No fun at all, being back in the ugly gray, buried in the dull and mild bleakness of an existence that doesn’t even know enough to care. Having been – no more than 36 hours ago – on a beach in Costa Rica, sipping rum out of a coconut and shielding the sun from my salt-battered eyes, the soft lap of whitewater cooling my feet and completely covered in sunscreen… it’s, aah… well, a bit… umm, kind of dreary then to, aah…
Shit. You finish it.
Usually a trip like this sparks the mad fervor that keeps me ticking; lights the fuse that leads to somewhere, and all without ruse or effort. But not this time.
No, upon my return to the place where the pillows smell like home, the first thing I wanted to do was stare blankly at a white wall and hope for a catatonic state. I’m a patient man but I didn’t think it would take very long.
Purpleshitchrist, I still have sand in my ears! I was sitting at a wet bar a few days ago, by which I mean that the bar was INSIDE the pool. Can you COMPREHEND such a thing? To make matters worse, I’m not traveling yet this week and have, therefore, more scattered time than I would if I were, you know, on the road. That’s sort of how it goes.
Putting my feet to the pavement, tires to the asphalt or just taking off into the clouds keeps my mind away from things like career ambitions and life prospects. It makes the next step the same one that is right in front of me. It gives me focus by blurring the edges, keeping things that are off the scope off the scope.
Late in the evening, almost 9, I put on a coat and went out, looking for something that would catch my attention for a bit, make me think of something other than waves licking the body of a beautiful girl at the edge of a beach of white sand and an unreasonably unreachable horizon. I had been running earlier in the day and had passed a dodgy area of town that made me think of dimly lit pubs in London and strange little winkels selling everything from old lamps to illegal cartons of cigarettes and condoms I wouldn’t trust to safely hold jello. I walked back around that way, hoping for a closer look.
At night all the lights are mostly off, with the exception of a couple of cafes, a coffeeshop across the street and a mysterious ground floor studio with bars at the window that separated the light thrust out to the street into neat little squares of yellow. Weird.
Inside I see what I least expected to find in this place: violins and cellos of every shape and size hanging from special shelves, leaning against tables and laying on individual workbenches. The floor inside is filthy with wooden shreds and oil stains. By a desk lamp in a distant corner is a mad little foreigner, working late into the night. All his might is focused on rubbing a small cloth vigorously against a violin that is already shining. He changes cloths, rubs and wipes again. A real pro, working this late at night.
Either that or an insomniac, a voice says in my head.
And why shouldn’t I understand his plight? Sometimes sleep is elusive as hell.
I keep walking into the darkness towards another canal at the end of the street. When I turn the corner I almost run into what I initially mistake for a gentlemen, his sharply grown gray goatee slightly yellowed from decades of tobacco. He is tall, thin, maybe 55 or 60 and wears a black overcoat that drops down to his calf. In each arm is a girl, blond and brunette, not a day over 22 each. He dresses like a Frenchman but when he speaks it’s with a viscous Austrian accent, rolling his r’s and hardening his w’s:
“Caan yoo teil me vaarr ist de red light deestreect?”
I give him the simple directions and he hobbles off with his ladies, giddy as a pervert in a schoolyard. Where on Earth is he taking them, I wonder, but the question quickly fades in my mind, as such question must in a town like this. Wondering too much about pimps, perverts or punks in a town like Amsterdam will either turn you into one or drive a man straight into the canals with madness and blues.
In the dim light of a thinning moon, the damp streets already smell of scattered debris and cheap Chinese food. The violent rain from earlier in the morning scrubs the cigarette buds from the sidewalk. But you can’t wipe the soot off coal without dirtying up something else and the streets have a film of filth in their corners and ridges.
The air is thin, though, giving another sense of cleanliness and above me the space between the apartment homes along the canals seems larger than normal. Scattered lights in the windows cast large squares along the streets and throw hard shadows down into the black water.
A blue sign leaning lazily against a large glass window reads in white Gothic letters: “Christian Rationalism”. To boot, it’s in fucking-of-all-things Portuguese. I ponder the meaning of it for a moment, wondering if it’s something like the inverse of Scientology or if it’s some poor hack who actually thinks he has a grip on something that actually has – as it will surely turn out – a grip on him.
Religious Brazilians struggling in foreign lands, though – there’s little that would be more obvious. Whatever, I decide. It’s probably nothing like Scientology, and yet somehow, just as stupid.
At one point I find myself nearly giving up, standing at the edge of a canal, under one of the steel bridges that temporarily spans these waters while Amsterdam is reconstructed. I note, leaning against that cold steel in the darkness of criss-crossing I-beams that there is no guardrail, that the water, the steel, the rivets and I are all a part of the same continuous medium through which the vibrations of the rail trains above move violently. I become entrenched in the city for a moment.
Time goes by like the boats in front of me and the cars and trains overhead. Here, there is no one. The dark thoughts, the demons, they pass through me like the vibrations of the bridge that enter me via the rivet against the back of my skull. Amsterdam is also a place of energy like New York or Rio… but here, where I am, there is no music. There is no memory. There is light on the other side of the canal, where hundreds of bikes are parked with no owners in sight. But not here – here it is just dark.
I try to think of nothing but my head is crowded with distractions and I find it nearly impossible.
Think of nothing. Think of nothing. Think of nothing.
You’re thinking of thinking of nothing. How does that work?
Shhhhh. I’m trying to think of nothing.
I know, but it’s not working. Try something else.
What does that mean.
I don’t know what it means. I wonder if all those people walking around are actually thinking of nothing.
They’re thinking things.
Oh, sorry. Think of nothing… got it.
No, no, I’m just saying I’m going to try.
Oh. Ok. Shhhhh.
I wonder how those yoga people think of nothing. Are they thinking of nothing? Really?
Yep. Nothing at all. It’s tantric or something.
What does that mean? Tantric.
I don’t really know.
I know you don’t know. You’re me.
Say, this would be a weird conversation, right?
Wait, weren’t we supposed to be thinking of nothing?
Christ. I am so alone in this place.