11 December 2004

Trick of the Tail


We landed back in Boston Wednesday night, but I had the rotten luck of contracting an unbelievably sinister cold on our last day in Amsterdam -- for which I blame Jan (more on that later) -- so my sorely abused sinuses and I have barely been able to sit upright since the Transatlantic Flight of Doom. Now that the jackhammers have stopped trying to shatter my cheekbones from the inside of my skull, I feel I can try to transcribe some of my times in Amsterdam.

Believe it or not, I actually took notes. An honest-to-god travel journal, which I dutifully filled out every night before clicking the light out around midnight. This is true, and I emphasize it because you will shortly find that hard to believe.

So let's start with the most embarrassing part, the part I didn't even write in my journal, merely alluded to, in code, because otherwise I'll just spend all my time dancing around the subject and trying to tell pretty, pretty lies. Like the lie that I did not, in fact, end up ass-up on the sidewalk outside the Melkweg nightclub one night.

Again, I blame Jan.

This was, what, Monday night? Matt and I had gotten tickets to see Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Melkweg (a large nightclub in the famously hot and happening Leidseplein). Then we forgot all about it, and invited our old friend from Syracuse who now lives in Brabant (what he charmingly refers to as "the Iowa of the Netherlands") to come and hit the town with us that night. When we realized the conflict in scheduling, we just rationalized that our friend is of retirement age, and will surely want to make it an early night, so we'll spend the early evening being chummy and plummy with him, pop him back on the train to Dutch Iowa, and then enjoy the heretofore unexplored nightlife of Amsterdam.

I'm serious about this, and I have to make this perfectly clear -- this was our one night of revelry in Amsterdam. We had spent the whole week prior to this exhausting ourselves with one museum or another, walking the entire length and breadth of the city center until we got over our phobia about the trams (OK, my phobia about the trams), strolling arm and arm around the canals, dining on excellent and surprisingly cheap food, and then hitting the sack before midnight, we were that tired. We hadn't even laid eyes on the Red Light District until Jan from Brabant/Syracuse/Iowa came along, except for one brief foray that I will describe at a later time.

So Jan meets us at the hotel, accompanied by the usual keystone cops activity that always goes with meeting up with Jan (we waited outside the hotel, as agreed, he went in the back door to the hotel and waited in the lobby, somewhat creatively, and we paced in our respective corners for an hour or so before our paths finally crossed. Par for the course), and we moseyed along to run some errand that he had to do for his wife. Pick up some book or other. Typical old-guy married stuff.

From there, he discovers we haven't "done" the Red Light District yet. We raise our collective eyebrows (trust me) and tell him we have no interest in being the Ugly American Tourists, but he waves us off and says he just wants to take us to his favorite bars in the RLD. So of course we go, as if there was ever any question about it. It's early, so the bars are sparsely populated. The first one is across from the famous "penis" fountain, the second bar is the somewhat famous Old Sailor. Jan prefers this awful local brew that Matt and I had earlier agreed was bubbly piss, known as Oranjeboom, but he's buying, so we're taking.

Did I mention Jan is a chain smoker? And I am coming up on my third anniversary of quitting smoking in February, so I am very much not used to inhaling great quantities of smoke. These bars, they are smoky. And Jan, he is a talker. A true raconteur of the best barhound type, so each punchline and innuendo is punctuated with Lenny-Bruce-quantities of cigarette smoke.

We stand, we drink large steins of Oranjeboom, Jan smokes and tells story after story, we double over in laughter and cough and sputter with hilarity. I buy us a round of Tequila. Later, I do it again. It is now about five hours later, and we've set an admirable pace for ourselves. The old man, by the way, is holding up fine.

We finally convince him it's time to get back on the train, so we stagger (yes) back to our hotel, where he left his backpack. He collapses on our bed, waits until Matt is in the bathroom, then plants a huge drunken smooch on me (there's a great backstory to my pseudo-flirtation with Jan-who-is-as-old-as-my-father, I'll have to tell it sometime). Matt fakes blustering in and "catching" us, and we giggle back outside, stumble (oh yes) up to Centraal Station and pour Jan back on the train to Iowa.

According to the three watches I seem to be wearing, we're late for Lee Perry. So we tram it back downtown to the Melkweg and catch the last half hour of the show. Holy Crap Is It Smoky In Here. Serious as a heart attack, I can hardly breathe. So I elbow my way out to the lobby, spy the lounge/bar to my right, and decide a nice refeshing tequila would hit the spot. It does. Man, am I usually right about that. I go back into the bandroom, where the band is just finishing up. Halleluia. Matt and I make our way back out to the sidewalk, where they have some sort of waist-high metal barrier between the sidewalk and the street. I think it has barbed wire, or sharp, pointy metal prongs on it. Matt sanely proceeds around said barrier, whilst I thumb my nose at authority, bend at the waist, and reverse limbo under it.

Natch, I lose my balance, go staggering across the quiet side street doubled over like that Dr. Suess giraffe who sneezed and bent himself in half, unable to straighten up or slow my velocity. I finally, thankfully, crash to my knees on the opposite sidewalk, where a very kind Amsterdammer on a bicycle stops and helps me up. My knees are still sore, and quite bruised. We poured ourselves back on the tram, made it back to the hotel without further incident. For some unknown reason, I woke up the next day feeling like ass on a halfshell, with a sore throat that quickly degenerated into the insanely potent cold I am just now recovering from.

And that's the most embarrassing, drunken, idiotic story I have from my week in Amsterdam. It seems to be the sort of zany, madcap behavior Americans are supposed to get up to in Amsterdam, so I've posted it first. From here on out, folks, it's going to be museums, cute waitresses, egg and cheese sandwiches,deep-fried meatballs, and strange signs and portents, so get your yuks in now. The whole rest of the time, I was a well-behaved ambassador of taste, humility and good manners.

Naturally, I blame Jan.

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