TV for recovering Catholics …

After persistent recommendations by my Mad Pig brother, I decided to tell Tivo to fetch me a few episodes of Father Ted on BBC America. I’m hooked. Great show that takes aim at everything. I’ve now set up a season pass on Tivo (that’s a feature that records all episodes of a given show, regardless of what time they air). If you like British comedy, give Father Ted a shot.

The body speaks …

“(I)t isn’t the government’s job to mandate patriotism. To me, mandating a pledge of allegiance to a government is something Saddam Hussein would do.”

— Jesse Ventura, quoted in New York Times Magazine (8/18/02)

The interview is packed with several other Jesse gems. Gotta love the guy’s willingness to speak his mind.

Just when you think science can’t get any cooler …

“Scientists make mice grow sperm for other species”

Headline of a story in the Seattle Times, which includes this incredible closing paragraph:

And, he said, since the mice have to be immune compromised, it won’t be easy to transfer this technology to humans. “You can’t just take an animal or a person and make them a farm for your testicles.”

I’m thinking Marlon Brando needs to be running this testicle farm, a la “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Or maybe more the South Park take on that.

Roadside wildlife in rustic Hardin Valley …

I was driving through the Rape of Hardin Valley this morning on my way to work (the state has decided this rustic road needs to be four lanes), and I saw the oddest site: There, among the dust and commotion of yellow bulldozers scratching the earth like pumped up canaries on steroids, a rotund JimBob wearing bib overalls and a buzzcut was flapping his arms like a giant chicken. He was following a wiry little fella who clearly wasn

Another reason to love New Orleans …

Our TV was zapped by lightning recently, so I went two or three weeks with no tube. The whole time, my faithful Tivo was churning away, filling up its 120 hour hard drive with cool stuff, including multiple episodes of “Insomniac with Dave Attell.” One of the episodes, where Dave runs amok in New Orleans, includes this 5 a.m. gem:

“See, even at this hour there’s still plenty of characters on Bourbon Street. The vampire. The little drunk girl. The stripper with one tooth. All we need is a midget and we got ourselves a porno movie.”

Yup, that’s the New Orleans I know and love …

Prince of Darkness comes through …

Apparently, there should have been a 10th miner trapped in that shaft in Pennsylvania. But he took the day off to attend Ozzfest. Talk about irony. Does this mean Satan Saves?

“I have to thank Ozzy and [his] family, because if the events in their life weren’t going on, my events would have been a lot different.”

— Roger Shaffer Jr., 22, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Every Bob has his day …

I’ve never been the patient sort.

As a child, I was known to rifle through my parents’ room in search of Christmas presents. To quote my mother: I had “ants in my pants.” During the 13 years Lara and I have been married, she’s learned to deal with my impatience, especially when it comes to birthday presents and the like. This year I was turning 40. I was expecting great things. And Lara was scheming. I knew that. But I couldn’t figure out what she was up to. I had lots of guesses. A new Newfie. A trip to the ocean. A new grill. But Lara kept a poker face. I interrogated friends to no avail. She agreed to tell me where we were going the night before my birthday. So after hitting the cigar store that night to cash in a very cool gift certificate that my staff gave me, I returned home and waited for Lara.

It wasn’t long before she burst through the door … with Totsy, one of our dearest friends. She had flown in from Denver, and Lara informed me, we were renting a cabin at a lake. We were going there the next day. This was going to be fantastic. A weekend of Infinite Totsy, a trip to the lake and I was even going to get to take my faithful Newfie, Xena.

So on Friday, July 26, we drove up to Dale Hollow Lake, which straddles the Tennesse/Kentucky border. It’s a beautiful lake with very little development around it. Me. Totsy. Lara. Xena. Perfect. Unfortunately, we’d arrived early. We had to wait for the cabin to be ready, Lara informed me. The ants started marching in my pants. It was hot. Xena and I were standing on the steaming asphalt, and I started badgering Lara:

“Let’s just jump in the truck and drive around for a while. We can come back in an hour when the cabin is ready.”

No. Lara was having none of it. We had to wait. She wandered off. I started getting testy, so I took Xena down to the dock to check out the scene.

As we walked out on the dock, I noticed a boat about 50 yards away. It appeared to be driven by a Grizzly Bear. Either that, or Wes Jackson. A friend who currently lives in the great state of Texas.

“Benz! What’s up?”

I was dumbfounded, but I still didn’t get it. I thought Wes was there by coincidence, that he was visiting family in Kentucky and had come down to the lake for the weekend.

But Wes was one of the stars of Lara’s diabolical scheme. She informed me that he’d flown in for my birthday, and that we were renting a houseboat for the weekend.

This was going to be great. Me. Totsy. Lara. Xena. Wes. On the lake. For the weekend. It doesn’t get any better than this.

But wait, there’s more.

As we got on the houseboat and started checking things out, I looked up to see Gwen, her husband, Dave, and daughter, Camila, climbing aboard. Gwen is a college friend. Dave is one of my partners in crime. They’d driven down from Virginia.

Wow. This really was going to be great. Me. Totsy. Lara. Xena. Wes. Gwen. Dave. Cam. Now it was officially a party.

Then joanne rheinlander and her husband, Ryck, boarded the boat. They’d driven down from Pennsyltucky. In a caravan with Gwen and Co. InFreakinCredible. Me. Totsy. Lara. Xena. Wes. Gwen. Dave. Cam. joanne. Ryck. And a 65-foot houseboat. Very nice. I was incredibly flattered that these folks had come all this way to hang out with me.

Fearfully, I steered the boat out of the dock and toward a cove that Wes and I had scouted out using his boat. We were loaded down with great food. Guitars. Fiddles. And plenty of beer and booze.

We tied the houseboat up in a cove and started to party. Everyone was having a blast, when suddenly we had a “situation.” It appeared Totsy was experiencing “that time of the month” and Wes and Lara had to run back to the marina to get critical female implements.

While they were gone, we continued to play music and have a great time. Then the sun went down and Lara and Wes still weren’t back. I really started to worry. Maybe Wes had boat problems. Maybe Wes had run off with my wife, we joked. I wasn’t too worried. I figured they’d just hang out somewhere till morning and then return on another boat. No big deal, but I was really hoping they’d get back.

And they did. Complete with the John Baker show, starring Johnny “Guitar” Baker, Annie, his wife, and his son, Luke. Totsy’s “problem” had been a ruse.

As Wes, Lara and the Bakers pulled in, a police light flashed farther out in the cove, and the lake patrol boat came in behind them. Wes was having a tough time navigating in the dark. The moon wasn’t up yet, and his running lights were throwing off a glare that made it impossible to see the shore. And he didn’t have a spotlight on the boat. So he was running with his lights off. Against the law. And the cops were writing him a ticket — despite his attempts to good-old-boy his way out of it — while we were greeting the Bakers and everyone was laughing at what a dupe I’d been. Even as people trickled in, I never quite got it. Now it really was going to be an incredible weekend. Me. Totsy. Lara. Xena. Wes. Gwen. Dave. Cam. joanne. Ryck. A 65-foot houseboat. John Baker. Annie. And Luke.

We played music and drank beer most of the night, and at one point I went up onto the roof to see an almost full moon that had come up too late to save Wes a ticket, but just in time for me to reflect on what incredible friends I have. These people are great, and I was having the best birthday I’ve ever had. If this was the first 40 years, the next 40 are going to be even better surrounded by folks like these.

I’m going to post more notes on the weekend over the next several days. If you have items you’d like to post, please add them. My memory is a little fuzzy on some parts. Not sure why. But thanks to everyone who made it possible, especially the incredible Lara Edge, the Greatest Wife on Earth. I’m damn lucky she’s still putting up with me after 13 years.

There are photos of the festivities here. They’re definitely worth checking out.

The Tragedy of Fritz Haber …

Great piece on NPR this morning. German Fritz Haber invented a way to create fertilizer using nitrogen, which makes for much more productive farming. This was huge. Bigger, some argue, than the invention of electricity. But he had a strange, darker side. He was a Jew who converted to Christianity, and he was instrumental in the first use of poison gas during World War I. He was actually there to observe the first time the Germans deployed it. In one of those bizarre, ironic twists that only history can hand out, Haber ended up being run out of his job as World War II approached. Although he could have stuck around on the strength of his WWI service, he refused to fire Jews who worked for him, and resigned instead. Apparently, some of the gas technology he developed for Germany later was used to murder Jews in the concentration camps. He didn’t live to see it, but it is a hell of a story, and NPR did its usual outstanding job reporting it.

Zombies and cool comics …

Anyone who knows me knows I love zombie movies. I’m particularly fond of Romero’s work, especially because of the Pittsburgh ties. I’ve found a great, Pittsburgh-based zombie site that’s worth checking out — ZombieGirls.net. It has a lot of reviews. Still needs work in places, but overall it’s an impressive effort.

Another good, recent find in the living dead realm is ZombieKeeper. I particularly liked their “Best in Horror” section. There were several films there I’d never heard of. “Shatter Dead” sounded so interesting I went out and ordered a copy on their recommendations. They also have a positive review of Romero’s “Martin,” one of my favorites, even if it’s not about zombies. They might not be able to spell Pittsburgh, but they know their horror flicks.

And finally, my favorite comic strip these days is Boondocks. It’s definitely worth checking out. Aaron McGruder is one of the best artists doing comics, and the characters in the strip — Huey Freeman and his little brother Riley — are hilarious. Great social commentary. One of my recent favorites is the strip on Ann Kournikova.