Tuesday, April 27, 2010

AAA 2010

San Diego was the site of this year's AudiologyNOW convention, an annual event programmed by the American Academy of Audiology (AAA). Thousands of audiologists, ENTs, acousticians, techs, hearing industry folk, and others gather to network and learn. A giant expo floor houses all the hearing aid players, gargantuan and mom and pop alike. You'll also see reps from the military, earmold labs, universities, and cochlear implant companies.

There are also sessions covering every aspect of the field of audiology. Far from just amplification. Vestibular, tinnitus, auditory processing, speech. Research is presented through those and separate modules and poster sessions (students contribute as well). I had the honor of co-presenting an hour long talk on sudden hearing loss at the Denver meeting in 2007, and a poster on the auditory complications in patients with Asperger's Syndrome in Dallas last year.

In the evenings at "AAA", the hearing aid companies have big and small shindigs; this year's were covered in a previous post. I forgot to mention that the opening night festivities involved a baseball game between the Padres and Braves. I had not read the bulletin ahead of time. Damn! Would've been fantastic...

I've attended five meetings, and it has been interesting to observe how my agenda has changed over time. My first was in D.C. in 2005. It was exciting. Dazzled by the city, the convention center, the glitz on the expo floor, I was overwhelmed. Too much stimuli. I eagerly collected all the freebies from the manufacturers; classmmates and I excitedly compared swag. "You got an iPod?!" "Are those Bose noise cancellers?" If you didn't have to stuff another suitcase for the flight home, it was some sort of failure. But as I treveled to Minneapolis, Denver, and Dallas thereafter (skipped Charlotte in '08), I became les interested in that. Besides, the Ethics Board came down hard last year and now the freebies are history. Well, some were still giving out cupcakes.

I did attend educational sessions, even in the early days. Some filled in the gaps of my knowledge, some were beyond my knowledge base. I took copious notes, unworried about the secret code you had to wait around for to get your CEUs. These days, it's (mainly) all about that. I can knock out a good percentage just at the Convention. This year, I really got much out of them, and am currently employing points noted in my daily practice, particularly from the balance lectures. The most interesting session was presented by two NASA scientists who explained the auditory and balance problems of astronauts after spaceflight. The geotropic rehabilitation protocols were both expected and astonishing: a vibrotactile suit? Brilliance! I want to work for NASA.

My first trips to the Conventions were as a student. Consequently, I saw many classmmates there each year. But fewer and fewer now. It can be expensive. Plus, we're working folks now and someone has to see patients. It's not always feasible to shut a practice down for half a week should you not have coverage. I get that. It is a bit sad, though. The scattering after our 3rd year, then the further diaspora after graduation. It is not limited to geography. Many of us are not who we were, to ourselves and especially not to each other.

We once spent hours collaborating on presentations, studying in the HPD library, hitting the Ale House after a long day in clinic and class. Bonds were forged, all of that. But you know how life goes; people move on. Even without the cliques, infighting, relationships turned to vinegar, all during grad school itself, people close the book on yet another period of life.

I often try to keep the communications lines going. Facebook has made this much easier, but results vary wildly. Many are just not interested. They're busy, sure, but when you actually have a latter day conversation, at last, you might hear that, well, life moves on.

It really hit me this year. It was on the last day, on the Expo floor. One of my classmmates was at a booth, repping her company, a recent new job. She was thrilled with the position. We hugged, spoke of our current gigs. She had been involved in a fair amount of drama in the waning days of school. Sadly, she lost a dear friend/classmmate over it. I knew all of this, but hearing her tell it made it more poignant somehow. She went on to state that she was out of contact with pretty much everyone from school. Professors included (this would be a sad theme that was echoed by other covention attendees/former classmmates). BFF contracts were forgotten. Was there sadness in her voice? Maybe fleetingly. More an acknowledgment of the glum reality. Put simply, shit happens. Maybe the relationship wasn't worth saving, in her eyes. Maybe there will be a reconciliation in the future. I have at least one of those pending myself.

After our exchange, I rushed off to one last session, then later wandered the Convention Hall and thought about many things. Mainly grad school, a shattering experience I've yet to document here. I thought about those with whom I learned, how many of them are still close (a few). Others were like brothers and sisters but drifted, more ghosts in my life to add to the many before them. I was hoping to see a few at this year's event, but there are mortgages and kids and schedules. The words of my classmmate haunted me the rest of that day and on the long plane ride home. How many more families will we join, only to be torn asunder yet again? Will we care?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Canyon Livin', Part II

I neglected to mention a highlight of my time in Los Angeles: ordering a Fat Tire ale. Ah, what a sublime Belgian brew. Not to be found in Florida. Going to the Western United States, ale lover? Try it!

So. We packed up and cruised out of L.A. heading due East to visit some old friends in Chino Hills, a suburb. The traffic situation in L.A. had been surprisingly tame, even around LAX! The 405, the 5, all manageable. That is until we hit the California 60, oy. Totally blindsided. Miserable. We left in early afternoon, heading out of the urban stew, thinking this ride would be a piece of cake. Wrong. I still can't figure out why there was so much traffic and where they were all going. There were no accidents to blame. Very odd. Eventually, we made it to the CiCi's pizza franchise opened by Kirk and Lourdes in Chino Hills. The area seemed to be your typical bedroom community, with texture. Rolling hills, carved out roads. We would also learn that it is a very culturally diverse place. Seemingly a good antidote to the distressingly white bread ones that litter the U.S.

I've known Kirk since college, and Lourdes since we met at church during the high school years. She was actually from CA originally (San Francisco)and she and her family ran a much beloved Mexican resturant in West Palm Beach for many years. K & L also moved back and forth between Atlanta and FL several times, this CA jaunt the most recent. They believe, permanent. We sat and spent a few hours catching up with them right in the restaurant, chowing on the goods. The pizza was better there than at any CiCi's I'd been to. Their kids were frighteningly big now; we knew them from their earliest days and even babysat them once or twice back in WPB. All raved about their new home: the weather, the diversity, the attitudes. Kirk had grown sick of his hometown of Atlanta, a nice place but filled with the sort of closemindedness he's grown out of. I had not seen him this happy in a very long time. We wished we could spend much more time but we had to hit the road.

Instead of the 5 we traveled the 15 to the East, heading south to San Diego. This was a productive, hassle free ride. We arrived at the home of Sonia's college chum, Karmyn, around 9ish. We chatted with her and her husband John and met their adorable daughter, Vanessa. It was her bedtime. We also met the family cat, Skylar, who was very pregnant and due any day. There were running bets among family members as to how many kittens would soon be around.

My purpose for San Diego was the AAA (American Academy of Audiology) convention, a yearly meeting for continuing ed and manufacturer exposition. It was exciting to learn of its location this year. SD is one of my favorite cities. I did not get to visit the famous zoo, La Jolla, Balboa, and all the other wonderful sites this time, as I was cooped up in the Convention Center most of the time, but no carps. My AAA experience, upon review, is quite significant and I think I will write a separate entry for it.

The hearing aid companies always throw extravagant parties at night and this year was no exception. Cheap Trick was the headliner at one of them, playing right downtown outdoors. We drove down, but quite frustratingly could not find a parking space, for miles. Not one. We finally found a lot with one of those machines you feed. It would not take my cash and credit card without spitting it back. Very frustrating. We took it as a sign, and we were bone tired anyway. Plus, the next day's classes were early. Would've been cool to party like we were at Budokan, but anyway.

The next day was the 16th, my birthday. We met Karmyn and John in downtown's Little Italy at a place called Fillipi's Pizza Grotto. It was a great old spot, the kind with a line out the door and a grocery store through which you have to pass to get to the dining room. We had, of course, pizza, and a giant meatball that my wife and I split. Incredible. The table was way too small for our party but no other complaints. A slice of birthday spumoni with a candle was brought out at the end, the waitress stating that they don't sing here. No complaints! Quite the opposite from just about everywhere else and that amusing scene in the current film GREENBERG that I'll tell you about in a forthcoming review.

Sonia and I then boarded the U.S.S. Midway in the harbor for a Beach Boys concert! I kid you not. Another hearing aid company bash, one I imagine was incredibly expensive. Thousands of audiologists, dispensers, and who knows who else gnoshed on free food and partook of endless drink while the BBs (2 original memebers) wound through the hits and some intriguing curiosities. Later, fireworks were shot off carrier's runway. We had a front row seat for that, just behind the ropes (one of the ship's crew tipped us off earlier). Really, you all didn't have to go all out for just my birthday....

The concert ended but the party continued on a lower level with some cover band. More booze. Saw several former classmmates about. We also stood on a glass floor which revealed another lower level below. Two guys were tending to a torpedo, arms in the air, heads bobbed upward and all. Only, they were just mannequins. This provided lots of laughs for the more intoxicated among us. My wife said to one woman, "good thing you're not wearing a skirt!"

Next time, we'll celebrate another birthday and the beauty of CA.....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Canyon Livin', Part I

So much to process, this week just passed. We flew out to California for business and pleasure. The AAA (American Academy of Audiology) convention was held in San Diego this time, a happy instance as my wife's dear friend from college lives there. The friend very graciously let us stay with her family just north of downtown, mere minutes from the Convention Center (a gargantuan venue that is going to be expanded even further). More about that in the next entry.

But first, we flew to Los Angeles for a few days of leisure. L.A. is one of the most intriguing cities in the U.S. to me. Maybe it's the countless films, television programs, songs, and books that have documented it. A mythos has been created that precedes any visit. Much to live up to. But, it never fails to fascinate me. A sun baked collection of freeways, tall palms, and vallies, L.A. is a character unto itself. Like any such thing, it has layers, a myriad of personalities. Its familiar locales seem real enough, yet part of a fantasy, a film set. Sometimes, it is, as you may likely wander onto a filming location at any moment. Strangely, I did not encounter much of the entertainment industry this time. Well, aside from the oversized billboards and industry advertisements that even stretch across office buildings. Sunset Blvd. alone is stimulus overload.

It must be stated that almost immediately after retrieving our rental car near LAX, we got thee to an In-N-Out franchise. Only the best fast food burger you can get west of the Mississip, thank you very much. I had not had one of these in years. I had 2 friends rave over them in the last few months. They had excitedly told me how they ordered their "double double"s with a secret code modifier: "animal style". There is actually a whole list of codes that are not listed on the menu. Do a Wiki on this, quite comprehensive. But, animal style? Oh, yeah. The very fresh beef is cooked in mustard, smothered in onions. Absolutely essential cuisine. The In-N-Out fries are juliened and tasty, too. I captured a picture of the whole mess with my phone.

We stayed in a bed and breakfast called Cinema Suites, on Fairfax between Olympic and Wilshire Blvds. We were in the "Gloria Swanson" room. Nothing in it suggested Ms. Swanson in any obvious way. The house was erected in the 20s, though, a distinctive 2-story with a brick stepped staircase and second floor library balcony accessible only from one bedroom. This B & B was a "fend for yourself" affair; we made our own breakfast on Day 2, rifling cluttered cabinets and the frig for provisions. Our hostess, Dianne, was a gruff but lovely lady who gave some good tips for navigating the area. And we were smack in the middle of everything: Beverly Hills was a half mile up the street, downtown within reach, Hollywood was close, etc. One had to park on the street, but it wasn't too difficult, surprisingly. The room and house were definitely "lived in". I wouldn't call the place immaculate, but it was homey and comfortable, filled with Asian ornaments and funky furniture. However, there was this odd convalscent home smell. Like Sarna lotion had been spilled everywhere. We also made a rather unwelcome discovery on the (communal) bathroom floor, but nothing traumatic or unfixable.

We met a guy I had not seen since 1990 the first night. A childhood friend I first met in kindergarten Sunday School. He enlisted in the Navy right out of high school and returned 3 years later to WPB for a visit (we saw ROBOCOP 2; yes, I have this odd memory for such things). Dan retired from active duty in the late 90s and remained in CA after meeting his wife-to-be there. They would settle in Whittier, on the southern side of L.A. County. Two children. Unfortunately, the couple are currently in divorce preceedings, but Dan reports that it is amicable. We walked around the historic Farmer's Market, both the older and newer sections. The latter is a distressingly generic collection of upscale retail outlets you see all over the U.S. But wander back to the original site and you'll see outdoor eateries and seriously cool gourmet food shops. We ate some primo barbecue at a newish joint. We had so much to catch up on, and had some very interesting discussions about family life that I cannot elaborate upon here, but they were enlightening.

Afterwards, we cruised the Hills, Bel Air, Hollywood, the whole geography. Dan also showed off his Droid smart phone. I wish iPhone had the Google Sky application; you can point your phone upward and it will align with the stars above. The coordinates work even in the midst of a city washed in streetlights.

The next day was spent at Griffith Park near the Hollywood Hills. It is a sprawling site nestled high and back from downtown, Century City, and the other basins. We stood on the decks of the Observatory (a great science museum and planetarium) and gazed at the skylines through the haze and smog, though it wasn't as thick as it was during my previous visit. Maybe it was because of the time of year; summer is worse for that. That evening we drove to Agoura Hills, a bit northwest and visited my second cousin and his wife. They prepared a lovely dinner. We spoke of our jobs (he's a corpoarte psychologist)and he gave me fascinating recollections of his early days in New York. I learned things about my family I never knew. This couple also showed off their garden, a beautifully landscaped assemblege of citrus trees and boulders-very California. A nice evening.

The Getty Museum was the next day's business after a hearty breakfast at the Blu Jam Cafe on Melrose (recommended, get the migas-scrambled eggs with chorizo and other spices). The Getty is also high above L.A.; you park and then travel by rail to reach it. It is a HUGE place, with 5 buildings filled with collections that would take days to properly soak in. Leonardo DaVinci was the main attraction and we spent a few hours staring at his old sketchbooks and being mesmerized by 500 year old statues of John the Baptist and Pharisees. The outdoor gardens are also eye-filling. We saw a mere fraction of the Getty. Visiting is a must.

Next, we'll head south to San Diego, with an eastern side trip along the way.....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Veronika Voss

Shooting a film in black and white immediately renders the canvas an otherworldly landscape. Directors know this. Color stock has been available since the early 20th century, when 3-strip Technicolor rather artificially brought moving images to life. As the century progressed, color seemed to be used mainly for reality, not art. Most films, but not, say, THE WIZARD OF OZ. But most. Color was a novelty in the earlier days. B & W was always cheaper and for years just merely tolerated by many, I would surmise. It was how film and television looked.

From the 60s and 70s onward, if someone (especially someone backed by a major studio) shot a film in black and white, it was looked upon as pretentious at worst (see Soderbergh's KAFKA). Occasionally as art. It was one thing if you were trying to evoke images of the past, but what of Woody Allen shooting late 1970s NYC in glorious black and white? I could imagine MANHATTAN in color, but the moody romanticism, so key to that film's appeal and merit, would be lost. What films have you seen in color that you feel should have been in black and white? BIRD? ROUND MIDNIGHT? IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE? STORMY MONDAY?

Woody would also use B & W for several other films such as STARDUST MEMORIES, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, and CELEBRITY. To what end? Does this choice suit the material in each case? One can argue. I don't think anyone can quibble with Scorsese over his decision to film RAGING BULL that way. We don't need to see Jake's blood (or sordid life) in color to feel the pain. In fact, it's much bleaker this way. More than just a stylistic whim. We're drawn into a world that is at once sober and mystical.

Others used color to present the past, a manner in which people perhaps were not accustomed to seeing on film, but I'm pleased that German writer/director Werner Rainer Fassbinder frames his 1982 VERONIKA VOSS sans verdancy and scarlet, appropriate (arguably) as color photography might have been. Black and white celluloid is the medium through which Germans saw Veronika (Rosel Zech) in her big screen glory, not quite real. That is not entirely inaccurate, as the faded celebrity of this story is but a mere shadow of herself anymore in mid 1950s Munich, lost in a cloud of opiates courtesy of a rather sinister neurologist, Dr. Marianne Katz (Annemarie Düringer). I'll resist exploring the paradox of the meaning of the words "black and white" in various contexts when describing reality. One could drive themselves a bit mad.

There is melodrama. Dr. Katz has essentially enslaved her famous patient by providing a steady stream of narcotics, then denying them until Voss more or less hands over her estate. The cycle is damning and illustrative. Voss had spent a career being noticed, consuming attention and fame, thrown into hellish withdrawal when she wasn't recognized. I suspect many famous people, for all of their posturing about privacy, actually feel this way. Like Norma Desmond, Voss retreats into a fantasy of a triumphant comeback, a glorious red carpeted return to marquee royalty. Medication makes this more vivid. A predator like Dr. Katz knows it all too well. Voss has been subject to co-dependence for perhaps her entire life, whether the narcotic was fame or morphine.

The drama plays out, perhaps much like that of one of Veronika's wartime weepies. A journalist (Hilmar Thate) takes a shine to her, and her to him. She's fascinated that he does not know who she is. Perhaps a delicious challenge? A tantalizing opportunity for seduction? Maybe even a chance for a relationship based on genuine care rather than superficial name dropping. How novel. The journalist gets closer and discovers Veronika's bondage to the physician. His efforts to intervene are of course, tragic, leading to at least 2 fatalities, with the toxic medical provider the victor. The implications of this are doubtless riddled with meaning for a country still ravaged by war, yet still in a period of "economic miracle." The ravages, Fassbinder would elucidate, were on the human soul. What price ____?

VERONIKA VOSS was the 3rd in a trilogy that began in 1978 with Fassbinder's greatest international success, THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN and continued in 1981 with LOLA. Each film deals with the tools of commerce, sex, and notoreity for manipulation and power plays. The protagonist of each film victimizes/is victimized by society that initially seems ripe with opportunity but in time only reveals its thorns. Those thorns are also found from within, the antihero of each film finding they are part of the very society that would serve to knock them down. We've seen over and over how those we look to as bright lights, mentors, those we even may deify will eventually suffer the fickle wrath of their followers.

The director himself would suffer from his own demons, passing away after directing only one more film a few years later.

The climax of VERONIKA VOSS is heartbreaking. Dr. Katz is about to play her final hand, offering to a desparate former startlet one final dose. The night prior to that, in a sequence of stark calculated cruelty by Fassbinder, we will see a lavish party thrown for Ms. Voss, filled with people who give nary a damn about her, nonethless lauding her with praise, serenading her with song. Veronika is content, if just for a few hours before her final bow. All in high contrast black and white. Crushingly perfect. It says everything we need to know about the sad case of Veronika Voss.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

It's mainly about John Cusack, why I saw this movie. We're close in age, both Gen Xers, anyway. I feel I have watched him grow up onscreen. Sure, I also watched Ron Howard progress from Opie to Richie to famous movie director, but this case study hits closer to home. I watched Cusack in silly 80s films like BETTER OFF DEAD and ONE CRAZY SUMMER. A few years later, he starred in the more mature SAY ANYTHING. He started appearing in even more distinguished fare in his 20s, films like THE GRIFTERS. Then, in 1997, his character decided to attend his 10 year high school reunion in GROSSE POINTE BLANK. He did it so I didn't have to. A vicarious thing, and good enough. I felt a kinship with the guy. It was cemented when he made HIGH FIDELITY ten years ago. His character was a music obsessed romantic ruminating on his past loves. In early 2000, I was doing much the same.

Now he's in his 40s and playing a sad sack named Adam in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. He's representative of many middle-aged shlubs who cry in their beer after yet another crappy day at work. They sit and think about their lives and lament the failures they most certainly are. Like Adam, many have been dumped by their girlfriends or wives and have jobs they loathe. This time, I can happily say that a Cusack role does not reflect my current state. Life is a blessing, filled with love and contentment. But it's still fun to go back and track the next blip on Cusack's cinematic lifeline.

Adam and his buds are far from content. Nick (Craig Robinson) spends his days fishing car keys from the anuses of pooches. He seems to be on short leash himself; his wife seems to wear those legendary pants you hear of. The poor guy even has his name hyphenated 'cos it's the new sensitive thing for 21st century men to do. What happened between the halycon days of youth and the sad present?

In even worse shape is the pathetic Lou (Rob Corrdry), a divorced, severely alcoholic case of arrested development who tries to end his life by inhaling carbon monoxide fumes while flooring his car in park in the garage. As he swigs on a bottle of something, he's got Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home" blaring. By the way, if you're a fan of the Crüe, you'll be outright tickled by some of the gags in this movie.

Lou's suicide attempt fails, and after the guys visit him in the hospital, it is decided that they will take a road trip back to their old getaway, a ski lodge. They will indeed make this journey, but not before a gross (but painfully funny) gag involving a catheter and not without Adam's teenaged nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), a reclusive video-game addict. When the quartet arrives, they find their beloved haunt now a run-down shambles. A very surly one-armed belhop (Crispin Glover, and what great casting!)only adds to atmosphere.

The guys even get their old room, immediately trying to recreate some of the raunchy magic of their youth. They collect an impressive array of alcohol and dive into the hot tub out back. Things get crazy, and they don't notice that squirrel knocking a can of an illegally obtained Russian energy drink (don't ask, but it will become a major plot device later on as well) into the tub's circuitry. When they wake up, things look a bit differently, but not before Lou projectile vomits all over that squirrel (yeah, it's that kind of movie).

How differently? Frankie Say T-shirts. Banana Clips. Big hair. MTV is actually playing music videos, for pete's sake. When Nick asks a fluorescent, leg-warmer clad valley chick what color Michael Jackson is, it is soon apparent that the guys have traveled back to 1986. Thus, the door is opened for a set decorator's dream: all manner of 80s props, clothes, artifacts. Even if you weren't plugged into the pop culture of the day, even if you miss the rapid fire homages HOT TUB provides, if you were of age in the mid-80s, much of this film will provide at least a chuckle or two.

As with any time-travel film, there are discussions of how dangerous the situation can be. "What if we run into ourselves?" "If I do something differently, will it alter the course of time?" Jacob is especially concerned, as he hasn't been born yet and rightfully fears that if these bozos do anything differently, he'll be history, or, not. So our motley crew rack their brains and try to repeat what had orginally happened during a trip 20 + years earlier. Not fun stuff: Adam got stabbed in the eye with a fork after breaking up with his girlfriend; Lou got beaten up by a group of preppy fascists he insulted; Nick, meanwhile, had made it with a groupie (he was in a band), but feels if he repeats this event, he'll be cheating on his future wife. His future wife, by the way, was only 9 in 1986, and this will also play into an amusing plot twist later on.

Of course, things don't go as planned. There's also the matter of a mysterious hot tub repairman (Chevy Chase, wink wink) who seems to be some sort of celestial gatekeeper. He spouts engimatic pseudo-profundities as he tries to diagnose the problem. He does not, surprisingly, fire off wisecracks every 10 seconds like he did in so many 80s films (FLETCH, SPIES LIKE US, et al). His very presence in this movie will likely be enough of an in-joke for pop junkies between the ages of 30-50.

That is the age group at which I believe HOT TUB TIME MACHINE is aimed. The recognition of all things 80s will delight them. This includes, I think, the film's deliberate attempt to look like a poorly shot (and lit) presentation, reminiscent of countless youth comedies of the era. Then there's the crudity. Sure, those old movies were vulgar, but I never saw one quite as gross and profane as this one. In this age of post-modern comedic excess, after the Judd Apatow flicks and BRUNO and THE HANGOVER and its ilk, HOT TUB manages to be even more raw, with gags involving every imaginable bodily fluid, extensive profanity, drug jokes, male and female nudity, etc. etc. Lou himself is a poster child of inapropriateness, yet another heir to the throne of Bluto, the immortal slob as played by John Belushi all those years ago in ANIMAL HOUSE.

Such content was likely ramped up by director Steve Pink (a frequent Cusack collaborator) and the screenwriters for the younger audiences, but I think the mostly on-target jabs at the 80s would've been enough without all the manure. As with most of this genre, a warm fuzzy message is underneath the sleaze, so we're supposed to walk out of the theater feeling all gooey inside. But it's hard to forget all the raunch, especially when your stomach still aches from laughing. Yes, even against my more mature 40-something self's better instincts.