I stood in line at The Bird, waiting in the street for a take away box of what I’d heard was the best goddamn pad thai in Amsterdam. Outside on the grimy street that was nonetheless full and moving were the tourists of the Amsterdam Chinatown on Zeedijk. It had been ten long minutes since I had given the small man my order but I was in no mood for confrontation so I stood patiently, waiting for my noodles and peanuts.
In my left hand I held a 10 euro note, pink as I was on the day I was born. In my right hand I clutched in eager anticipation Songs of the Doomed, by the Doctor himself, newly purchased in the corner of a small store of used English books. I’d had to bargain the owner of the store to 8 euro down from 12 and I still thought the prick overcharged me, considering I’d found it overturned in a corner of the store beneath a stool he didn’t even know was there.
As far as having the money in one hand and the book in the other, I’m usually self-conscious about filth. I won’t apologize for that. But this time I couldn’t tell which one of the two were dirtier, the euro currency that was mangling the mighty dollar or the twisted gonzo journalist that doles it out to the corrupt and the stupid like they were cheap whores in a red window.
Indeed. I took my pad thai to a point overlooking the canals from one of the 400-something bridges in this town. It was a warm night and the reflection of the light from the old street lamps that studded the narrow roads of the center were being mangled and warped by the un-still water of the canal, moved to ripples by a passing tourist boat. But I saw that the stars were fading and Amsterdam was starting to smell like rain. It will take me some time to get used to the meteorology of this city.
So I headed to a bar nearby where I could get some shelter and a drink. A flat-screen in the corner was showing the latest football match and a band was setting up to play some live music. I wasn’t so sure I could handle the music that night, but I’d wait and see. The day had been sunny and clear but now that the sky had turned grey it seemed my mood had turned with it.
But it didn’t seem to make much sense for me to be anywhere else – the Dutch Ajax was playing the Spanish Real Madrid that night and I had some investment in the outcome of the game. The smoke from nearby cigarettes was pouring towards me without mercy or pause but who cares? This was important.
I found a seat in the dark place and the music was jammin’ so my mind wasn’t all that bothered by the ambiance. I read through the last couple of pages in the notebook I carried; some of it went back a couple months. One of the funny things about being an absent-minded writer is that there are lapses in my memory and in my journals but they don’t overlap. This creates the strange sensation of reading things I don’t remember having written even though it’s clearly my handwriting. Where do I go, I wonder, when my pen is moving, manufacturing such tripe, condemning hard evidence against me? How does that work?
But there was no time for that kind of thinking now. I had my head down and had started scribbling frantically at the pages in front of me, on a mission, urging, needing to finish and not knowing how that would happen since I didn’t even know where I was going. It had been a long weekend with surprises and madness and I hadn’t caught a word of it yet. Tony Snow had called it quits because he was bankrupt and Karl Rove had resigned and managed to leave without being stopped at the gates of the White House by an angry hoard or even be indicted. I hadn’t wrapped my mind around all that I had to say about any of it and apparently the normal media hadn’t either. Two days into it, and still nothing substantial had been said except to find out what Tony Snow’s salary is at the White House (168K) vs what it was going to be at Fox News, where he’s headed (to make much, much more, I’m sure). Then they define for the viewers who is Karl Rove, as if the prince of darkness needed any introduction. Astounding work, ladies and gentlemen of the press. You leave us drunk with anger yet parched for knowledge. You have a gift.
I was absolutely losing it on paper when she walked in. What a contrast to the losers that surrounded me; strawberry blond hair to her shoulders, well kept and beautifully high-maintenance. A co-worker I’d met a few days before, I was leaving the door open for some contact in this country of soft men and indifferent women. But I just know I breathed out deeply and loudly as my writing slowed to a halt.
I had told her earlier in the night where to find me if she needed to but I hadn’t expected her to actually show up. It was a mistake since what I wanted that night was some movement but a little privacy. But it was summer I didn’t know a soul I didn’t work with in that entire country. Usually I’m averse to socializing with people from work but that night I was averse to socializing at all, so I should’ve been more forward thinking, but I hadn’t been.
The temperature of the air hadn’t quite caught up with the season yet and the rains were making a mess of many people’s holiday plans. The chill crept in through the open door and mixed with the hanging smoke that loitered in the bar, purposeless like so many of the patrons. For many moments the bar was so still that when a gust would come and replace some of the smoke you could feel the drop in pressure. So you can imagine what happened when she walked in.
Right away she started talking to me about inter-office politics and lesbianism and the Belgians, so I had little choice but to hit the whiskey, and hard. She followed suit. Soon there was little in there that was making sense. The afternoon had been engulfed in caffeine and wasn’t helping the situation, but what could I do? The bartender and his long hair got tangled up trying to make a vodka martini for some Americans but had given them instead a Martini & Rosso, which is a whole other animal that American’s are not all that fond of. When I saw that he didn’t have a shaker and that things might get out of hand I stepped in and offered my services. Why? To get rid of her?
Maybe. Mostly, I think, it’s because I wanted one too.
Much later now, I try so desperately to pass out in this heavy Dutch air, awaiting a thunderstorm they said would come but never did. A man-child laughs like a hyena outside my window, four floors down…what the hell is so goddamn funny out there?
Who knows? There is too much caffeine and vodka and bourbon in my system to much care at this horrible hour.
Back to politics.
They say that Cheney is a gnat’s tit away from usurping the whole legislative and executive branch while being a part of neither, which begs the question, “what will he do about the judicial?” Things have gotten quite out of hand. Nobody even pays attention to Bush anymore, and he stands close to breaking the record for most vacation days in office (Ronald Regan was away for over a year out of his eight. Isn’t that nuts?). His childish antics have gotten dull and CNN, BBC and the other useless corporate tote boards have lost money trying to put his pony show on the air. The advertisers aren’t even buying it anymore because the American people are dulled even to that. Could this be the low point or is it possible this is the beginning of the real end? They say that the Chinese are threatening to cash out all of their securities in the American Government. It gets me wondering what the hell will happen when both China and India suddenly declare void the copyright of everything ever written in either English or C. The bricks and the concrete will crumble and the storm barrier will give. It’s a terrible thing, too terrible to ponder the ultimate fall of America while huddled in the dark in Amsterdam after so many years of watching the twats claim ignorance through sheets and sheets of Cheeto-crusted ignorance while they drink their Budweisers and watch their sitcoms.
This is not a decent hour to be awake, let along trying to make a point.
What terrible thoughts on such a heavy night. The train grinds its way past the city and the boats in the river below are not shy about their loud two stroke engines. More inexplicable Irish laughing from the pub on the river. Then, loud Americans again. Finish your goddamn whiskey and Guinness and get the fuck out of the bar you fucking tourists. Agur and all that shit. Beat it. Go fix the problems you’ve created when you let that scum run the show. Some of us still have responsibilities. I hope I can remember mine in the morning.