Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Your Business Card is Crap

Seeing as I now have to market myself more aggressively, maybe I should listen to this guy. Hmmmm.....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On the Other Side of the Dark Cavern

The above is really the best representation of how I felt during 2 weeks away from home. Says it all, really. Somewhat sad that one of the few pics I post of myself has to be one so unflattering, but, you know...
By the time the above was taken (by myself, case you didn't ctach that from the familiar angle) I was spent. Down to the 3rd to last day in a dreary town outside of Baltimore called Timonium. Now, Timonium, aside from sounding like a rejected element for the periodoc table, is far from the worst place I'd seen. Go to Raytown, MO sometime. Or Jeffersonville, GA. No offense to readers who may live there of course.
Timonium was just your typical commercially laden suburb, with rows of strip shopping centers and industrial parks. I was there for a rather extensive training session for intraoperative monitoring. Such a career involves the electrophysiological monitoring of nerves during surgery; I'll save a comprehensive explanation for a future installment of Your Audiology Tutorial. Eight hours of lecture daily, with some hands-on. Quizzes or tests, daily (even Sat.). Accomodations at an Extended Stay, the sight of which I couldn't stand even after 2 days. I know, wah wah wah.
But everything was just wrong. I had "shadowed" in the OR for a few weeks before this trip. It was all fascinating but uneasy just the same. Not sure why. Still not sure. All the discussion and stories during the training did not help. Actually, it did; this was not for me. I decided this early on, so the remainder of the trip was that much more deadly. My classmmates were great, though. Most were disgruntled chiropracters frustrated by lack of reimbursement from insurance and slow trickle of patients (tell me about it, bud). Others were MDs from overseas, OR techs, engineers, and a few newly out of undergrad.
-watching the chiropracters give adjustments in class to anyone who desired
-laughing as the instructor looked on cluelessly as she kept using the phrase "crossing swords"
-trips to Baltimore to visit a friend's record store, see RASHOMON at the lovely theater, The Senator (sep. entry to follow), and watch all the attendees of the Otakon (apprec. for Asian pop culture) convention.
-great Indian buffet in Hunt Valley
-running/jogging with classmmates through a variety of hilly terrain.
-2 nights of BBQ in the Extended Stay parking lot, with every form of meat being grilled. Copious amounts of Guinness, Blue Moon, and Sam Adams were also on hand.
Otherwise, a bad, depressing trip. I missed my wife. The hotel reeked of locker room. The McCormick factory down the street belched pepper and garlic into the air daily (kept waiting for cinnamon). Wah wah. Yes, but it was all so enlightening. Time to be an audiologist again.....

Sight Unseen

As I am always one to provoke food for thought, check this out:

Karen and I grew up in the same church in South Florida. We rode the same school bus to that church's day school. Her blog is prefaced by an interesting backstory-while out in the mission field, spreading the gospel, she began to question her beliefs. That questioning continued, and continues still as she examines the New Testament with more experienced eyes. An interesting journey, indeed......

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vindication for Eddie

Criterion again rescues a piece of cinematic history from the long dark abyss of obscurity. THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, reviewed by me here last year, has finally gotten a proper video home release. Make that any home release. For some unexplained reason, this picture has never been available on homevideo. Now it is, in the best possible presentation. Marvel in Mitchum's perfect performance and the authentic grit of early 70s Boston. Urban Greek tragedy at its grimy finest.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Trip You Must Take, Part VI

The last full day on the Celebrity Infinity began with another surveyance of the mind boggling array of breakfast offerings. Normally, I'm fairly careful with what I eat, but such concerns, while not impossible to acknowledge on a cruise, are pretty moot in the face of such choices. And presentation. Name something; I guarantee it was available at one time or another. Recall also that the newlyweds religiously hit the ship's gym to try to repair the damage surely done by waffles, oversized omelets, stuffed French toast. During this day's workout, I noticed some of the Celebrity Singers on the mats and weight machines. That tenor who belted out the aria I spoke of was on the teadmill next to me at one point. Funny to see performers doing everyday things, like they exist in a world where run-of-the-mill things supposedly don't apply. Odd feeling. I bet people who live in Los Angeles are disappointed when they see Johnny Depp at the grocery store.

Our final stop was Victoria, British Columbia. After all the grandeur of Alaska, it seemed that this would be an underwhelming trip. As we slowly approached the Canadian port, watching the drama of the dockworkers quickly propelling the ropes to secure the big mother of a ship, I questioned why Victoria wasn't the first stop. It would've been like an appetizer for all the advneture and beauty of the 50th state. I thought back to when we perused the excursion list. Ketchikan and Juneau had all these exotic activities like zip lines, helicopters and seaplanes over glaciers, kayaking. Victoria had a much shorter list; most of the excursions only requiring walking. I was not expecting anything special. I was very wrong.

Just about every excursion centered around what is surely one of the most beautiful places I 've seen, the Butchart Gardens. For over a century, the Gardens has treated the public to a stunning array of flower gardens the likes I haven't ever seen. A bit of history-in the very early 1900s, a dry goods merchant named Robert Pim Butchart established a cement business on the limestone rich landsite on which the Gardens now reside. After the limestone resources were exhausted, Mrs. Butchart converted the pit into a sunken garden.

Gradually, she created separate areas reflecting the family's world travels. To this day there are Italian, Japanese, and other regional spreads. The Gardens became very popular in the 20th century, with fountains, totem poles, tea gardens, and other eccoutrements added as time went by. Over 700 varieties of plants are brought in each year, viewed by a about a million people annually. We were privileged to be among them. "There must be a special place in heaven for Mrs. Butchart," my wife said as we drank in the indescribable beauty of the grounds. It certainly looks as close to an idea of heaven as I've seen. Would love to return for their regular classical concerts on the lawn or their Christmas displays.

Right before we were bussed to the Gardens, we took a brief tour of the Butterfly Gardens, about a mile away. The unique owl butterfly, with its owl eyes denoting each wing, really stood out. The BG is an enclosed replica of a forest, complete with trees, a stream, flamingos, parrots. It reminded me of tropical Florida! BG is very similar to our own Butterfly World, located west of Pompano Beach. Both places are a delight and very calming. Educational as well.

The excursion unfortuneatly had to end and as we headed back to the ship, we got a very nice tour of downtown Victoria. Our bus driver expertly narrated as we careened through what appeared to be a well preserved batch of history. Great architecture. The driver stopped for 10 minutes, allowing us to take pictures of the government builing and the Empress, an ivy covered hotel that looked positively European. I learned after returning home that my upstairs neighbor once lived nearby that area! It was so attractive, thoughts of ditching the bus were voiced.

The driver continued to discuss the lovely town as we got closer to the ship. He had a great voice, broadcast worthy. Sure enough, Sonia asked him if he ever did any announcing as we got off the bus. "Good call! I was on radio for 20 years," he exclaimed.

By now it was 8:30 or so. We normally had early seating at the Trellis but decided to try to get a table at the late. There of course was our faithful Nieto, who gave us our own. 'For the honeymooners! We were sorry we did not get to see our dinner mates, but this final night was still very sweet. Pork chops? Magnificent!

Anyone who crusies knows that you are required to get your luggage ready the night before departure. We were already packed, so we were able to stroll the moonlight one final time before retiring. It was odd to see darkness at 10:30, as our Alaskan nights had midnight sunsets. It was a quiet night, no clubbing or anything. We had done that the night before, sweating on the dancefloor of the Constellation Club. No, tonight was for reflection. What a lovely time. I was sad, though, thinking that sometime early tomorrow we had to leave this floating palace of bliss. But, another adventure would soon begin....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Trip You Must Take, Part V

Day Six: No ports, just cruising at sea. A day to take a breath and enjoy the amenities of the wonderful Celebrity Infinity. This line is very classy; no conga lines of drunks up and down the hall at 3 A.M. or any of that sort of thing. The demographic was wee tykes to octogenrians, newbies (like me) and seasoned vets. Some of them had been on this Alaskan journey before. Cannot say I blame them for a return, be it for the vistas or just the ship itself. I'd been told that cruise life is fab, and I'm here to say likewise. The pampering is total, yet never excessive. The commercials for Celebrity state that the staffs are omnipresent but never in the way. Very true. One day, we returned to our suite with arms 'o goodies. Out of nowhere was a stateroom attendant, key in hand.

Up till this day on the ship, we had already enjoyed culinary extravagance and the diligent attention of a superlative crew. The Oceanview Cafe was open from early morning until 11 P.M. daily, with different stations for American, Asian, Italian, and even British fare. We hit the cafe mainly at breakfast and lunch; the dress was always casual. The wait staff was continually ready with a fresh plate or a bottle of wine. Gratuities (15%) were figured into our final bill, but additionals were encouraged (and well earned).

Most nights we dined at the 2-level Trellis restaurant with two delightful elder couples from Arizona and Minnesota. One couple were teetotalers, the other, not (recall we had seen one at the Red Dog). Our table was right against a window, which was wonderful except for the night a school of dolphins appeared. The excitement spread across the room and there was a rush to see the formations. We were swamped with gazers. Otherwise, the Trellis was quite nice, with Mr. Nieto, our attentive waiter. The food was very good (lobster, truffles, crab cakes, salmon, etc. etc.), though the S.S. United States from the first night was a very hard act to follow. I wanted to return there but we did not make it.

There were two formal nights, two chances to sport a recently acquired tuxedo. Good thing I had transported it in a garmant bag, as irons are not allowed on the ship. This is good to remember for anyone reading who's never sailed on a cruise. When I learned this on Day One, I was not happy. Most of my clothes had been folded and were thoroughly wrinkled. I had to spring for laundry services. Otherwise, we put our trousers and blouses near the steam in the shower. One the second formal night, all of the waiters came out to the strains of "Auld Lang Syne", carrying trays of yes, Baked Alaska. Wait, I thought fire was verboten..... That night we were also treated to another cake when the wait staff discovered that we were newlyweds. This was our third dessert that night!

That evening we also took in another variety show courtesy the Celebrity Singers and Dancers. Each night was a different theme; we saw the Broadway, Rock 'n' Roll and "Around the World" showcases. All were fun, if a bit campy at times. I could not contain my laughter on R and R night when a white baby grand ascended from under the stage with a guy on top singing "Piano Man". Even worse that night, an ultra cheesy rendition of the Jackson Five's "ABC". The outfits, the lack of rhythm; it was all too much. My ribs hurt from laughing and from my wife's elbow. However, the piano man himself came out a few nights later with a thunderous Italian aria that blew everyone away. Nothing we had seen prior would prepare us for such a passionate performance, easily the best moment on the Celebrity Stage that week. The theater itself was huge, complete with balcony area. Impressive.

A string trio (there was a 4th who was apparently ousted some time back) also dazzled us more than once with their energetic takes on Schubert and others. One of the violinists was expressive to the point of concern. The musicians were perched nightly near the Champagne Bar, and a mesmerized dozen or so watched and listened. They were like sirens, this trio. A stop at the Martini Bar lounge afforded a listen to a good jazz outfit. Went down nicely with a strong brandy.

Flitting about the ship and hosting multiple events was Artie, our Cruise Director. Artie was a very cheerful fellow, his resume extensive in the entertainment field. He walked around saying "Hakuna.." waiting for the often startled shipgoer to finish with "matata". Some got confused and said "potato". One lady, Artie relayed, simply groaned and said "whatever." Obviously, Ms. Grumpypants hadn't had a visit to the luxurious spa, as we did. Our massages were deep tissue, the sounds of the ocean swirling along with Enya. A nice afternoon.

I see I've rambled, gone out of order. That's how a day at sea was, no structure. Loved it. Sure, there was plenty to do-classes, games, tastings, art expos. One could easily plan things within an inch of their lives from sunup if they so desired. But we mainly saw where the day took us. As I toured the boat, I began to think that I could easily live there. All the things I needed where at my disposal: chapel, restaurants, meeting rooms, movie theater, gym, pool, offices. I could live and work at sea! Then, I could jump off and enjoy the ports. I could do it, really....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Your Audiology Tutorial: Ear Candling

Cerumen, or ear wax, gets a bad rap. Patients prod their ears with cotton swabs, pencils, paper clips (I've also been told, to my horror, knives) in efforts to retrieve and discard the stuff. Truth is, cerumen is not necesarily bad, as it has antibiotic properties and is handy for keeping insects out of there! Some patients, however, seem to have miniature wax factories that are so productive that the canals are entirely occluded even a few months later for follow-up visits. Why? Genetics could be a factor. Ironically, those Q-Tips that feel so good and seem to be effective at cerumen removal also (when shoved beyond the outer cartilaginous structure known as the pinna, or auricle), stimulate more wax production. The sweat and sebacous glands underneath the thin skin layer (quite sensitive) of the canal respond to the swab or other object's scraping back and forth by creating more of the pesky substance. Patients who wear custom made hearing aids also quite ironically find that their ears make more and more wax over time due to the stimulation the device causes by constantly being fit into the ear.

What to use to eradicate? Commercially prepared peroxide based products can help. A few drops can break up the surface tension of the wax and after the head is properly tilted, the remants can seep out. A rubber bulb syringe filled with (ONLY!) lukewarm water can help facilitate things. Also, stool softening liquids can also break up the wax. If the wax problem is severe/impacted, the audiologist and/or ear, nose, and throat doc can use a variety of methods: alligator forceps, currets, water irrigation, or suction. There is also an alternative known as "ear candling."

Ear candling is a procedure that attempts to extract the wax from a patient's ear canal by way of a burning wick. It is performed by a variety of personnel, not all of whom have any sort of licensure. Audiologists do not typically perform ear candling for a multitude of reasons. The link provided gives a solid overview of why this method is ineffective at best and sometimes even dangerous. Two of my classmmates in grad school attempted a round of ear candling; their results are presented at the conclusion of the article (complete with images of an ear canal pre- and post procedure).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Trip You Must Take, Part IV

We awoke on our 5th day at sea to the capital town of Juneau, AK (pop. 301 K, considerably fewer during non-summertime). The ship docked around 7 AM; the sun had already been up for nearly 3 hours. Like Ketchikan, the first views of the shoreline revealed rows of businesses geared for tourists. T-shirt shops and jewelry stores dotted the main street. Our first excursion, "Bike View & Brew" had us whisked away in a van and the scene again quickly changed.

This time our guide was an 18 y.o. local who had just graduated from high school. While we waited in the heavy main street traffic, he duly noted all said businesses, adding that "everything will look a lot cooler in a few minutes." It did. Maybe it's just that we're Floridians, easily impressed by elevations and trees that aren't palms. I dunno. But the lush landscapes were simply gorgeous. Our ride narration was a really good mix of local facts/stats and some personal observations. Nolan described how miserable many teens are in Juneau, what with its 22 hrs. of darkness during the winter, brutal cold, and the lack of fast-food establishments. "Many escape and go to Seattle," he informed us. We, of course, thought all of this sounded really good!

Anyhow, we wound up in an industrial area where a trailer full of 10 speeds awaited. Hitched 'em up, drove a few more miles to a clearing, then we were off on a 10 mile ride that took us over pavement and rock, through a university parking lot, past a church called the Chapel-by-the-Lake (also a stopping point), up some not too steep hills, along a rad forest trail, and around the Mendenhall Glacier, which is over 200 ft. high and nearly 3 miles wide. We saw the Glacier from two separate locations. Another magnificent site. Can't say enough about its beauty. The end of the excursion had us at the Alskan Brewery, where we sampled the local ale, India and Winter brews. This craft brewery had been around for 25 + years in the same modest location. We learned quite a bit of the history of the place and what goes into the beer making itself. Samples of malts and hops were made available for our tasting; those chocolate ones were pretty good! I bought an assorted six pack of bottles to bring home, having heard that this brew was unavailable east of the Mississip.

We got a good look at a bald eagle as we pulled away from the brewery. Later, I read that eagles are as common as pigeons in Juneau. Another guide told us that ravens are almost as common.

Back in town, we had lunch at the infamous Red Dog Saloon. NO ONE UNDER 21 ADMITTED read the sign above the entrance. Hmm. The floor was covered in sawdust, which was explained by our waitress to be a tradition as old as the place itself. Back during the gold rush years in the late 19th century, patrons carried pieces of gold as currency. If they dropped them on the floor, they would be lost. At closing time, the Red Dog owner would sift through and retrieve quite a sum. The guy playing the piano was a riot, hurling insults at those unfortunate enough to be sitting close. "Boat trash" he called 'em. Then, he launched into X-rated versions of such classics as "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah" and then the sign I saw earlier suddenly made sense. Pretty raunchy. We saw one of our nightly cruise dinner cohorts there, who later described the Red Dog as similiar to "an old Marine bar." The menu was also a hoot: under the liquors, the designations were "Cheap Shit", "Expensive Shit" and "Really Expensive Shit." All were about a buck apart and none more expensive than $8. We shared a halibut pizza that was tasty but distressingly small. We had to seek more food elsewhere.

Mmm, crepes. We had a dandy one at what was essentially a kiosk in a row of businesses off the main drag. As we waited, we noticed several pics of a young girl and her family. The young man waiting on us explained that she was the owner, only 23! I also noticed that a few Bible verses were written on the white board below the daily specials. This was a nice antidote to the sleazery (amusing as it was) of the Red Dog. We had a ham and cheese crepe that was surprisingly large and quite good. As we left the young lady proprieter passed us and smiled.

We killed time around downtown until our next excursion. Very picturesque once you go a few blocks. Everything is sloping off a large mountain, off of which two red trams travel the cables. We unfortunately didn't get to ride it, but we did get a good dose of local color. Most of the people we passed were doubtless tourists, but I think I have a good eye for the locals. We started to see the neighborhood kids on their skateboards, panhandlers, anonymous souls who made too much eye contact, others who made a studied effort to avoid it. Lot of down-and-outers. Every town I visit, I find myself looking into the shadows; some towns are easy (L.A., New Orleans), others are more subtle (Macon, Denver). Juneau was fairly transparent. One musician was slumped over with his guitar, his hat filled with maybe a couple of coins. He was bombed. I couldn't even see his face. His fingers barely strummed. Just then, I looked up to see the "Arctic Bar." I imagined how unrelentingly bleak this town must be during the winter. Intriguing. I was reminded of that time we rode a cab in Minneapolis, the driver explaining how alcohol consumption and television watching were the main hobbies. Not everyone is on the slopes, taking advantage of the beauty of God's creation.

I also heard that the local political scene in Juneau has its own interest. We did catch a glance at the gov's mansion but did not get to tour. Nope, didn't see Ms. Palin, either.

Our next excursion: salmon bake. Just outside of downtown, in what was once a mining area, complete with gigantic metal gears and shafts with broken 2 x 4s blocking the entrances of mines. A large grill was set up with smoked salmon. Stations for side dishes and blueberry cake (yum!) were scattered around. A folk singer sat up front, playing songs about Alaska on her acoustic guitar. The most memorable, a true earworm, was a kids' song called "If You Wanna Catch a Moose."The food was terrific, and afterward we strolled by a river and eventually a waterfall, per the guitarist's advice. More beauty. The air coming off of it was positively narcotic. It was so good we only felt a little bit bad that we missed toasting marshmallows. My only complaint about this whole trip was that this particular excusrion was scheduled far too close to the time our ship left port. Just means we have to return......