Friday, April 25, 2008

My DC Blues Bar Blues

So, a few months ago, I had to make a tough choice. Instead of working full time over the summer, I took a few summer classes and a cushy part time job, and devoted as much energy as possible to Aces High, my blues band. We traveled all over the state and Michigan, having a great time, and made only a tiny, microscopic amount of money.

So for me, it was like that one scene in The Matrix, where Neo is getting interrogated by Agent Smith for the first time.

Miiiiiister Brown….it seems that you’ve been leading two lives. By day, you’re a mild mannered college student/very low level government bureaucrat that types papers and staples things for slightly higher up government bureaucrats. By night, you throw on a suit and sunglasses and go play drums in smokey blues clubs, and go by Downtown. Only one of these men…..has a future.

So I panicked, and hedged my bets. I wasn’t going to quit making music, but I knew I really only had time to go for broke on one of those things, and I picked the straight job. It all kind of came to a head last week, when I sold my old drumset to one of my former students. I knew it was the responsible choice, but you all know I’m a showman at heart. I missed gigging.

So I was more than excited to learn that there was an open blues jam right here in DC! I would have a chance to relive my rock star dreams on *some other guy’s kit*, if only for a night. I found out the date and time, and was counting down all week. I didn’t know anything about this bar other than its location, so I tried to come prepared. I grabbed my own sticks, harmonica, all the ones I could find in my sock drawer, and threw on my *blues bar best*. Blue shirt, black tie, jacket, and shades. My age is still a handicap when it comes to blues-cred, so I hoped maybe I could look the part a little to get some back.

I quickly discovered that this was not going to be the case. I the only guy there wearing anything that even resembled a tie. The bar was already fairly full when I walked in and plunked down on a barstool, and defiantly was full of your typical blues bar demographics. It was almost entirely male, where everybody either looked like they just walked off the set of Two and a Half Men, or a boxcar. Plus, I was the youngest person there by at least 15 years…but that’s par for the course for blues bars. I think a big reason we were so successful as a band in Columbus was because a group of 19 year olds playing blues music is still a bit of a novelty to some people.

The house band was still warming up when I walked in, so I plunked down at the bar and ordered a coke (I still prefer root beer, but there is no promise that a bar is going to have anything besides coke that doesn’t contain booze). The barkeep hands me a plastic cup with the ol’ brown bubbly, and I go for my wallet. He says “that’ll be three bucks”Three bucks? For a coke???? I wonder how much it would have cost for a beer!! I was hoping to get at least two drinks in, but there is no way to justify spending half a weeks metro fare on something I can get back home for two dirty quarters. I give the barkeep a look that says “you gotta be freakin kidding me”, but hand him three bills. Then he goes “wait, I forgot. With tax, that’s 3.30”I should have packed in then.

When you’re paying 3.30 for a plastic cup of coke, you should know it isn’t going to be your night.

But I wanted to play drums, the band was starting, and the night was young, so I gamely stuck around past my first bad omen. I made a beeline to the musician sign up sheet, to make sure I was the first one…in big, bold print. “downtown” Matt Brown. Drums/Harmonica. There. Then, I struck up a conversation with my neighbors at the stools next to me, which made me feel terribly grown up. I had gone from sneaking into places like this, trying to get a gig, and hoping that nobody would wise up to the fact that I was underage and chuck me out, to making friends at the bar. I’m 21. I Belong.

The house band began their set, and I have to admit, I was not impressed. I’ve seen a lot of local bands…some amazing and mesmerizing, and some that made me envy the dead. These guys weren’t that bad, but I couldn’t help but think, If this is whats good enough for a regular gig in DC, I’m quitting my job tomorrow. The guy next to me leaned over and said “Hey man, isn’t it great how this amazing musicians come in here to play in DC? This guitarist is the best guy I’ve ever heard!” I figured it would be rude to say "Really? My old bandmate at the University of Cincinnati is 19, and he could eat this guy’s lunch", but that would be rude, and besides, blues music isn’t supposed to be a competition, it’s a brotherhood, and we’re here to support each other. I agreed.

The set was supposed to end at 9:00, and by 9:45, I was starting to get antsy. I couldn’t afford to be here all night, since the metro closed early on weekdays, and I had a friend from AU come all the way out here to see me play….but the house band never left the stage. Every so often, they would call up one of their older friends to sing a song or two, or play. They ranged from very talented, to gaaaadawful. Me and my newfound friends at the bar cringed a little bit.

By 11:00, I was getting a little upset, although that’s partly because Tony was texting me Cavs updates, and now my fightin’ Lebrons were down by 20. The house band and friends took a quick break, and I walked up the stage. If I couldn’t stake a claim to the kit, I at least wanted to know what was going on.

Another guy got their first though, and started to warm up. I asked him if he was the drummer for the next set. He gave me a dirty look, and said “uh…yeah. Why?”“Well, I was the first guy who signed up, and I have to leave at 11:30, and I wondering if I might be able to just play a song or two?”
The man looked like I just asked to sleep with his wife.
“Kid, that signup sheet don’t mean shit. The band runs it, and if they decide to call you up, then you get to play.”Well, this struck me as awfully stupid. I just moved here, how would “the band” know to call me up? This was advertised as a public blues jam. “Ain’t my problem kid.”

Well, forget this. I said thanks, told Kaitlyn I wouldn’t be playing tonight after all, and left the place, kinda dejected.That’s kind of how things work when you step up to a bigger city. When I first started playing in Columbus (or heck, doing anything professionally in Columbus), people didn’t care that you might have been a bigshot in tiny Granville…you had to prove yourself first. Eventually, musically and professionally, we all did. Its that same deal here. Oh, you played for the biggest blues guys in Ohio? Well, that and 3.30 will give you a plastic cup of Coke my friend…now sit down.

That’s okay I guess. I wouldn’t have come down here if I didn’t think I had what it took to stick around.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Unplugging from the presidential race

Its not often that I type this, but 50 Cent was right. This election is getting boring. In fact, I’m about ready to delete CQ from my bookmarks, skip over CNN, and buy the Washington Post only for the metro and sports sections.

This probably comes a surprise to many of you. Is it because I don’t really care who wins? Nope. I’m invested in an awful lot of issues (morally, personally, and financially), and care quite a bit about who wins. From a professional standpoint, I also think its important, because this race is changing the way we think about national campaigns. Plus, our generation has never been this empowered in a presidential election since 18 year olds got the right to vote.

So why am I thinking about unplugging myself? Because we aren’t talking about any of those things!

The media coverage of this election so far has been completely nauseating. Faced with month long gaps in-between primaries, 24 hour media outlets have been forced to create controversies over flag pins, comments from pastors (ignoring that whole bit in the constitution prohibiting religious tests...), and bowling skills. Nope, not making this up, CNN’s Political Ticker used space to discuss whether Obama’s inability to bowl shows that he’s “out of touch in the heartland”.

Hunter S.Thompson had described covering the 1992 presidential election as “better than sex”. This is *not* better than sex. It’s not even better than, I dunno, “first awkward-as-hell kiss when both parties still have braces”.

The idea of ‘being an elitist” as some sort of negative campaign issue isn’t new...Republicans have been using it the last 20 year or so. Its come to a head in this cycle with the now famous Obama “bitter’ remarks, where he had the audacity of pointing out that people in the rust belt were bitter about their economic situation, and were at risk of clinging to things like anti-immigrant and anti-globalization sentiments.

The media, not to mention Clinton and McCain, went nuts. How dare Obama call small town rust belters bitter? This just goes to show our he isn’t in touch with “American Values” Pundits went out of their way to talk about the remarks, and how this would surely alienate Obama from voters, because everybody would be so offended. Hillary ran off to find the grungiest bar she could find, and threw back some shots, just to show how “in touch” she was. This, my friends, is the real reason a Mormon can’t be president.

Look. Anybody who has ever lived in the Rust Belt knows that while Obama didn’t exactly express his idea in the most elegant manner, he didn’t lie. People in the rust belt are pissed. Their towns are falling apart, their schools suck, meth labs are exploding everywhere, and the smart, educated, motivated people are moving away. How we can fix the Rust Belt is a very important issue, and one we ought to be discussing this election season (I have a few ideas), but first, we need to stop playing the blame game, or taking shots at anybody who calls attention to the problem. The people who are really out of touch here are media officials and pollsters, who think that rust belters are so stupid that we’ll ignore anybody who points out what we already know.

And whats so bad about being elite anyways? I want my president to be smart, experienced in positions of responsibility, and be a quality administrator. I might love the guys I go camping and bowling with back home, but that doesn’t mean I want them deciding if we go to war with somebody.

But even having this discussion seems stupid, when there are many huge issues. We’re in a war (sort of), and we need to decide the direction we’re going to go in that war. We have a gazillion dollar, boondoggle powder keg in Iraq. We have the industrial Midwest turning into a decayed husk. We have deteriorating infrastructure, inefficient health care, and skyrocketing costs of food, fuel, and education. There is no shortage of important things to talk about. The fact that we discuss religious preference, flippant comments that are the equivalents of verbal typos and flag pins instead of these just makes me frustrated, and saps my desire to continue to be involved in this process.

So from now on, I’m thinking I’m switching to the NBA when a Clinton ad shows up. Wake me up in July.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Morning Commute

This is a placeholder before I write a serious entry.

6:37 AM- The woman next door decides that right now would be a great time to wake up her 2 year old, and play the “Baby Einstein” video to practice shapes and colors. Wouldn’t be a big deal if our walls weren’t paper thin, and the baby screamed at the top of his lungs every time the video mentions the color “yellow”. For all intents and purposes, I’m done sleeping.

7:21 AM-Finally drag my butt out of bed. The shower is in use, so I lumber into the kitchen.

7:23 AM- I don’t know how many times I open our fridge, hoping that the breakfast fairy had come and filled with delicious food. Half a loaf of bread, some condiments, milk, a few pieces of sushi, my roommate’s beer, and my contribution to the apartment beverage collection, a 12 pack of Mountain Lightning, the Safeway knockoff of Mountain Dew. I write “Buy real food” on my “things to do list, make some oatmeal, and plop down to watch the morning news.

7:24- Don’t care about Metro DC news. Switching to Sportscenter.

7:25-Hey, the Indians won!

7:34-Shower opens up. Shower, change, and get ready for work. I discover that my electric razor is out of battery power, and I’m not sure if I packed the charging chord. Hope the boss likes goatees.

8:01- say goodbye to still unconscious roommate, head out the door.

8:03-Our apartment lobby is always interesting in the mornings. The performers for the Kennedy Center often stay here. They come from all over the world, so often; our lobby looks like the entire UN delegation, which is cool. They’re all huddled up by the door, waiting for a cab to take them to the Kennedy Center. I wonder if I should tell them its 2 blocks away. Naaah, they’re rock stars.

8:06- Car with Diplomat plates runs a red light, almost runs me over. This is the 3rd time this has happened this week. If I get hit by one of these guys, I hope it’s a smaller, less powerful country, so we can have an international incident. I can see the Post headline now: US TO NEPAL: INTERN MURDER WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED.

8:08-Arive at Foggy Bottom Metro stop. My Smartcard needs more money, so I need to start praying that there isn’t a gaggle of tourists surrounding the one working machine.

8:09 SUCSESS! Smartcard machine is empty. Time to catch my train, since I think I can hear it now.

8:10- Stampeded by hordes of other interns, rushing to get on *this train* like it was the last one out of hell. Geez, did they forget these things come every 2 min?

8:12-Train shows up, doors open, and its absolutely packed. Somedays, I get lucky enough to grab a seat, so I can play Bejeweled on my cell phone the whole trip. Today, I cram myself into a mass of people. I think my face is smashed against somebody’s shoulder.

8:15-Did somebody just grab my ass?

8:20-Time to transfer at Metro Center. My train has emptied out a little bit, but there is always a horde of people at Metro Center trying to get on. I try to sneak out of the train, but am run over my a mom wielding a hummer-esque stroller, on her way to the Smithsonian. This has got to stop. Crazy Metro patrons are a bigger problem in DC than gun crime in SE.

8:24-I start thinking. One of the things I really liked about my commute into downtown Columbus was the fact that I got to see the city as I rolled in to work. I passed by the Short North and its art galleries and restaurants I couldn’t afford, and then those gave way to our banks and skyscrapers. Getting off and walking a few blocks downtown gave me a quiet affirmation each morning that I was on the right track. I’m missing all of that, because I’m underground.

8:25- Ooh, somebody left their newspaper! Introspection ends.

8:33-Get off at Union Station, head up the massive escalator to freedom. Wait, no...not freedom. Just daylight.

8:40-Show intern badge to stern- looking security guards, who are all standing at very rapt attention. One of these days, I want to tell MEN PARADE REST and see if they move. Not today. Don’t want to press my luck today

8:44: Back to my cave, for another fun filled day of interning. Whew.

Serious article coming in 2 days.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A most terrifying question

Two quick housekeeping notes before I get going. First, thank you all for wishing me a happy 21st birthday. I’ll have to re-celebrate when I get back in town though :)

Second, apparently facebook has this RSS feed feature, which allows me to directly import whatever I post on my blog to notes automatically. If you were wondering why your newsfeed said “Matt Brown has added 45 new notes” sometime last week, thats why. I’m still playing around with these new features and trying to work out all the bugs. Hopefully, the blog will have pictures up soon.

Now, my original intention was to do this write up of the two big events that have happened in the last week or so...seeing my friend Tony’s Gospel concert, and my 21st birthday. I even had a cool title for it: God, Love and Beer. However, I was having trouble getting some of the timing, and then the laptop I was borrowing ate it.

But thats okay, because finding something else to write about wasn’t hard. A conversation topic has been reoccurring with me and my friends here over the last few days. If you’re an upperclassman in college, I imagine you’ve had it a few times lately as well. It causes worry, anxiety, and is perhaps the second scariest question to somebody of our age (first being “Do you love me?”)

What are we going to do with our lives?

Seriously! In a year or two, we complete our undergraduate education, and most of us have only a vague idea about what the next step in our lives should be. Do we go to law school? Graduate school? Start Working? Holy crap, some of my friends are getting married!!! I can barely hang up curtains and some of my peers are getting married. This terrifies me.

So what am I going to do? Thats a great question. I know that I’m not done going to school, because with only a BA in political science from a state university, I’m looking at being an intern for the rest of my life (which would be pretty short...if I had to intern for another 6 years, you’d be talking me off the top of a building). I know I want to go into policy at some level, because I want to fix some of the glaring problems we have in our society (I think Ralph Waldo Emerson said To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived --this is to have succeeded. I try to take that to heart)).

But there isn’t a major for “domestic political problems fixing”. What should I actually *do*??

I could do try to become a college professor. The idea of actually wearing one of those tweed jackets with the elbow pads, along with perhaps a bubble pipe, to work every day is pretty exciting to me (actually, I dont need a PhD to do that!). I also love researching, writing, and deciding the academic future of students by pretty arbitrary means.

However, I see one *major* drawback of a life in academia, that I feel like other people often neglect to mention. It isn’t the terrible pay, or the soul-crushing pressure to publish papers. For me, it’s the idea that you could spend your entire life becoming an expert on something, and end up working at a satellite campus of North Dakota State University. You try to surround yourself in culture and books, and you end up in East Jesus Idaho. I don’t know if that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

I could also be a lobbyist. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would actually be really good at this sort of thing. However, being good at that sort of thing also typically means you go to Hell, which I don’t think is worth it.

I could be a member of Congress! I couldn’t. Thats like saying I could play point guard in the NBA.

I could be a lawyer, which is sort of the direction I’m leaning right now, after I do Teach for America, because it seems like the safest bet. 75% of the people who are doing policy type work around here are lawyers. The problem, I think, would be finding a way to use my profession to serve other people (being a corporate tax lawyer sounds boring, although I would make gobs of moolah), while still being able to make enough money to not have to eat ramen 3 times a week.

Have you guys figured how what you’re doing yet? How did that process work? Do you have an idea I missed?