Thursday, September 17, 2015

Let’s Spray Paint the Ivy

“Women are difficult.”
“Yes,” I joked, “Always difficult.”
He searched in the cupboard. “Difficult,” he repeated. Then he said the whole sentence all over again, laughing. He’s a very kind man really and means well.

 “I don’t know what language he speaks,” his wife said to me once. “He can’t speak English, Dutch, German or Vietnamese.” The last one is his native language. We’ve all known each other for years. We used to live together when I was a student renting the extra room in their apartment. I still go to get my hair cut at her house, a train and bus ride away. This occurs about twice a year because I am most remiss in hair care and like to keep up our social contact. My friend tightens her lips whenever she sees me, “Yes Behsephone,” she says (Vietnamese people have a hard time differentiating between a p and a b) holding up some of my split ends, “It’s been six months. Time for you to look like a woman again.” Hmmm. I don’t hold it against her, I feel terrible the next day because I can’t style my hair and then it all goes up again in a little less of a mess on the back of my head.  My friend knows this, she’s hardly a fool. If it’s not wash and stuff into a chignon, it’s not happening. I also know time is fluo at her house.
I arrived early. I don’t believe I have ever arrived late. Her husband was home while I waited for her to return from some mysterious errand. Her husband made me tea and searched for biscuits to serve his difficult guest. I didn’t think it was wise to try to explain my gluten allergy in either Dutch or English.  I couldn’t recall that I had attempted clarification the last time. He joyfully came up with the “women are difficult” mantra. In the background a computer program was playing, spinning out conversational English. It’s never not been this way.  Had he ever really studied English? One could believe he never ever studied German even though he lived there and holds a university degree issued to him in German; he must believe languages come by way of osmosis and in most cases I think he is correct, the exception being himself. I listened to the subtler points of using the word “some” in English and disjointed conversations masquerading as educational tools while I drank my tea.  To replace another ineffective conversation he turned on the television.  Now that the space was adequately filled with noise from every direction, he left to hang up the laundry. 
My friend returned from her errand. “Jesus,” she exclaimed, “Your hair.”

The bus ride out to the burbs is always fascinating to me. There’s never anyone on the street except for a dog walker or a teenager with a sports bag running for a bus. It’s the Garden of Eden with freeway access where you can go home to your open plan living room after work and all be deathly quiet together on a tip top block in the evenings.  It’s not my kind of place. “Overrun by people and noise,” people say referring to my neighborhood in Amsterdam. I won’t have it any other way. Out in the burbs people put up those stone fences, rocks placed in steel cages to deter graffiti artists, or grow vertical fields of ivy. In my neighborhood the alleys get routinely sprayed. “I am just going to help a neighbor paint over his wall, get rid of the graffiti,” one of my building’s inhabitants cheerfully told me on a sunny day as we crossed paths on the doorstep.
You must be really desperate or stoned to go out and paint a wall of ivy in the dead of night, I thought sitting on the bus rolling past vacant sidewalks towards my haircutting appointment.  I am sure the ivy doesn’t mind a bit, such a hearty plant. “I wish we had stayed in the city,” my friend said mournfully to me shortly after moving to the burbs. She had been battling the overt racism she faced in paradise when trying to promote her Dutch Asian children into the better schooling options. Her sons are now attending university.
“Social media,” another friend recently blurted out to me, suddenly seeing the usefulness of the medium after turning up her nose on the subject for years. “You can go hand out some sandwiches to refugees on the border.” Her eyes sparkled. “What do you think of this?” she prodded me. I would certainly go hand out sandwiches. She expected me to make some grand statement about the refugee crisis. Until our spending habits change, there will always be a refugee crisis, I thought silently of the war in Syria and the economic repression in Africa.
“I am grateful we were picked up by a Dutch boat.” My haircutting friend and ex cohabitant confided to me years ago. “We were all hoping to get to America, but Holland is much better in the end.” She and her brother had taken their teenage lives into their own hands, said goodbye to their parents, and sailed out in a dinghy to the middle of the ocean to be rescued by whatever patrolling ship would happen to find them.  This week during my haircut she wanted to pick my brain about her office work woes. “I said, and it’s my own fault being so easy going, okay sure I would be happy to take the communication course. Two days.” she snorted, “I had to be enthusiastic so I was enthusiastic. Yeah, super a communication course. What did I learn in two days? Then they ask, so what did you learn in two days? Assholes. Repeat after me.” She considered the matter, she is by far one of the most communicative women I have ever met. “This week I have to go in and state my goals for the coming year in their non-lingo terminology, applying their two day communication course points, and what I say now will be evaluated at the end of the year.”  That would be spray painting the ivy.



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