Friday, September 30, 2011

Bye For Now!

Hey y'all!

As you may have noticed, Dim World has taken a bit of a break of late.  I've been concentrating on other writing and work, and have neglected you all.  Please forgive me, and know that I will be back at some point.  As for now, I am fixing to move to Austin, TX where my good friend and fellow blogger Emily Wilder lives.  You may remember Emily's blog Wilder Goose Chase from our semi-recent blog swap.

Anyway, thanks for reading and I assure, more is to come!


Friday, June 17, 2011

I Wanna Be Blind

When I was in my mid-twenties, a girlfriend named Dawn and I attended a Foundation Fighting Blindness conference in Orlando.  Mired stubbornly in the pre-cane phase and initially unwilling to attend, Dawn urged me to give the conference a chance. 

"C'mon, man, let's go to it.  It'd be good for both us, but especially you.  And it’ll be fun!  We can do Disney stuff while we're there."

"We can?"


"Alright, fine.  But if it's lame I'm spending the days at the pool."

At the conference, hundreds of white canes clicked and clacked along glossy linoleum as they led droves of blind people around the hotel.  Not everyone there, however, was immediately touched by visual impairment.  One person in particular stands out: a man in his 50's named Marvin.  Marvin's boss's daughter was blind, and Marvin, a curious and empathic sort, enrolled in the conference hoping to meet blind people and to learn more about blindness.  We liked Marvin, and we stayed up late in the hotel bar discussing a great many things, including, of course, the principal topic of the weekend.

"I had breakfast this morning with a woman with RP," he told us.  "I think her sight is worse than yours, Dave.  She still has some up front, a little peephole, you know?  Anyway, she said a really interesting thing.  We were talking about her being low-vision and her eyesight deteriorating, and all that it means in her life."

"What'd she say?"  Dawn had been highly energized by the event, having wearied of my struthious obduracy.

"She said RP is so confusing that life would actually be better if she saw nothing at all.  It's like, she just wants to get the 'going-blind' thing over with and move on."

I knew then—and now to a much great extent—precisely what she meant.

"What?" you ask.  "You'd rather have no vision than some?  You're stupid, Dave."  

True, but let me make my delicate point.  Would I regret scooping my eyes out of my head with a melon-baller like some brunch-making Oedipus?  Quite.  I'd look back, so to speak, thinking "I miss being able to kind of see."  

 Each time I discover something new I'm now unable to see (stars, the clues on the New York Times crossword, slow-pitched softballs at the batting cage), a mini-death occurs and a cause for mourning.  Why would I want these deaths strewn out across the years?  Why not just rend any and all visual acuity from me now so I can have it done with get down to the business of being blind?  Why not just have it done with? 

If I was full-blown blind these questions would vanish.

Blind people have earned a reputation for being highly organized, for knowing where their bodies and belongings are at all times.  Because they cannot rely on their eyesight, internal GPS develops and improves with use.  But so long as the person has some eyesight, the internal GPS is less likely to improve in the absence of a more pressing necessity.

Blind people’s sense of organization tends to border on the scientific.  Keys have their place.  The phone has its place.  Certain garments are to be hung in precise and consistent locations.  Boomerangs, tennis rackets, and guns have designated areas where they must be stowed for easy retrieval.  The need for strict organization is directly proportionate to one's ability to see well.  Only an idiot would eschew intensive organizational strategies once confronted with vision loss.

As an idiot, I am disorganized by any standard.  Assuming I live to be fifty, I’ll have spent eight years of my life groping about my apartment for keys, phones, shoes, jackets, bus fare, my beer, the remote, my cane, and on and on.  I tend to find lost items with my hands and often enough on my knees; however, on rare occasion I'll espy an item from across the room with my eyes.

"Holy shit, I found that with my eyes!  All is not lost!"

I love finding things with my eyes.  It's a rare joy, so rare and so joyous I crave it the way one craves any success upon tasting it.  Because I have it, even if it's deteriorated, I want to make use of my vision for its intended purpose, even as my rods and cones sputter and pop like blown fuses.

If I was blind I would never fall prey to the joys of finding things with my eyes.  I could simply perish the thought, the pleasure of visual functionality would be gone, and I would have no choice but to comply with conventional coping strategies.  As it is now, I sort of have a choice.

But I've yet to commit ocular suicide because the opposite desire, the desire to cling ot what I have, burns in me, as well.

I remember sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Buenos Aires, sipping mate, smoking cigarettes, and soaking in the music of the metropolis.  The city's tango rhythms seem to energize all who set foot upon the dance-floor that is the city streets.  In the cafe I was arrested from my reverie when across the street I noticed a nonagenarian woman creeping along the sidewalk at a larghissimo tempo.  With a fierce face, she bent forward at 100 degrees, a tiny, bony hand clutching a trembling cane as the vitality of the city swirled around her.   

"Why doesn't she just get a wheel chair?  Or someone to take her arond?  In fact, why isn't anyone helping this woman right now?"  I took a sip from my mate gourd.  

Her pace was glacial to the point of comical.  I hadn't known a human being could move so slowly.

I believe the reason she was walking at all is because she could.  As long as she had the strength to stand on her own two feet, she would walk the sidewalk on her own.

This is why the partially sighted are typically so reluctant to use a cane, and it's why people with partial handicaps often try to obfuscate them. It's a human trait.  Unless you're a hypochondriac, odds are you cling to your abilities for as long as possible.  But the partiality of the condition can be perplexing to the point of maddening.

"There will be plenty of time to be blind when I'm blind," I say to myself, in this vein.  "If I can possibly avoid using this cane, I will."  

My impairment becomes more convoluted when I'm with others.  Alone, all I need to worry about is my body's relationship to the rest of the world around me.  With others, I worry about that plus the relation of my body to those of my friends'.  Alone, I can move as I see fit through crowds and streets.  There is no "right way" to go, since I’m the only one affected by my whereabouts.  If I bump into a stranger, no one I know knows.  Therefore, alone and without my cane nor the assistance of friends, I'm endowed with a paradoxical confidence.  When navigating busy streets, indecision is serious pitfall.  For the partially sighted, sometimes it is best to pick a spot in front of you and go for it.  Walk with your chin up, your chest out and strut though the world like you know what you're doing.  People will get out of your way, or they should.  As your approach the point, you quick-as-you-can draw a bead on another and press on.  The added confidence of a couple of drinks also, paradoxically, facilitates a stroll through town.  

If I was totally blind, none of this would be an issue.  The complexity of paradox would be no more.  Life would not be dim, but black.  I'd be nice and stereotypical and easy to understand.  After straddling two camps, I'd have settled on one, abandoned the other, and all would be sweet simplicity.  How strange that that which I cling to (my usable vision) is also the source of such perplexity.

Finally (and most importantly) if I was blind I'd get to wear cool black shades, an enviable silver lining.  If I didn't make eye-contact with a girl in a dark bar (which only ever occurs owing to luck) she would understand right away.  As an embodied form of the trope of "The Blind Man" I would save hundreds of hours explaining myself, or wondering if someone else was going to have to explain me.

Chastisements like "Be careful what you wish for" and "The grass is always greener" and "You sound like a jackass" temper my lust for total blindness.  After all, I still get to enjoy the occasional glee of finding things with my eyes.  I don't want to lose the same grit I beheld in the ancient portena on the streets of Buenos Aires. 

The key is to be smart instead of stupid, and to organize my life as though I'm already blind.  I should enjoy my usable vision in the recognition of its mortality because the need to appreciate what I have, and the urgency to prepare for what I am losing, are one and the same.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Discourse of Disability

by Emily Wilder

What kind of egomaniacal fuck writes his or her own life story?
— Dave Armstrong, Taproot CafĂ©, May 29, 2010

Dave and I have been friends for the better part of my adult life — we met as English majors at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. I was just beginning my Master’s; he was just finishing the program. (Although if memory serves, we defended our theses around the same time two years later. But I’m polite, see, so I won’t bring that up.[1])

A favorite professor of mine, Patty Linton, saved me from making an ass out of myself by pulling me aside early on to reveal Dave had RP, and his vision was worsening. That sucks, I thought. And he’s a literature major? Better than a painter, I suppose, but still. Bummer.

Dave was wicked smart and funny, and we ended up hanging out a lot — despite his roommate’s decision to decoupage their bathroom walls with photos of boobies. One night, some friends were gathered around Dave and Eike’s kitchen table playing a board game that required one member of each team to act out the word on the back of a card. Dave and I were on the same team, and the prompt had him (along with the two or three others trying to get their teammates to guess the word first) alternating between aggressively humping the floor and hopping up to clasp two hands in prayer. This went on for much longer than it should have, because the actors never deviated from their approach and the guessers were too busy laughing our heads off.

“Missionary!” I finally gasped.

He high-fived me in relief, and no one stopped cracking up for a good half hour.

If it bugged the crap out of him to be peppered with eyesight-related questions, he never let on. How much can you see? (Enough in the daylight to get by; hardly anything at night.) Do Alaska’s dark winters make having RP especially difficult? (Yes, duh.) What’s the best way to help you navigate this dark bar? (Lemme grab your elbow, thanks.) I didn’t have a lot of experience with visual impairment, and I didn’t want to treat Dave any differently than I’d treat anyone else … but I did want to know where he was coming from, and I wanted to be able to help without making a fuss. The last thing I wanted was to be a Lady Handicop.

As a result, I may have tiptoed around the issue more than necessary — an approach unlike our friend Catherine’s, who blurted out drunk after Dave told her she was hot:

“How would you know?!? You’re BLIND!”

This picture speaks, like, at least three or four thousand words. I am not going to tell you what they are — you have to fill in the blanks yourself. It’ll be a fun game.

Once, at a literary conference Dave and I were participating in, a professor no one really liked started questioning a panel about being “blind to” this and “blind to” that. A visiting hothead stood and scolded him: “From a discourse of disability,” he said, “that’s offensive.”

Maybe Disability Studies Man was being overly PC, but maybe he had a point.[2] How often do we shape invectives by assigning disabilities to the object of our derision — e.g., “don’t be a lame-o” or “you’re so dumb” or “what are you, blind?” These insults are so much a part of our lexicon we no longer associate them with a discourse of disability at all.

People call him “Blind Dave” because visual impairment is a more specific identifier, I suppose, than any love for music or baseball or literature or chicks that would otherwise inspire a man’s moniker. Some still know him by “Punk Rock Dave” or “English Department Dave” — he’s lobbied for “Dirty Davy-ent the Shaman of Shamelessly Well-Endowed Superstars from Space,” though for some reason it hasn’t caught on.

Give it time, Dave.

I’ve been campaigning to get him to move to Austin, Texas, and I think it’s working. (The people of Anchorage may commence despising me now.) I’ve been selling the sunshine and people and live music, but until now it hasn’t occurred to me to mention that Austin is a bit of a visual impairment hub: The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is located here; I often see people wearing masks and practicing with canes on sidewalks around town. It must have slipped my mind because I don’t think of Dave as my “blind friend.” He doesn’t let visual impairment define him, so why should anyone who knows him?

Anyway, I hope he moves here, and I hope he lets me edit his autobiography. I know some great writers, but if any one of my friends could put down his life story and get it published and sell a ton of books, it’s this guy. And not because of the subject matter. Sure, compelling content helps, but it’s the writing that’ll make people take notice and stick around. He’ll earn readers the same way he earns friends — by having something real, and pretty great, to offer.

[1] Occultatio!
[2] Either way, it was gratifying to hear someone shut down a professor who a) never remembers my name and b) makes a habit of staring at female students’ chests.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

De Boot in het Kanaal

During my junior year at 211, much of the gang joined forces to lease a house on a once quiet residential street called Viburnum Drive.  The house became known simply as "Viburnum," and its reputation as a welcomingly inclusive den of iniquity quickly spread across the Anchorage bowl.  Viburnum’s residency ebbed and flowed, and “rooms" were erected ex nihilo to accommodate new boarders.  JD, for example, slept in a closet beneath the split-level staircase.

One night I opened JD’s little door to see if he was there.  He was not, but an eighteen-year-old girl was with her pants and drawers around her ankles.  This might seem like a lucky thing for JD, but as I could vaguely make out, she appeared to be squatting on JD's bed, and the streaming sound of liquid splattering upon mattress convinced me JD was, in this instance, uniquely unlucky.

“What the hell are you doing?  Are you…you’re not—”

“H-h-hey.  Ims jus gotta go and go to take a pee now—”

“You are peeing!”  I nearly peed myself.  “This is JD’s room, you stupid little girl!”

She babbled something, toppled over, and JD had to spend the night in piss.

Night in, night out Viburnum burst at the seams with revelers and partygoers; many were underage, each living the pleasure principal to its fullest.  Not surprisingly, Viburnum’s owners opted not to renew the lease after one year’s time, and the Viburnum Diaspora had thus begun.

JD and Kyle moved into an apartment.  One night we played a game called "The Century Club."  If you’ve never played, you really should.  It’s hilarious fun for the whole family!  What you do is you get a bunch of friends, from work, church, the gym, the reading group, AA or wherever, and pour one shot of beer for each participant every minute on the minute for 100 minutes.  Sound easy?  It isn’t, because the contestants must drink each shot, and if they miss the stroke of any given minute, they’re out.  Enticing, no?  Midway through you’ll feel pretty drunk.  By shot seventy you may start to doubt your ability to finish, wondering why you can’t just drink a beer like a normal person.   By shot ninety, bladder ablaze, you’re dialed in, and you can taste sweet success.  And urine.

As JD, Kyle and I pounded our hundredth shots I leapt to my feet in victory and to dash out the front door to puke.  As I opened it and leaned on the banister to spew onto the sidewalk below, the entire railing apparatus began to peel away from the second story landing.  As it folded off the staircase, I plummeted to terra firma, ankles in the air.  The terra proved firma indeed, and as I landed in a pool of vomit, my arm folded ninety degrees around the curb.  Entangled in wooden banister and regurgitated beer, I softly wheezed “help,” paralyzed.  I spit and sputtered feeble “helps” until Eve poked her head out the door to behold the mess of mangled mayhem quivering on the sidewalk below.  Presently, the rest of the crew emerged, called 911, and soon an ambulance arrived.  

The EMTs took no time to triage the situation.  

“Intoxicated male” and “fractured left humerus” went over the radio, and off we sped.

My retinue was also intoxicated, and it milled about the hospital lobby while my arm was splinted and I was pumped with pain killers.  I may have been an unwitting placebo recipient in a pharmaceutical experiment, for all I knew, as the pain remained unabated.  My kidneys squealed with rage as I lay semi-conscious in the dark, sterile room, alone, and wondering what the hell was the matter with me.  I was totally paralyzed, so pissing was out of the question.

You’ve really jacked yourself up this time, Armstrong.  

I lay in the bed wondering if I was ever going to be able to urinate or if they’d need to fit me with a catheter.  I wondered how long I was going to wait there and when the pain meds would start working.  I wondered what it was about me, about my decision-making processes, and about my life generally that had reduced me to this state.  I wondered what my parents would think, if they would feel more pity or disgust.  I wondered if this might not be some sort of sign. 

A surgical steel rod was implanted from my shoulder to my elbow, and the arm healed over time.  Settling with the slumlord's insurance company was fairly easy; after a couple of years, and after my medical bills and lawyer fees were paid, I found myself with a sizable chunk of cash. 

How, you ask with wide eyes and gaping mouth, could I win a settlement when I was so drunk?  Well, gentle reader, I don’t see why you have to be so harsh.  Why doesn’t an inebriated person have the right to lean against a banister without fearing it will collapse under his weight?  This was my attorney's thinking as we entered pretrial discovery.  It was an open and shut case, and the insurance company settled without much noise.

With this windfall, I could finally afford to visit Europe for the first time, where Wolf and Abe lived.  I visited England (where I had sprinted into the man at Euston Station) and then met up with Abe and Wolf in Leuven, Belgium.  We rented a car, drove trough France and into Barcelona, Spain (where I had knocked over the small kid in the street).  Following the vacation, Wolf needed to resume his life in Leuven, and to sober up after our sangria-fueled tour of northern Spain.  To save money on lodgings, we'd park our tiny rental--a 2-door Peugeot--at highway rest areas and simply and literally drink ourselves to sleep each night. 

Heading north we were stopped near the French border, and our rental car was searched.  The French authorities discovered Wolf's plastic baggie of vegetable-based laxatives, and concluded the pills were methamphetamine. 

"What?" Wolf spoke almost no French, and tried to communicate to the officers what the bag's contents were.  

"These are help you go to the bathroom?”  Wolf mimed a constipated face.  “They’re just laxatives…not drugs."

So the border agents took the pills and tested them.  When they returned, they brought their results and showed Wolf.

"Those are laxatives, for, you know...loosening your stools."

"Non!  Observe: methamphetamine."

They displayed the drug testing kit to Wolf and showed him the corresponding color on the box.  The agent then pointed out on the box that the drug test kit was made in the USA, and was therefore infallible.  The ironic notion that an American-made anything could be flawed was not lost on the agents.

"Made in USA! Made in USA!  Ha ha!"  They laughed together in French. 

Abe and I laughed in English.  "C'mon man!  Wolf needs those to poop!"  We were no help whatever, laughing at the border agents and at Wolf, remarking on how we'd need to get some new meth now.

"Shut up, you guys!  I cannot get arrested in France right now!"

The officers confered amongst themselves.  We assumed they were discussing the international ramifictions of detaining three Americans on bogus drug smuggling charges.  Eventually, one officer lead us to the trunk of the rental car.  He opened a backpack, removed a pair of socks, stashed the bag of laxatives inside the rolled-up socks, returned them to the backpack, turned to us, and said in a French accent, "You understand."  It was not a question.

Wolf was livid.  "You don't understand!  They aren't drugs!"

The officer stood waiting, asking repeatedly if we understood. 

"OK, well, let's get going," as Abe slid behind the wheel.  Wolf and I smiled ignroatnly at the crew, and off we went. 

"What the hell was that?  Those bastards wanted us to bribe them!"  Wolf couldn't believe the ludicrousness of the whole affair.  "Fuck that, I'm not paying these fat frogs a dime.  Good god...I need a drink."

In addition to a much needed detoxification, Wolf was angry with me following a drunken theological debate on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea in which he'd posited it was irrelevant whether or not Jesus had actually raised Lazarus from the dead, that the value of the story is principally allegorical of god's omnipotence and the divine nature of his son.  My position was that the relative truth of the story is precisely its value.  If Jesus had not in fact raised Lazarus from the dead, the story was naught but a tall tale telling us nothing of the supposed divinity of Jesus Christ, that the truth value of the story is its only meaningful aspect.  The debate wound up in a wrestling match and with Wolf biting me.  The Wolf bite was deserved, as the poor guy had endured more than enough of my godless, drunken belligerence.

So Abe and I hopped a bus and headed for the Dutch capital. 

Abe is the most skilled artist I've ever known, and he'd already served as a stellar guide as we explored the works of Miro, Cezanne, Monet, Rodin and others.  We wanted to go to the Van Gogh museum, as well as any others we might come across, and also to visit a Dutch coffee shop.

For, you know, a cup of coffee.  Possibly a scone.  

Our bus rolled into town around ten at night and we tracked down a hash bar which was closing in a matter of minutes.  With chairs stacked on the tables, the barista sold us piece of hash which we ordered "to go" and took to a little underground absinthe bar we spotted only because of the small, neon sign at foot level reading “Absinthe Bar” in haunting orange.  

The expat bartender informed us "This is one of the only authentic absinthe bars in Europe.  We serve real Czech wormwood absinthe, and not the faux-knockoff crap that's really just strong liqueur which you can get anywhere."  

"Is this stuff legal in Amsterdam?"

"Not really, but the cops don't care.  There actually are drug laws on the books here, but they're never enforced."

We listened to outre world music and left after four or five shots, complete with the customary flaming sugar cubes.  The absinthe was expensive, and we were pretty loopy. 

With little else to do, we smoked cigarettes on a bench overlooking one of Amsterdam’s myriad and murky canals.  The full moon’s reflection shimmered on the water, and the night air rustled the leaves in the trees along the banks of the canal.

"Van Gogh thought the colors of the night were more spectacular and remarkable than at daytime."

"He obviously didn't have RP."

"No, I gues not."  Abe laughed as he exhaled his cigarette. 

"I wonder what he meant by that.  I mean Vincent was bat shit crazy, right?  So—"

"I disagree, actually.  I think he was the sanest person in the world.  The world he lived in was mad, and he knew it."

"I thought it was commonly accepted he was mentally ill.  He cut off his ear, and he killed himself, right?"

"Yeah, he shot himself in the torso with a handgun.  He died over the course of a couple days in abject agony.  His brother took care of him and wrote down his last words."

"What were they?"

"Something like 'the sadness will last forever'.  Pretty damn bleak.  But I can't say it's due to mental illness, per se.  I mean, yeah, the mainstream art history world says so, but there is no evidence of it.  I think people just tend to assume he was nuts.  They've suggested venereal disease may have been the culprit.  We know he contracted gonorrhea.  Some even think he ingested poisonous paint." 

"Ingesting paint?"

"Well, he was around paint all day.  Beyond that, he was a drunk and was addicted to absinthe."

"Yeah this stuff is pretty good."

"Yes.  Plus he just took shitty care of himself.  He'd go days without eating, and he didn't eat meat.  He'd pour himself into his work with such fervor people nowadays have said maybe he was bipolar or manic depressive or whatever.  There were other periods when he was totally unproductive, and actually he didn’t get started as a painter until relatively late in life, anyway.  Oddly enough, his best work was at the end before his suicide.” 

“Maybe he was really manic, painting like crazy, then getting really depressed and stopping for awhile?”

“Could be, but no one knows.  Ultimately, I think he was tormented, sure, but it was the result of sanity, not of insanity.  Tons of shrinks over the year have tried to diagnose him, but there isn't any real consensus."

"The STD hypothesis doesn't sound that off, dude.  I mean he hooked up with a hooker for awhile, didn't he?"

"He did. Sien was her name.  She was a fellow alcoholic.  I think he really loved her, but he couldn’t afford to care for her and her kids.  She was worried about Van Gogh's mental state and eventually drowned herself.”

“Like Ophelia, crazy herself, and convinced her man was crazy, too.”

“Sure, I suppose you could say that.  For sure Vincent is a tragic character, in a lot of ways.”

“Did they have kids together?”

“She had a boy named Willem—which was Vincent’s middle name—and claimed the kid was his, but they now know she was pregnant before they’d met.  Vinnie had told his family the child was his, but later owned up her wasn't.  He never had any offspring of his own, that they know of, anyway."

"Do they know much about his life?"

"They do and they don't.  Most of what historians know is from hundreds of letters written between himself and his little brother, Theo.  Theo was an art dealer, and he Vince were best friends, although their relationship was rocky sometimes.  Thank god they saved their correspondences."

"So you don't think he was crazy?"

"He recognized the craziness of the world, the ridiculousness of the phony life of his fellow Europeans.  I think history has the reality inverted.” 

Abe lit another cigarette as the moon swirled in the canal.

“He was obsessed with beauty.  It was due to his clarity of vision he could recognize what was valuable in the world, beautiful things like starry nights and sunflowers and such."

"And his brother was an art dealer?  I wonder why he got no love for his art while he was alive."

"Well, he sort of did, to a small extent, but for sure the big exhibitions were posthumous.  His fame didn’t take off until the turn of the century.” 


“Because the world is off its nut, but he knew his shit was awesome.  He had no false modesty or anything.  He knew he was right about his art, and about the world he lived in."

"What about Sien and his ear?"

"I don’t know.  He’d wanted to be a clergyman during his twenties, and he probably wasn’t very good with women.  I mean, that's not such a great move.  And so he had a prostitute: big deal!  A lot of great men throughout history have.  Prostitutes, mistresses, whatever.  Poets, artists, writers, hell, our founding fathers did.  Even the word “hooker” comes from General Hooker in the Civil War who had lots of them in his camp.  Historically, it's not so unusual for a man to keep a lady of the evening around."

"Have you?"

"Have I rented a prostitute?"  Abe laughed and dragged on his cigarette.  "No, man.  Have you?"

"Nope, never have.  I doubt I ever will, but at the same time I really don't have all that much of an issue with it on a moral level.  Do you think it should be illegal?"

"No.  It's victimless.  I'm not sure about the moral question, though, but like I say, it has a rich cultural history...the oldest profession in the world and all that.  It does seem kind of shady nowadays, though."

"I know, huh?  But whatever.  I mean it's an individual question, or at least it should be.  Why's the law need to get involved?  It never ceases to amaze me how Americans fuss over sexuality.” 

“There’s still a lot of Puritan in our cultural DNA.” 

“Totally!  And the twisted legalism that comes from it.  Check this out: Isn't it funny how prostitution is illegal, right, unless you're videotaping it, in which case it becomes pornography, which is legal.  How much sense does that make?"

Abe laughed again.  "Not too much.  Fuck, no one's holding a gun to anyone's head.  Rape should be illegal, obviously, but prostitution is consensual."       

“I wouldn’t want to get the clap like Vinnie did, though.”

“No kidding.  He was pretty morose in his final days, of course.  His last pieces is of this old man—presumably himself—sitting in a chair, with his face buried in his hands looking totally hopeless.  It’s called Eternity’s Gate.  It’s really powerful, and definitely a bummer of a painting.  It’s crazy knowing he finished it just a few days before his suicide.”

“The sadness will last forever, eh?”


The absinthe was wearing off and fatigue was setting in, so we decided to find a spot on the sidewalk for some shuteye.  Abe got up and walked alongside the canal looking for a spot to crash.  Oddly, I chose to walk straight, toppling headlong into the canal.  Even Kyle and JD's pathetic banister would have been better than the nothingness through which I plunged.  But this time luck was on my side and I landed face first in a boat eight or ten feet below.  Abe, initially stymied by my suddenly unknown whereabouts, heard confused groans from somewhere, and discovered me in the boat in the canal.  He helped me disembark and to climb up the canal wall back onto the street.

“What the fuck, Dave?  What the hell happened?”

“I—I don’t know!  We were sitting there staring at the canal.  I knew the canal was there.  I guess I just…I don’t know…forgot and walked in.  That was the stupidest thing I've ever done!”

Had I landed in the "water" it’d be anyone's guess if I'd drowned or melted first.  In either case, I may never have emerged from the canal's toxic depths.

"Dude, you really need to think about using a cane to get around, at least in the dark.  You could have killed yourself just now!  What if you'd landed in the water?  That boat probably saved your life."

" Whatever. All's well that ends well."

Deep down, deeper and darker than a Dutch canal, I knew Abe was right.

We slept on the sidewalk, and my boat-battered body ached. 

Awaking at sunrise, we decided to sleep some more in the train station a block away.  After starting to doze off, we were woken by station security guards nudging us with their boots and telling us in Dutch to amscra. 

I guess that's Pig Dutch.    

Groggy from the previous night’s debauchery, we reemerged into the brightly lit morning, and met a vagrant and his girlfriend outside in the station.  The vagrant asked us sweetly for “twenty or thirty cents so we can have our breakfast,” which seemed like not that much, so we gave him a few coins and asked where this so-called twenty to thirty cent breakfast was being served.  He eluded the question, and, gesturing to his girlfriend's backside, asked, “Doesn’t she have a terrific ass?”  He said we could look at it for a euro, but Abe and I figured we could just as easily look at it for free, and told the pleasant couple thanks, but no.

"Is everyone either pimp or prostitute in this town?"
Off to the Van Gogh museum we went, where Abe was my personal docent.  I often find museums frustrating because the art is often hard to see in dim light, and masterpieces always seem to be kept in the dimmest of light to minimize fading.  But this museum was awe-inspiring.  One piece in particularly caught my eye because it was so bright and colorful, much more than the others in the display.  I think it was of a farm house on a county road or an orchard of some kind.  Abe agreed it was the best piece in the museum, and I was relieved Abe loved it, too.  I was afraid he'd be thinking "yeah, Dave just likes this piece because it's so shiny." 

We wrapped up the museum, waded through a group of school children and back onto the gritty streets of Amsterdam.  We headed on foot to the Red Light District to look at hookers and to find another coffee shop.  The prostitutes were on display in shop windows, as advertized, but most of the windows were too dimly lit for me to see into.  

What, to prevent fading?

The ones I did see depressed me.  Many of the prostitutes I saw looked like they'd just disembarked off a pirate ship.  Who knows, though?  Prostitutes are unionized in the Netherlands, and I hear they live pretty quality lives, better, certainly, than in other parts of the world where it's unlawful.  

Holland's Sexmuseum Amsterdam displays dioramas of Betty Paige, Debbie (from Dallas), Rudolph Valentino, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as exhibits featuring sex toys throughout the ages and pornographic materials taken by cameras from very near the time cameras were invented, like probably that same week.  

A sign by the front door reads “Children under six free.”

"Sort of a weird town, Abe."

"Yeah, it kind of is.  Let's go somewhere better."

So we left Amsterdam for Paris.