Amsterdam Drifts

John Wylam

[1] As the plane landed at Schiphol Airport it was shortly after six a.m. local time and the train gets you into town in less than thirty minutes. I found my way to Passport Control, located in a common area, which led me to think maybe it was possible simply to bolt and live as an undocumented worker. Neither wife nor cats would approve. Neither would the tall, blond, uniformed official who stamped my passport, looked over toward his colleagues and said something in Dutch that made me imagine they were talking about one more long-haired American tourist. Possible translation: What's this one here for—dope or sex? Who's taking odds? Congratulations to those who guessed the former. I'd traveled a couple of days early for a rendezvous with my wife; my plan was to wander Amsterdam, listen to stories, try to write, and shake off America if only for a little while.

[2] The Multituli turned out much smaller than I'd imagined, so much so that I didn't dare to photograph the room for fear of accidentally including myself in a window's reflection. All I cared about regarding the room was that it provided a safe place to lock my belongings while I traipsed about the town. I'd never been overseas on my own before, and the Multituli was a choice I'd made online before leaving. Since I wanted for this trip not to feel like time in America, it almost didn't matter that the room was small. It wasn't the U.S.

[3] Barney's Breakfast Bar «», nearest coffee shop to the hotel, was a lot closer than I'd imagined from the map. The weed-keeper was Dutch by birth, with black dreadlocks and the smile that indicates a long-term maintenance high. He handed me the one and only menu—"because strains always change—" marijuana and hash, subdivided by strains (sativa or indica), all arranged according to price. In case the reader is familiar with "land strains," varieties more commonly known as Colombian, Mexican, Jamaican, Thai Stick, et al, are no longer on the scene; thanks to the creative ingenuity of growers around the world, they've been replaced by a seemingly endless number of hybrids, each grown for specific degrees/qualities of intoxication as well as flavor. Juicy Fruit, for example, tastes a bit like fresh banana and will rip your spine straight out, from coughing jags if nothing else. As a derivative of hashplant it's both strong and harsh, hence the parent name. Hashplant is a type of indica, the type most often prescribed by doctors and lay-medics for the treatment of pain; its sedative qualities also produce what cannabis users call couch-lock, which probably needn't be described, as well as a lowering of mood for some people. Sativa, by contrast, gives the user a euphoric feeling, though not at all like speed.

[4] The menu featured Barney's logo, a sun's face with serrated beams, serrated leaves abounding. If there'd been only food and not cannabis I'd still love the place for its out-of-the-way feeling and the people who worked there. I had a decision to make among seven or eight varieties of sativa and indica and about as many varieties of hash: Love Potion #1, Juicy Fruit (also known as Juicy Fuck because for some reason it brings out people's sexual side), and Hawaiian Snow (named for the crystal-like cannabinoids you can actually see coating the bud—it makes for a pleasant, uplifting yet intense effect, allowing the user to interact with the world without feeling part of it, necessarily) were the weed strains on offer. I bought a gram of Caramella hash, sativa, and for weed the strain that prior research said had won the most recent Cannabis Cup (see «»): Willie Nelson. After it was named, the aforementioned singer/musician/actor/activist sampled it for himself while in Amsterdam, and thereafter it became one of his preferred strains on tour. Sitting down to smoke a bowl from a glass chillum I'd brought, clean for the purpose, I found out why. As a heavy sativa, it gives the smoker a feeling of buoyancy that stays for hours. I've been smoking for the better part of thirty-five years, and after a couple of small bowlfuls it occurred to me that fried eggs would be a fine idea; meanwhile I watched pedestrian traffic and those marvelous twinkling lights that appeared between hits and that sensation, whether from jet lag or those first buds, that the world is continuing outside of clock time. The idea was, after all, that this should be a vacation from Americanism and those traits that identify it.

[5] On the way to Barney's I'd passed a coffee shop called Pink Floyd or Ummagumma «» depending on which sign in front you choose to believe, and while it was only a couple of short blocks away, somehow the walk between the two took a bit longer that second time. PF/Ummagumma is an airy room with a front space that vaguely resembles an American maltshop gone halfway to seed, the residue of which permeates the air as soon as you cross the threshold. Down one wide staircase past the weed-keeper's station on the left there are tables and a video monitor. For some reason this place played the Rolling Stones every time I was there.

[6] Here I tried my first "special" cake—by which the cook/server meant a large slice of birthday cake, right down to the red sprinkles and decadent frosting, which she'd baked herself earlier that morning with a gram of hash on average per slice. I was sitting at the counter next to the front door, pale smoke from someone else's pipe making its way out the door. In America such a scene appears practically impossible, peaceable though it might sound, and is. Obviously, marijuana and special cake are "clear and present dangers" to some, and to any government that opts to pervert facts, maybe it's true. Actually, I've wondered what the Bush/Cheney crew are smoking because it's obviously better than commercial quality. You'd have to be high on something very "kind" to argue the U.S. coup's talking points. And how special was the special cake? Quite. "You just wait an hour," the server said, "and then you'll really know." I wanted to get as far away from America as possible; after awhile, it was as though the flight hadn't yet ended.

[7] A personal/historical aside: the Provos, who began in Amsterdam and invented the counter-culture into which I was born, have been my heroes for decades because they approached politics from an absurdist point of view at a moment in history when it seemed absurdism was the only intellectual stance that made sense. The thorough Marxism of their staged events, compassion for and understanding of people's actual needs, and above all their penchant for speaking their minds no matter the audience, captured me early. Their idea of joy was staging events designed to prove the fallacy of archaic law that nonetheless had real-world impact on people's lives. [i] Roel van Duyn, seeing the Nozems' undirected rage as a sign, understood the conclusion to which the Diggers in California, among many other groups, were coming, that their governments had long since stopped representing them, and were in fact covering for interests both corporate and entirely selfish.

[8] If, as Bergson said, laughter's a defense against unbending opposition, in this case the Dutch government, the Provos' public events got across a necessary message: since those in control aren't listening to intelligent argument from the other side, some breed of disobedience is necessary; and while we're at it, couldn't we make it somehow enjoyable? And so, "Happenings" included copious amounts of public pot-smoking (much like Marc Emery's activism in Canada, which included smoking a joint the size of a Cheech and Chong prop and passing it among the audience members). The hope was to attract young, disaffected people toward more consciously activist work, and people who didn't understand belonged largely to that group Zappa would later describe as "products of plasticity." Van Duyn's contempt for "plastic people," consumers who buy the products, governments, and wars they're told to, was wide and deep, and now, suddenly, almost palpable as I walked.

[9] The Provos also began the legend of the White Bicycle. If you happened across it, it was yours to ride until you were through, leaving it for the next person at your destination. That evening I spotted a replica, the only one I saw the entire trip. It had been allowed to rust along the frame and back wheel, its one weak headlight pointed down like the head of a reprimanded dog, and the word NOSTALGIE along the front bar. A picture of a replica was enough for someone who once had some documentary footage of the Provos and that simple, utterly resonant bike.

[10] Van Duyn's beliefs and the Provos' work resonated around the world. Artists like Zappa and Warhol used his example to obvious effect, while in England a group of concerned public citizens took a bold step in 1967 by signing their names to a now-famous manifesto published in the Times of London. [ii] Doubtlessly they were taking a large collective risk, but trusted their fame would in some way immunize them from legal harm. Using medical evidence easily available at the time, they provided a rationale for others to potentially use. If only it had been more successful elsewhere.

[11] The Provos' relative success had as much to do with the people's independent will as anything, although of course tax revenues play a role as well. As of this moment, you're allowed to possess but, under the hard-core conservative administration of Jan Peter Balkenende, you aren't permitted to smoke in public, only at the cafes. His government is actively pursuing much more restrictive zoning of coffee shops. I'd heard, however, that tourists who are stopped for smoking in public are routinely given a warning depending on where and who they are. Dutch citizens sometimes get a free ride in the back seat of a police car. In more permissive times, you could walk down the street smoking a joint if you liked.

[12] Selling is legal, curiously enough, provided you're licensed and selling from a shop which can be zoned and otherwise regulated, but don't let them catch you importing. If that sounds odd, be sure the people who work in canna-business feel that way as well. However disingenuous as law, somehow it still manages to serve the Dutch need for genuine personal freedom—also the nation's tourist industry. Thousands attend the annual Cannabis Cup competition, awarded by High Times magazine for the best strains and judged by attendees who pay $200 apiece for the privilege; I'm told that does not count the weed you must buy from the coffee shops themselves.

[13] As for hard drugs, opiates in particular, they're strictly illegal although "smart" drugs are openly sold in shops as well as in clubs. Heroin, Europe's true hard-drug problem well before the US first discovered cocaine, is also illegal although widely available, more so than I'd realized.

[14] Until my wife's arrival, it was hard to get any idea of time at all. The body won't tell you what time it is, the clocks don't matter, and all you know is you're running on a different schedule from everyone else. Central Amsterdam's dull overcast that morning highlighted the city's idea of color, understandable in a climate of so much cloudcover and never more in evidence than the year's last week—paint and artificial light against the late dolorous sky.

[15] There was something I wanted to do on the first day: find de Kuil «»,

with its credo right there on the front window, which I knew I had to see. Instead I found La Canna «»

There's a display on a sandwich board out front that explains how different Europeans are from Americans in terms of consumption.

(Continental) Europeans: 70% tobacco/30% weed;
Britons: 70% weed/30% tobacco;
Crazy Americans: 100% weed

[16] A young white couple walked in. Man and woman. He seemed vaguely familiar with the culture although his prep-school clothes suggested he was a poseur; she looked allergic to the whole idea but there she was because he needed a washroom. They were on their way to Schiphol, it seemed from the evidence of suitcases, and she was applying pressure on him to hurry. He may have known, maybe not, that while he was upstairs she stared around the room at the few of us who were there as though we were habitués of the bar at the last exit before Hell.

[17] de Kuil turned out to be immediately around the corner from la Canna. Once a brown café, apparently, judging from the deep hue on the walls too rich to be from marijuana smoke (brown cafés are taverns where cigarette smoking was and is not only permitted but a matter of course; over many decades, the walls take on an almost uniform color), it drew a cross-section of patrons, many of them clearly local. In terms of the music played there, however, the front window said it all: Classic Rock and FZ. Frank Zappa, misunderstood as a drug-fueled madman by people who wanted to claim him for their camp, frozen in time by misguided mass attitudes, was adamantly opposed to the uses of marijuana. An early arrest (for contributing music to a film deemed pornographic) convinced him that a drug bust could have sent him away. That this window bears his initials surely would've outraged him if he could have known.

[18] Across the alley a kebab place was open for business; a sign on the tavern wall, however, read in English that you could bring in food "long as it doesn't stink." Another reason to wonder what Zappa would've thought. While I ate my gyro, a man down the bar rolled up a joint and again I had that shock. You can do this. It's all right. Just don't walk outside with it in front of cops or kids. Afterwards I loaded my chillum and watched the pulsating traffic outside. de Kuil's known for its window view, and suddenly I understood why: lost European tourists, Muslims in traditional dress, a kid with a five-inch tall, magenta and sky-blue Mohawk, one priest who seemed to be in a particular hurry for some reason, women on their own whether they worked behind the windows in the RLD or far from the sex trade, but I saw no one immediately identifiably American.

[19] If I could have designed a bar it would resemble de Kuil. Many who listen to Zappa are understandably put off at first by his lyrics. Puerile, misogynistic, racist are among typical first reactions, but at de Kuil there were no first reactions. When I mentioned to the bartender how marvelous I found the atmosphere in general, she said, "It's all good here. People just like each other." The owner turned out to be the Zappa fan but he was out of the country until after the new year, so I wouldn't be able to meet him as I'd suddenly hoped.

[20] Returning from the washroom, I passed the weed-keeper's station. I was happy to not see a portrait of Zappa. FZ would not have been pleased. The owner had struck the right balance. Since de Kuil specialized in Haze, that Jack I'd been planning on would just have to wait. Super Silver Haze is as powerful as they come; it felt lovely, with the distinct psychological impression you're looking through a icy set of window blinds.

[21] It was early to drink, ridiculously so, in fact. Still, my body kept saying it was actually just very late at night and I should adjust to European time. Not even the best beer on Earth fresh from the keg can equal a decent joint, however; truthfully, I found alcohol the harsher drug—however immediate its effects, drink was relatively harder to deal with in physical terms. Some people around me were interested in keeping up a maintenance high, not pounding alcohol owing to the day and hour, so they became my role models.

[22] As I left, I said to the front door this would be my Amsterdam office if I lived here, but I don't.

[23] Since several interesting coffeeshops are located inside the red-light district, such as Dread Rock and Excalibur, others close by like Greenhouse Effect «» and Baba «», it was only logical to look at two enterprises, each strictly illegal in the U.S., as they are to be found in Amsterdam.

[24] Seeing the women in their rented rooms for the first time was acutely saddening: brightly lit and for the most part clean-looking from the outside, they remain as they appear: nudes in glass cells. Without doubt there's a pecking order among the women: those who by whatever means can afford the fancier digs get them; those who can't, don't. The rooms are ruinously expensive, and women have to make hundreds of Euros a day simply in order to pay rent and organize a life. They came from everywhere—Africa, Russia, Eastern Europe, Asia, the States—and suddenly the scene took on a different attitude. Necessity is its own duress.

[25] Dampkring «» was made in/famous by its use as a setting for a scene in Oceans' Twelve, and sure enough, on the walls, as at several other coffee shops, there were photos of several Hollywood stars clearly enjoying the wares from behind the weed-tender's table. Terry Gilliam, Willie Nelson who was of course no surprise; neither was Snoop Dogg (The Puff Puff Pass tour was in fact the name of his 2005 U.S. swing), but Morgan Freeman and Robbie Coltrane were also prominent. Sir Robbie, no less. It was easy to imagine him sitting off in a corner, impossible to imagine what he'd be like out of character. Many others I didn't recognize, though several looked to be footballers, pop singers—a sign that age was telling on me since they all looked so uniform, indistinguishable from one another.

[26] The weed-keeper saw me staring at the photos. He said, "You know who was the nicest guy among them all? Brad Pitt. Total nice guy. Clooney too." They'd also have to have Pitt's money and the gift of that genetic makeup. Then, as though he was waiting for me to ask, "I didn't see Angelina Jolie, though. Wish I had. Nice lips." Pillow lips, someone nearby called them. It made me feel bad for Pitt and Jolie, an emotion I'd never felt before. How hard must it be for Brad Pitt to walk into a place like de Dampkring and simply place an order without hordes descending? Brilliant, wonderful anonymity. While Dampkring is infamously small (just look at the relevant scene from Ocean's 12 for a more specific example), the sense of camaraderie and commonality was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I never did ask the weed-keeper if he'd met Sir Robbie. Dampkring's smoke is legendary. All I will say is it's the equal of its reputation as are several others in the area, the Green House especially.

[27] At this point, streets and alleys merged into one another. That I read not a word of Dutch only made the disorientation more pointed. At a certain point, when you're too tired to walk anymore yet you continue because wherever you are, it isn't home or where you know your bed that night to be, and by now the coffeeshops are closing, when honestly you know you should go back to the hotel yet you don't, that you realize every step is also its own reward: the lights, canals, narrow streets winding into darkness. And always back to the same corner.

[28] The Bulldog chain «» was probably the most famous name of all in terms of Amsterdam's coffee-shop culture, though it hardly deserved that title even before the release of Ocean's 12. During the "high season" for general tourism beginning in spring and during the Cannabis Cup held in November, the Bulldogs (I can't help but think of them as the Hooters of Dutch coffee shops) go crazy with tourists, mainly Americans—most of whom simply cannot handle the quality of weed on offer. In the States, the preponderance of "ditch weed" can't possibly prepare the smoker for anything of the quality of Willie or the plethora of Haze variations. It just seemed typical of Americans to look for the McDonald's of coffee shops. While I'd never buy there, it was interesting to watch the clientele, in particular one twenty-something white kid (from Indiana, as it happened) who closed his eyes listening to Pink Floyd's "Us and Them." He leaned over toward me and asked, "Hey, what's the name of this song? Who does it? They still around?" He tapped his right foot in time with the slow beat. "You can feel the bass right through the fuckin' floor." He'd have really loved Roger Waters' simple yet chilling riff that closes "Comfortably Numb," but whatever the young man was smoking, it was apparent he was as numb as he'll ever be until the day he becomes a corpse, hopefully a long time from now.

[29] I was continually coming back across the same places, kebab shops, a huge all-night eatery that serves completely from vending machines (apparently popular among Dutch citizens though thoroughly industrial-looking and unpalatable), and one adult-entertainment shop that advertised itself on its overhead sign as a PORNO SUPERMARKET complete with DEMONSTRATION VIDEO.

One could call them that, I guess.

[30] I was lucky not to have been hassled more often. There were the occasional hustlers who approach you like spies at a funeral but they'll stage-whisper to you what they actually have: "Hero-ine? Ecs-tasy? Chi-na?" in mid-tenor as they continue on their private way.

[31] When you leave the RLD, it's as though Amsterdam opens up and becomes far more peaceable, or at least did until I passed a sad landmark: the Prins Henrik Hotel, complete with a bronze plaque out front to identify this as the place from which Chet Baker leaped/was pushed or thrown to his death in May 1988—time-weathered, Baker aiming his trumpet down toward the text:

Trumpet player and singer CHET BAKER
Died here on May 13th 1988
He will live on in his music
For anyone willing
To listen and feel.

[32] "Let's Get Lost," indeed. I'd first been to Amsterdam the month after Baker's death, and well remembered the news coverage on TV and newspapers. I was thirty-one then, knew nothing and pretended less. It was never my intent to search out this hotel; last time, in fact, I purposefully avoided it. The tragedy of Chet Baker's life, given totally over to heroin instead of the music, ended at the Prins Henrik, where he fell through a window (by choice or accident) or was pushed through to his death. There is alleged to be a suicide note but if it exists, it's not been made public; if pushed, Baker's murderer could easily have been a heroin dealer. In any event, Baker's life ended on the sidewalk near where I was standing. There were no ghosts.

[33] Chet Baker was cut out for the movies. He appeared in several during his life, and he even received contract offers, turning them down in favor of playing music full time. Acting was always a side thing. By the nineteen-sixties he was in demand as a singer as well as a musician, but he'd also gained a reputation for not showing up for club dates and other paying gigs; his star began falling steadily. Jail, a comeback of sorts, more arrests, and finally a room at the Henrik within walking distance of the few things he appeared to want by that point.

[34] The last film in which he appeared was the documentary Let's Get Lost; the juxtaposition of a vibrant, youthful trumpeter with footage taken at what turned out to be the end of his life is difficult to watch but a reminder to everyone who uses drugs of any kind. Use if you want, but understand what can happen. Always keep a picture of Chet Baker in 1988 in mind. It saddened me that he found insufficient satisfaction in soft drugs, but like Charlie Parker with whom he played, Baker's appetite went all the way, and whether he climbed through a window of skin to escape it, got so fucked up he thought it wouldn't hurt, or the guy who shoved him through the window was convinced the fall would hurt Baker worse than himself, hard drugs were part of his end.

[35] The Henrik was near enough my little L-shaped closet that stopping amounted to a last breather before home base, that much I was clear about. Inside the lobby the concierge motioned for me to come inside. He saw me staring at the plaque with that same mute sense of shock he'd seen from how many people on any given shift. For me it was like walking past the Dakota, or past the house in Saint Petersburg, Florida where Jack Kerouac died.

[36] He shook my hand. "I saw you reading the sign. Jazz fan?"
"From the womb. Did he really fall or was he pushed? What's your guess?"
"Honestly, no one knows. It's also possible he simply fell through the window. Drunk or stoned or something." "Heroin's a hard master."

[37] He started searching for something. "Wait just a moment, I have something to show you—" He handed me a postcard, a painting of Baker late in life. On back it read, "This drawing in pastel by Bert de Jong has been the model for the Chet Baker Memorial Plaque at the Prins Henrik Hotel...where Chet unfortunately fell out of the window and died on Friday the 13th of May 1988." Bad luck and trouble, indeed.

[38] "Many thanks. By the way, I have to ask you. Do many people mention that you look like Kevin Spacey?"
He applauded. "Thank you! You are now the one thousandth person to ask me that since I started here!"
"Man, I'm sorry."
"Think nothing of it. Some people think of it as a selling point. Baker had true talent. How many of the greats also sang?" Behind us in the street a panhandler passed, stopped, tried to get in. As Kevin Spacey walked toward the door, the man took off. "I hate to do that," the tired, bored night clerk said.

[39] Back in my room afterwards I switched on the TV and discovered three different channels devoted to personals ads. Since I only saw women, it seemed possible these weren't lonely individuals but enterprising businesspeople out to test another market; but since I speak no Dutch beyond a few rudiments, there was bloody little chance of my understanding more than that there were lovely twenty-somethings advertising their social availability. So I went in search of BBC World News, anything but CNN and the canned US viewpoint under coup. Finally I fell asleep for a couple of hours to the sound of trolleys down in the street and polite-sounding conversations in Dutch, French, no English that night, which was wonderful.

[40] This morning Barney's was much busier; I wound up sitting at the bar with a good view of the cook working away in the kitchen. Barney, whoever he is, hires people who work hard. Although I already had several varieties of weed in small Zip-loc bags and the gram of Caramella from the day before, something about the menu was alluring enough to make me reread it. New York City Diesel, AK-47, Love Potion #1, Willie still (to paraphrase Doctor Johnson, when you're tired of smoking Willie, you're tired of smoking weed), and a number of different kinds of hash. I prefer bubblehash because it's made by sifting the cannabinoids that often are wasted, rather than by the techniques of hash-making whereby the kif is "cut" with shoe polish and the like. In the end I broke into that little bag of Willie and smoked a couple of mid-morning bowls from the chillum before a breakfast of fried eggs, toast, and Coke Light. Then PF, for more special cake. The weed-tender was playing a Rolling Stones DVD on the house monitors; someone's miniature collie walked among the tables hustling attention; out in the street, I saw a woman walk past with three parrots on what looked like a metal stand with enough perches for all. The cook saw it too. "Those birds they don't know they can leave, yah?" The likelihood was their wings were clipped or in some other way they were prevented from leaving this dubious nest. Still, the owner must have felt some kind of responsibility to insure the birds would be able to get outside in a controlled way but without cages. All laudable, but the sight of them in that human traffic was beyond me.

[41] At one point near the RLD entrance, a man walking in front of me lit up a joint. It suddenly occurred to me how rarely I saw any kind of police presence at all beyond that point, so I felt more comfortable about doing it myself. In the following days I often thought about practicing marijuana politics with that man, but there were so many places where one could legally smoke, it felt unnecessary.

[42] Stones Café's «» located in a roundabout near the Old Church, nestled among red rooms a group of African women were renting. The women opened their doors and all but came out into the thoroughfare (which, though not generally permitted, most certainly happens anyway) at the sight of some new face. Now I know how lobsters on display at seafood restaurants must feel, with claws taped shut. All of us lobsters, women and men.

[43] The bar was fairly empty when I arrived and ordered a pint of Heineken, the bar's only choice. The cloud deck had lowered and it was misting rain. It didn't matter. I had to get out and walk around, back among the red rooms and coffeeshops and bars, only to find myself back at Stones. Now there was more of a crowd but a place at the bar was all I cared about. For some reason the bouncer remembered me, which made me wonder if I'd done something wrong earlier, whenever that was. Six feet six or seven, bald and broad-shouldered, for him the world must be all hairlines and monks' crowns. "You forget something?"

[44] "My brain, apparently." He leaned over and pointed out a group of young men sitting at a table by the front window. One seat was empty. "I had to throw a guy out....well, tell him to go out, get some air, you know—"
"What was he doing?" Already it was obvious I shouldn't have left. They hadn't been making a scene when I was there before.

[45] "Well, they come in, they been to the coffeeshops and all, you know, so they all fucked up anyway, and so they get them some beers and the one guy, he's just about to fall off of his stool and crack his head open, so I tell him go get some air, come back when he's feeling better."
"That might be into next year sometime, maybe. Where are they from?"

[46] "One guess. Mastercard." Then I heard them speak. Basic flat Midwestern accent I was used to hearing in daily life, made even more garishly monotonal in our current, common surroundings. As for their friend, outside in full view of the prostitutes in the roundabout, I had a damn good idea; whether he had wherewithal enough to do more than stand at their front doors and stare was the question. Twenty minutes later he came half-staggering back, was helped back onto his stool, paying attention to something the rest of us would just have to guess at for ourselves.

[47] It was already past one a.m., and I'd have to clear out of my closet by eleven. Time, as my wife's fond of saying, is often a fiction when you're traveling. I kept wishing van Duyn would walk in and sit down at the bar, but that could never happen.

[48] I stopped to take a breather and watch more human traffic crossing a canal bridge. A man beside me nudged my arm.

[49] "What you doing here?"
"Just hanging out a second."
"Where you from?"
"Canada. Just outside Toronto." A lie at the time, unfortunately. He held up what looked to be a straight pin. "Want a smoke?" A small circlet of heroin burned from the edge. "Not my thing." It seemed I'd rested enough.

[50] Back in the Multituli closet, life was looking up. My wife would be arriving in under twelve hours from Vienna; I'd be moving quarters around the corner to the Crowne Plaza, a true Internet deal, in time for her to breeze in. I watched the winter sun rise over the brownstone next door, collected my things, and rolled away toward the Crowne. They already had our room available, so I checked in, went upstairs, took one look at the bed and fell asleep in all my clothes until the door opened and my wife walked in.

[51] She would have let me sleep, but now that she was there it was more important to show her a good time in a town she'd visited before, loves, and knows well. We walked past de Kuil. "That would be my office in Amsterdam if we lived here," I said. Then she took me to what she called hers: and true enough it was what her favorite place should look like, deep red décor with plush seating everywhere. The weed we bought was likewise marvelous. The name of the place was Amnesia.

[52] We stopped in at Dampkring, looked in again at the photos of stars smoking only-the-weedkeepers-know-what, and then on to Gray Area, where my wife wanted to buy Gray Mist Crystal bubble-hash, known for its west-coast Canadian properties of particular strength. We made lists of the ten people with whom we'd want to share a bowl. We both named professional wrestlers who I would not wish to name since outing them could get me killed; we mentioned musicians and actors. We both named Johnny Depp, maybe because of his portrayal of Hunter Thompson who by this time I thought maybe I was inanely trying to emulate, and I thought about Brad Pitt, who as George Clooney said on The Tonight Show was almost "lost" during the production of the above movie, and how difficult it must be to obtain something as simple as quiet time to smoke a bowl in peace, watch people walking past, and do this with someone you love without the world getting in the way, governments, religion, the idea other people retain about their right to dictate terms? Since, amazingly, the Grey Area actually had tables open, we sat smoking the finest bubble-hash wondering with whom we'd like to share a bowl and conversation, wishing to God we could shake off what horrors we had and equally that we could bring those we loved somewhere that was at least far from Bush and Cheney and all that fascist, Freudian madness.

[53] Next morning I woke to the voice of Monita Rajpal on CNN International. Events were moving; Christmas as celebrated in the States would be blessedly quiet in Holland; still, as I wandered among all the cafes, I would have had to be blind to miss the young men with their own ideas about Osama.

[54] We made an arrangement to go to Barney's. My wife was on her own on her first trip to Amsterdam, so this time we meant to do these things together. We bought more herbal armament there, and then we stopped at Pink Floyd for special cake. It felt like a holiday. Everywhere we stopped, we bought: Amnesia, Green House, Dampkring again. And then to the place she immediately knew was my office: Café 420, de Kuil. This would be my seat, there by the window for the view of the human parade. Since now we were tending in the hotel's vicinity, she admitted that the weeks' work was catching up to her and wondered if I'd mind carrying on while she rested at the hotel. So I walked her back, left my stash except for enough Willie Nelson, Super Silver Haze, and hash to tide me over for the evening.

[55] I passed Casa Rosso, where a barker invited people to sample the live acts on offer: behind him in the open lobby, glossy photos behind glass of women alone, women with men, and one picture of two women in their early twenties. A misting rain began falling, the Old Church now obscured, almost amber inside the fog. I'd been walking a further hour and knew the way back to the Crowne if damn near nowhere else. Once, the RLD was a monastery; now that's irony.

[56] When I got back to our room, my wife was sitting up awake in bed, laughing in a voice two tones higher and lighter than her Odetta voice. "I stopped off at this place that sells mushrooms. Nice guy there sold me some Hawaiian. Would you like some, love?" She handed me a couple of tendrils. I said not this time, but made a mental note for our next time here. On its own it looked unappetizing, but slipped into a plate of Chinese food as she'd done seemed like a good idea. She wanted me to go off walking so she could do the psychedelics I normally avoid. My first acid trip was in Florida when I took half a tab of four-way Windowpane, and wound up seeing an army of robot soldiers marching through closed curtains toward me. That was all it took to cure me of any curiosity about hallucinogens, until my wife and her Hawaiian mushrooms. "Are you too tired to go get a bite to eat?" I almost changed my mind, but didn't.

[57] We settled on a bar-and-grill close to the hotel with a decent menu. My wife had brought our kit and asked the server whether it was all right to smoke pot. "Oh, sure. I'll get you an ashtray."

[58] We made a list of everything we'd bought and tried that we could remember, which at the time became as much a test for ourselves as anything:


Willie (aforementioned);
Love Potion #1 (next to Juicy Fuck this is the weed most likely to act as an aphrodisiac);
Super Silver Haze (aforementioned);
Jack Herer (rather like whiplash without the pain);
Jamaican Sugar (I thought it too mild);
Haze Heaven (an almost sweet smell, a wide taste across the tongue; like many Haze varieties, the effect is like two strong hands on your shoulders while the scene around you swims);
Black Domina Haze, probably the strongest smoke we tried, along with
Amnesia Haze, the variety that reminded us we should make the list in the first place before we forgot anything more;
Amnesia Dream/Dreamcatcher, the latter a surprisingly strong high that felt to me a bit like hash;
Bubblegum, which not surprisingly tastes like the name, hits hard but not for as long as the Hazes);
Ocean's 12 Haze;
Hawaiian Snow;
MK Ultra Haze (there was at least one other Haze variety that we tried);
Kushage, a variety of Hindu Kush which I liked very much for its long-lasting though not paralyzing effect).


Super Tbizia (a crushing body blow following a coughing jag so hard that you'll swear you're about to hurl a Plymouth);
Mazar-e-Sharif (yes, it's named for that Mazar-e-Sharif; we sampled the Taliban blend, decided there was better though it was quite good, and felt slightly strange about the experience);
Charas balls (lots of residue, a deep body high that doesn't impede lucidity);
Caramella (aforementioned);
Kashmir Ice (from the Green House, my wife's favorite place in Amsterdam);
Laila, Zafir, and Safir, from Dampkring and each devastating;
Anisa, a top-end brand I believe came from Green House; and
Grey Mist Crystal, bubblehash from the Grey Area.

[59] To hear how people elsewhere reacted to news of America was confirmation that I hadn't lost my mind after all, at least not where the political was concerned. While I'd never waned to tell anyone there we were American, in coffee shops and taverns we'd engage people in conversation about what was going on in the States, and listened to the true uniformity of mistrust and contempt for Bush, Cheney, Inc. When the U.S. junta parrots "They hate us for our freedom," they must mean by us the heads of multi-national corporations rather than private individuals. The Corporate Junta never sounded more transparent. Suddenly, something as simple as an herb took on more real-world importance, a right not shared in the States because alcohol and tobacco lobbies have the financial wherewithal to make certain of their own fortunes. There's also the matter of Mark Emery, who was "rendered" from Canada by US agents for the terrifying crime of selling seeds to undercover cops who then smuggled them over the border. Denial's a powerful weapon, George, isn't it? If only your stubbornness didn't come from that preternatural fear of recidivism; if only you weren't the Enforcer; if only—

[60] On one hand, we were anxious to get home to the cats; on the other, leaving was by no means a happy experience. We promised ourselves and each other we'd come back. After all, we now have our own "personal offices when in town," her at Amnesia and de Kuil for me.

[61] So we each saved a space cake for the flight home and made for Schiphol. Where, as we discovered, our boarding passes were marked in red pen with the letter M, meaning we'd be set aside for secondary inspection. We didn't have to wonder as to why, that scarlet letter a first reminder of where we'd be traveling. The usual rat-maze of rope lines until we arrived at a booth where an inspector/interviewer decided we weren't in some way a threat to national security and allowed us to board. Our mouths suddenly tasted of chocolate and mercy.


[i] «» provides a cogent history of the Provos and their forebears, the Nozems who could in some ways be compared to fifties-era biker culture in the US.

[ii] For those desiring more information about this period in drug history, «» details the impact of these laws on people like Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Patti Harrison, Marianne Faithfull as well as members of the Rolling Stones. «» presents the original text of the 1967 advertisement. «» includes an updated list of signatories in recognition of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the advertisement; several of those on the new list are pictured on the walls of places like Dampkring and the Grey Area.