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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
September 24, 2015

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

Ambush Hugging, Car Wash House Calls, PooPourri

Thank you for saying, "You look like you need a hug."

By making that declaration, you give me time to say, "You are mistaken. You may feel like giving me a hug, but I do not need or want any physical contact with another person. Not now. Not later. Not you, ever. But thank you so much for giving me time to explain this so that nothing unfortunate would happen."

I might even have time, before you leave in a huff, to say, "The list of people whom I am ever glad to hug is very, very short, and everyone on it shares DNA with me or my children or grandchildren, or, in the two cases not covered by DNA, has shared a very close friendship with me for at least fifteen years."

However, I have never had the experience of someone saying "You look like you need a hug" who was not already in the process of making the physical assault called "ambush hugging."

So I cannot thank them for giving me warning, because they did not. I am forced, instead, to recoil in my chair or step briskly away, ducking my shoulder to evade the tackle.

At that point I usually move far enough away that I don't have to converse even one moment with the ambush hugger. So I can't say to them the message that they should have received from my physical response. Let me explain now:

"Just because you feel something toward a person doesn't mean that person feels anything similar toward you.

"Apparently when you have kindly feelings toward someone, or when you see someone with an uncheerful face, or when you feel lonely and unconnected, you think that grabbing the other person like a predator and getting your breath up in their face will solve your problem.

"And perhaps it will. But it will not necessarily solve theirs, because from the moment you attack them with your uninvited hug, their most immediate problem may well be you.

"Let me speak specifically of myself. When you see a look of revulsion on my face at the moment I realize I'm being ambush-hugged, that is because I am revolted at uninvited physical intimacy.

"If you see a look of anger on my face, it's because I'm outraged that you have so little respect for me as a human being that you think you have the right to embrace me without my consent.

"If the list of people I am glad to hug is very short, the list of people whom I will ever forgive for ambush-hugging me is even shorter: No one is on it. No one.

"One ambush hug means that you cannot be trusted to keep your hands to yourself. It means you are so arrogant you think you have the right to control and manipulate other people's bodies.

"It means you are not my friend, because my friends don't ambush hug anyone, and they know me well enough to know that I never, never 'look' like I need a hug.

"I'm not sure what that particular 'look' is, or I would school myself never to have it. There are times when I've been very sad, but I try not to let it show on my face.

"And at the worst times of my life, when I have felt the most bleak and despairing, when I think things cannot get any worse, it's amazing: An ambush hug proves that in fact I could feel worse, and now I do."

Don't misunderstand. There are cultures where hugging is required, and when I visit those remote and alien countries -- Hollywood Filmland, New York Publishingville -- I take part in the social rituals. I give the perfunctory shoulder-touch and even the air-kiss.

But these actions are merely expected. Neither person is dominating or intruding on the other. It's the local culture's equivalent of a handshake, just as "You're such a genius!" is the Hollywood equivalent of "hello," and carries not a shred of meaning beyond, "I hear that you did something once and so for now I will treat you as if you were a peer."

There are other unspoken messages in various embraces. For instance, when one person, conversing with another, lays an arm across the other person's shoulder, he may tell himself that he's "being intimate" or "showing friendship," but that is never the message received.

The real message of the arm-across-the-shoulder hug is, "I am your superior. You are so far beneath me that I can touch you whenever I want, without invitation or consent. I am about to lie to you in order to get you to do what I want."

I learned these meanings as a child and then teenager at church and at school, and I have never found a case where the arm-across-the-shoulder hug meant anything else.

People who want me to do something are well advised to keep their hands to themselves and use only their words, or the display of a weapon, to convince me to go along with their plan.

I realize that I have not written this with the perfect kindness and correctness employed by Judith Martin when writing as "Miss Manners," but my readership is divided into two groups: ambush-huggers and civilized people.

The civilized people already know the rules about hugging (don't ever, without explicit advance consent).

And the ambush-huggers need a wake-up call, because someday they're going to hug the wrong person and find themselves lying on the floor getting the breath hugged out of their throat.

This has been a public service announcement. You're welcome.


I eat in my car. Not constantly, but often enough that I get crumbs on the floor and in every crack and crevice. (Most of them are from the crumbly cheese scones they make at Great Harvest.) Other dust and dirt seeps in -- on my shoes, in the wind through the open doors.

And the windows get grimy -- waterspotted on the outside, covered with film on the inside, even though I never touch the windshield with my skin. Gradually, the car gets just a little disgusting inside.

As for the outside of the car, it gets dirty in rain and in dry weather, in pollen season, in fruiting season, in the season of falling leaves. Other cars spatter dirt onto the sides.

Sometimes people write "wash me" on the outside of my car, and I wonder: Do you also bring a lawnmower with you so you can carve "mow me" into other people's lawns? What possible difference can it make to you that my car is dirty?

The truth is, I hate driving a dirty car, not because my car is so beautiful when it's clean (it isn't; I don't think of shiny cars as "beautiful," merely as functional), but because when I walk around my car in the garage, I brush up against it, and if it's dirty, then my clothes get soiled, and that's icky.

I know all about washing your own car. I've seen people do it. I even helped my father do it, from time to time, as we were growing up. I know the process.

I also know how to wash and iron my own shirts. That doesn't mean I have any desire or intention to do it. There are other people who accept money for doing the job better than I can do it myself, and I think my role in our great economic system is to give them that shirt-washing-and-ironing money.

Ditto with car-washing.

The real problem is: It takes time to wash the car, and the process goes most smoothly if I'm not in the car at the time. There's no danger that I'll get sucked into the vacuum (though many car washes have powerful vacs); I'm just bulky and shouldn't be in the way.

So getting my car washed means that either I have to go sit in the waiting room at the car wash, or I have to inconvenience somebody else by making them pick me up while my car is being washed, and then bring me back to get it when they're done.

I don't know about you, but I never wake up in the morning thinking, Oh good! I get to go sit in a bleak waiting room with a bunch of candy machines while somebody cleans my car!

Then I heard that a good friend had just gotten involved in a new line of business: A traveling car wash.

That's right. I back my car all the way from the garage into the driveway -- maybe a forty-foot journey -- and the car wash comes to me.

While my car is being washed, I can go into my house and get work done in my office. Or sit and watch TV. Or have lunch. Whatever I want, because I'm home.

Isley Brothers Auto Detailing charges reasonable rates for a simple exterior wash and wax, or for a full interior detailing, depending on the size of the vehicle.

And they come with more than a few buckets and rags. They have their own pressure-washing equipment and professional-strength car vacuums because they know their competition is the fully equipped car washing station.

We tried them the first time when I simply could not afford the time to go sit in a car wash, but I'm pretty sure that they will now be our regular car washing service.

They came when they said they would; they did superb work; and, when the weird way the rear seats fold up and down in my SVU there was a small patch that got overlooked, they came back and made the job complete. Total customer satisfaction -- I can attest to that, because I was the customer and I was totally satisfied.

Now, no car washing service can compete on price with your own hose and a bucket of soapy water and some rags and your own elbow grease -- just as no laundry can compete on price with your own washing machine, drier, and iron.

You have to decide for yourself what your time is worth. If you enjoy getting outside and washing your car, why in the world would you pay someone else forty bucks to wash your car?

When it comes to a full detailing of my car, inside and out, I don't have either the skill, the patience, or the equipment to do an adequate job, let alone an excellent one. So the more-than-a-hundred-bucks job is one that I can't do for myself.

I can't afford to get a full detailing every week or even every month. But three or four times a year, it's good to get my car washed right to the bones, and well worth the price. And given what my time is worth -- to me, anyway -- I'm saving money, too.

If you want an excellent car cleaning at your own home (or wherever your car will be for an hour or two), call and make an appointment with one of the Isley Brothers, or their partner Ken Cook, at one of their phone numbers:

Alex Isley, 336-268-7343; Andy Isley, 336-988-8037; Ken Cook, 907-957-2424. They do good work; they stand behind it. (They also have a physical location at 1616 Spring Garden Street in Greensboro -- but I've never been there ... because they come to me.)

I never knew I needed it until they offered it: A car wash that makes house calls.


This summer's season of American Ninja Warrior ended with a bang -- for the first time, an American contestant made it through Level 3 of the Las Vegas finals and up the final rope-climb-in-thirty-seconds to reach the top of "Mount Midoriyama."

Japanese competitors have beaten the course before, starting with the 2006 season of the Japanese show Sasuke. But no American made it through the Level 3 obstacle course and then up the 75-foot rope ... until this year, when Geoff Britten made it with a fraction of a second to spare.

Then world-class rock climber Isaac Caldiero climbed the same rope a few seconds faster, and therefore won the million-dollar prize.

Britten was noted for having Popeye-like forearms, and in his rope climb he seemed to rely far more on those arms than on his legs. But that arms-only labor came not that long after his muscle-searing completion of Level 3, and anyone who watches him on that course knows that he made it through by grim determination.

Arm fatigue slowed him down ... but he made it anyway.

Britten was an example of heroic tenacity. He simply refused to fail.

Caldiero, on the other hand, made it all look, if not easy, at least fun. There seemed to be no visible strain. His fingers seemed to be strong enough to go on gripping ledges, pipes, and ropes forever.

They keep calling Caldiero a "busboy," but what he really is, by way of career, is "rock climber who occasionally buses tables in order to earn a bit of coin." This guy is truly outside the American economy -- living in a tent, buying very little, and training, training, training.

You can't say that he "doesn't have a life," because this is the life he has chosen -- to push his body to the limits of its capabilities.

I imagine that he'll find out what those limits are when he falls a hundred feet from an upside-down rock climb and dies. At which point the information about his physical limits will be useless to him.

Meanwhile, though, his defeat of Britten for fastest climb of the 75-foot rope shows that, all else being equal, superior training beats pure spunk.

But not by much. And it's not as if Britten didn't also train to the limits of human endurance.

The odd thing is that if there has ever been a contest winner who didn't need the prize money, it's Caldiero. As he said after winning, "We considered ourselves to be rich and happy before all of this, so this is just a bonus.... You definitely aren't going to see us out driving around in fancy cars and living it up. You know, we're going to keep down to our roots, and we're going to go rock climbing."

I think that the biggest difference in his life will be that Caldiero won't have to bus tables anymore. And if his lifestyle continues unchanged, when he dies there will still be more than half of his prize money left for his heirs.

This is a man who committed to the simple life, and he wasn't kidding when he said he and his girlfriend were "rich" on a busboy's part-time income.

I've heard nothing about what the second-place finisher gets. Surely Britten, the first American to complete the course, will get something.

My wife and I watched this finale together, in awe at what these competitors were able to do.

It can be agonizing to watch excellent athletes make one tiny mistake and get eliminated from the contest.

But even then, there's much joy to be taken from the fact that all the competitors seem to be rooting for each other to succeed, and to be genuinely disappointed when at some point they fail.

The Ninja Warrior competitors all seem to understand that they aren't competing against each other, and one player's success does not cause any other player to fail. Instead, they are vying against the obstacle courses.

They avidly watch each other compete, because there are no rehearsals on these courses, so they have to learn from each other's tactics and mistakes. In the process, they also give respect to those who succeeded -- or came close -- or exceeded their own previous best to reach a new level.

If you haven't watched American Ninja Warrior, I highly recommend that you take the chance to view the Vegas finals as they are rebroadcast on Esquire TV. Watch it to see the human body taxed to the utmost. And watch it also to see the human spirit at its most stubborn ... and generous.


As long as I'm recommending shows to watch, let me point out a couple of videos that are well worth viewing -- especially if, like me, you are sometimes tempted to read or respond to texts while you're operating a vehicle in motion.

In the first video, a Belgian driving instructor tells his students that part of their driving test is to successfully negotiate an obstacle course while texting. The students accept the idea that this would be part of the test -- because, after all, texting while driving seems to be part of modern life.

The results are just what you'd expect, and what the driving test helps these students realize is that there is no safe way to operate a moving vehicle while distracted by texting.


Then, on the same theme, there's a video that is not about a test on a safe course. Instead, we learn about a woman whose last words in life were the text she sent ... as she drove.

She did finish the text and press send, so she accomplished one of the two tasks she was trying to do at the same time:


Let's face it -- when we started using car phones, they seemed safe enough. The phones that were attached to the car (before there were flippy little pocket phones) were all designed to be hands-free, and it seemed that talking on the phone while driving was no more dangerous than talking to a passenger while driving.

But I learned very quickly that dialing the car phone while driving was extremely dangerous. Even on a straight road, cars drift -- toward the curb or shoulder or, most dangerously, across the center line. Punching in a ten-digit number while driving takes far too long.

You know how in movies, the actor pretending to drive in a car scene often looks at the other actor for a long time, and in the audience you want to scream, "Look at the road, you moron!"?

Well, that's how we should regard texting or dialing phones.

If you absolutely must check a text or email, or dial a phone call, wait until you're stopped at a light, and don't move the car again until you've stopped fiddling with your phone. Or simply pull over to the curb or into a parking lot to do your phone business. There is no text worth dying or killing for.


It looks like the best parody ad you've ever seen -- a product called PooPourri, which you spray onto the water in the commode before you make a deposit, sealing in the undesirable odors and replacing any unwanted vapors with more pleasant scents.

The commercial features a woman in a silly party dress, sitting on various commodes in embarrassing locations -- at the office, at a party, watching a movie with her boyfriend. In a semi-refined English accent, she candidly explains how PooPourri saves you from stinking up the joint.

You can go right to PooPourri.com, and see a fragment of the ad. But this link will take you to the full three-minute commercial.

Poopourri offers several different scents, while the portable "Party Pooper" spray can will fit easily in a purse.

Whether you buy the product or not, the commercial is one of the most enjoyable ads ever made. And ... it isn't a joke. The product exists.

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