Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cluburban Man Leaves Early

It’s been a dozen years since I went to a night club for any reason other than to see a live band. Going to the Play Lounge in DC was sort of work-related, in that DC United defender Bobby Boswell -- a handsome up-and-coming US international with a decent amount of personality -- was launching his own personal website there on Tuesday evening.

There were a few of us soccer hacks there, looking awkward and out-of-place, shuffling from foot to foot as young and beautiful women brushed past us, possibly in a parallel world. The men were generally older, possibly because you’d have to be working a few years to afford drinks in a place like this. Everybody’s looking at everybody else while pretending that they’re not.

That’s really all there is to do, conversation being impossible. You wonder how people ever get chatted up in these places. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you just pass a note saying, “If I buy you six drinks, will you fuck me?”

There’s a special supplier of music to clubs like this. Someone goes into a studio, turns on all the instruments, invites a mad and inebriated tramp in off the streets to improvise into the mic, then disappears for a couple of hours to the nearest bar. The music is then packaged, unedited, out to nightspots across the country.

The good thing about night clubs, though, is that you can walk out at any time. They are that rare kind of place that makes you actually feel happy to live in suburbia.

Cabbie Stats
Years in DC area: 4
Soccer interest: Nigeria and any Nigerian players playing abroad. Had heard of Freddy Adu but no other US players.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Traitors Taking A Walk To The Pentagon Car Park

The stay-at-home-dad Popular Anti-War Front took to the streets of DC today to join the march against the ongoing insanity of US and British involvement in Iraq. Not that I was very popular with the kids for dragging them out of a warm house on a sub-zero day with added wind chill just to walk from the Vietnam War Memorial to a Pentagon car park, but the ride on the Metro cheered them up enough to forget where they were going. And one day, just possibly, they might be proud to say that they were there.

There’s something reassuring about the continued existence of various bedraggled bands of leftists and pseudo-anarchists that always show up at these things with their megaphones, inky propaganda sheets and repetitious demands for revolution, NOW! There were some imaginative banners among the predictably po-faced cries for instant justice, everywhere, including, “Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity.” And there were enough vaguely sane people of all ages not trying to flog you unreadable newspapers to give you the sense that you hadn’t accidentally turned up at an anti-fashion show for third-hand clothes worn by people with a chronic allergy to shampoo.

But most entertaining of all today was the counter-demo. Usually this is a sorry collection of maybe a few dozen short-haired rightwing nutjobs with manic expressions, and toes twitching to perform a goosestep across the police line to kick a hippy in the nuts. This time, though, a whole new breed of unsettling protest-hater had been shipped in from the parts of America populated by thick-set blokes in their 50s and 60s with grizzly beards and leather jackets. Or maybe there just happened to be a reunion of ex-Dead roadies in DC today.

“You’re all Al Qaeda supporters!” yelled one man through a megaphone. “They’re looking at this and smiling.” A banner manned by a few more henchmen in front of Arlington cemetery read “GO TO HELL TRAITORS”. A lot of these men had fought in Vietnam, which has apparently pissed them off that four decades later some people are opposed to a similarly senseless campaign in a part of the world where Allied bombs and bullets have brought untold grief and chaos.

“You won’t be around when I have to deal with this mess!” yelled my oldest daughter at them, unprompted. “Give us a smile, for Christ’s sake!” I called across (I’m not as politically conscious as my ten-year-old). For the counter-demonstration, impressive as it was in size compared with previous efforts, was characterised by its absolute lack of humour. Many of these miserable men looked as though they would love nothing more than to walk over and kill us. Some shook their heads disdainfully, because they just know we’re all naïve idiots playing into the hands of the terrorists. “Stand behind our President” exhorted their posters. Though that’s just a recruitment call, not an actual argument.

In fact it’s hard to discern what the anti-anti-war argument is. I remember when we marched over four years ago before the start of the war, they said that now wasn’t the right time to protest. So if before the war wasn’t the right time, surely four years into a clearly disastrous campaign, with around 60,000 Iraqis and over 3,000 US soldiers dead, is the right time. But no, we’re still terrorist-hugging traitors. If we didn't bomb countries thousands of miles away, we wouldn't have the freedom to protest at all blah blah.

Once we'd passed the last counter-demonstrators, things got boring. The kids were cold, and the march kept stopping and starting. In the Pentagon car park, the shouty rhetoric made for poor entertainment, so we headed for the Pentagon mall, sneaking past a line of baton-wielding riot police in some sort of a standoff with a sit-down protest on the road to the Pentagon. The girls were now beyond freezing, and very hungry too. When we finally made it into Macy’s, my eight-year-old sighed, “Ah, heaven!”

Not quite. In the line for coffee down at the food court, a friendly mall policeman asked two elderly demonstrators to peel off their anti-war stickers. The mall is private property, he said. Political expression is not allowed. God forbid that while they’re shopping for clothes on a Saturday afternoon, Americans might momentarily have to be reminded of the war that 68% of them were in favour of four years ago.

My daughters were happy, however. They were now eating strips of potato cooked in fat. Hail, the land of the fry!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Maria Taylor At The Rock And Roll Hotel

The Rock and Roll Hotel is a relatively new venue stuck out on H Street in the north-east of the city, fifteen blocks walk from the nearest metro stop at Union Station. The club’s website advises you to get a cab from there, either because it thinks you’ll get mugged or that its patrons are archetypal anti-walking Americans, but in fact it’s only about a ten- to fifteen-minute stroll on a balmy spring evening.

The RnR Hotel is ramshackle enough to come across like a 1980s retro British student venue, blighted by a lack of draft beer, but quirky enough to let you forgive its workers for being young and cool and playing The Smiths in the upstairs bar. Just to take me properly back twenty years (it’s a place where my head spends an unhealthy amount of time), I’m with my mate Drew, who I indeed went to college with in England back in the 1980s, and we talk about long forgotten mutual objects of scorn. That was Birmingham, England. (Here comes the segue, tada.) Maria Taylor is from Birmingham, Alabama.

“Last time we were here we played in Arlington to ten people,” she says gratefully to the maybe 100 to 150 people at the RnR Hotel last night. It’s been a difficult tour thanks to blizzards, the flu, and someone raiding her and keyboardist sister Kate’s dressing room. Yet here they are, a band of six (her brother’s in it too), making all this effort to come all this way and play us her astonishing songs. As they crank up the noise I get that four-beer fuzz that makes me think, “I love them all and want to be their friends forever.”

We wonder how they make a living out of this. It only cost ten dollars for the ticket, CDs are the same price, and even their t-shirts go way below the accepted statutory minimum of $20, selling for just twelve. I buy one, because you have to spread the word. Drew buys the two CDs (the new release ‘Lynn Teeter Flower’ is every bit as strong as 2005’s wonderful ‘11:11’) even though he could have been a thief and burned my copies. But as he told me this morning, he wanted to go to sleep with them under his pillow.

Cabby Stats
From: Somalia
In DC: 21 years
Soccer Interest (most DC cab drivers like to talk soccer): Brazil, the English Premier League, and the 2006 German World Cup team. Displayed a Ghana flag after they beat US 2-1 in 2006 WC, and had a native customer refuse to get in.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Great Suburban Traditions No. 4 - Asexuality

How do you act in the 'burbs: depressed
 and suppressed, or singing and swinging?
Not that anyone ever claimed the suburbs were sexy. That’s not what they’re here for. But sometimes you wonder if the whole concept of suburbia was dreamed up by Puritans to create sexual no-go areas where carnal thoughts are entirely confined behind closed curtains.

When I cross the city border into DC, I can feel something change. There are people walking about. There are people walking about who set you to thinking all the blazing, immoral, indecent, sweat, bump, thrust and grind thoughts that we’re helpless to prevent ,so we might as well mentally enjoy until we’re too old to feel the blood happily flooding out of our skulls (the original brain drain) and into the temporarily festive sluice of arousal. All those thoughts that are blanked out in suburbia until, with the doors double-locked, you can enjoy the furtive unspilling of your hardcore imagination.But flaunting yourself in suburbia only invites ostracism. Those rare human beings wanting to display their feathers will sprint in the dark from front door to car and speed off to the fleshpots of Bethesda and Friendship Heights, lest they be seen as homebreakers on the prowl. An attractive soccer mom is only a theoretical concept, because even if you could see through the dark glass of the SUV as it raced down your road, the cellphone-covered, accusatory sour face would have you reeling with guilt, like a Catholic choirboy caught fondling the rosary while inadvertently picturing the Mother Superior’s lips unpursed.

Not that I’m deluding myself the theoretical soccer mom would be in any respect excited at the sight of me unloading the groceries from the back of my car and shuffling up the garden path while scouring the front yard for Chelsea’s Last Crap (see GST, No. 3). The screeching of brakes, an unwound window, a leering wolf-whistle and a yell of, “Excuuuuse me, but you are one fucking hot house-hubbie!” would no doubt be as unnerving to your average ‘burb-imprisoned stay-at-home dad as a 3pm drive-by shooting. Though it would probably take something a little more special than my skinny ass in a thirty-buck pair of jeans to wrench a soccer mom from her cellphone.

At weekends, however, there are drunken swing and swap parties on every street. True, I’ve yet to be invited, but there must be something (or someone) going down when the lights do likewise at 10. New kids are born, and divorce suits get filed. Adultery must be conducted in secret, ultra-padded underground chambers – the same places where people drink alcohol. That’s all fine, though. Just don’t show up on the surface singing at midnight. In suburbia the golden rule is that all your simmering desires and leashed-in human frailties should be kept in a safe place where they won’t disturb the peace.