Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 17, 2001
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times
, Greensboro, NC.
My Christmas Wish
Apart from world peace, which doesn't look likely in the near future, what do I want for
It's a modest list, really. No major appliances.
I Wish For Sidewalks
I'm a pedestrian at heart. Cars are nice, but when I walk somewhere I don't have to park.
Plus I get that smug feeling of knowing that I'm getting exercise.
The trouble is that in Greensboro you take your life in your hands just walking to the
Apparently, "sidewalks" were viewed as evil Yankee inventions to be shunned wherever
possible in the South.
I grew up in Santa Clara, California, in the days when it was known for its pear orchards
and no one knew that an Apple would turn the valley into Silicon. (There's another "Paradise
Lost" in that story, if we had a poet to tell it. Come to think of it, maybe it's the same story
In my childhood, I learned to skate and ride a bike on the sidewalks in front of my house.
I walked to school. I never rode a schoolbus and my parents rarely drove me, even when
my school was two miles away. The only time I got a ride was when I had to bring my French
horn home to practice. And not always then.
And I didn't mind, because there were sidewalks.
You know what sidewalks are, don't you? Places where people can walk alongside a
road, but more safely, because there's a curb that drivers are reluctant to bump into.
I can already hear about thirty pinheads warming up to say, "If you don't like it here, you
!@#$% Yankee, you can leave!"
Well, to those pinheads -- and there are only thirty of them, but they can't stop talking so
people think there are more -- I say this: I know I can leave, but I don't want to, and westerners
aren't Yankees anyway, so shut up.
To the rest of you, who are not afraid of adopting an idea just because some non-Southerner thought of it first, here's why having sidewalks everywhere would be so cool:
1. Our kids could go places before they have driver's licenses without our having to drive
them and without their having to walk in the same road with cars driven by idiots.
2. Young children would have smooth paved areas to play games like hopscotch, jump
rope, or marbles, and where they could roller skate and ride tricycles with neighbor children.
3. Adults could walk places that are close by and actually get some exercise while
4. Mothers could push strollers and handicapped people could use wheelchairs to get
from one place to another without risking sudden death amid the sound of screeching tires.
5. Runners and strollers and dogwalkers would not get killed trying to stay healthy.
6. Poor people who can't maintain a car would not be trapped within Greensboro's
pathetically limited bus system.
1. It would be harder to park cars on the lawn.
Oh, wait. That's another benefit.
I Wish For Parents To Curb Their Children
I've heard it said that every generation of children is a barbarian invasion.
As the Chinese did with the Mongols, as the Muslims did with the Turks, and as
Southerners do with sidewalk-loving Yankees, parents have only two choices -- to teach
civilization to the barbarians or allow the barbarians to rule over them.
It's not really a very hard thing to teach children to be quiet at public events. Children
may fight rules when they're first introduced, but deep down they crave limitations that give
structure to their lives.
They especially yearn for parents who care enough to teach them how to be civilized.
With some exceptions, most children can be taught to be quiet in places like church
meetings, concerts, plays, restaurants, and movie theaters by the age of three. All it takes is
consistency, firmness, and relentlessness on the parents' part.
But it only works if parents are actually trying to teach them.
Nobody thinks it's "oppressive" or "limiting their creativity" to teach children not to poop
in their pants out in public.
Few of us hand our children the car keys without first making sure they know how to
drive safely. We know we have a responsibility to protect other people from untrained children.
Yet an astonishing number of parents think it either impossible or undesirable to teach
their children self-discipline at an early age.
Well, here's a clue: I don't care what you decide. If you don't teach your children, they'll
eventually get taught by their peers. At least by the time they're twenty-five and trying to keep a
job where the boss doesn't like it when his employees bang toy cars on the table and say
"Vroom! Vroom!" at meetings.
But if you haven't taught them, and are not even trying to teach them, then my Christmas
wish is that you would get a babysitter and leave them home.
And if you do bring them, then I wish, when they start to make noise, you would take
them out of the concert/movie/church meeting immediately, so that the other people can actually
receive the experience they came for. (And please keep in mind that "happy noises" are just as
disruptive as crying.)
As for the parents who blissfully do nothing to curb their children as they beat on the
seats or each other and run around yelling merrily at the top of their voices -- we don't blame
We know who the barbarians are.
I Wish For Dog Owners To Love Their Neighbors
I like dogs. In my life I have even loved some dogs.
I know that dogs need to pee on things the way people need to gossip. In fact, peeing on
things pretty much functions as gossip among dogs.
It's just a dog's way of saying, "I was here and I marked it so it's mine." "I smell your
pee but I'm marking right on top of yours so I'm badder than you are." "You think you're cool?
Check this out!"
No, wait, that's not gossip, that's pickup basketball.
Look, I know that dogs need to mark territory, and I know they need to get out and range
through the neighborhood, and I'm glad you have a dog in your life and your dog has you.
But do you have to let it pee right into the flowers by the mailbox where the owners of the
house come out and garden with their bare hands?
Can't you restrict them to fireplugs and lightpoles? I don't even mind their peeing on my
car tires. Just keep the dog from burning my plants with uric acid and making me want to wear
gloves so my skin never comes in contact with the peed-on soil.
I know, urine breaks down chemically very quickly, and squirrels probably pee there too,
and you can't begin to guess how disgusting ants are if we could only see their tiny little vices.
But it isn't your yard, it's our yard, and it isn't our dog, it's your dog. You wouldn't like
it if people brought their children over to pee in your yard, so why do you think it's ok to let your
dog do it in theirs?
(As for cats, well, they're the movie stars of the animal world. They do what they want,
when they want, and expect to be admired for it. I'd complain about cat behavior except cats
don't actually have owners. They just have servants.)
Well, that's my Christmas list. If I get my wishes, I promise to send thank you notes to