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Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Did I Find the Sally Ann?

My first real view of the Hague, or Den Haag, as it's known in Dutch was from the Central Station.  It was more modern than the classy brick edifice of Amsterdam's equivalent, lots of glass, concrete and the ubiquitous colours of blue and yellow, on signposts and time tables, ticket kiosks.  As I came downstairs into the main concourse from the bus platform, I was confronted with what amounted to the morning rush hour, which was a thin crowd boarding outbound trains, most probably for the commercial district to the north east that was spread out among the airport.  The Hague is a much smaller city even than Amsterdam, which at three quarters of a million people is smaller still than Toronto, but with its unbelievable density and swelled tourist population always seemed a much larger place than it was.  So considering that many professionals who live in the Hague work in the city, the outpouring of citizens to other municipalities for work is slight.  Union Station at eight thirty in the morning is an absolute madhouse compared to what I was seeing just now.  My first priority was to find where the Canadian Embassy was.  To do that, I'd need a phone book.  Internet cafes, provided I could locate one, would cost me money I couldn't spare.  But mobile phones had recently become the ultimate vogue, to the extent of replacing home telephones, so coming across a payphone, and hence the Gouden Gids was a rare prospect. Not having a map was also a bit of a drawback.  By now, I could navigate Amsterdam with little worry, but this was altogether removed.  Eventually, I referenced the Embassy's address, and attempted to find my way there by means of devolving my location from the maps at tram stops.  This was made a trifle hard by the inconvenience of the designers not putting a "you are here" or its Dutch equivalent on the map itself, so this prospect took me sometime.

Bouncing around the district that has many nations representative presence I saw countless different embassies, but for the life of me couldn't come across my own.  It wasn't until that mysterious period of time between late afternoon and early evening when I finally came across it, by means of a side street that contained about ten numbered addresses.  My country's flag, ostensibly displayed from the rooftop was flying at half mast.Pierre Elloitt Trudeau had passed away.  I presented myself to the gate, and was allowed to pass into the courtyard, and into the severely white manse.    Some sort of functionary was dispatched to speak with me.  I told her that I was a Canadian who hadn't the means to return home.  I don't think I divulged the details of the Pinocchio like way in which I came to be in this state, but I imagine they get frequent visitors like me.  As it was, the office was about to close for the day, so there was nothing they would be able to do in the meantime.  I should return tomorrow, I was advised.  Did I have a place to stay?  Well, fuck, no, I was broke.

Well, that, or words to that effect.  Sophie, the dark haired woman of an accent I couldn't quite place, then gave me the business card of the Salvation Army, and informed me that they may have a place set aside for just such an emergency.  It was then that I was shown the door.  With the address of the "Leiger des Heils" in my possession, I set out to now find them.  It was coming on to that settling period of day, when a natural wistfulness for a couch and evening television descends on the world, and along with it the hopeful glow of electric lights beaconing from well warmed homes to shelter those fortunates for another chilly evening.  Having none of that, I had to press on.

While I did, I thought about the Dutch name for the institution I was trying to find.  Apparently the words translate more or less directly, but to me it always sounded like a pretty cool name for a motorcycle club, coming to my mind as "Legion of Hell."  Which in any respect would be a departure from their current mandate.

It was that I walked back to central station, and was able to get direction from a porter, who was really quite helpful in getting me towards the right tram to take.  Here's where I broke the law.  Again.  A lot of Dutch public transit works on the honor system, relying on the traveler to validate their own ticket, purchased ahead of time, using a machine provided.  If you have no intention of doing this, there is little to stop you from hopping on except for a Russian Roulette system of roving inspectors who will board trams at random and issue fines for not paying a fare.  Determination borne of necessity meant that I took the risk to ride a main line tram from the station to the sea coast, to walk that would have taken nearly two hours, but my luck held and no inspectors boarded.  In future, I would learn that their appearances are quite infrequent, like the Thought Police of Orwell, the mere suggestion that they exist is attempting to act as the basis of deterrent.  The system is widely flaunted by tourists and locals alike.

The destination of the coast was just the first leg, and it was so that I did have to walk along the edge of a wildly grassy series of dunes down the road that led to what I hoped without trace of irony would be a salvation.  When I saw it, it was golden.  My feet had ground for too long on tarmac and cobbles, weighed down with my pack for the better part of two days.  I`d had nothing to eat, little to drink and almost no sleep. The building, set in a lee between two small hills had lights pointing out into the descending darkness, dappled with the moisture of the sea air, leading it to assume a cloudy, dreamlike silhouette.  I pushed myself forward the last few steps and into the soothing warmth of their reception.  I had made it this far, and felt that bit of success, but I had no idea how much further I`d have to go.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Difference Effort Makes

I'm just about to get near to the point where the circle will close, and I will be a hungover wreck, dressed far too good for a Friday morning, laying eyes on Liliy for the first time and feeling immediately a deep and abiding affection.soon after.  Before that could happen, before someone reached into m despair and pulled me along to my feet, I would have a crucible of fatigue, hunger, no cigarettes and the most demoralising place I'd ever make my bed.

It's about to get heavy, and if you've been following, you know that it's been fairly upbeat, anecdotal, at times, I'd like to think witty, mildly shocking and fun.

Starting to walk that path with my last post The Hague Takes a Sunrise Well, and I'm going to have to get some real soul searching in to uncover a very rough time in my life, much of which I don't relish having to impart, but I've started this, and I think I need to see it all the way through, so I'm glad you're here along with me.

Instead of running right into it, I'm going to take a bit of a style break and put down some poetry, for you guys to look at while I chase the scarecrows of insistent memory.
Memories of Ashes
I have a coffee can
on the windowsill
in the hallway at the top of the stairs
It's where I keep my cigarette butts
I had a lid for it,
So as not to soak the
Faded yellow paint
With the reek of dead smoke
but it rolled out the open window
and has since been lost in the snow

What Makes Me Tick
I would love to be
The man she knew I could be
If I ever thought I'd find
The clarity of mind
To discover-
 What makes me tick
With a Rorschach test,
My mind is a mess
I keep seeing butterflies
Fall to their death.
I think you'll find
If your only to kind
Inside my mind
What makes me tick

Lift High
Well, don't ask me how I feel right now
I'm feeling fine
Background lights set me aglow
If it could happen all the time
Seems I can't keep my feet from under me
Head hands towards the door
Supplement my mind for feeling free
Until fate shows me the door
Lift High, Lift High, Lift High
My consciousness
Wondering Why

Why isn't electricity free?

Considering Charles Darwin married his first cousin, d'ya think there were somethings he didn't understand about his theory?

Okay, so What Else You Got?

Possibly the world's worst pick up line, the joke about the two leprechauns and the Mother Superior that got a huge laugh from all the Irish lads, even when I was doing the wee funny voices that could certainly have been misconstrued.  One of their number, Neil looked, stoic and bearded like the Messiah himself, and we all took to referring to him by name as such.  It wasn't just that Neil had such a  resemblance to classical images of the Saviour.  That, and he was a carpenter.  I shit you not.  The Columbian guy who's name I don't recall passing a joint to Neil and saying "Jesús humo."  Five minutes before, Neil had just confided me that he was a thief.  I didn't think much about that until later, when I reached into my pack of smokes to find my third and final little pink mystery had gone.

The morning staff at the Globe had to ensure that people were either staying or going so they could have an accurate account of available beds.  If you hadn't paid in advance or left notice of your leaving, they had to find you to get money or have you check out.  One obviously harangued Scots women of late middle years was finishing up her list for our room. I wasn't at my bed, in the little alcove, but with a whole bunch of people at the far end of the front room.  Not finding me, she called out in an impatient tone "Is Samuel in this room?"  My blood froze, as she sounded exactly like my mother and I couldn't for the life of me imagine how she'd managed to track me down.  She later apologised for her curtness, and I let her in on my private joke, leaving the hotel on a positive note with at least someone.  I could only hope to make it back to claim my luggage, having just stranded myself in the Hague.  The more I thought about it, the more I realised I had not divided my kit very well at all.  Just a couple of pairs of trousers, next to skin, a few sets, bomber jacket, pullover and a couple of shirts.  I had a handful of cigarettes, and about ten guilders in cash.  There was a distinct feeling that I was fucked.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hague Takes a Sunrise Well

The forest was damp, dark and cold, much as to be expected for an early October in Northern Europe.  How I came to be here stems directly from my experiences at the Globe just the day before.  I had already began to become more and more aware of my declining financial situation, but the mystery of not being able to determine my remaining funds electronically meant that my funds would dry up before I would know about it.  This had just come to be and the effect was jarring.  Having been a bit reckless with my remaining cash, I wound up rather snookering myself.  All at once I hadn't enough cash for another night's stay, and precious little otherwise.  From having such a free and careless experience, I had to kick in to a sense of survival in very short order.  I had been getting on very well with the Irish lads, but found that my developing situation allowed me to so painfully envy the fact that they were returning to jobs and family and their regular lives that I turned to despise them for it.  Not being able to foresee how I'd manage to haul all of my luggage to destinations unknown, I stripped my kit down to bare essentials, packed into my old army patrol bag (that indispensable knapsack, designed to carry protective equipment to counter NBC threats)and moved out by foot along a bike path leading away from Amsterdam to the west.

The going was easy, nice and level, but I hadn't figured out exactly where I was going to.  That being said, I only had the vaguest of ideas what lay in the direction I traveled.  I knew, just about, that if I continued to walk I'd eventually bump into France.  So, for a brief period as I trudged along into the afternoon was that I would undergo a forced march, attempting to make Marseilles so that I could volunteer for the Foreign Legion.  It wasn't until it began to get dark and I still hadn't come along anything other than endless Dutch countryside that the folly of being able to make such a destination brought me back to the here and now.  I had fetched up alongside the main rail line that drove out to Haarlem, where the houses became very sparse and a large wood drew away northwards.  Taking towards the shelter of the close growing trees, I pushed into the copse far enough in that I could easily find my way out, but also not be seen from the road or tracks.  I did this as I didn't know whether or not I was trespassing, that and I intended to light a fire and I had no desire to alarm anyone.

As it was, I couldn't get one to light.  There was plenty of small twigs to kindle, and I had paper torn from a notebook, all placed in a little break I had dug out with the heel of my boot.  There was little wind, but I just couldn't manage to catch the twigs, and only had a few lively seconds of my paper igniting and crumbling to ash in the mesmerizing way it does.The one thing I did have in an ample enough quantity was a very large back of bright purple weed.  It had been discovered in an empty locker by a rather incredulous fellow who had just rented one of the beds back at the hotel.  Intending to claim the locker for his bags, he called out in a rather shocked tone "Somebody's left drugs in here!" as if he feared he would fall to blame for it.  I was rather amused to the naive nature of the guy.  Didn't he know where he was?  I told him not to worry about it, and that I would take care of it.  By which I took possession of the bud, all about half an hour before I left that morning.

Perhaps a bit unscrupulous, but it was quite probably left behind by someone leaving the country and being sensible about their own return to reality.  I have done the same myself on such occasion, generously proffering the remains of my stash before flying out.  Hell, I've even had no choice at times but to throw it away.  So I smoked a fair amount, and that settled my nerve a bit.  It was, though, growing cold.  I wrapped myself up in as much clothing as I could and tried to get some sleep.  I don't think I got very much at all, and decided to push on, as if I could keep moving, I could keep warm.

I pressed on along that seemingly endless bike path, passing small industrial lots and allotment gardens.  As it got early enough, and the sun began to return, I heard for the first time in my life roosters greet the dawn.  It was just about then I decided to take a break, and had found a bench by a bus stop to cool my heels for a few minutes.  I looked at the time table posted and found that the bus intended for this stop had as its destination the Hague.  An almost sublime clarity of thought struck my at that point.  The Hague was an international city, the host of foreign embassies.  I would present myself at the Canadian consulate and try to find out what my options were to extract myself from my dilemma.

A short while later, what must have been the first bus of the day emerged from around a bend in the road, and drew up along me.  My meager remains of liquid funds were greatly reduced for the ticket, but it was worth being in a nice warm bus and being whisked into the city that would become my home for the next six and a half weeks, and change my life forever.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Deeper Into the Rabbit Hole

I was at my local mall today, in line at the Mediterranean place at the food court, and I almost, almost bought a felafel.  In my life right now, I'm struggling to get by.  There's been no steady work for nearly a year and other elements of my existence seem to be crumbling at my feet.  Thinking about felafel, and the absolute value (read: nutritive) for money put me in mind of my struggles of eleven years gone by and what a comfort a felafel had been to me then, a tightly packed healthful delight, presented to me by absolute kindness at a time when I didn't know where my next meal would come from.

I'm not at that particular point in this narrative to allude to more than that.The thought of the similarity between my then and now has brought me back to the cathartic exercise of finally getting the whole, unadulterated mess out to the world to receive my judgement.

I didn't have the felafel anyway.  I got a beef shwarma and let my thoughts continue to drift.  On the top end of things, I'm still posting to outer space, so it doesn't quite matter how loud I scream.  I prefer to believe I will attract a following based on the merit of content I have generated myself, rather than like many others who think promoting someone else's wit (reddit, a lot of that is you) will reflect well on them somehow.  But that ain't going to stop me from lazy attempts to guerrilla market myself.

Which now brings me tho where I left off in tis little tale of mine.  I had just become acquainted with the Irish bachelor party and was about to have my first genuine experience with the drug ecstasy.  To start with, drugs are easy to come by in Amsterdam, particularly in the Red Light District.  Congregating along the foot bridges over the canals are these nefarious characters who will sidle up to you and in hushed tomes pose single word interrogatives.

"Coke? Heroin? Ecstasy?"  Meaning, of course they wish to sell you what they would have you believe are the items mentioned, but often aren't.  The difficult part is getting rid of them once they get their claws into you.  A polite refusal, even an emphatic "No!" will only inspire them to change tack and just outright solicit for money.  My best advice, should you find yourself in the District for a touristy look is to approach these bridges with a solid resolve and pass through without acknowledging these folk, as if they didn't exist.

So when James, one of the party goers, and the Best Man, if I recall claimed to have found a source for some "yokes" as he called them, I being part cynic and part experienced denizen of this neighborhood, was a fair bit skeptical.  This doubt was being challenged by the indefatigable nature of my inner drug lust that James might just have gotten on to something.  So, money changed hands and I was presented with three tiny pink pills that for all the world looked like those inoffensive pills you give to small children for headaches.  No harm in at least trying now that I had spent the money was my logic, and threw one back in my gullet straight away.

Not long after, we all decided to hit a club to go dancing, and during the walk down the main drag of the Damrak, while pulling on various joints being passed around and putting holes in my grey matter with a product sold in sex shops called "poppers" I couldn't actually determine if I was getting anything off that little pink tablet.  So I took another.

As it happened, security at the club we went to didn't want to allow James to get in with the Swiss Army knife he had in his pocket, what he claimed was there neglectfully.  He offered to leave it with the doorman and collect it afterward, but they had no ability to check personal items.  Everyone else had already gone in save James and myself, all his mates had paid their cover and were in for their good time.  Out of mot wanting to see him left out, I nobly offered to care take his knife and meet them all back at the hotel later.  I really didn't mind, as I don't much go in for clubs in the first place.

Having little else to do, I returned to the room, packed my little pipe full and blew my fucking mind, resigning myself to sleep.

I think it was about half an hour later that I woke up with a hard-on that threatened to cause the rest of my body to go anemic.  A single thought, an overwhelming drive that surfaced was the immediate need to get laid.          For once in my life, I was in the right area of town to make that a definitive possibility.  It were not to be, however, as in my addled state, I couldn't recall where I put my trousers.

Even self relief was denied me based on the communal nature of the room I inhabited.  I didn't have to wait too long for some form of stimulation as a Kiwi couple had just arrived, which must have been hell on them as it was the middle of the night and the only person who was somewhat coherent was me, a tweaked out Canadian who couldn't get out of his bed lest he embarrass himself with a fairly obvious erection.  They would have slept, but they were just passing through with an early connecting train the next morning, so they at least humoured my need to interact loquaciously with fellow members of my species.  There followed hours of in depth, witty, urbane and intelligent conversation of which I can not recall a single word.  However, I still have, somewhere among my possessions the fellows business card (he was a body builder and sponsored by a nutrition supplement firm, an airport baggage handler by day) which we turned into a pass for a free collect call should I ever find myself in Christchurch.

They left early in the morning and I never saw them again.  But let me tell you this:  In the interceding hours, I don't think i have ever felt as good (in this case, I should spell "good" with about fourteen O's) as I did.  Nothing was wrong with the Universe, everything chimed in perfect order, and I was at the centre of it all.  I could easily see why people liked the stuff so much, and I was really looking forward to trying it again, only this time, planning out a little better so that I might be fully clothed when the grip to find a sexual outlet overtook me again.  Sadly, that wasn't to happen.  Come back soon and I'll tell you why.