do we have any idea what day in 1000
a.d. Leif Erikson landed in "Vinland" (which almost everyone now recognizes must have
been either Newfoundland or the Labrador coast)?
I never cared much about this "discovery" that went nowhere, until I read Farley Mowat's
treatment of the question. He pointed out that Leif Erikson was almost certainly following a
European group that had formed a genuine settlement in North America -- his ships were not
fitted out like a trading party or a group intending to colonize. Instead they were a raiding party,
and their would-be victims may have been a group with kinship ties to the original (or at least
pre-Celtic) settlers of the British Isles.
Sunday, Oct. 10 -- National Cake Decorating Day
Nothing against professional cake decorators, but most decorated cakes are trimmed with
barely edible ingredients -- do you really call that shellac "frosting"? To me, cake decorating
was what I learned to do with cakes and icing made from scratch.
I learned to bake beside my mother and sister, though my dad was the one who usually did the
icing, so I learned that art from him. I've experienced the disasters when you try to ice a cake
that's way too warm, or using an icing that is too stiff and gluey, so it peels the "skin" right off
the cake. But when you get it right -- with a real cake and real icing -- it's such great fun to
swirl patterns in the frosting.
The first gift I gave the girl who became my wife was just such a cake -- spice with penuche
icing, still my favorite -- which I assembled almost as a joke, so it was given to her with the
rhyme: "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a lop-sided tumbledown cake."
It was delicious; it was funny; but I had also called myself her "true love" and committed myself
to the next eleven days of gifts. And then the next year, and the next year ... and now I'm
gearing up for the thirty-eighth annual Twelve Days. It all started with a cake ... a real decorated
On our birthdays, we had a tradition of wrapping coins in tin foil and placing them between the
layers of the cake. Dad always remembered where he had put the quarter (or fifty-cent piece, or
dollar) so that it was in the piece the birthday child received.
But when my wife-to-be first came to a family birthday party (long before our first date!),
nobody warned her about the money. So her first "surprise coin" made itself known to her inside
her throat on its way down.
Maybe on October 10th I'll make -- and decorate -- a cake for the first time in years. And, at
my wife's insistence, I will not put money in it.
This is also International Newspaper Carrier Day. Now the bikes with bags over the center
bar have been replaced by cars with open windows, and the papers are wrapped in plastic on
rainy days, and you pay by mail or online instead of having the poor carrier come around
begging for payment.
The money the carriers make is still pathetic. And it's not the carriers' fault that the paper they
deliver is less and less useful, for news or for advertising. How can they help it that the best
newspaper in Greensboro is made available on stands throughout the city -- for free?
On this day in 1886, the first tuxedo was created with Griswold Lorillard of Tuxedo Park, NY,
cut the tails off a tailcoat. People forget that when the tuxedo was introduced, it was considered
"informal" -- formal wear was either white tie or black tie.
Thanks to the combination of high school dances and vile taste, tuxedos have lost all pretense of
dignity. They're the real clown suits of today. Wearing any kind of formal wear beyond a
business suit is like somebody in Europe putting on a "national costume" which is never worn
anymore except to wow the tourists. Any man who wears a color-coordinated "tux" to his own
wedding is already whipped before the marriage begins.
Monday, Oct. 11 -- Columbus Day
Columbus is disrespected by a lot of people who condemn him for not being politically correct
in his treatment of the natives of America -- an attitude that is even more bigoted and ignorant
than any of Columbus's.
What people forget is that there was nothing inevitable about Columbus's discovery. Sailors had
probably been landing on American shores for thousands of years, but it was Columbus who
fought for decades to mount an expedition to sail west in search of valuable land, and Columbus
who pressed to have the land exploited and used. Rarely has one solitary man's will had such
significant effect on the world. (See my novel Pastwatch for a full treatment of Columbus's
Of course Columbus's discovery was devastating to the natives -- but the overwhelming killer
was disease, which no one understood at the time. The Spaniards enslaved the locals, but that,
too, was the standard human practice in Europe, Asia, and Africa -- either you conquered the
whole nation and put the natives under tribute, or you captured them individually and worked
them as slaves.
At least when Columbus came, he brought the Christian Church, which regarded the natives as
human beings with souls. Only because of the priests did native Americans have any champions
of their human dignity and rights, and it is no accident that it is only where the priests came with
the conquerors that large populations of native Americans survive on their original land.
By the standards of his time, Columbus was a great man, who changed the world. And since we
are the direct heirs of his achievement, it is right to celebrate him, even if we are also glad to
have progressed beyond the morals of his time in our treatment of conquered nations.
Today in 1887, the patent was issued for the first commercial adding machine. Invented by
Dorr Eugene Felt, the "Comptometer" was the first adding machine known to be absolutely
accurate at all times.
Saturday Night Live premiered on this date in 1975, thirty-five years ago. For six of those
thirty-five seasons, it was funny.
Tuesday, Oct. 12 -- International Moment of Frustration
To share any or all of our frustrations, all citizens of the world are invited to go outdoors at 1200
hours Greenwich time (7:00 a.m. in Greensboro) and scream for 30 seconds. We will all feel
better or Earth will go off its orbit.
This is also National Face Your Fears Day. The idea is to celebrate people who have faced and
overcome their fears. But it's a bad day for people who are terrified of other people coming out
of their houses or offices and screaming at the top of their lungs.
Wednesday, Oct. 13 -- International Top Spinning Day
Celebrate Top Spinning Day by:
1. Spinning a top
2. Spinning some other object, like a coin, in a top-like way
3. Putting top-spin on a tennis, squash, or ping-pong ball
4. Putting "spin" on a business or political disaster, pretending that the guy at the top didn't do
what you saw him do or say what you heard him say
5. Seeing the movie Inception and then screaming in frustration when they cut in the middle of a
This is also Emergency Nurses Day. I include in this the wonderful professional nurses among
our personal friends who have given us accurate medical advice before we knew that what we
were experiencing was an emergency. Lives that are precious to me have been saved by their