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.


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 where DrMekon is the resident "fietsfanaat."

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

My "new" 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


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 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...