Friday, December 30, 2016

(Not a) D.C. United Fan Interview #2.5 with Nick aka "Lurpy"

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

D.C. United’s 2013 Open Cup victory burns bright in the memories of D.C. United fans. Coming in the midst of a mind bogglingly bad season--with just 3 wins in regular season play, a new league record low--D.C. United’s improbable Open Cup run was something for fans to celebrate. Those unable to make the trek to Utah on October 1, 2013, for the final against Real Salt Lake piled into Lucky Bar in Northwest DC for the watch party.

Unexpectedly joining the Open Cup festivities at Lucky Bar was a Real Salt Lake fan. This RSL fan made enough of an impression on the DC fans gathered at Lucky Bar that he’s popped up in all the stories I’ve gathered so far on the watch party.

Because I am a librarian and I love a challenge, I set off looking for this elusive Lucky Bar legend and--with a little help from Matt Montgomery (@TheCrossbarRSL)--I eventually tracked him down.

Nick,“Lurpy” as he’s known in RSL circles, an RSL fan from Utah, was attending law school in the DC area at the time. He’s since moved back home to Utah but was kind enough to chat with me about what happened that fateful night in DC in the fall of 2013.

This interview was recorded on December 18, 2016. The transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

D.C. United Fan Interview #2 with Jason Anderson [Part 4 of 4]

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

Maryland-born and raised Jason Anderson is a long time presence in the Washington-area soccer scene and has been a D.C. United fan since before D.C. United existed. He is currently managing editor of Black and Red United, SBNation’s D.C. United website, and co-host of the Filibuster Podcast.

This conversation was recorded on November 23-24, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Part 4: Onward and Upward, 2013-the future.

Friday, December 23, 2016

D.C. United Fan Interview #2 with Jason Anderson [Part 3 of 4]

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

Maryland-born and raised Jason Anderson is a long time presence in the Washington-area soccer scene and has been a D.C. United fan since before D.C. United existed. He is currently managing editor of Black and Red United, SBNation’s D.C. United website, and co-host of the Filibuster Podcast.

This conversation was recorded on November 23-24, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Part 3: The Doldrums, 2008-2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

D.C. United Fan Interview #2 with Jason Anderson [Part 2 of 4]

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

Maryland-born and raised Jason Anderson is a long time presence in the Washington-area soccer scene and has been a D.C. United fan since before D.C. United existed. He is currently managing editor of Black and Red United, SBNation’s D.C. United website, and co-host of the Filibuster Podcast.

This conversation was recorded on November 23-24, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Part 2: Decline and Rebuild, 2000-2007.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

D.C. United Fan Interview #2 with Jason Anderson [Part 1 of 4]

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

Maryland-born and raised Jason Anderson is a long time presence in the Washington-area soccer scene and has been a D.C. United fan since before D.C. United existed. He is currently managing editor of Black and Red United, SBNation’s D.C. United website, and co-host of the Filibuster Podcast.

This conversation was recorded on November 23-24, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Part 1: Beginnings - 2000.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

D.C. United Fan Interview #1 with Brendan C.

During the off-season I plan on speaking with a handful of D.C. United fans to try and capture some of the fantastic stories I've been hearing all year at the tailgates, on the bus, and in the stands.

Brendan C. has been a D.C. United fan since he moved to the area in the mid-2000s and now volunteers for the team on game days. You can find him helping out around RFK, cheering on the team from the dug out, and writing thoughtful, detailed comments on the fansite Black and Red United.

This conversation was recorded on November 7, 2016. This transcription has been edited slightly for smoothness and clarity. You may re-post the link to the interview but please do not re-post any of the content.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

[D.C. Untied 26] (FINAL) D.C. United vs Montreal Impact, October 27, 2016

A note from me: If you enjoyed reading this series I’d love to hear from you. I had a lot of fun writing these pieces and would love to hear what people liked (or what they didn’t). I’m not sure what my project over the next few months will be. I’ve grown very impatient with film and the discussion around film and television. But on the other hand, I have a stack of 1970s Japanese cult films never released with subtitles and that have no reviews in English so that might be fun… anyways. Please enjoy this final installment of D.C. Untied!

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,

testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,

and think of that first flawless moment over the lawn

of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made!

There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;

and here are the shocked starlings pumping past

and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well.

Larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast

of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings!

Feel the fire at his neck and see how casually

he glances up and is caught, wondrously tunneling

into that hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea?

See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down

while his sensible daddy goes straight into town.

--Anne Sexton, “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

[D.C. Untied 25] Orlando City SC vs D.C. United, October 23, 2016

A year ago I couldn’t have imagined that by the end of the 2016 regular MLS season I’d be in Orlando for a D.C. United game, enjoying a Duff beer by the shores of a tiny artificial lake under the warm October sun. But there I was. I’d woken up on Saturday at 4:45 am to get a 6:30 a.m. flight down to America’s favorite tourist destination. By 10 a.m. I was pulling into the Universal Studios parking lot and by 11 a.m. I’d fought my way through nerds in Harry Potter robes and bickering couples in matching t-shirts to hop on the first of many roller coasters I’d be riding that day. The anticipation of waiting in line, the twinge of fear deep in the pit of your stomach as you finally sit down and are strapped in… will the harness hold? Then the exhileration of being whipped around and upside down and leaving nothing but a trail of shouted profanity in your wake. I’ve enjoyed a lot of shouted profanity this year.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

[D.C. Untied 24] D.C. United vs New York City FC, October 16, 2016

October 2, 2015, just about a year ago, was a rainy Friday night at RFK. I know nothing of what’s happening in the season beyond the fact that I have a good time hanging out with my brother and cheering for the guys in black. I don’t know about Davy’s concussion and how the season has been in freefall since he’s been out, with United hemorrhaging points. I don’t know that this game will break a six game losing streak. I don’t know anything about “Bennyball” or Pontius’s hamstrings or, indeed, anything about soccer beyond the need to put the ball in the goal to win.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

[D.C. Untied 23.5] [Interlude] USMNT vs New Zealand, October 11, 2016

In 1799 Henry Lee, father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, wrote these words in a eulogy for George Washington: “To the memory of the Man, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

In 1932 the great scholar and poet W.E.B. Du Bois staged a pointed historical pageant titled, “George Washington and Black Folk”, in deep contrast with the near universal hagiographical treatment of the nation’s first president, Du Bois highlights Washington’s ambivalence on ending slavery, his reluctance to act, and puts a spotlight on the many contributions of black Americans in the Revolutionary War. The hero of the pageant turns out to be former slave and leader of the Haitian Revolution Toussaint L’Ouverture, of whom abolitionist Wendall Phillips wrote, “I would call him Washington but the great Virginian owned slaves.”

Days before the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was set to play New Zealand in a friendly, Saudi Arabia, with the tacit approval of and using weapons sold to them by the United States, bombed a mass funeral in Yemen, killing and wounding hundreds.

This is what ran through my head the evening of the October 11th at RFK Stadium when the American Outlaws unfurled their banner proclaiming us, “First in War, First in Peace, First in Soccer.”

It made my stomach turn in disgust. “First in War,” is not something to be proud of and I have yet to see evidence of either “First in Peace” or, indeed, “First in Soccer.”

I’d been expecting something different, something lighthearted. This wasn’t a competitive match, after all. Why not a banner making a reference to some of New Zealand’s cultural output--a joke about Flight of the Conchords or The Lord of the Rings, perhaps? But the fun, bantering atmosphere that I’ve come to love at D.C. United games is completely absent from U.S.M.N.T. games.

I attended my first Men’s National Team game earlier this year, during the Copa America tournament. My buddy Paul had an extra ticket to the game against Paraguay at Lincoln Field in the Stadium District of Philadelphia and, not knowing better, I accepted it.

There was a big, very friendly Paraguayan family seated to our left and a drunk American bros on every other side, including a real gem of a bro in Edgartown Red shorts kept standing up to flip the bird at the Paraguayan family. The chants of “USA USA USA” felt inappropriately belligerent and more than a little nativist. Chanting “USA USA USA” at the local immigrant population was not something I felt comfortable doing. I didn’t join in with that or any of the cheers.

Later that month, also during Copa America my friend L., who is Mexican-American, was going to attend an American Outlaws watch party with her husband, who is white. They ended up separated by the crowd. He was waved into the bar but she was turned away. “Members only,” the guy at the door said.

After those experiences I had decided never to attend another national team game or watch party again. That nativist atmosphere was just not something I felt comfortable with. But when this game against New Zealand was announced, I’d decided to give it another try, especially after local boy Bill Hamid was called up by Jurgen Klinsmann. My hope was that a friendly against a “white” country that didn’t also represent a local marginalized immigrant community would be free of uncomfortable jingoism. I was wrong. It still felt like a Trump rally when my section rose to its feet chanting “USA USA USA”.

I’d brought a cheeky handwritten sign with me expressing my disapproval of Jurgen not starting our homegrown hero in goal: “FREE HAMID.”

I’d intended it as a lighthearted joke but as the game wore on, and my discomfort grew, it felt more like a protest. FREE HAMID to join the Black Lives Matter protests or take a knee with Colin Kaepernick if he wants to. FREE HAMID from having to suck up to Europe-biased Jurgen or put up with these nativist chants of USA USA USA. FREE HAMID from this bullshit.

I’ll still cheer on and support the players on the national team but I cannot in good conscience participate in that supporter culture.

I’ll stick to D.C. United.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

[D.C. Untied 22-23] D.C. United vs Orlando City SC, September 24, 2016, and D.C. United vs Columbus Crew SC, September 28, 2016

When I last left you, gentle readers, D.C. United had valiantly fought back from a two goal hole, scoring twice in six minutes to tie the New York Red Bulls in stoppage time and for Viernes de Futbol the following week in Chicago they drew the same scoreline: 2-2. We made a party of it. After work, I took the Metro out to Maryland where I met my brother and sister-in-law and the new baby over at my parents house. Beers in hand (except for the baby) we tuned into the game on the big screen TV, laughing in gleeful disbelief as Rob Vincent took an indirect freekick from inside the penalty box, scoring the opening goal. And then we’d groaned in disappointment as it was answered minutes later by Chicago and then answered again. United seemed tired, slow of both foot and thought, as if the pitch had been spread with molasses. A second half stoppage time equalizer from captain Bobby Boswell salvaged a point but unlike the previous week’s effort, it didn’t feel quite like a win. Chicago is the worst team in the East and we just barely scraped out a draw? Was my optimism all for nothing?

Oh me of little faith.

Two weeks later and we’re sitting on our first winning streak of the season: 3 wins in a row, including a massive win on the road against Toronto FC. D.C. United has gone from clinging onto 6th place with our collective fingernails and a series of hard-fought draws to racing past Philadelphia and hot on Montreal’s heels in a fight 4th which would guarantee us a home game in the playoffs.

And I’m late writing about it for a few reasons.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

[D.C. Untied 21] New York Red Bulls vs D.C. United, September 11, 2016

And a note from me: Get well soon, Sean!!

The story of D.C. United at Red Bull Arena begins almost two weeks ago on Thursday, September 1 at Yankee Stadium. Days after an incredible 6-2 hosing of the Chicago Fire, D.C. United traveled north to New York to face N.Y.C.F.C. To say that expectations were high is an understatement. D.C. United had just scored six goals. They looked good and the fans were ready for the first winning streak of the season.

The problem is that N.Y.C.F.C. is a team that can win games. They’re very uneven and their defense is one of the worst in the league but they can win. N.Y.C.F.C. spent big money on David Villa (17 goals) and Frank Lampard (12 goals) for a reason. If they’re going to win, they’re generally going to win by outshooting you, not by keeping goals out. D.C. United, on the other hand, under former defensive midfielder Ben Olsen, has spent the last few years winning by defending and has spent most of this year unable to score much of anything and scraping out a fair number of 1-1 draws. You have to add up our top seven goal scorers this season to equal the total of N.Y.C.F.C’s top two, and one of those seven is centerback Steve Birnbaum!

But D.C. United seemed to have figured it out. And they played the first 75 minutes of the game against N.Y.C.F.C. like the team we’d seen take Chicago out behind the woodshed. Fluid attack, keeping N.Y.C.F.C.’s chances to a minimum… but we’d only scored once. And we’d lost that 1-0 lead too many times this season. Would this be the game that broke the streak? As the clock ticked on towards 90 minutes, all of us watching at home started to hope. Yes, it would be today!

And then it all came crashing down.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

[D.C. Untied 20] D.C. United vs Chicago Fire, August 27, 2016

Good luck tonight, D.C. United!! I have to admit that I got caught in my "Tommy McNamara For President" T-shirt in Clarendon on Sunday by the dad of a friend of Tommy's. He stopped me and was like, "Tommy McNamara the soccer player?" "Yes," I replied. "I'm a big fan! I'm so mad he didn't get called up to the U.S. Men's National Team." "Well," said Tommy's friend's dad, "I hear he's having a lot of fun in New York." "Tell him I'm cheering for him!" I said. But, the truth is, tonight I'm not cheering for Tommy. I'm cheering for the boys in Black and Red! SORRY TOMMY! Tonight you're on the wrong side.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

[D.C. Untied 19] D.C. United vs New York Red Bulls, August 21, 2016

Picking up the story from where I left off in the last post. I’d just gone to the Q&A on Tuesday evening, the 16th of August.

I was still in the process of emerging from jet lag as the week finally rolled into Friday. I’d made it through. And my reward was that one Mr. Steve Birnbaum (the “Pear Tree,” as my Dad calls him) was going to be doing a little autograph signing in the Wells Fargo right by my apartment building. I have no idea what sort of sponsorship Wells Fargo has with D.C. United but I will say this: I’d never have had a reason to set foot in a Wells Fargo without the lure of an autograph from Six Thirty Birnie himself.

The event was set to take place from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. Not wanting to seem too eager, I showed up at the cool, way more casual time of 4:05. A couple of the bank staff were outside with signs and a balloons and they seemed excited to see me. “I’m here for that,” I said, pointing to their sign.

“Just walk right through to the back,” said the Wells Fargo staffer. “He’s really nice.”

As advertised, when I’d threaded my way through the tiny bank branch, there was Steve “Big Time” Birnbaum standing and chatting with a couple and doting on their baby. All the jokey comments I was going to zing him with about making sure his ladyfriend kept those preppy photo shoots coming flew out of my head. My stomach started to hurt and I could feel myself beginning to flush. I was star struck.

Monday, August 22, 2016

[D.C. Untied 18] D.C. United vs Portland Timbers, August 13, 2016

YES I'm back! My jet lag is swiftly falling away and I should have the second part of this up in the next day or so. For the four or five of you who read this. Heh. Comments are welcome, feel free to message me or tweet at me or whatever. I know I don't always get everything right and I know that there's a lot I don't know about soccer and being a supporter but I'm learning. Slowly learning. I've also been told by certain people they don't care if I use their names. If you are one of those people who doesn't care if I use your name, let me know. I try to err on the side of caution and privacy but am happy to attribute quips at my expense where credit is due.

“You look like a zombie.”

That was how Tim greeted me at the District Ultras tailgate on Saturday. I had nothing to say in response. It was a fair assessment. He’d been watching me slowly shuffle my way across Lot 8 towards the river. I’d even downed a cancer-giving Red Bull--before setting foot on sacred RFK ground, thank you very much--but it was no use. I felt like a zombie. I’d been back in the United States for less than 24 hours and the only thing capable of powering my beyond-fatigued corpse was the thought of being back in section 127 cheering for D.C. United.

Monday, July 11, 2016

[D.C. Untied 17] Philadelphia Union vs D.C. United, July 9, 2016

“What the actual fuck!” Halftime at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, and I was furious. It’d been 46 minutes of terrible soccer from D.C. United, compounded by a terrible ref who had handed away two penalty kicks to the Philadelphia Union, which they had promptly converted to a two goal lead over us.

“Two penalty kicks? TWO?” I looked around hoping to unleash my exasperation at somebody but the D.C. United section is emptying out, heading down towards the concourse to get more beer and maybe use the bathroom.

Defeated, I collapsed into my seat and closed my eyes. The breeze from the Delaware River hit the back of my neck. It felt nice. High above the playing field in the away fans section, I hoped for something--anything--positive from United in the second half. After all, hadn’t I just watched Montreal come back from behind and beat the Revs 3-2 last weekend?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

[D.C. Untied 14-15] Part 2: Houston Dynamo vs D.C. United, June 18, 2016

The next day, Thursday, I left for Houston, Texas, where D.C. United were going to be playing the Houston Dynamo on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Monday, June 20, 2016

[D.C. Untied 14-15] Part 1: D.C. United vs Fort Lauderdale Strikers, June 15, 2016

Each 0-0 draw is its own unique plot point existing somewhere in between a win and a loss. Watching D.C. United’s B-team take on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for 120 minutes of scoreless soccer felt like a loss even before we went on to actually lose during penalty kicks. Watching a D.C. United A-team that was missing not only 2015’s top scorer but 3 other goal scorers of an already low-scoring 2016 grind out a 0-0 draw against the Houston Dynamo--earning a road point on a swampy June evening--felt much closer to victory.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

[D.C. Untied 13] D.C. United vs Seattle Sounders, June 1, 2016

The early summer evening couldn’t have been more ideal. A light breeze, the soft glow of twilight. There was more of a crowd than I’d expected for a random Wednesday night game against a West Coast opponent. I hadn’t realized how popular the Seattle Sounders were until surrounded by a sea of their puke green jerseys. I felt a bit self-conscious, having come right from work, still dressed in my work clothes and wearing no D.C. United gear whatsoever. Thanks to the new security restrictions, we are no longer allowed to bring in bags large enough to fit a change of clothes and, alas, I can’t wear my Birnbaum jersey to the office. But the unease passed as soon as I’d settled in, Tecate in hand, to watch the teams warm up. With the District Ultras still sitting out the first half of home games in protest, I’d taken to sitting in random seats behind the Screaming Eagles section, just like my brother and I used to do before I was really a fan.

Friday, June 3, 2016


In the two years since I wrote about the first Tigers film I’ve watched the second Tigers film 『ザ・タイガース 華やかなる招待』(The Tigers Hanayakanaru Shoutai; The Tigers Fabulous Invitation, December 1968; referenced as the title of a Pizzicato Five song apparently!) numerous times and enjoyed it more each time through. For those who don’t remember and don’t want to read the first piece again, the short version is the Tigers are Julie (vocals), Sally (bass), Taro (guitar/band leader), Toppo (lead guitar and sometimes lead vocals), and Pi (pronounced “Pee”, drums). The Tigers were high school friends from Kyoto and were massive music fans, kicking around the dance club scene in Kyoto and nearby Osaka. They were encouraged formed a band by the president of the official Beatles fanclub of Osaka who they met waiting to see a gig. She scoffed at them and said, “Y’all are men, ain’t you? Make your own band.” She later also became president of the Tigers fan club. The Tigers were very young when they got their break in 1967 and in 1968 when 『華やかなる招待』(Fabulous Invitation) was filmed and released, they were all about 21-22 years old.

(L-R: Sally, Pi, Julie, Toppo, Taro)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

[D.C. Untied 12] Philadelphia Union vs D.C. United, May 20, 2016

You may as well take it in the guts – it can’t get worse

Take it in the guts – it can’t get worse that this

You’ll soon be old enough to leave them

And without a notion of a care

You’ll lift two fingers in the air to linger there...

Belle & Sebastian, “Lord Anthony”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

[D.C. Untied 11] D.C. United vs New York Red Bulls, May 13, 2016

Is there a sweeter victory for a D.C. United fan than a victory over the New York Red Bulls? No, there is not. Friday night was no exception. D.C. United scored two brilliant goals in the first half, flatfooting the Red Bull defense and making goalkeeper Luis Robles look like a fool. After a couple of legendary saves from United goalie Travis Worra, the Red Bulls collapsed in on themselves, finishing the game with a whimper. 2-0. In the stands we were still chanting: “D.C. United!”; “Travis Worra!”; and the chant we've been singing so long it's part of our repertoire even when we aren't playing them, “Fuck the Red Bulls!”

Monday, May 9, 2016

[D.C. Untied 10] D.C. United vs New York City FC, May 8, 2016

Deep into the second half D.C. United is 2 goals down to NYCFC and look like they’ve forgotten everything they’ve ever learned about how to put a ball inside a net. Across the pitch I can see people drifting towards the exits. From in the District Ultras section Srdan waves his arms to get our attention. We’re switching chants. He starts singing:

Oh United

Even when the times are bad

They can try but they won’t stop us.

We’re always black and red.

The banner in front of our section tonight read “District Customers,” a nod to the word that had allegedly been thrown around the meeting Ultras leadership had with the D.C. United front office. We weren’t supporters or fans, we were merely customers. Why did we have to be so troublesome?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

[D.C. Untied 9] Chicago Fire vs D.C. United, April 30, 2016

“Your Fire guide is there wearing a Cubs hat and glasses,” came the cryptic message on Twitter. I looked up at the sea of bros surrounding me in the sports bar. Backwards Chicago Fire hat, glasses. Nope. Cubs hat, no glasses. A table of EPL fans. Glasses and beard, glasses and beard, just beard. There! A couple wearing Chicago Fire gear sitting in the corner, the male half of which has glasses and a hat featuring an adorable logo that could be… was that a bear cub? I walked over.

“Is that a Cubs hat?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“Are you in a supporter group?” I dug further.

“Just the Banter Buddies.” He paused, realization dawning. “You’re the DC fan.”

“That’s me!” I beamed. Mission accomplished.

“I wasn’t sure so I didn’t say anything. It’s so embarrassing when you’re wrong.”

Memories of my aborted attempt to locate a twitter penpal at All Tomorrow’s Parties last year flashed through my head. It really, really is embarrassing. Luckily I don’t mind being embarrassed in service of a good story. (I'll tell that one later if you ask.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

[D.C. Untied 8] D.C. United vs New England Revolution, April 23, 2016

The Backstreet Boys had it right in their 1996 hit song “I’ll Never Break Your Heart”: It’s time to let go. Acosta deserves a try, honey.

The era of Espindola and Rolfe is over. Viva Acosta!

Somewhere around the 20 minute mark there was a flurry of activity down by the New England goal. Marcelo sends a beauty of a pass to Lamar Neagle who cuts it through a pack of defenders and it’s all Bobby Shuttleworth can do to throw his hands up to deflect it away from goal stumbling to the ground in the process. The ball flies over to wide open space on the other side of the field… where Espindola is standing too far away to do anything about it. Rolfe kind of jogs towards Shuttleworth but at that point the play was over and the ball redistributed down the field. My brother, sister-in-law, and I were sitting in section 228, with a perfect view of the New England goal over the empty District Ultras sections. We watched it all. “Somebody should have been on that rebound!” I yelled in frustration. “What the fuck are they doing?”

The answer came towards the end of the first half. After launching yet another unguided missile from an unreasonable distance, Espindola collapses on the field, clutching his leg. (A hamstring injury, we find out later.) “The way he was playing, I bet he came on with that injury,” my sister-in-law said. My brother and I agreed. Espindola limped off the field and United finished off the first half sitting on a one goal lead, a penalty kick--won by Marcelo, taken by Neagle. The era of Rolfe and Espindola is over.

When we saw the slight figure of Acosta, sporting a fresh buzz cut, ready to come on for Rolfe around the 70 minute mark, the crowd went wild. The guy behind me giddily yelling, “ACOSTA! ACOSTA!” at the top of his lungs. Admittedly he was already shirtless and had overturned at least one beer all over my purse but he had a really good point. I joined in his cheers. “ACOSTA!”

D.C. United scored two more goals. Acosta and then another Saborio poached goal in the dying minutes of the game. 3-0. We won. WE WON!

The victory was all the sweeter after spending a week bracing myself for disaster. The buildup could not have been worse. Ben Olsen had been suspended for the match by MLS for some bullshit reason, the front office was still refusing to take the District Ultras’ complaints seriously, and the win against Vancouver was starting to feel more and more like a fluke. On top of everything, on Tuesday I’d had a sudden flare-up of the illness that knocked me on my ass for months last year. Thankfully it only lasted a couple days but it was an unpleasant reminder of how much pain I could be in. My friend A., who’d been planning on coming with me, had had to cancel for her own health issues. So it was only appropriate that Saturday dawned grey and rainy. I was going to have to work really hard to have a good time. Or so I thought as ran out to the grocery store to pick up canned food for the Ultras’ donation drive for the victims of the Ecuador earthquake, feeling alone in the world with an umbrella in one hand, damp bag full of heavy cans in the other, glasses fogged up.

But then the rain stopped. And my brother called. His schedule had unexpectedly cleared and he and my sister-in-law were coming to the game! Did I want them to come pick me up? HELL YES!

The sun came out.

Lot 8 was buzzing with excitement. People had grills set up. Kids were playing soccer. I dropped my canned food off with the Ultras and then my brother, sister-in-law, and I went to head into RFK early so we could sit down. My sister-in-law is many months pregnant and tailgating is a lot less fun when you can’t drink and standing around is uncomfortable. We stopped for crepes from the food trucks that hang out right by the underpass to the stadium proper, sitting on the curb to eat. It felt good to sit in the sun and eat delicious, sugary pastry.

We spotted members of the Washington Football Team marching band heading into the stadium. This wasn’t just any game. We were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first D.C. United home game at RFK. And the marching band had been invited to play at halftime, their first time back at the stadium since 1996, an overlap year when the football team had shared it with D.C. United before FedEx Field had opened. My brother explained there was still some bad blood between D.C. United fans and the football team from those days, which made it kind of ironic that they’d invite the marching band to play but irony or not, a good marching band is still a lot of fun to watch.

Inside the stadium, the sound system was blasting tunes from 1996. “DC 101 still plays this stuff,” said my brother. “Except now it’s classic rock,” I replied. The nostalgia was overwhelming, as strong as the sun that beat down on us, warming my face and arms. I have so many memories tied up in RFK stadium. Hearing the guitar riff from the Smashing Pumpkins “1979” waft over the field as the teams finished their warm ups, I may as well have been 16 again, diligently tracking all the cool songs on the college rock charts and desperately trying to get tickets to the HFStival, a local all-day rock music festival held by now defunct radio station WHFS. Those weren’t happy days for me but as I grow older, the embarrassment at my past self has turned to fondness. We aren’t the people we were 20 years ago. Some of us weren’t even born yet. Luciano Acosta would have only been a year old. “And we don’t know just where our bones will rest to dust I guess forgotten and absorbed in the earth below.”

“The baby’s kicking!” My sister-in-law said. “Do you want to feel her?” I put my hand on her stomach and for the first time I felt the fluttering that is my little niece stretching her legs.

I ran down to join the Ultras for the second half and caught up on the news. It turns out Ben Olsen had stopped by the Ultras’ tailgate sometime after we’d left! Goalkeeper and brewmaster Andrew Dykstra also came by our section during the second half. Was it a sign the front office was willing to talk? I pulled out the Ben Olsen doll I’d squirreled away in my purse. I’d strapped bells to it, turning it from a delightfully cheezy marketing tool into a totem. Ben Olsen, the D.C. United defensive midfielder turned D.C. United coach, whose grit and hard work had become D.C. United tradition. The man who probably cared just as much about marketing and branding and slick corporate doublespeak as we did-- meaning not at all. He just wanted get on with the next game. And that’s all I wanted, too.

We drove out of Lot 8, high with the lightness of winning, the sun setting, windows rolled all the way down, blasting "Darling Nikki" in honor of the dearly departed Prince. Life moves on. Everything was going to be alright.


(Just because I thought it was funny, I actually completely missed Dykstra when he stopped by our section because I was keeping an eye on ten small children who were hopped up on sugar and moonpies. They'd streamed into the Ultras sections and were having fun jumping up and down and yelling with the rest of us. When we found out later, my brother was like, "I thought that was Dykstra! We saw a hunk in a press pass walking around fist bumping people." Only cool guys allowed.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

[D.C. Untied 7] D.C. United vs Toronto FC, April 16, 2016

The game on Saturday was essentially over when Sebastian Giovinco put Toronto FC up a goal in the first minute. Our defenders had once again emerged from the locker room the same way I emerge from bed--sluggish, caught in a stare, and needing a cup of a coffee--and forced us to spend 89 minutes plus stoppage time chasing a lead. The 2015 team seemed to use the chase as a focusing mechanism, coming back from behind to victory over and over again throughout the year. The 2016 team, on the other hand, becomes dangerously unhinged when they’re down a goal. After Giovinco scored D.C. United attempted to rally. Once the game settled down, about ten minutes in, United played like we saw them last week against Dallas and in the first half against LA. They were dangerous, organized, and prowling for goals. If we’d scored an equalizer then, we probably would have gone on to win. But we didn’t. We went into halftime down a goal and the second half was spent shooting wild shots from increasingly ludicrous distances. Even defender Sean Franklin got into the action launching a rocket so far over the net it seemed ready to enter orbit. They seemed to already have given up the game as lost with 45 minutes to go.

(United trolling us with that smoke.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

[D.C. Untied 6] D.C. United vs Vancouver Whitecaps, April 9, 2016

At first I wasn’t sure what to think when I read Srdan’s message to the District Ultras earlier last week. One of the leadership, Matt Parsons, was banned from MLS for an entire year? For using a smoke bomb in the parking lot? How can you be banned from MLS? It didn’t make any sense. I was half-convinced it was an inside joke that I was just too new to understand--like the periodic requests from Ultras members for bucket hats. But then the angry comments started pouring in. And the articles and more articles and open letters. The banning of Parsons was a match tossed onto some very, very dry kindling. And the complaints are not just about new logos, old stadiums, a losing team, or prioritising the pearl-clutching suburbanites who come for one game every couple of years over the fans who show up week after week, the complaints are about a lack of respect.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Hype! A grunge documentary.

Recent events in the D.C. United fan community resulting in a year long ban for one fan and the shuttering of a long running fan podcast, which I’ll talk about more when I write about the game on Saturday, led me to a re-watch of Doug Pray’s 1996 film Hype!, a documentary on the rise and further rise of the Seattle grunge scene.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A long dumb post about Idols! (I LOVE IDOLS!)

I’ve thought a lot about Japanese pop idols in recent years. I’ve read some things, written some things, watched many, many hours of delightful entertainment, and listened to idol songs from all across the decades. Japanese pop idols share some surface level similarities with their counterparts in the West but--like many things in Japanese pop culture--it is not helpful to view the two in an apples to apples comparison. One cannot evaluate Japanese pop idols using the same set of criteria that one would use to look at Western pop stars like Justin Bieber or Taylor Smith.

But when the groups do crack through to the more general English language press, the surface level is generally the only level that’s looked at. Idol groups are treated as a joke (“Can you believe this boy band is 40?!”) or as fodder for scolding, social justice warrior outrage (“Why isn’t this girl group more empowered?!”). And just to make it a condescension trifecta, I’ve also seen cultural commentators--generally the type looking to “corner the market” on some underexplored angle of pop culture--attempt to look at mega-popular Japanese idols through the standard “music critic” filter. And guess what? The results of any of the above are always embarrassing to the Westerner.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

An African City (Web Series)

I recently became acquainted with somebody from Ghana and in the interest of not being a douchebag I thought I should learn a little something about the country. Sandwiched between the slave trade stories and generic African nature docs was a web series called An African City. The show follows five smart, single, upper class women in Accra as they navigate life. The first episodes are a little rough around the edges but the series soon finds its legs.

One of the things I enjoyed about the series is the frankness with which the women--all returnees from the West--attempt to balance cultural expectations with a Western sense of self-actualization. Sometimes they're successful and sometimes they're not. They want love but are very cynical about marriage and men. The glamorous Sade (Nana Mensah) sees marriage as a economic transaction, at best, and has no ethical issues sleeping around with married men while naive Ngozi (Esosa E) has remained a virgin in anticipation of her wedding night. Sade may seem callous but is it really fair to expect your life-partner to also be your romantic partner forever? It's both an old-fashioned view of marriage and also, somehow, refreshingly modern. Is it really a smart choice to arrange your entire life around (potentially) fleeting romantic love? We almost never talk about these issues in the West because we're blind to our own set of "cultural expectations". We're on the inside. The ladies of An African City have a unique perspective, being both inside and outside Ghana and the West.

Which leads to one of the other things I really enjoyed about the series, which was the specificity of the Ghana setting. As someone who has long lamented the rise of a generic "global" cultural identity in Hollywood and Bollywood films, as well as the fetishization of the "local" that's accompanied it (those "the city is the main character!" films), I thought An African City does a nice job avoiding both traps. I'm sure my friends in Mumbai or Chennai or New York or Tokyo could identify with some of the problems the ladies faced but then some things--like Sade being teased for being half-Nigerian--must add a dash of local recognition for Ghanaians.

Even though I'm certainly not the target audience for An African City, I really enjoyed the first season (available on youtube) and plan on purchasing the second for $19.99. What good is capitalism if I don't vote with my dollars?

And if that isn't enough to tempt you, these ladies are always impeccably dressed. Try to watch an episode and not immediately start searching online for similar outfits.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

[D.C. Untied 5] D.C. United vs FC Dallas, March 26, 2016

On the quiet side of RFK, we sit and soak in every terrible play. On the loud side, being surrounded by the energy of the supporters groups provides its own kind of high, whether or not we’re winning. But with no chants to sing and no flags to wave, despair sets in very quickly during a 0-3 loss at home in which our best player was sent off with a red card and the rest of the team could never quite get in sync.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

[D.C. Untied 4] D.C. United vs Colorado Rapids, March 20, 2016

After I got home from the game, I sat on my living room floor eating toast and cheese and scrolling through what I’d missing on twitter while I’d been at RFK. My toes finally began to warm up but the chill in the pit of my stomach remained. What exactly had I signed myself up for this season? Why had I begun this insane project documenting my first full year as a fan? Did I really want to relive the frustrating 1-1 draw against Colorado?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Visaranai: Don't look away...

When Visarani came out a few weeks ago my twitter timeline was flooded with praise for the film but I’m wary of spoilers these days so I avoided all the reviews. The only sense I had of the film was that it was a gritty, psychological thriller and very, very good.

Now after having seen the film myself, I can say that it is not a gritty, psychological thriller but it is very, very good.

But Visarani is a difficult film to watch. It follows a group of ordinary men as they are slowly crushed by the wealthy and powerful. It’s a story of corruption, desperation, and cruelty, of men who slowly poisoned their own souls until they can no longer tell right from wrong. And what makes it so hard to watch is that we are not seeing the events dispassionately from a distance or through a filter of meta-irony. We, the audience, are put directly into the humble slippers of the victims, the ordinary men ground to dust under the heels of the powerful. Their teeth are broken, their arms pulled from sockets, their backs covered in welts. They are starved, humiliated, and in great pain. And why? Because we are weak; they are strong.

The main plot goes like this: Pandi (Dinesh Ravi) and his buddies Murugan (Aadukalam Murugadoss), Afzal (Silambarasan Rathnasamy), and Kumar (Pradheesh Raj) are Tamil migrants living across the border in some urban center in Andhra Pradesh. None of them speak the language although Murugan understands a bit. The guys sleep rough in a local park and work menial jobs to earn cash. It’s a precarious existence but one assumes they’ve come to the city because the potential for earning money is so much better than in their home villages, even at the bottom rung. But everything goes to shit when Pandi and his friends are picked up by the local cops.

Pandi and his friends are told to confess. We know you did it, say the cops, and we’ll beat you until you admit it. But Pandi and his friends know nothing. They frantically try to think of something, anything, that might have have triggered the arrest. Was it Pandi’s fault for being sweet on a girl working as a maid in the neighborhood? Maybe the girl’s master, a cop, found out that Pandi knew the girl was being taken advantage of. The scenes of torture are unbearable to watch. We want it to end but Pandi will not confess to a crime he didn’t commit and nobody will tell the men what it is they’ve done.

As the scenes in the police station play out, we come to understand that a “big shot” was robbed by a bunch of Tamil-speaking thugs and the head of the station, the menacing Ajay Ghosh, is under pressure from his boss to close the case as soon as possible. What else is a cop to do in those circumstances? Round up the first bunch of Tamil speaking men you find and arrange to “recover” the cash from a buddy. The frustration on both sides is palpable. Ajay Ghosh nearly vibrating with it as time and again the Tamil-speaking men refuse to bend to his will.

Eventually, when the physical pain is combined with some powerful psychological manipulation combined, Pandi and his friends give in. They are broken men. The cops bring them to the courthouse to confess to their crime. But fate intervenes in the form of a group of Tamil policemen, led by the kind-looking Samuthirakani, who are there to take possession of a white collar criminal, a weedy-looking accountant named K.K. (Kishore).

With the Tamil policemen’s help, Pandi and his friends are freed and the cops take them and K.K. back over the border.

Kumar asks to be dropped off on the side of the road.

But, alas, poor Pandi.

And Murugan.

And Afzal.

And K.K.

They travel back to the police station with the cops.

And here, dear readers, shit really gets real. Pandi and his friends have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, going from being framed for a robbery to something much, much darker… politics. A man missing a few lakhs is nothing to a man with real political power on the line.

Although technically free men, Pandi and his friends are still bound by society’s rules. The cops ask (a.k.a. “tell”) them to clean the station and they cannot refuse.

K.K. is being held as a pawn in the political game and over the course of the second half we watch him go from respectable, neoliberal, upper-middle class businessman to shivering, vulnerable prisoner, no better than Pandi and his friends. Even a man like K.K., with all his money, is not safe.

Pandi and K.K., they are the same, in the end.

I won’t give away the ending but needless to say, it is dark.

Are the cops evil? Perhaps some of them. Others have been playing the game for so long that self-preservation is their only remaining instinct. If cases aren’t “closed” it’s their necks on the line, so better to pin the blame on some innocent sod. The system corrupts absolutely.

I was in tears, real tears, by the end of the film. The performances from Dinesh Ravi as Pandi, Aadukalam Murugadoss as Murugan, and Silambarasan Rathnasamy as Afzal were incredibly powerful. Afzal is younger than the others, more fragile and more trusting. His pain is especially difficult to watch. Murugan is the affable one. He tries to get along with everybody and would probably have given in to the cops if not for his loyalty to his friend Pandi. Pandi is dangerous because Pandi has a powerful sense of self-worth. He’s a natural leader, what heroes look like among ordinary men. It’s easy to understand why the pretty neighborhood maid would trust him with her troubles. And Dinesh Ravi is wonderful in the role. He bends to the point of breaking but, despite the odds, he never loses his sense of human dignity even as we want him to give in to the dark side to save his own life. It’s an incredible performance.

After the film ended, I looked up a little of Lock Up, the novel it was based on. It seems M. Chandrakumar, an autorickshaw driver, wrote the book based on both his own experiences and the stories he heard from men in prison. He says about his experience being held with his friends by police for a crime he didn’t commit: “The film was shot at the same place where we were held captive. It was a 10X10 ft room without any source of air and light.” And after the ordeal, he continues, “We parted ways fearing we may be arrested again. I hope when the film releases, they watch it and know it’s our story. I wish I could meet them again.”

I was inspired to finish this review because last night I read this piece from the New Republic and it had a chart showing the “proletarianizing” of formerly nice middle class jobs… and it reminded me of K.K.’s journey from accountant to prisoner. But Visarani isn’t a “message” film. There are no easy answers here. How can you “solve” entrenched inequality? Abuses of power? Basic human selfishness? We’re all guilty of walking past people who need help, of letting the system work around us, even as we see it harming others. As long as our own lives are safe and secure, nothing else matters. Let’s just ask K.K. how that worked out for him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

[D.C. Untied 3.5] On being a fan and so it begins...

Because it is going to be another week and a half before I’m back at RFK stadium, I thought it would be a good time to put down a few thoughts on fans, on what I’ve learned romping through MLS fandom so far, and on D.C. United’s 4-1 loss to the LA Galaxy over the weekend.

My appreciation of MLS is ultimately rooted in my experience as a fan of Indian film heroes, Japanese pop idols, and of the Japanese, all-female Takarazuka theater troupe. There is no direct equivalent for any of these things in American culture, not of the artists themselves or, crucially, the collective live viewing experience. I don’t know if I would have made the connection if I hadn’t happened to watch the Momoiro Clover Z’s (ももいろクローバーZ ) 2014 summer concert DVD (ももクロ夏のバカ騒ぎ or Momoclo’s Stupid Fun Summer Party!) around the same time that the summer turned very dark and my brother started dragging me to a string of D.C. United games just to get us out of the house. Singing and waving flags with the supporters groups, the special meaning imbued in different colors, the larger than life personalities and specialized skills… it only took a small push to take me from idol fan to MLS fan.

And I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time learning about soccer and MLS. Playing on team is much like playing in a band, demanding a mix of individual skill and teamwork from each player on the field. Songs don’t emerge fully formed from the voice of a singer and goals don’t happen with the single kick of a ball. Songs are built of many people all playing their parts and goals are built up from decisions made by the entire team. Do risk passing the ball to somebody in a better position or do you shoot yourself and possibly waste a chance? Do you attempt to kick the ball over the midfield and risk it landing with the other team or do you try to charge through and trust to your skill on the ground? A bass player determined to take a solo in every song is like a defender determined to dribble through the entire field by herself and score a goal. It might be amazing once but there’s no way you’d keep that person in your band.

A split second decision may change the course of the game… or it may not. A referee can put his thumb on the scale for one team or the other and sometimes it really all comes down to luck. The final score does not always represent the game that was played just like, to go back to my music metaphor, poor record sales do not always reflect the quality of the music being performed.

What I took away from “Soccer Sunday”, the first day of the 2016 MLS season, is that nobody in the sea of soccer pundits is paying much attention to D.C. United except to continuing the narrative that we suck. While I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of the game is rudimentary at best, even I could tell that the game we played against LA on Sunday looked nothing like the games I watched last year. The pieces are still coming together but it seems like win or lose, we’re in for an exciting season.

Which leads me to another point I wanted to squeeze in here before I signed off. I’ve seen some discussion recently on women fans and women in sports and international women’s day just happened and, as a woman, I feel like very little of this helps anything. It seems to lead to a lot of self-congratulating dudes patting themselves on the back for being “open-minded” about the fact that women are people and women playing identity politics to have their cake and eat it, too. I don’t want a “women’s fanclub” for D.C. United. Why can’t I just be a fan like everybody else without bros assuming it means I’m the soccer equivalent of a puck bunny? Just because I’m friendly doesn’t mean I want to sleep with you. I’ve dealt with enough of those types of bros in my fan experiences over the years that I’ve grown really cynical and, sadly, 99 times out of a hundred the cynicism has been warranted. Just treat me like a person, not a “lady”, is what I’m trying to say. There aren’t two standards of behavior, one for people, one for “ladies”. There’s just one standard: be kind and understanding to everybody and do not try to make yourself seem cool by making fun of people. Except Red Bull fans. They are evil.

But, that said, I think there are some great things to be drawn from more female-centric fandoms. For one thing, I think teams should be encouraged to promote themselves by selling… the team. One big hook for me last year, when I knew nothing about the players, was that fantastic “Dating in the District” video featuring Chris Pontius (#DOOP) and Steve Birnbaum. And I made my friend A. watch Steve Birnbaum’s roast video and now we’re going to wear the cat t-shirts featured in it for the home opener, her first D.C. United game. Does enjoying those videos mean I’m doing “soccer fan” wrong? I don’t think so. Learning the personalities and quirks of the players deepens the emotional bond with the team. And even if purists may not want to admit it, player personalities are part of the fun in watching soccer. If it wasn’t, we’d have replaced them with robots already… or FIFA video game tournaments. Does enjoying stories of Viggo's on-set antics cheapen the enjoyment of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings? Does knowing about the broken and mended friendships of the Beatles "ruin" their music?

Besides, in our selfish, contemporary world where we are increasingly isolated from our communities, the idea of “a team” or, as NYCFC’s Tommy Mac puts it in this utterly delightful bit of youtube magic “25 best friends” is a rare and precious commodity. Teamwork should be savored; outsized personalities should be enjoyed. I suppose that is where I’ll end this. I am a fan. I’ve always enjoyed being a fan. Some people like to be the center of attention and I enjoy giving those people my attention. My only true genius is for enthusiasm.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

[D.C. Untied 3] D.C. United vs Querétaro FC, March 1, 2016

Just a note, this blog is purely a fan's point of view. I am not remotely qualified to talk about soccer tactics or MLS inside baseball. There are a lot of great people who already write about those things and if that is what you are looking for, then I won't be offended if you don't read further. The first post in the series has the explanation for the name, etc. Please enjoy!

It was already after six by the time I finally left the office.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

[D.C. Untied 2.5] Interlude: Calm before the storm and Nando's Peri-Peri Takeover, February 27, 2016

For previous entries in my D.C. United fan experience, feel free to click the tag in the bottom. As always, this blog is about the fan experience. I am not remotely qualified to talk about soccer tactics or MLS inside baseball. Please enjoy!

The calm before the season really begins. I'm not sure I'm ready for this, as impatient as I was to get started with the season. It's a long road to October. My season tickets came in an ominous black box last week. Do I dare open it? Am I really ready to give myself fully over to this experience?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

[D.C. Untied 2] Preseason: Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. D.C. United, St. Petersburg, FL, February 13, 2016,

Welcome to the second installment of D.C. Untied! You can read about the name and how I got started following D.C. United in the first part over here but the short version is this: there are many very talented people out there writing about tactics, roster changes, MLS inside baseball, etc. and I've really enjoyed reading and learning from them. I wanted to contribute something to the conversation and unfortunately the only something I have to share are my personal experiences as a fan.

There are many write-ups of the game talking about tactics and those kinds of things. I am not remotely qualified to do that so I didn't even try. This post is just capturing my experience watching the game as a fan.

Episode 2: Twenty-four hours in Florida.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

[D.C. Untied 1] A Day to Unite, February 6, 2015

Welcome to the inaugural post of "D.C. Untied", a mini-series of posts talking about my experiences as a D.C. United Season Ticket Holder and fan. The title comes from one of my favorite typos, because #librarian #gonna #librarian.

As I wrote before, I've been going to D.C. United games with my brother for close to 20 years. But I was always just a casual fan. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the game atmosphere, and having a socially sanctioned opportunity to yell at the top of my lungs for 90 minutes. Something changed last year; I changed last year. In the middle of illness, death, and general life shittiness, D.C. United was there for me, giving me something to cheer for. Seeing them work so hard out on the field, coming back from one goal down in game-after-game, really inspired me.

And it is still all about that game day experience. Now that I no longer perform on stage and even attending concerts has become rare and (in the United States) mostly unpleasant thanks to late start times and audiences more interested in recording grainy footage on their phones than being in the moment, the 90 minutes spent with my attention focused only on what's right in front of me at RFK, were incredible, electric. Standing with the District Ultras, waving flags, singing, chanting... no time to look at a phone until halftime for fear that I'll miss something. I was hooked. I even took the trip to Red Bull Arena on November 8 for the second leg of the playoff series. My first away game and one of the most intense fan experiences I've had. All of us who went felt that mix of excitement, anticipation, the hope that maybe we'd win. The endorphins kicked in and I felt no hunger, no thirst, just the all-natural high of being a fan. We marched to Red Bull Arena, chanting and singing, waving flags and banging drums. Red Bull fans yelled profanity at us, told us to go fuck ourselves, but their hostility only heightened the high I was riding. One of the men I was walking with stopped to give a small child a high five. D.C. fans are nice like that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Assorted Thoughts: D.C. United Preseason and American Ballet Theater's "Sleeping Beauty" at the Kennedy Center 1/28/2016

American Ballet Theater's "Sleeping Beauty" at the Kennedy Center

Anybody who follows me on Twitter was treated to a classic Filmi Girl rant the evening of the 28th. I went to see the American Ballet Company's production of Sleeping Beauty and the Kennedy Center and was utterly horrified and frustrated by the behavior of the audience. It was enough to put me off attending anything at the Kennedy Center for a few months. (I can only hope I'll have recovered in time for the staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle.) Does sitting in the second balcony instead of sitting on the orchestra level change the behavior of the audience? Is it that the stage from the second balcony appears more like a television screen, boxed in and far off, so we feel free to act as if we are at home in front of the television? Or does the cheaper price simply encourage cheaper behavior? Either way, I was treated to a running commentary from a mother and daughter sitting behind me, gossiping about the dancers on stage. And when I asked them to keep it down, they looked at me as if I was the one with poor manners! It reminded me of the time I went to see Black Swan and had a couple on a date sitting behind me, the male half of which was unnecessarily "explaining" everything to his girlfriend, to include--and I'll never forget this--saying, "She's free." at the very end when Natalie Portman collapses. Thanks, bro. Thanks for "explaining" that to me.

The frustration at the constant whispering about so-and-so being nice and so-and-so being "only 17" took me out of that zen audience mindspace and kept me pinned to my uncomfortable seat. It made the moldy smell of my neighbor's coat that much more unbearable, the occasional mucusy cough that much more annoying, tolerating the fidgety 7 year old beside me became next to impossible.

Is it myopic selfishness, people prioritizing their own enjoyment over everybody else's, or a fundamental misunderstanding of how to be in an audience that isn't in front of their own television screens? Is the overture and entr'acte simply background garbage noise? Is it so wrong to want to listen to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty score rather than treating it as a score to inane chatter? You can talk anywhere, I can only listen to a live orchestra playing Tchaikovsky here.

As for the ballet itself, I did enjoy what I could focus on. The view from above is provides a different perspective from sitting on the orchestra level. In some ways, it's preferable to be up high and see the large bits of choreography as a whole but I think I prefer sitting closer to the stage and seeing the faces of the dancers.

The American Ballet Theater's production was almost the complete opposite of the modern, fresh A Winter's Tale I had seen the week before. The choreography, from Marius Petipa, dates to the late 19th century and the ballet, while beautiful, felt very much like it was preserved in amber. I have to admit, I was more charmed by the costumes than many of the dancers, but there a few stand-outs. Hee Seo as the Sleeping Beauty herself was wonderful to watch. And I enjoyed Catherine Hurlin as the saucy white cat in the ending number.

D.C. United Preseason 2016

Dear readers, prepare yourselves because it's about to get soccer-ific up in here. D.C. United is currently in the midst of pre-season and created this delightful video for me. I don't know if my favorite part is Rolfe's resigned face at having to be in the fan with the "kids", the Boz being the Boz, or Dykstra's extremely dorky Jeff Goldblum impression.

I don't know what 2016 will bring for the team but it will bring lots of dumb blog posts from me because I am a season ticket holder this year (!!) and am going to throw myself into being a fan 100%. It has been such an invigorating experience to just throw myself into this odd corner of fandom. Learning the rules, learning the storylines, learning which self-important fans to avoid... the one thing it's been hard to remember is just how small the fanbase really is. Tweeting at an MLS player is very different from tweeting a big-name Bollywood actor. My tweet will probably get read! Horrifying! Best control your enthusiasm, Filmi Girl.

I am determined to enjoy myself and learn everything there is to know. I'm also hoping to be able to do some interviews with long time fans because I'm genuinely interested in how this all works.

One thing you might not know, dear readers, is that I (me, Filmi Girl) was... a cheerleader in high school! I do indeed have an excess of pep and am extremely grateful to have found a pep outlet in D.C. United and their fan groups, who have been so welcoming. ♥

(I'm on the far left.)

Broken Horses: Bollywood in America: Does it work? I say yes.

If Broken Horses was Vidhu Vinod Chopra asking, “Will American audiences connect with a Bollywood-style story told with white Americans set in America?” The answer was a resounding, “No.” The film is currently sitting at a 21% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The critics hated it and mainstream audiences, for the most part, ignored it. But does that make it a bad film?

The plot of Broken Horses is rooted in Chopra’s 1989 film Parinda. Set in the rural, hardscrabble West, the film follows two brothers, Buddy (the elder, Chris Marquette) and Jake (the younger, Anton Yelchin), who lose their father (Thomas Jane) as children. Jake is an aspiring concert violinist and when the film begins, we find out he has run off to New York City and is about to get married to the beautiful Vittoria (Maria Valverde). He gets a call from his brother, Buddy, who says he has a wedding present for him but it needs to be given in person. Vittoria encourages Jake to return home for a visit and, reluctantly, Jake does just that.

Buddy is mentally slow and has fallen under the spell of local bad guy Julius Hench (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Hench has paired Buddy up with a babysitter, Eric (Juan Riedinger), whom Buddy seems to think of as a surrogate brother. Jake is wary of Eric from the beginning, but we (and I think Jake himself) are unsure whether it’s jealousy or fear. Jake feels a growing dread, an unease that reaches an early peak as he drives out to meet his old music teacher, Ignacio (Sean Patrick Flannery). What he finds is horrifying. Ignacio reduced to utter squalor, jerkily driving a wheelchair around a fire kept burning in the middle of the living room. Ignacio has been broken. He speaks in odd phrases: “Two legs for two tickets.”

Jake has no idea what to do. One senses he’s ready to run all the way back to New York but something stops him. Eric, who has been sent to kill him. Jake is faced with a choice and when it comes right down to it, Jake chooses to stay and fight for his brother.

Hench is more than a bit mentally unbalanced himself and as the film unfolds we--and Jake--realize just how strong his hold over Buddy is. In Jake’s absence, Hench and his henchmen (prominently featuring Wes Chatham as the loyal “Ace” and Jeremy Luke as “Franco”) have become a surrogate family for Buddy, which Hench encourages. Jake realizes the only way to get to Buddy is to join the gang and destroy that trust from the inside.

Running behind all this is a feud between Hench and a Mexican drug lord named Garza (Jordi Caballero) as well as Buddy’s wedding present, a beautiful ranch he’s built for his brother.

For all intents and purposes Broken Horses is classic Hindi masala filmmaking and it works surprisingly well without songs. It takes a few minutes to sink into the heightened emotional reality of the world but once you’re in, it’s all heartbreak. Chopra builds toward an exquisite peak of pure emotion, a fear and dread mixed with empathy. We know one of our brothers must perform a horrible act of betrayal and Chopra let’s us hang, on edge, waiting for it.

Chopra’s script, written with Abhijat Joshi (3 Idiots, PK), is very well served by actors pulled from the heightened worlds of genre film and soap opera. Ironically enough I think it’s a better film with American soap opera actors than it would have been using the bulked up producer’s sons and fashion model-cum-actresses cluttering up mainstream movies in Bollywood. Anton Yelchin, as Jake, isn’t quite a Michael Corleone, deliberately turning his back on the family business. Yelchin shows us a conflicted Jake, one who half-knew there was something to avoid at home but it was almost as if he didn’t know then he wouldn’t be responsible. What I liked about Jake that I don’t often like about these white college boys returning home is that Jake wasn’t the director’s stand-in, he was just another character. And so Jake--and Yelchin--were allowed more complexity. We didn’t have to like him unconditionally in order to feel something about the story. Yelchin’s Jake is subtle and very human.

Chris Marquette as Buddy is really the heart of the film, though. Buddy is so innocent and so trusting but there’s also depth. Marquette really sells Buddy as a complex character, despite his limited intellect, Buddy is allowed to hold secrets of his own, all the more powerful because nobody suspects him. I was genuinely touched when Buddy’s face lights up as he realizes that his brother does in fact love him, that it’s not just words. In the hands of a different kind of actor, an actor not willing to commit, a character like Buddy could easily veer into parody, a knowing, winking “take” on Lon Chaney Jr in Of Mice and Men rather than a fully realized person.

The featured cast are just as good-- Jordi Caballero as the oily Mexican crime lord, Sean Patrick Flannery’s unhinged Ignacio, and Maria Valverde as the sweet natured Vittoria. And Vincent D'Onofrio as Mr. Hench is pure villainous gold. He chewed through the scenery just as well as Nana Patekar did in Parinda and that is a huge compliment coming from me. I’d suggest any Indian producers looking for an exotic villain for their next masala film check out his performance here. It’s just the right balance of campy and creepy.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been re-watching Twin Peaks over the last month but what struck me most of all about Broken Horses was how much Bollywood in America looks like David Lynch: the heightened reality, the stagy dialogue and set-pieces, the way emotion is amped up, the moodiness, the humor, the incredible earnestness underpinning everything, the darkness of the human soul. If Broken Horses didn’t work with general American audiences, it did work with me. And maybe it will work with you. The title comes from a speech Hench gives Buddy towards the end of the film. Has Buddy has been "broken", is he in control of Hench? It’s certainly worth watching to find out if you’re in the mood for melodrama.

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