The Netherlands, part 3

My year abroad wasn’t all drinking and going to shows and eating butterhams. I also took some trips. Here are my travel notes.

Rotterdam. A historic seaport city from the glory days of the Dutch empire. Amazing harbor. Impressive mix of grandiose stone architecture and grubby industrial monstrosities. Lots of public urination, old men mostly. Strong contender for dogshit capital of Europe.

Sweden. A family trip minus Theo. We caught an overnight ferry from Kiel, a soot smudge at the northern tip of West Germany. Also aboard: a pack of Swedish Hell’s Angels. Fear and excitement at the thought that they might commandeer the vessel to go raiding around the North Sea, but all they did was drink and gamble on the casino deck. By 11 pm there were great stinking piles of them passed out all over the corridors. Disappointing.

From ferry to tour bus, destination Göteborg. Along the way, vast expanses of breathtaking natural grandeur. It looked exactly like Alaska without the random deposits of rusted junk, and instead of metal prefab, the structures we passed were made of rough-hewn wood or large, smooth rocks cobbled together like bricks.

Göteborg was cold and wet, and populated by beautiful giants.

London. A five-day trip with Greg Churl, fellow ASSE exchange student, good friend and all-around hooligan. We crossed the Channel by ferry from Calais. Once on board we found the authentic English pub, and ordered authentic 20-ounce pints of authentic warm English ale. The pub was located belowdecks in the bow, heaving up and down in the high seas. Halfway through our pints we were abovedecks in the stern, heaving into the high seas.

Dover to London by car. Still too seasick to be carsick.

The banks of the Thames. Sunny day. Soggy ground. Happy Londoners.

Kew Gardens. Funny name. Amazing place. Immense hothouse built of glass and wrought iron. Strong impression that I knew very little about the world.

A newsstand in the Tube. We bought English pornography for comparative research. Our findings: either the English were cool with butt acne, or photographic airbrushing technology had not yet reached their shores. Further research necessary.

Paris. A three-day excursion with other kids on the ASSE program in late winter. By day the Seine, haze, black leafless trees; ornate decaying stonework in all directions. What kind of sorcery had built this astounding place?

By night, chugging wine straight from the bottle with Greg, and chainsmoking filterless Gauloises in our weird, triangular hotel room.

No sleep. A three-day fever dream. Spellbound rapture accompanied by intestinal cramps and high anxiety. Bernadette was ignoring me, and acting silly with the other kids in our group. We were on the rocks, but what was she up to?

Paris. The perfect backdrop for girlfriend angst.

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Gray Paree. That’s me holding the bag.

Groningen, back in Nederland, all the way at the tip-top of the country. I made this pilgrimage specifically to visit a squat. I had met my contact, Henk through a punk ‘zine. He kindly met me at the station and walked me to the squat. On the way he tossed insults at army guys passing on khaki granny bikes. Devastating epithets like, Hey Army! and, Armyyy! Holland had two years of mandatory military service for every male over 18, and part of Henk’s radical lifestyle was finding ways to stay out of the army.

Henk was a draft dodger, then. That struck me as really weird. I came from a country that did at least half of the peacekeeping and/or warmongering worldwide, and yet not joining the army was as simple as ignoring a few dozen calls from the recruiting office around graduation time. How did we do it? And then there was Holland, one of the least militarized countries around, but you had to become an outlaw just to avoid a couple of years riding a green granny bike. Then again, if the outlaw life appealed to you, draft dodging seemed a pretty easy way to get started.

Anyhow, the squat was cool, and not at all in the post-apocalyptic, Mad Max way I’d expected. It was clean and orderly, and they even had a rigorous recycling program. This was years before recycling was a mainstream thing. Henk and the other squatters were model Anarchists.

Their main activity seemed to center around protecting the squat from the cops, with an anti-nuke protest now and then to lighten things up. They called all of these events “actions”, which made them sound very subversive and cool, but it seemed like they worked with the authorities to put out a regular schedule of them, just so everyone could be in place on time.

The cops would show up, shout warnings and throw up barricades. The squatters would shout insults and throw dog turds (plentiful ammunition in any European city). They’d go back and forth like that until teatime, when everyone would pack it in. It was an exceedingly civil way to fight The Man. Very Dutch.

Back home down south things continued apace. School, hanging out with Marcel, going to the occasional show, pub crawling.

On one of those nights out Marcel said to me with his customary “soup-or-salad” intonation, Dude you wanna be in our band? Also at the table with us was a friend of Marcel’s named Paul, who was really funny despite never speaking or moving his face. I assumed he was in the band too.

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L to R: Paul, me, a dude

I said:

I do, but I don’t play anything.

You can play bass.

K. What’s your band called?

OSTOC.

K. What does that mean?

Officially Since Two O’Clock.

K. What does that mean?

That’s what time it was when we started the band.

K. Count me in.

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OSTOC, Side B

Presto. I was in a band. Just in time too, because the school year was almost over and we had an important gig to prepare for, the big end-of-year festival.

[It would be held on May 3, 1989 – exactly 30 years ago today!]

OSTOC was Marcel and three other guys I didn’t really know. I was kind of like a session musician then. A session musician that couldn’t play his instrument. That was OK , because for one thing none of the songs had more than three notes, and for another thing Paul played bass too. Yeah that’s right. Two bassists. OSTOC was breaking some rules. Also I think we hammered things out pretty well the one time we practiced.

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The one time we practiced

On drums we had Harald (front right, below; another redhead! With my host sister Gwendolyn, one of only two in the whole country). Harald seemed like he might have been a member of the A-Team at some point.

Arnout (back left) played guitar and keyboards. He also furnished me with a bass, and the band with a practice space.

Marcel (front left) was our axe-man and lead vocalist. Also lead smilist.

In addition to “playing” bass, I helped write lyrics and designed our merchandise. We were a slick outfit. Also, we all had nicknames. Mine was Sal Manella.

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OSTOC, Side A

Marcel and I were the only actual students at our school, the others having graduated in years past. This felt pretty weird to me, as I wasn’t exactly well known around school either. But nobody else mentioned it, so neither did I.

The big day came. The audience was much bigger than I’d expected, and they cheered before we even got started. That made me nervous, but I had my Dutch aloofness down pat by this time, and we launched into our set, cool as a komkommer.

We ripped through our hits, Being Killed By A Psychopath and Fuck You, With Love. We covered Death Valley 69, and a weed-themed reggae tune popular in Holland at the time (although none of us smoked weed, you gotta represent). A couple more and before I knew it, it was all over.

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Did the crowd go wild? I don’t know. They went somewhere. I think the concessions stand must have opened while we were playing or something. Things had thinned out by the time we were done, and most of the t-shirts Arnout threw out just landed on the floor.

 

 

Whatever though. Fame might feel nice, but obscurity has more virtue. All young artists know that.

School finished and I had a going-away party at home in Stramproy. Irene invited Greg Churl, my bandmates, and everyone from my homeroom at school. I guess she didn’t know I had no friends among my classmates, so that was awkward. The only one I was remotely interested in was Sandra Jansen, and I was still so cripplingly crushed out on her that I couldn’t get within 10 feet of her without becoming a human puddle.

Greg had no trouble making a beeline straight for her though. While I was forcing uncomfortable small talk on classmates whose names I didn’t even know, he was busy working his magic on her. By the end of the evening I was in a morose Heineken haze, and Greg and Sandra were making out in full view of everyone. Obnoxious, but I’d never mentioned her to anyone, not even my best friends. It was too late to do anything about it. What a crappy way to end the year.

Irene, Manolito and Gwendolyn took the train with me to the airport in Amsterdam. At the departure gate we all cried and cried, even tough guy Manolito. Then I got on the big jet plane and headed back to the US of A with a big hollow feeling inside.

I did a bad thing though. I never called or wrote my host family when I got back to Kenai. I got a letter, and then a postcard, but I didn’t reply. I don’t know why. I just didn’t. I was working on the Wehner’s fish site. The salmon run came and went. Cleaned up and closed down the site by late August.

I finally wrote Irene just before packing up for college in Fairbanks. No answer. I wrote again a few months later, but again I received no reply. I was too afraid to call by that time, imagining I must have done something wrong and they wouldn’t want to hear from me. In any case I never heard from them again, and I never found out why.

It’s a sad mystery.

Fairbanks >>

2 thoughts on “The Netherlands, part 3

  1. Mark,
    You’re a fucking wizard with words. I love your stories! You’ve had a pretty juicy life thus far. Sending you big squeezes and comfy egg crate vibes. Love your face!! 😘

    Liked by 1 person

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