Category Archives: Amsterdam, Holland

Annoying Janet

This week Brian’s girlfriend Janet got added to the “People I Annoy” list. Having known each other for a couple of years now, Janet and I get along reasonably well. She has yet to invite me over to a slumber party where everyone stays up all night to eat microwave popcorn, drink diet Pepsi, and watch Brad Pitt movies, but we are also not to the stage where I would find it necessary to hold her hostage in my garage in a convoluted scheme to help Brian discover his long lost true love like in the movie “Saving Silverman.” Mostly because that would make me the character who realizes he is gay and goes on to marry his ex-con militaristic homosexual football coach on stage at a Neil Diamond concert. Like I need to go through that again.

The whole situation started at the train station in France named “Paris Nord”. No, it’s not a typo, it’s French. Translated into English it means “the last stop before Eurodisney.” OK, maybe my French skills aren’t as finely honed as, say, anyone in Europe who hasn’t lost their tongue, but I’m not making up the Eurodisney part. I planned to “rendezvous” (once again, that’s French) with Brian and Janet at the station after their plane landed in Paris earlier that day. As much as they love French train stations, Brian’s parents trusted our navigational skills enough to remain back at the hotel.

By the time I got into town and settled into my hotel room, it was really too late to go out and do anything. I sat down on the bed and did little more than contemplate paying 400 units of the local currency for an 8 ounce water bottle from the “courtesy” bar. (Another French term meaning “we know you are too lazy, scared, or stupid to walk to the store.”)

The next day we toured the city and learned quite a bit about the history of Paris. In the morning we saw the factory where they make French people snooty. Later on in the afternoon we saw the building where all the tacky models of the Eiffel Tower are put together. This assembly process takes place in the very same factory that manufactured the metal beams for the original tower. That was until the 1980’s when the plant ran out of space and had to be relocated in the nice pristine rolling hills of Southern Asia. We finished off the day with a classy dinner. By then it was about nine o’clock at night. Everyone in our “entourage” except Brian and I decided to call it a night. We left the hotel after casually telling Janet “We’re going to hang out for a while.”

Before I go any further with the story, I should point out that Brian and I had not seen each other for the better part of five months. We talked on the phone and exchanged emails, but that doesn’t compare to hanging out in person. Up to that point in our friendship I don’t think we had ever been apart for longer than two or three weeks at a time. We had quite a bit of catching up to do. And to be honest, I really like to gossip about everything– as evidenced by the fact I spent large quantities of time writing about every minute aspect of my life, posting it on the Internet, and then begging the world to read it all.

After leaving the hotel we aimlessly walked around the city. We eventually found our way to the “Louvre” (yet another French word—this means “huge art museum with strange pyramid in the courtyard.) We sat down and talked about random aspects of our lives for “a while.” (I know that’s not French. The quotes are employed as a foreshadowing device. When I tell the story in person I make the “finger quotation mark” gesture.) Eventually the conversation started to focus around our observation that it was no longer dark. This quickly led to a “have we really been out here for seven and a half hours?” discussion.

Anyone who eats a traditional French dinner and then sits outside all night will eventually feel the need to evacuate his or her bladder. Now I’m not saying we peed “on” one of the most famous museums in the world, but I’m not going to say we didn’t pee “in the general vicinity” of said structure. After our immediate biological needs were addressed we headed back to the hotel. I commented to Brian that he wouldn’t even have to wake up Janet in the middle of the night when he got back.

This was completely true, but made largely irrelevant by the fact Janet fell asleep when we left and woke up a few hours (less than, say, seven and a half) later to notice a lack of her significant other in the room. Deciding that we had been out longer than “a while” she became very concerned about our well being. She called Brian’s parent’s hotel room. Brian’s mom was not at all concerned with our being out all night in a foreign country with no explanation of our agenda. She did what she could to put Janet at ease by explaining this is completely consistent with our past behavior.

Despite these reassurances, Janet stayed up the rest of the night envisioning our lifeless corpses floating down the river in the heart of Paris possibly to be violated in some unnatural way by a medieval sewer dwelling monster. In reality I was busy explaining to Brian all the things I saw in Amsterdam floating around in the canal water. And to this day, I can’t quite put into words exactly how that smells.

I don’t know exactly what happened when Brian got back to his room. I, on the other hand, went back to my hotel room occupied only by the bottle of outrageously expensive water I was flirting with the night before. The next morning (45 minutes later) we all met for breakfast. Janet made a point of saying she wasn’t mad at us. While I’m admittedly not an expert on this matter, I’m pretty sure that when a woman specifically says she isn’t mad that implies on some level she isn’t exactly happy either.

After all was said and done, I’m not sure Brian and I really did anything wrong. But we both feel bad Janet stayed up all night worrying about our welfare. Fortunately it didn’t ruin the whole trip. I think I did a decent job of patching things up with her a few days later when I assisted Janet in the fine art of getting drunk on plum wine at a Japanese restaurant in Amsterdam. But that’s another story.

Taco Bell

It’s not uncommon for a young man, overflowing with exuberant lust and apprehension, to write a love song to a woman who has captured his heart. It is very uncommon for a young man to do the same for an international fast food establishment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For the sake of continuity, I’ll start at the beginning.

My love affair with Taco Bell started back in high school. I know I annoyed a lot of my lunch time friends by wanting to go to Taco Bell for lunch every single day. Sometimes the urge to get my hands on a fifty-nine cent bean burrito was so strong that I would totally forget the fact that I was supposed to be in Mr. Eggert’s second period algebra class. To cover my tracks, I never turned in my math homework and often times got in arguments with the teacher and said mean things about him outside of class. To this day, my parents never discovered the true reason behind my insolent behavior.

The relationship only got stronger when I went off to college. And, no, I’m not talking about my high school algebra teacher. Taco Bell franchises were located on both sides of the CSU campus. The pinnacle of my love for Taco Bell occurred when my girlfriend at the time moved into an apartment that was directly across the street from the Bell. I would ride my bicycle over to her place, get enough tacos and burritos for the both of us, and walk up the stairs to her apartment. It was an entire evening of fun for six dollars. If I only realized at the time how perfect my life was back then, I wouldn’t have let it change so drastically. *Sigh*.

Well, back to the story. I finished up with college and my girlfriend and I went on to get a job in my slice of the real world. I was molded into a computer geek which gave me the financial resources to eat fast food at will. In retrospect, I suspect I started to take it for granted. Taco Bell was always there for me and I no longer had to sacrifice anything to enjoy it. But gone too was the anticipation of another reunion. The fire burned less brightly.

Everything changed in 1999 when the company I worked for at the time decided to send me to work in Amsterdam for six months. I moved everything I owned into storage and got on an airplane with nothing more than a backpack and two suitcases. When I got there I quickly discovered some shocking facts about world travel. The weather in other parts of the world is not comparable to Colorado, the customs officials don’t care what you bring into Holland, and, most importantly, Taco Bell is not keeping up with other fast food establishments in their plans for world occupation. During the worst of my withdrawal period, I wrote the following song expressing my feelings:

“Taco Bell, Village of the Damned”

Here is the story that I’ve got to tell
About my favorite place to go and eat– its called Taco Bell

One day I got on a plane and flew across the sea
Unaware of the fate awaiting me
You see they have BK and they have Mickey Dee’s,
But Taco Bell has still yet to be.

So now I’m a long way from home and I just don’t see
That plastic tacky bell calling out to me

Taco Bell, you’re my water in the sand
Taco Bell, the franchise promised land
Taco Bell, you’re my favorite one night stand
Taco Bell, the village of the damned

And so I just can’t sleep at night
Knowing that I’m a world away from that
drive through open twenty-four hour culinary delight

Despite the obvious pain of being away from something so near and dear to my heart, I survived my trip to Holland and came back to Colorado with a deeper and more mature understanding of my relationship with Taco Bell. We started off young and giddy-wanting to be together every day and talking to each other until all hours of the night about anything and everything that came to mind. Things cooled down a bit after that, and the shock of moving half way around the world from her put everything in perspective. These days I take comfort in knowing that when I’m having a bad day I can invite her over, make a big bowl of popcorn, and watch a movie on the couch with my arm around her. We have known each other for so long that we don’t need words to communicate. Taco Bell will always be there for me.

Mom, I want to grow up and be a lounge singer

While laying on my couch the other day I experienced one of those, “What should I be doing with my life” moments. OK, to be honest, I was sleeping on my couch in the middle of the afternoon when some random noise woke me up and caused me to go through the usual questions of self examination such as, “Who am I?”, “Did I oversleep some important television show?”, “Why is there an empty bag of parmesan flavored goldfish resting on my stomach?”, and, “Are strange objects really flying out of the television set at me, or was I just dreaming that part?”

After a few moments of getting my bearings and being reasonably sure I wasn’t being attacked by any of the electronic equipment in my living room, I started thinking about what I’m doing with my life. I got myself through college and I have been a computer geek for the past five years, but I never felt like my destiny was to sit in a cubical debugging computer code while the glow of the florescent lights slowly sucked away my life force.

I do not posses the background in behavioral science to explain this aspect of my psyche, but in my travels around the world I’ve discovered a strange admiration of lounge singers. I can’t imagine they make a lot of money or have hoards of young women following them from show to show, but from my point of view it is a noble profession.

I mentally traced this feeling back to a lounge singer I met when I was on a vacation in Hawaii. This guy’s job was to play music in the pool and bar area of the hotel from four until eight three times a week. The resort was on the west side of the island and the bar faced the beach. Any job that involves sitting near the beach in shorts and a T-shirt watching the sun set three times a week is OK in my book. Sure, he isn’t busy finding a cure for cancer and he probably isn’t contributing much to the Gross National Product, but I don’t think that really kept him awake at night.

I met another lounge singer role model when I spent six months living and working in Holland. Some of the people I worked with recommended this small hole-in-the-wall steak restaurant in the town of Haarlem. On the weekends they had a singer sitting behind the bar singing tunes in Dutch and English. I didn’t understand any of the songs in Dutch. For all I know he was singing the, “We drink Heineken and push annoying Americans into the icky canal water” song. That might explain why everyone would raise up their beers, look at me, and break into uncontrollable laughter as the more athletically inclined individuals threw me into the nearest canal.

I don’t want to come off as one of those “fancy lad know it all” types , but I know a lot of words to a lot of popular music. There are even some situations where I know ALL of the words to a given song. I also hypothesize that some of these might be the actual lyrics the original artist intended when they composed the song, although I haven’t done enough research to prove or disprove this theory. For example, I don’t think Jimmy Buffet ever used the phrase, “I’m heading down to the shore for another high colonic.” At least not in his songs.

Another skill I posses that I believe will help me become a successful lounge singer is my ability to sing. At the moment, I can only sing in the shower where nobody else can hear me. I pretend the shower head is a somewhat improperly placed microphone and the cartoon fish on my plastic shower curtain are people in the audience waiting to be entertained.

In order to be more relaxed when I’m performing I employ the classic technique of pretending that I’m naked. This doesn’t take too much imagination on my part since when I take a shower I have removed many of my clothes beforehand. Another issue is that most traditional microphones don’t have water shooting out of them. To get around this I tilt the shower head to one side and tilt my head the other way. A unique special effect I like to use involves singing as water is constantly shooting into my mouth. I believe that logistical considerations would keep me from incorporating this into any of my future lounge acts.

One potential problem I see on my way to becoming a lounge singer is the fact that I really don’t know how to play the piano. Even though I played trombone in high school, I don’t think this would directly benefit me as a lounge singer. One of the key elements in this line of work is the ability to play an instrument and sing at the same time. All my attempts to sing and play trombone simultaneously have failed. I have also learned that while waterproof, trombones do not seem to be designed to function in the shower.

While I’m not sure if I’ll ever become an actual lounge singer, I do like to entertain the thought when I’m stuck in traffic or trying to get my computer to submit to my will. It’s possible that my lack of talent may prove to be the biggest hurdle. And there is always “The Man” who is doing his best to keep me down. I may not be a lounge singer today, and depending on what is on television it might not happen tomorrow, but one of these days I’ll realize my dream-even if it means flying to Holland, beating the crap out of that lounge singer, and tossing his body into the nearest canal.

Six Months In Amsterdam

Now that I think about it, the title sounds like a good title for a song. It would be kind of like “One Night in Bankock” but with less of a techno beat and more references to sex and drugs. In case you didn’t already know, I spent the first half of 1999 living and working in Holland. Here is my trip report.

Technically, it’s illegal to buy and smoke marijuana in Holland. Of course it’s also possible that you will sleep walk into the nearby woods in the middle of the night only to be awakened by the sound of your leg setting off a bear trap, but most reasonable people don’t stay up at night worrying about getting caught. You can also go into special “herb” stores and get whatever other goodies that you feel the need to put into your body. Is this the best way to run a society? I really don’t know, but my experience has been that the number of people on the street that you don’t want to have anything to do with is comparable to any other large city I have ever visited. It’s way better than New York City.

The other “selling point” of Holland is the legalized prostitution. If you go into the Red Light District you can shop around for women conveniently displayed behind the glass windows of their “shops.” Provided you have the money and you don’t have any visible open sores or other odd physical defects, you can have the woman of your dreams in convenient fifteen minute increments. Is this the best way to run a society? Once again, I really don’t know, but it doesn’t appear to be destroying the city. As one of my friends who came over to visit from Colorado said, “They still have pimps in Holland, but it’s more of a desk job.”

Holland is chalk full of first rate public transportation. Based on my experiences and some information that I pretty much just made up, here is my advice on how to build a city without having to depend on automobiles: First of all, start building the city in the middle ages when people are too busy with things like neighboring armies, crusades, and the plague to ponder ideas like the internal combustion engine, traffic flow patterns, and the needs of the middle class. Combine this with a series of interlocking canals and you have a city that just isn’t very friendly to automobiles.

There is actually a law in Holland that forbids the construction of parking spaces in the city limits. OK, OK, they don’t REALLY have laws in Holland, but it is almost impossible to find a parking spot in Amsterdam. The only vehicles that you see on the roads are taxi drivers and tour busses. Since their job is to just drive around all day it really isn’t a problem. Occasionally a lost tourist from a neighboring country will accidentally drive into town. The desperate search for a parking space ends when their fuel supply runs out and they are forced to stop in the middle of the road. When this happens, the angry taxi drivers and tour bus operators stuck behind the vehicle work together to push the car out of the street and into the closest canal.

As difficult as it is to get around Amsterdam with a car, it’s quite simple to get around with the public transportation. Intercity trains, subways, trams, and busses all work together to get you where you need to go. After a long day at work it is a lot less stressful to get on the train than to have to drive an automobile. I think it has something to do with the fact that you don’t have to actually drive the train. They have people for that.

While the trains in Holland are, on the whole, pretty safe, every now and then you will see things that make you wish you had waited for the next train. The most disgusting thing I saw on the trains was a guy who picked up a crumpled Heineken beer can from the floor in an attempt to extract the last precious drops of alcohol that the previous owner missed. There were also the two women on the train late one night who were shooting up heroin. The really strange thing was that nobody else on the train seemed to care.

Whenever I hear the phrase “stick it where the sun don’t shine,” I always picture Holland in the winter months. Between the extreme northern latitude and constant cloud cover, the sun doesn’t make much of an appearance until the spring. Combine this with cold temperatures and a fairly constant drizzle of rain and you have a nation that doesn’t receive many tourists for half the year. The popular joke for the Dutch to say to foreigners goes something like, “Of course we have summer in Holland. Last year it was on a Thursday.”

One of the most difficult aspects of my trip involved the language barrier. While the majority of the natives speak English, you never know when you will come across someone who can’t speak your language. Of course there are times when body language is more than enough to communicate information. A lovely example of this phenomenon occurred after a rather odd series of events put me in a unique situation with a young woman at a local restaurant. Our nonverbal conversation, insofar as it can be expressed in words, went something like this:

Me: “I know that I am in the women’s bathroom in a busy McDonald’s restaurant. I’ll leave now”

Her: “I don’t know why you are in the women’s bathroom in this busy McDonald’s restaurant, but I’ll let you save whatever small amount of dignity you have left at this moment in time by not screaming or otherwise drawing attention to the situation. I hope the rest of your day goes better than this.”

Here is an interesting concept that is worth mentioning: in Europe, they play music videos on MTV. Sure, they play commercials and they have occasional news updates, but it’s mostly just videos. It seems like the producers of MTV in Europe realized that constantly broadcasting footage of a bunch of twenty-year-old college dropouts driving around the world in a Winnebago just isn’t very entertaining.

I generally don’t keep track of any kind of vital statistics about myself beyond the usual, “my heart is beating,” “I’m hungry,” and “I’m currently standing in the women’s bathroom in a busy McDonalds restaurant,” but the past six months have seen some rather significant changes in my lifestyle. Here are some of the more interesting numbers that I came up with.

Taco Bell franchises I found in Holland: 0
House plants I killed: 1
Different countries in Europe I visited: 6
Number of fruit stickers I put on the phone in the apartment for no particular reason: 10
Most consecutive days I was forced to wear long pants: 89
Most consecutive days I didn’t eat at an American franchise fast food establishment: 121
Days I didn’t see a “Saturn” brand automobile: 183
Days I preserved the natural ecological balance of the back yard of the company apartment: 183
(or, the number of times I mowed the lawn) 0

I can honestly say that I enjoyed these six months in Amsterdam. For someone who hasn’t spent much time outside of Colorado, I have come to realize that there is a whole different world out there where people aren’t very tan, don’t wear sandals, and don’t have much interest in who killed JonBenet Ramsey. Sure, they get the words “soccer” and “football” mixed up most of the time and have adopted darts as their new national pastime just because a Dutch guy won the world darts competition last year, but these are small problems that can be easily overlooked. To quote the most commonly spoken phrase on any American talk show, “Can’t we all just get along?”