Thursday, July 30, 2015

Deductive Nirvana

“What bar do you usually go to?” I looked at the man in astonishment, trying to figure out where he was coming from in his world not mine. British and Canadian, the two words crossed my mind as I assessed the company I was keeping.  Right, I realized: Pub Life. I am supposed to have a pub, local, and hang out there after office hours to let down my hair and talk to my neighbors. 

Ever since I left Gouda, and my marriage, I’ve basically stopped drinking booze. I realize I used to drink more than, than what? I have never considered myself a big drinker, but then two years ago I was drinking amounts that surprised myself. I was thinking these days that I seemed to have easily returned to my “when I was around 25 habits,” which means just about nothing in terms of alcohol.  When recently out with my acquaintances from Gouda, stranded in Amsterdam because of the strongest summer storm since 1901 this past weekend, I considered the menu and was swayed by old habits. I asked for a jenever. Sipping it I sat there thinking I didn’t need to drink a jenever. I ordered soda water on the next round.

“You’re different.” People say to me.

I’ve also dropped some weight. It’s hard to see on me what with the abundant curves. “You’re dressing different.” A friend who hadn’t seen me in a year remarked a few days ago. Not really I just finally got to see what’s in my wardrobe as I now have a closet to hang all my clothes up in, as opposed to the heaps and droppings back in Gouda where I had little closet space for my clothes. In a way I have found myself in terms of coordinating sweaters and skirts.

Most days after my office hours, I practice singing at home, eat a quick dinner and then go to yoga, which I have now deduced is my local pub serving outrageously priced smoothies, yakking on about making sure we drink enough water after class.  Remember to hydrate! At yoga, I am, per the norm, one of the oldest inhabitants in the studio. I am definitely the one with the tire around my waist in a room full of young pre mortgage people with practically no body fat. “Let’s get you headed in the right direction,” my doctor said handing me two slips of paper. Big breath now, two more giant moves coming up after the general giant change of direction in my life. I made the calls, and made the appointments. The next day, I woke and realized I was not micro managing my problems anymore, I was in the director’s seat. I quickly noticed that a few of my eating habits disappeared; that Haribo Handful, for instance, had dissipated.

It’s been a week or three.  I still have cravings for sugary things. Occasionally I give in, and my body isn’t too pleased although my brain tells me I should be “HAPPY!” because I got my piece of chocolate or snack bar or pudding or shot of gin or chewy cherry bonbon.  Frankly I’m not, I can just feel my molecules reacting to the sugar and sometimes I perceive hints of nausea.

Reading a scientific article on consciousness, I gathered that science is busy figuring out the formula to explain why consciousness, that weightless and essentially valueless moment, strikes us long after the physical experience that ultimately leads to some sort of perception has occurred.  Although I can appreciate this effort of the scientific community, I wonder why exactly this search for “Pinpoint the Formula” is important or beneficial to society. Will this speed up sobriety, meaning any type of sobriety? In future will we punch in the formula to an inbuilt body thermometer/regulatory machine embedded in our wrists and immediately come to a true state of deductive nirvana? Avoid pitfalls wedded to the lethargic belief that we are happy in the moment? Speed, perhaps, is the thought, we need to speed up all our mortal imperfections to have a happy life.  I am not so sure. We all like to think we are happy, whatever the situation at hand is saying to us.  We might even dupe ourselves with a formula.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Untold Story

He told me the story. He often tells such stories and it makes me seriously wonder about the man. “Paris,” he said happy to recount his sweet naivety and the avarice of others. “We needed to buy metro tickets and there was a queue.” That must be Gare du Nord I thought envisioning the bustling thievery. “A few Good Samaritans were loitering about,” he continued. Okay he didn’t put it like this, these words are my interpretation, “E. said, ‘Don’t do it!’” He smiled. I could see his ex blond ex girlfriend non mental competent herself pulling at his sleeve, rolling her eyes in exasperation. “But yeah, I love to be robbed.” Okay he didn’t put it that way, this is my translation. “So I let him help me.  Turns out that I paid six times the real price for metro tickets.” He gazed back at me, satisfied with his tale.  

I looked back at him. Should I congratulate him? Berate him? What I really believe, I have known the man over twenty years, is that he likes to think that he makes other people reveal their weaknesses and he’s the hero, not just a fool. It must have been too many dopey Bible lessons in the Catholic Church when he was a kid, thwarting common sense.

What, I wondered, was the reason that he was telling me this tale? Was the moral, “We should be happy to all be robbed?” The situation at hand lent itself to this interpretation.  Point taken but not without a damn good fight.

Out and about I pass by a house on the Keizersgracht most days of the week. It’s an old merchant house, not the most grandiose of the lots on Amsterdam’s canals, and the hallway is coated in marble floors and walls. What’s not so standard is the inhabitant.  I can tell the walls are marble because the door is most often open and the occupant out on his front step nearly every day rain or shine.  He’s so red I doubt snow would hamper the influence of his blood pressure and airy wardrobe. The front step being the raised set of steps made of expensive slabs of stone which was all the fashion in the 18th century.  Leaning over the painted forest green railing, for nearly all the canal houses have railings painted forest green, his paunch hanging out from his dirty tee-shirt, he surveys the street like a belligerent bulldog ready to bark.

Everyone knows this instinctively, that he’s looking for a fight. You can tell it just by sniffing the air. He’s unusual in his habitat.  Next door to him behind green protective bars and railings is a similar looking house but occupied by patricians. The norm, they stay demurely indoors. The man with the drum tight paunch in workers boots under distressed shorts surveys his domain either with a beer in hand or a carton of milk. He gaily harasses the bricklayers busy equalizing the street. One of the fellows didn’t look native. A strew of provocative comments from the raised steps washed over the man on his knees in the middle of the street.  Yesterday, I saw two policemen settling a scene between the paunchy businessman and a number of rag tag looking people. God knows what that was about, but I got the impression it was about stoop and step hospitality.

I said businessman because about six months ago I saw his house undergoing a change. The withered geraniums had been removed from the front windows.  Looking up into the house I could see the 18th century beams beyond the open windows. A sign appeared. “C.I.A. comics.” It proclaimed. What wit. I’d like to step inside and see the place, I’d like to know how a man of his nature owns a canal house worth millions, and I’d also like not to be a target of his ire or harassment on my daily walk.  I guess I'll have to think about the matter some more and wait to see if a story appears.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Texel and the Tuna Sandwich

“It is known that seagulls,” the Dutch beautician said massaging some cream in my face, “Fly from Texel to Amsterdam for some fries.”

My grandmother Gert used to make me a tuna sandwich on white bread.  “Do you want the crusts cut off honey?” She might ask, but not always.  I was the one grandchild, out of many, who would stay for a while at her house during the summer.  Sometimes my cousin V. came over for the day to keep me entertained.  My grandmother would be extra vigilant then. I was known to be a bit of a wire on the intellectual aptitude side and would routinely perform figurative tricks with wool that were unbeneficial to my cousin. Otherwise I was easy and well-mannered, generally speaking. 

Somedays I thought my grandmother was being extra nice.  She was already very nice to me. I would worry about her question. Crusts posed no problem; I appreciated anything served on a plate on a table at noon. Was I supposed to be fussy about crusts? At age eight I worried, should I say yes just to “fit in with childhood” or would that earn me minus points? My grandmother Gert didn’t like fussiness. 

As an adult, I sometimes make myself a tuna sandwich. It’s a comfort meal.   It reminds me of those placid and fulfilling lunches with Grandma Gert along with iceberg lettuce.  That was also a specialty of my grandmother Gert.  I never saw iceberg lettuce back home.  Nowadays I occasionally buy iceberg lettuce at the supermarket and still I feel either like a criminal or a nostalgic fool.

But I forgo the bread altogether. I was never big on bread with or without crusts and now I can choose the no bread option. I make myself a tuna salad on salad with a handful of potato chips on the side. Grandma Gert always gave me a snack sized serving of potato chips to go with my tuna sandwich. As a child I really looked forward to an individual serving of potato chips in the neat bag. That alone would make my day. Small bags of individually wrapped potato chips were decadent. That is I learned that they were decadent at home. At home, first off, potato chips were bad bad bad and not to be eaten openly in public. Then, the economics of small bags of potato chips versus the economy bag was underscored by pollution problems experienced by the planet. Litter. At Grandma Gert’s house I didn’t have to contemplate these problems while eating lunch openly in her company enjoying potato chips that came out of a small bag and tuna sandwiches with iceberg lettuce.

She’d sit at the head of the table and I would sit to one side to her. I was also allowed a soda drink at lunch. A few years ago stewardess on a domestic flight in America asked me what I would like to drink. “Ginger Ale.” I replied awash with nostalgia. She opened up a can of ginger ale and poured me a glass. “Would you like the can?” she inquired. My heart leapt as a seven year old. I thought I was at Grandma Gert’s house with a whole can of not a generic supermarket brand of soda bought without the benefit a drought or heat wave excuse in sight.

Grandma Gert didn’t say much at lunch. She’d eye me carefully as I sat enticed by a bag of potato chips and a can of ginger ale. She’d often make corn on the cob for lunch.  That was the vegetable. She had corn on the cob dishes, small long shallow plates that would hold a single corn cob. Grandma Gert posed the corn on the cob plates on the upper left side of the plate with the tuna sandwich laying on a placemat. Placemats were also fairly exotic for me and existed only at grandmothers’ houses. Grandma Gert even had those plastic corn cob skewers so you wouldn’t burn your fingers and get butter all over your wrists. She’d never use both skewers at one time. She’d hold the corn cob up by one skewer and slice off her corn kernels with a knife.

She had once explained to me the problems of her dentures.  After that I never mentioned her habit of cutting off the corn kernels. She’d raze the corn kernels cleanly from the cob and I would watch her in silence.  Once she’d removed the kernels from the cob, I always felt relieved that the painful process was over; I wouldn’t have to think about her dentures and gums, and she could enjoy her lunch.  I believe that when we weren’t eating lunch together we each ate our lunches in solitude.

“Maybe,” I thought slowly, “It’s for the company that the seagulls fly all the way from Texel to Amsterdam.”

The beautician continued, “I am convinced, quite convinced really, that there are fries in Den Helder.”


Monday, July 6, 2015

The Scent of Partridge

Retired, he read the papers. I am quite sure he read the papers before retirement. He was telling me what he read, a trim man in neat colored trousers. Every day he got on the home bike and cycled to classical music. “Thirty-five minutes.” I like this about men, they think time is quality, kilometers circumstance, pounds proof.  He read the financial reports. “I suppose if you read books about finance, they’d be out of date by the time they were printed.” I mentioned after he’d told me about his book collecting habit.

“Finance,” he said, “I read about finance.”

“Used to collect novels.” He, once a banker, informed me.

He mentioned Greece. I asked him what he thought about the outcome of the situation. He began a saga of what the papers were saying. “He’ll be out.” The Dutchman said firmly of the Greek Prime Minister. They will buy votes I thought.

“Where did the money go?” I asked.

“It’s gone,” he waved his hands telling me “Who cares?”

I thought that might be what the vote gamble was about, but I kept my peace. “Stamps,” he said, “Used to deal with stamps before I became a banker.  Never made so much money in my life as when I traded in stamps. Wholesale, lots you know. But the bottom has gone out of that now too.” He warned me off stocks.

All the hip young accountants at the party came from an American firm. Employed for a few months at a time they hopscotched across Europe on their mandates. They didn’t talk business, they talked about bicycles and taking their indecipherable mail into their Dutch lessons to get a quick translation. They all looked like they loved their jobs, and were going to high places.  They clumped together at one end of the buffet table their noses sniffing for partridge.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Morse Code

“If you put that on Facebook tomorrow, I will make a cheeky, no make that a peevey comment.” A warning. People do that, they say this to me every so often, even at tango lessons. It was inane what she had just said, and I don’t think I would have put it on FB anyway, but since she made a point of it……

“I don’t comment but I read your FB page regularly.” People mention.  Obviously she had as well as she was engaging me in conversation about something I had written about in my FB status.

“I had to learn Morse code.” He said at lunch. Everyone looked at him. “It was a total waste of time,” he cut some brie off the chunk of cheap cheese, “Military service.”

“Do you put that on your resume?” I asked, imagining going through a job interview with that skill listed on the paper between you and your potential employer.  Would they mention it? Make a joke out of it? Relax the atmosphere?

“At the time all the news was going through official channels but as a backup we were required to test the line every day.” He explained. “We would tap out, Are You Still There? And that would be the day’s work.”

Sounds fair enough, and as she threw down the glove, I took her up and rewrote her comment five different ways woven into a little story.  And posted them on FB without mentioning her name. I might hear something back but then again I might not.