Thursday, February 26, 2015


Sitting on the altar in a rehearsal in the Krijtbergkerk in Amsterdam, I read the Latin words embedded in the Catholic floor. Basically the sign said “Of God, we are not worthy.”

I confess I have a mini mental obsession with a celebrity who now lies in a coma, and I will not mention her name. Her mother, a famous singer, died a few years ago under circumstances involving drugs. The family is praying fervently for the daughter, their flesh and blood, their image. For here it is, the daughter was raised in a house where drug use and abuse was rampant and now she lies in a coma and drugs are suspected in the scenario that led to her hospitalization.

Who are we worthy of if not God? This is the question that I asked myself gazing in confusion at the floor in the church. I grew up in a house where every day the object of exercise was to at some point get high. Not me, I have never professed any interest in drugs. In fact, it’s not pride, but total distain for that exercise that turned me away from pursuing such a habit. Deep down in me reflecting about the woman in a coma who followed the lead of her parents, I think, “That child was stupid and weak and blind.” Therefore, however erroneous this line of thinking is hypothetically speaking, it follows that I myself am somehow alive and strong. And then somewhere in me I believe she was destined to die. Aren’t we all? But what I really mean is that I believe she was not fit for Darwinian survival. 

Am I being cruel? Vengeful? Ignorant? Playing God? What was she supposed to do with her life?  Perhaps she herself had little inspiration about the matter. Perhaps she was full of sweet dreams and still, perhaps, dreams although the shortage of oxygen to her brain when she was found may impair this facility. But, bare bones, reproduce, basically is what we do, and her parents did this admirably. (I have failed and have no regrets.)

“We are all beautiful in God’s eyes.” Ah! Massive global improvement. No matter what we do, it all evens out in the end. Is this permission to be run of the mill? Or does it raise us all to heights unknown?

Reading the words on the floor, I felt an urge to prostrate myself over them, lick the mosaic, taste the subjugation. Apparently this pretty much is what an addict craves, the kick of being bad, down trodden to some day achieve, even beg for, the height of Almightly grace, dead or alive. 

I ruefully surmised that this whole idea I was carefully examining was demonstrative of a type of belly button mindset geared towards self destruction, an disastrous ego trip. Easter is coming up, let Christ hang on the cross for our sins, and in the meantime I think I will make myself an Easter basket. A nice yellow one with pink ribbons and baby chicks formed of marshmallow, candy bunnies, and chocolate eggs, all made in the image of animals we love to slaughter.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015


I took the dog out for a walk. We walked from the street behind the Dam Palace around to the front of the building.  I was waiting for some friends to meet me.  I decided to talk to one of the coachmen on the square. “What’s his name?” I asked looking at the horse, a solid brown and white example with thick hooves.

“Bram.” The coachman said.

“It’s a different horse from yesterday.” I remarked. This one was squatter.

“That was Arie.” He replied looking down at me in his worn top hat. “They work three days a week.”

My friends found me on the square ruminating about Arie and Bram’s work schedule.

“I thought,” my friend said to me, “That I needed to look for the woman in the green shoes with a dog.”

Since moving to Amsterdam I’ve worn out seven pairs of shoes: white, red, black, black, pink, brown and black.  End of the month, no cash and lime green, I surmised looking at my remaining shoe collection, was definitely in my season. A three day work week would be a heck of a lot easier on my remaining pairs of good shoes.

Days later sitting on Igor, formerly a beach horse, under a watery blue sky I waited for the Tuesday morning riding lesson to commence.  Six of us were lined up ready to go. To my left the rider next to me was getting settled.  The woman assisting the rider stepped back, blood ran copiously over her hand.  We watched in horror as she ran towards the stables.  It was obvious she would have to go to the emergency room. The horse that bit her stood calmly next to mine. One rider further to my left was being sallied about on back of the black horse who refused to stand still. Cautiously watching scene, the sleek animal rearing up on its hind legs and the groom trying to steady the beast, I noticed the horse next to me, quietly disdainful, spit out a piece of finger.  It lay, pale, white and motionless in the dark sand directly under the muzzle of the horse. “There’s a piece of finger on the ground.” I called out.  It was collected, the next two days my nerves were shattered.

I took the dog out for a walk. We walked from the street behind the Dam Palace around to the front of the building.  The Dam is where it all started, a small cross section of roads around a bog no-one cared to see. Then a miracle and the herring trade happened and this made Amsterdam a place to visit. Night time, dark and drizzling, the cobblestones shone. For the first time ever I noticed that the square on the dam rose up from the ground, slightly arched. Once upon a time, a typical 19th century fountain with a grey obelisk, ornately uninteresting and out of scale to the fantastic building behind it, stood at the top of the little dome.  Two men crossed the square, their shoulders hunched up, hands digging in their jeans pockets. “We were sexually incompatible,” one of them explained in plain English under his knitted cap to his friend, “She liked to be fisted, and I’m not good at that.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Ave Maria Story

He said to me, “My homework is to write the same story three times, using a different perspective of the story each time.” I didn’t think he’d find it that difficult, after all he loved writing stories. 

“How many words?” I asked him, flapping my leather gloves against my wrist.

My acquaintance stood in the doorway showing me the way out, “Three times three hundred.”

“Ach, easy.” I said, immediately desiring to do his homework for him. So I did, but it’s not his story.


“It’s for old nuns,” she told us. “They booked us.”
One fine spring my friend decided to gather together a program uniquely made up of  a good many versions of Ave Maria; the Ave Maria of Schubert and the Ave Maria of Gounod being the most commonly known in this choice of repertoire. Over time as a seasoned singer, all singers will understand this, I’ve learned to bark my preferred key for either of those two pieces into the phone on command.  The Ave Maria performances are carried out by a group of singing students, semiprofessionals and a few professionals dotted here and there, sprinkled in the program for balance.  As one of the professionals I knew I would not be assigned either the Schubert or the Gounod. I waited. “Piazzolla,” the organizer said in an effort to please me. A particular wailing version of the prayer, it actually wasn’t much to my liking, I had to throw all my emotional and vocal weight behind it to make it work or, in other words, convince myself to sing it well. Another singer immediately pounced on it after the first couple of concerts, when it was stated that we’d rotate repertoire. “I am really into Puccini these days,” she said to me as we walked towards the train station after her Piazzolla moment.

Obviously none of us were nuns, and when you organize a team of women for a concert, clothes count. We eyed each other up in the dressing room. The retired nuns were living in a large facility near the woods.  They wore light colored cotton blouses with high collars and favored brown vests. Only one nun wore the black habit and coif.  I thought understated make up would be best. “Primping yourself then,” one of the nuns with a brown vest remarked to me in the bathroom.  The nun in black came early to get a good seat. She read her Bible for a half an hour all alone. Of all the nuns staring at me on stage, I got a good look seated on the altar of the chapel waiting for my Ave Maria turn, she looked the dullest. “Sharp,” I thought, “These women are sharp.”

“Of course they are sharp,” my friend said to me afterwards over dinner, “Motherhood didn’t coddle their brains, slam their bodies into overdrive; no, they get up in the wee hours on a completely steady routine and have iron discipline.”



“Vanity.” She thought looking at the bright array of female singers on stage.  Each had their own style and their own Ave Maria to sing: The short fat one in the Moroccan dress with the tuning fork, the buxom plump one sandwiched in the black and peach silk, the tall one with pale white arms in the fuchsia tulle, the two foreign ones in black satin, the blond in the pleated dress looking like forlorn curtains in a penthouse, the bordeaux upholstery on the willowy woman, the one with the unruly sand colored hair in the doesn’t quite hide all the flab teal, the pale sea green with not enough bosom.  Sister Ignacio seated near the front hadn’t eaten the pudding at lunch. As usual, she claimed that it was not conducive to her digestion. She hadn’t said it so, she had said that she believed it contained egg and then she had went into the chapel early to read her Bible. The silly goose, she thought, catching her wicked thoughts about the pious Sister Ignacio into the web of her mind, adjusting her brown vest slightly to avoid the draft. There is no egg in Jell-0.

The chapel wasn’t very large and the egg yellow colored paint still looked rather fresh. The service that morning had been uninspired. Ave Maria, she thought, remembering her own mother who had been far from a saint, running off with various men and leaving her to raise her siblings. The women singing the concert looked more or less respectable; they took care of themselves, making themselves attractive for men with all their imperfections. Next to her Sister Carmen dabbed her eyes and mouthed the words of the Schubert in her wheelchair. “Jungfrau mild,” she watched her dry thin lips purse gazing at the mop of bristles shooting off the head of the singer, red faced and puffing with the effort.


Of course I loved my mother, and I spent a great deal of time during my youth trying to get away from her. Eventually hung up, caught out and punished, she lingered around my feet and was much admired.  They say you can’t dish yo momma, she’ll always come out ahead. Like the time she told me to buy fish and I came back with bread. She took a twig to my backside, but to tell the truth in the long run it didn’t hurt much. We were having company; John’s parents intended to visit our house that night. Of course they being of a higher social circle, my mother was a little nervous having them over. She ended up telling them some story about having read of an article in the doctor’s waiting room while waiting for my father to get stitched up, he’d fallen over a rock on the road, about a great digestive aid, mere bread and water but she served wine to the adults. They got pretty blasted even with the hummus thrown in.

It’s not that I don’t admire women, I just never stood much of a chance with them.  Personally I’d go for the broad in the velvet with the hooked nose. Sort of exotic, or the cute bubbly one maybe. The one in the shapeless orange with the tuning fork is a little too nervous for my taste. Anyway, it’s all a little late for this now. Gossip has been going around for centuries about whether I had ever been with a woman. I am supposed to be some sort of saint which means, other words, I never really got ahead in the game. Giving my mother the credit though, we were pretty tight and she was always there for me in the end, and besides I got all these brides, kind of like at a Chinese funeral when they burn paper money and cars for the deceased to have the full life up in Heaven. These broads sit and stare at me for hours in meditation, and I ask myself, “What’s in it for me?”