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.