Saturday, October 31, 2009


A few lists of the best and worst Halloween candies came across my web browser yesterday. Hershey's national survey listed the top ten treats for adults and the top ten for kids. I was surprised to see some Mars and Nestlé products on the Hershey's list.

SF Weekly chose five candies kids love even though they don't taste great. I can agree with their dislike of wax lips and Pixy Stix but not candy corn. The tasty tricolor treats are addictive in their super-sweetness. I don't like Smarties but I will give them a free pass because my kids like them. The fifth choice was Ring Pops. Eh.

It was snooty Bon Appetit that got me riled up. They did get a couple of items right on their best and worst lists. For example, they like Whoppers and Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins. The worst list includes Necco Wafers and Milk Duds. They foolishly put candy corn on both lists. But how dare they impugn one of my all time favorites, Circus Peanuts. Screenwriter and candy-lover Paul Rudnick also dissed the Peanut on his list. Back in my heavier days, I would often eat Circus Peanuts on airplane flights. The last one in the package tasted just as good as the first.

The trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood will have to wait until I get home from work and my wife gets home from church before they can access our goodies. She bought an assortment of Mars products including Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, Twix and Skittles. My wife likes to serve them from a bowl with a ceramic hand reaching up from the bottom. To give this photo an appropriately blood-red tint, I held my finger over the flash. Oooh, very scary!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

rockabilly bob

When Jeff Joslin showed us a rough cut of "Fish Bait" during a break from our reshoots in May, I was concerned about my performance. As I mentioned in one of the DVD extras, it sounded like I was using my "outside voice" during the scenes inside a car. Fortunately for me, most of those scenes were reshot.

I was relieved when I saw the movie last week. The editing and soundtrack music made a big difference. I got an email from a woman who attended the screening on Friday night at Patrick Sullivan's with her visiting sisters. They didn't buy a DVD at the bar but now want to get one. Jeff Joslin has set up a PayPal account and a page on the "Fish Bait" site where they (and you) can purchase one now, should you be so inclined.

In addition to the "Fish Bait" theme by Jeffrey Joslin, the soundtrack features two songs from Billy Bob Thornton and The Boxmasters. I first learned of Billy Bob's musical ability while I was working at KLOS. He would appear regularly on the Mark & Brian show in the late '90s to promote his movies. He was on the show one day and heard that rockabilly legend Carl Perkins would be interviewed an hour or two later. Billy Bob asked if he could stick around and see Carl. He did and ended up playing snare drum as Carl sang "Matchbox." We used the performance as a track on the "You Had to Be There!" CD, which hit stores only two months before Carl died.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

ert day

Two guests at the Homewood Suites thought there might have been a hazmat spill when they saw the members of the FBI Citizens Academy walk past their hotel room. We were all wearing white Tyvek coveralls for an exercise in evidence recovery. In my best Batman voice, I said "remain calm, citizens" and explained that we were in a class.

Our FBI instructors divided us into four groups and gave us a scenario. They directed each group to a different hotel room where they had placed various pieces of evidence for us to identify and collect. Hana Kim was in my group. Her Tyvek suit highlighted her choice of non-sensible shoes.

Before heading to our fake crime scenes, a special agent from the Evidence Response Team gave us some background on the unit. He showed us a few crime scene photos from a local kidnapping case that I remembered seeing on the news five years ago.

The evening that ended with a practical exercise began with a graphic slide show. Dr. Murray Marks, a forensic anthropology professor from the University of Tennessee, spoke to us about his field of expertise. He mentioned that many bodies are found this time of year by hunters and hikers taking advantage of the cooler weather.

Dr. Marks discussed the links between pathology, anthropology and dentistry. The three fields work together in an effort to determine a victim's identity, perimortem trauma and the time since death. We saw quite a few pictures of teeth on bodies in various states of decay. The teeth will long outlast the flesh and bone of a body.

Dr. Marks doesn't like the term "Body Farm." He prefers to call it "the Facility." The slides he showed us of donated corpses focused mainly on forensic entomology and the life cycle of flies and maggots. I recognized one of the actual crime scene photos from an exhibit that was at the Frank H. McClung Museum in early 2008.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

plastic letters

Most of the display cases at the Farragut Folklife Museum are currently loaded with Barbies. I stopped by for my annual visit on Monday when I went to pay my auto registration at the Knox County offices upstairs. I was amused by the juxtaposition of the doll collection with the axes and other cutting tools on the walls. One of the Barbies was decked out in a real mink coat.

When I got home that day, I found a press release from in my email. It directed me to an online gallery of new Barbies dressed as pop icons Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper and Deborah Harry. I was curious since Blondie was my favorite band of the '80s. I remember going to see them at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Their opening act might have been Duran Duran. Thanks to the remarkable Internet, I was able to find out that my memory was correct and that the concert was August 16, 1982.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

belly of a whiskered beast

The recent death of Vic Mizzy had many TV critics reminiscing about the good old days of TV theme songs. I saw one website with a list of the best current themes, which included some of my favorites, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office" and "Dexter."

At the screenings of the no-budget horror film "Fish Bait" over the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a theme song over the closing credits. Jeffrey Joslin, son of director Jeff Joslin, is a singer-songwriter based in Murfreesboro. Jeffrey appears in the film, entertaining at a party scene. For the end credits, he composed a song called "Fish Bait" that mentions the fictional Fear Hollow Marina and the big catfish my character hopes to catch.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

can't be choosers

KFC attempted a do-over today. A few months back they suffered through a public relations fiasco when they offered free chicken dinners via They were overwhelmed with coupons, many of which were copies of the actual computer printouts. Today they offered a single piece for free, without a coupon.

Thanks to Twitter, I went to a different KFC than last time. Wendy of Magic Mulch suggested I head to Farragut, which was ideal because I needed to go there to pay a bill at the Knox County offices sometime this week.

The KFC website said that the piece of free chicken would be "manager's choice." When they started to give me a thigh, I asked the clerks if I could wait until the manager might choose to give me a chicken breast instead. They told me that the district manager had already decided that all the free pieces in his district would be dark meat. If I wanted white meat, I would have to buy a piece for $3 and some change. Unlike the last KFC I visited, the Farragut store did offer side salads. I bought one for $1.63 to show I was a good sport.

The thigh was small but the taste was okay. It was good enough to make me appreciate that it was free, but not good enough to make me want to pay for it in the future. Thinking of other folks on a budget, I posted a note on Twitter and Facebook about my free chicken. Unfortunately my animal-loving friend Bean did not like it. He twitted tweetered twote said that he objects to KFC's chicken raising practices. He later told me that he is okay with the chicken at McDonald's and Popeye's. I need to find out if Popeye's ever offers anything that is grilled and not fried.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

scene of the crime

The audience watching "Fish Bait" at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort surprised me. They laughed at different parts of the movie than the audience at Patrick Sullivan's did the night before. The folks at the saloon responded well to the scenes where four of us from Einstein Simplified were driving and talking. They've seen us do that on stage for years. The people on the boat dock responded well to the mishaps we encountered on the water. While the Knoxville crowd said "ewww" to a quick shot of a floating dead fish, the Speedwell viewers said nothing.

The staff at Flat Hollow went all out to celebrate the movie we filmed there last year. They made some large posters and redid the menu in their restaurant to include items like Chum, Chicken Parts and Fried Fungus. The restaurant was converted into a movie theatre for the night. Enough boaters and marina regulars showed up to warrant showing the film twice.

After the screenings, the cast members in attendance were asked to autograph several DVDs at the sales counter. While the others were using the Sharpie markers, Dave Snow and I amused each other with some tea candles. When all was finished, the cast and crew raised a toast on board one of the two houseboats where we would spend the night. Coincidentally, my wife and I slept aboard the White Lightning. This morning I woke up to a lovely view of the fall foliage.

After breakfast, the remaining cast and crew posed for a photo in front of The Lady, the decrepit houseboat that we used in the movie. I was wearing my new FBI Citizens Academy hat, which we joked now stood for "Fish Bait Inspector." The Lady looks even worse than she did last year. Some family members of the man who used to own the boat came to the screening last night. They were a little chagrined that the boat their relative lost to foreclosure was used to represent all that is janky. Some of the other audience members pointed out that shots of particularly redneckish houseboats were filmed downriver in Union County, not in their nice part of Norris Lake.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

one down, two to go

The laughter from the first audience to see "Fish Bait" gave me a big sigh of relief. As the screening time approached last night, I was nervous about how it would go over. A sizable crowd filled the upper room at Patrick Sullivan's to watch the no-budget comedic horror film that features the members of Einstein Simplified.

The first thing I saw after climbing the stairs at the saloon was a table where DVDs were available for sale. I hope my kids will pretend to be surprised this Christmas. I'll need one for myself too, as a souvenir of one of the best weekends of my life. Before the screening, director Jeff Joslin asked the cast members present to come forward. During the movie, I couldn't resist taking a picture of myself on screen. You know you would have done the same thing if it were you.

Erin Donovan of WBIR gave our little project a nice publicity hit on Live at Five at Four yesterday. I was especially thrilled by the kind reaction of Russell Biven and Beth Haynes who said, "c'mon Frank Murphy!" after the report.

Tonight my wife and I will head up to Flat Hollow Marina & Resort for another screening. Flat Hollow is where we shot the movie last October and did some reshoots in May. The marina staff is thinking that they may have enough people there to show the movie twice, once around 7:00 p.m. when the Vols game ends and again around 9:00 p.m. Gary Farwick and Benny Green said so when they took to the Lafollette airwaves yesterday to promote the movie.

By the way, thanks to Frank Scott for name-checking me in Part two.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

in da (865)

Most local radio commercials can be divided into two categories. I write and record my own endorsement spots in which I speak in the first person about my experience with a product or service such as Massage Envy, for example.

I also do voiceover spots for all four radio stations in our cluster. I read whatever scripts are in my mailbox each morning. Sometimes listeners will call me to ask about a script I read, thinking that it's a product I endorse. The difference between the two spots can be slight. I often have to change a script from first person to third person.

One of those third-person spots came down the pike on Wednesday. It promised 99¢ pizzas, which prompted me to immediately post something on Twitter about it. I drove past Mama Mia Cuisine that afternoon and happened to see the radio station's sales representative in the parking lot. He brought me into the pizza shop to meet Mac, the owner. He used to run other shops near the UT campus, including one with the clever name Salvador Deli. I pictured melting pizzas, a la The Persistence of Memory.

Mama Mia Cuisine is scheduled to open on October 29. They will sell their 14 inch cheese pizza for 99¢ with the purchase of $5 worth of other stuff. A couple of side salads at $3 each would do the trick although Mac and his business partner did a good job of convincing me to try their Greek salad or shepherd's salad instead.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

in the brook

It's "Fish Bait" time in Tennessee. The no-budget horror movie featuring the members of Einstein Simplified will have its world premiere this weekend. We're screening it on Friday night at Patrick Sullivan's and on Saturday night at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort. Tickets are $5 at the door.

Erin Donovan from "Live at Five at Four" was kind enough to give us a little publicity for the film. She interviewed Jeff Joslin and me at Volunteer Landing for a story that should air Friday. A moment of potential karma occurred while Erin was interviewing Jeff. Larsen Jay of Doublejay Creative walked by on his way to lunch with some business associates. Erin stopped the interview so that Jeff could meet Larsen.

After I got home from the interview, Jeff emailed me a photo of the DVD cover. "Fish Bait" DVDs and soundtrack CDs will be available for sale at the screenings and eventually via The soundtrack has music from Billy Bob Thornton and Tommy Shaw.

Just got my first look at the Fish Bait DVD cover! It seems so real now.

The Lafollette Press published an article about "Fish Bait" in Thursday's paper. Earlier in the week, a showbiz blog ran a nice feature on actress Patrice Bunch. When Erin Donovan's piece is posted on, I will put a link to it here.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

dam skippy

Take a moment to listen to someone talk about their interests and you may hear about a whole world you have never experienced. Stacey Handel of Garde Bien Spa Salon was bursting with excitement about her daughter's volleyball team. Not only did the Karns High School Lady Beavers (yeah, I know) defeat archrival Farragut to win the Region 2-AAA title but Kelsey Handel was the tournament MVP. On Thursday night, they will host Sullivan South for sectionals.

Like any good sports mom, Stacey takes some photos during the games but finds that they pale in comparison to the professional shots taken by Before You Blink Photography. She told me how several of the fathers of team members video tape the games and then combine the footage into an edited DVD.

In an odd way, what she described reminded me of a dance competition and a dog agility show. Earlier this year, my wife and I watched a bit of the Dance Dimensions Summer Invitational. A professional photographer took photos of the competitors and sells the shots online.

A few years back we wanted to visit with our friend Sandy Weaver but she was competing with some of her Siberian Huskies in an agility trial at Wills Park in Alpharetta. We went to the park and watched the dog show. I remember being impressed by the ingenious woman taking pictures of the dogs and masters as they ran the course.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

back to back, belly to belly

Back to back weekends in Virginia kept me from seeing "Zombieland" sooner. I finally got around to it this past weekend. My wife wanted to go to a movie so badly that she was willing to sit through my first choice of films even though she didn't really want to see it. I think she almost bailed out after the first few minutes. I had promised her more yucks and less yucky. Once we got past the gory opening sequence, the comedy, or should I say zomedy, kicked in.

Fortunately no one spoiled the celebrity cameo appearance for me and I won't spoil it for you, even though the appropriate amount of time has already passed. The Wikipedia page for the movie does give away the surprise. However, I'm pretty sure this publicity photo from Columbia Pictures does not..

(l to r) Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin star in Columbia Pictures' comedy ZOMBIELAND. © 2009 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.  All rights reserved.

The Wikipedia entry for actor Jesse Eisenberg says that his mother worked as a clown. If that's true, it gives layers of psychological meaning to Jesse's clown encounters in the movie.

Jesse and Emma Stone make a cute couple and the audience naturally roots for them to get together. It seems that the two of them, along with Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin are the only four humans left on earth. But if Jesse and Emma are together, it leaves another combination that is too creepy to contemplate.

I read that the filmmakers are interested in making several "Zombieland" sequels and maybe even turning it into a television series. Their first priority should be to write in a potential love interest for Woody.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

suddenly Seymour

The news that is likely to disappoint many All Saints parishioners caused cheers of elation at Holy Family Catholic Church last night. They were having a dedication ceremony for their new Family Life Center when Bishop Richard Stika announced that Fr. Ragan Schriver is the new pastor of the Seymour parish. Fr. Ragan had been there on a temporary basis as parish administrator for the past couple of months. Schriver retains his full-time job as executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee.

Even Fr. Ragan was surprised that the Bishop chose to break the news at the dedication ceremony. I told him that my wife and I were ready to help organize some sort of vegetarian-friendly farewell reception for him in West Knoxville. He responded that Fr. Michael Woods is already planning something. It'll be great. They certainly know how to throw a party at All Saints.

My wife and I went to the parish hoedown on Saturday to enjoy some BBQ and dancing. My first attempt at square dancing left me a little dizzy but I might have been overly tired from shooting stuff that day. The congregation from the Saturday night Spanish Mass came over when their liturgy ended. The hoedown organizers had to run out to Famous Dave's to buy more pulled pork to feed the new arrivals.

On Sunday morning I picked up a copy of the Spanish language bulletin. Even though I don't speak or read the language, I was amused by a few of the words advertising Saturday's event. Obviously my trail mix would have been an inappropriate dessert, not so much for the nuts but for the frutas secas dried fruits. Who knew?
Fiesta en All Saints. El tema es Hoedown (danza típica del los americanos). Todos están invitados. Se servirá comida y se bailará. Se pide traer postre, por ejemplo: Pastel o tarta de frutas o galletas dulces, no traer nada que contenga frutas secas por razones de alergias.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

middle class

Two weeks ago, I did a little church sightseeing in Norfolk. Last Sunday I did the same thing in Middleburg. My wife and I went to Mass with our friend Maureen at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church. The colonial style structure was built with some special accommodations for President John F. Kennedy. According to "The Middleburg Mystique," the church had a special room with a direct phone line to the White House.

The Kennedys would often spend weekends in Middleburg. JFK probably attended Mass at St. Stephen's only two or three times before his death. The church opened in the Spring of 1963. An Associated Press article from late October described the First Family's initial visit to the church, complete with details of the fidgety children and which pew they used. "The Middleburg Mystique" says they last went to Mass there twelve days before his death. Their pew is marked by a small plaque.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

deadly force

The smell of gunpowder was still in my nose hours after returning home from the firing range at the Phil E. Keith Training Center. The facility, which belongs to the Knoxville Police Department, was the scene for today's meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy.

After a safety lesson from the firearms training agent, I started my day on the range by shooting four different guns. We could visit the four stations in any order. I chose a roughly chronological order, starting with a 1928 model Thompson submachine gun followed by a 38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. In the years since an infamous Miami shootout, the Bureau switched to the next two guns I tried. I shot a 40 caliber Glock pistol and a Colt M4 Carbine assault rifle. I went back for a second round on the old revolver and showed significant improvement from my first attempt.

While I was with the group shooting real guns, the other half of the class was inside working with a computer simulation of various scenarios. Once we switched places, the first few people in my group were given simulations of domestic disputes. When it was my turn, the scenario was a school shooting. I saw two bloodied students on my right and two uniformed police officers on my left. The students were gesturing behind them to the right. Suddenly there was a spray of blood and all four of them dropped to the ground. I saw gunfire coming from behind a dumpster on the left so I started shooting toward it. Then a second shooter emerged from the woods in the distance but my fake gun stopped working. Apparently the CO2 cartridge in it had emptied. The screen went black, which I assume meant that the second shooter had taken me out. When they played back my scenario, we saw that I killed the first shooter with my second shot.

After lunch, we learned about the Special Weapons and Tactics force. We saw examples of the weapons they use and then went outside to see the Oshkosh Humvee used by local FBI SWAT agents. Prior to this, I thought the only thing Oshkosh made was children's clothes. We each had a chance to climb inside and pose for photos. Hana Kim from WATE-TV asked me to pose with her. She was delayed in getting to the range because she had to anchor the weekend newscast this morning. We've had a chance to chat during breaks from class. I found out that Hana grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated from McLean High School and the University of Maryland.

The day finished with a lecture on explosives and a demonstration out on the range. First the special agent bomb tech blew up a blasting cap in a coffee can. He then blew up a blasting cap in a coffee can filled with shaving cream to show us how the cream absorbed some of the impact. Next he showed the effect of explosions on soft tissue by blowing up a blasting cap inside a chicken from Food City. I don't know why he made a point of telling us that. Maybe he wanted to make sure the bird hadn't been pumped full of sodium.

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Friday, October 16, 2009


During my most recent interview with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, I mentioned one of my family's favorite stories about our trip to Hawaii several years ago. We stayed on Molokai, which is where the Hawaiians go to vacation.

In addition to my wife and kids, my mother, my grandmother, my sister and her husband and his mother all made the trip. The whole group went on sightseeing expeditions to places like Tuddie Purdy's macadamia nut farm and a church built by Fr. Damien de Veuster. The older generation would stay back at the condo resort while my wife and I took our kids to the beach.

Fr. Damien was well on his way to sainthood during our visit. In fact, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI just this past Sunday. While we were off at the beach one day, my grandmother saw a news story about a relic of the holy man returning to the islands.

The hand of St. Damien was going to be somewhere in Honolulu on the same day that we would be flying home. Grandma wanted to see the hand before we left. Nowadays, it would be easy to Google the hand and find the news story Grandma had seen. Back then, I had no Internet access on vacation but I wasn't going to let Grandma down.

We flew from Molokai to Honolulu on a Sunday morning. We had gone to a vigil Mass the night before and had some time to kill before our flight to Los Angeles. I took the group to Hilo Hattie's and told Grandma that all I needed to find the hand was a phone and a roll of quarters. In those days, if you weren't at home and needed to make a phone call, you would look for a public phone and put coins into it to get it to work. Weird, huh?

The payphone had a phone book with it. I looked for listings that started with St. somebody or Our Lady of whatever. One church after another told me the same thing: the hand had been displayed there but had since moved to another church. I went through a bunch of quarters until I got confirmation that the hand was at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace.

I got everybody to the cathedral before the next Mass started and eagerly went inside to see the hand. An usher pointed us toward a side altar where it was displayed. We were told that Fr. Damien wanted to be buried among the lepers he served on Molokai but that his superiors arranged for his body to be returned to his home country of Belgium. Many years later as a compromise, his body had been exhumed and his "healing hand" removed and sent to Hawaii. I guess I had been expecting to see something that looked like a mummified Thing from the Addams Family. I was disappointed that all I saw was a box, which they called a coffin.

Another relic will be touring the islands for the remainder of October. The Pope presented a bone from St. Damien's heel to Bishop Larry Silva. It was briefly on display in Detroit, San Francisco and Oakland this past week.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

a charm

When the call never came, I assumed that my two-year run as one of Knoxville's favorite bloggers had ended. I was very happy and thankful to learn this morning that I was mistaken. In the East Tennessee's Best poll that will be in tomorrow's paper, my humble blog made the top three for the third consecutive year. My sincere thanks to all who voted for me. Congratulations to this year's winner, public relations powerhouse Cynthia Moxley and to the other runner-up, the anonymous Knox Animal. I feel foolish for not reading their blogs before tonight.

Here's a little secret about the News Sentinel readers' poll. When you win, they generally contact you in advance and arrange for a photo session. Last year, the late Clay Owen took my picture at Patrick Sullivan's. In 2007, when I was a runner-up, they called me and asked if I wanted to buy a self-congratulatory ad.

A few weeks ago venerable photographer J. Miles Cary came to the radio station to take a picture of my morning show co-hosts and me. It was our first win in the Best Local Radio Personality category after being runners-up in the past. Last month I saw something on Twitter about Saul Young taking a picture of some food at the Creamery Park Grille. I realize now that it was for their win in the Best Sunday Brunch category.

Speaking of Twitter, the new poll reflects the times by honoring East Tennessee's Best Local Tweeter. The winner was the very same Cynthia Moxley. Runners-up were Jeremy Floyd and Jimmy Holt. I am going to try following Cynthia and Jeremy as of tonight. I've been following Jimmy's tweets since seeing him at Chick-Fil-A on Labor Day. That's how I knew when they tried to sell him an ad for being a runner-up.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

mallow inn

Middleburg is in the heart of Virginia's "hunt country." Riders on horseback and their hounds hunt foxes the way they did in the cartoons we watched as kids. On Sunday, my wife and I met some relatives for a delicious brunch at the Hunter's Head Tavern in nearby Upperville. I had heard that the restaurant's owner was not a fan of fox hunting and designed a logo in which the fox gets the upper hand. There's even a comical mounted head near the bar.

If I had been eating alone, I probably would have gone to a shop called Mello Out, despite their inability to spell marshmallow. They specialize in handmade marshmellos [sic] but have other menu items too. I would have ordered the Adam's Apple, which is apple, peanut butter, bacon and honey on brioche.

My wife and I did stop in to get a package of their marshmallows. Our friend Maureen from Fox Chase Farm was with us. While we were there, the staff was taking some Cosmic Cupcakes out of the refrigerator and putting them on display for the day. Fortunately for us, the frosting on one of the cupcakes had gotten stuck to the container. Since it was unsuitable for sale, the manager gave it to the three of us to split. The frosting was rich and tasty and the cake was exceptionally moist. It was the best cupcake I have had in quite some time.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Fox Chase Farm was festooned with pink on Saturday for the first Ride for the Cure Virginia. It was one of only a few such events in the country and was the most successful. Susan G. Komen For the Cure will receive over $100,000 in proceeds. My friend Maureen, who bought the farm ten years ago, asked me to make announcements before and during the Ride.

The festivities started with the singing of the National Anthem by Angela Knight. She wore all purple with a sash that read "Mrs. Haymarket." She makes appearances on behalf of the Mrs. Virginia organization when she's not performing as a lyric coloratura with the Washington National Opera or singing her own Christian music in concert.

Several breast cancer survivors walked around the outdoor performance arena while Michael Bicoy of the U.S. Army Chorus sang "You'll Never Walk Alone." The hard part of performing that song is making the audience momentarily forget about Jerry Lewis. Bicoy succeeded easily.

One of the riders was Greta Kreuz from WJLA-TV. She took over the emcee role during the catered dinner under a fancy white tent. I sat at a table with Olympian Joe Fargis, who is revered among the Middleburg horse set. The dessert cupcakes were decorated with pink ribbons.

Most of the donations came from the riders and their sponsors. More money was raised with a silent auction set up around the perimeter of the dinner tent. Three celebrities I know donated items to the silent auction. Thanks go to Jimmy Kimmel, Susan Olsen and Richard Cheese. Everyone seemed pleased that the winner of $4000 in the 50/50 raffle was the guy who hauls the manure off the farm each week.

A crew from the PBS show "Equitrekking" shot video and conducted interviews with some of the participants. They posted a three minute story on YouTube.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

don'ts and dos

A coward hiding behind anonymity attempted to place a comment on my blog yesterday. He or she appears to be insanely jealous of a Knoxville news anchor who has been the subject of a post or two of mine in the past. I rejected the comment but it irked me so that I want to share parts of it as a lesson in how not to get your comment published.
[Local Anchor] was, is, and will always be an idiot. She got her job on [local channel] based on her looks. She struggled with any word longer than four letters, and she always looked proud of herself when she actually got through a story without her [local] accent bleeding through. [specific insults removed] She was born on third base and thinks she hit a triple. Is it possible to get someone easy on the eyes that can actually read? Good Riddence, [sic] moron.
I stand by my earlier praise of the news anchor that Anonymous tried to defame. She deserves her success because she is a good communicator. The only moron is the unknown commenter who is just wrong in their opinion.

In happier local TV developments, WATE has hired a new morning reporter. News director Jamie Foster boasted on his Twitter account about Jamie Lynn Drohan. She's on Twitter, of course, and has been posting updates about her move to Knoxville.

A news article on Westfield Patch says that the male Jamie contacted the female Jamie about the job opening via Twitter. He saw her demo on YouTube and offered her the job. I suspect the Patch article is wrong about at least one thing. It says Drohan will be a co-anchor of "Good Morning Tennessee." Foster's Twitter posts describe her as a reporter. It's a big difference, especially if your name is Tearsa Smith or Bo Williams.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

bean counter

The more you pay for a hotel room, the less you get. After my vasovagal syncope, we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. We had free WiFi and a big free breakfast the next morning that included custom-made omelets.

Last weekend, we stayed in a regular Holiday Inn in Charlottesville that cost more than an Express. We still had free WiFi but breakfast was only available in the full-service restaurant. If I hadn't made coffee in the room, I could have taken advantage of free coffee in the hotel lobby.

The next night we stayed in a nice Marriott in downtown Norfolk. The hotel charged $9.95 per day for Internet access, the restaurant in the lobby was a Shula's 347 Grill and the coffee in the lobby was not free, in fact it was Starbucks. I did make a pot of coffee in the room but it didn't taste very good. Still, I brought home the remaining pouches of coffee and had occasion to brew one last Thursday before going to the FBI Citizens Academy. It tasted just as bad as the coffee I made in the hotel room, if not worse.

Although I am not a long time coffee drinker, I think I am discerning enough to know a bad cup when I taste one. The stuff from the Marriott was gross. Since picking up the caffeine habit, I found that I especially like the taste of the Javarama coffee at work, the Kona coffee at Weigel's and the dark roast at Panera Bread.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

mini haha

An unusual vehicle got our attention when my wife and I stopped for dinner on our way home last Sunday. We were at Chipotle near the Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. A minivan festooned with Mickey Mouse heads pulled into a parking space outside. I had finished eating, so I went to my own car and got the camera. The shapes reflected the camera flash, creating an unusual image.

The man with the van said he was a fan of all things Disney. His family visits Walt Disney World every year. He got the idea for his van's decorations when he had some excess reflective material from the ambulance he drives. He designed the bubbling Mickey heads on his computer and had a friend at an auto signage shop cut the pieces by using the design. The man likes being noticed. Before owning a minivan, he used to have a truck with the most neon in North Carolina. At least that's what he said.

When I got back to our table inside the restaurant, my wife commented that things like this happen to me often. She said we can go just about anywhere and a blog topic will fall into my lap. I think my natural curiosity helps me to take notice of things that interest me. When my wife and I went to see the World's Largest Rocking Chair, I saw a man with a welding torch and asked him what was going on. If we had merely taken a quick picture and gotten back in our car, we would have missed seeing the one and only time the chair actually rocked. It was worth waiting a few minutes to experience kitsch history. It's also possible that I am somewhat more approachable than most people. I feel that people often ask me for directions at a traffic light or for help in a store. In all fairness, I'm just as likely to be the one asking someone else for help.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

maid of the misty eyes

Last night's episode of "The Office" got me choked up for the first time since the movie "Up." Like most viewers, I have become invested in the relationship between Pam and Jim. It was emotionally fulfilling when they found a way to steal back some privacy and romance from their annoying co-workers.

The suspense built as we waited for Michael Scott to be the first to put his foot in his mouth. They caught us off guard when it was Jim who did it instead. Of course Michael proceeded to ram it in up to the knee. Almost every episode makes me think of the quote that Steve Carell paraphrased from Ricky Gervais, "if you don't know a Michael Scott, you are a Michael Scott."

Entertainment Weekly reported that the rehearsal dinner scene was filmed at the Smokehouse in Burbank. My family and I went there with friends for a few celebratory dinners after various events with our kids at St. Finbar School. I also had a few business lunches there with radio executives from Emmis Communications and a nice dinner there with Billy Bush when he was first thinking about moving to Los Angeles.

I recognized the exterior of the hotel from my trip to Niagara Falls in 2007. In fact, I took a picture of the Red Coach Inn because it had the same name as a restaurant my parents used to take us to in Yonkers. It's right next to a totem-like building that could be partially seen on last night's show.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

we have clearance, Clarence

The third meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy involved pizza and a field trip. We went to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory tonight for presentations on super computing, espionage and counter-intelligence. Our FBI instructors knew that no trip to Oak Ridge is complete without Big Ed's Pizza. Either someone at Big Ed's has a security badge that let's them make deliveries past the guard shack or someone at the FBI picked up the food and brought it to the meeting.

The lecture on super computing included high-resolution images shown on a power wall. Imagine 27 rear projection screens seamlessly blended to show 35 million pixels. They told us about the Jaguar, a computer that performs 1.3 quadrillion operations per second. I learned that floating point operations per second are called "flops." They are dealing in kiloflops, megaflops, gigaflops, and teraflops.

A counter-intelligence agent showed us Internet chat transcripts between an ORNL engineer and an alleged woman in China. She, if she was really a she, tried to get him to come to China for a visit. He finally got around to reporting his relationship with a foreign national months later than he should have and ended up losing his job when he tried to rekindle the online romance after being warned by his bosses.

The highlight of the evening for me was the hidden camera footage from operation "Barrier Reef." An FBI agent took us through the case study of Roy Lynn Oakley, a laborer for Bechtel Jacobs, hired to help dismantle the K-25 uranium enrichment plant. He smuggled out pieces of sensitive equipment in his work gloves and tried to sell them to France. His first plan was to contact the French government while traveling to Canada but he couldn't shake his wife and her relatives. Then he bought a Tracfone and tried calling the French consulate using the fake name "Paul Collins." The FBI assigned an undercover agent to run a "false flag operation." Oakley made a dead drop of a CD with photos of the stolen barrier tubes. The photos inadvertently showed part of a mailing label with Oakley's real name and address. The agent met Oakley at McGhee Tyson Airport and videotaped him as he showed the stolen tubes and took $200,000 in cash. They arrested him and got the money back. He pleaded guilty this past January.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009


At last night's Einstein Simplified show, I handed out a flyer inviting the audience to join Twitter before next Tuesday. It will be my turn to emcee and I want to try taking suggestions from the audience via social media. I often find it difficult to hear the people in the back of the room, which gave me the idea to have them text their various nouns, relationships, locations and Scenes From a Hat directly to my computer.

At the end of the show, I went from table to table picking up discarded flyers. It made me think that not too many of the people there last night rushed home to sign up for Twitter. Instead of trying to convert the bar crowd, maybe I can persuade some of Knoxville's active Twitterers to "tweetup" at Patrick Sullivan's on Tuesday night.

At least I can count on my lovely wife. She signed up for a Twitter account with the express purpose of using it to submit ideas on Tuesday. Earlier tonight I was her Twitter tutor. I'm no expert but I was able to explain Twitpic, hashtags and retweets. I'm sure I left out more than I included. What else should I have taught her?

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

champing at the bit

"Seinfeld" fans like me are ecstatic about the cast appearing on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In the show, Larry David suddenly changes his mind about a reunion show when he thinks it will get him back together with his estranged wife Cheryl. Some of the best moments occur when Jason Alexander describes the character of George to Larry. For the uninitiated, George Costanza was based on Larry David. The HBO website has plenty to read and watch about the episodes.

I have been in a "Seinfeld" state of mind lately after seeing some episodes on TV. In the years since the series ended, I have generally avoided watching the syndicated reruns. My DVRs are always full of first-run shows to watch instead. I also keep flipping when I see a "Seinfeld" rerun on local television because the picture quality is poor. When I came across an episode on TBS recently, my remote-pushing thumb stopped dead in its tracks. The picture looked like real HD, not the stretched out garbage that I've seen on other TBS shows before. I think they zoomed in and cropped the edges but it looked a lot better than the few minutes I've seen of "Sex and the City" or "yes, dear" on the same network.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Goren piece

A big fan of Vincent D'Onofrio is making an heroic attempt to keep him on "Law & Order Criminal Intent." Her exhaustive attempt to reach all corners of the Internet has even brought her as far as contacting Frank Murphy Dot Com. Why? Because I love Marshmallow Fluff.
My name is Nantz and I wanted to make you aware of a massive writing campaign that the fans of LOCI have been involved with. We have been sending postcards, emails, snail mail, tweets and posting everywhere we can to get our message out there of our displeasure at the dumping of Vincent D'Onofrio, Katie Erbe and Eric Bogosian. In answer to USA Network's trending towards "lighter fare" and "fluff" I have come up with the idea to send jars and jars of "Fluff" (that's the marshmallow crème) to the execs to let them know they can "stuff their fluff." As soon as the season premiere airs and all the aforementioned actors are gone, so are we, and long with us the ratings will go too. Not such good news for a cable network that is currently #1 and the reason they have such high ratings is because of shows like LOCI in the first place. Our voices have been heard as we have been highlighted in twice now. Soon cases of Fluff, cotton balls, Polyfill will arrive and right now they are being inundated with thousands of letters and postcards. WE control the numbers and if it's all about the almighty dollar in cutting these actors because of their salaries then they will find out what exactly numbers really mean.
Nantz is using her blog dedicated to D'Onofrio to spread the word about saving her favorite characters. The blog links to a Twitter account called saveGorenEames. They are hoping other Twitter users will copy and paste their "tweets."

I am curious to learn more about a site called On Location Vacations. They are encouraging "Law & Order" fans to bring Marshmallow Fluff to the set in New York on October 16. I'm interested in checking the site before I take my sightseeing trips next year just in case somebody happens to be filming in Iowa or South Dakota. It will be especially helpful when I can get around to visiting L.A. again.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

holy spirituals

The bellman said that the Catholic church nearest to our downtown Norfolk hotel was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. He wanted to make sure I knew that it was a Black Catholic church and that the liturgy would have a Baptist feel to it. I've joked that my home parish in Knoxville, All Saints, is very Baptist-friendly because of all the converts in our congregation. Besides, how Baptist could it be if the church is named after the Virgin Mary? As it turned out, the experience of worshiping at St. Mary's was rather different from All Saints.

Besides the obvious reversal of the race ratio, I noticed that the last seven pews at St. Mary's were elevated on risers. My daughter noted the absence of a center aisle and my wife pointed out that there were no kneelers in the pews. The cover of the hymnals was designed with an African feel to it. "Lead Me, Guide Me" is from GIA Publications and had several informative essays about Black Catholic worship.

One of the terms I picked up from the hymnal was "dialogical preaching." During the homily by Deacon Calvin Bailey there were some exclamations of "amen" and the like. The congregation applauded after the sermon, as they did after most of the hymns. The choir swooped and swayed in their robes while they sang "I've Decided to Follow Jesus," "Amazing Grace" and "Let Us Break Bread Together" among others. My wife, who knew that last hymn, found it ironic that they sang "let us break bread together on our knees" in a church with no kneelers.

The congregation remained standing during the parts of the Mass when most American Catholics are kneeling. The sign of peace differed somewhat too as altar servers and congregants left their places to walk around the church and embrace their friends and loved ones. The readings and prayers were right out of the Roman Missal. No liberties were taken, which I've heard may happen at some other parishes in the Diocese of Richmond.

After Mass, a parishioner who introduced herself as Carol Swank approached us. Being white and all it was fairly apparent that we were visitors. She told us a little about the history of the building and took us to three areas of interest. From the choir loft we got a good view of the whole sanctuary and saw the area where African Americans had to sit in the 19th century. The old pre-Vatican 2 altar was turned 180° and moved forward, creating a space for a Blessed Sacrament chapel. Two pieces of the old marble altar rail were saved from the trash pile and placed there also.

The most interesting thing Carol showed us was something the hotel bellman had also suggested I see. The first church that stood on the adjacent plot of land was torched in 1856 possibly as a hate crime against Black Catholics. Only one thing was pulled from the flames of the burning building: a huge, hand-carved wooden crucifix. Next to it is a framed news article from the Virginian-Pilot telling the story of the crucifix.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

for no bucks

Operation free coffee was a success this morning. All I had to do was take a cursory taste test of the new Starbucks Via to get a coupon for a free brewed coffee. I was a bit surprised by the small size of the samples. The tiny cups weren't even filled halfway.

It wouldn't have mattered whether or not I was able to figure out which was the instant coffee and which was the fresh brewed. However, the challenge intrigued me and I thought I could solve the mystery. While I waited for the drinks to cool to a palatable temperature, I noticed that one cup had the current Starbucks logo while the other had the retro "fresh roasted coffee" logo. Could the answer be as simple as truth in labeling? Presumably the instant mix wouldn't have qualified as "fresh roasted."

One had a much stronger, more bitter taste than the other. Another customer taking the test couldn't tell any difference but she drank them both piping hot. I thought that Starbucks would probably rig the test so that more people prefer the new Via. I could imagine the more pleasant tasting coffee being approved by management after years of development, testing and focus groups. I thought I remembered a press release from a few years back announcing the introduction of Pike Place Roast. It was a throwback to the early days of Starbucks. It made sense to me that their original product would have a more distinct taste. The barista told me I was right. The better-tasting coffee in the green-logoed cup was Via. The bitter stuff in the "fresh roasted" cup was Pike Place. The promotion continues tomorrow and Monday and you know I'll be back for more.

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Friday, October 02, 2009


Part of the fun of my new coffee habit is my goal to never pay for it. Obviously the coffee at work is paid for by the company, not me. On Tuesday, I got a free cup at Patrick Sullivan's because I perform there regularly. I could have had a soda instead if I wanted. On Wednesday, Kurt Weigel gave me a cup of Kona coffee.

This weekend my wife and I are traveling to my cousin's wedding in Virginia. Tomorrow morning, for the first time in my life, I will use the coffee maker in a hotel room to brew some Chez Parisien French Roast just because it's available at no extra charge. My wife discovered that I can also go to Starbucks for a free sample of their new instant coffee this weekend. Just for trying Via, I will get a coupon for a cup of their regular Pike Place brewed coffee. If I repeat the process on Sunday, that's two coupons for future use.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

social path

Former Knox County Commissioner Sharon Cawood gave me a quick lesson in social networking on Wednesday. I had posted a Twitter update about my remote broadcast from Weigel's. She sent a reply asking for more information. I had already left home and my computer by then and didn't see her message. Some of her followers were able to supply directions to the remote. When Sharon arrived at the store, she said that if I had been one of her followers, she could have sent me a direct message which would have been forwarded to my cell phone. She talked me through the steps of sending the message "on scawood" to Twitter, which put her on the list of Twitterers I read. She also showed me the TweetBeep application on her phone which notifies her whenever she is mentioned on Twitter. As a fan of Google Alerts, I also signed up for TweetBeep. Mine just goes to my email.

While talking with Sharon, I asked her about some Twitter dilemmas I've been having. I had started following a feed about Christmas music that interested me. I quickly tired of it when they posted the same information about an upcoming CD multiple times per day. I felt a little bad about un-following them because they had followed me back. But seriously, how many times a day do I need to be reminded that they got William Shatner to be on their CD?

I'm having a bigger problem deciding what to do about a local Twitterer. After meeting the person a few weeks back, I wanted to be polite and follow their feeds but I find them to be confusing. Almost all the messages were replies to other people. Reading only half of a conversation is frustrating. I prefer tweets that are written as if to a third party rather than tweets that target an individual. To be fair to this person, I have publicly acknowledged that I don't follow a co-worker's tweets for the exact same reason. So far, I've stopped following one guy who hasn't posted anything since I joined Twitter and three or four people who post too darn much.

Facebook has presented a couple of challenges lately too. It's no secret to my blog readers that I maintain a Facebook page for listeners and another for business contacts and co-workers. Most of the time I can post the same stuff on each but there are plenty of exceptions. Last Spring, two people I didn't know sent friend requests to my business contact page. Instead of accepting, I sent them friend requests from my listener account. Over the summer, one of the two, a married woman, would occasionally post comments with a slightly negative slant that I didn't understand but just left alone. Last week when I mentioned the FBI Citizens Academy, I got comments and queries from some listeners. The woman in question posted a response to one of my listeners that was very negative toward the FBI. I quietly un-friended her.

The other problem came from a recent high school graduate who posted some sexual and excretory jokes on my wall. The audience attending an Einstein Simplified show knows that I can enjoy ribald humor as much as anyone. However I must hold my Facebook page to a higher standard. The improv show takes place in a bar that used to be a 19th century brothel. The Facebook page is open to listeners of all ages who do not need to be inadvertently exposed to rude language. I deleted the idiotic comments from the young man and un-friended him, which seemed to anger him. This morning he spammed both my walls with a series of YouTube links that I didn't bother clicking. Not only did I delete his trash, I blocked him from being able to see my pages.

The whole experience made me realize that I still have much to learn about the world of social networking. Ken Mueller, who I knew when he was a radio curator at the Museum of Television & Radio, learned of my plight and offered to help. I will contact him soon but in the meanwhile I've been reading some of his blog posts about social media. He included a link to a funny essay that I could identify with: "the 46 stages of Twitter."

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