Lessons on Love from DC United

Thanks for the memories.

One minute into the first half and the beer went flying in the RFK sky. Not mine of course. I had just purchased it seconds earlier; plus it was a Stella. Instead, I downed two gigantic gulps to reduce the volume to a level that wouldn’t spill over as I jumped in joyous unison with the crowd.

One minute into Jaime Moreno’s last appearance in a D.C. United uniform, and Red and the Black faithful celebrated in World Cup-title-esque frenzy as Santino Quaranta ripped a shot into the back of the net. Bud Light rained down as the drums of the Barra Brava orchestrated the synchronized jumps of los aficionados. Our favorite bleach-blonde policeman—a staple oddity on the sideline at every game—smiled briefly, then quickly returned to his skeptical visage.

One minute into the final game of the season and all of the heartbreak of being a D.C. United fan in 2010 was mended. The fusion of disbelief and excitement at that flawless first strike sealed my heart’s fractures of angst and annoyance at being a half-season ticket holder during United’s most abysmal season.

One minute after the game, we waved goodbye to Jaime and started on our ritual exodus to H St.’s Star & Shamrock. Latkes and turkey ruben egg rolls, washed down with a Genesis, were the secret recipe to cure my United-induced ails this year.

This season wasn’t pretty. I didn’t witness a single victory. And I didn’t muster up the energy and courage to participate in every halftime Barra-led mosh pit. I did, however, learn.

I learned that I can love losers, even passionately so. I nodded at my team before every match convinced, “this is the night we win.” We D.C. United fans could witness a tragic goal-ceding mistake, only to sing louder in earnest support. “If only you believed in yourself, United, as much as we did in you,” we lamented.

I learned that no team is perfect, no person is perfect. I learned that a triumphant history doesn’t shield one from the realities of the present. Despite its tradition of dominance, D.C. United simply didn’t have the players to compete this year. And that’s okay. Despite the retirement of Moreno, the league’s leading goal scorer, United will be okay.

Teams, and people, change. They have ups and downs, wins and losses, frustrations and joys. Yet for those who stand by and support, the simple excitement of being a part of that team or person’s experience is what creates a lasting relationship.

And for these lessons, I am grateful. And forever, a D.C. United supporter.

At Gaga’s Monster Ball, DC Little Monsters Disappoint

Notice the message on my shirt. Oops.

Gaga, The Artist

Lady Gaga’s DC concert left me disillusioned. Gaga herself was phenomenal. No matter how many times I watch clips of her on YouTube and Tivo her live performances at award shows, nothing has come close to capturing the live, in-person Gaga. Her voice pounded the air in a loud symphonic staccato. Aggressive dance moves—sometimes aerobic and playful, and at other times raunchy and sexy—couldn’t dampen the strength of the songs she belted.

Gaga was a gracious hostess at her Monster Ball. As Chris Richards of the Washington Post blogged:

“The most commanding moment in Lady Gaga’s riveting Tuesday night concert at Verizon Center had nothing to do with the arsenal of angular, asymmetrical frocks that aggrandized the superstar’s teeny-tiny frame. It came during the crescendo of “Telephone” when she ordered her fans — she affectionately calls them “little monsters” — to tuck their camera phones back into their Levi’s and get in the moment.”

Gaga knew that a dark, blurry photo taken on a smart phone would not capture the ethereal chemistry of the stage and choreography. Indeed we spend so much time trying to capture life’s moments—to prove to our Facebook friends that we did something cool or to blog to our faceless readers that our lives are filled with fun times :)—that we do a bad job of living and savoring the full sphere of the interaction, not just the small sliver we view on a screen in front of us.

Gaga, The Peacemaker

She broke up a fan brawl on the arena floor in the middle of “Monster.” Her dancers and producers obeyed instantly when she cried out, “Stop the music. Do not fight at the Monster Ball.” Despite Gaga’s warning to us fans, I couldn’t calm my anger at a woman who tapped me militantly on the shoulder, despairing, “You need to sit down right now. We can’t see the show.” I stared back in disbelief. She did know we were at a Lady Gaga concert, correct? “I’m not sitting down during this concert,” I responded matter-of-factly but with undeniably ‘tude. “I paid $200 for these tickets,” she retorted. “So did I. And I’ve been waiting for this night for a long time and I am going to do whatever I want. I am not going to sit down. I am going to dance.”

She leaned in and scowled. “What are you going to do?” I smirked  like an adolescent challenging her mother, “Hit me?” She wandered back a few spots to her seat; the fight may have been over for her for the moment, but it was just starting for me. I felt insulted, judged, and stressed that the Little Monster community was not as accepting or loving as advertised. Stand up for Gaga! How could anyone sit through Pokerface, Alejandro, Bad Romance? Hasn’t every Little Monster tried to learn the dances in their bedrooms? All I had wanted was an apology. Instead I got not only a refusal to apologize, but also a snarky remark that my mother had raised me poorly. Gaga, I love you and appreciate your message of love, tolerance, and especially of no-fighting at your Mecca, but I couldn’t let that comment slide off my back and down my fishnet stockings. Our bickering filled the short silences in between songs. We parted ways at the end of the concert—each being escorted and pacified by the arms of our wiser, kinder friends.

Gaga, The Activist

Gaga knew large swaths of her audience were gay and politically minded, and her adlibs in between songs returned to the gay community’s fight for equality, not only in marriage, but also in the military. The crowd approved with raucous applause. And for anyone who didn’t share, she offered, “At least I sing live at this show.” Boy does she sing live at the show.

DC Little Monsters: Boring, at Best

Gaga was incredible. Her DC-based Little Monsters were, despite few exceptions, remarkably lame. I’ve already shared me tale of being told to sit and twiddle my thumbs—has this happened at any other Gaga concert? It wasn’t the outfits or styling that were less wild than I had anticipated, but it was the overall vibe of the DC crowd. Is there a reason for our rote, uninspired worship of Gaga?

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post does a nice job explaining DC-celebrity culture in her article Lady Gaga and the curse of Washington celebrity. She writes,

“conventional wisdom about Washington is that we’re basically a boring, button-down town. We pay bills. We pass bills. We air grievances. Sometimes we rally for significant causes, such as improving water quality or restoring things to other things.”

I don’t work in government and I like to explore DC’s cultural scene, so I’ve always taken offense at descriptions of DC that mirror this conventional wisdom. We are cool, artsy, cultured, and freethinking, I’ve always defended.

Last night, however, I couldn’t help but be embarrassed for DC as Gaga took the stage. Gaga’s plea for those of us in the crowd to free ourselves, be ourselves, and love ourselves landed on deaf ears. The crowd—largely consisting of seemingly self-conscious 16 year olds and moms who looked like they were going to have to explain to their husbands just where exactly their daughter had been that evening and why her hair was tied up into a bow—wasn’t ready to be free and to have fun. The crowd looked stoic and programmed with an unflinching awareness of being watched and judged by others.

At the Monster Ball it shouldn’t matter if you are a Senator, a high schooler, or a nerdy research analyst like me. In the sanctuary of the Monster Ball, we Little Monsters need to understand the implicit covenant we make as witnesses to the high priestess of pop: to not judge, to be happy, to just.have.fun. Why does that seem so hard for us in DC? Oh what it must be like to see her live in New York, I thought as the raucousness waned and the concert goers searched for their seats repeatedly. In my utopia Gaga would hold small venue concerts strictly for tipsy twenty-somethings decked out in outrageous attire. I can dream.

DC Little Monsters: StarStruck and Awkward in the Presence of Fame

Petri unearths another fact about District residents: our view of celebrity is distorted, at least when compared to the celebrity of pop culture and Hollywood. She observes:

“We’ve spent the better part of our lives convincing ourselves that it’s really exciting when Glenn Beck, a middle-aged white man, shows up and gives a speech. “Here comes Glenn Beck!” we say. “Afterwards, we’ll go sit along the strip and watch for motorcades! Maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of Harry Reid!”

I admit my own sense of “celebrity” has been skewed; I conflate politicians and media heads with celebrities. I called my mom excitedly when I saw Greta Van Susteren canvassing the Capitol lawn during the health care debates. Greta who?, my mom asked. I texted my sister immediately when I stole a glimpse of James Carville heading into the Washington Hilton for a dinner honoring the White House Correspondents. I don’t know who that is, sry, she texted back.

Petri lends credence to the kinder of my two theories about why DC Gaga fans were not that impressive or passionate: We were simply “StarStruck” in Gaga’s presence. (The harsher theory is that we are, in fact, uptight and absolutely boring people.) DC’s Little Monsters were paralyzed by the awesomeness of Gaga’s commanding stage presence and fashion sense and her compete inability to say something that doesn’t sound like what she is exactly thinking. Accustomed to flip flopping politicians and watered-down speeches that lack conviction, DC-ers were blown away by what they were seeing. Of course, this is from a group of professed Gaga acolytes who would appear to relish in the ostentaciousness of Gaga; but, again YouTube and MTV cannot prepare you for the live experience. It appeared to scare fans more than energize them with renewed self worth.

I’ll find my solace and renew my sense of faith in DC’s Gaga faithful in Gaga’s own renouncement of her celebrity: “I am an artist, not a celebrity.”

Next Tuesday I’ll continue my 2-venue mini-stint as a Gaga groupie when I travel to Philadelphia. I hope that Philly fans bring it and bring it hard. If not, perhaps a larger examination of the “Little Monster” fan culture is in order. Let’s hope not.

Party Planning: 6 Tips for Stress-Free Fun

I love hosting a good party.

I don’t love the self-created stress to get the essential elements of a party “right” to provide for the maximum enjoyment of my guests. These elements of a party include: snacks,  play list, guest list, decorations, libations, and—the most important element as taught to me by my father—flow, i.e., the organization of the house and placement of food, drinks, and seating to encourage the natural movement of the guests.

The stress doesn’t boil and burst until the party begins; until the moment I realize that the days I’ve spent cleaning and the hours I’ve spent crafting the optimal playlist to fit the vibe of the party may not mean much to my guests. Example of an #epicfail: purchasing a keg of Bud Light for a mostly girl-attended party…for Cinco de Mayo. There’s a lot wrong with this short sentence.

  • First, Bud Light keg on Cinco de Mayo? Talk about not nailing the theme.
  • Second, a keg for 20 skinny girls who like Tequila and white wine? Talk about not understanding my audience. (Thanks CEC for the lingo😉 )

Transporting an untapped keg without a car or manpower to the party was difficult; transporting a nearly full keg back to the Barrel House was just as difficult, but now embarrassing.

To my utter shock, hosting a house party doesn’t HAVE to involve stressful planning and frantic execution. I realized this over the weekend as my roomie and I hosted a birthday pregame for his 23rd birthday. It was simple. It was low-key. It was, really, perfect. Here’s what I learned to help you make your next party a stress-free success:

  1. Nix Snacks, Add a Cake
  2. Skip the iPod Play List
  3. Leave the Decorating & Party Favors for the Kids
  4. Friends of Friends Add Spice
  5. Buy Good Chasers, Not Good Alcohol
  6. Let The Guests Mingle, But Not The Food & Drinks

Parties are fun, not stressful, silly. Just prepare enough, but not too much. Most importantly, prepare the mind to go with the flow and flex to the unpredictability that makes a good party great. And if things get really stressful, try a shot of Tequila and belt out “Bad Romance”–always works for me.

Party Panning Tip #6: Let the Guests Mingle, but Not The Food & Drinks

As my dad always reminds, party flow is the game-changer. Turns out our frat house of a house is perfect for facilitating party flow. Hence, why I probably call it a frat house. Hodgepodge furniture that no one owns is a major plus—you never have to worry about drink spillage or people wiping frosting on pillows. If you don’t have the ample space and old furniture of a frat house, there are a few things you can do to improve the flow of your house party:

  • Don’t put drinks and food on the same table. Leave beer in the fridge, but keep the mixers out on ice right next to the liquor it is meant to soften.
  • Arrange smaller groups of seats for people to have more intimate conversations…
  • But leave plenty of common space for people to mingle before settling on a place to sit and relax.
  • Keep tables away from doorways and hallways—clogging increases the likelihood people will bump into each other and spill.

Party Planning Tip #5: Buy Good Chasers, Not Good Alcohol

Luckily, a party the weekend prior, left our threesome with many bottles of wine. We didn’t have to buy any for this shindig! A new bottle of Smirnoff Vodka, 2 things of Pepsi, OJ, and a 24-pack of Coors Light combined with an assortment of half-filled bottles of whiskey, rum, and Blue Curacao (disclaimer: never drink this. Ever.) were more than enough to satisfy the thirst of our guests.

Usually, I go overboard with libation preparation only to realize that people usually bring what they want and really just need soda or beer chasers. Don’t splurge for top shelf for a house party. Let your guests bring top shelf (and hopefully leave some behind!)

Party Planning Tip #3: Friends of Friends Add Spice

The guest list: This was made easier by the fact that it was Labor Day Weekend, meaning, that many friends weren’t in town, but those that did linger were in need of something fun to do and eager to celebrate. A “surprise” guest is always a fun addition to a party. In this case, the spontaneous arrival of my brother from Dallas for 24-hours exceeded the level of “unexpectedness” that equates to surprise. A simpler strategy would be always allow your friends to bring their friends. Notorious B.I.G. said this best:

“Tell your friends, to get with my friends (your friends) / And we can be friends / Shit we can do this every weekend.”

Party Planning Tip #4: Leave the Decorating & Party Favors for the Kids

The decorations? There weren’t any despite the begging birthdays do for balloons and party hats. Granted some themed parties do require and benefit from decking the halls. Usually, however these cute touches take time, creativity, and money and are underappreciated by the guests. Take Halloween ’08 as a cautionary tale.

Halloween can easily be overdone. I strategically placed bat and witch temporary tattoos, glow stick bracelets, and pumpkins overflowing with candy throughout the apartment. I woke up the next morning to forearms and cheeks covered in smudges of black, purple, orange and green. My wrists glowed neon in the darkness of my alley-facing bedroom; candy wrappers littered my bed and I stumbled over three full pumpkins as I went to assess the damage in the kitchen and living room. As expected, the liquor was drained; the fridge barren.

Lesson learned: people want booze. And maybe some mood lighting with soft candle glow. They don’t need party favors to remind them of failed childhood parties.

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