The nighttime is still full of dark things, as always. Stirrings in the unseen blackness between walls and windows, silence among the trees — these are natives to the soil of the night. Through the leaves and a light mist I can see dim lights that don’t fully penetrate the canopy. I hear strange, elusive songs that howl in a distant direction. Time has passed, too much time. Yet these things never change. I like it. Still.
The reports of my death are greatly exagerated, I should tell you. Not to mention that I’ve always wanted to say that.
But seriously. If that’s what you’ve heard, you’ve been misinformed. I myself heard it from an IT specialist on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Which was weird.
It was unnerving to hear — to say nothing of having an argument with — a perfect stranger about your current status as a living being. He insisted I was dead, the story being that I’d perished needlessly along with the other passengers on that Air France flight from Rio.
“Why would I be in Rio?” I asked him. “I have absolutely NOthing I want to do in Rio.”
He dodged and I lunged and eventually we came to an understanding. But I had to insist, and that’s usually when things get ugly. Thankfully, he just fixed my hard drive problem and I got out of there and went back to New York.
There’s been a lot of that lately, this business of crossing the Atlantic once a week for months on end. It’s becoming routine, almost. Sure, the miles pile up and the whiskey is free, but who cares? I have plenty of whiskey at home. And anyone who’s ever flown across the Atlantic, especially anyone who has flow over the damn thing four times in a week knows that it does terrible things to the human body. There is no way around that.
Laura and I had had a good week in Iceland just before all of this got underway so it started off on the right foot with some camping, hiking, subzero temperatures and landscapes that defy any existing means of description that I’m aware of. Once I had switched into professional mode I made the best of it, taking weekends as they came, when I had them, to meet up with the right people in the right places. Paul was working in Paris at the time and did the right thing by taking a train to Rotterdam where I picked him up and we drove to Berlin. The next weekend Laura did a similarly right thing by flying to Zurich, where I met up with her and we had ourselves a proper Swiss weekend, followed the next weekend by a proper Belgian weekend. That’s how I make the best of this situation. And that’s alright.
But as you can imagine, it was somewhere between Bruges, Zurich and Berlin that I started to lose my bearings once again. Fleeing to the US had done me little good. After over four months of attempted residence in the heart of hearts I had started to feel safe, far from their grip and the beckoning of my whining clients.
When you’re this good at something, there will always be someone willing to pay you to not give it up. I learned that with a few carrots and the yank of thier chain, after which they got me right back to where I’d been when I fled.
Which is how I found myself again in the center of the old city in Amsterdam at the Haven van Texel, an old favorite thinking spot of mine. It was a typical summer night in the Dutch capital, tourists floundering about and locals ignoring them the way they do so well. Neither tourist nor local, at the edge of a large umbrella I sipped a thin beer under a heavy air. The split pea soup is pretty good too, but that’s not part of the scene.
In the late evening the whole sky had come down over Amsterdam and afterwards, the rain having passed, the atmosphere had become dense and thick. The waiters walked around with a dripping wet rag, wiping whole puddles off of tables. People need to drink, after all.
In this scene I sat, as I said, sipping my thin beer, watching the boats round the curve at the Oudezijds Achterburgwal gracht while I got back to some basics with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I’d always suspected that American history was rooted in some shady stories but I didn’t know the half of it, it seems. Will Hunting was right; that book will knock you on your fucking ass.
But the boats — they kept passing, the curves never seeming to run out of them. A small one meandered ‘round the bend and stopped at an inconspicuous doorway at the water level with no lights on. I wondered what they were doing there, in that dark corner out of sight that only only ducks and villains even notice. A place where people vanish into the night. Strange things happen in these places, right before our eyes. Sights and symbols are everywhere and it’s up to us to turn away and let them happen.
Which is exactly what I did. I don’t need the extra stress, man.
The uncertainties and pressures of the path I’ve been walking for the better part of this last year are out of sight. Politics doesn’t begin to describe it. I’m still waiting on a gaggle of statute of limitations so you’ll pardon the lack of specifics, but it’s a doozy. Suffice to say that it involves a lot of very roundabout language, 24-7 monitoring of all communications on every channel and of course, a LOT of air travel. The amazing thing is that it’s working well when I’m amazed it’s working at all.
The gist of it is this: I’ve been working in what equates to a pressurized bee-hive. Deadlines loom and crumbling deliverables are demanded as if Jesus had just walked out of the desert. Meanwhile, touchy topics like layoffs and salary reductions fly unchecked through people’s inboxes and nobody know’s what’s going to happen. Like some half-mad badger in a paper cage they keep me under the guise of effectiveness, skill and track record, but I know better. Some cheap executive type upstairs in a building far from any I occupy is covering his ass like red on a baboon. Sooner or later, when the walls of irreconsilable confusion come down and the barbarians come rushing in shouting for actual credentials I exepect to see the nail end of a finger protruding out of a very expensive suit.
That’s kind of a typical day for me, I guess. I hear I’m not alone but I sure as hell don’t see it. You people do a hell of a job hiding shit like that.
Later that night, darkness continued to fill the space as the early signs of midnight called for the sun to set sometime after 10. Amsterdam is farther north than most people realize and in late June the place sometimes feels a bit like Oslo with the canals of Venice and the heavy air of Florida. Without, you know, the Cubans.
Just kidding. There are plenty of Cubans here.
Glowing windows in the dark raise questions and stir desires. What’s in there? And who? What are they doing? And could I do it better? I’m no longer able to distinguish fear from anxiety, politics from causality. Things start to fall apart.
The banjo blues still play in my head and my eyes wander the scenes looking for a grip, a handle — something to help it all along the way. There used to be a fine line that dictated equilibrium for me, between alcohol and sleep. That balance was maintained, day in and day out. Who knows where it’s gone to now?