A Model United Nations: This Curfew Is Bullshit
When I was seventeen, I had an opportunity to go to Washington DC to attend the national Model UN conference. It’s exactly as the name suggests—a three day pretend UN proceeding, where high schools from all over the United States represent the interests of countries from around the world. I wasn’t even in my school’s Model UN club, but the prospect of a trip with my friends, Ricky and Dean, was too fetching to pass up, and they managed to sneak me into the club’s enrollment.
This club was run by an esteemed professor whose knowledge was vast and diverse from decades of historical study. Dr. Sheehan was of an older time, his oak desk surrounded by cedar bookshelves featuring every political treatise of importance in the last century. He was immersed in his fascinations to his own detriment, however, when it came to keeping rascals like myself off his roster of students.
Washington DC had a crisp, refreshing bite to the air in early autumn. I’d never been before, and was a bit dumbstruck at seeing the major American monuments in person, which rose from the ground like Roman ruins.
We checked into the hotel and were sternly warned by security not to smoke and to keep the noise down. We assured them it was no problem, then promptly lit cigarettes and played our boom box full blast. It felt very freeing, like a glimpse into college life without any of the work.
Dr. Sheehan told the group to convene in his hotel room for preliminary instructions. I sat on the floor next to Dr. Sheehan’s TV, stuck my arm behind the dresser, felt around for the cord, and yanked it out of its socket. Ricky and Dean snickered when I showed them the plug in hand—a symbolic disconnection. We found out which countries our school would represent at the conference—there were over one hundred nations and we would be in charge of two. Incredibly, Ricky, Dean and I would be representing—the great US of A! We were put in charge of the most visible and influential nation in the entire conference.
After the meeting dispersed we were forced to return to our room.
“This curfew is bullshit,” I said, sprawled out on the bed.
“What can we do? There’s security in the lobby,” Dean said.
“I don’t think it’s insurmountable,” I countered. “What would our great forefathers do?”
“Erik may be right,” Ricky said, blowing a smoke ring and squinting into the peephole. “I don’t see anybody out there. The hall looks clear.”
At that pronouncement, we changed into loose button-down shirts and stuffed our pockets with mints, cash and smokes.
“Let’s do this,” I said, stepping out into the hallway. “Follow me,” I said, opening the door to a nearby stairwell.
We materialized in a corner of the hotel’s grand lobby. There were several men in grey uniform with walkie-talkie’s and rubber wires around their ears. I brought the guys out slowly, like a military ambush, setting my sights on the front door. We were spotted but high-tailed it out, until safely on a block in the city. We hopped in a cab, shouting to the driver, take us to Georgetown!
Georgetown was a full-blown college town with girls, coffee shops, record stores, bars and clubs. It felt like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; first we checked out this great punk band in a music venue, then took in an open mic at a coffee shop with cute girls reading poetry, and finally settled on a college bar that didn’t scrutinize our cheap, fake ID’s.
We ordered whiskey sours for our amateur palettes. There were little parties, college kids taking shots and dancing around tables. We didn’t work up the guts to talk to any women, but certainly got drunk, staying until closing. It wasn’t far back to the hotel, and fortunately we didn’t have to pull a Macgyver to get back to our room. We didn’t wake until early afternoon, totally missing the morning session of the conference.
“Oh man, the last thing I want to do is go to a meeting,” I said, trying to brush the whiskey breath out of my mouth.
“I’m so thirsty, toss me that water bottle,” Ricky said.
“Maybe we should rally and get with the rest of the team,” Dean said.
“That’s just the hangover talking,” I suggested. “What we need is some good food, fresh air, and a little hair of the dog.”
“I can’t deny that makes a lot of sense,” Ricky agreed.
“Whaddya say, Dean? Let’s get back out there,” I said, shoving open the blinds to reveal a patchy grey sky and wan sunlight. “It’s a beautiful day.”
We carried notebooks to portray an air of engagement, and this time found it quite simple to walk out of the hotel.
After a time we passed some interesting storefronts. “Here’s a place!” Ricky shouted.
It was an old smokeshop, replete with artifacts; ceramic mermaids, wood carved bull horns, an oil painting of a boat amidst a raging sea.
“Djarum is the best,” Ricky said, strangling us with musky clove.
“Let’s wander around,” I said.
And we did. It was a glorious day in the nation’s capital. We picked up beverages and laid out on the lawn, toasting the Washington Monument as it glinted in the sunlight. I fleetingly wondered how things were going at the conference; not well to be sure, given that the delegation from the United States was busy drinking malt liquor out of brown bags on Capitol Hill. The entire Model UN was probably falling apart.
“I’ll be right back,” I notified the guys, following the sound of a floating saxophone. There were people in suits rushing along the periphery of the park, as well as some more bedraggled types asking for change, but in the midst of this activity an older African-American man in a multi-colored, Rastafari hat was blowing his horn—I was pretty sure it was Coltrane—and I stopped to admire him. His clothes were tattered, but the way his eyes closed while he played, as if in prayer, mesmerized me. I swigged from the bottle of Old English and left a couple bucks for his tip jar. He took the horn out of his mouth and thanked me. I told him what we were doing there and he smiled. A very attractive women in an elegant business outfit walked past, her heels clicking on the sidewalk.
“No shortage of beautiful women out here,” he said, stroking his chin.
“I wish I knew what to say to them,” I said.
“Aw, young blood, that’s easy!” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “It’s the simplest thing in the world. Here it is. Ask a woman how her day is. That’s it. That’s the magic.” His eyes were open and honest; we shook hands and he retreated to his spot, where he poured more sweet, timeless notes into the afternoon.
I rejoined the guys on the lawn, lazily drinking our bottles while the real world circled. I lit a cigarette, warding off imminent slumber, wondering why I felt more warmth toward that sax player than any connection whatsoever with this conference.
In the end, we never attended a single session of the Model UN; the United States was in absentia on every vote, its delegation in a drunken haze for three days, its status on the world stage regressed from superpower to third world country.
But what nags me now isn’t that we shamed our school, or badly lost the stupid conference; it’s that I was offered immense opportunity and went about systematically wasting it. It was practically a pastime. I wasn’t willing then, but I’ll tell you what—where’s the Model UN for forty-somethings? Sign me up for that! Let Dr. Sheehan know I’m ready—only twenty-five years too late. But that sax guy has stayed with me. We spent only a moment together, but I think that flunkie kid he met was the real me—a helpless moth to the flame of beautiful notes played.