Check Out the Tool Belt on Mr. Comedian

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Coming to an auditorium near you: "Larry the Cable Guy." No, he's not an offspring of the character in the Jim Carrey bomb-that is, theatrical feature. He's the trash-talking, Ted Nugent-loving, perennial Florida write-in candidate. The stand-up comic is gaining publicity as part of a "Blue Collar" comedy tour headlined by Jeff Foxworthy. The comic claims to have worked at one time as an installer, but the funnyman, who's actually named Dan Whitney, has spent more time as a radio personality syndicating his own personal brand of political rhetoric. A sample: "Politicians say they can walk the walk, but when the chips are down, they stumble more than Ray Charles in a pumpkin patch." Uh, OK. Anyone ready to pitch in to pay him to switch personas? "Larry the Utility Guy" has a nice ring.

- - - There's a price to be paid for being horticulturally incorrect. Seren Innovations Inc. and its contractors have a new regulator looking over their shoulders as they attempt to build out Walnut Creek, Calif.-an arborist. The build was stopped briefly, and the company may be penalized for digging into the roots of a 250-year-old oak. Neighbors immediately complained to the city when they saw subcontractors trenching into the tree's root system. After triage, the arborist declared that the tree has a 75 percent chance of survival, and Tim Tucker, the city's acting engineer, said Seren will have to post a five-year bond in case the tree dies. Further, the city will more closely monitor construction and provide preapproval before the telecommunications contractors can move any other sidewalk.

- - - While trees are the focus of attention in California, people in Wilmette, Ill., have rocks on their minds. Regulators there believe AT & T Broadband should be required to shield its above-ground vaults with faux rocks after the operator paid to run all of its plant underground except for the vaults. AT & T counters that there is nothing in the MediaOne franchise it inherited that would require it to go into the landscaping business.

- - - Mitch Rose, a senior aide to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), left the senator's office three weeks ago to become vice president of government affairs for long-distance giant MCI WorldCom Inc. Rose had a lot of clout on Capitol Hill because Stevens played a key role in communications issues and chaired the money-allocating Appropriations Committee. But Rose's stay at WorldCom was a short one, since The Walt Disney Co. announced two weeks ago that it had hired him as vice president of government relations, to serve under AOL-Time Warner merger-basher Preston Padden. Disney's two-page press release included the obligatory treacle about Rose's "wealth of experience," but it failed to mention that Rose made a brief stop at WorldCom before coming to the Mouse House.

- - - In the latest testament to the phenomenal influence of the World Wrestling Federation on teens, The Rock was voted the fifth-most-favorite athlete among 1,000 teen-agers, according to a survey conducted in May by an outfit called Bolt Lab. While he trailed No. 1 vote-getter and retired hoopster Michael Jordan, soccer star Mia Hamm, basketball great Kobe Bryant and golf phenom Tiger Woods, The Rock clotheslined such athletes as Shaquille O'Neal, Vince Carter and bad boy Dennis Rodman. Who says everyone knows wrestling is, er ... choreographed entertainment?

- - - During the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's Local Cable Sales Management Conference in Denver earlier this month, SeaChange International Inc. vice president of advertising systems James Kelso offered a telling observation related to the convergence trend. He said he got teary-eyed while watching Saving Private Ryan on HBO, adding, "If you sit in front of your computer, the only time you're going to tear up is when you do your taxes!"

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