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Friday, September 17, 2010

On Irishmen and Bicycles

I was back in Amsterdam, returned from my three day sequester in Arnhem, standing in the forecourt of Centraal Station amidst a sea of bikes.  The Dutch love bikes, of that there's no doubt.  Every town has extensive bike paths, separate traffic signals at intersections for them and every bus and rail station has a vast amount of space set aside for bike racks.  The most frequent petty crime in Holland is bicycle theft.  At times, not even the whole bike will be stolen and Amsterdam lamp posts are often decorated with the remains of a securely locked frame, the tires, gears and handle bars having been stripped clean.  Because of this, Netherlanders typically go in for one type of bike, a utilitarian number with a single gear and coaster brakes.  A flashy Schwinn or Raleigh would only result in a heavy investment in thin air.  All bikes in Holland, then, are essentially the same, which as an effort to deter thieves from your bike as it is no better or worse than any other to be stolen also makes recovery of property difficult.  Fleur, the staffer at the Brinker had hand painted her bike with a multiplicity of colourful  blossoms and vines.  It personalised her property, and no self respecting thief would want to be caught trying to make a getaway on such an eyesore.  As for the Brinker, it was that hotel, and not the bike farm in front of me I was considering.  I wasn't sure if I was going to head back there or try to book another hostel.  The VVV was just across the way, beyond the tram stops, but I hadn't made my way there yet.  I suppose I had stood out with my luggage at my feet looking the lost tourist long enough for Avi to approach me.

With dark, dense curly hair, a ragged looking wool sweater and fashionably torn jeans, he appeared to my initial assessment as too clean to be a beggar, but too disheveled to be up to much good.  I put myself on guard, and surreptitiously put my foot down on my duffel's strap to make a bag snatch on his part a difficult notion.

"Do you have a hotel?" he asked

"No."

"Well, you must come to the Globe.  I am Avi, I will take you.  Here."  He thrust a business card at me from the stack in his left hand.  It advertised The Globe Sports Bar and Hotel and promised a discount on a nights stay.  Avi was a runner.  Many youth hostels take on itinerant workers, travelers who need to earn a bit of money while living abroad.  In some places, the bar staff, kitchen and housekeeping are mostly made up of these working holiday makers whose compensation is usually not much more than room, board and a pittance of cash per week.

I had done much the same in London the year before, spending six weeks as a live in barman at a working class pub in Northolt.  These schemes are often illegal, allowing the business owner to maximise profit by keeping labour costs low.  If I figured my wage at The Furrow plus estimated cost of room and board against hours worked I was making less than a minimum wage, not to mention the owner not having to submit taxes and benefits on behalf of these migrant workers.

Runners were much of the same, but their job tended to be commission based.  The idea was that they'd hang out at the train station and offer accommodation at their hotel and receive cash for each paying guest.  The card with the discount was numbered and could keep track of an individual runner's pull.  Avi would probably have to bring a half dozen guests to the Globe just to pay a night's accommodation.

"Sounds alright," I said, still a bit cautious.  It would not be uncommon to be led down an alleyway on the promise of a cheap hotel only to be set upon and separated by force from your belongings.  "I'll follow you."

Avi nodded, and moved off quickly, forcing me to shoulder my duffel in a snap and shuffle after him.  "I could carry your bag, if you like," he cheerfully offered.  Not on your fucking life, I thought, explaining to him I had been in the Army and could carry my own.  That, and I didn't want to be obligated to tip him.

"Ah, yes, the army.  I am Isreali, and I should go to army, but I will not."  The statement neatly encapsulated Avi's raison d'etre in Amsterdam.  He was a latter day draft dodger.

Now, how best to describe The Globe?  I hit Trip Advisor to refresh my memory.  I'm not going to pretend that it was either suave or well appointed, the place is a dive and a hole.  I don't however, have any stories regarding vermin, which seems to be the most current complaint.  In the past ten years, it seems The Globe has backslid from an already low standard.  Beds were rented on a premium based on the time of week.  On a Thursday, your 35 Guilder bed appreciated in value 15 Guilders the following night.  Comfort and customer service were as absent here as they had been at the Brinker.  Clearly a money making venture alone, I noted that the only change in pricing between 2000 and when I came back in 2002 was replacing the Guilder symbol with that of the Euro, effectively doubling the rate.  The bar was open twenty four hours a day, the rooms had no locks and it was located in as shady a neighborhood you could ask for in Amsterdam.  Right on the edge of the Red Light District, beggars, crackheads and drug dealers were steps away from the front door and in substantial numbers.  I made up my mind to be very careful and keep my wallet and passport close to hand.

The reception was fronted by an older, severe faced woman whom I paid for a bed up to the weekend.  She summoned another staff member to show me upstairs to room number one.  The room was divided in two, a small upper room with four beds and lockers where I would be staying that overlooked the lower room.  Much larger, it ran the length of the building and had twelve bunks.  There was only one shared toilet and shower between us all.  The room wasn't close to being full at the moment, but I was assured it soon would be.  The staff member showing me the room informed me that most of the beds in the lower room were booked for a bachelor party arriving from Dublin the day after next.  The following few days would become a drunken, drug hazed blur, but as I settled into my new space, I hadn't any idea what I was in for.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In A Hurry to Move Further East

I stayed on at the Brinker for about ten days, but there isn't really much I remember in great detail about the latter half of my stay.  Once Sue had gone, and shortly after the Italian girls followed, I was reassigned to another room, the one I had been in having been guaranteed to a single party of six.  My new room was of the same standard, but way in the back corner of the hotel.  This cur down the noise level from the lobby and adjacent bar, notwithstanding the closer a room is to the end of a corridor, the less traffic it gets.  Considering that drunken stoned teenagers and twenty-odds have a habit of being loud, and a select few of those to an obnoxious level, an isolated piece of real estate could be welcome.  Except that by now it was mid week and business had slowed down just enough to be lively as opposed to raucous.

My roommates, I never saw.  They existed as only towels hung to dry on the iron bed frame and the odd piece of clothing left laying about.  My final days in this part of town had grown into a routine.  I would wake up, shower and dress and be gone by nine thirty.  Getting up this early make the queue at reception for re booking the bed a lot easier to manage.  Breakfast was included in the tariff, but I usually went round the corner to the McDonald's right by the busy square for a McMuffin and coffee.  After that, I'd stop at a newstand for an English paper and head to The Dolphins for another coffee and a smoke.  My paper read, and feeling bored, I'd usually head back to the Brinker to read in the bar, have a nap in the early afternoon and get some drinking in after dinner.  Routines are good, but this was one I grew tired of quickly and so made up my mind to leave Amsterdam for a bit. 

This had been my pattern before.  In '99, after my initial four days in the city, guest at the severely bargain priced Bob's Youth Hostel (as an example, you could save a good amount if you were willing to sleep on the floor, avoiding the bourgeois distinction of a bed) the 'Dam had left me overwhelmed an my psyche screamed out for a more pastoral setting.  That year I had headed out to Appeldoorn, a town to the south-east, just about kissing the German border.  In 2000, I opted to head out for Arnhem.  Historically, it holds a lot of affinity for me as it was there that the British First Airborne Division fought and lost a hard desperate battle to secure a bridge over the Rhine in September of 1944.  Thinking that this would be a cool thing o go see, my mind was made up.  Early on my last morning, I packed my belongings, checked out of my room and made my way to the train station.  I'd be back in Amsterdam in a few day's time, but not to stay at the Brinker.  I'd find it again five years ahead and realize that not much had changed except myself.

There is something to be said about being prepared.  The only information I had about Arnhem's part in the war had been taken from the film "A Bridge Too Far."  A grand example of cinema and a fantastic story told well, it is hardly accurate to true history.  At this point in my life, I hadn't even read the book on which the movie was based.  I was going to seek history without knowing where to find it, and what I thought I knew was more likely fiction than true.  Given another seven years and much more thorough research I would return to Arnhem and vindicate my inner historian.  At this point all I could do was book into a tremendously expensive hotel across from the train station and wander aimlessly through a part of the city known as the Old Town.  I admired the Middle Age architecture without even realizing that most of it was reconstructed.  When the war came to Arnhem, it had been destroyed. Fact is, Arnhem was never liberated in the traditional sense. The fighting over the ten day engagement between British Paras and SS Panzer Grenadiers had so completely ruined the town it had to be evacuated, civilians not permitted to return until after the war was over.  It was a Sunday, and the whole place seemed asleep.  The next few days would be relaxing for me, giving respite for the frenzy that was Amsterdam, but not taking true advantage of the opportunity to fully experience Arnhem.

My hotel was far too expensive to stay on at.  One night had cost me near to what one week at the Brinker would have.  On the plus side, I had my privacy which was to be highly sought after following the communal living I'd just been through.  Though, the room was tiny, more like a berth on board a ship than a proper hotel.  I found Arnhem's VVV the next day and asked them to find me something cheaper.  I got a room at the Sports Hotel, part of an athletic complex well outside the centre of town.  After a failed attempt to rent a car, in that the salesman doubted my ability to drive a standard transmission (he was right, by the way), I got a taxi to take me out three and essentially isolated for  two days.  It was refreshing to be on my own, even for that short time, but living in single rooms wasn't something I could do perpetually.  A quiet few days behind me and I was ready to attempt Amsterdam again.  I would have an even wilder and unimaginable time out of this return, experiences that would pale what I'd seen and done so far, and then I would have to face a hard reality. 

I was running out of money. 

I'd arrived in Holland with a fair bit of cash on hand, and had a reserve in my bank account that I had begun to draw against, as well as cash advances on my credit card.  I wasn't keeping track of the money as I got it and had no way of determining how much remained.  Going to the bank machine began to feel like playing the slots, never knowing what the payout would be.  Only a matter of time separated me from carefree traveler to penniless foreigner, but as long as that machine spit bills at me during my morning withdrawals, reality was always something best put off until tomorrow.  I suppose I was ignoring the harsh truth that I would run out of tomorrows, and I hadn't even imagined how I would cope.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lesbians and the Leidseplein Part Three: The One That Actually Deals With Lesbians in the Subject Matter

I'll say that the Hans Brinker rarely disappoints.  They set the expectation of high standards purposefully low, so any good that comes from your stay is really treasured.  With the constant turn over, and being a favorite stop for on again off again tours, the wait is never long before there was a whole new crowd, all ready to drink and smoke as much as possible as they are only there for a few days.  Everyone is there for a party, and that's just fine.  The only other place I've heard of that's remotely as pure fucking awesome is The Clown and Bard in Prague.  I've never been, but the word of mouth is fantastic.

Along with the large groups were pairs and single travellers.  After the weekend came to a close, the English boys headed for home.  Now on my own and seeing no need to take my custom elsewhere, I was booked into a six bunk dorm that was home, for the time being of some of these odd socks.

A pair of Italian girls shared the rack across from my bed.  It turned out they were from the far north, on the Alpine border with Austria, and spoke German.  Only one spoke any English of note and conversations were difficult at best.  I'm sure they were nice enough and they did invite me out to go bong smoking or some such thing, but I could only think about not being able to have a good chat.  Fortunately my upstairs neighbor was a delightful, sweetly attractive Kiwi called Sue.  She was half Maltese, and had skin of the sun-kissed, deep brown eyes and could pack away pints without destroying her curvy, leggy, athletic form.  What a cool chick.

The rooms at the Brinker offer little joy.  The walls are white plastered concrete, bare concrete floors, sets of old, banged about lockers, the three sets of bunks and the separate white tiled bathroom.  I was under the impression it had another function before becoming a hotel.  I thought perhaps it may have been a hospital, but now rather fancy it was a barracks.  I've stayed in, and have heard of a few former prisons in use as youth hostels, but I discount this notion in the case of The Brinker.  It's in far too public a place, and could never have been a secure building.

You could, however, billet reservists, who would then have the large public square to drill on.  It makes so much sense to me.  I've written a review on Trip Advisor, but it's too early to tell whether they'll publish it.  The action is not much more than another small grade stunt to get my name out there. 

Sue and I started in drinking early on, palling up with two Aussie blokes, one a florist here on buying business, and another I can not rightly recall.  In the early afternoon we all headed down the street to The Dolphins, a relaxing dreamy little coffee shop that is a pleasure just to hang out in, breath the air, take on caffeine and THC while the hours while away.  This was back before all this progressive crap: the smoking ban and the mushroom prohibition.  Time was the Smart Shop Conscious Dreams, with the chill out lounge across from the hotel sold at least six different varieties of 'shroom.  I had bought some earlier, and wasted my money on a sham product labeled "herbal ecstasy".  If it were anything, it wasn't powerful enough to be detectable above my constant inebriation.  The mushrooms would be different altogether, and with patience, I would finally get a real E buzz.

The four of us made it back to the Brinker in time for its famous happy hour.  Drinks on the half, breaking every now and again to smoke a blunt in the darkening light of a late summer's eve.  I began to really dig Sue, but there was also Fleur, a curly mopped redhead of a dynamic energy and fine figure, who was on the hotel staff.  We had chatted earlier in the day as I sat at the bar reading Joe Sacco comics I'd bought from the store a few doors down.  English books were hard to find but the ones they did have were superb.

Now that she was off work, Fleur was just as into the party as the rest of us, and I were feeling fine myself.  It was a great night so far, and I was hanging out with two very fine women.  The sun had long since gone down, I remember, we had all been down to the stuffy little club they had in the basement.  There I was, on the restive little street, many hours gone, pulling on the last fire of the evening.  Movement caught the corner of my eye, and turning my head I saw Fleur leaning in towards Sue, who had her back against the building's wall.  Perhaps a little presumptive at first, edging on forceful, Fleur split Sue's lips with hers and playfully plunged her tongue into her startled open mouth.  The initial shock over, Sue fell into the kiss and explored Fleur in a precociously sensual way.  One of the hottest things I've ever witnessed.

A little disappointed in my luck, I finished up my smoke and took myself to bed, after Sue suggested I do so once they caught me staring.  Later on, Sue got back to the room and related her experience to me.  She had never been inclined to experiment with her own sex, and Fleur, who turns out to be a card carrying Sapphyte

Sue was off and running the day after next, going to visit family in Malta.  I was offered the chance to go with her, accommodation would have been taken care of.  It was an intrigue, but I really couldn't afford to go.

We spent the next afternoon stoned in the park near the Van Gough Museum.  A man approached an outdoor cafe on a bicycle.  He was dressed in a green and orange superhero get-up, including mask and cape; a guitar was slung across his back.

Dismounting, he announced to his new audience that he was "Superman, the one song singer."  True to his word, he played and energetic number, then passed around the hat.  In no time, he was back on his bike, and gone from the scene.  Yep, Amsterdam can be like that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lesbians and the Leidseplein Part Two: The Meat Market

At this point, I can still rely on the complete loyalty of my readership, all none of them.  That's fine, I suppose, expectations for this one blog of millions to be picked up and ran with by some kind of mass following is absurd.  But, curious to know the exact moment that this this anonymous series of postings will generate some response, I have been vanity searching my own url.  I don't believe that this kind of self interest is rare.  I was surprised to find the top search return is an ambiguous ad site that picked up on one word I used in a tweet trying to promote this column.  The word was "sociopath", and I had made reference to this nature being inherent in the playing of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.  It's kind of neat to see one's own words coming up on an unrelated website for the first time, if only on a site that's trolling tweets for key words for their own purposes of supporting sponsored as space.  Even with this, I can't tell whether or not anybody has leaped from this page to my blog even out of remote curiosity.  I haven't the slightest idea how to track my own site hits.

I will keep at it though, and have a perhaps misplaced faith that zero will become one, then two and multiply exponentially from there.  It's not, I believe, beyond what anyone else who starts a blog is hoping for.

My first few nights at the Brinker were relatively decent, I remember downing pints at the Hard Rock Cafe with the English boys I roomed with, but not much sticks out in memory save a couple of details.  The first being the one night that the four of us walked up from the Leidseplein to check out the Red Light District.  I had seen it before, the time I has been to Amsterdam the previous year.  It's a curious place to see coming form a culture of certainly different morale views.  Prostitution exists everywhere, and more than likely if you live in a large enough city, your local knowledge will include where night workers tend to congregate, even if there is no interest personally of making practical use of that information.  The place where my army regiment met for parade nights lies on the cusp of one of these areas in my home town, and while I don't know of any of my army buddies going out to pick up, we would often entertain ourselves by dragging chairs from the mess to the back parking lot to watch the girls as they plied their trade, passing lewd comments and wagering amongst ourselves as to who would be the first of these girls to get a "date".  We were, quite accurately in hindsight making sport of personal tragedy, both on the part of the prostitutes and their johns.

To see this all so overtly on display, and for it to be regulated by the government is too bizarre a concept to pass up seeing.  Going in a group lends an interesting dynamic as you can't help wondering who, if any of you, would drop the analytical pretext and go ahead to enter one of the booths if he were sure nobody was watching.  It couldn't only have been me.

About fifteen minutes of walking through the two or three blocks of the District, and along the narrow connecting streets, all that needs to be seen is.  After that, it's just more of the same and a little wearying.  It's a lot like going to the supermarket just to look at food.  You might even be hungry, but you just can't bring yourself yo buy anything, a tedious prospect that satisfies nothing.

There is however, one or more ways to experience the district vicariously.  One of these, of course is the live sex show.  To get into the theater, a ticket is arranged by a street hustler.  These men, impeccably dressed in tuxedos make quite fluent, if not heavily accented, lurid plugs as to what is on offer on that day's marquee.  Usually it's something along the lines of "Sucking, fucking, pussy taken from behind."  The whole venture is a lot like a mass viewing of pornography with lower production values and no editing process.

I can't remember who among our group suggested it, but a live show somehow appeared on our itinerary.  We bargained with the hustler for a group rate which included a couple of free drinks each and were escorted up a narrow flight of stairs into a cramped theater.

Live sex is a lot like cabaret, three or four unrelated acts separated by a few minutes intermission.  There is usually some attempt at story telling, the one playing as we came in involving a pirate and his reluctant (at first!) captive.  But really, the whole thing is voyeurism en masse, and quite tiring after a bit.  "Oh look, people fucking.  Again."  It's strange how quickly that can become blase.  The only possible element to keep paying attention is the ability to notice that now he's a Sultan and she's the newest addition to his harem.  I was drunk and restless and decided to leave.  Besides, I'd had a far better experience the year before.

When I'd entered the show, an act was already underway (I think I got a discount on my ticket for that), and it was as to be expected, two people fucking in time to a languid beat played out over the theater's stereo.  Then the curtain dropped, the audience applauded and ran to the bar for fresh drinks before the show started up again.

The music that came on was something Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern, chiming strings, a wailing chanter and a hand beaten bassy percussion line.  It was the sort of thing to expect a belly dancer to preform to, but much more down tempo, sultry.  The stage had bee lit by candles and a single lithe brunette melted in from stage left in perfect rhythm.  Her dress was gauzy and black, the top just concealing her breasts, the skirt coming to mid thigh and swaying with every movement.  She crossed back and forth along the stage front, moving her body seductively to the music before falling to the floor in the splits and showing the flexibility of her long, shapely legs.  Soon she was nude, and continued to dance, either upright or crawling across the stage surface, the flicker of candles giving an eerie light to her pale complexion.  She was very sexy, and danced really well, but I recall halfway into it that it wasn't anything beyond what I could see at a strip club back home.

That is, until she picked up a candle.  At first, she just writhed along, pouring hot wax on herself, not something that particularly gets my attention, but y'know, whatever.  She then sat facing the audience, gorgeous legs spread, her sex on display and proceeded to insert the base end of the candle into her vagina.  Once in, the wick making her look like the best birthday cake ever, she went through her ground based gymnastics again, ass end up, balancing on her shoulders, legs parallel to the stage before rotating 180 degrees, then falling into a forward roll, and on like this for several minutes.  She stopped, removed the candle, which had remained alight the entire time, and bowed.  She brought the house down.

But here and now, it was just "Oh look, people fucking," so without a word to my companions I stumbled out onto the street.  It could have been a poor decision.  I'd been drinking all day to the point that my vision was compromised, in what could be a very dangerous area with no idea of how to return to the hotel and dressed in the away jersey of my hometown's NHL franchise.  Too drunk to be wary and so obviously a tourist lit a flare above my head for any nefarious character to rob me while not expending a lot of effort.  Fortunately, I was only taken advantage of by an unscrupulous drug dealer who sold me what I still believe was a popcorn seed in place of the ecstasy he promised.  I have no coherent memory of how I managed to return to the Brinker and find our room, but was heart-warmed by the genuine relief of my new friends when they found me there, my disappearance having caused them alarm and concern for my well being.  I guess I shouldn't mind that one of them still owes me money.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lesbians and the Leidseplein Part one: The Hans Brinker Welcomes You

Hans Brinker, I later found out, is the name of the legendary young Dutch boy who is supposed to have saved his village by putting his finger in a leaky dike.  At this point I'm going to not pander to the overt double entendre of incontinent lesbians, and point out that the whole story of the boy is a fable and such a thing never actually occurred.  It's gained so much provenance over the years that you could be hard pressed to prove the fact that Hans never existed when there are buildings named for him, and a statue dedicated to him somewhere.

The budget hotel that bears his name is one of dozens of such types of places scattered throughout the city.  In North America, the term "no frills" as far as value for money could easily be applied.  Set your expectations to what they could be reasonably for paying the equivalent of twenty-five dollars a night while discarding any concept of the service expectations of a hotel should be, and you're on a level playing field with what you're going to get.

Steps away from the Leidseplein, a district on the south end of the downtown core, the Brinker is in a great location amongst Argentinian steak houses, bars, theaters and a large open square that allows buskers and other street performers to ply their trade.  You could also turn around three times and quite easily find half a dozen coffeeshops.

Hop on, hop off bus tours, student groups and other organized travel ventures make great use of the Brinker, crowds of twenty-plus young voyagers arrive every few days or so, overwhelming an already overworked reception before being cut loose on a part of town geared towards youth away from home looking for an explosive time.  I've heard the customer service at the Brinker being described as lacking somewhat, to be polite, completely absent at times to be accurate and downright hostile to be extreme.  What is to be expected when these people are forced to deal with drunk and stoned guests, many of whom are beyond over indulged and reason, at times loud or belligerent.  I'm not blessed with a lot of patience and tolerance myself, and could easily sympathize with the overtaxed staff, who at times were acting more like exasperated babysitters than people charged with running a rooming establishment.  

All I required, and all I got was a bed for when I was no longer able to stand, and a place to read my newspaper in the morning while I waited for the neighboring businesses to open so that I could exchange colorful Dutch notes for smokeable drugs.  I had set my expectations on a low bar, and got what I expected, but in a good way.  The first hostel I had stayed at the year before, Bob's Youth Hostel, had easily led me to believe that one wasn't going to get more then a lumpy mattress on an bunk frame and a bowl of cereal poured out of a communal box qualifying for free breakfast.  I did, however, find aspects to this place that I truly enjoyed.  For one, the hotel had a unique take on happy hour, where they didn't discount the price of individual drinks, but sold you your beverage at a rate of two for one.  This worked well into a limited budget and meant less trips to the bar. 

I had come a rather long way, and was beginning to get the feeling of rationality creeping in.  That unpleasant notion that I'd done something I shouldn't have, and have no way of getting out of.  The only solution, then would be to eradicate my higher consciousness,  and keep myself in a state of inebriation as long as I possibly could.  I set to work on this straight away, and would not let up over the next month, which was as long as my money held out, and what found me stumbling into the Hague in early October with no hope and no cash, and would bring me about to where I now was, overtired and hung over on an early Friday morning, falling in love and burning more bridges.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When are They Going to Get to the Fireworks Factory?

So, this whole creating an alter ego has even led me to do something I swore I wasn't going to do. I got a Twitter account. I justify this by the fact that it's for me, S L Crook, and not me, the actual living breathing human puppeteer behind him. So follow if you will on crooksl@twitter.com

I feel a slight bit unclean in promoting myself by leaving my blog address in random comments sections. Maybe the whole enigmatic nature of doing so will have the desired effect, or perhaps I've just allowed myself to be open to ridicule. Ah, well, who was it who said that any publicity is good publicity? Seriously, who said that, I really don't know.

Getting on with it...

There I sat, on a wood topped stool probably looking a bit worse for wear in the clothes I had put on fresh the day before. May plain white dress shirt and black leather shoes were slightly ill-fitting as I had borrowed both articles from my temp agency handler. Boy was Peit going to be pissed if he knew I was patronizing a coffee shop instead of making all haste to a catering function in Schevinegen.

Muddled with beer and weed from the night before, I was only slightly beyond caring about the opinion of others, particularly my employer. I would need a lot more weed to get to the point of not giving a fuck at all, and making that prospect a lot more desirable would be that the person who would be responsible for delivering this panacea was to become my latest obsession.

That's where I go wrong. My personality is hardwired to operate from one all consuming obsession to the next This defect of character is what was primarily accountable for the whole endeavor that found me, a month before in the city of Amsterdam for the second time in as many years, waiting in a long line at the VVV office, a tourist booking service found just outside the main entrance of Central Station.

The date sticks out in my mind. September 11, 2000, three hundred and sixty-five days before the world really went to shit. My motivation for going to Holland in the first place? Was it culture, history, the beginning of a broad European tour? Nope, I just REALLY like weed. That's it. I'm as shallow as that. I grew tired of having to make an honest effort in life, because even when I tried hard to do the right thing, situations that I had hoped to work out still didn't. My girlfriend had reconfirmed her solidarity to the Pentecostal church, and had resolved to absolve herself of her sinful ways, which included fornication. That was really a shame because she gave terrific head, and still had my Ren and Stimpy boxer shorts. Tongue in cheek attitude aside, I was really torn up about this, I hadn't many friends in the town that I was living in at the time, and felt betrayed by Desiree's lack of ability to form opinions of her own, or at least opinions that would be in concert with her still coming over to my place every now and again to fuck my brains out. 'Twas not to be. I was alone in a strange town, and despising my job which had me trying to separate hard working people from their hard earned money to buy luxury items they didn't need so that I could make my bosses more wealthy.

More and more I felt the need to change from one consuming line of thought (mainly having to do with Desiree's beautiful face, slender body and peach shaped pussy) to another, and getting back to Amsterdam seemed the thing to do. Never mind that the failure of my first trip there the year before had deposited me in the set of circumstances which I was currently finding myself. I honestly lied to myself and told my inner critic that this time, I could make a fresh start of it. I would find work, a place to live and re-establish myself in the Netherlands. I called the process "reverse immigration", returning to my European roots exactly as my parents had come to North America to start a new life here.

The real trick would be to not get too involved in all the drugs and partying that are at the heart of a certain tourist demographic, and I should do alright. An impossible task that would have, on reflection been a lot simpler had I stayed home and set fire to three thousand dollars.

Never mind that I was ill prepared, that I didn't know how to find work, how to become legally eligible for work or that the money I was taking with me a) wasn't really mine to begin with, and b) wouldn't be enough to last me even if I managed to avoid my own inclinations. I was sending myself on yet another fool's errand, but it would be another month, and a month more besides of utter desperation before I would call it quits. That didn't occur to me in the least as I waited my turn to speak to the help desk at the VVV in an effort to find a hotel room.

It was crowded, the line nearly snaking out the door and spilling onto the street. The person ahead of me confessed that he'd had to go all the way to Haarlem for a room the night before, some big function in town had every last room that was reasonably priced booked.

Amsterdam can be like that. I read somewhere once that it has the highest population density in Europe, and that's just counting the people that actually live there. Add in legitimate tourists, red light crawlers and every pot head with a passport, and the place can fill up like Bethlehem at tax-time.

I was nearing the front of the line when I overheard the conversation between three English lads and the desk help. Apparently, the only room they could get near to their budget was a four bed dorm in a backpacker's hotel, but the hotel would only book the whole room, not individual beds, meaning that these fellas would have to pay for an empty bed. I took this as my cue and offered to buy into the fourth bed, effectively jumping my place in line, securing a place to stay for my first few nights, and helping out random strangers. Not a bad triumvirate. The hotel was the Hans Brinker. I'm even going to link to it /www.hans-brinker.com/ mainly because it has to be seen to be appreciated. I could try to describe it, and will as I draw the story out, but nothing can do justice to the self-deprecation the establishment lends to itself in it's own twisted way of promoting it. If I had wanted to find a party hotel, I couldn't have asked for much better, but there is one more that comes to mind that I would stay in a few weeks from this point. But that's just getting ahead of myself.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Sharp Object in Some Kind of Stack

Would you believe it? Publishers and literary agents are beating a path to my door. You wouldn't believe it, and no one could call you a fool. Near as I can tell, I'm completely unread. That's really not surprising. For every Steve Dublanica and Jen Lancaster, there must be a million others blindly stabbing away at keyboards expressing their own insights, observances and opinions. I've read a handful of these, and it's not shocking that they haven't been optioned as legitimate print media. Most of it is just ordinary life told in an ordinary fashion. Who the fuck would even want to read it? Perhaps even if you take into account those blogs of the masses which are actually well written, that's still quite a long reading list. On the most part, even these that could be considered worthy of publication may only have a solid following of a handful, people who are very likely to know the blogger personally. Hardly a leapfrog to immortality there.

Which is where my up-rise into notoriety is stalling somewhat, as I've begun this endeavor as an anonymous blog. As a real person, I don't exist, and lacking that I can't even count on friends to pick up and read these stories.

I've come to the conclusion that I need to invent myself, as far as is virtually possible by giving my alter ego an email account and Facebook page. Let's see how far that gets us. All I know is that when the cheques start coming in, they'd better have my real name on them.

Speaking of names, I actually had to come up with that, having in mind that the "S L" would always remain initials and nothing more, but Facebook outfoxed me yet again. So say hello to Samuel Laughlin Crook.

Just a word of advice if you happen to be joining me at this point, the posts will mostly be sequential so reading from the beginning sue would help to forestall confusion. As for the purpose of the blog itself, I'm relating a number of different stories from my life using a particular series of events that occurred in the fall of 2000 as the central bridge, from which I will digress from time to time to include memories, anecdotes and thoughts as they occur. Please do stick around, it's bound to get more interesting as time goes on. I promise

Friday, August 13, 2010

And So the Story Goes

If you've been reading my last post, and wishing for me to jump right into the next part in the story I'm relating, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to wait a bit. It occurred to me that I'm doing again what I most commonly do in my own writing process. I'm impatient, and want to get right to the driving force, the points that I feel are the most important, while forgetting that the subtlety and nuance of descriptive work are what really holds the story together, and if it's well written, and spun from fine cloth to gold, then I shouldn't worry about holding a reader to the same attention span as my own. If the story's worth it, and told well, it's the pace and setting rather than the main points that will inspire the reader to hang onto the wording, savoring the journey as opposed to the destination.

I'll cop to that cliche, but with all things cliche, there rings a certain truth.

In the span of a week in an alien country where I have little grasp on a complicated language, I had gone from completely destitute, to actually coming a breath away from redeeming myself. At one point, my lowest so far, I had the ability to calculate my assets by rubbing together two coins, 25 and 10 Dutch cents. A habitual cigarette smoker, I was reduced to pulling fag ends from the pavement for a smattering dose of nicotine. It was a harsh reality I couldn't comprehend. The longest I had gone previously without a smoke since I had picked up the habit was the twenty-four hour period I was locked up in an army jail which had been meted out to me as punishment for an AWOL charge some years before.

In this particular week, while I spent the night in a shelter populated by the end of society that doesn't bear thinking about, taking care to double knot my boots to the bed stand so they wouldn't be easily stolen in the night, I had become a registered and legal resident of the Netherlands. I did this by attaining a Social Fiscal Number, which meant that I had the opportunity to work legitimately and not worry about finding what was known as "Black Work", a term that is not racially descriptive, but using the word black in it's negative connotation to imply illegality. A remarkable change of fortune had become me, necessitated by no other option but the will to survive and after a few day's work there was money in my bank account; a sense of relief that the worst seemed to be over. I was about to undo all of that for my fateful decision to have a night out and miss work the next day rather than doing the sensible thing and retire for a good night's rest to take on my obligations the next morning.

The grace in all of this is that smoking marijuana takes all the worry away. This only works of course, if one chooses this method of self medication, if the supply is as constant as possible. The paradox is that it requires the ability to work hard to afford to keep oneself in a state of oblivion, but if one resides in oblivion, you don't worry about working.

So, as I stumbled into this tiny coffee shop in the early morning hours, beginning to feel the remorse of my bad planning the night before, the temptation of smoking myself into a state of not caring was far too much for my fragile self-will to overcome. Had it been just that, I might have been able to fritter away that Friday, and try again fresh the next day, perhaps having a decent chance of salvaging my new job. Unfortunately for me, I fell in love instead. In the years that followed, I tried to tell myself that I wasn't infatuated by Lilly, that the admiration I felt for her was a thing far more noble and Platonic than a romantic attraction. Ten years have gone by and I'm still trying to sell that line to myself. Within the first few moments of meeting her, I was absolutely, desperately in love.

It would have been hard not to be. Physically it was easy, she had a magnificent figure of an age gone by, full curvy hips, an ample bust and creamy smooth skin that I longed to touch in a way that I could sympathize with Lenny and his rabbits. Her face was soft, round and pronounced cheeks, big bright eyes and delicate lips all brought more into attention by the way she had sheared her hair almost scalp short save for two ponytails that fell nearly to her shoulders.

I settled into a stool and awaited her attention, absolutely rapt even though she'd yet to say a word to me. Then, after tending to her other customer, she addressed me, in English that was quietly melodious in only the way an Irish accent could be. I don't nor can I blame her for the events that would follow and lead to my downfall, how could she be culpable? During the next few weeks, as my life began to unravel around me, for my own ineptitude, Lilly was nothing ever more than a kind and compassionate human being. But here I am a decade gone from these events and I still hold the memory in high esteem, she still invades my dreams.

First out of the Box

Well, I haven't quite got the monstrous following from my satirical blog based on my complete lack of political interest, so upon reflection I've decided to go another route.

The problem for me was that I sometimes feel that I haven't lead a life worthy of interest, but reflection on that point has actually proved me wrong. I have done some pretty fun and wild things, but these little adventures I've only ever tossed out as drunken stories to tell, and the fact that most of these adventures I've had have been based on poor decisions or lack of direction makes them seem to me quite pointless from time to time.

Fact is, I quite cherish these memories, and wouldn't change these experiences for anything, despite the setbacks I've taken in life due to my wanderlust. The point of all this is, that I'm pig sick of working dead end retail jobs, and would much rather go to strange and interesting places and relate what I find, who I meet and what stupid things happen to me. I have a penchant for getting into quite the fix every now and again, and besides the trauma it might cause me, it could make for interesting reading. So, off I go to post some tales of my past journeys, hoping against hope to encapsulate enough readers to break what I call the "Warhol Barrier."

Today is Friday, 13th August 2010. It's almost coincidental that I'm starting this blog today, as one of the most wonderful, yet harrowing travel experiences I've had really began on a Friday the 13th. October 13th, 2000 to be exact. It was the first time I met a witch.

As an aside, I've made a little pact with myself. I'd like to be able to get to the place where I met her in time to make the tenth anniversary of what is a monumental event for one person out of seven billion. Not national holiday stuff, sure, but it means a lot to me, and I hope you'll agree once I share the details. (Be patient, I'm getting to it. Or scroll down and skip this bit, whatever.) Problem being is that I'd have to get half way around the world without any money to do so in two month's time, so it is likely to remain stuck in the realm of fantasy.

It wasn't the first time I had been to Holland, that had happened a year previously, when I spent ten days in Amsterdam and quickly had to decamp for London as the frenetic nature of this city coupled with the vast amounts of drugs I was cramming into my system was tapping on the narrow thread my consciousness had on my sanity. There's more to tell about that trip, to be sure, so watch this space.

My return the following year was nothing more than a prolonged desire to escape my own reality. I arrived in Holland on money I had borrowed from my soon to be ex-employer, and had no desire to do anything more than place myself on a downward spiral to destitution. I certainly achieved that, let me tell you. Once again, I spent a great deal of time (nearly three weeks) and all my money in Amsterdam. I couldn't help feeling a little like Pinocchio when he gets stuck on fantasy island instead of going to school. Problem being was that I was already a jackass, so I hadn't far to go.

Once again, I needed to escape this wicked city ('damers who are reading this, please take no offence. It's a lovely city, full of history and culture. It is only through my own vices that make it wicked) and set out on foot in a westerly direction. My first thought was to walk to Marseilles, ostensibly to join the Foreign Legion (and why wouldn't they take me if I completed such a forced march?) I think I was still feeling the effects of a rather strong ecstasy trip from the night before. That, and not being geographically gifted either. It looks like a short distance on a map, but I didn't even have one of those handy. And my liquid assets were the sum total of about eight guilders. That's about $4 to you and me. I wasn't going to make Belgium, let alone France. I had serious doubts about surviving the night by early afternoon. I made it all the way to a little town called Heemstede, and slept rough in the woods just beyond the railway station, looking in envy at the warm light coming from the twee cottages that lined the periphery of the wood. Warm, cozy, food on the table (I hadn't eaten a thing all day.) I was tempted to knock on a random door and ask for hospitality, but thought better of it. I wasn't about to get jacked up for vagrancy. At least, not yet.

The next day, I hopped an intercity bus that just happened to be going to the Hague. My Foreign Legion fantasy quickly melting away to a desire to find my Embassy and beg them to send me home. Instead, I found myself on a footbridge over a canal a few blocks from Central Station realizing the hopelessness of my predicament.

Hell of a first day in town. The thing is, that due to the Netherlands' lax approach to what they call soft drugs, dealing with tourists who overindulge and have emotional breakdowns as a result is probably something of a common occurrence.

A week later, I had work with a temp agency that was fielding me catering jobs, I was able to afford to stay in a hotel and things were looking up. So, after a long day passing out hors d'ouvres at a function for retirees from the chocolate milk factory, I decided to live it up and have a pint before checking into my hotel. Just the one, mind you as I had another gig early the next day.

One pint. Shit, I've never been able to have just one pint in my life.

I don't remember what the final tally was, but by the end of it all, I wound up full of beer and weed, crashing on the couch in the apartment of a friend of a coworker. Probably getting on to two in the morning, I'd have to be up and going by seven if I were to make it on time to my assigned job. Timing alone meant it was unlikely to happen. Add in the factor that I had no clear idea of where I was and even less of how I was going to get where I needed to be, and the whole event became an impossibility.

I did what seemed to me to be the most sensible thing and said "Fuck it," as I struggled to get my bearings leaving a stranger's flat shortly after sunrise, Friday the 13th of October.

Coincidence and lack of direction seem to go hand in hand with me and wandering the eerily empty streets of the Hague had me pull up to a store front I had remembered passing a few nights before. It was a coffee shop of the type that deals in weed and hash, one of many in town. The thing that set this one apart, and what had initially caught my attention was the advertisement in the large front window for a coffee or tea served with a pre-rolled joint for just 7 guilders between seven in the morning and noon.

Seemed like just the thing to do at the time, my record for poor decision making needing to go unchallenged.

And that's when I met Lilly. She was the server, a kind and compassionate woman of remarkable attractiveness, and a witch.

Stick with me and I'll tell you all about it.