Novak: Down but Not Out

Political columnist Robert Novak slipped in a Miami hotel bathroom early yesterday (as in 5:30 a.m.) and broke his hip. The 73-year-old pundit, in Florida for Thursday's presidential debate, underwent partial hip replacement surgery in the afternoon at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables.

The man known in some circles as "the Prince of Darkness" has proved his mettle over the decades. "Road Rage Bob," as he's also been called (because of a penchant for zooming the streets of Washington in his black convertible Corvette), has been a sky diver and race-car driver, not to mention his day job of infuriating Democrats during all those political debates on CNN's "Crossfire."

Dare we ask whether the surgery will put the curmudgeonly conservative on injured reserve less than five weeks before the election? "Are you kidding?" responded his aide, Kathleen Connolly, stifling a scoff. "He intends to write his column for the weekend and asked me to cancel Monday's events, but not Tuesday's." But maybe Tuesday's, too: We hear Novak hopes to be back in action (i.e., out of Miami) in five to seven days.

The Passion of Mel's Fan

Mel Gibson is happy to share the Passion of Christ with the movie-going masses, but perhaps not on a one-on-one basis. The devout Catholic has obtained a restraining order against a 34-year-old homeless man who keeps trying to pray with the Hollywood superstar.

You gotta hand it to Zack Sinclair: He was certainly religious about obtaining his goal. First he wrote letters. Then he turned up at Gibson's home twice in two days. After being told to go away, an undeterred Sinclair showed up at Gibson's church. He "approached me, interrupted my worship, stood extremely close (approximately six inches) from me and demanded that I pray with him," Gibson said in a statement. That didn't seem to give Sinclair satisfaction, so he went back to Plan A: Return to the Gibson mansion, at which point he was arrested. All of this activity has led the actor to conclude that Sinclair is "alarming, harassing and annoying."

A hearing is set for Wednesday on whether to make the court order permanent.

Noted . . .

The Food Edition: We can only imagine the reaction from Pentagon employees on Thursday when they stroll over to the Pentagon Brats and Music Festival, a fundraiser for the Pentagon Memorial Fund, and order up a bratwurst -- only to find Miss America Deidre Downs, Miss Virginia Mariah Rice and Redskins cheerleaders as their servers. That's some ammo . . . Whatta guy! That was Abe Pollin and the entire Mystics basketball team having dinner last night at Morton's on Connecticut Avenue. Pollin treated the players to dinner to say thanks for a "magical season" (17-17 record, fourth in the Eastern Conference, a first-round exit from the playoffs) . . . If Laura Bush looks a few pounds lighter these days, it's because of the campaign trail. Talking to People's Your Diet mag (yeah, it's new), the first lady reminds us: "The best tip is to stop searching for a miracle diet and start making positive lifestyle changes that promote good health." Eh. But then she dishes: "My campaign diet could be called 'How eating whatever you can grab and running in heels will help you lose weight!' Because I'm constantly on the go and eating smaller meals, I've actually managed to lose a few pounds." See, there is a positive! (Not that she needs to lose weight, by any means.)

. . . and Quoted

"He's ruining hats for everyone."

-- David Spade, offering his two cents to "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno about the excessively rakish headwear of Britney Spears's other half, Kevin Federline.

-- Compiled by Anne Schroeder

from staff and wire reports

CNN pundit Robert Novak plans to keep working as he recovers from hip surgery.