Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Oh. Crap.

How much does a toilet seat cost? Seriously. Like, 10 bucks? 20? 29.99?

Here in Holland, my family has a tragic history of toilet seats. (If my father knew I was talking about this he'd say "Let's elevate the level of conversation, shall we?")

My first Dutch toilet seat had only half a cover. The previous tenants - my friends - split it in half having sex on it. Really. They should have been ashamed, but they weren't.

So, while I was vacationing in the US with my family, D made some decorating changes in the apartment, one of which being a new toilet seat. It was an awesome one - See-through and full of barbed wire. 70 euros. This was before we had kids together and still flush with money, as it were. I was pissed that he spent so much money on it, but it was pretty cool.

A few months later, D's daughter took a flying butt leap onto the can and broke one of the bolt-thingies that held the seat on. We bought hardware and did our best to cobble it together, but it was pretty much up shit's creek.

In our second apartment together, we kept the standard-issue pot cover, but we were itching for a new one. We'd finally tossed the barbed wire one - reluctantly - so papa went out and bought a bright red one on sale. It was the only colorful thing in the depressing little box of a toilet room. And the peasants rejoiced.

When we moved on to toilet-training V (what a joke, by the way. I hate to admit it, but he's 3 and still in diapers) I saw a sweet seat in a flyer with a dual purpose. The lid had a baby-sized seat in it that closed over the adult one. Had to have it.

Well, that one was so great (and expensive) that we brought it with us to our new house. (Who moves toilet seats? Honestly!) We put it in our half-bath downstairs, thinking it would be of best use there.

Well, I'm afraid the reign of the double-assed seat has come to an end. A friend came over with her two little girls who are both in the throes of toilet training and obsessive (like all Dutch people) and they spent almost the entire visit jumping on and off the toilet. They seriously each went about 5 times during a 2-hour visit.

D noticed the next morning that one of the plastic fasteners had snapped, causing the dreaded "side-slide" when you sit.

I'll tell you one thing, folks, when a toilet seat breaks a bolt or a fastening clip, it's like a horse breaking a leg. You can try and patch it up a thousand different ways and nurse it back to health, but it never works, and you end up shooting the poor bastard.

Any suggestions? We're in the market again...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pay the pijper

(Pijper - pronounced "piper" - means someone who gives blow jobs. Time to pay the pijper, get it? I made a funny...)

I didn't pay my cable/phone bill and I am shut off. The company, UPC, is run by a bunch of dickwads. I was behind in payments, so I called, paid what was past due, and they shut me off anyways, while pretending everything was just peachy keen on the telephone. Pijpers.

I am pirating a signal from an unwitting neighbor by balancing my laptop on a windowsill. I should be back up for real in a few days.

All of that to say; sorry I haven't been posting a lot. I'm a big, fat loser. Actually, I'm just a big loser, but I will be a fat loser too, if I don't let up on the Christmas chocolate and crap. What is it about the birth of Jesus that makes us pig out?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The first rule is...

OK - D and I watched Fight Club last night. I've already seen it a few times. I went to bed early because, well, I was tired. This morning, he told me he hated it. FIGHT CLUB. He hated it!

I think I have to reassess our entire relationship. I mean, what kind of person doesn't LOVE Fight Club?!?!?

"We just had a near-life experience," "I am Jack's smirking revenge." I can only dream of being such a good writer.

IMDB rates it #22 out of the top 250 movies. Almost 300,000 people gave it an average rating of 8.7 on a scale of 10.

I suppose it takes guts to admit you hate a movie that everyone loves. Like in In and Out with Kevin Kline when all the old ladies are sharing their deep dark secrets and one says, "I'll say it right out loud; I HATED the Bridges of Madison County."

(I don't want to talk about not getting my dream job that I interviewed for this week, so this seems like a good way to avoid it...)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

World's Ugliest Dog

My partner just adopted the world's ugliest dog. She is an English Bulldog who was used for breeding and needed a place to spend her retirement. She is very sweet and gentle, but looks like Jabba the Hut. Or like one of those Sea Elephants who roar at each other and waddle around on the beach and bite each other for dominance.

So this is Ashley. Talk about a face only a mother could love. Fortunately for her, I'm a mother...

Friday, December 12, 2008

...And a flashy New Year

The flasher put up flashing Christmas lights. This shit just writes itself...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another naked neighbor

What is it with me and the naked neighbors?

I was at the window on the telephone looking out at the bike path where two girls were stopped and apparently shouting to a man across the water on his balcony. They seemed to exchange words and then he opened his bathrobe in the classic "flasher" style. They laughed and started to pedal off when he did it again (and jiggled. Eew).

A flasher. Really? I mean, it's so '70s. And can I get a moratorium on the naked neighbors now, please? WTF?

In all honesty, I laughed my ass off. After everything I've seen and heard and experienced here, it was practically a quaint, retro throwback; a nostalgic flash down memory lane. It's so benign.

My poor aunt on the telephone was traumatized, and when I told a friend, he was concerned that I might be upset. Like, should I be? Am I really this desensitized? Or am *I* the sicko, since I chuckled all afternoon?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Zee Germans are(n't) coming...

So we still have air raid sirens here. They run them once a month as a test. If you hear them at any other time, you're supposed to go home and listen to the radio, work on your victory garden, collect aluminum foil, and hide the kids under the stairs or something...

Are we really doing this? I mean, really? Is the emergency broadcast system not enough?

It scares the holy shit out of you when you hear it. I always think of the scene in Hope and Glory when they are all hiding under the stairs during the air raid and the daughter says something like "Don't drop it on us, drop it on the neighbor. She's a cow!" Great movie.

One of my friends, the freak-show performer, got a Hitler-style haircut, and wears it all swept to the side and everything, only it's fuschia, and he does things like swing bowling balls from his piercings. I suppose some people would find that offensive, but they're probably the same people that find http://www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com offensive, so there you have it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dutch Style


So I have surmised that there are two kinds of Dutch interiors. For the sake of argument, I'll call them Dutch Traditional, and Dutch Modern, though I have no idea what their real names are.

Dutch Modern is totally clutter free, and uses paradoxically large pieces of furniture in small Dutch spaces. Houses look like they have been staged, and no one really lives there. Very high style, slightly sterile, nothing on the countertops, plants encased in glass vases, big modern art on the walls, etc.

The Traditional design goes like this: Take every piece of kitschy crap anyone in your family has given you and fill in the gaps with tacky store-bought statuettes and fake tulips until there is no space on any counter, windowsill or bookshelf. Keep it dusted. Don't let anyone touch it. Get frilly curtains, fussy overwrought tables, and every kind of fucking garden gnome on earth for that paved back yard with the fake grass. FAKE grass. Because we don't want to have to take care of it.

Here's the thing, no one has a sense of decorative irony. I'd like to think I do. We have a fairly modern house, but we have a bunch of those little "kissing girl and boy" Delft Blue figurines. (We give them to each other every time we make up from a fight. Don't ask how many we have.) I bought some old-fashioned milk jugs and display them all together. I like REAL flowers, and all frilly shit is absent.

I told D I thought it would be funny to get a garden gnome for the yard and do something funny with it, like spray paint it purple and cover it with rhinestones and let the kids play "find the gnome" with it. He looked at me like I was mental.

I really like our house, but since no one here does in-between, I can't help wondering if our guests think "Nice house, if only they'd get rid of/add more crap."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And tell me this...

How can a man who eats raw fish slathered in raw onions turn his nose up at my baked stuffed chicken with apple/walnut stuffing?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tran...silly

Should I be flattered or horrified that most people find my blog by searching for "Amsterdam Tranny"?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Open Letter to the Dutch

Here is something I've been meaning to say to you people...

We all know you are pale and come from a sun-free country. Embrace it and PLEASE STOP TANNING!

(NO!!!!!!------------>)

Forget that it ages you and causes skin cancer - You look RIDICULOUS! This is not Spain. No one is buying it, and your faces look like catchers' mitts.

There are young, lovely women here with great hair, figures, clothes, etc., and their faces are full of deep brown wrinkles.

So girls (and guys), don't lay out in the "sun" when it's 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll catch a cold. If you want color, ride that 1950s-looking bike of yours as fast as your skinny-bitch legs will go until your cheeks are flushed pink. It works so much better on you!

I'm no swarthy lass, but I know enough not to hit the tanning beds. I am just waiting impatiently for lily-white skin to be "in." (Has it ever been?) My own son is so pale that if he were a little less attractive, he might be mistaken for a resident of You Know Where. (UKnow where...)

I too, have grown sickly pale during my residence here, but I will NEVER, EVER use a bottle tan, God help me. I don't want to look like I'm from Jersey, after all...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Of course, of course

There are two kinds of people in the world; fanciers and non-fanciers.

You know what I'm talking about. People who have Persian cats and therefore buy cat magazines, join Persian cat clubs, chat about Persian cats online, debate the merits of cat fur "colors" and superior breeding and brag about their cats' "unique" temperments.

Let me make something clear - These people are freaks.

I therefore find myself in a quandry, since my stepdaughter has now begun horseback riding lessons. You're either a horse person or a non-horse person. There is no kinda horse person. You can't go half-horse. (I suppose you can go quarter-horse, but onward...)

In the US, horse people are very horsey. Here, I think they are less so, since Dutch people are outdoorsy and active, and practically horses themselves.

Horsey people are always horse-crazy. They are also invariably tween-teenage girls with giant white teeth, big horsey thighs and fuzzy helmets that look like oversized Junior Mints. They sit in their classes and draw horses on their notebooks and always have this snotty air, like "I'm a horse person and you're not. My hymen is broken from horesback riding instead of sex. Neener, neener, neener. "

I don't want to be a horse person! I don't want to be a horse-person parent (which I'm sure is like a pageant/stage mother for the horse-set). I don't want to make small talk with other horse parents or be designated for apple duty once a month. I don't want to subscribe to Horse Fancy magazine and rent Black Beauty and talk about horseback riding like it's a sport instead of a lazy person sitting on a big, sweaty animal who does all the work. I don't want to go to tack shops and buy things like saddles and bridles and reins and stirrups and crops and leather boots and all the other things that I previously have only seen as sex props.

The closest I want to get to being a horse person is wearing a ponytail. The closest I want to get to seeing a horse movie is watching The Godfather, Equus, or the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they trot around clicking coconut shells together. This is going to be tricky.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Toe, nou...

So my good buddy Pat sent me these pictures of myself from a self-portrait series I did when we were in college together. He hoped they'd cheer me up.

These are my conclusions:
1) Depression is nothing new to me.
2) Photographs of me smoking & crying with dark roots make me look like a Mexican hooker.
3) At least I've always had fabulous lips.






Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can't rant

Can't rant. Can't rave. Can't get out of my own way. I am sorry I am not writing much. I am really depressed. I hope you'll all still come visit me. I promise I'll be good. I'll be better. I'll write more. I'll make you laugh.

If anyone wants to make ME laugh, email me at amsterdamyankee@gmail.com.

Sad panda.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Snap, snap. Yip, Jip

So D came to bed last night two hours after me and started talking to me while I was sound asleep. (He always does this. It's really irritating.) This time, though, it was kind of important.

It seems he took Jip ("Yip") out for a walk before bed, and Jip was attacked and bitten by a big dog. Once in the neck, once in the hind leg. He's OK, but skin was broken, and being a small dog, he could have been killed.

(<--This is not Jip)

The worst part was that the dog's owner - who was very nice and apologetic - was STUNNED. He had never seen his dog behave that way, and he has a small child at home. Before you ask, it was some kind of Lab/retriever.

I guess they always remain animals, but at least I can be sure that if Jip snaps, the kids will only end up with a few scratches. We have friends with a "sweet," hyper pit bull-type puppy (aka The Dog of Peace) who would "never hurt anyone" until he snaps and kills a couple kids. Oops.

I was reading an article last week about a family in the US with two pits, a litter of pups and a dead grandpa in the basement. They aren't SURE what caused his death, but I'm betting it had SOMETHING to do with the puncture wounds in his chest and aorta, but no one else was home, so we may never know.

A couple weeks before we moved here, there was a small crowd on a bridge watching something. I stopped to see two pit bull owners trying to pry their dogs' locked jaws off one another. Every time they got them apart, one would latch on again. Charming.

Here, Rottweilers are the boogeyman breed. I think they've actually been banned here. A lot of Dutchies I know were bitten by them as kids, D included, followed shortly thereafter by his mom.

Breed apologists aside, I agree with the words of wisdom of a friend - You never hear of a Cocker Spaniel flipping out and killing its family.

I think the big lesson here, however, is: Don't come to bed at 1 a.m. and talk to me. Or if you do, don't be irritated when I keep YOU awake with questions. Payback's a bitch, stud.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Crispy like a wet sock


You know what I love? A nice sunny, crisp fall day. I call it "football weather."

You know what we don't have a lot of in Holland? Nice sunny, crisp fall days. Or football.

It's not that I don't enjoy soccer, because I do. I find it similar to ice hockey in pace and excitement, but it's what it lacks in toughness that makes it almost unwatchable for me.

I understand that sometimes you need to exaggerate to get the penalty, or "boo" for the bad guys, but soccer players act like such incredible pussies.

In American football or hockey, they're more like "Ow, my nose is bleeding. S'ok. Might be broken, walk it off. No, no! Don't take me out. I'll show those bastards!"

Here's a soccer player, "Oh, that guy's foot almost got close enough to mine to maybe make me trip a little. Oh no! I fell down from that and now my shin hurts! It really, really hurts, like I might never be able to do ballet again! I'd better roll around screaming so everyone gets me to the emergency room... Oh, no penalty, damn. I'm ok, I guess."

Once in awhile, ok, but this happens like every 30 seconds in soccer. Man the fuck up. Forget the penalty, shake it off and grow some balls. Otherwise people will think you're French.

Merde.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bull

What happens when your kids are smarter than you are?

I said to V yesterday, "Look! A tractor." He said in a pitying voice, "No mama, it's a bulldozer. Little brat.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Shit Wars; Welcome to the neighborhood!


There's always a dog poop freak in the neighborhood.

So I was on my way to my new favorite supermarket at 9:30 on Saturday morning. We didn't have ANY coffee or cream, and it was a cruel and unusual way to start the weekend, so as soon as D was up, I headed out for coffee, so we would be able to speak.

On my way out, D said "Here, take the dog with you," so I did.

We have a small dog - a Maltese - named Yip (spelled "Jip" in Dutch).

There are these cute cottages in our neighborhood on the way to the store, and I like to walk by them because they are so picturesque. They are retirement homes, so only old (cranky) people live there.

Jip started to sniff a bush in front of one of the houses - on the street in front, mind you - when I heard pounding. There was an old lady pounding on her window yelling "Get that damn dog out of here!"

At first, I didn't think she was talking to me. What does she care if Jip smells a bush on the street. Then he peed there. Like, 5 whole drops. She started screeching like I had thrown acid in her face.

I saw Jip getting ready to poop, and normally I would have moved him to the curb, but I just let him go, since I was going to pick it up anyways.

So this crazy old broad comes out of her house swearing and yelling at me, prompting me to, you guessed it, walk away from the crime scene. I'm not going to be bullied by some geriatric nut job.

Not having the full command of the Dutch language, I didn't' say anything as I walked away shaking my head with her cursing me and yelling the whole time.

I would have picked it up. I really would have. People need to calm down and mind their business.

The best was yet to come, however.

I walked out of the supermarket, and there she was. Yelling at me like a poop-crazed octogenarian. This time I couldn't be quiet.

I said "Geez, if you had just acted normal I would have picked it up. I always have bags with me, see??" I showed her one.

She says "What am I supposed to do, get on my knees and beg?" (What an irritating old @%#&%.)

I say "No, but 'could you please pick that up' would have worked better than 'get that damn dog out of here.' I would have gladly picked it up, you annoying bitch." It just slipped out. I swear.

She said "No, you are." OK, now this is just childish.

I said "Thank you. Now I am going to walk by your house again. I hope he has to poop some more."

I wish my Dutch were better, but that was the best I could do under pressure. And I hadn't had my coffee.

But for real, on my way back, I picked up the crap. And put it on her doorstep. I thought it was only fair. She's lucky I didn't smear it on the doorknob.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My own little sea lion

My son has the croup. He woke up last night barking like a sea lion. The croup. What makes it "the"? Is it because it's mysterious enough that it has to be addressed formally?

I'm reminded of Neil Simon plays where people get "the cancer" and "the rheumatism."

I do love the expression/meme "teh ghey," as in, "Don't let your son perform in too many Neil Simon plays, or he might get 'the gay.' (Check urbandictionary.com, teh ghey.)

Do people still really think you can catch gayness? That's like the article I saw the other day on Fark.com (I got to reference two of my most favorite sites in one entry. Huzzah!) It was about the association or organization of people who STILL think the world is flat. Flat. The world. As in, fall off the edge.

I guess they've modified their "beliefs" now to admitting that the world is "saucer shaped" and ringed by ice - explaining the farce that we would call the North and South poles.

A flat world. Now THAT is teh ghey.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Should shopping make you cry?

Everyone already knows about my deep and abiding hate for AH, but now that I don't live in the Center anymore, I have a new grocery store, and I am in love with it. I wish I could roll naked in the aisles, giggling uncontrollably.

It's called C1000, and it's almost like shopping in an American supermarket. When I went in for the first time and saw how big it was and how much selection there was, I swear, a tear came to my eye. I am so pathetic.

Not only was the staff knowledgeable, they were also polite. Where the hell am I?

Of course, they still only have about 6 kinds of breakfast cereal instead of the aisle-long homage to sugar that we have at home. Fucking amateurs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Moving Experience

So, we moved on Saturday. D got a great big truck (which he actually has a license to drive - how cool is that?) and we did the whole Amsterdam house-hook-pulley-thingy out the window.

Here's how it was different from moving in America:

* The people who said they'd come to help actually showed up.

* No one bailed early.

* My neighbor INSISTED on watching the kids for me. Not for half the day. All day. Longer if necessary.

* All our shit dangled three stories over the street from a rope and no one even acted like it was weird.

And most incredibly...
* Our friends couldn't bear to leave the new house until it was all set up.

I couldn't believe the lack of whining. I really couldn't. I have moved a few times, and I have helped others move, and there has always been whining. "WHERE does this have to go?", "HOW many flights?", "Are we almost done?", "Don't we need more beer...?"

It went more smoothly than imaginable, and we couldn't have been happier.

We were planning on tossing everything in the main living space and then sorting it through the next few days. My mother-in-law and our (heretofore dear) friend wouldn't have any of it.

I went to bed exhausted at 11:30 and the house looked like this:



When I came down the next morning at 6 (I have an infant, remember?) It looked like this:





And let's not forget my sons' room:



This is less than 20 hours after we started moving. Do I have the greatest mother-in-law and friends, or what? I did cry a little. More than once.

I normally would be freaked out about posting something as personal as pictures of my house on the Internet, but it was so frigging impressive that the coolness outweighed the skeeviness.

Tomorrow I will put up some pics of the remarkably simple yet ingenious Dutch rope/pulley/truck moving system. It makes too much sense to be used in the US. Well, the in US we have the sense to live sprawled out on one or two floors instead of squeezed into houses as narrow as bread sticks with one room on each level. I guess it evens out.

Slap me silly...

Sorry I have been such a bad writer lately, but we just moved to our new house. A REAL house. I am going to post some pics of the amazing job my mother-in-law and our friend did decorating overnight while I slept. It was like a home makeover show. They were up all night like the Elves and the Shoemaker.

I promise I'll post again later or tomorrow. Things have been hectic and we only just got the Internet running again. I also just got a book to edit from my publisher, so Paul, if you're reading this, I'm, uh, working on it...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

It all comes out in the wash


I won't sell my dishwasher for 80 euros. I won't do it. I don't care if we are moving Saturday and have to carry it 10 miles and store it in the middle of the living room. I'd rather chop it into pieces and eat it than take so little for it.

D gave me a hard time for not taking 80 euros when a guy and his wife came to look at it. I wanted 100, he bid 75 online and wanted to come see it. He upped it to 80. I said 90, he said 80, I said 85. He said 80. I said "thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the ass when you leave."

First, he said it was too big. Then, no, maybe it would fit, but there's a little scratch on it. Then he said he saw another one without the plastic cover for 35 euros. Then it wasn't a good enough brand name for me to get 100 for it.

My father told me I did the right thing. (My father is dead, but he still talks to me sometimes. I know it's weird, just take it as a given and don't worry about my mental state.)

My dad had negotiating and bargaining in his genes. (He was an Arab, and they're cool like that) and I think I did what he would have done.

He taught me that you always have to be ready to walk away. Really walk away. He also taught me that there is always another one like it, no matter what "it" is. You think you'll never find something as unique or cheap or pretty - whether it's a house, a car, ahem - a dishwasher, or what have you.

Now if he was REALLY right, they'll call me again tomorrow having changed their minds. I'll let you know.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It's Snot Easy

I love my kids. I really do love them more than anything. That's a good thing, too, because I think they are trying to kill me.

Chekhov said "Any idiot can handle a crisis; it's the day-to-day living that wears you out." Though I'm sure that was much truer in the time and place he lived, sometimes I find myself mulling his wisdom, especially when I think of the concessions I have made in my life that I never would have imagined.

There are many things I took for granted when I was single, and I don't want any childless person to become jaded about them. Here are only a few of the things you should know:

1) You'll never have a hot meal again. Someone always needs something when you sit down to eat. If you are lucky enough to get to your plate while it's still warm, choke it down fast before someone needs a diaper change, or wakes up screaming. That way, you can just have indigestion instead of frustration.

2) Forget being alone in the bathroom. I am the most popular person in the world when I close the door to the bathroom. Everyone wants me. I'm a porcelain superstar.

3) You'll never shop the way you used to. There's no more buying $200 purses or gratuitous shoe-shopping. You'll never go shopping for yourself without a twinge of guilt, and you'll never come home without something for everyone else, just to make it "fair."

4) There's no secret snacking. You'll never eat anything between meals without at least one person asking "What's in your mouth?" and the painful "Let me see," once you answer.

5) You will never, EVER, EVER sleep again. You like to think you will, "once the baby's a little older," "once everyone is in their own bed/room for the whole night," etc... The truth is, you will never make it through a whole night again without waking, worrying or wondering.

You think it's great when the baby sleeps for a few hours, until you bolt awake because it occurs to you that he could have smothered himself and you'd never know; or the monitor somehow broke and he's screaming his head off, all alone.

Then you dream that something bad has happened, and you wake up frightened enough to go and peer at their little faces again, one more time before you settle down.

I imagine it never goes away, even when they are grown. You'll always wonder where they are, how they are, and if they are remembering to breathe in their sleep.

6) You will do things that used to horrify and disgust you without flinching. On any given day, you'll touch about 5 different bodily substances. Wash your hands. Wash them again.

You'll sniff your child's ass in public. You'll catch their vomit in your hands to keep it off the rug. You'll pick up dead mice to spare the kids seeing them. You'll wipe noses with your t-shirts and wipe smudges from their faces with your own spit.

It is a dirty, filthy, pissy, shitty business. On good days.

My advice to you: Don't be bored. Ever. You'll be mad at yourself for not picking your ass up off the couch and doing something. On second thought, sit there. Sit there, you lucky bastard with your mouth hanging open and potato chip crumbs on your snot-free shirt. Once you have kids you'll never be doing nothing again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baby Boy

My "baby" will be 3 years old tomorrow, or as he says "Ik ben drie jatig oud." Very incorrect and super cute.

(Meanwhile, my "new" baby is 5 months old. That's almost 6 months old, which is half a year. How can that be? I JUST had him.)

We bought him what he asked for - a ride-on toy tractor for the new house. We have it all set up and filled with toys on our dining room table. Thinking of the way his face will light up when he sees it makes it feel like Christmas for me.

Moving to the country...just kidding

We're moving. In a week. We bought a house.

I am very excited, but conflicted about leaving the heart of the city. Added to that, my current apartment is HUGE, even measured by standards outside of Holland. We have 7 rooms plus the kitchen and an attic that is probably 400 square feet. And it's cheap. Why should we leave?

Well, for one thing, this place is falling apart. For another, the construction is very old and shoddy. You can hear everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING going on in the building.

I will not miss hearing everything my neighbors are doing, like giving birth (don't get me started on that one), playing the violin, or taking a crap. I'll wake in the morning to my own alarm, instead of the ones of all my neighbors. I'll stop mentally saying "bless you" everytime someone else with their balcony door open sneezes. (It happens a lot more than you would think.)

One thing I will miss is the green parrots that live in the small yards between the back of our building and the one behind it. There are hundreds of parrots that live in my neighborhood. They were escaped housepets that established a community in the wild, much like those parakeets in California.

I'll miss our little park and the beautiful architecture of our neighborhood. But most of all, no one will ever shoot up under my window, or yak on my front doorstep again. And I'll really miss it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friendly Neighborhood Dealers


Some of the illegal drug dealers are jerks, some aren't, but one thing is for sure: They're THERE.

Usually they are on the bridges and are the only people standing still. They sell all the illegal crap, sometimes fake stuff. They call out what they have to the people passing by, but all the names are code names. (It took my poor friend Charlie about two days to realize that when the dealers shouted "charlie," they weren't calling him.)

Two of the coke dealers that work the bridge closest to us are a pair of young guys - probably Antillean, but they look Jamaican. (They speak Papiamento, which is like, the world's most fucked up language. It sounds like you're reading the dictionary backwards while jumping on a trampoline.) They are really dark skinned and wear those Rasta knit hats covering their dreadlocks. As much as I hate to admit it, they're kind of, well, nice.

We'd been aware of them, just like they were of us when D met them more formally. He was out walking our dog when they startled him. They were walking behind him silently, and when D stopped short with the dog, they almost crashed into him.

I don't know what possessed him, but he said, smiling, "Jesus, guys you scared the hell out of me! Next time you sneak up behind me, smile so I can fucking see you."

To this day, I can't believe he a) said that, and b) didn't end up in the canal.

Instead they laughed their asses off and congratulated him on his ballsiness to say that to them. To THEM.

Usually we just nod in passing, but last year when D proudly told them I was pregnant again, they pumped our hands enthusiastically, and wished us lots of luck and blessings, with back pats all around.

So they're nice guys. Coke dealers, but nice guys. OK. Nice guys, for coke dealers.

Last summer, our gay friend (I'll call him a nice Dutch name...ummm...Joris) Joris told us a wild story - even for Amsterdam. Joris is a little shit - much shorter than I am, and slight. He is red-headed and freckled, and a little goofy looking.

One night he was, uh, entertaining an Italian tourist when things went horribly wrong. I guess Joris realized things weren't going well, and asked the guy to leave. I don't know if the dude was on something, or what, but he freaked out. He started smashing up Joris' apartment and throwing punches at him.

Somehow, Joris got him down the stairs and outside to the street, where he continued getting beaten up on.

Our friendly neighborhood dealers, recognizing Joris, got his back, and kicked the Italian's ass all over the bridge, driving him towards Dam Square.

Oh yeah. The Italian guy wasn't wearing any pants.

So, the moral of our story today is: Don't come to our neighborhood to beat up our little gay guys or you might end up showing Amsterdam your wiener.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Little Mister Type A

My son is a little boss who always knows what he wants. He makes up his mind and there's no talking him out of it.

My stepdaughter and I spent about 20 minutes perusing the racks for her perfect pair of Crocs, while V - 2 and a half at the time - walked directly to the blue and white ones and said, "These. These are the ones I want."

He wouldn't look at any others that I recommended. He'd made up his mind.

So we take him seriously when he's made a decision, and he knows - REALLY knows - what he wants for his birthday next week. Three things; A ride-on toy tractor, a swing for our new yard; and a skateboard.

He doesn't have enough trouble just walking, he needs a skateboard, God help us. Pads. Lots of pads. And a helmet. And band aids.

Dishwasher-In-Law

Why do mothers-in-law (or "mother-in-laws"?) always wash dishes by hand?

I have seriously noted this in BOTH my first and my current MIL. They just can't help themselves.

My first mother in law NEVER used her dishwasher unless my ex-husband insisted on it when we visited for dinner. She thought it was a waste of energy and water to use it, but as my ex pointed out, washing the dishes 6 times a day by hand must just about equal doing ONE load a day in the machine.

My reigning MIL can't stand producing dirty dishes while the machine is running, so she'll wash them as we use them, instead of just stacking them and putting them in when the machine is emptied.

I wonder if I'll do that when I become a mother-in-law. I sure don't do it now. Maybe your son marrying coupled with menopause creates some kind of chemical deficiency that can only be balanced by washing his glassware.

I'm still waiting for the miraculous transformation of me suddenly knowing "everything" by virtue of being a mother. Aren't I supposed to know everything? How can I be my sons' hero unless I know everything?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The art of stealing art


So they have just arrested a bunch of art thieves here in the Land of Hol. They recovered some works by the Dutch masters. I'm glad they found them, but there is something really intriguing about art thieves.

You can always tell the caliber of robbers by what they steal, and the kind of preparation involved. Like when thieves hit a jewelry store and bypass all kinds of valuables so they can steal a few specific, priceless diamonds, or something. Or when art thieves orchestrate a whole Thomas Crown Affair to rip off a few canvases. The Italian Job. Ocean's 11, 12, 13. They spend tons of time and money planning.

There there are cheap and shoddy smash and grabs, where unorganized crooks reach into display windows and take whatever they can carry. We get those about once a week at the Dam Square jewelry stores.

Then there's not just stupid, but Amsterdam stupid. Junkies who break into cars to steal the loose change in the ashtray, or steal front wheels from bicycles.

Albert Heijn on Van Limburg Stirum Straat was hit this week. (I chuckle with delight at their misfortune.) The thieves took cash in small bills and...wait for it...cigarettes.

"Whatcha got back there? 20 measly bucks? Well, then, uh...gimme some cigarettes. Yeah, cigarettes. Filtered AND unfiltered. Mama didn't raise no fool."

I scoff at your "judge a man by the caliber of his enemies" and raise you one "judge your neighborhood by the caliber of its stolen goods."

Pathetic, sad, dumb, depressing, Amsterdam, cigarettes...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Swordfish, just for the halibut...

I went out Saturday night! Alone! For the first time since V was born THREE YEARS AGO.

It was like a Dutch dinner party for a friend's birthday, and for the first time, I was hanging out with a bunch of natives, not as the novelty American guest. It made me feel kind of, I don't know, official.

The best part of it was that the other women asked me - with real interest - what I thought about living here and what my impressions of the Dutch were. If they were sorry for having asked, they would have said so - they're Dutch, after all - but they paid rapt attention to my cultural anecdotes.

Their favorite was my take on...wait for it... customer service. They told me that complaining or making suggestions about service here is largely fruitless, which I already knew. No one cares. No matter how hard they work, the pay stays the same, and they can't be fired. Well, not very easily.

I told them about standing aghast for almost a full minute at Albert Hate when I asked an employee stocking the shelves if he knew where the breadcrumbs were. His reply? "No." Then he turned away and continued stocking shelves. WTF? I was too stunned to say anything, and just staggered off like a confused deer.

I told them about the time D and I went to the Cheesecake Factory in Boston. He couldn't decide between two dishes, so the waitress suggested the swordfish, which he got. After our meal when she asked how it was, he said "OK." She looked crestfallen. "Just OK? I am so sorry."

D proceeded to stress that it was perfectly acceptable, but he just had hoped it would be better. It was no problem.

She just wouldn't have it and insisted on calling the manager. I thought D would wet his pants. I think he thought he was going to get into trouble.

The manager came over and said "I understand the swordfish wasn't so great." D, on the verge of a breakdown said, "No, really, it was fine. It was. It was OK."

The manager smiled and said "Well, I certainly don't want you to pay for anything that was only 'OK,' so I am going to take it right off your check. Thank you for letting us know. Can I offer you some complimentary dessert to make up for the inconvenience?"

Well, that just about did poor old D in, but finally realizing he wasn't in trouble, he declined dessert and thanked her, while the pinkness faded from his cheeks.

He couldn't believe that experience, and talked about it the whole rest of the trip. I told him that it was pretty standard treatment, but he was blown away. He said "I wouldn't have gone there again. But NOW, I will." And that's the whole point.

You see that people? Competition for business is a good thing. It keeps everyone on his/her toes and makes the customer happy. No one here appreciates your business, or takes the bottom line into account, which leaves everyone - staff included - disgruntled. No wonder they don't tip here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sweet Ride

I was flattered (or as my British-raised friend would say "fairly chuffed") to see that my little ol' blog has attracted some bakfiets/bike enthusiasts, most notably from the site Bakfiets.co.uk where DrMekon is the resident "fietsfanaat."

For the liefhebbers, I thought I'd post a little bakfiets porn...

My "new" bakfiets.nl bakfiets before the paint job, (My first one was stolen. There is a special place in hell for a thief who steals an expensive bike used by a mother to carry her children. There's an even *specialer* place for him in my basement having his toenails removed with pliers. Slowly.)



Here are a couple of the paint job; Skull and crossbones, flames, and triple-x shield, which is the coat of arms of Amsterdam:





These are of my friend with her cargobike long model bike loaded up with three kids. It also makes an appearance in the background of some of the previous pics.





I wish I had the money to double-up and get one of those FF16s from Fietsfabriek, or a Nihola. I can't give this one up, though. It's too handy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Howdy Pressing

Sorry I have been such a bad correspondent of late, but I am having a bit of an emotional dip.

It's awful to feel like you're the janitor of your own life, cleaning up after every shit storm mess your family leaves behind.

Hope to be back to my whiny, narcissistic ways in a few days.

Boo frickity hoo.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Future-Perfect

When do we get to dress all futuristic? I want to wear shiny black clothes, big boots and huge sunglasses, you know, like I did in the '90s.

I'm sick of watching all these "futuristic" movies that were made 30 years ago and are supposed to be taking place now, and not having any of the cool stuff in them.

And when the f do we get flying cars, huh?

The Jetsons were just one big lie, weren't they?

Kruidnoten, slaves and presents


Finally, it's time for kruidnoten again. They are these like, little ginger-snappy cookies. If the Dutch have contributed nothing else to world cuisine, we can point to the kruidnoot.

They are also tiny, so you can eat a whole handful at a time and still not feel like it's a lot. They're also holiday food, so you can pretend it's like a requirement to eat them, and not feel guilty about the extra calories, since they are ubiquitous until the New Year. Or the Old Year, as they call it here.

In case they aren't sweet enough, some sick bastard got the idea to sell bags of them covered with chocolate. Dark, milk and white. I would have had some today since D bought a bag of them "for the kids" last night, but they were gone this morning. Kids didn't get any. Mom didn't get any. His sweet tooth is a problem.

Of course, the little cookies are just a harbinger of the big guy: Sinterklaas.

Here in Holland, he comes December 5 and gives gifts only to the children. The good children. The bad children get captured in burlap sacks by his minions and beaten. I love fairy tales.

So, Sinterklaas isn't Santa Claus, who the Dutch call the "Kerstman." He isn't chubby, but tall and Gothic looking with a bishop's robes. He doesn't fly a sleigh from the North Pole, he sails over on a boat from Spain - obviously. He rides a white horse and has black servants.

Let me say that again, only this time better - His "servants" are white people (usually) dressed up in blackface, complete with red lips and gold earrings. They are called Zwarte Pieten, or Black Petes, and are supposed to be chimney sweeps who are covered in ash. Bullshit. They are so obviously a racist throwback that it is insulting to even pretend there is an explanation.

So the Black Petes hand out kruidnoten and presents to the good little children in the main squares and in parties all over the country in the beginning of December.

I was horrified by all this weirdness when I first moved here, but like anything else, I've gotten used to it and it's almost become normal-ish. Like elves. And hookers. Hoe, hoe, hoe...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Man Whore Awards

I was thinking about the last post and I remembered something else blog-worthy about Deuce Bigalow.

Around the same time as the last entry, I had a friend coming over for coffee, but she was late. She called me from her cellphone and said "I'm almost at your house, but there is a lot going on in Dam Square so it's taking forever."

There is always something going on there - beach vollyball, ice-skating, street performers, carnivals, whatever - so I asked "What's happening?"

"Uh, lemme look," she said. "The International Man Whore Awards. Odd."

My first thought was, "Well, THAT'S something I've just GOT to see!" But then I remembered the filming, and the phrase "Man Whore" from the first movie. I was bummed out.

Can you believe that the filming of a major motion picture on your doorstep can actually be a letdown?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Good morning, sunshine

I am up again at 6 with Baby M. He is 4 months old and "the funnest" baby ever. I'm still tired.

When I first moved here and lived in the Red Light, there was always action at this hour.

The week I arrived, they were filming Deuce Bigalow 2. I was jetlagged and awake at 5 for a few days, so I watched them shoot through my window with enough floodlights to make it look like daytime. Then when the sun came up, they packed up and left. I guess that's one way to avoid too many "extras."

One funny thing that happened during the shoot is that they staged a scenic background by moving some garbage and putting a prop bike in the shot. During a break in the filming, someone stole the prop bike.

That's so Amsterdam.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

No "new" baby clothes

I have come to the conclusion that no one ever actually has NEW baby clothes. Every time someone in my family hears that someone is pregnant, the first thing they say is "Oh really? How nice. Does she need baby clothes?"

It seems everyone has bags of "almost-new" baby clothes that are too nice to get rid of, unless they give them to someone they know. At the same time, they're desperate to be free of them. Not to sell them, of course, just to give them to the right person.

Even when you do get new clothes, they will never LOOK new, since you have to wash it all before wearing. So you pull off all the tags, wash the clothes, never use them, and can't return them. Into the giveaway bag they go. But not to GIVE away, give away.

Almost all the clothes my mom sent had a legacy - "now this is from Lisa's William, and this is from Margot's Grace, and this is from Maryellen's Patrick..."

I, too, now have those bags of clothes. I think we're all just passing the same stuff around.

I have two boys, but a neighbor with two girls is having another baby. What if it's a boy?

Maybe she needs baby clothes...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Doctor, Doctor

Let's talk docs.

Due to paperwork, I JUST got health insurance after 5 years and two children. What's the f-ing rush? I feel free to become ill with reckless abandon.

I can't decide whether or not I like the system here. You have a general practitioner that you always visit first, then, if necessary, he or she refers you to a specialist.

Opzicht this isn't a bad idea, but what if you KNOW you need a dermatologist, or a psychologist? Isn't it just a waste of time?

Also, there's no "emergency room" at 2 a.m. with a crouping kid. You have to call the GP emergency line, and they decide whether to send you somewhere or come see you. It really does put you at their mercy. If you call the "911"-style number, they will come and decide if you really need an ambulance. You really only get to roar into the emergency room with flashy lights if you get hit by a tram, or something (Happens a lot. Mostly Germans, for some reason.)

Calling the doctor here isn't like calling them at home, though. They only have one or two lines, so if it's busy, you call them back instead of getting put on hold. They'll see you right away if necessary instead of scheduling you 4 months in advance, and if the receptionist isn't there - GET THIS! - sometimes the doctor will answer.

I almost passed out the day that I called and it rang and rang until the man who picked up said "Dr. Pool's office. Dr. Pool speaking." Can you imagine? The delicate geniuses themselves, not hiding behind the bodyguard ranks of nurses and assistants? He was booked for the day, so he told me to come at 5:30. Or the following morning at 7. Let me write that again - HE MADE TIME FOR ME OUTSIDE OFFICE HOURS.

The postpartum care is unbelievable. They have a nurse come to your home the first week after delivery to care for you, babysit your other kids, do the housework, shopping and whatever else you need. It's worth having a baby just to get that service.

All in all, you have a little less control, but a little less drama, too. And it is government subsidised, hence no emergency room for cuts and scrapes. Like everything else here it's "different, but not necessarily bad."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A whole box of cookies


D and I split a whole box of cookies last night. That means we each had 4.5 cookies. Why are packages so effing small here? (I'm trying to swear less, since my 2-year-old son told the cat and dog to "quit fucking around").

I suppose it's a good thing, so that people don't get too fat, but goddamnit, juice by the liter is practically a single serving for me, and I have to go to the grocery store every day. And my regular readers (both of you) know how much I hate AH.

Yesterday, they screwed me again. I left the kids home and biked to the AH to get ONE thing - microwave pancakes for V. I ended up with 35 euros worth of groceries in addition to the pancakes. I get home and...here comes the hate...the pancakes are past the expiration date. Like, WAY past. FFFFFFFFFFFF!!!

I went back to return them and the package of tortillas that was already opened (Honestly, people, can we do no better? This place is always voted the "best" supermarket in the Netherlands...lucky for them, they have no basis for comparison, like I do.)

I exchanged them, and in a customer-service mishap, they gave me my money back too. They couldn't have meant to. I know that was an f-up. Screw it. I'll take it. That place has ripped me off dozens of times.

All told, only 2 hours and 4 bike trips to a store only 8 blocks away for one bag of food. You know I'll have to go back today.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Public Service Announcement

If you are a woman with kids, and something on the back of your leg hurts and you wonder if it might be a varicose vein, don't ever, EVER use a mirror to look.

If you can't help yourself, find the smallest mirror in the world - maybe steal the one on the stick at your dentist's office - then go to the darkest corner of the house, take off your glasses, close one eye and squint with the other.

Since having children, horrible, sick and unspeakable things have happened to the backs of your legs. Not like car wreck horrible; "it's so awful, I can't look away," but actually post-traumatic-stress-disorder horrible that will leave you dreaming of how life was before you saw it.

Now you know. Go forth and spread the word.

No respect

I get no respect and I am fucking sick of it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bad, bad mommy

I am going to start making a list every so often of all the things I've done recently (perceived or otherwise) that make me a bad mommy. This week's a whopper...


1) I was glad D was sick

I got to leave my toddler at home napping with him and took the baby shopping downtown. Let the good times roll!

2) I rode like a maniac

I have endlessly tut-tutted when seeing mothers bicycling with their baby strapped to their chests - "SO dangerous. SO stupid." Yeah, I did it. M hated riding up front in the bakfiets. He was crying so hard that he was drenched in sweat. I baby bjorned him and rode slowly home.

I felt like I was playing a really complicated video game...knees out, pedal, steer, don't drop cell phone from right pocket or keys from left pocket, brake, don't let plastic bag of diapers fly away, support baby's head with chest...

3) I thought my child was faking

V told me his butt hurt. I thought it was constipation or gas, and at 3:45 a.m., thought that he was just pulling an act. I was fortunately indulgent and gave him a warm bath instead of yelling at him to go back to sleep, but I admit I thought he was full of it. Happened again last night. Shooting pains in his butt. Called the doc at 11 p.m. She said it sounds like a classic case of worms. WORMS! Worms!!

Oh dear God.

4) I let my kid get worms

How did this happen? What kind of mother am I? The doctor assured me that worms - like lice - have nothing to do with hygiene. Yeah. Because when I hear a kid has lice, I automatically think how clean he must be.

I know, I know. We even have parasites on our eyelashes, but for fuck's sake, how did this happen on my watch?

The diagnosis is confirmed by hideous means involving darkness, Scotch tape and a flashlight. I'm just gonna take the doc's word on this...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Get the door - It might be Domino's

Can I just say, without launching into my promised tirade about the lack of customer service in Holland, that Domino's pizza has disappointed me on more than one occassion?

In the US, Domino's delivers in 30 minutes, or your order is free. In Holland, they deliver in 30 minutes or...you just have to wait a little longer. One time it took them an hour and 15 minutes.

So, good service being the exception here, imagine my surprise when we got Domino's tonight and it was 1) On time; 2) delicious; and 3) still hot. It wasn't just ok; it was actually GOOD. The cinnastix were still warm, and the pizza was flavorful, fresh, and on time. You could've knocked me over with a feather.

See? THIS is what I'm talking about. I'll order from them again, not because I have no other choice (but there aren't really that many...) but because it was worthy of my business. This is something that is such a foreign notion in the Netherlands. No one cares about the quality of service they provide, so everyone just becomes used to sub-par service, if any.

Congratulations, Domino's. I salute you! Do not let the lack of enthusiasm discourage you. There ARE people who appreciate your effort. Make this a trend. Please!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Smoking Banter


So there is a smoking ban in Holland now. Cigarettes. Bad, evil, naughty, polluting cigarettes. Here, let me light that joint for you...

I saw a sign at our local pot shop detailing the ban and saying something like: "we do not want to have to clean up tobacco and cigarette filters." WTF? Is this another loophole? Don't leave evidence so we aren't liable?

Marijuana is already tap-dancing on the paper-thin ice of legality - are we really going to enforce the "no tobacco" law in coffeeshops? That's like arresting a hooker in the Red Light for littering. Just a thought.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I got nothin'

I can't think of anything to write, so I am watching TV and laptopping.

There is a mosquito circling my head and I can't kill the bastard. (Why do they always bite you like 20 times? Can't they just give you one good long bite and leave you alone for a couple hours? That would be appreciated when I'm trying to sleep.)

I do like the Family Guy. It reminds me of when I was living in Rhode Island, and it's really American humor. Comedy Central is becoming my favorite channel.

Lame post. Can't brain today. I've got the dumb.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back that shit up

Does no one else notice the lack of personal space here?

Attention Dutch dames en heren:

1) For the love of all that is holy, when I am shopping and looking at something, let me put it down before you pick it up. It's not your size. Trust me. You are a wee skinny bitch and I am a buxom trut. Back off before I crush you.

2) When the restaurant is empty, DO NOT SIT NEXT TO ME. I know. I am magnetic and lovely and you wish to orbit me, but being so close to you makes me want to shove a french fry up your nose.

3) On a crowded bus, do not grab my child's stroller for support. It makes my maternal instincts kick in and I develop the strength of 10 men. If I could move, I'd smack you one.

4) When we are shopping at Albert Hate, let me make my selection before bending in front of me to get your sperziebonen, cheese, karbonade, or whatever. I don't want to have to club you with my can of Unox worstjes. And have patience with my little boy. He wants to push the carriage. Think back to when you were a little blondie. Remember how important those things were?

I know it's a crowded country. I know you have developed these annoying habits as a product of natural selection, but if one more of you bumps into me without apologizing, I am going to go postal.

That is all. I'll be in my bunk...

I See Stars

I see stars. Lots of them. They walked right by my window. Some even looked inside. That's what happens when you live sandwiched between a 5-star hotel and one of Amsterdam's most famous coffeeshops.

Here are a few - Goldie Hawn, Woody Harrelson, 50 Cent (more on him later), Rage Against the Machine, Pink, Beyonce, Tommy Lee...

Pink was actually sitting on my doorstep waiting for her bus to pull up when my partner D came home. He said "Does anyone ever tell you that you look like that singer...um..."

She goes, "Pink?"

D goes, "No, I'll think of it in a minute..."

She assured him he meant Pink.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Email Address

I now have an email address devoted to the blog. It's amsterdamyankee@gmail.com. It's also listed in my profile. Feel free to email away til your heart's content! (That goes for you too, munchkinsmama!)

Send along any questions, comments or topics you think I should write about.

I'm honored that people are actually reading my blog and subscribing to it. Thank you so much for encouraging my behavior.

It ain't the cold, it's the humidity

Why isn't that a saying in Holland? This is the only place I have ever been where it can be cold AND humid.

You bundle up to go outside, then sweat inexplicably. When you take off a layer, the wind blows and freezes you until you put your soaking wet layer back on again. Then it fucking rains.

I come from New England, where the weather is notoriously unpredictable, but Holland makes New England look as predictable as, well, rain.

Then there's the hail. Then rain. Then the sky clears so quickly that even the rainbows get confused. They show up and then go, "oh shit, this again?" and disappear.

I had a Swedish friend who used to say "there is no bad weather, just bad clothes," which is true 'round these parts. The problem is knowing WHICH clothes. You always have to be ready to get rained, hailed or sunned on at any second of the day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meeting with the Burgermeester

Thanks for the suggestion Sophie - I will try the Burgermeester. I have to hit Elandsgracht this week to have my bakfiets tuned, and they just opened there.

I'll be sure to report back to everyone, as I know you are all holding your breath in anticipation...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Frannie the Tranny

When V was an infant, he was colicky and had skin problems, but the cold weather soothed him like nothing else would. We found ourselves pushing his carriage or carrying him in a sling at all hours of the day and night throughout the winter through the busiest, seediest part of the city.

We lived in the Red Light District, and our late night jaunts brought us past the same colorful characters, night after night, and we got to know some of them pretty well.

I have a lot of good/funny stories about most of these people that we came to be acquainted with. This is one of them...

Francine is a pre-op transsexual (has a penis and boobs) who works a window in the transsexual section of the Red Light. (We secretly call her Frannie the Tranny.) She's always been really sweet to us and the kids, having seen my belly grow with V, and always peeking curiously into his carriage.

(Some of the girls can be really rude, or make gross gestures, so when you have kids around, politeness is appreciated.)

D was out late one night with a couple of Americans, all shitfaced, when someone joked about getting a prostitute for the drunkest friend, whom I'll call Bob.

Being in the neighborhood, D said "I've got the perfect girl for you!" and took him to Francine's window.

Bob got really hostile when he saw her and started making derogatory comments, so everyone just decided to call it a night and go home.

We saw Francine a couple weeks later at AH (see Albert Hate below) and D apologized to her for the behavior of Bob, saying that he hoped she hadn't become upset.

She said, "It's OK honey. Why do you think he was embarrassed?"

Yeah, that's right. He'd already been to her a couple times.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The neighbors are naked again

We have a sneaking suspicion that our neighbors are nudists. The downstairs ones, not the one who was arrested this week.

Every time I knock on their door, it seems that he has just had a "shower" and needs to go put on a robe before greeting me - and I don't knock that often or consistently at the same time.

We first began to suspect this when my partner would smoke on our balcony in the mornings. He would often hear rumblings from the balcony below and look down to see our neighbor - who is 65 if he's a day - smoking outside in all his glory.

I let it go, saying "well, maybe he sleeps naked and wants a smoke first thing in the morning." D said "No, I don't think so."

Neither one of them looks comfortable in clothing, and they are always dressed like they threw something on from their bedroom floor. And she never wears a bra, despite needing one.

They have often told us that they visit Het Twiske on nice days and that "you don't even have to wear a bathing suit." I've noticed that their 10-year-old daughter usually has a dark tan after visiting, and she has bragged to my stepdaughter about being able to run around naked.

Now, I am all for freedom of expression, and adults doing what they want, but I think there is a point that kids need to learn that their public nudity isn't always safe or acceptable. I personally think that the age cutoff for buck-naked beach-going is about 3 for kids. Once they're 18, who cares?

Call me a prude or an American, but I don't want my kids exposed for any creep to see. There is plenty of time for al fresco frolicking and smoking when they get to college. Besides, what if you drop an ash??

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I want a burger

I want a burger. Not just any kind of burger, but a seriously disgustingly juicy, rudely gigantic burger with enough bacon, cheese and jalapenos to choke a stable full of horses. A burger so succulent that you have to wipe your mouth after every bite. Mmmmmm.

A restaurant I used to frequent in Rhode Island had that particular burger on the menu. They called it the "Go f*ck yourself burger," since there wasn't a thing about it that was healthy.


You can get those burgers (perhaps minus the jalapenos) in any location you hit with a dart on a map of America. It'll run you about $8.95, if memory serves, and that's in a place where they will bring it to your table on a plate with fries, not wrapped up in paper and thrown in a greasy bag. You can order it rare, medium, well-done, or - my favorite - medium rare. In Holland, the whole concept is rare.

My continuous search for the perfect burger in Holland has led me to believe the following: The Dutch have no fucking clue what a burger should look or taste like.

The closest approximation to the burger I mentioned can be had at one of two places in Amsterdam, but it'll cost you, and you won't get no friggin' jalapenos.

Renaissance cafe at the Renaissance Hotel off Spuistraat. They won't let you specify a temperature, but they won't burn it to a crisp, either. It is seriously good and almost TOO big - but I always manage to cram it in. The damage? 15 euros. What is that in American pesos, I mean, dollars? Around 22 bucks, I'd say.

The next best is at the Tara Irish pub and restaurant where the service is almost non-existent, but at least they have fireplaces. Again, 15 euros.

Do not - I repeat - DO NOT attempt to order a burger that seems reasonably priced at any kind of "brown" cafe or eethuis. You will get a squashed, burned, oddly-spiced meatball that you won't be able to choke down without a bottle of mayonnaise. (Fortunately, there will be mayonnaise on the table for your... wait for it... fries).

The considerable paucity of good burgers may have a plus side - there are less fat asses here. Riding around on the bike looking for burgers is a lot healthier than driving three blocks to the closest Ground Round, 99, Chili's or Applebee's to eat yourself senseless, but man, do I wish I could do that once in awhile!

(You like that word paucity, huh? Always looking for a pocket to squeeze in a good Latin cognate. "Considerable paucity" is an oxymoron. I'm frickin' ON today!)

Busted!

Our neighbor got arrested this week, and not in a normal way, either. The SWAT team came in with shields and rifles and led him out blindfolded, then searched his house. No idea what happened there.

Have you ever noticed that in a situation like this, it's always best to be "the neighbor"? Whenever a serial killer is arrested, they interview "the neighbor." They always say the same thing, but the point is - the neighbor never gets killed.

What it says about the neighborHOOD is something else, though...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our Urinal

Outside the apartment where we lived for 3 years is a giant *historical* public urinal, or "pissoir" as the French say. Our friends call it "the Urina Marina," since it is right on the canal near their boat.

I can't tell you how many of my stories begin and end with this urinal. You can see what people are doing in there because the bottom is open, but the top and sides are covered, so people think it's really private, if stinky.

For example, there is a homeless guy who sells donuts out of a big cardboard box. God knows where they come from. Well, one day he scraped together enough money to get a crack whore. Guess where they went?

I won't specify the direction of their feet, but when they came out, he was still holding his donuts (reminds me of a joke...nevermind...). Eew.

The really funny part was that the hooker stuck around to try to button his pants back up - very motherly - while he wavered back and forth with his cardboard box. Eew.

Here's a picture of a guy standing on our urinal dressed as Freddy Mercury and singing "I want to break free." Yes, he was British. But that is a story for another day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I love being right!

I love, love, love, LOVE being right:
SEE?

You read it here first folks (both of you). The British are a bunch of drunken a-holes:)

Cat:1; Mouse:0

He got it. The lazy bastard caught the mouse. I love my cat so much that I am going to have his litter bronzed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What is it about mice?

I have seen gross. I have known horror. I've experienced fear.

I've seen clench-jawed junkies shoot up outside my children's bedroom window. I have given birth twice. I have been frisked at a maximum-security prison. But nothing, NOTHING raises the hairs on my neck and makes me scream like a little girl like a tiny, grey mouse.

There was one in the living room this morning. Our trusty cat Cosmo was sniffing around my son's toys and I saw it bolt under the couch. You know you're in trouble when this:

is your last line of defense against evil. The same cat I have yelled at, tripped over and shuttled aside with my feet can become my hero if he would just man up.

He's caught them before, but I think he has become a little too well-fed and fixed to have the drive now. Once he lost sight of it, he sniffed around half-heartedly, then contented himself with attacking the dog.

I think I won't feed him today and if he catches said mouse, he'll get the biggest bowl of creamiest cream I can buy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

You're too much, baby


I went to Baby Planet yesterday to exchange a baby sling that D bought for me.

Thursday nights are called "shopping night" since stores are opened until 9-ish, (unlike in America, where any and all stores are open EVERY night and there are all-night pharmacies and supermarkets even in small towns - shopping in Holland kills me). I had the bright idea to ALL go to the store together and look around, exchange the sling, and maybe grab dinner.

(Ironically, when my son was born, they monitored him for a potential lung problem. You'd never have guessed it by the way he screamed last night. We barely got to look in the store, since V had a freakout. So much for shopping so close to bedtime. But that's another rant.)

Meanwhile, they have the most beautiful things there for children, but expensive! I'm talking about 120 euro swings, 80 euro play mats and 800 euro carriages. (We have one of those expensive carriages, and I must say it is really worth it.) It wasn't even a high-end shop for the glitterati, but for average families on regular salaries. I don't know how people afford all this kit for kids here. Toddler shoes and jackets are 70 euros.

Let me just clarify that everyone buys this stuff for their kids unless they are really among the lowest of the low class. Bugaboo baby carriages are practically standard-issue here. People really want their kids to look good, which can lead to a case of "Keeping up with the Joneses" - or "Keeping up with the Jansens," here in Holland.

I am frugal in that I want good quality without paying too much - I love Target, for example. However, I once mentioned to D that I had seen some cute things at Zeeman (kind of a K-Mart) and he was embarrassed. He said that he had promised himself that HIS children would never wear anything from a store like THAT. EVER.

Can you imagine? I mean, kids grow so quickly. Why can't I buy a cheap pair of pants for the baby, knowing he'll probably wear them twice? OK, they look a *little* chintzy, but if anyone has the bad taste to mention it to me, I'll just point to our 800-euro baby carriage, stick my nose in the air, and walk away.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Albert Hate

Our local overpriced-and-only-decent supermarket is called Albert Heijn, or AH. I hate the place with the intensity of a thousand suns. It's always packed, check-out lines are at least 7 customers deep, and the staff act like jaded superstars phoning in their performances.

Not the place I want to visit with two children. If it weren't for the nice homeless man who "works" there handing out flyers and collecting shopping carts, I'd never even make it in the door, since it is too narrow for my baby carriage - they have to buzz me in and out through a special gate reserved for wheelchairs. The bell for said gate is broken, so this guy will bellow to a staff member to open it. I dread the days he isn't there.

I had make the trip today because I desperately needed bread and diapers. (My oldest won't eat anything but sandwiches and my youngest won't do anything but poop.) Being mid-morning, it wasn't too busy, so V could use his own mini shopping cart.

Had to wait to check out since only one register was open. The line was twisted down the aisle. What do they care? Paid 50 euros for two bags of groceries (that I packed myself into bags I had brought with me - fucking Europe).

On the walk home, V wanted to walk and hold my hand. Having only 2 hands, I set one bag on his little ride-along stand on the carriage, careful that nothing spilled.

Finally at home, V wanted to be carried upstairs, of course, since it was impossible. I told him to wait for me and I'd make 2 trips. First trip, two shopping bags in one hand, baby in bassinet in the other. Up to the third floor. The timed entry light goes out halfway up - the one at the top is blown out. Scary. Next trip, carry up the boy and the diapers. City living. Glamourous!

Once I'd unpacked the groceries, I wanted to make a sandwich for my big boy. But where was the bread? I lost the fucking bread on the way home. I LOST the fucking BREAD on the way home. I can't believe it. No wonder you can't own guns here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

He can't help it: He's Dutch

My oldest son is a neat freak. He loves to clean and organize, and things upset him when they aren't "quite right." If he were 20, I wouldn't mind, but he's 2.

I've actually had to punish him by NOT letting him clean. I've said things like "put that vacuum down right now and come over here!" and "If you don't listen to me, I am taking away your squirt bottle and rag!"

This is how he plays with cars:


When he was one and a half, he was playing in the kitchen utensil drawer, as babies are wont to do, and he came across a pen. He handed it to me and said disapprovingly "Mommy, not here."

He is definitely Dutch. This does not (repeat, NOT) come from me. It is the inherent cleanliness that comes from being born among canals and windmills.

One of the things that fascinates and disturbs me about the Dutch is this clean streak.

If you have a backyard or outdoor space here - and in the city, that's quite a thing - the first thing these people do is pull out all the vegetation and pave it, then put furniture, flower pots and the inevitable garden gnome on it. WTF?

Don't even THINK about letting the dog go in the yard - walk him outside instead. WTF is the point of having a fenced yard if not to let the dog go in it? Especially with all the rain here. They would rather go out in the hail and rain than let the dog piss on the yards that they purposely cover with brick and stones. That's comedy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Obnoxious Award

In keeping with the last post, I was thinking about whose behavior is the worst when traveling.

People like to call Americans loud and obnoxious, but after years of observation, I've decided this: We ARE loud, but not nearly as obnoxious as we get branded. And compared to the award-winning country, we are QUITE well-behaved.

(An aside - A friend of mine who works in a restaurant said "I don't know why everyone talks about the Americans badly. They are always polite and never run out on their check, not like those fucking Canadians.")

No, it's another English-speaking people...namely THE English. I have never seen such idiocy in my life. The problem is, the pound is stronger than the euro, so they all come down here for a nice cheap weekend away to celebrate bachelor parties and "hen" weekends. I don't think I have gone a single weekend without seeing an English person falling, being pushed, or jumping in the canal.

They drink and drink and drink, then get stoned, and throw up all over the streets. I've called an ambulance once for an Italian, once for someone of unknown origin, and three times for the English.

Once an English drinker/stoner was so messed up that he passed out while standing and cracked his skull on my doorstep. Good times.

They seem to get terrible beer muscles and are always looking for a fight. Particularly when there is a football (soccer) match against the Dutch. Win or lose, it's always "knokken."

They have no shame when it comes to dressing bachelors in drag, or giving brides-to-be hats made out of condoms to wear while they cackle around Amsterdam. Shaving cream and face paints are favorites too.

British women don't seem to know when they are fat, so they always dress as though they are thin. They aren't. Let me explain something. There are big boobs, and there are fat boobs. There is only one kind that people want to see hanging out of a tube top. If you find yourself tucking a fat roll into your pants because it keeps oozing up over your waistband, don't put on a tube top. You're not fooling anyone. Those are fat boobs. And stop smoking, for Christ's sake. It looks sleazy, and it sure isn't helping you lose weight.

It reminds me of this:

Aussies: Dislike being mistaken for Pommies (Brits) when abroad.
Canadians: Are rather indignant about being mistaken for Americans when
abroad.
Americans: Encourage being mistaken for Canadians when abroad.
Brits: Can't possibly be mistaken for anyone else when abroad.

So congratulations, Brits! You make us look good!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Ugly Like Me

One of the impressions that the Dutch - if not all Europeans - have of Americans is that we are insincere.

At first, this struck me as odd. I find Americans much "warmer" and touchy-feely than the Dutch. I think we are more expressive, talkative and friendlier.

Then it hit me. That's what makes us so insincere. Think about it. We say "how are you?" whenever we see someone, and expect "fine, how are YOU?" instead of a litany of their woes. It's become more of a rhetorical question to us, but to people for whom English is a second language, it seems like we really DON'T care how they are unless it's "fine."

Also, we exaggerate like crazy. Think of all the hyperbole we use every day. We're always saying things like "This is the best ice cream EVER!" and "I HATE when that happens!" and "Those are the prettiest flowers I've ever seen" and "I literally had a heart attack" (no you didn't. You figuratively had a heart attack, but that's another rant.)

Not to mention we say things to soften the blow and be polite, whereas Dutch people would simply tell the truth. If you ask an American friend if you look fat in your outfit, she'll say something like "I don't know. Turn around... Well, maybe it's not the best color on you. I think you look fine, but maybe you should change if you don't feel comfortable." Ask a Dutch friend the same question and she'll say "Yes. Wear something else."

How many times have you said something like "Oh, we should get together for lunch every week," or "we should do this again sometime," or "I'll call you" and then actually followed through? Dutch people would think of that as your having lied to them. They would never say any of those things unless they were planning on putting it in their schedule.

So the bottom line is that we think we are being nice, but everyone else thinks we're just a bunch of lying drama queens. I kinda think we're both.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

White Trash Christening

So I saw a headline I just HAD to click on. This was it: Jamie Lynn Spears Takes Daughter Maddie to Local Wal-Mart. (Usmagazine.com)

No! She didn't! The hell, you say!

The 17-year-old Skank o'the Month apparently engaged in a time-honored white trash tradition...dressing like a 'ho and taking the brood to Wal-Mart. Big fucking deal. This is news?

No one even told us what she bought or if anything exciting happened, like the baby spitting up or fussing in Housewares. Did she have to change a diaper in the *gasp* Wal-Mart bathroom?

Please, let's give this little girl the pat on the back she deserves by reporting her every move like it is of national importance. By the way, she ain't even a celebrity. She's the SISTER of one. She tried the celeb thing, but just couldn't stay away from the pipe-laying boyfriend (no, seriously, he is). Don't they sell condoms at Wal-Mart?

Fortunately, JLS will never have to fear going without for the sake of her child, or trying to figure out which milk WIC will cover, or how to stretch out the pennies in the coin jar. And of course, everyone will applaud her every move, agog.

Remember girls, teen pregnancy is cool and makes you popular. Everyone will admire you and write articles about your every move while you hold that precious little bundle who'll love you forever, just like your boyfriend. Everyone just LOVES a teen mom!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dutch chickens

So our new house has a bird coop out back. The current owner breeds exotic birds, and the coop won't fit at his new house, so he asked if he should leave it rather than demo it. It's really quite nicely built. D and I have discussed what we should do with it, and D said, all excited "We can get chickens!" WTF?! Who wants chickens?

He argued that it would be fun for the kids, and "we'd always have eggs," and insisted that this is something normal Dutch people have been known to do; even in the city.

I argued that they are dirty, noisy and I'm American. Plus, I had a friend who moved to the country and thought it would be fun to have chickens. He ended up with so many eggs that he would leave them at his neighbors' doors, ring the bell and run.

So, no. No chickens.

I showed pictures of the new house to a friend - another young dad. He asked about the coop and I told him the story of why it was staying.

"Cool," he said, "you can get chickens."

WTF?

Monday, August 4, 2008

This is how we roll

When I tell people I have a bike with a box in the front - a bakfiets - they can never quite visualize it. This is an Amsterdam minivan. There is a little bench in the box with two seatbelts for your kids. Now I ride with the baby's carseat in front with a child's seat on the rack behind me for V. I have thighs of steel.



We had a graffiti artist make it a little more "us" with a skull and crossbones on the front, flames on the side, and Amsterdam's triple-x shield on the back.

I don't know what I'd do without my bakfiets. It has given me more mobility than a car would and it's free to park. People consider it sort of an Amsterdam yuppie status symbol (no wonder, considering how expensive they are), but it's really a necessity for me. They make much bigger ones with three wheels. It is a common sight here to see tiny Dutch women pushing around 3 or 4 kids in one of these rolling living rooms.

I have actually taken my cat to the vet on this bike with my son's feet on top of the carrier, while I was 7 months pregnant. My partner said if I'd have sent a photo of that to Immigration, they'd have granted me permanent Dutch citizenship.

If I ever find the bastard who stole my first bakfiets, there won't be enough of him left to bury. That's why the Dutch invented bike insurance. Cue Goldmember "Isn't dat vierd?"

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Who started this Freegan thing anyways?

Leave it to Oxford students to take dumpster diving out of the realm of the homeless and turn it into a snotty, we're-better-than-you activity (Actually, I'm surprised it's not Harvard).

Can we get a moratorium on freegan self-importance?

I'm all for getting something for nothing, but I'm gonna draw the line at eating out of a dumpster. Incidentally, don't tell me how bright you are for eating trashed food with your high-end college degree and six-figure salary. Here's a quote I pulled from the Guardian's web site on an article about "freegans:"

"The word freegan is a blend of "free" and "vegan". Devotees of freeganism seek to make a political statement by rescuing edible food and perfectly good household items from supermarket bins and skips respectively.

"Freeganism attracts all sorts — from doctors and lawyers on six-figure incomes to students and families struggling to make ends meet."Freeganism is a proactive movement," says Alf Montagu, a spokesman for UKfreegans. "It's not just about foraging for free food at the back of supermarkets. It's also about giving back with our time to the wider community."

Have we really sunken so low as a society that we need to applaud ourselves for our willingness to sift through dirty diapers, cat litter, and who knows what else in order to get a free meal? I even saw these dump devotees on Oprah.

Go ahead, pick your food out of the trash, but don't pretend that you're making a political statement or that you're saving the world. And for God's sake, don't invite me to dinner.

(This is a little off-topic, but who cares? It's my frigging blog, I'll write what I want.)