Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Netherlands, Part Five

So easy. Just follow her, he said, sliding the envelope across the table that day in the Denny’s in Fort Worth. I didn’t ask what it was all about. Didn't have to. I recognized the woman's last name. It had been in the papers lately. Messy divorce, millions at stake. Millions at stake, of course, meant someone, in this case the oil-rich bastard, had plenty of cash to throw around. And if some of the moolah landed in my direction—well ...

So I flew to London. Stayed in a flat across from hers, it had all been arranged. Someone else had the day shift. At night I took over. The first night, nothing. She stayed home. Next night, she took the Tube. I followed her. She met some guy in the OXO Tower. I took pictures with my cuff-link camera, followed her back home. Then on the third night, Easter Monday, I followed her again to the Tube station. Mind the gap, mind the gap. I was standing two people behind her. I could hear the train approaching. Suddenly someone shouldered me aside, heavy guy, dark complexion. Turkish? Mind the gap. In an instant he pushed her onto the tracks. Everyone screamed and—

I woke up. I've been dreaming, I realized. A dream noir. So realistic, such detail, and strangest of all, I had been someone else. Not a trace of my own identity. Weird.

Clop clop clop clop. Was I hearing horses? I got out of bed, looked out the window and seconds later a team of Clydesdales appeared below, pulling a wagon full of Heineken kegs.

I'm in Amsterdam, I thought. I'm me, Mack White, not some character in dream noir. And now I'm rested, and hungry, and ready to find something to eat and see Amsterdam without having to haul around my luggage.

It was raining, not too heavy but heavy enough for an umbrella, so I brought mine. I walked to nearest main thoroughfare, Stadhouderskaade, and began looking for a restaurant. The rain let up. It was cold, but a pleasant walk nonetheless. Now and then I would stop to examine a menu posted outside a restaurant or pub, then decide it wasn’t what I wanted or cost too much. No problem. I was in no hurry, even though everyone around me was in a hurry. It appeared to be the afternoon rush hour in Amsterdam, bicycles whizzing along the bicycle paths, street crowded with cars and the trams, and the trams packed with people and the sidewalks packed too, a big thrilling hustle-and-bustle.

At some point, I found myself strolling along a stretch of wide-open sidewalk uncrowded by pedestrians, hands in pockets, taking my leisurely time, when a bicycle shot past me so close the bicyclist’s sleeve brushed mine. He glanced back at me, frowning. Then I heard shouts behind me. I turned and saw five bicyclists coming towards me at a high rate of speed. Oh my god! I’m in a bicycle lane!

I jumped out of the way just in time, feeling foolish and cussing myself. For the past two days, in Rotterdam and Utrecht, I had followed my hosts Marcel and Albo’s example and stayed off the bicycle paths. But now, here I was on my own in Amsterdam with no examples to follow, and though I knew to stay off the bicycle paths, it had not become a habit to me yet. Thus, it was all too easy to forget and stray into a bicycle path. Which is most unwise, given the speed with which the bicycles travel and their numbers. An accident would be very bad. Bad, bad, bad. Don't do that again, I told myself.

I decided on a Turkish fast food place at the corner of Kinkerstraat and Nassaukade. It was called The Corner. I ordered The Corner Burger. The fries came with mayonnaise. Now, where had I heard of that before? Ah yes, Pulp Fiction.

While eating, I came to a decision about something. Ever since I had begun planning this trip, I had wondered if I should check out a coffee shop. At one time in my life, there would not have been a moment’s indecision. Yes, I absolutely would indulge in "Dutch coffee." But, over the past five or six years, I have not done a great deal of grass. Oh, I’ll smoke a joint if it’s offered to me, but I don’t use it regularly anymore. Long list of reasons, the main ones being: It costs too much, finding a connection is a pain in the ass, it’s one more thing the cops can use to fuck you over, and is it something I really need?

But, in Holland, those reasons don’t apply. You can walk right into shop and buy it for not too terribly much, smoke it right there in public, carry it around with you, and never worry about the cops.

So that took care of those reasons, but there was another one: The panic reaction I sometimes experience when I do grass. It happens, of course, because I don’t use it often, therefore don’t have the tolerance I once did. And the panic, or paranoia, is particularly pronounced if the grass is super-potent.

A few months ago, for instance, some friends offered me a superb, high-grade smoke. Then we walked to a Mexican restaurant. On the way—YIKES!!! I thought I was going to leave my body. But I didn’t want to leave my body! What if I couldn’t get back in?! I was just about to ask my friends to carry me back to the house and call 911(come quick, he's about to have an out-of-body experience!) when we arrived at the restaurant. Good food and conversation with friends brought me back to Planet Earth and I was able to enjoy myself.

But here in Amsterdam, I was not with friends. I was alone among strangers in a foreign country, already homesick for Texas and Diane, and to make matters worse, all the grass here, not just some, all of it is super-potent—a perfect recipe for a panic reactioni that could reach epic proportions and maybe kill me. Could I handle it?

Well, I decided, I’ll never know if I don’t give it a try. I finished my fries and mayo, and went across the street to a little store to buy a lighter and some papers. It was getting dark and starting to rain again …