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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Amsterdam Diary - Day 1

      I’ve gone to Hunters, my favorite coffee shop. Terry is still dealing at the drug bar, known him for four years now. Every summer I come back. Nice guy – from England, has been living/working here for years. It takes a moment, now he sees me, smiles – a real one. Drug bar’s empty, giving us a chance to exchange telegrams of history, the headlines, then,“What’s good?” I ask.
      “What are you looking for?” he says.
      “Something mid-range. Not too strong. Sativa. I don’t want to get zonked out. Something good, but not too strong. I want to think.”

      He turns and takes two tiny plastic bags from a matrix of small wooden boxes on the wall behind him. “Both of these are good. This one’s something new – Ocean’s Twelve.” He opens it for me to smell, as if I’d know the difference.
      “Whatever you think, Terry.” He hands me the bag. One gram, three buds – twelve Euros. “Do you still sell pipes?”
      “Take this one. People leave them behind.”
      An octet of late teens have arrive. The buyers come like flocks of birds, hover excitedly at the glass-top counter, reading menus, sniffing bags, and chattering to one another, making choices, and comments. “I thought you had the money.”

      I retreat to the far end of a long zinc-topped bar, and take the remaining empty stool next to a couple guys in their mid-thirties, rolling joints. I notice the computers are gone.


      There used to be five coin-fed computes along this wall. I’ve used them a lot. “What happened to the computers?” I ask.
      “Cell phones,” one answers. “Cell phones put them out of business.”
Umm. Not good. I suspect I may be the only person on earth who does not have a cell phone. They seem like an imposition, or an addiction, maybe both . . . whatever. I light the pipe, take a few hits. Nothing. I decide to leave. Once standing I feel weird and realize the pot has hit me. I’m okay, but realize I’ve had enough. I walk outside onto the brick paved street, a bit uncertain. I always carry a notebook in my backpack, in case I think of something interesting, but don’t have it with me. I have a pen. I need paper. Must be a place to buy some near here. I start walking past the endless shops, small restaurants and fast food places, bars and coffee houses . . . body piercings, water pipes, and T-shirts, vibrators, sex toys.

       What am I looking for? Paper, I keep reminding myself, I’m looking for paper. I decide to forget about it, which will be easy. I want to sit down somewhere and relax.


      I find a nice wooden bench with a couple sitting in one section, an uncoupled space next to them, perfect. There’s a black woman sitting on the other side. She looks forty something, maybe older . . . younger? Hard to tell. She’s over weight by maybe forty pounds. Seems young and old at the same time, young and tired, or old and in good shape. We’re sort of separated from each other on this circular bench, facing outward at different angles. I make no attempt at conversation. I just want to sit here, think, and watch the show, a visual kaleidoscope of happy people passing, laughter, conversation. Holland won it’s soccer game today.

      A guy walks by, says something about the game to the black woman, who replies. I’ve no idea what she said, and have no interest. A tour group has arrived, some twenty of them, gray hair, aura of retirement on them. Each wears a square, plastic, device about the size of a billfold, hung by a strap around their neck . . . like those electronic guidebook gizmos they give you at museums.
It seems weird, bazaar. Their leader is telling them history of the Red Light District. It’s been here forever, they are informed. This area was one of the world’s a major seaports. Sailors who came with the ships were looking for a good time, or a good fight. Holland’s leaders were okay with them having some fun, but created this Red Light district to separate their carrying’s on from the rest of the city.

      It’s beautiful here. This courtyard surrounds the ‘Old Church’, a magnificent cathedral that has also been here forever. Rembrandt’s wife is buried here, beneath the slab stone floor with a lot of other important, well to do residents. As I watch, the tour group gathers by a small brass statue of a hooker. There’s a plaque on the pedestal that says, ‘Be nice to hard working hookers’, or something like that. You can barely see the statue in the photo above. It’s just to the left of the no-littering sign.  
      The group listens to their guide and glance furtively at one another.
      A pair of very happy, laughing, teenage girls pass by with foam rubber hands pointing up, on one arm. Shouting about the soccer game.
      “Did you watch the game?” The black lady asks me.
      “Yeah. I caught the second half. I’ve only been here a few hours.” We start to talk, just idle conversation . . . stuff about the game. She moves a bit closer, and we drift into verbal bios. Her name is, Shada. “I have been here thirteen years,” she tells me. She’s from Libya. Something bad happened to her in Libya, something about a house. She has an accent. I’m not sure what she says some of the time, but I don’t mind as I’m the one doing most of the talking, running on about leaving America, and living in Sweden.

      “This is weird,” I tell her.
      “Just talking to you like I’ve been. I never talk this much.”
      But its’ easy with her. She seems to be truly caring, interested and intelligent . . . knowing. I find myself telling her my most innermost thoughts, my hopes and fears, my wife, my life – leaving America. Some interesting stuff is coming up as I ramble into myself. Not all that new, but a few thoughts I didn’t know I had. I’ve found that pot, for me, is very introspective. I am fairly blabbing now, having a good time talking about stuff I would never discuss with someone I might meet again.
      “You want a smoke?” she asks.
      “Yeah, sure. I guess so.”
      Shada passes me a bag of cigarette tobacco and a rolling paper. I’m relieved to see it isn’t marijuana. “I cannot roll cigarettes,” I tell her. “Never learned.” I’ve noticed a lot of people roll their cigarettes here, I guess because they’re so expensive, about eight bucks for a pack of Marlboros. I don’t smoke cigarettes – a pipe sometimes.

      “Is okay. I will roll,” she says. She makes two cigarettes. They’re absolutely perfect, seamless, slightly tapered. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen somebody roll. We light ‘em up. It’s a pleasant, puffing on them – mild. “You should smoke there.” Shada points to a small coffee house. High Time, a sign proclaims. “Is nice place,” she says warmly. “They let you alone. Sit all you want.”
      “I’ll take a look tomorrow.” I go back to my life history. I’m on my Army days. She continues to listen attentively, without making a show of it, encouraging, and caring. There’s a silent moment as    I’m shifting mental gears, move on to my first marriage – San Francisco. Another tour group’s passing by. These dudes are geriatric – old, with snow white hair. Two are in wheelchairs, some have canes. They creep along. Oh, god. Is that my future? Happens to all of us. How many more years will I be able to travel alone?

      “We should go High Time,” Shada says. “Nice place. We can sit, and talk, long as you want.”
      “I don’t know.” I still remember coming out of Hunters, that weird feeling – gone now. I feel normal, sort of, but do not want more. We leave the bench. I let her lead me to High Time. Inside the door, and to the left, a steep, winding stairway goes up into semi darkness. There’s a guy sitting at a table next to the first steps. Shada bends over to say something to him. He nods, and we move to the drug bar in the rear. A couple guys are taking up the space at a short counter, but soon they leave with cups of coffee, and something to smoke.

        We take the space they’ve left, and Shada passes me a drug menu. “I don’t want anything,” I tell her. “Get something for yourself. Maybe I’ll take a puff or two.” I’m feeling just a little bit uneasy.
“I do not smoke pot,” she tells me. “But it’s nice upstairs. You can talk all you want. No one will bother us.”
      “Not now. Maybe tomorrow. I was fine on the bench,” I tell her.
      “That’s okay,” she says. “We can go back to the bench.”
      We start back, but something’s changed. A subtle shift of moment. “Time for me to leave.” I check my watch, as if the time has something to do with my decision. “I’m heading back to my hotel.”
      “I’ll walk with you,” she says. I’m starting to feel like she is with me. Sticking like glue.
      “We can go to your hotel room and talk,” she says.
      “No. That would not be good,” I say. “I need to call my wife.”
      Shada looks hurt. “But please, some money. I’m so hungry.”

      Hungry might be good for her. She weighs a good deal more than I do, and looks very healthy.      
      “Please,” She’s holding out an upturned hand. I feel like I’ve been conned, but find a two euro coin, worth about three U.S. dollars. Not bad for an hour of therapy.
       The next day I see her again, just standing against a brick wall, watching people pass by. She sees me. I wave goodbye, and she looks hurt again. I turn to go the other way.
*        *        *
Below: Rare photo of the artist posing behind a Drug Bar.

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