Close Encounter of the First Kind

January 18th, 2008

At first I thought it was a dog. A chocolate Lab. Medium sized but moving smoothly. Came at me from my left side. Juggling a bottle of blauw Spa water the size of a mortar shell, I turned in time to see that it wasn’t a dog at all.

Being a smartass, I used to walk around Amsterdam at night waiting for someone to jump me to see if I still had my chops. Hunched into the wind, I wanted to appear vulnerable. Wounded. Alone.

A person who appears to be alone has no end to their sentence. No period. No exclamation marks. No close friends or relatives to worry about. Just beaten to death and left to die. Empty of wallet, I.D., passport.

I wanted it face to face. I’d settle with the oblique. I walked everywhere. Three canals out. North. Then South. Then into the tiny brick alleyways short-cutting to the canals .Then out again and back to the hotel. No coffeeshops were open, and except for a few shaggy kids drifting through, the town was in for the night.

That was years ago. Now that I think back on my post midnight meandering I realize I was in great shape and was only deluding myself that what I was looking for just wasn’t going to happen. No Somalis’ with box cutters or cheap kitchen knifes. No out-of-towners needing money to get back home. No giant Dutchmen looking to work boot someone to death. Just slow nights with no one moving any faster than necessary.

The Turk turned me on to delicious Surinamese take-out. I munched it down in my room and began to strip for bed.

Fuck.

I didn’t have any bottled water.

Spa blauw is the best bottled water on earth. Amsterdam convenience stores sell it in small to magnum sized plastic bottles. I don’t worry about my carbon footprint. Unlike Amerika, the Dutch ,no doubt, have a way of engineering all that plastic into something useful and environmentally less disruptive.

I dressed, made sure I had my credit-card room key, and went out for water. The Nieuwedijk was close by. I took a shortcut that ended at the Lorentz Money exchange at the corner. I went left and spotted an open de kruidenier. Bananas and apples and grapes looked to spill from open wooden bins pitched at steep angles in front of the brite white lights glaring from within the market.

I pulled a king size bottle of Spa from the spotless upright cooler and slid it across the counter to the cheerful Mid-Eastern clerk, busy yammering at his buddies in the cracker and chips aisle. They laughed then yelled then laughed again. I knew they were talking about women. I could see it in their eyes and the way they held themselves. All ready to rock as soon as they hooked up with the right woman.

I took a different shortcut back to the hotel. The reason for this detour was the Crown Plaza Hotel which rounds it’s north side around the edge of the street. It’s a pain in the ass.

The guy who rushed me from the cover of a wall jutting out into the brick alley lost his timing. He was a brown man about 5′8. In decent shape, dressed in a ragged black bomber jacket with some kind of lettering across the chest. But he slowed, awkwardly. His fist hit my shoulder, one of his knuckles driving deep into the gaggle of nerves next to the shoulder bone. When adrenalin ramps up, its hard to tell whether I’ve been punched or stabbed.

I spun, driven by his fist. In my right hand I stupidly held the water out of the way as if I were protecting a rare antique from being smashed to bits. He held onto my left arm, losing his hold as the weight of my own momentum pulled him along. He scratched at my left wrist, trying to climb my arm. And then the side of his head was right beneath me, just a blur of hair and skin and ear.

I stabbed him with my elbow in the tender dent just in front of his ear.

He let go of my arm and dropped to the bricks. I looked up the alley. No one there. Thirty feet to the open end of the shortcut. I moved quickly to the street and towards my hotel, the bottle of water swinging loosely in my right hand. I was pissed that the guy might have cut me and I checked the leather of my jacket to see if it was wet.

Nothing.

I took the long way around to the Sofitel , passing it then turning left into the side street where Homegrown Fantasies has a seed store. I felt sorry for the guy. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that the guy may not have wanted me at all. It seemed as if he realized he’d made a mistake, that I wasn’t the one on his hit list, that I wasn’t who he was after.

Back in my room I regretted I hadn’t slipped him a few Euros after he dropped. I could certainly afford to give the poor guy some money. He’d be alright but his head would hurt for weeks. Just as my shoulder would.

I want him to know he’s got a hell of a knuckle punch and I’d still be in tough shape had he connected. He could have been a junkie, too drunk or drugged. I was lucky. All that was on my mind was how good that food had been and how thirsty I’d be later on .

After all these years, just like everything else in life, you get what it is you’re looking for when your not thinking about it at all.


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