The Monster in My Id

wedding day

two bedazzled lovebirds embrace in a cheap hotel room in Amsterdam on the Big Morning

By the age of 26 I had a beautiful teak rolltop desk full of weighty documentation, having parlayed my university experience, considerable native intellect and ruthless drive to succeed into a position of

By my mid-twenties I had resoundingly fulfilled and then surpassed my early promise. My 75th floor office gave onto a skyscraping eyrie at whose filigreed iron railing I regularly took in the view of Gotham, the teeming city/state I’d conquered with such aplomb and daring as is only dreamed of in the pages of Fortu

As Grails go this gig is definitely the battered cup of a carpenter and not the kingly, jewel-encrusted decoy that caused that guy to melt in the third Indiana Jones movie. Rocky’s is not the Hollywood Bowl, but it is a club in Santa Barbara; or FREAKING SANTA BARBARA as I called it then. We’re jumping around like shameless asses a block from the long-sought Pacific, and we are being paid. The dance floor is packed with beach-scented revelers. As recent arrivistes from the powdery Sonoran desert sprawl of Phoenix and its black-painted, fishnet-gloves-and-clove-cigarettes club scene, we are in thrall to our sunshiney good fortune. True, the pay is such that, back at the band house/rehearsal studio, we are surviving on baked potatoes and pilfered frat house boxed wine. Show Biz Glamor is keeping her distance. Actually, she took the first red-eye to Timbuktoo and imperiously asked us to drop her a line when we began to gain a little traction. That would never happen. A freckled sunburst Yoko would presently shamble into the club with her friends and utterly guileless 1000 kilowatt smile, inadvertently laying waste to our china shop and turning my page so quickly it would effectively be torn from the book. Today the sun would begin setting on our years-long band and songwriting project, Spin Cycle. Elsewhere songbirds would begin quietly announcing the roseate onset of an extravagant new dawn; a dawn often viewed through slanting arctic rainfall on a Vermeer landscape, but a spirit-seizing, heart-renewing Dawn nonetheless. Juud!

My beer-dappled Converse® high-tops are being put through their paces. I’ve descended from my gosh-like position on Rocky Galenti’s Mainstage (or as we used to call it, the stage) and am mingling frenetically on the dancefloor with the thrashing throng of thought-free thoroughbreds, my unwieldy 60 foot mic cord allowing me the freedom to be publicly asinine in a setting where Asininity is King. The band churns buoyantly away behind me as I weave between the swingers. I’ve made good use of my late-breaking leave-taking of the Wallflower Club, whose charter membership I once wore like a badge of quietude in h.s. and college. I and my like-minded stagemates are well-matched. As a band we are part circus, part pop roadshow, part inexplicable performance piece.

I’ve stood atop our equipment truck at midnight of a starlit evening and serenaded a writhing mob in the street outside the club as our music poured out of the open stage door. I routinely take my leave of the dance floor in the middle of a song, and, mic in hand, climb atop the drink-littered bar in the front room and do the Vegas Catwalk, affronting the patrons in the main lounge who’d thought they’d successfully steered clear of this malarkey. I’ve sung hanging from rafters, have shouted off-pitch into the mic from the reverb-blessed confines of a club restroom, and once managed to warble while laying supine on a dance floor with a weighty patron in failing halter top perched on my chest. Which is all to say, ‘look how cool I was, and understand in part why nobody ever really realized I couldn’t sing’. Our between-song stage patter would frequently baffle our audiences, and in the middle of a song Leslee, our resident ‘foxy chick singer’, would more often than not flop off the stage like a maddened marionette  to join me on the dance floor in a fit of high octane idiocy, bewildering the pogo-ing patrons with what looked like a grand mal dance seizure.  We were full of surprises, misfires and dayglo laissez-faire. The songs, though, always came first. Eddie and I had been writing together since high school, he a post-modern Richard Rodgers who even as a 17 year old could spin a gorgeous, genre-crossing melody as you or I would open a can of soup; me a willowy, nominally quiet word-fan with one lazy eye and a nose made crooked by the Toyota Corolla that smacked me when I was 14. Rodgers and Frankenstein?

Today is The Day. Juudje, Carola and Renate are en route. It is 1986. We are, I think, three sets in on a sunstruck Sunday afternoon at Rocky’s, our favorite regular gig and the one that speaks most loudly to our having successfully made the move to California. Summer beach light pours onto the dance floor through the arched northerly club windows. The tanned, sandy throng gyrates in bikini and board shorts, pleasantly dizzy and pumping their fists in the ambient summer glow, as the pleasantly dizzy will do when unable to otherwise articulate their inner joy and wholeness. How many more sets this afternoon? Two? Three? One? Soon it would hardly matter. I believe I’m singing the epileptic Devo ballad ‘That’s Good’, leaping like a fool on coals and occasionally landing atop a fleetingly disgruntled mosher. I can actually smell the beach here in the club. We are expertly blaring a colorful mix of our own original tunes and covers by the likes of Talking Heads, Howard Jones, Divinyls, Our Daughter’s Wedding, and so on. Everything is going according to plan!

Eddie and I step outside for our customary Carleton between sets, a pitiable ‘low tar’ ciggy whose pathetic, pleading ad campaign at the time (IF YOU SMOKE, PLEASE TRY CARLETON!) is just amusing enough to make us fans. We reenter the club and spend the few remaining minutes before taking the stage in chit chat.

In walks Juud, in the company of her two beautiful friends and fellow-travelers Renate and Carola. I didn’t see them come in that afternoon, though one would think the hollering, frantically waving cherubim and seraphim would have tipped me off. As often happens, the heavenly chorus was drowned out by the din of happy drinkers ringingly in love with their own collective Moment. It wasn’t till Judie approached me between sets that the angelic loud-mouths gave their full-throated endorsement. I only remember someone speaking and me turning to regard a glowingly adorable post-punk ragamuffin redhead in a Cure t-shirt, and the warmest, happiest green eyes I’d ever seen. She was saying something unintelligible through the riot of club noise. She seemed to have some sort of speech impediment.

“Oh, hi…what?”

“I lijk ye bent.”

“um…..What?

“I LIJK YE BENT.”

“…..What?”

“I LIJK YE BENT.”

“You like the band?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks.” Her towsled strawberry blonde mop, purple tube skirt, off-brand sneakers and immediately kissable face were not the standard uniform. My head swam, a little. Later it would swim a lot. Her striking pals Carola and Renate were behind her, mingling a little, watching over Juud a little. The three of them looked like radiant refugees from a Benetton shoot, high latitude blondes who carried themselves like self-possessed creatures of another culture, as indeed they were. They introduced themselves and explained that they were from Holland, a smallish town there called Monster.

“Muenster?” I blathered

“MONSTER!” Judie corrected, then raised her arms above her adorable apple head and made claws. “Like a monster! Raarrrgh!”

“Oh. It’s…the town is called Monster?” The three of them laughed disarmingly.

“Yeah!”

I wanted suddenly to wrap my arms around the one with the freckles and heartbeat-accelerating grin and warm green eyes. Keep your hands at your sides, you fool! You don’t know what is considered acceptable in Denmark or wherever!

Later that afternoon I would glance over through the madding crowd and see Juud standing in the middle of the blur, looking straight at me, her gentle, clock-stopping smile a still-point, a quasar, the gently buffeting breeze from an 80 kiloton explosion. I remember it with crystal clarity; that smile at that moment. I looked over and there she was, looking over. It almost sat me down, right there on the floor of the club. Good Heavens. That smile, that smile! Juud is the most beautiful, sensitive, life-loving and desirable creature on Earth, and an ongoing knee-weakener. Things happen to me when she enters a room, not all of them suitable for discussion in mixed company.

That Sunday in 1986 a corner turned, though I wouldn’t know it for some weeks. We fell hard and spent many an hour in my room at the band house, listening to music, talking about everything, partaking sickeningly of Little Caesar’s two-for-one deal. Soon it would develop that Judie had to go home, her visa expiring. I would labor over and then make an odd and slightly macabre decision, one whose effect on my dear friends I barely paused to consider, it must be said. Without the requisite inner turmoil (it would come later), I put my immediate past aside and stared fixedly at a previously unforeseen and deliciously unforeseeable future in another country.

I imagined the ineptly dubbed afterschool specials of my youth; rural European kids on tractors wearing alien-looking overalls, their words and mouth movements marvelously unrelated, cars with strange license plates, windmills, canals, those van Gogh stacks of threshed wheat; a half-accurate and delirious premonition. In brutish short order my emotional life would soon be overwhelmed anew as I informed my beloved bandmates and pals that our longstanding gig was up. All those endless muse-chasing days and nights, going right back to the egg; Eddie’s and my musical convocations and discoveries and initially accidental collaborations in the orchestra pit in our high school auditorium while crewing for that season’s musical, then the practice rooms in the music building at NAU with Paul.

And then the band years in carpeted living rooms and garages, clubs and bars and Fraternity bacchanals and university courtyards and city park bandstands, hotel ballrooms and yard parties; growing the band, growing each other. Everything for the music, for the imperfect, mildly self-mocking pursuit of Art. All the stories, the personalities – Monica, Tooth Sue, Plum Crazy the Gentleman Pirate, who could slurringly recite any Baudelaire you’d care to request, and who would travel with us to our Ventura gigs in the back of our enclosed equipment truck, sitting in the dark back there and emerging with a laugh when we arrived — I hadn’t a clue how tough this chapter-closing would be. I vividly remember my complete surprise at breaking down in the middle of the street downtown as I told our drummer, Cary, and him putting his arm around me like a consoling big brother. Cary; the comparative youngster we called The Kid.

Then there would be passport complications, more tears, some unnerving final gigs, a horrified last-minute, morning-of-my-departure pursuit of Leslee’s escaped cat (Commander Salamander RIP), me boarding a jumbo jet with one large suitcase and a Brother electronic typewriter as heavy as an anvil. “Okay, here I go!” I chirped confusedly to Leslee at LAX when boarding was called. “Don’t be glib,” she said levelly, through tears. “This is it,” the flight attendant said to me with meaning, looking me straight in the eye as I boarded; a strangely apt remark I still wonder at.

Then a peaked attic bedroom at the tippity top of a flight of narrow spiral stairs, a bedroom through whose canted ceiling window one could stare straight up at the enormous black birds endlessly battling the Dutch gale, their desperate caws sounding like cries for help. Then nuptials in Amsterdam, much horizontal rain, long nights drinking in Naaldwijk with Juud and Marcel, then biking back to Monster through the Dutch countryside in the whisperingly silent wee hours under scudding moonlit clouds. Freaking magic. And a whole new, deeply beloved family in a cozy little seaside town, nestled against the dunes on the Dutch channel coast; my second home and the Monster in my id. Oh, wat ben ik gelukkig. Thanks for coming to the club that night, Judie!

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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…