Fitty Sense

Tim Jeff Leslee (1980)

a few characters who have appeared, through no real choice of their own, in my novel

“Although Ebenezer stirred uneasily at these words, remembering his state of mind at Magdalene College and in his room in Pudding Lane, he nevertheless reaffirmed his belief in the value of human time, arguing from the analogy of precious stones and metals that the value of commodities increases inversely with their supply where demand is constant, and with demand where supply is constant, so that mortal time, being infinitesimal in supply and virtually infinite in demand, was therefore infinitely precious to mortal men.” (John Barth – The Sot Weed Factor – p. 568)

There went my birthday, past tense. 55! Impossible, like so much else we (I) take for granted and barely have the wherewithal to acknowledge in our (my) blurred comings and goings. And look at that grand old photo! Tim! Leslee! The Buick! ASU! Once upon a time! Me clutching a baseball glove! How can a day or a minute be ‘infinitely precious’ according to the intuitive laws of scarcity when the only mechanism we’re given to apprehend All This doesn’t mark the singular seconds with anything at all? Shouldn’t something as irretrievable as a Living Second have something like a cosmic cowbell appended to it? Oughtn’t we be allowed (or made) to know the passing of the seconds? Though each individual second be as unknowably dull as off-brand jell-o, in the aggregate they are a marauding, killing swarm. You want to talk about viral this? Viral that? Is there anything more ruinously viral than a lone second edging its way past the distracted sentry tower to join its secret idiot army? And whence dignity, he stated. This morning at work I glance down at my trousers and because I eat lunch in the haute couture manner of a doddering simp and swap my trousers infrequently, my corduroys are covered with a constellation of little white stains, as if a congested and overpraised Peter Dinklage stood before me and had a sneezing fit, or a single bold sneeze or whatever. I pour water from a plastic jug into a bunched coffee filter and thoroughly soak the stain field, the effect an oblong patch of dark wet that infers incontinence from an impressively dangling dispenser. This doesn’t fool anybody.

Juudje

my unfailing furnace, a smile like a supernova

Glad Sam

the artist as a young thang. here content

Time is like a river, but without the pastoral setting, murmur of water, leaping rainbow-tinted fish; without the birdsong or polished pebbles, without the grazing moose and striding, indistinct Sasquatch; a river without a larger osmotic body into which gravity or some other impenetrable force obliges it to empty.  If you’re not within earshot of a cheap wall clock with a cardboard face (talking about the clock’s face here) ticking away on battery power, the seconds move by unremarked.  The precious seconds. My mother is recently gone. My father is gone. I have a dreamlike memory, I always consider it my earliest, of riding a hobby horse down a steep staircase and landing like wounded laundry at the bottom, a crash attended by much abstract and imperfectly reconstructed commotion. I also recall being held by my father and throwing up demurely on the shoulder of his gray and white and red sweater. That doesn’t seem terribly long ago, and now this? Am I the same person? The Same Thing? I measure my Self against the scar on my knee. I had my knee sliced open in 1968, 2o yards off the coast of Treasure Island, FL. A gentle, tourist-friendly swell in the crystalline Gulf of Mexico nudged me playfully into a breakwater whose barnacles constituted a many-faceted razor and my knee came open like an unzipped costume. The emergency room doctor I tried to talk my mom out of taking me to gave me a warning before the deadening syringe was jabbed brutally into the open, vaguely vaginal rip in my knee. I have always remembered his tryptich of pain, as he described what I could expect.

“This is gonna hurt, an’ this is gonna burn, an’ this is gonna sting”, he said to me levelly, eye to eye, in the pleasant burr of the deep south’s professional class, and through frightening Buddy Holly glasses.

Hurt, burn, sting. I have never forgotten that. You’ll notice it handily covers, like the quickly drawn da Vinci circle, an essential truth.  He was right. I also have a ragged scar on my left thumb which I only rediscovered five or so years ago, confirming, as do the startled pilgrims in Hitchcock movies, that what I had thought was an antediluvian shadow-scrap of dream was in fact a happenstance; a car door slammed by myself on my own fool toddler thumb, so hurried was I to join a little schoolfriend I’d suddenly spied on the playground. On her tricycle. I remember that. My mom shouting at me, a psycho puddle of vivid blood. The scar records it. I’m looking at it now. Call it The Dumb Mystery of the Changing Vessel. Get as old and crazy as you want. Throw up on the caregiver, lavishly crap your diaper, horrify the busboy with a napkin-ruffling gust of methane you don’t even know you’ve loosed, walk slowly out of The Home naked from the waist down, hollering. Any close (and likely frightened) inspection will reveal that scar on your left thumb from the time you wanted to run on unskinned knees to your little friend on her trike. The event seems in remembering to be at the other end of a darkling tunnel, but it’s right next to you in plain sunlight. That is You. You hurt your thumb approximately yesterday. Someone tell the teenagers. You got to make the morning last.

Now I’ve grown. On this special day I picture myself running after the bus with my laptop case and little polka-dot lunch box swinging madly from their straps. I’m trailing multi-colored balloons in various deflated states.

Stella Sparkling

a face that throws light! and a haircut she has come to appreciate

Entropy is all. It’s a vicious word, too, because it presents first as slightly floral, or to do with butterflies?  A closer look throws a klieg light on the real message inherent in the thing. That message is not death, which we can helpfully obscure through mysticism and chit chat (yes, you can chit-chat death to death). The Entropy message is dissolution, a scattering of the parts, an occupation of the vast cold spaces around us with our components. This horrifies. It is not an end but a reduced continuation, unto forever. We deserve better. We’re insipid and pitiable and hopeful and we love each other and deserve much better. Or a little better, anyway.

Discouraged Sam - 5th Grade

here reconsidering

Ok. Where once I was able to run and turn and dodge like quicksilver on the middle school P.E. pitch, so lightning fast the principal of my middle school asked me to join the football team, I now walk with a spring in my step, the rust-mottled spring of a ’59 jalopy up on cinder blocks. I found myself trotting lightly up the driveway two days ago and noted that my previous ‘run’ was beyond my ability to recall. My bald spot has expanded such that from certain sunlit angles I am the tonsorial equivalent of a medieval friar, with a ring of desperately clinging hair marking the spot atop my bent head upon which G*d’s menagerie of flying things may freely unload their disease-teeming semi-solids.

How easily people fall into disrepair, and not for want of goodness. On a city bus the withered 30-something woman to my right, bleary and dessicated and missing her top teeth, surely just took a wrong fork in the road. She was once a sparkler, like my Stella. We all fall down. Ashes, ashes. But the wounded carry in their furtive eyes, in their reticence to look up at their fellows, the scarlet letter of their cognition. They’ve fallen and don’t exactly want to get up. And so this is the Time of their Time. That can break your heart, can make you misty on a day like that day.  My birthday.

Juud en Jeff- an hour before wedding

morning of our big day, Amsterdam, 1988. The La Boheme. my little apple-headed child bride!

 

Soliloquy on the 11

Napolean's Death Mask_In a Bus Essay

This is Napoleon’s Death Mask

The driver today is Nick. His wrinkled ‘At Your Service’ piece of paper, above the driver’s seat and to the right in an inexplicably battered black frame, says so; a gesture of civic mercy seeking to ameliorate the anonymity of someone whose daily work it is to just drive us around, drop us off, and pick us up again later. Cabbies have a similar nameplate affixed to the dashboards of their little ships.  The nameplate speaks to the centrality of the professional rideshare’s role in the larger progress of the Anthill,  a humanizing device that stills and fixes the blurred driver for the moment it takes him to get you to your destination.  I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name. The paper in its scuffed frame is just to the right of the blinking arcade of nonsensical green and red lights, square little lights; the wide NASA-like panel with switches, above the driver’s head, that I’ve long suspected is just a phony sideshow placed there to remind the benumbed passengers that the Secret Underside to Everything also holds sway on a city bus, as of course it does, and with much more of the swagger than is found in places more conspicuous as temples and places of self-important congress. They always place the switches in these machines above the drivers – airplane cockpits, space shuttles, ocean liners. You always see these Argonauts reaching up to flick some switch or genteely turn a knob above their heads. This arm-raising confers a Pilot Importance to the proceedings. Han Solo, Luke. Chewy. And what was that thing Darth kept screwing down in the final Death Star scenes? He’s closing in on Luke and the other rebel flyboys as they attempt to loose a nuke into the anal pore of the Empire’s pride and joy, some of the good guys sporting double chins and conspicuous 70s mustaches as they zip around, dodging Establishment torpedoes. When Lucas cuts to Vader in his black space-bullet, he seems to be continually screwing the lid onto a jar of peanut butter or something.

This morning Nick is holding forth in a stream-of-blather at the top of his lungs, the whole way in to campus. The oblong concavity of the windshield  amplifies the shouting and sends it rolling in a crisp mid-range wave down the aisle of the bus. Like drivers everywhere, but most familiarly those on t.v. and in the movies, he’s looking straight ahead and yelling at the windshield while he talks. It’s as if he’s talking to the air, or to His Time, and maybe that’s also an intended or unintended effect of the yammering driver/philosopher, a worn and condescension-gathering trope. We’re charmed by these philosophers the way Rousseau is charmed but have no intention of being swayed or moved. But this guys is a moving speaker. I can feel that his blabbing is the wallpaper covering his room, his happy motif, his pleasure in the sharing of this and that, and then this again. The simple fact of a man happily shouting detailed, harmless, personal information into the air in a confined space? It’s upsetting to people, the Everyday people (not the Sly Stone kind). The bus passengers clear their throats and avert their eyes, or in plain vanilla fear zero in on their little hand-things and glare intently at them. As his shouting continues I look around to poll my fellows on the bus. One or two of them meet my eyes with Mona Lisa grins, concurring with what they believe is my projected opinion that the driver is a funny embarrassment and an anomaly and a sufferably bad deal, a regrettable entertainment. That is not my opinion, you bore.

But Nick? He’s loudly alive. Yeah, he knows it, which is sort of disappointing. But he’s still a hothouse orchid. He may be proselytizing, saying nothing of import but this: ‘Hey, morons! You can shout if you want, no one gets hurt. You can sing in public, feign a seizure, skip a rock on a pond, do a fucking jig in the funeral parlor, talk loudly to a stranger. This is all a lucid dream. How many times you gotta have that shown to you?’ Every minute or so he shoots a glance at the long mirror installed by the manufacturers, a rear-view mirror whose only contained ‘rear view’ subject is Us. When he can see us, we can see him; such is the nature of the aimed mirror. He flashes his dark, laughing, beetle-browed eyes at us through the mirror, just his eyes, that’s what we see. He’s checking his captives and shouts through what could be an approaching fit of laughter. Behind me a woman is talking into her cell phone.

“Pierre Cardin,” she says, then more plaintively, “Pierre Cardin!”

“I went to El Monte High School, in L.A.!” Nick shouts, really seeming almost to laugh. Is that how I write that? “I remember our young handsome substitute teacher, in 1966! On June 6; 6-6-66! You see? He told us — ” and here I think Nick is going to say the thing about the three sixes being the Number of the Beast and so on, the mark found under the hairline of the sleeping boy when Gregory Peck or Lee Remick go in to check. But Nick says something more interesting than that – something, though, that is also vaguely related to the End of the World. ” — he told us we’d need to wait 11 years for this to happen again!” He laughs like a bad actor in a movie. Though the laugh is unforced and genuine, it has that loudness of a half-performance. I’m alive and a hothouse orchid! “Then we’d have to wait for another 11 years for it to happen again! You know? July 7, 1977! My school was just a few blocks from the Ambassador hotel –” here I look up from my laptop. The Ambassador —

“That’s where Bobby Kennedy was shot,” a withered and toothless guy in the seat behind me says through his gums, and I nod to him, once, and murmur agreement with a half-smile, and the withered guy looks at me with a slow aiming of his head that yet manages to convey a surprising gratitude.  The fanning creases at each of his mouth corners are an Egyptian delta clogged and crusted with what look like the stains of crystallized tobacco juice or something. The crusted scum there exaggerates the downward turn of his lips, which are themselves supple and not cracked, just bracketed by this awful scum. His eyes widen briefly at my remark, I suppose, his sunglasses pronouncing the arch of his eyebrows above the frames.  He briefly radiates a fascinated gratitude.

“Sirhan Sirhan shot him!” Nick shouts with a strange joy, voice fraying with near laughter. “That busboy helped him! Remember? That busboy bent down and helped Bobby! Remember? Remember the picture?” I remember learning as a pre-teen that the photo of Juan Romero in his busboy-whites tending to the calmly staring Bobby K was not a strange studio composite or other trick, as its nightmarish perfection had always made me suppose, but a captured moment; Kennedy looking past Juan with a bored expression, the crazy mannequin sprawl of his body beatified in the corona of light on the wet floor, an unexplained clip-on necktie on the floor there with him. “They got John in November, 1963!” Nick continues, almost laughing again. “They let us out of school early! I had to walk 18 blocks to get home! I shoulda taken a cab!”

 

habitable region around a dwarf star

habitable region around a dwarf star

you may approach a dwarf star, but what’d be the point

Is it the dwarf star that collapses in on itself, the Mysterio inner forces dragging the sun-spotted skin and corona inexorably (always inexorably) downward into what we are assured is the uncomfortably warm nuclear ‘furnace’ (o’ make it homely and domestic that we may understand its incomprehensible anger) such that the gathering densities aggregate into a very tiny embarrassed ball of light whose spoonfuls famously weigh tons? Tons we can understand. Here I am, a Susan Polis Schutz (nee Schultz) poster, and I am that dwarf star or maybe it’s a neutron star I’m imagining. An inward collapse, a weakening carapace gone translucent with the desire to vanish, an upbraiding of passerby be they friend or foe. What is this thing called love. A furnace of incalculable energy that some would yet reduce to the status of a toaster. A half-light hell. Well it’s much more than a toaster or anyway is meant to be. So I’ve always supposed. Time will tell.

Christmastime is Here

Charlie ChristmasAnother Christmas. A youngish carpenter was, quite a little while ago, viciously beaten and then entombed. Today we raise a toast and warmly exchange gifts in commemoration.  In another setting we would be required to scourge each other, or worse; build something. So we have it easy, those of us with food, etc. The fact remains that if Christ had been drowned in a bathtub church spires would today be surmounted by that instrument of His sacrifice and the pious would wear porcelain bathroom fixtures about the neck. I mean no disrespect. Something interestingly explosive happened ~ 2000 years ago, but it does not seem to have been of sufficient gravity to sweep aside pediatric cancers or the present starvation of nearly 1 billion of those creatures made in His image, who both spin AND toil and yet can’t get the respect accorded a lily of the field .

O This Year my Inadequacies Surround me like a Crowd of Flying Ants, the stinging kind. They hover helpfully at face level and they go for the eyes with gusto. I shall do better. I shall do much better.

God bless us, every one. Please?

Mooi. Gezellig. Prachtig. Beetje Gek.

tulips_photo by Normann Szkop
The big screen and its cheery hieroglyph at the front of my section of seats shows the little airplane icon on a happy, secure and predictable downslope. The awful roaring contrail is replaced in this illustration with a fat dotted line, the kind you see on a cereal box.  Explosive decompression, stripped jackscrews, knife-wielding hijackers and other such mortality-trivia are safely hidden behind a cartoon. Throughout the longish flight over iceberg-littered glacial bays and rolling open ocean I feverishly remind myself that all is well, that the suspension of 90 tons of metal and wires and seat bolts and stiffening chicken piccata 6 miles up in the empty air is a physical inevitability and not a fragile miracle. As long as the plane keeps charging forward it is lifted on velocity itself, it doesn’t have time to fall. Unfortunately this inviolable rule of airfoil technology depends on crazily enormous steel wings that bounce and wobble like sonsabitches in the azure vacuum over Greenland. But the screen up front assuages and soothes, the funny dotted line and inert little airplane glyph a blankie of familiarity in the long tube of concussive, horror-dealing plausibilities.
Now the dotted line slopes downward in a cozy parabola of life and warmth.  The familiar and deeply beloved Earth is rising slowly to greet our machine. We’re headed in for a happy landing, in Holland of all places. A new life awaits,  The boiling English Channel is behind us and we’re coming in fast over a green, steeple-punctuated landscape as flat as a tabletop and peopled with flight-path cows that don’t even glance up as the screaming spaceship overhead applies air brakes and lurches uncomfortably into landing speed. It would seem we’re going to actually land in a cow paddy but the tarmac suddeny appears and we’re on the ground with a happy if unnerving jolt and the mantra ‘I’ll never fly again’ briefly reasserts its primacy in the promises-to-be-broken category.Then the thronged cavern of Customs, an Ellis Island mockup where hundreds of confused passengers are herded through rope mazes and a few young Dutch officials with badges and comically stern faces glare down unconvincingly from atop raised pedestals, a pouting gang of Benetton models. This one looks at my face, then the passpot, face-passport, face-passport, face-passport, the old trick, until I’m sure some little European guy in a Gendarme cap is going to appear and whisk me away. Passport is scrutinized and stamped and relief floods in.
 I and the other passengers herd-shuffle into the big brightly lit room with the baggage carousels, and then my retrieved suitcase is vivisected by more Dutch models, blush-cheeked and businesslike, then the mock-Samonsite is slammed shut with my underwear sticking out like a tongue. And there a wall of glass gives onto a crowd of waiting people and my new family are there, two of them, Karin and Marcel, and my adorable new girlfriend is there waving madly and through the surreal fog of jet lag I realize that’s Judie who I met in the club that night and I’m in her world now, I’m in Holland, this is her home and her world and I’m seeing her as if for the first time and her mad waving and jumping looks like nothing I’ve ever seen or imagined, like nothing I’ve ever felt.
 All the planning and daydreaming, the angst and sorrow of leaving my friends and quitting the band and bidding my family farewell in the carport in Phoenix, my saddened quiet little brother suddenly turning and running back into the house for reasons unknown. Goodbye, Patrick; goodbye! Now I see my Dutch love through the glass and the blood hurriedly rushes upward into my teetering, overburdened imagination, I lumber forward with my dumb suitcase and two-ton electronic typewriter, the ceremonially weighted glass door is pushed open with some effort and in the crowded concourse I set down my suitcase but keep a grip on the typewriter, dazedly grab my new girlfriend and touching her after all these hours of reality-tempering travel is a crazy workaday miracle. Can this be happening? Then the three Dutch kisses; not the two cheek-pecks of the exotic French which we’ve come to know from the movies, but three. They want to better the French. You get two pecks and think giddily ‘holy crap, this is real’ and then the third little peck, just to throw you off your pins, and you know you’re in for it.
On the drive home, in the back seat, 19-year-old Judie is leaning heavily against me, her arm intertwined in mine, head on my shoulder, the radio blaring strange pop music. I can’t stop looking at her and staring out the windows at a landscape that is a living daydream, vivid green and furry and flat to the horizon, the windmills near and far with their heroic vanes slanting in the light, amazing to see, steepled Olde World townscapes like movie paintings poking up in the near and middle and remote distance beneath an enormous blue verticality decorated with puff-ball clouds. Can an airplane do all this? Yes.  And the terror of the flight is commensurate with this bombast and wonder, the Wright Brothers my new best friends.  All the insane rocketry we strap ourselves to and pretend to trust – this is what all the fuss is about, these changeling moments of stunned dislocation. Spires and towers and high peaked roofs in mid-day silhouette decorate these receding fields and meadows, the little towns are cheek-by-jowl and are nearly joined, the flatiron landscape means you can take them all in at a glance, but what you see are steeples. You can bike from one town to the next with little effort and you will do so often, sometimes in freezing squalls of rain. Today the sun shines down with a forceful message, the boundless green dotted with cows, heads down.
Then off the A4 and onto the surface roads, lined with greenhouses, fluffy fields, occasional homes with penned goats and sheep, then the outsized Kweker houses with their acres of entrepreneurial glass behind them where are grown everything from petunias to palm trees, the region’s kingpins and employers. This is het Westland, agricultural nexus of Holland. Close your eyes and throw a rock and you will likely put a hole in a greenhouse. My bro-in-law Marcel is driving now in what I would come to know as typical Dutch fashion, negotiating the narrow little inter-town roads like the car’s ass is on fire, and only as we enter the neighborhoods do I come down somewhat from my reverie and realize I’m being threatened anew with explosive death and maiming. Then a quick right followed by a quick sharp left onto Wassenaarstraat, a screeching halt in front of Judie’s house, two and half floors tall, red brick and narrow. Through the large square huiskamer window an indistinct figure spins quickly away into the shadows and then out runs Riekie through the front door in an excited half-jog, my beautiful heartfelt future Dutch mom whom I am meeting for the first time, and she is wildly grinning and her arms are outstretched in a guileless loving welcome and she enfolds me like a long lost son, then holds me out from her to look at my face and her sunny expression, to my surprise, is ecstatic and teary, and I tear up and then a few others are gathering around me and I’m dazed and happy and already feeling the love of my new home, my new household, and I look down the row of houses and a few smiling neighbors have come to their doorsteps and are smiling grandly, one with her hands clasped. I look over and there is Judie again, like that night in the club, the serene, green-eyed beatific smile, a settled smile of contentment to match my own.

Yeah. A Town called Monster

A Monster You Can love

This is not a warning

Dutch wind hits your face like the blowback from a NASA rocket sled. Your cheeks balloon out around your sudden rabbit teeth, your eyes squint shut, your hair plasters back. And this on a bike ride to the nearby post office to mail a letter. I’ve never understood how hairdressers stay in business over there. There is no hairspray that can survive that tempest. But they soldier on. Mrs. Petrie’s third grade classroom didn’t prepare me for this. I remember the first time I considered Holland.

“Class, consider Holland.”

We were being taught The World from one of those 1960s grade school social studies textbooks whose mission is a sort of broad boiling down of our complicated planet to its easily ingested elements. All the countries were in there, the important ones anyway, with their pyramids and rice paddy peasants, alpine lederhosen folk, striped gondoliers, Eiffel towers, Big Bens, cowboys, and the Taj Mahal. All the loud, glossy picture pages were in the middle of the book, as grotesquely garish as the color-soaked post-surgical food photos restaurants still tape to their windows like a warning. I can see myself sitting at my little desk with the pencil-holding groove at the top of the grade, I’m turning the row of shiny pages and absorbing the world as even the grown-ups knew it, as even the handsome Missiles of October brothers knew it then: famous landmarks and a Manichean map and astronauts, hammers, sickles, and so on. All the pertinent third grade countries contained in those ink-scented pages, a whole complicated world to absorb. Lucky for us they were coded and easily separable. France; yeah, the Eiffel Tower, looking to my mostly empty pinhead like a giant tv antenna. Venice, and you gotta go everywhere in this skinny boat. No sidewalks? No thanks. What’s this? Holland. Or is it The Netherlands? Which is it? Make up your minds, people. On the heavily colorized page a series of big wooden windmills receded into a snowy distance. Apple-cheeked, almond-eyed little boys in MC Hammer pants and girls wearing napkins on their heads skated joyously on a frozen canal, their non-skating compatriots standing around in crazy looking shoes that, if I didn’t know better, might be made of wood. The girls wore superfluous white aprons, some of them shouldering a long pole from which hung milk pails at either end.  A pleasantly insane Other World.  No depiction of wind, though. Clearly the tourism office thugs had shown up at the artist’s apartment and made some strong-arm requests.  Any reader with half a brain would wonder at the presence of so many enormous windmills, though. Surely a tickling breeze occasionally stirs these things?

So, there is a lovely little town on the Dutch Channel Coast whose unlikely name is Monster. My Juud was born there, 2 blocks away from the town windmill, and my in-laws live there still. Hallo Riekie, Karin, Sil, Kim, Lisa, Arnoud, Irene, Loes, Jasper Marcel, Leah, Liam, Hannah, Naus, Erlinde, en Mark. The town’s central intersection is a block a way from a wide and lovely beach that stares out at the frequently white-capped North Sea, and that intersection is where the windmill is planted, a wondrous old thing (1882) whose massive vanes are freed to turn two Saturdays a month. It’s quite a sight and sound when that happens. The bustling town square is towered over by a massive, curiously mothering church tower straight out of Thomas Hardy, the sort of stately tower that terrifies in rain but heartens and assures in sunlight. The cobbled streets of the town wend cozily between gabled brownstone homes of such cluttered character one is warmed despite the often howling, rain-soaked winds. There is a neighborhood in Monster called Big Ghost (Grote Geest) where alongside a small pond a weed-choked, nearly invisible crypt holds a secret; a story for later. This is a village with a lot going on, an entire world.

I lived there for a little while in the ‘wake me up before you go-go’ eighties, fell in love there, married into Monster. I’ve eaten her stroopwafels and frikandel speciaal, smoked her hand-rolled zware shag till dizzy, vomited in a stupor on her lovely brickwork, and with a crazy little vibrating wand coaxed her ripening tomato plants to pollinate under peaked steaming greenhouse glass.

In my time there I ‘mastered’ the language, but not its damning nuances. Once after a particularly storm-buffeted bike ride home from work (a daily nightmare), I was sufficiently enraged by the weather and soaked in sweat that I burst into my mother-in-law’s kitchen, threw down my backpack and yelled “I’m angry and I’m horny!” She wiped her hands on her apron and said nothing. On another occasion, in attempting to offer a demure glass of wine to an elderly dignified lady who was visiting, I said something like “Ma’am, would you like to get smashed?” I soon learned the word zuipen doesn’t mean ‘to have a drink’ as I’d thought; it means to get ripped to the gills. This elderly lady registered some mild surprise at my offer and declined. My mother-in-law took this in from several feet away and again said nothing, but her eyebrows betrayed a suppressed jollity.

We have a small print on our living room wall we bought on the wonderful Denneweg in the Hague, a map of Monster in French, dated 1272. There are lots of stories, from the 5000 year-old Drenthe monoliths called the Hunebedden, to the sometimes hysterical results of Napolean’s insistence on a new personal naming convention when he conquered the place and had to count heads; and from Naaldwijk’s Lost Age rock club De Wip and Annemiek’s expert bartending there, to de Ouwe Droog where Geert offered me something that sent me to hell for about 5 hours. Holland is much more than the adorable doll-house country one is sold in the travel brochures. She is more often one of those trick gift boxes with a coiled toy snake inside that jumps out and stuns the shit out of you. It’s all good. I’ll share. Nederland is zeker een vreemd en gezellig landje. Ik heb een paar verhalen…