Along the Oude Binnenweg are several bars. Being alone I chose what looked to be the most intimate. Despite the window being full of people, once I was inside I found an empty table adjacent to the bar and sat down after ordering a beer. The barman with a large handlebar moustache brought me a beer that I hid behind and began to feel comfortable. Everyone appeared to know everyone else and all were somewhat lubricated. The Dutch when in full flow appear to mimic goldfish. Their guttural language having them force large solid Germanic vowels from the back of their throats and out through wide-open jaws. Great globular sounds resounded around the room. I listened to the poetic rhythms without making too much effort to decipher the conversation that was being batted along the bar. Slowly I lost myself in a trance as the atmosphere soothed me. I was on my second beer when a beautiful woman sat down next to me. She looked round the room several times, more out of what appeared curiousity than the to see if anyone had followed her into the bar. After being served a beer she sat back in her chair and I was able to study her. Her make up was thickly applied with thick brilliant red Mae West type lipstick, though for all the impasto on her face she didn’t look cheap, the make up was skilfully executed. Catching me looking at her out of the corner of my eye, she turned to me.
‘What do you do?’ She asked with apparent genuine interest.
‘I’m a poet.’ I lied. I was really a data input clerk with a fantasy to be a poet. An English BA honours failed. My problem was my penchant for the vices. At university I was too interested in experiencing my own Xanadu than reading about Coleridge’s and seducing my own Coy Mistress than contemplating Marvel’s. I was in Rotterdam for the poetry festival.
‘Interesting.’ she said.
‘Not really.’ I replied acting nonchalantly.
‘I’m a whore.’ If she wanted to freak me out she was saying the right thing. I knew immediately I was out of my depth. It’s not that her being a whore that so alarmed me, in my fantasy I liked to dabble as much as the next man in such open sexual encounters. My real fear was for my erection to fail me at the crucial moment. My prowess shrivelled to a disappointing punch line in a bad joke.
Recognising my alarm she tried to calm me down. ‘Don’t worry I’m off duty.’
It was not enough to stop my palpitations ‘Interesting.’ I said rather pathetically. I was obviously not hiding my anxiety.
‘Calm down.’ She urged ‘I’m not going to suck your balls off.’ Before deciding to change the direction of the conversation ‘What are you doing this evening?’
Well that certainly wasn’t going to work. I had started to have images of a sex hungry woman devouring me and being disappointed at such a weedy meal. ‘I’m going to a poetry reading.’
‘Will you read some of your own poetry?’ Sensibly aware I felt better on my own territory or so I thought.
‘I hope to in the open session.’ I said feeling more comfortable.
‘Nooo!’ she exclaimed ‘Will you read some now. Here!’ I babbled something that now escapes me. She stood up and clapped her hands, silencing the bar. ‘We are going to have some poetry!’ My palpitations instantly returned. ‘What is your name?’
‘Terree is going to read one of his own poems!’ She announced. To my surprise there was some light applause to this idea, which emboldened me so I stood up.
‘Verdomme! Ik verstaan Engels neit!’ (Damn! I don’t understand English!) Boomed a voice, followed by some fist banging on the bar ‘Musik! Musik! Musik!’ I looked in the direction of the commotion to see a six foot five docker type. He was built like King Kong, with a face that looked like it had been run over by a catapillar track and topped with a coiffured explosion of auburn hair that made him look like he had a bush fire on his head. This was encouragement enough for me to bolt for the door but my feet were firmly frozen to the floor by absolute fear. Under my fomenting panic rumbled a miserable feeling I was going to pee myself.
‘Houdt je mond dikt, Jaap!’ Commanded the shrill voice of my beautiful neighbour. Jaap’s mouth immediately slammed shut. ‘Bedankt.’ She said. ‘Terree zal een gedichten leezen.’ Before looking at me to prompt my performance ‘Terree.’
Drained of all self-confidence I took my notebook out of my pocket and fumbled through it to find a short poem to read. I quickly scanned the room for the probable directions of incoming missiles. Then I began.
We have two choices
We could fuck or sit in silence
And let our skulls crack open
You propose a third option
"We could talk"
But my tongue is knotted
And my brain is whipped
There is a fourth option
We could sleep
And let what's between us fester
There are plenty of other days to ruin
Silence! A second can possess extraordinary elastic qualities, not only in length but also in tension. The po-faced crowd extended into the far reaches of the room as it elongated with stretching time. I waited for the eternal second to snap and twang back into my face. The atmosphere cracked and the room broke into applause, I gulped the air. Jaap despite not speaking English was the most enthusiastic of all, something that disturbed me somewhat. I was taking the endorsement with more relief than pleasure when the beautiful woman tugged at my sleeve to signal me to sit down.
‘Very good.’ She smiled as she silently but intimately clapped me. ‘I’m Ineke.’ Finally revealing her name. The barman put another couple of beers on the table when something that felt like a shovel hit me between my shoulder blades.
Once my lungs had reinflated I looked behind me to see Jaap grinning, having just given me a friendly slap on my back ‘Prima jongen! Prima!’ Somehow I had impressed him and he had come to join us at the table. Ineke decided that since I was on my own that she and Jaap should accompany me to the poetry reading as moral support. I was uncertain of this offer though with the beer my anxiety had dropped and I was beginning to genuinely enjoy their company.
By the time we left the bar I was beginning to marinate. I was steeped in the warm glow of alcohol and followed my new companions rather than letting them follow me. Before we had got to the poetry venue we had visited at least three or four bars but the vagueness of my memory prevents me from naming a precise number. As we made this detour we assembled an entourage of itinerant bar flies, lounge lizards and misfits. None of who where seriously out of sorts but all displaying peculiarities that made me question their true dispositions and all of who had been convinced by Ineke that for some reason I needed their support. This group of self-modelled bohemians, enabled me to begin to live out a fantasy that I had fabricated in my under occupied head, whilst I was feeding mindless information into a blank eyed computer. I was now a misunderstood poet who had a band of disciples, who alone had the intellectual insight into understanding my genius. It may appear to be an oversight on my part that only one of this band of fans had ever heard and understood a poem of mine but they were all giving substance to my fantasy.
The invited poets on the bill were mainly South American and East Europeans with the odd Dutch poet for home consumption. The main inspiration of these poets seemed their belief in the power of poetry to change the world whether through political or socially minded writing. I myself however was not beyond the frivolous and saw the power of poetry enduring no longer than the time it took to read, recite or remember a poem. My newly acquired followers, who protested at the initial rejection of my request for an allocated five minutes on the “open mic” spot, due to it being fully booked up, reinforced this irreverent approach. The sight of a masculine looking female threatening to burn her bra was too much for the earnest liberal organisers of the event, who prevaricated and then crumbled at a further threat from a rather camp gentleman who threatened to reveal the contents of his jock strap.
Happy that I had my allocated time in the limelight, my supporters got themselves a drink and settled at a couple of vacant tables, from then on their behaviour was impeccable if one took account of their eccentricities. The venue was a large bar with tables scattered around the floor, benches against the walls and at the far right hand corner a podium for the poets. To the left of the podium there was the emergency exit and the toilets for anyone wanting to escape the tedium of the poetry. My companions were baffled by the array of languages of the poets. Surely no one in the room could speak to such fluency poetry required in all the languages being performed. Dutifully we all clapped at appropriate times, laughed when prompted by the more knowing members of the audience and sank into unresponsive melancholy when dulled by the monotonous drones of an unknown language.
The “open mic” spot came around which generated an excited buzz in the audience, even amongst the earnest connoisseurs of international poetry. The truth was most of the “open mic” poets were Dutch and therefore able to be understood. The audience became animated, heckling bad poetry, whooping brave experimental poetry and cheering good poetry. By the time it was my turn I was not only drunk on alcohol but also drunk on my fantasy of being the poet of bohemia. I climbed the steps onto the podium with such enthusiasm the momentum took me staggering across the stage, missing the microphone as I reached out to grab it and off the opposite side and into the audience. This got the biggest cheer of the evening. Helped back onto the platform I took more care to come to a halt in front of the microphone. Another cheer! The lucky thing about being English in Holland is that ninety five percent of people understand you. Not only do they understand ones language but also one’s behaviour. To see a drunken Englishman is to see an Englishman in his natural state. I scanned the audience. The auditorium had expanded into a vast stadium in my mind.
‘HELLO ROTTERDAM!’ I bellowed. A cheer went up! I was a man transformed. ‘FUCK OFF!’ I yelled. Another cheer! This was easy I was beginning to think. I steadied myself by taking hold of the microphone and looked out at the crowd. All I could see was a kaleidoscope of faces and candles slowly spinning like a great ferrous wheel. ‘Do you…hic…want some poetry?’ I tailed off. A mighty ‘YEAH!’ came the reply. I took my notebook out of my pocket, squinted and began. I had successfully navigated two short poems when I started a third….
‘You choose your car
Like you choose your lover
(Dominique began her weird French discourse)
Not necessarily the most beautiful
Nor the fastest
It could be a little dated
With the springs a little stiff!
But it's the overall package
The kudos of having something "autre"
Angelique insisted on the Mini
(Insisting it was possible)
Pull your knees up…hic…er…into..shit!…tits..I mean..er…er..breasts
‘We want poetry!’ Shouted a member of the audience.
‘Bollocks!’ I replied immediately, unimpeded by the drink.
‘Get off!’ Came another shout. I answered this one by turning round, dropping my jeans and bending over. ‘Ass hole!’ Was the audience’s response.
I stood up and turned back to face the audience. ‘You’ve got it…hic…you bunch of arseholes!’ I was aware of the cursing coming out of my mouth and the obnoxious attitude of the performer speaking through me but who was this person? Something hit me or did I just collapse? I wasn’t sure of anything other than I was on my back and holding onto the floor for dear life as the ceiling revolved ever faster above me. I was vaguely aware of boos and hissing but it never registered as anything more than sound. From then on I can only remember brief moments of semi-consciousness. I was aware of being in a car.
‘Is hij dood?’ (Is he dead?) Asked Jaap.
‘Natuurlijk! Waroom denkt jij hij in de auto sitten.’ (Naturally! Why do you think he’s in the car?’ Replied Ineke. Missing any sense of irony I tried to indicate to my rescuers I was not dead but just incapacitated but the effort was too much and I lost the will and lost consciousness.
I woke up cold, feverish and disorientated. My initial reaction was “My God I’m blind!” as my eyes detected nothing but absolute darkness. I instinctively struck out with my arms to try and discover my surroundings but they flailed hopelessly in space. Lifting my head I hoped to right my vision but an axe buried itself in my forehead and as I winced a fist full of hatpins stabbed my eyes. I fell back onto the floor where I lay as still as possible until the pain subsided. My mouth tasted like a public crapper and my stomach churned, I became nauseous, breaking out in a cold sweat. Rolling over onto all fours I noticed a thin thread of light splitting a wall, I crawled over to it to discover it was a door. I opened the door, which led out into a hallway and opposite another door. I stumbled across the hall, bursting through the door opposite to find the toilet bowl. Sticking my head down the pan I retched and retched and retched until my stomach was empty of its malevolent contents. Exhausted I remained with my chest propped against the pan and my head hung into it. Tears and mucous dribbled from my facial orifices, collecting on the tip of my nose before plopping into sour brew collected in the toilet pan. Eventually I pushed myself up and collapsed into the corner of the bathroom. I remained there for some time with my eyes closed as I allowed my weak and feeble body to recover its strength.
Crumpled against the wall with my head thrown back I prayed eternity wouldn’t make a premature visit when I heard music and voices from above. It didn’t have a celestial origin unless Marvin Gay was performing some sexual healing on the angels. Almost pulling the washbasin off the wall I pulled myself to my feet. My body was wracked with aches and pains from the cramp and the cold of the bathroom. At least my confinement in the cold damp atmosphere had numbed my head. I felt my way along the hall to the upward flight of stairs and squinted up the stairwell but there was nothing but darkness above. Bracing myself I started to ease my way up the stairs by pulling on the banister to help my aching legs. By the next landing the noise was louder but still coming from above. I followed the banister round and up the next two flights of stairs to what must be the attic I thought. The music was on the same floor as I was and chatting and laughter accompanied it. Starting to edge round the banister again I realised the sound was behind me, I turned to see a partially open door. Curious as to who could be causing the party noise I stepped lightly towards the door. Were these the same tenants of the room I had woken up in? Gently I pushed the door open to be met with such a sight I forgot how to blink.
I swear I saw a hairy arse stuck in the air and just about to be pierced by a woman with a huge phallus, when Ineke suddenly appeared all but naked.
‘How are you feeling?’ She asked in the imbecile tones of a mother to her injured toddler. ‘Your head must be ringing.’ I ignored her question. My eyes could not absorb enough information. Ineke put her arms around me and pressed my head onto her shoulder ‘There, there, you must be feeling terrible.’ It was then a man wearing a dental clamp of sorts put a large glass of jenever in my hand and using improvised sign language urged me to drink it in one. Foolishly I did, I immediately felt its fumes fill my head as it burnt its way down my gullet. Ineke led me across the room and told me to sit on the edge of the bed because I looked unsteady on my feet. I sat down only to feel the bed rocking. I looked round to see two women sat on a male, one on his groin and the other apparently on his face. I stood up immediately should I be accused of being a pervert for showing too much interest in their activities and moved over to the fireplace. There I was then confronted by a chap leant against the mantelpiece wearing an all in one latex suit. The suit covered his head and face with a hole for his mouth and a slit in the groin where a proud erection was protruding through it.
‘Damn thing literally burst its seam!’ He exclaimed in a muffled but disappointed tone and then sucked a cocktail through a straw.
‘It’s a bit of a pisser.’ I empathised hoping I didn’t sound as if I was mocking.
Ineke came over to me and spared me the anxiety of making a social gaff and put a large splif in my mouth ‘There. This will make you feel better.’ I took a large draw, filling my lungs and holding in the opiate before exhaling. Ineke urged me on and so I repeated the process several times before she abandoned me and took the drug with her. Someone called Joke handed me a drink and introduced her self. She mentioned something about the poetry earlier in the evening but by then my inhibitions had gone again and I was studying her breasts, which didn’t seem to phase her in the least. After Joke there is not much I could remember other than being fascinated by body piercings and tattoos that decorated such intimate parts of the anatomy that I winced more than once on somebody else’s behalf. There was the effeminate male I remembered from the entourage earlier who asked me if I wanted to see the bee on his sting. I looked blankly at a bee tattooed on his foreskin.
He gave me a shrug ‘You aren’t interested are you?’ I was but not in being stung by his bee, even after so many jenevers. I went and sat on the couch, the dope and the alcohol was beating me. There I was joined by a series of people who chatted for a while but nothing I can remember, as far as I am aware the evening ended for me at that point.
Even though it could only have been a few hours later I found myself in a deserted room. All the smoke had cleared, though the low winter sun that lit up the room through dirty windows gave the impression of a smoke filled atmosphere. The stale stink of cigarettes and alcohol hung in the air with the smell of rancid sweat and sexual fluids. My head rang with a dull throb and my neck had a crick in it from the awkward way I had laid against the arm of the couch. It was through this mental investigation of my physical well being I felt cool air around my groin with a distinct discomfort to my penis. I look down to see I was missing my jeans and underpants! I sat up bolt upright and instantly covered my genitals with a cushion from the couch but there was indeed no one around. Slowly I lifted the cushion and looked beneath it. My penis was in an exceedingly diminutive state, red with soreness from apparent vigorous use but what sent a shot of adrenaline to my brain and back to my penis, was a smudged ring of brilliant red lipstick that circled it!
For reasons of emotional security I searched for my jeans and underpants and found them on the floor where I assume they had been discarded. I was relieved no one had thought about making a jest and hiding them, my anxiety levels were already decidedly uncool for a bohemian poet. I pulled them on without hesitation and sat back on the couch happy that that was one anxiety that had been eased and pondered the state of my penis. The more I scoured my memory the more convinced I was I had not indulged in any sexual activity. Annoyingly I had a vague recollection of an erotic dream that slipped from my memory the more I tried to grasp the strands that lingered in my imagination. The few images I had left flickering in my brain were too surreal to reveal any intelligible clue as to any meaning so I gave up and went back to contemplating my penis’s condition. The evidence was there, I had been doing something or someone had been doing something to me. Who was it that had used brilliant red lipstick? Ineke of course! I sat back in smug satisfaction at the thought of the beautiful Ineke performing fellatio on me. It was of little consequence to me that I had not been awake to experience those big red lips sucking at my penis but the knowledge of their indulgence in my groin was enough to ease the grind of my throbbing head and bilious gut.
Fortified enough by the conclusions my powers of deduction had arrived at I set out to find the kitchen to complete my recovery with a strong coffee. I found myself downstairs on the same floor as the room I originally woke up in. At the end of the hallway was a kitchen, its white interior reflecting light along the dark corridor. With a little nervousness I poked my head around the door should I find myself an unwanted visitor in a strangers kitchen. One can never tell in these old houses just where one persons territory ends and another begins. I had no need to worry as Ineke was sitting at the table pushed over against the opposite wall. She was dressed in pink lace underwear, her make up still immaculate and those big pouting red lips, simply perfect.
‘Coffee?’ She simply said as way of invitation.
‘Please.’ I replied and sat down on the opposite side of the table, as Ineke poured me the dark brew and spooned a couple of sugars in the cup. Her delicate hands moved with such grace as she stirred the coffee and placed the spoon on the saucer. I looked up at her and smiled but she gave no indication of mentioning our intimate activity, in what I had in the light of day drawn the conclusion was an orgy.
‘Toast?’ She asked. I simply nodded and watched her gracefully get a plate out of the cupboard above the kitchen work surface. Her buttocks were firm and round and stretched her knickers to the point where she would be less revealed if she were naked. She sat down, placing the plate in front of me and put two slices of bread in the toaster.
‘You were very good last night.’ She commented. Very good? What was that supposed to mean and how am I supposed to know if I was in a drunken stupor? ‘In fact your first two poems were very expressive and…and…’ She searched for a word ‘Faultless?’ She snapped her fingers. Oh my poetry I thought.
‘I can’t really remember much’ I confessed.
‘But you know…’ pausing as a way of telling me I should take note of what she is about to say ‘If you are going to insult your audience you really do have to deliver a brilliant performance.’
‘Something hit me didn’t it?’ I inquired.
‘Yes.’ She said emphatically before going on to explain ‘A glass.’ Then she slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand ‘Right in the middle of your forehead.’ Shaking her head with disbelief ‘A brilliant shot.’
‘Oh.’ Not being able to think of what to say.
‘The crowd really got ugly.’ She buttered my toast and pushed it in front of me.
‘I’m sorry.’ I said feeling ashamed.
‘Damn!’ She exclaimed ‘There is no need to apologise.’ And laughed ‘It was the best night out we have had for a long time!’
‘Well I’m pleased I contributed to everyone’s evening.’ I lamented but what about the orgy?
‘That’s why we came back and partied.’ She said as she rolled a cigarette ‘We didn’t want the night to end.’ Good, we are getting somewhere I thought just when….
‘Goeie Morgen, jongen!’ (Good morning, son!) Said a booming voice in the doorway. I turned to see Jaap leaning against the door with a big silly grin on his face. He was wearing a pink skin-tight latex mini dress with white latex frills and a big pink silk bow on his head tying his mop of hair up. His lips were painted with brilliant red lipstick in the style of Mae West. Smudged! My jaw dropped. I looked at Ineke, then at Jaap before returning to look at Ineke again. Ineke raised her eyebrows as if to encourage me to say what was on my mind. I looked at Jaap again before returning to Ineke.
‘N-nothing.’ I said.
‘Are you all right?’ Inquired Ineke ‘You have gone very pale.’
‘I-I’m fine.’ I replied as I looked at Jaap again. There was nothing to say. The vision in front of my eyes said it all but I was not sure if I alone in understanding the significance or my companions knew more than me. I didn’t ask. I really didn’t want to know.
‘Voel jij goed jongen?’ (Are you feeling good son?’) Jaap laughed.
I ate my toast and drank my coffee in silence, unable to think of anything to say. My palpitations had started again and I broke out in a sweat.
‘You really don’t look well.’ Said Ineke.
‘Perhaps I should get some fresh air.’ I answered and got up and left the kitchen. As I made my way down the stairs, Jaap’s loud voice bellowed a huge guffaw after me, down the stairwell and out onto the street.