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.

Go West …

I went to the Knoxville Museum of Art today to check out their (relatively) new exhibit, “Lure of the West: Treasures from the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art.” I was expecting the worst, propagandistic images of manifest destiny and odes to westward expansion. There was some of that. But there were also numerous paintings from the Taos School. Since I lived in New Mexico for several years, this was pretty cool and I liked it a lot. Some of the other parts of the exhibit also were very good, especially portraits of Indians.

I guess my one disappointment was the complete lack of Native American voices in the exhibit. I guess I understand why, but it felt somehow incomplete to see the west strictly through European eyes … But I guess that’s how we’ve been doing it for centuries.

The rest of the museum really is very good. Checked out an exhibit of abstract expressionist prints, and the permanent collection is interesting. They’ve chosen to focus on 20th century art, especially contemporary. It’s relatively small, but definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in KnoxVegas …

New toy …

I recently purchased a ProGear from SonicBlue. Very cool toy. It’s a web tablet, basically. A small, flat computer (see photo) that has a built in wireless card. Overall, I’m impresssed. A few observations:

— Mine didn’t come with a USB keyboard, which you have to have to set it up. I went out and bought one from Happy Hacking to do the job.

— The screen is incredible. Very bright, easy to read.

— The computer is slow overall. Some of the forums I’m reading suggest downloading a product called PC Lite that removes a lot of the overhead that Windows 98 puts on the computer. I’m going to try that to see if it works. The Linux version might have been a better bet, but I’ve never mucked around with Linux and went for the Windows 98 version instead.

— Setup was easy, once I got the keyboard. I did have to poke around a bit to get the ProGear onto my wireless home network, but now that it’s there, it’s a breeze to use.

— Why buy it? It’s not really a substitute for a good laptop. I like to keep it around when I want to look something up on the Web quickly or if I just want to surf around. It’s convenient to use, and the touchscreen is pretty cool. It has a virtual keyboard that you can use to type text in (kinda cumbersome, but good for URLs, etc., and if I want to do more intensive typing, I can always plug in the USB keyboard. It’s a neat device to keep near the TV. If you are watching a movie and want details, just pick up the ProGear and search the Web for information.

A few forums with more details:

Yahoo forums

ProGear Hacking

Take your political temperature …

Are you a Hitler waiting to happen? Maybe Gandhi is more your style. And I guess there’s a little Stalin in all of us.

This page claims to offer a “measure of attitudes and inevitable human contradictions to provide a more integrated definition of where people and parties are really at.” Not sure how accurate it is, but it’s definitely interesting. It features a series of questions that you answer, and it then tells you where you stand politically.

Where did I land?

Economic Left/Right: -2.50

Authoritarian/Libertarian: -3.64

You’ll have to answer the questions to understand what that means, but I think it essentially says I’m a left-leaning Libertarian.

If you take the analysis, post a comment here on your score …

BTW: I stumbled across the link to this on The Gus‘s site. Credit where credit is due …

An ambush in Pennsyltucky …

I became road kill during Joannie’s recent pickin’ party in Pennsyltucky. Several friends conspired to have an early surprise 40th birthday party for me. When they rang the bell to gather everyone, I came up out of the pond dripping wet, unsuspecting, only to be subjected to assorted and sundry humiliations. There was a Penguin Pinata, Pin the Penguin on the Telly and assorted silly hats. One of the coolest features was a birthday cake that had a picture of me on it from college (still can’t figure out why my eyes were so strangely dilated in that photo …)

The Penguin motif has its origins in my college days at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (an academic slum south of Erie, PA.). I was known to maraud around campus wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey and ranting about false class consciousness. In fact, during one ill-fated assignment for Gary’s film class, I screamed Ginsberg’s “America” at the camera while wearing full Penguin regalia. That was the infamous John Baker Show, which was censored by one of Gary’s right-wing classmates. He “accidentally” didn’t record the sound, resulting in a pretty funny silent movie. Glad that’s not still floating around.

Anyway, the party was great and it’s nice to know I’m loved. Or at least that my friend are willing to bring me forth to make sport of me …

For more photos of this august event, click here …

Fun with Fondue

This story is too strange. Apparently, a couple of NFL players and their wives where have a nice, happy fondue when tragedy struck. I guess I shouldn’t make fun of it since it sounds as if a few of them were hurt pretty badly, but fondue? “It happened so fast,” one of the players told the Florida Times-Union. According to the Sporting News, the player “said they were moving the fondue pot when it slipped onto the tile floor in his house.” Wow. Another reason to just say no to fondue …