Amsterdam – State of the Red Light District – Part 6

Notes from the old man in the attic.

Terry has to go to his job, night shift at Hunters. We sat goodbye, will be in touch. See you next year . . . I hope. This trip has been too short, not enough time to feel at home away from home. Only my friends and Torenzicht hotel remain the same. This is a very different place, the virus of course. At any given time I see some, maybe forty people on the sidewalks, looking two blocks both directions. The last time I saw these sidewalks they were jammed with people, every nationality and race. It was so crowded it was hard to walk, you had to git into a flow with people, laughing, pointing at the sex shows, stopping for a drink, or a smoke. Thousands of tourists, afternoon to after midnight, crowded bars full of people from somewhere else, in a good mood, having a good time. The rare exceptions, mostly drunks, are handled with expertise and polite efficiency. Bartenders and managers who run these places have all been there, done that. Not so much to do this year.

I stop at the bar for beer on the way to my room. It’s empty, just me and a bartender who knows me.

          “How’s it going?” I ask.

          “Slow,” he says. “The same as always?”

          “Good.” I put some Euros on the counter and he brings my drink. “I’m going to need a cab tomorrow. I’ll be checking out. Can someone be here at 6:30 in the morning, and I need a wakeup call at 6:00.”

          “No problem. How’s your trip been?”

          “I don’t know, okay I guess. I’ve had some time to spend with a good friend and looked around a little. Things are changing. Casa Rosso must be losing lots of money,” I nod toward the window at the place just on the other side of the canal. A guy is standing out in front to answer questions about the show, or price. Fifty Euros.  “There were always lines of people waiting to get in.”

Casa Rosso  2019

“Not this year, or the last,” he tells me. “They only allow twenty people per show now.”

Casa Rosso This Year

The window girls are gone. Top of a sidewalk urinal at bottom right.

“I have never seen the show. Sometimes think I should, just to be able to say I’ve seen it, or write about it, but I never do.”

          “You’re better off. Those shows are a waste of money. I used to live above the Banana Bar.”

          “I’ve never been there either but passed by the place a lot of times. Not hard to guess what it’s about.”

          “I got to know the girls,” he says. They all had routines and never varied from them, always the same act, with the same music each girl performed to. I’d be in bed and could hear the music coming through the floor. I knew who each performer was and what she was doing at a particular moment. It was weird.”

          “It must have been.” I smile. A funny thing to think about. I drain the second glass. “It’s time to see if I can still get up the stairs.”

          “I’ll buzz you in.”

The stairs are awesome, but this photo is not fair. They’ve been redone and they look very nice now, black with aluminum trim. But they are as steep as ever. I’m too tired to take a photo. I just want to get back to my room and pack and maybe one last smoke and pray the cab shows up on time tomorrow. I don’t want to have to find my way around the hole in front of Central Station.

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Amsterdam – State of the Red Light District – Part 5

Notes from the old man in the attic.

Terry shows up right on time. We leave the Torenzicht Hotel and pass by workers welding on the 3D bridge a few doors down. They’re attaching it to the ground I suppose. It was delivered in one piece.

“It doesn’t look like it belongs here,” I tell Terry.

He agrees. “It should be anywhere but here. It’s only going to last two years, then it will be replaced by a bridge that looks like it belongs here. An industrial experiment the people paid for. God knows what it cost.”

Were on our way to Hunter’s coffee shop in Rembrant-Plein where Terry works. Ten minutes later Terry points down at the sidewalk. “Have you noticed those? You see them here and there. They’re marking places where the Jews were dragged out of their homes and taken to Auschwitz where they were killed.”

I take this photo before moving on. The commons at Rembrant-Plein are missing a statue that was here on all my trips before. It represented Rembrant’s ‘Night Watch’ painting. This photo below is from two years ago and only shows part of it. “What happened to it?”

“I don’t know,” he tell tells me. “Something about money . . . rented space.”

“To bad. The park looks bleak without it.”

We move on and stop at Hunters. Terry introduces me to friends who work there. “How has business been?” I ask.

“Not good. The other Hunters located in non-tourist neighborhoods are doing fine. The same as always,” he says as I scan the menu. Mango Madness, Master Kush, Gorella Glue, Amnesha Haze. The names mean nothing to me, but I buy a gram of something I cannot rember. Cost’s about eight bucks. We order coffee and then find a place to sit and smoke outside. I don’t say much at first.

“What are you thinking? Terry interupts my thoughts.

“About the Jews here in the forties. How do people come to that?”

“They still do. Same thing going on in different places now, same racist, ethnic cleansing: Burma, the Sudan, Ethiopia. It never ends and people go along with it as long as it’s not them. They look the other way, believing in there governments and leaders, Hitler, Taliban . . .”

“And Trump,” I add.  “The lies. People believe whatever serves their purpose. Have you had your shots?”

“Yes, weeks ago.”

“What’s going on now with the Red Light? Things and places keep on disheartening.”

Yes, the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) , the Labor Party and the Greens all want to shut it down, relocate window hookers and the drugs to a purpose-built center elsewhere in the city. It’s all about money. Red Light has attacted a mostly young crowd who are not big spenders. They want tourists with deeper pockets, and locals with money don’t want to live above hooker windows. Rents will triple or more if they get rid of them.”

“I guess the Red Light as I know it doesn’t have much longer to exist. I am reminded of the Steven King Dark Tower books. There was a ghost down with robot hookers an still advertising their trade. I think it will be like that in fifteen or twenty years—an X-rated Disneyland. We already have the robots. You can buy them on Amazon.”

“Yeah, so it goes. The CDA’s Diederik Boomsma said, ‘This is about a reset of Amsterdam as a visitor city. Tourists are welcome to enjoy the beauty and freedom of the city, but not at any cost.’ It’s all about the money. Red Light is a very small part of Amsterdam, but one of the most beautiful. Half the City Council resigned last year over another problem, about money. Then they all got re-elected.”

“Sound like Sweden. Our Prime Minister, Stefan Löven got voted out, then was voted back in a couple weeks later.”

“Politics,” he nods his head. You want take a wobble back to your hotel?”

“I’m ready.” One last walk, the last one for today. We pass by signs that ask for employees. There is a shortage here and everywhere for low wage workers.

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Amsterdam – State of the Red Light District – Part 4

Notes from the old man in the attic.

I get up at a nine, have breakfast and go out to take a look around. First thing I see is the canal and litter floating on it. Whee, the people. Makes me sick. Plastic junk and beer cans. There are litter boxes every forty yards, both sides of the canal. All you have to do is push a pedal at the bottom and a door opens. They put a lot of signs up year before last.

You wouldn’t think people needed to be told not to pee in the street. There’s a sidewalk urinal just outside of the hotel, and others other places. I wonder around a bit. A wonderful old tree blew down two years ago and wasted a bench that was my favorite place to sit and watch people. It’s been cleaned up now, just a bare spot.

Not much to watch anyway . . . very few people. The Oude Kerk (Old Church) is under serious renovation at the top and all one side. I guess it need the work. Shakespeare’s wife is buried under the floor inside but they planted him somewhere else. Everything’s old here. The shops are new but the buildings above them go back a hundred years, or more.

          Warmoesstraat, the busiest street in the Red Light, looks about the same as last time I was here. It used to be fun. A few great coffee houses with in house dealers used to be packed with young people having a good time, The Baba, and Hunters are two I remember.

The Baba Then

The Baba Now

A restaurant and bar. The people that live here want the drugs and prostitutes to go somewhere else. I can understand that. But it seems a bit unfair. The Red Light was here first. People came to live here because it’s one of the oldest and most beautiful locations in Amsterdam. There are two canals, trees, ancient cathedrals, and a large Chinatown on the south side.

          This was a dangerous place in the old days, where sailors came after long months at sea. As early as the 15th century the first prostitutes arrived to earn a living in the harbor of Amsterdam. The women initially plied their trade in the streets until the sixties when police made it illegal to solicit from doorways. Things improved over time, but if was still iffy in the sixties. There were a lot of junkies hanging around, but that came to an end. Just the coffee houses remained, and hookers are now behind glass doors. You can almost always see police, without looking for them. Red Light is a safe as any crowded tourist place can be, but no crowds now. It’s kind or boring.

          On my way back to the hotel I see that the Condomerie is having work done.

They sell thousands of different kinds of condoms, ones you’ve ever heard of or imagined. There’s also a piecing place on Warmoesstraat where you can get stabbed and buy all sorts of things to stick in your skin, an amazing assortment of body ornaments.

I turn into a narrow ally with a dozen window hookers in bikinis, nothing outrageous . . . well maybe a little outrageous. One knocks on a window to get my attention but the others pay no attention, I’m too old to be of a likely customer. I remember a wise-ass customer asking Anna how she competed with all the whores. She said, “I give my lovers more than fifteen minutes.” Never misses a beat.

Another funny time I was watching some young guys, one arguing with a window hooker trying to get more than fifteen minutes. One of his buddies turned to another and said, “He won’t be able to give her fifteen minutes.”

          I stop and the outside urinal before going in. It’s easier than climbing the stairs to my room. Another bartender has taken Anna’s place. “I’ll have a draft,” I tell him.
          “Coming up.” He slides my glass across the bar. “So how’s it going?”

          “Not to bad. It’s kind of boring.”

          “Yeah. I know. Me too.”

          I am the only customer again. My cell phone rings. I must admit the damn things are convenient. It’s a call from my friend Terry.

          “Hey man, I’ll come by tomorrow morning, early. Will that work?”

“Yeah, sure.” I worry just a bit about the early. “What time’s early,” I enquire.

“One o’clock?” he asks.

“That’s perfect. I met Terry first year I was here. He worked at Hunters on Warmoesstraat then, and now works at another Hunter’s on Rembrant-Plein. A coffee shop.

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Amsterdam – State of the Red Light District – Part 3

Notes from the old man in the attic.

The draft beer here is great, Heineken of course. I look around and notice I’m the only customer, just me and Anna, the master bartendress who speaks six languages and is capable of handling anything that comes through the hotel door, with style. “How has business been?” I ask.

          “Not good. We closed for a month last December. We were always booked a year ahead.”

“I know, I used to book in late November to get my room.”

“Everyone that knows this place wants that room.”

“No trouble this year though,” I tell her. “Even when I changed my booking date at the last minute.”

 “We’re still not getting many customers,” she says. “But it’s getting a better . . . slowly. The tourists are 10% of what they normally are. There’s not that much to do. No concerts, music. They’ve started a curfew this week. We have to close a midnight, all bars and restaurants— everything. Red Light is a tourist’s attraction, businesses have lost a lot of money.”

The bar’s front windows here look out on the sidewalks either side of the canal and business beyond. There are three single tables by the windows. All are empty. One holds memories.

Huck

“I miss old Huck.” He’s been here every year, most of day. He only took a few hours off at noon.”

“He died when we were closed,” she says.

“That’s probably what killed him.”

“We gave him a nice funeral.”

“I never saw him without a beer, and I never saw him drunk.”

“Oh, he got loaded. He always had a little trouble getting down the stairs to the sidewalk. Huck had some other things wrong with him. It wasn’t just the alcohol. We gave him a nice funeral.”

“How old was he?”

“Seventy-three. He’d been coming here for twenty years. He never missed a day.”

He was decade younger than myself. I used to come up from behind when I arrived and pat him on the shoulder. “So, you’re still alive,” I’d say. No more. I miss him. He knew everything about the Red Light district and could always answer any question I came up with.

“Been a hard year. “Hard for all of us, and tourist places but there are a lot of people going somewhere now. I’ve never seen the Stockholm airport crowded is it was.”

“Another beer?” she asks.

“No. I just want to get up to my room, unpack, take a couple puffs, and relax.”

“I’ll buzz you up.”

She pushes a buzzer that opens the door to the stairs. The stars are awesome. They rise at a sixty-degree incline, and there’s a hell of a lot of steps. Thank God I’m on the first floor. Third floor is like climbing the alps. There are banisters on both sides and I manage to pull myself and the suitcase and backpack up using my arms.

I scan the pass card Anna gave me to unlock the door. I’m home away from home, at last. My room’s the same as always. I open the window and look down at the canal. So happy it’s been done at last. Took seven years to do the job. When I was packing my shaving kit I noticed some earplugs I used here years before when pile drivers were constantly pounding huge steel girders in the canal. It was not fun, but now it’s done—almost. There in one more canal bridge that is not quite finished. I can see it from my window.

3D Bridge

It’s going to be the first ever 3D printed bridge. I can see men working on it from my window. I will check it out tomorrow.

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Amsterdam – State of the Red Light District – Part 2

Notes from the old man in the attic.

Someone tells me it’s a fifteen minute walk to customs, but I don’t see it—so many people. I pass an immense, single file line of people waiting to check in to another airline I suppose. Wrong again. I make it to the front of the line where people are stopped before entering another rope maze. It takes five minutes to walk back to the end of the line. More travelers are constantly adding to it’s length. Some thirty minutes later I am at the entrance and press my boarding pass onto a scanner in order to join others waiting. It takes another twenty minutes to get to the X-ray machines.

The entrance to a maze

I toss my backpack into a box then empty my pockets into another. They want everything, billfold, passport, plastic pens. I remove the heavy buckle from my belt so I wont beep when I go through the body scan, but no good. They want my belt. I take it off and do my best to hold my pants up. I make it through the scanner without a beep, the highlight of my day. The boxes with my stuff arrive and I get myself together again, then another fifteen minuets walk to gate 13A. I’m still a little early for the flight and spot an empty seat, flop into it totally exhausted. A man on a bench across the way nods at me, perhaps with a knowing smile I can’t see. We miss so much with these damn masks. I child is screaming so loud it hurts my ears.

As departure grows near, I’m surrounded by a crowd of passengers waiting to get on this flight, about half are wearing masks. It doesn’t take too long to get on board and find my seat in time to watch others arrive with their carry-ons. There is ample space in the overheads. I pray the screaming child will not be on this flight.

Once in the air a stewardess announces we must wear our masks— no exceptions. Everyone complies. Twenty minutes later a snack cart comes down the aisle. Masks come off while we eat, some of us put them back on when we are finished, some do not. Stewardess says nothing.

It’s a short flight, just under two hours to Shiphol airport, Amsterdam where a short train ride takes me to Central Station. I’ve made it . . . almost. After another long walk I make it to the exit but don’t see anything I recognize. There’s a huge deep hole in front of the place, maybe three city blocks long, a block wide, and deep. There used to be something there, but I can’t remember what. It takes some time to find my way around the excavation and cross a busy street to the edge of the Red Light District. I see familiar buildings and remember a coffee shop from two years ago, the Central, as in Central Station. I’m not sure exactly where it is but seems worth my time to take a look. It might be just a couple blocks away, but I am so damn tired of walking and am just about to give it up when a see a black guy in a café chair rolling a blunt the size of my middle finger.

          “Do you know where I can score a joint?” I ask.

          He looks up with a grin. I get that sometimes being so much older that the crowd. “Around that corner,” he points the way. I find it and it’s just as I remembered, a small place with a couple tables and a drug bar at the far end with two dealers. I’m the only customer. Last time I was here it was crowded with newly arrived customers, suitcases still in hand, like me. I drag my suitcase through the door and to the dealers where I scan a list of brand names, none of which mean anything to me.

          “Do you have ready rolled,” I ask.

          “Of course.”

          “I’d like something mid-range,” I tell him.”

          “To pick you up, or relax?” he asks.

          I think about it. Relax sounds good and indica is good for that. I’m so damn tired, been up since five a.m. it’s almost five p.m. now. I decide on sativa to ‘pick me up’ and am on my way again for one last fifteen-minute walk to my hotel. I find it easily and stop at the steps that lead to the entrance. I need to catch my breath and rest a couple minutes.

           “Bruce, you made it. Anna has appeared above me. “Let me take that.” She reaches down for the carry-on I can barely lift. I am so beat. “First beer’s on me,” she tells me at the bar. “Did you have a good trip?” Anna puts the glass in front of me.

          “Not really. It’s been difficult so many people, crowds, long lines and confusion.”

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Amsterdam – State of the Red Light District Part 1

Notes from the old man in the attic.

I spend a few days in Amsterdam each year, except for the last year. Covid kept me home. I’ve missed making this trip. I always enjoy it and have friends who occupy a water world of hotel managers, bartenders and drug dealers who work in coffee shops. I always stay at the same hotel, the same room, perfect for one person. It looks out on a canal and busy crowded sidewalks, people laughing, having a good time. Fun to watch. I’m eighty-four now. This is what old people do, we watch things. It’s easier than doing things. I’m in pretty good shape and have had my shots but worry about crowds. A lot of people are starting to travel now. I’ve booked my flight out on a Monday hoping people will be where they want to go by then.

I took a train to the airport from Borlänge, Sweden and have printed out my tickets.  Younger, smarter people have their tickets on their cell phones. They just click a button– blip. The ticket appears on the screen. When I click buttons things sometimes disappear in an instant–gone forever. Wife put the tickets on my phone. They are still there, I think.

I prefer the reality of paper and do not like cell phones. There is an old joke about people getting tiny cell phones installed in their teeth and getting a call they don’t want to answer. “Pick up you bastard, I know you’re there!” We’ve pretty much come to that. Our phones are always in arm’s reach. People walk around with little white things stuck in their ears, talking non-stop to invisible friends. It’s a bit scary to see these changes appear, but all is quite normal to a younger generation who grew up with this reality. I see little kids with cell phones. I have trouble using mine. Whatever.

I’m at the airport Monday morning, 10 P.M. three hours early having heard stories about endless lines. I figured the length of lines was exaggerated and due mainly to the distance people keep between themselves. I was wrong. It’s like a crowded beehive, thousands of people trying to get to somewhere else. Signs stuck on the floor remind us to keep space between us. It’s a joke. 

Floor Sticker

I have my mask on and find it uncomfortable, hard to breath and hard to understand what people are saying. To make it more interesting my nose is starting to drip and I’m sweating as I enter a que to join at least a hundred people with their baggage and their children in a rope made maze. The line moves very slowly. We stand about a foot and a half away from one another when possible, often it’s not and no way to make it happen. There is no room. Children keep ducking underneath the ropes to escape their harried parents in gleeful freedom. Mom and dad call after them.

It takes the best part of an hour to get to an agent with a mask who sits behind a plastic screen. I’m told to check my carry on. “Not enough room in the overhead,” she says. Bummer. I had a bag lost or stolen in India last time I went. It’s something you don’t forget. I travel light now and hate waiting for luggage to appear at baggage claims. Agent tells me I can keep my backpack. Good. The things I cannot live without are in the backpack.

Checking in has taken fifty minutes, all of this time standing. I do not like standing. I did not like standing when a was in the Army, and a lot less now. I make my way out of the maze and start for the customs check and body scan. I traveled a lot when I was younger. It was so easy then when none of this was going on. I carried American Express checks—paper and good anywhere. There were no body scans. Soon no one will remember. I used to fly with a two-inch Buck knife on my belt; I always had it on me. No one gave it a second thought. Pocket knives are now illegal even on the ground in Sweden.

Where hell is customs? Hard to see, so crowded here. So many people.

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On my way. Back in 7 days.

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First haircut after 14 month Covid pause.

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Adult Swim

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Collage Accepted

My collage, ‘Same As It Never Was’ has been accepted for publication by Maintenant Vol. 15. Theme: Reboot.

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