The Train to Amsterdam
Deep sleep would have been welcome after a long day of story search and a late night of Jalapeno eating and professional bull riding, but I was awakened by my roommates who were shuffling around the floor, packing up their duffels. The youth hostel near the train station in Etterbeek had a curfew, but I managed to see the building manager outside the night before, having a smoke. He was up at 3:00 AM and couldn't sleep, courtesy of a nagging back ache, but he took pity on me and the funny way I was walking. He may have assumed that I was handicapped, there was no way to be sure, but I didn't want to tell him that my walk was linked to the fine cowgirl services from a certain Miss Kimberly at the Bitters Bordello.
The hostel was clean, though my temporary roommates smelled of Columbian Gold and bad cheese. I tucked my head back inside my own North Face mummy bag and faded off to sleep again.
Though the rules of the hostel would have ejected wandering students by mid morning, the building manager chose to let me sleep 'till the crack of noon before knocking on the door. "You look like a struggling, middle aged writer", the man said. "You're definitely not a travelling teenager".
"Yes, well you have me there." I rolled over to get as better view of the man. "I didn't mean to pose as something I am not, but I thank you for taking me in."
"No worries friend, I do a bit of writing myself and know how hard it is to pull a story out of your arse. I wish I could travel more to spark the juices of inspiration. All I can do now is hang at the Spoof Club and visit my favorite girl down the street once in a while. Now she's one that knows how to inspire!" He paused and introduced himself. "I'm Nick Funesco, just call me Nick Fun."
"Sounds like I visited those same two places last night, Nick", I followed.
"You didn't use the wrong password did you?" He asked.
"No. I pulled it off the Etterbeek station bathroom stall, just as I was instructed."
"And if you found Madame Bitters place, you definitely had a good night."
"I did in fact. Miss Kimberly was especially attentive", I said as if the typical male wanting to brag about manly stories from my manly, albeit recent past.
"You don't mean Cowgirl Kimberly do you?"
I immediately sensed some tension in Nick's elevated voice and made the assumption that Nick and Kimberly may have had something going on other than a paid relationship, even if only in Nick's mind. "Ah, no. Some other girl who probably used the same fake name", I tried to reassure him.
"Good", Nick replied. "That's my regular girl".
There was a pregnant pause interrupted by the sound of me trying to clear my throat from the remnants of my Jalapeno evening. "Well, I better be off to the train station. I need to connect with the Brussels Thalys Train by 3:00".
"Paris or Amsterdam?" Nick asked.
"Amsterdam", I replied. "I thought I would hook up with the Spoof Club in Leidseplein Square and see if I can trade for a story or two."
"I hear you can buy points there too", Nick offered.
"I expect, but I'd rather come up with my own stories, just need a little inspiration."
With that, I shook the man's hand and made my way off to Etterbeek train station with a connector to Brussels and the Thalys Train to Amsterdam.
Rail systems in Europe are profoundly cleaner and more efficient than in the states, and I marveled at the clean floors and graffiti absent walls. Even the economy seating and accommodations were nicer and the people had a basic understanding of how public transportation should be treated. It was a valued resource and, for the most part, people picked up after themselves. It was a testament to the old adage of doing to others as you would have them do unto you. In Chicago or New York, people took the trains because there was no other alternative to getting around. It was a forced transportation option thanks to lack of parking or the cost of parking. People treated the rail systems here like criminals on the way to prison.
Social commentary, pointless story detour and internal monologue aside, the speed train was awesome. While it gained momentum outside the city's limits and the view outside the windows streaked into a greenish blur, I wondered what might happen if a cow managed to get past the fencing and wander onto the tracks. I suddenly felt better about sitting in economy, several cars back from the front engine. The carnivore in me thought, "That would be wicked awesome".
Arriving a bit after dinner, I headed straight to the Bulldog hotel to check in and asked directions to the local Skoob & Thistle Club. The front desk clerk had no idea what I was talking about, but the concierge did. Overhearing my question, he introduced himself then pulled me off to the side. "Are you a Spoof writer?" He asked.
"Yes, I just made my way here from Brussels, well Etterbeek actually."
"Then you know a certain Mr. Lowton?"
"I saw him in the back of the club, but I wouldn't KNOW HIM, like the biblical translation would imply, no. He was an attractive man, true, but I'm perfectly happy with my own sexual orientation, if that's what you're asking.."
"I'm just asking if you knew him. Settle down." The concierge said. "You'll need to know this week's password for entry, but I can't help you with that."
"Yes, I pulled it from..", I hesitated to mention the secret bathroom location, "from the correct spot. I'm all set."
"Then you will find the entrance in the alley behind Leidseplein Plats, next to the Bulldog Coffee Shop".
And that was my first stop, the Bull Dog that is. It had been years since I had sampled a little of the illegal bud, but after all, when in Rome… you wait in line for hours to see the Sistine Chapel, pay too much for Coca Cola, but the Kiwi Gelatti is especially memorable. No wait a minute. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Amsterdam, buy a little chronic and remember the wild days of youth.
Entering the Bulldog afforded most an immediate contact high, and I found the overhead menu and price list to the left of the entrance. I was greeted by a long haired pixie of a woman who called herself "Katarina Frogpond".
"The Hawaiian Chronic is especially good this evening, but the Russian Hydroponic is also very good", she said. "Would you like them pre-rolled or in a bag?"
"I'll try the Hawaiian. Pre-rolled please. I don't think I even remember how to do it right."
Katarina laughed. "It's like riding a bike, you will remember", she said.
"Pre-rolled is fine. You should see me trying to tie my shoes. It isn't pretty".
Katarina completed my order and handed me a little boxed set of four pre-rolled gems, guaranteed to relax and inspire me, with a small potential for other pleasurable side effects that Katarina chose not to go into.
Exiting the rear of the Bulldog, I stumbled into the alley way and noticed another dark stained door in the middle of a narrow brick wall too far to the left to be considered part of the Bulldog. There was a distinct sliding metal portal at eye level and a sign underneath that said something in Dutch that was designed, I'm assuming, to discourage solicitors. "What is Dutch for Fuck Off?" I wondered.
Three simple knocks was the precursor to the password, and the sliding portal opened to reveal a pair of dark eyes. "PASWOORT" the body-less voice said in Dutch.
"Aspertame", I said in response. The door opened.
As custom had dictated, I tipped the muscle bound man at the door a five, and he smiled knowing I was at least a regular somewhere else in the world, and knew what to do to get past the bouncer. He extended his hand and introduced himself as Jimbo Gunn.
I took his hand as is western custom and he squeezed the blood out of my fingers. "Watch yourself now", he said. "You wouldn't want me to expedite your hasty exit", he said with a Cockney accent.
"JIMBO, let him go", the bartender called out. "What did I say about laying off the steroids and the Rhinoceros protein shakes , eh? They make you crazy, and we can't keep scaring off the customers like this".
Gunn released my hand, made a snorting sound akin to something from the wilds of Africa, but my hand would not function. I wandered over to the bar shaking my fingers in the open air.
"Sorry about that mate, how about a local Oranjeboom in a tall frosty glass?" he asked.
"Sounds good", I replied, still in pain.
"Yeah, sounds good to me too, but all we have is Miller". Handing me a freshly drawn, when he would deem to be an "Imported Beer" and I might characterize as "Piss Water", he pointed to my front shirt pocket. "I see you're all set for the evening. Go ahead if you want to smoke here at the bar. I'm Lynton by the by. Welcome to our little hole in the wall here in Amsterdam."
Lynton also spoke with a British accent, though slightly more refined than Jimbo at the door. Maybe it was simply easier for me to understand him because he wasn't causing me physical pain at the time we spoke. He passed me a menu and thankfully the food options were absent a certain spicy, acidic vegetable. "I'd recommend the brownies for dessert", Lynton said, "But it looks like you may not need the buzz."
The layout of the Amsterdam Skoob & Thistle was similar to the Etterbeek club, including a currently unattended round table with 6 chairs in the far left corner. I asked my friendly bartender if the club also sponsored a story exchange and he replied in the positive. "The group should gather in an hour or so. You can join them if you like, just bring your own paper and stay away from my rolls in the bathroom", he said.
Dark clothed bodies started to roll in the pub about an hour later and head towards the rear table. I picked up my glass and wandered over to introduce myself.
"Do you fellas mind if I join you?"
One of the men gave me a once over then looked back towards the bar at Lynton. Lynton nodded, and the man extended his hand. This time my fingers were apprehensive.
"The name is Whitehead. Duncan Whitehead. This motley creature here is Adam Click, and to my left Mr. Robert Armijo and Ian B. across the table. He won't tell us what the 'B' stands for. Bastard or Bonehead, I expect."
The others shook hands with me tentatively while Ian B. gave Duncan the finger. A universal communication device to suggest that the recipient, "Have a nice day, being ass-raped in a New Jersey prison".
"My name is Wortham. Thanks for letting me sit in. How do we start?"
Whitehead started. "I thought another spoof on Tony Romo getting back together with Jessica Simpson is in order".
"No, I just read a story like that yesterday". Replied Ian B.
"What about the medical qualities of zit puss?" Asked Adam Click.
"What sort of qualities?" I asked.
"Let's see, it could be used as toothpaste or better yet as silver polish!" Armijo added.
"Yes, I think the caustic qualities are funnier here." Whitehead followed.
"What about the unexpected qualities of smoking the Chronic?" I asked.
"You mean aside from getting waxed?" Asked Whitehead.
While sitting at the table, I had lit up my first pre-rolled and was enjoying the early effects, but to my surprise, my body was reacting in other strange and unexpected ways. Being a relatively tall man, I normally sit outstretched at a table, with thighs and waist up pulled up towards the edge. The Chronic was shifting the blood flow away from my big head, explaining the near-dizzying effects, but shifting it towards my other body extension of the same name. Pushing up from my loose fitting sweat pants was Mr. Happy, ready for action. Embarrassing naturally, while surrounded by males, and me trying to control the engorgement with visual thoughts of the Queen wearing Lycra, but it was no use. My side of the table was lifting on its own, causing some of the note paper to slide downward.
"Damn it Wortham!" Yelled Ian B. "Save that for the Banana Bar."
"Sorry fellas. Trust me it is nothing personal, I think the weed is doing strange things to me."
"Let's run with that. How about 'Travelling American Smokes Weed, Blows Smoke Rings with Penis' as a headline?" Said Whitehead.
"I like it. How about 'Performs Magical Table Lifting Stunt' as a follow up?" Replied Click.
"Or, 'Arrested for Poking Holes in the Hotel Bed', better yet, 'Poking Holes in his Girlfriend'" Said Armijo.
"I can carry two cups of coffee and a dozen doughnuts at the same time, while ringing the doorbell and pounding in a loose nail", I added.
The ideas started to flow freely and our group of five started to write as fast as we could. One-liners were tossed around the table as if they were sample headlines and the group would expand on each idea. It was collaborative and fast paced and the focus around the table was intense. Aside from having to shift myself in my chair from time to time, and heading off to the bathroom stall twice to get Mr. Happy to calm down, I managed to take some great notes with the group and wound up with three great story ideas.
Two hours later, Ian B. suggested we make our way to the aforementioned Banana Bar in the red light district to see a new performer there. I didn't quite make the connection between the district and what a penis shaped fruit might be used for there, but the group was about to show me. Duncan started to ask me if I had ever eaten "Peel and eat shrimp", to which I replied, "Of course".
"Well", Duncan said, "The Banana Bar experience will be a little like that. I hope you're hungry".
"Are you kidding? After the Chronic I could eat the ass end of a rotting Antelope." I responded.
"Good", Duncan added. "This will be reminiscent of that experience".