Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Drop Dead and Systematic Death in NYC at Europa

On Saturday, Pat, Rob, Dan, and I drove to New York City to see the Inmates (Ohio), Drop Dead (Rhode Island), and Systematic Death (Japan!) play at Europa.

We got to New York as the doors were opening for the show. We walked a few blocks from the venue to Pappacitas, a burrito place. I got a big, amazing burrito stuffed with beef seitan, soy cheese, black beans, salsa, and rice. Pappacitas took a long time filling our orders. Rob got his burrito first and had finished it before the rest of us got anything. Dan got his food next. Pat and I told them to leave and we'd catch up with them, since we knew that waiting would cause them to miss some of The Inmates' set.

The Inmates - By the time Pat and I finished with our food, The Inmates had played their last note. Apparently, Europa was hosting a Polish dance night after the show was done, which required everyone to adhere to a strict schedule. We did, however, see The Inmates at an after show. They unapologetically reminded people and informed newcomers that they'd used the word "faggot" at the beginning of the Europa show. Jerks.

Drop Dead - mowed people over with the force of their music. The singer yelled about how eating meat is murder and called those who eat the flesh of animals "blood mouths." Then, he complained that he felt sick from the flu and needed to keep the set short.

Systematic Death - systematically destroyed.

Teun Voeten on "Tunnel People"

I rushed from work to Pat's house to Sticky Fingers where I gulped down a salad with mock pepper steak and ginger miso dressing. No friend was working there last night. Then, Pat and I jumped in my car and scrambled to the lecture by Teun Voeten at La Casa.

Teun Voeten is a journalist and photographer from the Netherlands who wrote a book called "Tunnel People." I've started, but not finished, reading it. In the mid-1990s, he spent five months living in the Amtrak railroad tunnels below New York City with the "tunnel dwellers." He said that he originally intended to do an objective, anthropological study, but ended up connecting and befriending the people he met in the dark, rat-infested underground. Voeten spoke with almost a nostalgic pride about his acceptance by the "tunnel community."

Ultimately, New York relocated the tunnel people. Project Renewal offered rehab, as well as vocational and educational programs. And New York stepped in with Section 8 housing. Voeten returned to subterranean Manhattan recently with some of his friends from the tunnel and found the place "eerily empty." So, his book may fall into the category of history, but gives a face to people who cannot afford housing.

Voeten said that he'd spoken to some college students in Virginia earlier in the day and that he was unsettled that none of them had heard of Spike Lee. He feels like young people in America are harder on people who are poor and addicted to cocaine or crack. He insists that business people on Wall Street use tons of cocaine, but the general public in America excuses them because of their wealth. He said that addiction is more understandable for the mentally ill or people without love or professional goals. He realizes crack may consume those in poverty and prevent them from rebuilding their lives, but he is angry that people judge them so harshly while the Wall Street tycoons retain respect.

While conceding that some of the tunnel people had mental health issues, Voeten focused on the ingenuity and independence of the dwellers. Bernard, a middle-aged veteran of the tunnels, kept spices and food sealed in metal boxes to prevent the rats from contaminating them. Every day, he rigorously collected cans for recycling money. Voeten still labels Bernard a "close friend." Voeten offhandedly added that Bernard sometimes fed cats, which frustrated several tunnel dwellers who wanted their cats to eat only tunnel rats. According to Voeten, many of the dwellers kept cats.

Voeten explained that the tunnel people regarded the tunnels as their homes. He said that many of them did not consider themselves homeless, because they had a place to go. How could they be vagrants if they slept in the same spot every night? They followed routines in the same neighborhoods, among the same people. Voeten said that some of the tunnel dwellers looked down their noses at the more nomadic and traditional homeless. The Tunnel dwellers considered themselves, according to Voeten, "the creme-de-la-creme of the displaced."

The lecture lasted for about an hour and a half. During the question-and-answer period, a disheveled, white man with a long, unkempt beard who was probably in his 50s stood up. He shouted at Voeten, asking him how how he felt about the room being filled with white people. The man flung his hands around, pointed at Mark Anderson from Positive Force who was leaning against a wall, and yelled: "And him. And him." Voeten responded that the lecture was open to the public and that he was just happy that some people showed up to listen to him. The man muttered about over-educated, white people and, then, added with a toothless smile that he liked listening because it was free, but was hoping for a movie instead. Then, he left. A woman complimented Voeten on his photography. Voeten seemed genuine and flattered that anyone was listening to him.

I'm still working through how I feel about Voeten's take on the tunnel people. As a public defender, I interact with so many clients with mental health issues. I often act partially as a social worker and try to help my homeless clients. I, of course, see them as real people with backstories. I worry, though, because living on the streets can jeopardize their safety, health, and sanity. A few years ago, I found a group home willing to take in my schizophrenic, homeless client. He refused to go, because he felt like I was sending him to a cult. He preferred to stay in the jail. It's important to feel like you have some control over your life. I recognize that moving into a group home or shelter may make an individual feel like s/he is giving up control and losing independence. Maybe even losing autonomy... But the insecurity of homelessness...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Russian Debutante's Handbook

Gary Shteyngart writes about Vladimir Girshkin, an American citizen who came to New York City from Russia and is trying to impress people. The year is 1994. The theme of the book: Vladimir wants to fit in. He meets a girl who lives in Manhattan, considers herself an intellectual, and becomes interested in Vladimir possibly because she thinks he looks a little like Trotsy. He wants to be in love with her and enjoys doing things like shopping for organic toothbrushes. She makes him spend so much money on clothing, food, and wine that he starts scamming an elderly Russian gentleman with a son who is a Russian mob boss. Related to his quest for cash, he almost gets raped, which somehow results in his fleeing to Prava, an up-and-coming East European City right after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In Prava, Vladimir joins the Russian mob in order to protect himself and because cynicism seems easier than hope. He scams people, adopts shallow friendships, and remains scared. The expats he encounters in Prava seem uncomfortable with themselves and are trying to reinvent their identities. Peope want to be more creative, strong, spiritual, or dangerous. They seek validation or vengeance. Most of them are living on cash from their parents.

I loved some of the New York characters, especially an elderly man who liked to sing old Russian anthems with his fan. The Prava characters just fell flat. although I do like Vladimir's love interest, Morgan. She is maybe the only character in the whole book who seeks to be true to herself, although she wants to save people or fight for principles that she doesn't entirely understand.

The Russian boss who employs Vladimir is a caricature of an aggressive, erratic, violent, and uncultured mobster. He's called "The Groundhog." The story falls apart as Vladimir navigates in a city of stereotypes. I liked the ending, though, and won't spoil it in case you want to read this book.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lotus Fucker & Nukkehammer in Baltimore and DC

Lotus Fucker (DC), State Violence (DC/MD) and Nukkehammer (Columbus, OH) offered fast, loud, noisy sets in the basement of a house in Baltimore on September 10th. Meanwhile, upstairs, someone held a rave party. State Violence thundered through their set, sounding great. Then, the atmosphere in the room changed. As the Nukkehammer drummer hit his drums with artillery gun speed, a girl near me slowly rolled her hips and flailed her arms like she was trying to doggy paddle. Nukkehammer is going for that crusty, Swedish sound. While attempting to deliver some brutal punk, in Baltimore, they inspired folk-style gyrations .

When Lotus Fucker started playing, the lights went out. Their music boomed through the dark - extra loud given Pat's stack of amps that nearly touched the ceiling. Plus, a huge line of peddles layered on the distortion, which reinforced the sense of confusion in the pitch black room. A strobe light pulsed on and suddenly I discovered Dan, the Lotus Fucker singer, right in front of me. Giggling strangers nearby tore apart and, then, tossed glo sticks around. Green dots began to shine on my Rations shirt, my arm, and my leg. Christine, from State Violence, growled about glowing as she rubbed at the incandescent green and orange blotches on her skin. Movement in the strobe light appeared choppy and incoherent. I thought about seizures and stared at the chaos. Some girl tried to combine a hippy dance move, waiving her arms toward the ceiling as if she was trying to invoke rain, with a slam dance, bumping into people. The whole thing seemed surreal to me. Our friend Rob, who just moved here from New Jersey and went to Canada with Lotus Fucker last week, labeled it the best Lotus Fucker show ever. Dan seemed confused, pointing out that the band was much tighter in New York and the confusion with lights had thrown the band of in his opinion.

On Saturday, Lotus Fucker played in DC with Nukkehammer again. The show was in Dan's basement, which was hot and the audience was sparse. Sizzling bands, though. Lotus Fucker sounded much tighter and produced a true wall of sound. Nukkehammer seemed a little less like head on, brutal hardcore. The basement was hot and the crowd was thin. Dan, however, seemed annoyed that he kept seeing people walk by with cups from his kitchen. He asked: "Isn't it enough I'm letting them into my basement?" Jon, the drummer from Lotus Fucker responded: "OK, Dan. 'Dear HeartattaCk'." In the parking lot, some of Dan's neighbors danced in an open garage, participating in a Rhythm and Blues block party. I could hear The Temptations singing about sunshine on a cloudy day as I waited for Lotus Fucker to set up. I turned down invitations from them to form a dance line as I helped Lotus Fucker load up Pat's van.

PS I asked the drummer of Nukkehammer how to pronounce his band's name. He told me that it's a made up name, so I can pronounce it any way I like. He pronounces it "Nuke Hammer."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Skin Failure, Spine Buster, Warbound

A few of my friends' bands played at the Quarry House in Silver Spring, Maryland this afternoon. The show started on time at 2:00 p.m. and I was a half an hour late, which means that I missed Warbound's first show. And I really wanted to see them. Jason Toner, who is playing drums for Warbound, told me that they hit the breaks right and held it together. I'm looking forward to hearing their demo and hope they play another show soon.

Spine Buster apparently got their name from a wrestling maneuver. Don't confuse the move with the Back Breaker, which merely involves a timely knee to the back. To do the Spine Buster, you must charge your opponent and land on him or her. So, the band Spine Buster seeks musical momentum. I had fun watching them and they seemed to have a great deal of fun playing. I'd even describe them as enthusiastic about putting on a good show. I perched up on top of a chair that gave me a perfect view of them.

The Quarry House is below an Indian restaurant, which makes it difficult to find. The room in the Quarry House where bands play is basically a corridor with a dead end. The room is narrow and long with low ceilings. When Sick Fix played at the Quarry House in December, someone raised a fist to the ceiling and accidentally smashed one of the string lights arranged in a network around the front of the room. The glass cut the guy's hand deeply enough that he had to go to the hospital. In other words, the acoustics are poor in the venue and the slender width makes it challenging for people to move to the music. My friends, however, report that Quarry House serves the best tater tots in the DC area.

The last band that I saw was Skin Failure. They played solid hardcore, even performing a cover of Minor Threat's "Bottled Violence," which inspired people to sing along. I love hearing Minor Threat covers. Dan's voice raised comfortably above the sound of the instruments and I enjoyed their whole set.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Not Guilty

This week, I made my way through a stressful trial. The landmines I operated around had less to do with the facts of the case and more to do with the hostility of the Assistant State's Attorney handling the case. She shouted "object" like she had turrets syndrome and lacked self-control. For two straight days of trial, she screamed and glared at me. She objected during my opening statement, during both my cross-examination and my direct-examination of the witnesses, and during my closing argument. She remained ever vigilant, ever wrong as the judge constantly overruled her loud, attention-seeking objections.

At one point during my closing, I uttered the words: "David Markham and Avery Posey," when I heard her battle cry again: "objection." Honestly, she objected to me saying their names. I had said nothing but their names. When I got to the bench, she hooted out speculations about where I might be going with those names, the names of the two people who the police had arrested, informing the judge that he needed to set ground rules. The judge also felt browbeat, I think, and let her ramble for a while.

At one point, the judge said that he felt like we should all try to relax for a moment, take a breath, and try to make things less emotional. His efforts to calm her down failed.

She was abrasive. I was told by other people in the courtroom that she seemed so violently angry, that they felt like her head was about to pop off - geyser-style. Jerry, one of the other public defenders in my office, asked her the next day for her health insurance card. He told her that he was expecting a blood vessel to burst the way she was shouting in her closing argument. He said that she certainly wasn't going to be conscious to hand the information over to the ambulance people after her blood vessel popped, so she should at the very least give us an emergency contact.

For me, she made the trial difficult, because she constantly interrupted my flow. I felt bombarded by her visible hostility and disadvantaged by the difficulty of presenting a cohesive argument in the face of constant interruptions. She stressed me out, but, fortunately, was unable to make me lose my train of thought. Her barking complaints added to the pressure of the moment. I already was representing an individual in a trial in which his future relied on my ability to show flaws in the government's case or explain our defense to the charges against him. This ASA's attempts to bludgeon me with complaints lacked success. She personally attacked me in her closing argument with screams of "Ms. Righter" as she asserted that I was attempting to trick people and misstated what I'd said previously. Interrupting and abusing an opponent is not a fair strategy. Ridiculing him or her and distorting his or her words is wrong. I felt emotionally drained. I wish I could attach an audio clip so that you could listen to the venom in her tone and recognize that I'm not exaggerating.

The jury's verdict: NOT GUILTY. Maybe her ill-temper backfired on her. At least the jury understood that just because she spoke the loudest, didn't mean that she made sense.

Lauriol Plaza

Last weekend, Pat and I bicycled from his house to the zoo, which meant we worked up an appetite for dinner. So, as the clock hit 6:00 p.m., we made our way to Lauriol Plaza, which offers amazing Mexican food. The salsa tasted fresh and flavorful with a hint of chipotle. The tortilla chips were hot and replenished whenever they got low.
For an appetizer, Pat ordered corn tamales, which were sweet and seemed to melt in my mouth. For dinner, we both ordered the vegetable fajitas. So good. The chef marinated the vegetables and grilled them so that they retained crunch, but lost bitterness. Plus, the variety of vegetable in the fajitas was great in terms of flavor and texture - asparagus, portabella mushrooms, plantains, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, red peppers, green peppers... You can see in the picture. Moreover, the tortillas were hot from the oven. Pat and I both stuffed ourselves.
On the downside, a lot of young, urban professionals crowded the bar area ordering drinks and laughing like high-pitched birds. Pat and I ignored the happy-hour group. Their commitment to mingling around the bar granted us the opportunity to get a table without waiting.
The food, though, was delicious. Our water glasses, chip basket, and salsa bowl never became empty. My advice: go to Lauriol Plaza if you want Mexican food in DC.

Socialcide, Rations, Dry Spell, Gut Reactions

This show brought down the Corpse Fortress a little over a week ago. The bands all played with fast-paced intensity.
Rations, a DC, straight-edge band, was amazing and sounded tighter than ever.
(Pictures of Rations.)

Socialcide is a band from Virginia with a couple of straight-edge members, but they are not straight edge. Regardless, Parsons, their bassist (who is also the singer for Rations), still felt inspired to yell out "straight edge." Right after he shouted, the light illuminating the room went out. They played their next song in cell-phone dotted darkness, with a few people holding up their cell phones like people used to hold up lighters to request an encore. Someeone brought in a lamp and placed it on top of an amp. The lamp fell and busted. From where I sat on the stairs, I could see the guitarist put his foot down on the bulb. The band again played in darkness. They still delivered their adrenalin-pulsing, energy-packed music. I'm glad that I got an opportunity to see them one last time.


And sorry - my friend took the pictures. I don't have any good pictures of Socialcide, although they are an amazing band and I certainly don't mean to slight them.