Fate of the Red Light District
Old Love. New love. Any Love But True Love.
Days are long this time of year in Amsterdam. It’s still quite light. An old guy (my age) is still drinking beer at the front window of the bar at my hotel. The bartendress calls him an alcofrolic—always here during the day, goes home around 6 p.m. As usual he’s watching the window girls across the canal.
“Give him another, one for me as well.” I place my order, lay ten Euros and my backpack on the bar and take a stool. One of the window girls has found some action, or the action has found her. Will he go in? We watch. They talk. He lingers. This is weird. He’s brought a long stemmed flower for her, wrapped in cellophane.
Bazaar! They spend some time in conversation after which the guy writes something down, or is he texting? Then he walks away. Girl in the window’s left alone to ply her trade. Was he a suitor? Customer? Delivery boy? We’ll never know. The alcofrolic’s also clueless, and he spends most of his life here at the barroom window, watching. Hotel bartenders keep an eye on him, bringing another round whenever they see he has drained his glass—takes maybe twenty minutes. Must have a hell of a bar bill, but never seems drunk . . . as coherent as any of us—speaks English, German and Dutch without difficulty.
“The girls are fun to watch,” I tell him. “Even if we can’t touch.”
“Ya,” he grins. “Don’t kick a gift horse in the mouth.”
It’s funny what the Dutch do with American expressions.
* * *
When darkness falls I make my way to Hunter’s once again to ask more questions of the dealer, but our conversation’s interrupted as new customers arrive. I notice he requires I.D.s from younger looking would-be buyers, and turned two away so far tonight. It’s almost 9 p.m.
When he comes back he tells me, “Hopefully this government will get voted out and things will swing around. They’ve been in power eight years now. People come and go with their own personal opinions . . . forcing them on others. We’re individuals—all of us. We know what’s good or bad. We don’t need governments to tell us. As an individual it should be up to you to do what you want to do: go out and drink a bottle of whisky . . . shove some cocaine up your nose. Everyone’s different. Some people go to church every week, you know? Whatever. Live and let live, man.”
Someone comes in with a large briefcase and has gone behind the drug bar where he opens it and starts refilling all the little plastic boxes behind the counter with new stuff. The dealer goes to help him. There’s some paperwork involved. I take a break to let them go about their business—walk across the street into a head shop. Sign says, BABA. There’s a lot of BABA’s here, at least three different ones.
Someone is looking at a bong kit. There’s a little metal suitcase, like the ones used by photographers, but this one’s got a blown-glass bong inside, bong cleaner, and attachments I don’t recognize.
“How much does this thing cost?” I ask a guy behind the counter.
“Hundred-fifty Euros for the case,” he says. “Four hundred for the bong.”
“That’s a cheap one. Let me show you.” He comes out from behind the counter to the other side, unlocking a display door. “This one costs eight hundred Euros.”
Wow! More than a thousand dollars for a bong. I guess you’d want a special case.
“Hand blown,” he says. “The color’s in the glass, not a decal.”
Who buys these things, I wonder?
I walk back to Hunter’s where the dealers are still busy loading new supplies and selling to another group of customers. I go back to the bar where I am close enough to hear their conversations. Someone buys and ounce of weed they call Amnesia—God, I love these names. Another goes for half a gram of Sour Diesel. Curiosity has got the best of me.
“What is it that you like about Sour Diesel?” I ask as it finds its way into a plastic bag.
“The smell,” the happy buyer grins. “It smells and tastes like Diesel fuel.”
“We’re individuals—all of us.”I drink three smoothies, finish off what’s left of my NYC Doobie and take a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. Tomorrow’s my last day an Amsterdam.