Jo skipped down her steep Dutch stairs in her flat in the Old South, a far-off land nearly 20 minutes away from Amsterdam’s Center. The cafés in that neighborhood of Amsterdam crawl with the affluent and those horny for the appearance of the same. Bordering Vondel Park, a Central Park-esque sort of green area, many vagrants wander outside of the perimeter after dark looking for a port-o-potty or somewhere else to defecate. Also, many artists live in the area due to its proximity to the Museumplein and the Concertgebouw. Though most of them are hard-to-swallow hipsters with ‘artist’ simply written on their H&M vests, there are some who are worth knowing, and even visiting on a warm summer afternoon.
I heard the keys jostle in the lock as the bolt was withdrawn.
“Hellooo!” She said, perky and excited as she usually is when the weather is this nice. And it was. She was in jeans and a floral-patterend blouses that isn’t really trying but always looks great when there’s sun to shine on the skin.
The sky was clear and the greens were greener than I could ever get used to. Spring in Amsterdam is usually no different from the rest of the year, overcast and grey. The cold never seems to stop blowing in from the North Sea, except when it does. Then you get days like this, with flowers and people and football out in the open and lots of beer and laughter on the narrow streets; pretty girls everywhere and no matter where you look it’s as if you were seeing it through a polarized lens.
It was good to see her and I gave her a big hug full of relief. I’m not sure why the relief, but that’s how it felt. She kissed my cheek and we went to a place in the park where you can lie in a pile of pillows and order beer and some fried Dutch food. We waxed philosophic, launching deep thoughts into the grassy fields beneath the canopy, shaded and serene with laughter and sunlight.
“You know,” she said in a Polish accent mixed with German and what I think is some kind of old Croatian, “we have very similar, uh, professional situations, I think.”
“Yeah,” I said, smiling, sipping my beer, “we’re both, in a way, consultants.” She didn’t smile at my wit, but I often suspect she doesn’t get half of my jokes. I’m learning to be alright with that.
“No, but I mean…we both work from home, and it can be very difficult to do that when you don’t have people close by that are in a similar situation.”
“Oh, yeah. I know, right?” I said right back to her. “I remember when you used to live there in the center — in that flat that belonged to a friend of yours who was out of town or something? Yeah, and we would grab a coffee in the morning before we each dove into our work, and then later we’d catch up for lunch, maybe, or perhaps another afternoon coffee…”
“Yeah, that was fantastic, eh?” She said, with her eager smile. We both dwelled on the memory for a second.
“Sure. Until you moved to the Old South with all these yuppies,” I chuckled. She did too, knowing full well what I was talking about in the old south of Amsterdam, even if she didn’t know how to translate the word ‘yuppy’ in either Polish or German.
“Yeah,” I continued, “working from home is great but if you have to enjoy the freedoms it brings alone, it gets pathetic pretty fast.”
“Hmmmfff,” she agreed, “I remember when I used to go to the café in the corner, or else take the time to cook something for lunch…now I just make myself a ham sandwich or something and eat it in the kitchen, with Lord of the Rings playing in the background or something.”
“Such a nerd,” I prodded, and she stuck her tongue out at me most indifferently. “And is there anything, ” I continued, “more depressing than a ham sandwich eaten hunched over the sink? With your elbows out? And Gandalf murmuring riddles to ancient kings?” She kept smiling. “No. No, there isn’t.” Which is true. “I think the difference between you and me, though, is a factor of motivation: you’re after an objective, and it’s the means that’s bothering you. I have no objective. I just love the means that the lifestyle provides me because of where I’m going. Wherever THAT is. But I yearn for an objective.”
“Exactly!” Jo seemed to get it, but I’m never too sure. In general the phrase I most often hear after describing the superficialities of my job is, “wow, you wanna trade jobs?” But I don’t put all that much effort into describing it better and more concisely, and most people just aren’t equipped to handle the mediocrity that comes with doing purposeless tasks that cover your face with a veil of bullshit that you can only hide if you’re really in love with what you do. So I don’t bother.
Only once did I feel that I got through to someone when discussing the meat of my beef with my lifestyle. Usually, when I describe to people how despite the apparent glamour of constant travel there IS a downside that can only really be understood by those who’ve lived it, the reply comes in the form of a “well, ups and downs, right?” or “take the good with the bad,” and other, equally meaningless statements. But once when I told my brother, his response was very refreshing.
“Yeah, mate. You’re fucked,” he said.
Brilliant. Someone gets it.