Pictured above: The Biker from The Village People, David Bowie and Anita Bryant.
I have a question.
A simple one.
Do you remember the first time you woke up in a canoe in the middle of a lake in a foreign country with no immediate recollection concerning the sequence of events that led you to the canoe, currently in the lake, in the foreign country (whose name eluded you at that moment) and the contributing factors those events may have had on your clothes because, after close inspection, you discovered you weren’t wearing any?
I was in Holland. Or, The Netherlands. I never did get a straight answer about the name of the country. There was a North Holland and a South Holland, too.
That was the first problem. When you wake up in a canoe in a foreign country but you’re not sure which one, it would really help if the country had a name upon which all could agree. Just to help you get your bearings.
I knew I was close to the North Sea. I didn’t know if I was actually in the North Sea but I considered it a possibility. If I remembered my geography correctly then Scotland would have been to the west which was okay. I had heard nice things about Edinburgh.
To the east would have been Denmark. I met a couple from Denmark in high school. They were fun. I don’t remember the particulars but, one night, he and I ended up dancing naked in front of our girl friends, much to their delight. (Beverages were involved.) I figured if the canoe and I were to drift to Copenhagen then I was all for it. I already had no clothes on so that was good.
I lifted my head and peered over the left side of the canoe. I was in a lake. Not too far from land. I looked at the sky and tried, without much success, to piece together the previous evening. I glanced to my right and couldn’t help but notice a young woman stretched out next to me. She was fast asleep. Her entire outfit consisted of an ankle bracelet.
Then, I remembered. Well, “remembered” is overstating it. Maybe, “Started assembling the pile of puzzle pieces related to the night before.”
I recalled meandering around Amsterdam that afternoon with a college friend called Duke, meeting a few good natured friends of his at a bar. They, the good natured friends, were going to a concert that night. We decided to tag along and joined them for a drink before toddling off to the show. Just for one drink. One and one only. We agreed to little or no booze because Duke had to wake up early the following day. That was it. One. Maybe, two. THREE AT THE MOST. Definitely, no more than three. So, we went.
Duke was a fellow college sophomore who lived down the hall from me during school. His real name was Sebastián and he was a proud Hollander of Netherlander or Dutch-ist or Amsterdammit or whatever. He preferred to be called Duke in honor of the Thin White Duke, David Bowie’s alter ego at that time. Duke was different. He was gay and was keen to tell you all about it including the part about what he’d happily sacrifice for a night in bed with David Bowie. A risky thing to advertise in 1977. His boyfriend, Anwar, dressed exactly like the biker character from the Village People. Together, they could have been the inspiration for Mr. Garrison and Mr. Slave from South Park.
I met Duke while performing in a college production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was Theseus. Duke was Puck.
He enjoyed the role way too much. When he was cast as Puck, he assured me, “Mischievous, flaming and naughty fairies, Puck and I. Merry wanderers, we! But, I am captain of the fairy band. Mount my steed, Theseus. I know you want it.”
“Yeah, I’m the Duke now, Puckface. Okay? I own you. Besides, you don’t know where that….steed…has been.”
Duke sighed, “Lawd, what fools these heteros be. I will delight in Anwar. And, Thee? What greater glories await?”
I smiled, “Carla, of course. Whiskey and debauch.”
“Little Carlita! That girl will tear you apart.”
“Looking forward to it.”
The residents of the college dorm, to their credit, never gave Duke and/or Anwar a bad time even though the general sentiment in the US was homosexuality was a communicable disease spread throughout the country by gay communists who wanted nothing more than to destroy our great nation by infecting innocent heterosexuals with their gay cooties which was a threat to life, liberty and Bif’s pursuit of Marianne (who wanted no part of Bif due to Bif’s difficulties with personal hygiene) because, once Bif got the gay cooties, he’d give up the idea of procreating (probably just as well) so he could spend all his time having gay sex behind school buildings and jumping in front of young children so he could give them a copy of the Communist Manifesto which was filled with gay cootie dust that little boys would inhale and no longer play with toy trucks because their days would be spent watching cooking shows plus Marianne would no longer want to follow the great American tradition of marrying some guy who’d cheat on her, beat her up and claim it’s her fault. Instead, due to the gay cooties, she would flaunt her new-found hatred of our All-American family values by getting a tattoo of Lizzie Borden and going to an Indigo Girls concert.*
In fact, in 1977, Dade County, Florida, passed an ordinance that legalized discrimination against gays. When I say “passed,” I mean “PASSED.” To the tune of 70% in favor. The person who led the charge was called Anita Bryant who made a name for herself by doing orange juice commercials on TV which, as far as she was concerned, qualified her to be the country’s moral arbiter concerning everyone’s sex life.
She insisted the survival of heterosexual families was at stake, that All-American family values would disintegrate due to the gay cooties, that children had to be saved from said cooties because they needed to learn about happy, wholesome families from a Mommy (currently throwing down her 6th Thorazine of the day), a Daddy (currently in bed with the 16 year old girl across the street), a big brother (currently locked in his bedroom with a copy of Playboy magazine) and a big sis (currently dating Marianne) so they, the children to be saved, could grow up and marry someone of the opposite sex as heterosexual marriages were the most sacred and the holiest of all institutions.
She got divorced a couple years later.
I’m not kidding.
No clue what old Anita is up to now. My thought is she could come up with her own line of Anita Bryant dolls that, once you pulled her string, would tell Barbi to keep an eye on Ken because he’s watching too many cooking shows.
Back to Amsterdam….
We were in the part of town with naughty bookstores and dames du soir who drummed up business by posing behind full length windows.
The women behind the windows looked cute. They came in various sizes, shapes and colors. Considering their chosen profession, their poses were a bit conservative. A few women dressed as cute Catholic school girls. I saw a dominatrix or two, a couple Playboy Bunnies and one woman dressed as a nun holding a large sorority paddle.
They all looked fairly friendly.
Except for the nun.
Seems paying for sex in public was, and is, legal in certain areas of The Netherlands. If you felt the urge then you’d step up to the window and explain to the nice Window Woman what you were hoping to accomplish while in her company. She’d let you know how many guilders (the local currency at the time) you needed to cough up before taking you to a room that had no windows.
I’m guessing the entry fee (so to speak) was somewhat inflated because the men, after hearing the cost, all hesitated and took a step backwards. The men would try to cut a deal but the Window Women weren’t having any of it. Probably because there were 10 to 12 men congregating in front of each Window Women. Many of whom were, no doubt, willing to pay the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.
So, hey, Stud. Market forces are market forces. She’s got the negotiating leverage and you’ve got….nothing. This is the original service industry and when supply ain’t meeting demand then you’ve gotta make a hard decision (so to speak). Are you prepared to take some of your son’s dialysis money and give it to the nun-lady so she can slap you around for a while?
It makes all us Americans from the good old USA of America proud because this is the business model upon which we built our great country. You don’t need to read The Wealth of Nations to figure this one out. It’s real simple. America developed into a super-power based on the concept of a woman dressed up as a naughty Catholic school girl in front of 12 guys drooling on the other side of the window ready to spend their child’s dialysis money for a few minutes of her time.
The Window Women didn’t look like their American equivalents at all. Your standard American card-carrying sex worker in the late 1970s wore an outfit that made her current profession altogether clear. She was the one sauntering down the street in the t-shirt purchased from the “girls 2-to-3 years old” aisle, spray-on hotpants and thigh boots. Plus, she’d use a spice for her professional name: Paprika, Licorice, Peppermint, Catnip and so on.
You didn’t need her business card to know what she did for a living.
Plus, in order to elicit service from Peppermint, you had to meet her at 2am behind a dumpster to discuss terms and conditions. Then you’d slink off to consummate the relationship in a place that smelled worse than the dumpster.
Duke said the Window Women got the same government protection as any other worker and the rooms without the windows were very nice. Plus, they received their professional certifications. Now, how does one become government certified for sex? No clue. Maybe it’s like a driver’s test you have to pass before you’re allowed to proudly represent your country in bed. I have thought about the guy responsible for handling the certification exams. I’m guessing he was pretty excited when he got the gig but if they’re trotting in an eager new candidate every 30 minutes then he may be losing his enthusiasm. If he’s having certification-sex with 60 women a week then the novelty must wear off rather quickly. By the third week on the job, he’s most likely stuck in a wheelchair. I’m sure his wife is long gone and he’s now spending his weekends sitting in a bathtub full of ice, sucking his thumb, watching Harry Potter movies and reading Plato’s Republic. After 90 days, assuming he’s not dead, someone will probably drop his catatonic body off in front of a hospice care facility with a note taped to his forehead saying, “Boyfriend’s probably dead. Check for a pulse before investing too much time with this one. If he’s not dead then tell him God forgives him and thank him for his service to our country (whatever we’re calling it this week).”
Duke said the Window Women offer their services in 15 minute increments which seems like a really tight time frame to accomplish everything you might have on your to-do list. Maybe you get 15 minutes and then have to go to the back of the line and wait for your next 15 minutes. I don’t know how that works. Despite Duke’s best efforts to convince me otherwise, I didn’t take the plunge.
Not due to any moral prerogative on my part. I just thought having sex with a pro meant I had to measure up (so to speak) to her standards. I mean, she’s a 100% government certified sex worker. What if I did a substandard job and she had to report me to the authorities? I could’ve gotten deported.
To say nothing of the reputation of my entire country. I’m from the good old USA of America! We got standards and shit. I don’t want to be responsible for the headline in the local newspaper saying –
AMERICA NO LONGER IN NUMBER ONE POSITION (no pun intended) FOR SEX IN HOLLAND OR THE NETHERLANDS OR WHATEVER
With my picture underneath and the caption, “Would you have sex with this man who represents all of America? ‘No,’ says government employee #352A!”
Duke kept pushing the Window Women idea. “Feeling shy, Dear? They won’t bite. Unless you ask them to. Go. You’re in need. I can tell.”
“Carla and I split up so I….”
“Oh, no! Carlita! Oh, I love her, the tacky little tramp. I would go straight for a day with little Miss Carlita. What did you do?”
“We tried having a conversation.”
Duke feigned indignance. “Call her right now. This instance. A little make up sex. It’s time. Bring Sir Duke.Three in a bed? Four with Anwar. ‘Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.'”
“Can’t. Sorry. Anita Bryant said I wasn’t allowed.”
“That cow? C’mon, Sugar Plum. Call little Carlita and I’ll get my beau. It’ll be such fun. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“Don’t call me Sugar Plum. Not in front of the guys.”
“May I call you Sweetie Pie?”
“No you may not!”
“Mon petit chou?”
“Gawd, straight men are such a bore. Fine. Go knock on a window and get a little. Please. That little Catholic girl would do you nicely. Go. My treat.”
“Oh, hush. Besides, I’m suffering from SCD. Severe Coffee Deficit. We must find a coffee shop. Post-haste. Recommendations?”
“Oooooh, yes. I know a place that’ll change your life forever, Princess.”
“Life changing coffee! Well, why doth thou tarry, Lacelot? Let’s go. And, don’t call me Princess.”
“May I call you Pookie?”
“No, you may not!”
Duke and I continually had this sort of dialogue. Much to our amusement and, probably, no one else’s.
We walked a bit and Duke stopped, pointed to the coffee shop, and proclaimed, “But soft, what light from yonder window breaks? It is the coffee and Juliet is the cream!”
“Juliet’s been called worse. So, this is the house of life changing coffee. Or, something.”
We walked in and were greeted with a considerable blast of pot smoke. People were lounging around drinking coffee and smoking joints. Right there. In public. They were being quite casual as though it was perfectly legal to smoke pot in a coffee shop. Duke immediately said we should see the barista and buy a little pot for ourselves.
I assumed this meant having a very hushed conversation with the barista, sneaking around behind the shop, making a surreptitious exchange of money-for-pot and hoping no one noticed which was how these sorts of things were done in the States. During the late 70s, in the good old USA of America, getting caught with a couple grams of marijuana could mean a sentence of 5-to-10 years in the clink where you’d enjoy a happy existence with mass murderers named Tombstone Giggles, Sliced Tumor and ADC (Anthrax Death Colon).
However, in this coffee shop, buying ganga and/or hashish involved selecting what kind you wanted from a menu. The menu had items such as Purple Haze, Cottonmouth Boo-Boo, Mash Stash, Doobie Drool and Wacky Kush Buzz-Buzz Butt.
I think we went with the Purple Haze. It was highly rated on the menu.
The point of confusion for me was marijuana and hashish were considered Illegal drugs in The Netherlands or Holland or whatever. The government must have decided enforcing possession laws against selling pot was more trouble than it was worth. Besides, if you can’t beat it, tax it. And, let’s face it, if you’re high as a kite then you probably aren’t a menace to society in as much as you’re too busy laughing and eating cheeseburgers. The most harm you’re going to do is to yourself when you fall on your face because you were walking back to the coffee shop and forgot how to put one foot in front of the other.
Purple Haze, by the way, did not disappoint. By the time we left the coffee shop, Duke and I were stumbling around having a grand old time trying not to fall into one of the numerous canals that run through Amsterdam although it caused our snappy banter to take a large step backwards:
ME (attempting to quote Jaques from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”) – All the players in the world are….merely….players…uh, to stage….to stage…. and women have many….parts…and…the part…
DUKE – What?
ME – Huh?
DUKE – Purple Daze…I’m nompletely mucked fup.
ME – Is Purple HAZE, diploaf….ha, ha, ha.
DUKE – Huh?
ME – All the players in the world in…stages…are merely….players…or…some such…
DUKE – YOU’RE the diploaf.
ME – I know you are but what are you?
DUKE – What?
ME – Canals.
DUKE – Canals……? Where?
ME – What?
DUKE – Canals.
ME – Canals……? Where?
[Extremely long pause]
DUKE – What?
ME – Look out…..
DUKE – Look out for what?
ME – Uh…, canal.
CANAL – SPLASH (after Duke falls in)
ME – There’s the canal.
DUKE – Do shut up.
ME – What?
DUKE – What?
After Duke dried off, we found a pub where we came across Duke’s friend, Jeroen. Jeroen was at a table holding court with four women. The women, none of whom spoke much English, were very amused by Duke who was playing the flamboyant gay role for their benefit and rather intrigued by his American friend (me). Jeroen was trying way too hard to keep the focus on himself. Two of the women struck up a conversation with me. One was Linda from Amsterdam. The other was Hannah from The Hague. Linda could speak a little English. Hannah couldn’t.
The entire conversation was as follows:
LINDA and HANNA – [Quietly conferring together]
LINDA to ME – My friend is wonder if you’re homosexual.
ME to LINDA – Pffffft….[spitting beer in all directions]. Wow. Okay. As ice breakers go, that’s now in my top five.
Linda and Hannah stared at me.
ME to LINDA – Uh, no. Straight. Heterosexual. Hopeless case. Appears to be terminal. How about you, Sunshine? Any particular gender or species do it for you?
Linda and Hannah whispered back and forth for a minute.
LINDA to ME – So, why you being with Sebastián now?
ME to THEM – I’m visiting. We’re friends from school. Oh, and I’m fine. Thanks for asking.
[Whisper, whisper, whisper]
LINDA to ME – So, it’s, um, you’re not sexing on Sebastián yet.
ME to LINDA – Sexing? Really? My name is Drew. Thanks for asking.
More dead fish stares from both.
ME to THEM – No. Not sexing on Sebastián. Not sexing on anyone. Altogether unsexing. And, you two? Sexing well these days?
[Extended whispering between the two]
LINDA to ME – Good. Maybe, okay. Sometimes. We maybe meet someones with the concert. Girlfriends, how many you have?
ME to THEM – To the best of my knowledge, zero at the moment. No girl friending. No Sexing.
LINDA to ME – Okay.
That was it. End of conversation.
By the time we staggered to the little concert venue, we were all in a fairly barbaric state of insobriety. We may have slightly exceeded our three drink limit.
During the walk, Jeroen wouldn’t shut up. He was desperately trying to impress Duke and me with how he was about to open a large studio and create some avant-garde experiential artsy type “environment” that was supposed to offer enlightenment to those passing through. What sort of enlightenment? No clue. Jeroen took about 20 minutes to explain it to us but I fell at the first turn. My feeling is if you can’t clearly explain what you’re doing within 30 seconds then maybe it’s time for Plan B.
Maybe not. The larger issue could be I’m too dense to get my arms around most things avant-garde.
Well, not everything. Books, I can handle. I read Kafka’s “The Trial” and found myself seriously relating to Joseph K. I don’t know if Jean-Paul Sartre qualifies but I used to read his books and quite liked them. Hell, I acted in “No Exit.” William Burroughs, Ginsberg, TS Elliott and all the others Bob Dylan talked about. I enjoyed Anaïs Nin so that’s got to count for something.
When it comes to avant-garde “experiences,” not so much. Electric body paint. Jeroen mumbled something about electric body paint. I guess if your body is covered in paint that actually conducts electricity then you will be in for an avant-garde experience. As experiences go, it might have its merits. Depends on the voltage, probably. And, where you paint yourself. And, how many coats. If you’re obliging the woman in your life and you’re out of emotion lotion then you could trot out some electric body paint and see how that works out for her. She might find the experience rather rewarding. Depending on the voltage. And, the number of coats.
The concert was in a quaint little theater with, if I remember correctly, stained-glass windows. An altogether unusual place for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to perform. When I staggered into the concert hall, I wouldn’t have known a Tom Petty song if it bit me on my boo-boo. I had no idea how good he and the band were. But, I learned in a hurry that night.
This was before they hit big and well before Tom got all mellow and laid back. He was a live wire that night. Aggressive, angry and, in terms of mental hygiene, appearing altogether unwell. It looked like one guy in the front wanted to jump on stage with Tom.
You might want to give that one a second thought there, Stud. He may be one of those guys who starts throwing broken bottles at you because he didn’t like the way you looked at his ex-girlfriend.
I’m sorry Tom Petty died so young. He seemed like someone who finally slayed the demons and was ready to enjoy being a grandfather. He is one of the great American songwriters. Up there with Hank Williams, Smokey Robinson, Carole King and Richard Rogers. The ones who took a lot of swings and almost never missed.
One Tom Petty song that always brings me a smile is “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” One interpretation of the song is that it’s about someone who has decided to get high one more time before giving up the drug life.
The first time I heard it, I thought about a friend of mine who had to check into a drug rehab facility. He hit me up for a ride. I said sure. The facility was about 4 hours away. Easy enough. It was around 9pm when he called. Then, he casually mentioned he needed to be there no later than 6am.
The following day.
Before I could say anything, he told me the good news was he had over three grams of some very high quality cocaine we could split on the trip and if I couldn’t give him a ride then he’d have to take a bus and do all the cocaine himself.
I’d have given him a ride anyway but this really was good news because this meant I could do my part, as a friend, to keep him healthy by not allowing him to do all the coke himself. By relieving him of this burden, I could make his transition to a drug-free life so much easier because he’d be checking in after only snorting HALF AN 8-BALL of top-shelf toot instead of the whole thing.
Gosh, I felt noble.
The only ride I had was an ancient Honda 750 motorcycle. But it was a nice enough night so….hell, why not.
We left around 10pm, making numerous stops along the way so I could help my good friend get well by snorting half of his stash.
By the time we got to the place, you could have peeled us off the ceiling. At 5am, we were singing “Heartbreak Hotel” as loud as possible. The residents were thrilled. The person admitting him to the facility immediately recognized we were both coked to the gills. He shook his head and said if I didn’t get out of his sight in 30 seconds then he was going to call the police. He was laughing when he said it but I took him seriously enough and got the hell out of Dodge.
Now, in retrospect, I can see how this whole adventure was an all-around bad idea and any number of things could have gone sideways. I understand that.
There are reasons I’m calling this memoir, “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”
This is one of those reasons.
The very good news is he walked away clean and hasn’t touched the stuff since.
(Neither have I, now that I think about it.)
Back to Amsterdam…..
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were fabulous. The crowd was fun. Jeroen kept talking over the music to impress the women with his avant-garde who-ha. After about three songs, the women scattered in all directions looking for true love elsewhere. Duke was flirting with a gentleman wearing gold-glittered short (very short), tight (very tight) pants, white knee socks and a muscle shirt that had a picture of Cupid carrying a gun. Hannah and Linda, the ones who interrogated me earlier, stood next to me. Linda was fondling a guy she found in the crowd.
Jeroen jumped in and tried to impress Hannah and/or Linda by assaulting them with ten minutes of excruciating verbal diarrhea about something. Linda, before she took the opportunity to molest the guy she was with, told me Jeroen had just asked her to act in the avant-garde movie he was writing. She turned him down. I asked her why she said no. With a straight-face, Linda said it was because she didn’t want to have sex with a horse.***
That’s what she said. I’m not making that up.
Hannah decided it was time for her and me to dance to the music which was a lot of fun because we recognized we had one very important characteristic we had in common:
We danced like shit.
Just awful. Horrendous. Unspeakably, unforgivably bad. We knew we were terrible dancers but we tried until we stopped because we were laughing too hard to keep dancing.
Linda walked over to us, turned to me and said, “I think my friend want you to do sex on her.”
So, yes. Hannah and I slipped away. We did sexing on each other at Linda’s flat and then, for giggles, in Linda’s canoe.
During one of our more exuberant moments, we managed to capsize the canoe. Even in the freezing water, we continued sharing recipes (so to speak) while clinging to the side of the canoe.
That’s the sort of dedication that really comes from the heart.
* Yes, I realize the Indigo Girls were not a going concern in 1977. I was using humor to make comedy. I attended a few Indigo Girls concerts.** At one, they did one of the greatest versions of “The Weight” ever. EVER.
** I noticed a fundamental behavioral difference between women at Indigo Girls concerts as opposed to women at all other pop/rock concerts. It relates to public bathrooms.
It’s behavior I’ve seen enough times that I can comment on it.
At any large event, the line to the women’s bathroom can be, at times, a hell of a lot longer than the one to the men’s bathroom. No great insight on my part about this.
There are those times when a woman recognizes that if she tries waiting it out in the line to the women’s bathroom then very bad things might happen and she’s forced to come up with Plan B. Sometimes, Plan B is to race into the men’s bathroom before nature takes a very ugly turn for the worst.
And, fair enough. Women have to deal with a lot already. So, sure. If it’s either use the men’s bathroom or have an accident in front of a few thousand spectators then come on in. You’ll be doing everyone a favor by going ahead with Plan B. Men really don’t lose any sleep about it. It’s not like we spend much time socializing in the men’s bathroom. When we’re in the men’s bathroom, our single focus is to get the hell out of there as fast as possible.
Well, at an Indigo Girls concert, where 10% of the attendees are men, the line to the women’s bathroom can get really long. It’s not unusual for more than a few women to resort to Plan B.
Which brings me to the behavioral difference.
At a non-Indigo Girls concert, women tend to kick the bathroom door open and yell, “Woo-Who! Look at me! I’m in the men’s room! Aren’t I cuuuuute?! I’m soooo cool! Get outta my way, I gotta go potty right now!!! Woo-who! I got, like, the worst case of diarrhea, like, ever!! This is so awesome! Aren’t I cuuuute?!?!”
In case you’re curious, the men in the bathroom are never impressed by this. Our inclination is to not stop what we’re doing and to tell the woman involved to stick her head in the toilet.
Whereas, women at an Indigo Girls concert will knock on the door, open it about two inches and politely say, “Yes, hi. I’m so sorry but, um, I have a bit of an urgent situation. May I come in and use one of the stalls? Only if it’s okay. I understand if you’re uncomfortable. I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t normally ask but this is a tiny emergency. But, please let me know if you’d prefer I not…..”
To which we men will actually stop what we’re doing (to the degree that we can), cover any offending parts and say, “Yeah, okay.”
I told my niece she should mention all this in her gender studies class.
She didn’t seem anxious to take me up on the offer.
*** Is “avant-garde” French for “needs therapy?” Have you ever seen an avant-garde movie? I saw one. Once.
There may have been a plot. It was hard to tell. At one point, some woman was killing young girls and taking a bath in their blood which led to the discovery that the Pope had a daughter who amused herself by having sex with her brothers, uncles, cousins and any other family member who happened to be in the neighborhood.
Firstly, what’s the point?.
Secondly, the guy who came up with this needs to be removed from society.
And, thirdly, stop that.