Amsterdam can be Cruel


When you think of Amsterdam, “cruel” is not a word that will often, if ever, come to mind. That is, unless, you had a relationship with a woman that was doomed to fail in the 1980’s because you both had military commitments from different homelands that were separated by 4,000 miles of ocean. It’s a long story. Let’s just say that we are now, 30 years later, reunited. Unfortunately, there are a litany of cruel things that have happened to me in Amsterdam since we have rekindled our relationship.

There was the time I short-circuited the electricity and destroyed the washing machine, trying to plug in my American made Nespresso machine into the 220 volt electrical outlet. Evidently, you need more than a $2 converter plug to pull that one off. Also there was the time I got locked into the apartment and couldn’t figure out the pin locks from inside the place. Let’s just say that ended up costing us more money than a washing machine. Then there was the time we got fined 50 euros because a camera caught me speeding 5 km’s over the speed limit. Oh, and my train card fell out of my pocket on the train and I had no way out of the train station. I figured that one out on my own without any extra cost…well at least not yet.

My writer’s voice reminded me today of just how cruel Amsterdam has been to me.

It wasn’t easy getting this out of him. When I awoke this morning, my writer’s voice was unusually quiet. I didn’t know if I had said something in my earlier blog that upset him or if he was just in a pensive mood. He sat through coffee and our typical morning routine without even a peep. I considered perhaps the blog isn’t presenting him in flattering light. 

Finally at wits end, I recalled something from my clinical days. I attended a training seminar by a man who developed a therapy geared at taking care of the various parts of ourself. In fact, he eventually spoke with the Dali Lama and discussed with him the importance of good self-care as a precondition to being kind to others. More importantly, I always found his perspective worthwhile. It led me to ask my writer’s voice if there was anything I could do to make him more talkative. That’s when the idea of sitting by a canal on a terrace came to mind.

There was a lot going on in Amsterdam this morning. The sun was out and everything was upbeat on the streets. There was even a photo shoot going on right down the street from our terrace. (The photo that accompanies the blog is from the shoot.) Thus, I don’t know why my writer’s voice chose to focus on my epic fails in Amsterdam rather than all the good things that greeted us. I’m beginning to think that I take better care of him than he takes care of me.

As things would have it, all the hoopla centered around my Birkenstocks; the open toed shoes that are all the rage in Europe. Ironically, I protested about getting them at first. I’m ambivalent to the way they look and never liked the fact that they don’t have backings on the heal. “If you’re going to spend more time in Europe, you need to dress the part,” my love urged me.

I wish I could say that I listened to her suggestions because of my exceptional capacity to compromise in our relationship. In reality, I eventually acquiesced to the Birkenstocks because I didn’t like any of the other shoes in the store. Still, I got the pair she wanted me to get. I just in no way expected her to make fun of the way I shuffled to keep the shoes on while walking. I adapted to that shortcoming but then she started making fun of the way I lift my big toe up with every step. My struggles with my Birkenstock shoes offer a mere glimpse of the cruelty I have experienced in Amsterdam. Still, nothing could have prepared me for what happened with them this morning.

There we were—me, my Birkenstocks, and my writer’s voice—walking to a cozy terrace in Amsterdam. Little did we know that we were on collision course with a street cleaner vehicle, a sweeper, and some street litter. The street sweeper brandished a broom, pushing pieces of litter into the path of the street cleaner vehicle that gobbled up the trash with its two spinning wheels.

I just so happen to arrive at a cigarette butt at the exact time as the street sweeper. Apparently, the sweeper needs to stay ahead of the vehicle and couldn’t afford the second it took me to walk by the cigarette butt. Seeing that I’m trying out this whole “be good to self so you can be good to others” way of thinking, I tried to help out. It’s then that I tried to kick the cigarette butt into the street cleaner’s spinning wheels. Instead, my Birkenstock shoe flew off my foot and straight into the jaws of the machine.

Amsterdam has indeed been cruel to me. However, here’s the thing. I think I’ve finally turned a corner. Instead of gobbling up my shoe, the mechanical wheels on the vehicle spun it around and spit it back out at me. Even though the operator did roll his eyes at me, my shoe safely survived the ordeal and even landed gently in front of me. I owe it all to the workings of the universe that took care of me because I took good care of my writer’s voice.

© Gregory Masiello, 2017

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