Barry Smith: Puttin’ on the Ritz and a suit and tie |

Barry Smith: Puttin’ on the Ritz and a suit and tie

The second wake-up call, the one I requested for 15 minutes after the first one, came at 6:15 a.m. I was in the bathroom. This was no big deal, as there was a phone in the bathroom.

I moved my toothbrush to one side of my mouth, picked up the phone and said, “Thank you.”

The man on the other end said: “Thank YOU, Mr. Smith.”

It was an amazingly sincere and heartfelt thanks, as if I’d just saved his puppy from an oncoming bus. A puppy that his child was holding at the time.

“Thank YOU, Mr. Smith!”

I’m at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington, Va. I have been flown here to fulfill my destiny as an Audio Visual Guy. I am wearing a suit. And a tie.

Until I was flown to Las Vegas last spring by the same company for a similar AV gig, I had never worn a tie as an adult. Sure, there were the clip-ons for church as a youth, but those were hardly an issue.

When I did the Vegas gig, I visited my family in California beforehand, where I asked my father to teach me to tie a necktie. The lesson did not go well. I’m generally pretty coordinated, but I could not get this tie thing down. We stood side by side in front of the mirror, a real father/son moment. After five disastrous attempts I gave up, had him tie a few for me, slip them off his head, and I threw them in my luggage. Essentially, they were clip-ons for adults.

Before THIS trip I asked my friend Arman to do the same for me ? tie a few up so I can slip them on when I arrive. He said he’d just teach me. And he did, in about three minutes.

Now that I know how simple it is, I’m a little embarrassed about all the crowing I’ve done about not knowing how to tie a tie. I was proud to have escaped the capitalist noose for so long, to have not wasted my life energy on committing to muscle memory the convoluted ritual of the necktie. Now I know how simple it is, and it’s as if I’ve been proud of the fact that I can’t tie my shoes.

In retrospect, the failed lesson with my dad wasn’t so much due to parental trauma as the fact that he’s left-handed.

But now I’ve got a tie on, am being put up in the Ritz, and am a sharply dressed AV Guy. Nothing is more surreal than being down on my hands and knees duct-taping audio cables to the floor while wearing a suit.

The plan is to do some AV and then hang out on the Right Coast for a few weeks.

But first, I have to make it through a week of “The Economics of Diagnostic Imaging.” Here’s how it unfolded.

Day One: Absolutely nothing even remotely interesting happened.

Day Two: When I tell people that I sometimes do AV for medical conferences, they say, “Wow, that must be interesting. You must really learn a lot, huh?” Yeah. Here’s what I learned today: “The effective use of endovascular technologies, though often requiring vascular surgical skills, always require catheter/guidewire-imaging skills, which many vascular surgeons do not possess.”

Knowledge is power.

Day Three: I am in charge of the audience response system. The doctors in the audience write down questions that they want flashed on the screen for everyone to vote on, I type them into the computer, put them on the screen, then project the results of the audience’s votes.

One doctor gave me a hand-scrawled question with the word “privileges” in it. But he spelled it “priveledges.” I’m not the best speller, but I knew this was wrong. But in the pressure of the moment, I couldn’t figure out what was right. And there was no spell-check function on this system. Someone had to look it up for me, getting me the correct spelling in the nick of time.

As it turned out, this would be the most exciting thing that would happen to me all week.

Day Four: Bored. Wrote a poem.

“I’ve thought the same thoughts since the time I was three,

I pretend to be concerned about sincerity

If I tried a little harder I could reach ennui

There’s croissant crumbs in my goatee.”

Day Five: Last day. The new issue of “Decisions In Imaging Economics Magazine” arrives. I grab a copy and read it during a lull. I’m particularly moved by “Will Virtual Colonoscopy Pay Off?” The crossword is really hard.

(Next time: Off with the monkey suit and on to New York City!)

[Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Monday and Thursday. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at]

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