Note: I wrote this mid-flight over the Atlantic in a state of delirium. I never found time to publish it, until now. This needs to come before anything I’ve written on Amsterdam. Sorry for the last-minute post. Cheers.
I should be sleeping right now.
I should be sleeping, literally, right now. It is the optimal time to get set on European Central Time so I will be in sync with my family, and the rest of my trip. But I’m not. For the record, my watch says it is 8PM Pacific Standard Time – and if I do my math right, account for the whole hour of sleep I got on the flight to Salt Lake City from San Francisco, I’m currently 37 hours of sleep in the hole.
I was reading before food and drinks were served, and by the time I ate, my mind had already digested what I was feeding it only moments before – care of Don Miller. And so here I sit among the snoring masses; me and my second wind.
Have you ever woken up to your car on a morning after a light rain? Step out your front door, onto the porch, into a fog, and smell the asphalt without even seeing it? Finding your car and traces of the rain are lined like little glass beads all along the windshield and surface of it? My thoughts are like those beads. If I sit perfectly still, perfectly awake, perfectly calm, my thoughts will find the surface and they will align themselves accordingly.
It’s when I focus on them with too much intensity, whether deliberately or unintentionally due to other worldly distractions, that I lose sight of them. Like stepping on the accelerator and watching those beads turn into a blurry string that finds their way to the windshield’s edges – then off into oblivion.
For all I know about myself, and all my past experiences with sleep deprivation and writing, I shouldn’t be able to form a coherent sentence right now – let alone being able to retain the ability communicate. I guess I don’t know myself as well as I thought I did.
A series of thoughts that started when I was reading a chapter somewhere near the end of Blue Like Jazz led me to thinking about Amsterdam.
I can’t say why exactly I wanted to visit Amsterdam though. For all I know of European history and geography, Amsterdam was just another bullet-point on a list of need-to-know topics for my world history class in grade school. In my later years my mind had always associated Amsterdam as this more radicalized, liberal, version of Berkeley, except with canals and gondolas. I suppose Oakland has gondolas at Lake Merrit but that experience pales in comparison for the most obvious of reasons.
The dutch have a different approach to the ‘drug’ problem. Instead of harsh legal penalities, they’ve decriminalized most drugs so that people can posses several grams of weed, and up to one gram of heroin or cocaine at any given time. Further more, public service announcements describing what to do in case of a potential overdose, or bad trip, were hung around the city – or so the internet had led me to believe. So visiting this Mecca of supposed debauchery and sin, alone, as a young man, has to be one of the top ten items that David Letterman would list off on his late night show – if the topic was ‘things every devout, Christian, Mothers fear.”
For the record, I don’t think my attraction and curiosity for Amsterdam is drawn by any inner-desire to relive a Hunter S. Thompson novel with a European backdrop.
I think a little bit of it has to do with history, and of course, a dash of fiction.
A little over a year and a half ago I had started to read some young adult novels by an increasingly popular author; John Green. Almost by accident, maybe boredom, I downloaded the digital copy of The Fault in Our Stars on my Amazon Kindle app.
It was one of those quick reads that seemed so innocuous, yet it had such a profound effect upon me. Like when I finally got into Vonnegut, or finished Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. The plot was simple: tall and mysterious boy meets socially inept teenage girl, she reluctantly falls in love, and then one of them dies of cancer. Sorry, I think I should have phrased that more carefully, or at least given you a heads up. Spoiler alert. There.
The gravitas of the story sets in alongside of one of the many waterways, on a little bench, near the heart of Amsterdam. The teenage boy in his trademark leather jacket, which isn’t so dissimilar to a knight in shining armor, reveals that the cancer that was once in his leg, has now decided to to spread to the rest of his body like some diseased form of Manifest Destiny, only there will be no historians or political rhetoric to spin this genocide of one into a tale we want told to children. There isn’t, nor will there ever be, a story titled Cancer and How the West Was Won: The Augustus Waters Story.
There was something really real about that book’s turning point. Something I couldn’t ignore or rewrite. Something that I’ll always remember with a bit of disdain towards the author for.
John Green reminded me that life isn’t a fairy tale, or at least that his novel isn’t that kind of story. A story in which the boy gets the girl, the girl accepts the boy, and they live happily ever after.