Nor a lender be

In one of the first two regular episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” last weekend, the formidable Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) is bonding — just a little bit — with the President, his inexperienced but tenacious civilian superior, played by Mary McDonnell. They discover a shared love of reading. He hands her a favorite volume, and she says something about returning it.

“It’s a gift,” he replies, gruffly. (In connection with Edward James Olmos, forms of “gruff” are probably redundant.) “Never loan books.”

I’d loaned my copy of “America: The Book,” by the writers of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” to a co-worker a month or two ago. Several weeks ago, she said something to the effect that maybe she ought to just return it, because it didn’t look like she was going to have a chance to finish it any time soon. Jon had mentioned something about the book on the show last week, which reminded me of something I wanted to re-read. That prompted me to ask my co-worker if she could, in fact, go ahead and return my copy. She brought it back the next day.

Or did she?

A day or two later, she told me the real story. My original copy of “America: The Book” had actually been ruined when my co-worker’s trunk leaked in the rain, and she’d gone out and bought a brand new copy to replace it.

I mentioned in my last post that Beth Martin had shown me a copy of a Bill Bryson book about Africa. She offered to loan it to me, but “Never loan books” and the image of a waterlogged Jon Stewart flashed into my head, and I declined.


I drove to Nashville tonight to have dinner with Beth Martin, a friend of mine through Mountain T.O.P. Beth showed me some wonderful photos of a trip she took to Peru. She also showed me a book by travel writer Bill Bryson, “Bill Bryson’s Africa Diary,” which includes a photo of Bryson standing in front of the Kibera slums. I’ve read some of Bryson’s other work, and I may well have to order this one.

Beth fixed us a wonderful chicken curry — she knew that I’m a fan of Rachael Ray on the Food Network, and this is a recipe from one of Rachael’s cookbooks. It was delicious.

All in all, a nice evening. But as I got in the car to come home, my tires seemed to shimmy as I was getting onto the interstate. I was oversensitive about everything on the way back, and drove slower than I would have otherwise. Even though I am a car hypochondriac, I probably need to take the car to be looked at tomorrow.

Don’t spar with the Sponge (or Tinky Winky, or Murphy Brown for that matter)

Church Marketing Sucks has a terrific post about the PR dangers of criticizing fictional characters (the latest example being Spongebob Squarepants) on moral grounds.

This whole Spongebob brouhaha reminds me of a piece that “The Daily Show” aired a few years ago reporting on some Christian media critic who was enraged because an orange juice commercial, in his opinion, hinted that Popeye and Bluto were lovers!

The mighty Carnac

Peter Lassally, former producer of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” (before you say anything, Fred de Cordova was executive producer) and former co-executive producer of “Late Show with David Letterman”, is now a CBS executive. According to several news reports I read today, he was speaking at the Television Critics’ Association meeting and told the reporters there something interesting.

Johnny Carson still thinks up topical jokes about items in the news. While watching TV or reading the newspaper, he often comes up with the type of funny line that might have made it into his monologue before he retired.

But here’s the best part: sometimes, according to Lassally, Johnny sends the jokes to Letterman, who uses them in his monologue!

A few weeks ago, some news outlets, needlessly, ran a photo of a bloated, aged-looking Carson out in public. (Surprise — he looks like an old man! Geez, what do you expect him to look like? And what’s the point of invading his privacy to point out the obvious, which has no news value whatsoever?) Anyway, one of the celebrities from Johnny’s semi-regular poker game — I forget which one — gave an interview and said that Johnny is still as sharp and mentally acute as ever. Lassally’s comments would seem to confirm this.

I thought it was common knowledge that Johnny considered Dave, not Jay Leno, his heir apparent, but a co-worker to whom I told this story today expressed surprise that Johnny would send jokes to Letterman rather than to Leno, his official successor. No, Johnny favored Dave over Jay to take over the “Tonight Show” — and was miffed when NBC didn’t even ask for his opinion on the matter.

Carson has stubbornly avoided public appearances since his retirement, figuring it’s better to go out on top and leave people wanting more than to make some frail, doddering appearance that would tarnish people’s memories of him. But in the mid-1990s, soon after Dave began the “Late Show” on CBS, Johnny made two very brief cameo appearances during a week of shows Dave taped in Los Angeles. One appearance was in a taped bit — Dave and Paul Shaffer were supposed to be fixing a flat tire, and Carson drives by and laughs at them instead of stopping to help. The other, at the end of the week, was a quick walk-on in which Carson handed Dave the blue index card for that night’s Top Ten list.

In the waning days of Dave’s NBC show, while he was biding his time waiting for the jump to CBS, Letterman called the retired Carson on the air one night and asked for permission to appropriate “Stump the Band.” Letterman still does “Stump the Band” from time to time, and it usually starts with Paul Shaffer wearing a Carnac turban, as if he were confused about exactly which comedy bit they were borrowing from Johnny. Shaffer actually opens an envelope and does one Carnac joke.

It’s a fitting tribute to Carson from Letterman, one great broadcaster to another.

A confession

I live in a small apartment complex with only two coin-operated washing machines and one dryer — and no change machine.

Tonight, I did something I’ve never done before, and probably shouldn’t have done tonight. I broke into my Mountain T.O.P. “Bring Change to the Mountain” change donation box to find a quarter. Normally, I don’t put quarters into the thing — I save them for laundry, and dump all of my nickels, dimes and pennies into the change box. But tonight, I was one quarter short of what I needed, and it had been a long day and I didn’t feel like getting back into the car and driving to a car wash to get change. I knew that I’d put a quarter or two into the box at some time or other, and I broke in and found one. I promised myself I would put an extra 50 cents back into the box tomorrow.

Even so, I feel guilty.

Tsunami blogathon

Just a reminder that Darren Rowse has begun blogging every 15 minutes for 24 hours Jan. 20 (Australia time) at this web site to raise money for tsunami relief. Pay him a visit, won’t you?

The Sojourner and the Jester

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is (sort of like Tony Campolo) a gadfly challenging evangelicals to look at a broad spectrum of social issues, some of which would be called liberal causes, in light of Biblical mandates.

I was pleased to see a thoughtful, literate evangelical as Jon Stewart’s guest tonight on “The Daily Show,” which (as much as I adore it) sometimes takes cheap shots at people of outspoken faith. Wallis was flacking his new book, “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It,” and he acquitted himself quite well, seeming to impress even Stewart. Stewart didn’t take it lying down, of course, poking at Wallis by seeming to ask him whether Jews were going to get into heaven. Wallis partly deflected this by citing the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, where treatment of the poor and outcasts, not religious doctrine, is cited as the difference between those who are admitted to the kingdom and those who aren’t. I’m not sure that passage, taken by its own out of context, is a complete answer to the question, but I have to say Wallis handled the issue with grace and compassion.

Stewart, who is still one of my heroes, even worked in a cheap shot at athletes thanking God in locker room interviews. A number of comedians, including Bill Maher and Jimmy Kimmel, have taken this tack, and I’ve posted here before that I think it’s unfair. By and large, athletes are not implying that God wanted their team to win and the other team to lose. They are simply rejoicing that God has granted them a good day in their chosen profession, the same way that someone in a non-competitive profession might rejoice at a good, productive day of work. In fact, the late Reggie White organized a program by which NFL players from opposing teams gather for brief on-field prayers together following a game. Those athletes do not believe that God favors one team over another, and it’s insulting to accuse them of such an absurd thing.

Anyway, the Daily Show episode with Wallis will be rerun several times on Wednesday. Catch it if you can.

Lennie Briscoe, R.I.P.

There’s a wonderful (if far too short) tribute to Jerry Orbach in the new TV Guide. Three of his “Law & Order” co-stars — Jesse L. Martin, Sam Waterston and Chris Noth — offer their memories of Orbach. Noth points out that Orbach was far more warm and cheerful than his character, saying he had “a song on his lips and a smile as wide as the Hudson River.” Martin recalls filming a scene at a Bowery mission, and Orbach was so moved that he made calls afterward to try to help some of the homeless people there. Waterston recalls a crew member inviting some out-of-town guests to the “Law & Order” set and asking Orbach if he could please say hello to them some time during the day. Orbach not only said “hello,” he insisted that they sit in his personal director’s chair, told them jokes, and chatted with them as if he had nothing better to do. The out-of-towners marveled that such a big star seemed like such a regular guy.

That, I think, was the secret to Orbach’s success. He was a skilled and professional actor, but he always seemed like a regular guy.

Welcome to my cottage

When I was a child, about the same time that Betty Crocker introduced “Hamburger Helper,” the Hunt’s tomato sauce people introduced a similar (but slightly upscale) product called Skillet Dinners. I say it was slightly upscale because some of the ingredients were canned instead of powdered, somewhat like the difference between powdered mac and cheese and the kind with the cheese sauce in a pouch. My favorite flavor of this product was the Lasagna, which included cottage cheese-like curds.

To this day, even though ricotta is the authentic Italian cheese for use in making real baked lasagna, I prefer cottage cheese. I have never cared for the grainy texture of ricotta, and the flavor — while not objectionable — does nothing for me. Lasagna is one of my favorite things to make — and, dare I say it, one of my best dishes. Not that anyone else gets to try it most of the time ….

Anyway, Giaada de Laurentis on the Food Network the other day did a little trick where she made a quick ravioli dish and topped it with a combination of marinara sauce and ricotta, stirred together, to create a quick meal (she was using frozen ravioli) with a taste like a baked pasta dish. I immediately determined to try the same thing, only with cottage cheese instead of ricotta (and with plain pasta instead of a stuffed ravioli). It turned out well, if I do say so myself.

Speaking of Food Network, by the way, I really think they ought to look at trying to hire Marvin Woods away from Turner South, where he hosts a relatively low-budget cooking show called “Home Plate.” Woods is entertaining and knowledgeable, and deserves a national audience rather than a regional one. (He could also get better guests.)