I’m in the Oude Kerk, in the belfry and the bell is ringing, a tremendous sound, so loud it hurts—a dream. Rudely awakened I sit up in bed. The sound and shaking’s very real and loud enough to shake the fillings from your teeth. I get dressed hurriedly, pull on my socks and pants, lace up my shoes and then step over to the window I left open last night. It’s been warm . . . mid August. I look out and down into the dawn’s last purple shadows lingering in the narrow alleyway below.
Three hooker’s windows are adjacent to my second story room and all three window’s lights (naked fluorescent tubes) are lit. I wonder if the they work all night? From where I am I only see (in full), one window. It’s a blue light window—a gay window. The male prostitute has stepped out from his door with a little white dog that has needed to urinate.
My frame of reference shifts. This prostitute has been transformed into a human being. He is one of us, with thoughts and dreams and feelings. When at work and posing in his window he seems not quite real . . . a manikin (pun unintended).
He has had some customers. I guess enough to pay the rent. He isn’t posing in this window for amusement. Sometimes, late at night when all the bars are closed, I hear a drunk or three harassing . . . jeering at him. Cowards with an easy target. The harassers are not Amsterdamers, and intolerant of things that don’t in any way concern them. They want others to be like themselves. A scary thought!
Enough of this. I take a sneaky photo of him in this early morning light. No flash. He’ll never know.
With camera back inside my backpack, I pull on a T-shirt and I’m out of here. Tremendous sonic bangs and shaking of this building have not stopped, still rhythmic at about five-second intervals. I stumble down a steep and narrow stairway to the bar. The bartender looks bored, and less than happy. As an employee his is unable to escape this stunning sound. The two of us trade glances filled with understanding. I can feel his pain as I pass by on my way to the landing outside the front door.
Amazing! There is an enormous yellow pile driver perched on a removable roadbed of huge steel and concrete slabs that straddle the canal.
Each of the driven steel beams that will soon (I hope) create a coffer dam they’re building. The pilings are some twenty yards in length, more than a yard wide, and weigh eighty tons. They will divide this waterway in half. Then one side will be drained, and the canal wall on the dry side be replaced.
It’s been five hundred years since this canal was dug. This area is built on sand that was once ocean floor and architecture in the Red Light District rests on wooden pilings that have also been in place five hundred years, some many more. They have begun to shift a bit and decompose.
More than a few of the wonderful old buildings along this canal are listing fore and aft. The sides are holding vertical as buildings rest against each other without any space between. Eventually I learn that most are built on sixteen pilings (minimum) as a foundation. Sagging, sinking pilings are replaceable, but at about $10,000 each. Some buildings lean a bit. At first I thought I was hallucinating, and I swear have not inhaled—yet!
Hope I haven’t bored you with this techie stuff, but it’s a part of the big picture, cleaning up the Red Light District. It will take two years they say. I hope their estimates are better than the ones we get here in Seattle. Never mind. I’ll take you back to sex and drugs. There’s also rock and roll here
I have some breakfast, poke around a bit and get to Hunter’s late, 11:30, but the dealer isn’t here yet. I invest ten Euros in computer time to read and answer e-mails—almost fifteen bucks. I pay another two for coffee and six more for my first smoothie of the day. I have become addicted to the smoothies here. I’m out of PC time in time to see the dealer enter. Almost 12:00 now. His name’s Terry. Terry waves hello and goes behind his counter to prepare for this day’s business, and I wait until he’s free, then ask him, “How’d you get this job?”
“It wasn’t hard,” he says. “I was a chef in England. There was so much stress, that job. I did some chefing here when I first came over, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I got to know my way around, you know? Met people, found this place. Same money and no pressure. It’s a lot less stress, just selling marijuana and hashish. This is a great job here, you know?”
He’s got a heavy English accent.
“People from all over the world . . . bringin’ in their stories,” he continues. “When I was younger, in England, I was very into hash. I always had a little on me, but you have to pay for it, you know? And wages always a bare minimum. Here everybody’s always got a little extra. I’ll be back.”
He turns away to serve a couple guys who look like college students. They discuss what they might buy. I go back to my stool again, and drink some coffee until they decide—two grams of L.A. Confidential. Terry weighs it out. The student’s walk up front to where the tables are with their new purchase and begun to roll some joints. The drug bar’s empty once again and I walk over to it.
“Want to try some?” Terry asks me.
“Umm. It’s been a long time. 1960 something . . . San Francisco, but pot never had that much affect on me. “There’s no way I could roll a joint.”
“Try one of these.” He pulls a pre-rolled New York City Doobie from his counter.
I decide to try it in the name of science and research. I go back to take my stool and light it up. Five minutes pass, then ten, but I feel nothing. Then I notice I cannot recall what year this is. I look around the place. It’s all so cool, almost reserved. The lighting’s softer than it was before and there’s a reddish glow that seems to brighten, then go soft again. A kind of purple haze in places. Music plays constantly.
I put out the half-smoked NYC Doobie . . . maybe later. Almost 2 PM now. Business is increasing as I drink another smoothie. Dope bar’s hidden by a wall of bodies. Would-be customers are sniffing plastic sample baggies. A delivery guy comes in with a large tray of Sushi and distributes it to several new arrivals who are at a table.
I ask him, “Is it legal for you Amsterdamers to grow weed at home?”
“A single household only gets to grow five plants. So where is all this comin’ from?” He gestures toward his drug bar as the tattooed waitress brings a cup of coffee for him. Terry lights a joint, inhales, then passes it to me. I take a toke that I don’t need. His accent seems more Irish now.
“It’s used to be kind of a cottage industry,” he says. “But there’s been a big change in attitude. They’re really cracking down and it’s not only the police now, it’s these private security firms, the FEOS. They drive around in little vehicles with 360 degree cameras on the roof. They can take a photograph of a street and see which houses are hotter than others.
“The police just bought remote control helicopters to look for grow houses with their electronic sensors, and they’ve got machines that can smell—devices they stick into people’s letter boxes. If they find something they kick your doors down. It’s all changed in Holland. There used to be two kinds of growers, somebody growin’ sixteen hundred plants, and little people, growin’ maybe forty plants. Making three or four thousand Euros every few months. The little guys used to be left alone. Police were only interested in the big growers. Now they’re interested in little growers.”
Six new customers arrive. “Is there a bathroom here?” I ask him as he heads back to the
drug bar. Terry points down a short hallway. There’s a poster on the wall.
I’m hungry for some Chinese food. Hope I can find my way. I’m feeling fairly stable. Wonder how the window girls are doing? Almost early evening now. The tourists will be lining up outside Theater Casa Rosso.