Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"Gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson has been the source of so many writings attesting to his nearly mythological standing in American culture that I've often wondered what he was really like. When you're an icon of such stature, where does the true self end and the myth begin, or vice versa? There is always the danger of believing your own press. Thompson probably bought into and dismissed it simultaneously. Who else would have the chutzpah to appear in a photograph holding a gun to a typewriter?

"Gonzo" journalism is described as a style of reporting where the reporter is so involved in what he/she is covering that they become part of the action. I picture director Terry Gilliam as a "gonzo" type himself, maybe not literally doing the stuntwork he asks of his professionals but nonetheless being extremely hands on. What a perfect auteur to realize Thompson's legendary 1971 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! Or so I thought.

As with other entries in "The Great Overrated" series, I acknowledge that Gilliam's 1998 adaptation may well be a worthwhile film (recently given the white glove treatment by Criterion on DVD and Blu-Ray), but perhaps I'm too busy holding my nose to appreciate it. I've tried with this one. Really tried. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is what I rather informally and broadly call "punk rock cinema", a near complete abandon of the usual rules of the medium. Films that create their own cinematic language. Sometimes, it works: LIQUID SKY, MEMENTO, WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES, Pi, Kubrick films, many Lynch films, early Wim Wenders. Other times, it does not: 200 MOTELS, TIMECODE, this movie.

I can see the attempt, even not having read Thompson's book in full. Gilliam was trying to capture that perpetual jaggedness of substance abuse. How events would play under the influence of mescaline, acid, diethyl ether, and probably every other controlled susbtance ever derived. Having never experienced such fear and loathing myself, perhaps I'm not qualified to properly review Gilliam's film. Just how interesting could it be to watch someone else's drug trip? Ever been the designated driver amongst a bunch of drunks?

Some folks use the term "write drunk, edit sober". For this film it seems to be: "Write drunk, edit stoned". Yes, it suits the material. As Thompson, er, Duke (Johnny Depp) and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) stumble through and destroy hotel suites throughout Sin City in the early 70s, the viewer is treated to camerawork that will most certainly be a workout for the vestibular system. Duke is in town to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race, and does, but his drug fueled paranoia does not allow clear analysis. Imagining that there are swarms of non-existent bats and hotel staff morphing into lizards does not promote concise writing. But we're talking about Hunter Thompson.

Duke and Gonzo leave and return to town, do drugs, meet a lost girl (Christina Ricci), do more drugs, sit in bathtubs fully clothed, begging for the other to drop a radio in so it can be heard better, and so on. Describing the film's events is pointless and tedious, for me to type, and, I imagine, for you to read. For me, also to watch. To say a little of FEAR AND LOATHING goes a long way is patently obvious. As with many of the films in this "Overrated" series, a point is made and then painfully belabored for far longer than necessary. Filmmaker: you can smash cut and fill the frame with vomit for a little while, but some sort of transition keeps your masterpiece from being a didactic bore. I do have to hand out kudos for the amazing art direction on this movie, however. That must be noted.

Man, did I want to like this movie. It has a very loyal fandom who will defend it to the end and call its detractors uncool and ignorant. I had a near lynch mob upon me after I derided the film one night after it was first released on DVD. Hey, I do the same for other "difficult" movies (ERASERHEAD, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, BREWSTER MCLOUD, etc.). People rave about this film the way they do about another troubling "classic", the Coen Brothers' THE BIG LEBOWSKI, though that is a film I can appreciate and enjoy, despite its faults. FEAR AND LOATHING, after several viewings (as I said, I've tried my darndest) remains a cinematic migraine, a real test for my nausea receptors. If you're old enough to remember all those hysterical movie ads from the 1970s, the ones that warn that the movie may make you faint or get ill due to its intensity (and actually, THE EXORCIST really did do those things to many viewers during its original run), you might wonder why FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS did not have similiar disclaimers. They would be appropriate.

But, to be fair, Depp is game as Thompson, his take on the maverick is more successful than Bill Murray's attempt in the subpar 1980 WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM (in fact, Thompson hated Murray's performance so much, he threatened to "rip his throat out" if the two ever crossed paths). I'm not sure what sort of research Depp did to prepare, but he manages to navigate a very treacherous course as best as can be expected, allowing for the only moment in the film I really liked, a quiet voiceover where the journalist assesses the wreckage of it all. Just undiluted honesty, nothing sentimental. It is a moment of clarity and sanity not to be found in the rest of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS.

Part XI, The Great Overrated

Friday, September 23, 2011


The voice of early 80s David Byrne filled my head as I stood in the Heartland Inn in Coralville, IA a few weeks ago. You may find yourself.....How did I get here, indeed? What was I doing in Iowa?

I was attending a conference on tinnitus, defined as those often annoying sound perceptions 1 out of every 100 persons in the United States experiences. Richard Tyler, Ph.D., a renowned expert on tinnitus management (don't ever use the word "cure", please) was hosting an annual conference at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Audiologists, ENTs, neurosurgeons, hearing aid reps, and others presented a very impressing program of research and potential solutions to this often debilitating condition, coined by someone as "the malady of the 21st century".

The clinic trial/research studies were mind blowing. Many addressed the problem of defining what tinnitus is: a by-product of hearing loss, a psychological manifest, both? Several presentations discussed use of functional imaging studies to examine what happens in the cortices in tinnitus patients. One study used rodents as subjects, curiously stating that these rats had tinnitus. You may ask yourself, how did they know this? There is no objective tool to measure tinnitus, in humans or otherwise. Obviously, a reliable case history cannot be obtained from a rat. The clinicians subjected the poor animals to several minutes of very loud stimuli, to provoke tinnitus. If you've been to a loud concert, you've been a test subject yourself.

One presenter stated that a conditioned response with food (akin to Pavlovian) was another measure to determine which rats had tinnitus and which didn't (control group). There are more details about this that I will spare you. The crux of the study involved the permanent ablation of a certain part of the rat's brain. Following the surgery, a statistically sigificant amount of rat subjects with alleged tinnitus "reported" by their carefully monitored responses that the sounds had ceased. Human subjects later? How can we do such an invasive trial?

Other studies documented the implementation of the anaesthetic Lidocaine into parts of the (human) brain to temporarily stop the tinnitus. Yet others used electrical stimulation with a similiar result, however, hearing loss and even deafness also occurred in some cases. I see that perhaps a future Your Audiology Tutorial entry will be necessary to explain these models in more comprehensive detail for the interested.

But there I was in Iowa, my first time. Though my excitement for travel has dimmed a bit over the years, I still light up like a kid in certain moments. The very different landscape of Iowa City was a catalyst. Not a palm tree to be found. A much different feel than South Florida, that Midwestern vibe I've written about here before. Just to be somewhere else still gets me mildly buzzed.

The U of Iowa was much larger than I would've expected. We had lunch on campus both days, the first of which was in the student cafeteria. It was similiar to a mall food court, with stations for nearly every cuisine you can name. The student body was mostly lily white and blonde, as I did expect. The group attending the conference, however, was very ethnically diverse.

The highlight of this trip was surely just outside of the very rural Downey, IA, about 10-15 miles outside of Iowa City, in an historic barn owned by Dr. Tyler. 150 years old, to be exact. Tyler gave us a mini-tour, explaining the network of ropes seen bordering the octagonal ceilings. It was/is part of an efficient hay bailing system. Above that is an impressive collection of wood planks forming rafters that reminded me of the attic at my father in law's chateau in France. Pitchforks and other ancient tools were hung on the walls. Silos for grain sat in various spots. I loved it. The barn was just this side of a cornfield (but of course), not the sweet corn for human consumption, but the kind thrown to cattle and pigs.

An actor came and performed a 15 minute monologue. He played a man suffering from hyperacusis, an abnormal sensitivity to loud or even moderately loud sounds. The charcter was based on the actor's girlfriend's friend, or someone, as they were diagnosed with superior canal dehiscence, which, to simplify, is an erosion of bone over the inner ear which allows another portal for sound to travel through. The monologue was intense and fascinating.

Afterward, we enjoyed a barbeque. Then an older gentleman clad entirely in white brought in a record player and a microphone. Yup, it was time to square dance! Something I had not done since junior high school in P.E. class on those few Florida days it was too chilly to "dress out". I was dreading this, but had a whale of a time, even sweating a bit. I also enjoyed watching doctors and audiologists from Brazil and Singapore try to make sense of this very American custom. But I stopped and thought more than once, I'm square dancing in a barn in Iowa! It was funny. I spoke with the caller afterward, listening as he explained that VCRs killed square dancing back in the 80s, as folks decided to stay home instead of coming out to do-se-do and allemande. He remarked that the Internet really did it all in.

The final night a few of us, including one attendee's niece, hung out in the charming downtown Iowa City area, perusing a great old bookstore called The Haunted Bookstore (complete with sleeping cats) that had me salivating at their selection of used volumes. We all mentioned that we could've spent the entire night there. One of my colleagues bought a few writings of Dorothy Parker and Somerset Maugham. Nice to see an audiologist with good taste! When she found out that I like to write creatively she suggested I collaborate with her on a project she's been considering: profiles of why audiologists chose the profession. It is a fascination of hers, and she quizzed nearly everyone at the symposium, including a woman from British Columbia who does house calls, often driving hundreds of miles.

We dined at a slightly upscale hipster place called Motley Cow. There was no bovine on the menu. My polenta was quite good. We ate ice cream at Whitey's afterward. Most of the downtown strollers were Cucasian, though there were a few Asian and Middle-Eastern folks. I expected to see more of them, but what do I know of Iowa.

So we're back at the Heartland Inn, a slightly rundown hotel ala Days Inn with not too smelly carpets and suspicious bedspreads (the staff there was excellent, though). I looked at my room and thought of all the previous ones I'd stayed in for other syposiums and hearing aid trainings. It was like I looked up, and ten years had flashed by. What a long journey since graduate school. There were times during that I didn't think I would make it, but here I was. Very hard to explain, but Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime", for the myriad of meaning and relevance to middle age it has, really resonated those few days in Iowa, though I wasn't thinking things like "this is not my beautiful hotel room"! I've stayed in swanky places. No, it was more of one of those moments where you truly have time to stop and assess. As the guy in the breakfast room explained to me why he pours the batter for the waffle irons (fire marshall mandate), and the physician articulated neural activity to a late afternoon audience, I thought, once in a lifetime, indeed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Swimming with Sharks

Buddy Ackerman is the sort of Type A supervisor who'll waste his underling's moments with endless dressdowns, then scream at them at the end of the rant for not having moved the Earth while they were being yelled at. As played to perfection by Kevin Spacey in 1995's Hollywood scather SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, this sort of pirahna is certainly recognizable to Tinseltown footmen, but certainly also to anyone who has had a boss, teacher, coach, or drill instructor with such a personality.

When I first saw this movie, I was in fact reminded of R. Lee Ermey's electrifying scenes as a drill instructor in FULL METAL JACKET. Spacey is almost as creative with his obscenities and maybe just a notch or two below in intensity. During a discussion of JACKET with a former Marine co-worker years ago, I watched as he nodded his head as to the authenticity of Ermey's performance, recalling his own experiences as a private. He stated that his sargeant was so bullying and detestable that the private would spend hours formulating elaborate plans, step by step, as to how he would murder the old cuss.

Guy (Frank Whaley) likely also entertains such daydreams. After assuming his position as Buddy's (a well connected film mogul) go-to guy/slave, he learns quickly that cordiality and respect are indeed rare qualities in the L.A. entertainment world. He was warned by Buddy's outgoing assistant in the early scenes of this movie("not only is hitting below the belt expected in this town, it's rewarded"), but Guy's fresh out of film school optimism is buoyant. In a series of bravura scenes, Guy's morale will be deflated bit by bit as Buddy repeatedly destroys the young man's self-esteem with insults and barbs. "You want a friend," Buddy sneers, "get a dog."

"Shut up! Listen! Learn! is Buddy's trademark opening to his tirades. Some are comically mysognistic: when Guy suggests Penny Marshall as a director for a project, Buddy retrorts: "Avoid women directors. They ovulate. Do you have any idea what that does to an three month shoot?." Others are protypical of power/denial: when Buddy names "big" directors, he mentions David Lean. Guy reminds him that Lean is dead. "No he's not, don't you ever say that. He's just unavailable!"

Eventually, Guy will reach his last strand of patience and turn the tables, quite literally. Buddy finds himself bound to a chair in his own house, subjected to some physical and psychological revenge. It is here where SWIMMING WITH SHARKS attempts to become more than just a masochistic exercise, where the characters show their true selves, even if they still mean to cloak. Spacey demonstrates from start to finish what a consummate pro he is, infusing his rants with simultaneously frightening and comedic power, then demonstrating the dynamic nature of Buddy, a man with many of his own tools at his disposal. Whaley does fine as the put upon Guy, fresh meat ripe for the horrible molding. A kid who will have to decide, in a somewhat shocking finale, which path he truly wants to take. One of the darkest endings I've ever seen in a film will play out. I felt nauseated as I watched the ugly certainty of the final scene, yet I believed it could happen.

Writer/director George Huang must've created this movie as therapy for himself. He had fought in the trenches as an underling for some notorious real life producers, plus observed the behavior of folks like Scott Rudin, long known for his Draconian demeanor. Haung's script has moments of what seem like privileged insight and others that promote a sense of deja vu. Tying up your boss is not exactly a novel plot twist, as memories of NINE TO FIVE and other wish fulfillemnt pics came to mind. While this device allows for said soul baring and character development, most often it felt like melodrama. But then again, how else could the film take a restless being like Buddy out of his big pond and allow for some analysis?

SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, overally, falls short of its apparent goals of being a nasty little classic, another in the Trenchant Hollywood Satire genre to join the likes of THE PLAYER, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, S.O.B., and others. The writing and filmmaking is competent but far from the sort of artistry that say, Sidney Lumet employed for his television damnation, NETWORK. SWIMMING WITH SHARKS has the brio of a young writer/director who isn't afraid to play his scenario to its terrible end, but the path there is rendered with mediocrity (actors of course notwithstanding).

And again, Spacey is so good in this movie that he is reason enough to see it. His embodiment of Buddy is so natural you wonder at times if he is drawing on personal experience himself, as giver or recipient. He's in the biz, he's probably met a few Buddy Ackermans. Haven't we all?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Forever Night Shade Mary

Groovy little tune, perfect for a late evening with minimal lighting and the libation of your choice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PBA, Book V

The last entry concluded with a mention of a girl I met while working at Eckerd Drug. To recap: after a rather stormy 4 or so months, we called it quits a few weeks before Christmas, 1989. I thought that was the end of the story. It wasn't. I will skip some details (such as my accompanying her on her senior prom cruise) and mention that the following summer I found myself showing her around the PBA campus. She was about to start her freshmen year. I was a senior.

I'll skip more details and relay that we had a pre-semester week of hanging out (beach, movies, dinner) and my introducing her to a few peeps at PBA. Oh, maybe I should mention that I brought her into Respectables, a downtown club that played "alternative" music and was a bit of a haunt for me. We got thrown out because someone realized that she was under 21 and that I bought her a drink. "I'll be back in here next week!" she yelled as we were escorted out. I was embarrassed and pissed off.

She would, upon starting school a week or so later, quickly adapt to campus life, complete with new boyfriend. She barely acknowledged me now. What was I expecting? I was so young and stupid. When she called over the summer, did I believe that she wanted to get back together?! I think I've blocked any such conflicting thoughts from my memory. I was good at self-torture.

I would later meet a girl I began dating and a few months later I found myself in a very curious spot - sitting with my new gf across from the old one (with her new bf) in one of the ancient houses used for girls' dormitories. There were others there, in the living room; it was awkward and just downright weird. I'm continually intrigued by relationship dynamics, how someone so dear to you at one time can, in the space of very little time passage, become almost inconsequential. There were no incidences that night. The old gf would leave PBA by midway through her second semester. In a strange parallel, so would my new gf.

Why? Such a long story. I've debated how much of that saga to relay in this series (or at all on this blog). I would be engaged by Valentine's Day, and she would shortly thereafter quit school and move back to central Florida. Her rationale? She was to be married, why did she need to continue school? I was puzzled and a bit sad about this; she was a talented actress who had already appeared in a production on the PBA stage ("The Lower Room"). It was my desire that she continue her studies and acting. At that time, she did neither. I graduated a few months later and moved to the Orlando area to be near her. Another story. Maybe another time.

But that senior year at PBA, I would also take the stage, in "Rope". My friend Allen was taking a directing class and their final was to be a one-act play, either original or adapted, presented near the end of the semester over a series of 3-4 nights. He caught me on the steps to the library one afternoon and asked if I was interested in playing the lead: identified only as "he". I was taken aback, but quickly accepted. Have I told this story here before?

I remember the hours I spent memorizing the considerable amount of dialogue. The natural acting would come once I knew the words. Hopefully. This was a 2 character piece, an adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's short story. Allen described the scenario as "funny", and I could agree if the humor was deemed the "recognition of life's horrors" kind of funny. Porter creates a put-upon man and his somewhat high maintenence wife, city sophisticates, who take a annual trip to the country. The story deconstructs their relationship, a subtle shaking of the marital rug that reveals a bit of dirt about them. It was an almost academic psychoanalysis, with artful dialogue. My friend did a splendid adaptation, really bringing these people to life. Hopefully, we actors did the same? Gigi, another senior, played "she", totally nailing the part, though Allen put her through a bit of hell as he had her practice a certain shrieking cackle about 1000 times. I had my own multi-take madness, having to repeat a line of dialogue with every imaginable inflection almost as many times. Our director was precise.

The performance itself was eventful. The show before ours, a bizarre skid-row drama called "Starstone" or something, which I remember featured people living in trashcans, involved a complete dousing of the stage with water. When we took the stage for "Rope", it had not sufficiently dried. One of Gigi's entrances took her across the stage a bit faster than intended. I also missed a chair with my foot as I was trying to step/lean on it. I hope I covered it well. Our stage manager got caught on stage as the lights came back up before the next scene. Most significantly, the last line of a lengthy monologue of mine was given a last minute change in my vocal interpretation. I raised my voice about 2 octaves to mimic Gigi's, not at all how we rehearsed it. It was a split second decision that was entirely selfish on my part; I did it because I knew it would get a laugh. It did. Allen and I have never referred to this. I hope he wasn't mad.

At the drama department's award ceremony a few weeks later, I, to my complete surprise, won the award for Outstanding Male Actor. I'm not sure if I really earned that, but it was a nice sentiment. I also was recognized in the Business Department as Outstanding Senior. Dr. Robert Inglis, one of my frequent professors, handed me this honor during a ceremony in the First Baptist Church sanctuary. These were nice caps to my senior year.

Next time (final entry?): we'll back up and talk about another girl with whom I worked at Eckerd and attended PBA. That story will involve absusive exes wielding hammers, a near car chase, and a fateful toilet papering. I know I can't wait.....


Friday, September 9, 2011

The Fountain

There are several options to reviewing Darren Aronofsky's 2006 curio THE FOUNTAIN. The safest would be to discuss it merely in technical terms: the unique (and uniquely derived) special effects, the creative camerawork, the strong acting. Arguably, such an approach is the only quantifiable one, as subjective interpretations wade into treacherous terrain, teacherous because no two visitors can agree on the landscape, much less why anything is happening (if indeed, anything is happening at all).

THE FOUNTAIN tells one or three stories, depending on your take. Present day we meet Dr. Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman) as he experiments with unorthodox surgeries on primates. His use of an untested tree bark intrigues his collegaues and concerns his supervisor (Ellen Burstyn, somewhat underused here). Meanwhile, Dr's wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz) is reconciling the end stages due to an inoperable tumor, and thus we learn why the doctor is so relentless in his methods. This central narrative is a bit surreal, a standard story of illness adorned with Izzy's mystical outlook and some unorthodox lighting choices for a hospital/OR. Aronofsky always infuses his films with restless creativity; in THE FOUNTAIN that restlessness matches the drama.

Izzy is writing a book called "The Fountain", a 16th century tale of an oppressed Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Tommy becomes engrossed in its pages one night, reading of Tomas (Jackman), a conquistador commissioned by Queen Isabela (Weisz) to find the Tree of Life mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Finding the Tree is believed to spark the cessation of fighting for the Queen's throne. There are some spear wielding Mayans to dispatch before the magical tree sap can be tasted. Aronofsky opens THE FOUNTAIN with this scenario, disorienting us for awhile until we learn of the framing device.

There is also, in the year 2500, a bald spaceman named Tom (no relation to David Bowie's or Peter Schilling's "Major Tom", I assume), floating about in a bubble that contains the Tree and a garden. Tom is inching toward a faraway galaxy, or nebula, that will somehow free the soul of Izzi from the tree, I think. We also periodically see a ghost of Izzi that disturbs Tom (also Jackman). As a further link to the other scenes in THE FOUNTAIN, said nebula is known as Xibalba, a mystical cave from Mayan mythology.

The Creos' contemporary tale receives the most running time in THE FOUNTAIN, perhaps adding weight to the argument that this film has only one story, with the 16th century merely existing in Izzi's book and the spaceman perhaps Tommy's dream of life after Izzi. I found myself also wondering if Aronofsky was suggesting some sort of reincarnation with Jackman's three characters. Tomas eventually samples the Tree's lifeblood and...well, see for yourself. Tom, some 500 years later, has lived and lost and had years to reflect (he also has tattoos on his limb for reference, much like the rings in a tree trunk reveal age). The film's tagline does say "What if you could live forever"?

But what is Aronofsky truly saying? It all comes back to death. It is the end, but also the portal to life, if in a very different form. Christians believe death leads to either eternal life with or eternal separation from God; the actual embodiemnt of form after death subject to much debate. Death is what makes us human. Tommy Creo doesn't share his dying wife's acceptance; "death is a disease, it's like any other. And there's a cure. A cure, and I will find it."

THE FOUNTAIN's screenplay is a labyrinth of history, theology, psychology, metaphysics, science, and sociology. There are elements of Buddhism (particularly in the 2500 scenes) and Christianity vying for relevance among the themes of clinical science and legendry. I'm sure it all ties together more thoroughly than I was able to discern. The most successful and intriguing parts of this film deal with the most enduring of motivators: love. Not merely "love is not separated by death" but a co-existence. Tom has Izzi in his mind for centuries, but is she also physically, spiritually in the tree? Is that why her apparition appears? Is that the mind fighting the soul, or are they trying to occupy the same plane?

As you can see, THE FOUNTAIN is an invitation to post-film discussion. While it played, I admired its beautiful photographic palate, its special effects not born of CGI, but in a petri dish via macrophotography. The actors sink their teeth into their parts. Jackman is better here than in most anything else I've seen him; Weisz is luminous as a woman who learns to take comfort in her mortality. Her dynamic, in a very oblique way, reminded me of Peter Greenaway's A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS, a film which had lead characters utterly fascinated with decay. THE FOUNTAIN isn't a fifth as grim, but similiar themes are touched upon.

Does love conquer all? The finale of THE FOUNTAIN suggests of a circle of life (and love) that is unrestricted by time, or death. Is it moving? Intellectually satisfying? Yes and yes, but not to the degree which I was hoping. While I was also reminded of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY at times, THE FOUNTAIN did not quite take me beyond the infinite. That does not mean it is not a trip worth taking at least once. Though revisiting this film may improve appreciation.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cat 1? Cat 2?

September. We are deep into Hurricane Season 2011. Ominously, I heard someone say that 9/11 is the apex for yearly hurricane activity. Last weekend, you may have heard, Hurricane Irene headed North and caused a lot of water damage. Parts of New England especially were saturated with more rain and subsequent flooding than they've seen in decades. Overall, the storm was less devastating than predicted, but tell that to the families of the 40 who perished or those who've lost their homes or or suffered structural damage. Or thought they were in the clear only to see rivers overflow a few days later. Will your insurance company jack the rates or drop you altogether, you in the Carolinas? Jersey?

Florida was in the "cone" for Irene a good part of the previous week, but we avoided yet another one. In fact, South Florida seemed to have an invisible hand (not of the Adam Smith variety), or at least a pressure system, that kept them away for many years. About 25 of them.

I was 10 in 1979. Hurricane David plowed through West Palm Beach leaving strewn palms and our TV antenna in the backyard. I remember sitting by the front door with my tape recorder, trying to get cool wind sounds. The tape was mostly my cheesy narration ala In Search Of or something...

After David, we lost power for a few days. I went to my grandma's house (who lived even closer to the water) to do my homework as her electricity was still on. Doing Roman numerals by candlelight would've sucked. David was a Category One (74-95 MPH).

In 1992 it appeared that Hurricane Andrew was targeting WPB. That was scary. I was living one block from the Intracoastal waterway and police cars came through with loudspeakers, telling us to evacuate. I helped my friends in Lake Clarke Shores, a few miles inland, to board up and tape those windows. I hung with them overnight, playing board games. The storm decided, literally in the eleventh hour, to turn SW and proceeded to obliterate Homestead, south of Miami. Leveled the city. Boats were piled upon each other like discarded toys. Much the same for all the jets at Homestead Air Force Base. We dodged the bullet.

We dodged many other bullets as the years went on. Oh, we got some nasty tropical storms, a few of which wreaked havoc on the roofs of my workplaces. My years in retail pharmacy were denoted by lots of clean-ups, either from storm flooding or overnight robberies. Hurricane Katrina even went through Ft. Lauderdale in 2005 but was to get much more powerful once it hit the Gulf of Mexico. You know the rest.

In 2004, South Florida's seeming luck ran out. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne were back-to-back storms that did not destroy us but were significant enough to make a big mess and knock the power out for as much as 2 weeks in some areas. I stayed with my grandmother (91 at the time) during and after the hurricanes. I remember hearing the wind sounding like a locomotive outside the bedroom window. No real damage to her unit, though, other than some minor screen tearing and porch flooding.

The worst of it was in the days after. Humid August days and nights. The lack of power was a bit more than a nuisance. The novelty of "old school"-style life before electricty, sorry, wore thin quickly. I thought I would appreciate it, but I was wrong, esepcially as I worried about my grandmother during this time of going to the grocery stores, barely running on their generators. Things were eerie there in the days prior to the storm, with ransacked shelves and folks flailing around more than they normally would. Gas station lines into the street. Reminded me of the 70s, sitting with my dad waiting for fuel during one of those phony shortages. I was in grad school during Frances and Jeanne, driving to Davie for night classes, wondering if I would get home in time for curfew.

A year later, we got another storm. Powerful Hurricane Wilma again caused some destruction, though she did not hover around for hours like Frances. Moved fairly quickly. She was huge, though. The eye wall stretched over most of SoFL. I remember walking in it, the calm before the next wind and rain pounding. Again, it took a week before the power returned during a triumphant pre-dawn. Beforehand, I kept seeing convoys of utility vehicles, not just Florida Power and Light but also from even Canada! Wondering when all this manpower would come our way. Things got ugly as powerless days raged on. Oh, that fine line. I heard people even threw things at the utility guys when they came around! Good times? Not so much, but thank God we all lived to talk about it. We did not experience the widespread horror seen in New Orleans and Mississippi.

We laugh as we see meterologists on TV, bending 45 degrees on location as they report. You wonder of their sanity. Does it really add anything to see them pelted with the elements? I don't think so. The coverage these days hilariously stretches for hours and days. We watch and listen to newspeople show us cars buried in floods, downed branches, large puddles. Some idiot invariably will walk back and forth in the background, even in treacherous conditions, hoping to get on television. That always happens when a news crew is around, regardless of the weather. It can also backfire, like when my grounded friend's parents spotted him at Oktoberfest on the 11 O'Clock News. He never lived that down.

I have mixed feelings overall on hurricane coverage; better to get the word out than not, make folks aware. Maybe with just a wee bit less hysteria. But what if a Katrina is coming? Would the hysteria be appropriate?