Apr 17, 2013

The Few. The Plowed.

We here at AAP are pretty proud of the fact that we've never missed our Wednesday morning deadline. We've achieved this perfect record because we always try to stay at least a few weeks ahead on the posts, and then "schedule" them to publish on Wednesday morning.  Of course by "we" I mean "I" and "me" but still, it is a  point of pride. There are at least a few of you out there who, every Wednesday, check in and read the latest post, and I feel a certain responsibility to you all... True, I wish more of you would leave comments, but that is another issue. Today isn't about scolding. 

Today's question arrived a few weeks ago and I actually wrote my reply last week and then "scheduled" the post to run, well, today, since you're now reading this... but the world has changed somewhat (and again) since I wrote my response, and so now I'm writing a new intro... but I am not changing a word of my original answer below.

As I write this, sitting in a small coffeeshop in Southern California, the smoke still hasn't cleared from the "Marathon" explosions on Boylston Street in Boston. Regular readers already know that I'm originally a Massachusetts boy. I grew up in Western Mass, and then, like everyone else, moved to Boston after college. I spent the next seven years making Boston/Cambridge and the surrounding towns my own. To paraphrase someone much more clever than myself: "I was born & raised elsewhere, but Boston is my hometown." 

As I write this, the internet and the media in general is gearing up for their usual f#ckfest of name-calling, conclusion-jumping and  half-assed "reporting," not to mention a new parade of rumors, falsehoods, innuendo and politically-driven "spin." I fear, or more accurately: expect, that the noise level will increase, bullshit meters will malfunction and the paranoia level will increase while the rhetoric gets ever louder and more awful while the truth and the humanity of the situation gets treated as an afterthought, if at all. The only thing that makes me sadder than the horrible event itself is my (low) expectations of what the aftermath is likely to be. I doubt many "public" people are going to be making themselves proud in the weeks and months to come and, sadly, I doubt much is going to change with the overwhelming majority of us rank-and-filers -- There will be a lot of shouting. A lot of horrible and not-quite-thought-through things are going to be said. A lot of even more horrible things are going to be done and we're not going to get much/at all closer to solving the issues that cause these things to happen in the first place.

As I type this, the simple TRUTH is: No one really knows who or what was behind this attack yet, but that won't stop people from taking advantage of the situation, of wading into the lack-of-information and grinding their own axes and making all the noise they can. Noise. That is all it is. We humans are pattern-recognition machines, and when something unexpected happens, we look for answers, patterns, ANYthing to lessen the horrible feelings of confusion, fear and anxiety - and if the handy "answer" fits in with our already closely-held dogma then hey - so much the better. The loudest voices will cling to the simplest answers - even if they're never quite accurate. The quiet voices will be too paralyzed by the complexities they see to take action. The world will keep turning and we'll all wobble closer and closer to the next horrible thing.

I have some definite opinions on all of this - some that you could probably guess, and some that are likely surprise you... but I'm not going to get into them now. Maybe I will later after the facts are in, or maybe not. In the meantime I'll leave the grandstanding, prognostications and bloviating to those more qualified to look/act/sound like buffoons. 

Now for this week's question and unaltered answer.

Dear Ask A Punk-
I'm in my early 20s and I have lived my whole life in a city/town that is best known to the world because of the huuuuuge military base that is nearby. It is a "military" town in every sense of the word. How my artsy family ended up here, I'll never know, but my parents moved here when they got married and have stayed even though neither of them was ever in the military. I have grown up here and it hasn't been easy to be a punkrock kind of kid. Growing up it was tough. Military parents wouldn't let their kids hang out with us "weirdos" ...it was like we didn't just have to deal with the jocks at our school, but also every 17-19 year old ex-jock who had to stop terrorizing the misfits in their home towns so they could move here and learn how to actually kill people, instead of just beating them up. I expected that by now, now that I'm somewhat older than most of the newbies I would be able to deal with them better or they at least wouldn't feel automatically allowed to fuck with me, but that hasn't been the case. 

Like I said, I've been here my whole life so I feel like I am qualified to say this: The types of people joining the service now are the sort who would have been rejected ten, or even five years ago. We have been at war(s) for so long that pretty much anyone who wants to sign up is taken... who cares if they're convicted felons or gangbangers or even old... and these people come into town and act worse than any of the new recruits I remember running from when I was a kid. As with any military town, there are a few blocks of bars and nightclubs that are always packed with servicemen. These places have always been full of testosterone-soaked drunken dipshits who are itching to try out their new hand-to-hand techniques on innocent bystanders - that is nothing new - but the level of violence, drinking and yeah - drugs is heavier than it ever was before. If I want to have a beer with some friends, we're much safer driving 25-30 miles to the next town. I'm saying that things are getting worse here, so I assume they're getting worse everywhere.

I have been playing in punk bands and booking shows since I was 14  years old. It used to be there would be a couple of strangers at gigs with shaved heads and you knew they were punks from somewhere else who joined the military. Sometimes they were cool, sometimes they were nazi-punks who would then try to FSU our shows because, since we weren't racist dipshits, were clearly "not punk enough" ....but now? I don't know what to make of these people at all. I can almost picture the recruiters trolling through jails looking for willing "volunteers" for the army and marines. The whole town feels darker, scarier and more menacing than it did when I was a kid. I never would have expected that. Of course I want to move, but I also grew up here and a hometown is a hometown, even if  you probably wouldn't have picked it for yourself. 

I still haven't gotten to my question sorry. I guess my point is that my town isn't what it used to be and is getting worse. So, how do I know when it is time to say fuck it, and find a better place to live? - WTF?

 Dear WTF -
We are a country that has been at war for a decade, that has to take a toll on ANY armed force. The Joint Chiefs of Staff themselves will be the first to tell you that our military readiness is teetering on the brink of being non-ready. Even though we, as a country, spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined (and all but 1 or 2 of those countries are allies) there is one resource that the military can't just buy more of: actual soldiers. What they can do is lower their entrance standards while also privatizing and outsourcing as much of the non-combat stuff as possible, freeing up more of those sub-optimum soldiers for trigger duty. This privatization has been a boon for the companies that supply such things & people to the government. These companies have gotten very very rich in the past 10 years, all in the name of "keeping us safe" while strongly promoting our particular brand of democracy/freedom. though, right? There is much that can be debated there, but that is beyond the scope of today's question, so I'll try not to drift too far afield, for a change. I'll just mention a few simple facts we, as citizens, have to keep in mind: We're now a country that tortures prisoners, hires non-government "military contractors" (who, in an earlier epoch were called: "mercenaries") to fight/kill in our name, all while bankrupting our future and abandoning the most basic promises our government has always made to us in the past... all to fund far flung wars that were started dubiously and have no clear end-game.

As I said... sticking to the topic:

So how do you decide when it is time to leave your hometown? How do you know when "increasingly shitty" becomes "downright intolerable?"  It is a subjective thing of course. First of all, whether it is our actual hometown or not, what keeps us rooted to our current location? It is a combination of factors: job, family, friends, scene. You didn't really give me much to go on about all these aspects of your life, except for the 'scene' part, so let's start there.

You said you've been playing in bands and booking shows there forever, so I'm guessing that makes you something of a known figure in your hometown music scene. It can be very tough to give that sort of situation up, I know, but it can be done. If you have some musical chops and you're not a total douchebag, you could roll into almost any medium-sized town/city, figure out the main places and players involved, and quickly make a name for yourself by doing what you've always done: participated and, I'm guessing, given back more to your scene than you've taken. Find some new bands that could use some of your help and expertise and GIVE it to them. You would be surprised how quickly you can fit in in a new place if you're willing to help people and, as I mentioned earlier - if you know how to not be a douchebag. 

I wish you'd told me more about your family, friend and work situations. It sounds like you get along with your family - so you probably wouldn't want to be thousands of miles away from them but maybe a few hundred miles would be doable? Pull out a map and find your hometown on it. Now draw a circle say, 300 miles in every direction and see if there are any suitable cities or towns inside that circle. 300 miles is a one-day drive, and slightly less than a full tank of gas for most cars. Doable for holidays, birthdays, emergencies or even just a long weekend that you'd like to spend with the folks. Surely somewhere within that six hundred mile diameter circle there is a non-military city or town... or better yet, a college town. While college towns often have their own rotating cast of jocks and knuckleheads, overall you're more likely to find kindred spirits and a populace that is generally more tolerant of "artsy" people.  ... and the music scene is likely to be lively, but with lots of turnover.

Work is always an issue, but since you didn't mention a specific job or area of expertise, I'm going to assume you're not holding down some heavy career-track kind of job at the moment. What transferable skills do you have that are likely to be useful ANYwhere you might happen to land? Figure out what kind of work you might be able to do/find at a new location and let that help you decide on the location. 

Friends?  I'm guessing that, as a dedicated scenester, you have a wide wide circle of friends. I'm sure some are, at best, acquaintances, but others are true friends. What do they think about all this? Are any of them also itching to move away? ...if so, moving with a friend often eases a geographical transition. Or if none of them want to move, do they have any friends in other towns who might need a roommate or who might have some job leads? Yes, I'm telling you to utilize your network... I'm just trying to not sound like the kind of guy who would use a phrase like "utilize your network." 

To tell you the truth, it sounds like you're halfway gone already. It is OK, especially in your mid-twenties, to feel like you're done with your hometown, at least for a while. Also, here is a little secret you're keeping from yourself: Moving out of your hometown is just the first step on a journey you're still trying to give a name to. There are few thrills quite like making a major life move and surviving it. It makes you braver the next time you face a jump-or-don't-jump situation. You'll realize that the unknown is something to be explored, not feared.

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