It was Wednesday December 5 1973 and I awoke in my upper bunk in the Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, the smell of hashish and tobacco in the air as always. I had not slept well, recovering from all the hash I smoked yesterday along with my mind buzzing late into the night with so many thoughts.
Returning from our journeys yesterday, Butch, Gwendolyn, Burton and I had actually smoked one more round of Butch’s stuff and played cards, my favorite game Hearts, until about two in the morning when we all collectively were about to pass out and agreed to call it quits. No one wanted the day to end, the four of us together having certainly done that day to the absolute max, for me my last full day on the Continent before returning to England and then flying home to the States.
When I had finally climbed up onto my bunk and into my sleeping bag, I expected to quickly part the land of the conscious, but instead my fried and headachy mind continued to percolate. As I said, it was my last night on the Continent in these foreign lands where I did not speak the language but had had such an array of experiences. Probably my last youth hostel, these havens for young travelers where I had found such community with my backpacker peers, and had close encounters with any number of vibrant young women. Indulging my ever unsatisfied libido, I imagined a scenario where I would get naked and have sex with each one of them, and that took me pretty much through most of the rest of the night, not really fully dozing off until the first light of the drizzly dawn through the windows.
It was now well into the morning, me kind of in a hypnagogic state, when I realized that Gwendolyn was standing by my bed in her t-shirt and underwear, not unlike her episode of the long libidinal fantasy I had had instead of sleep last night. It was the same t-shirt and underwear she had worn last night for our card game, all of us still high from smoking Butch’s hash, deciding, based of course on Butch’s suggestion, to have a sort of stoner slumber party in our “jammies and blankies”. Neither of which any of us had, so actually t-shirts, underwear and sleeping bags. Gwendolyn must have never made it back to the female bunkroom last night. Did she find an empty bunk to sleep in or did she sleep with Burton? Forget the sex, oh just to cuddle up next to her all night!
She pushed her huge mane of auburn hair back on each side of her head and in her Canadian accent said, “So you’re headed out of here this morning”, her “out” bordering on a deliciously exotic “oot”. Her eyes were kind of bloodshot and her pupils were dilated as she continued.
“Yeah”, I said, suddenly overwhelmed by all the emotion with acknowledging that fact.
“You want to join the ‘B Boys’ and yours truly for one last toke for the road? Or rails in your case!” she queried, spoken like Butch was rubbing off on her a bit, nicknaming them and all.
I grimaced a little at the thought of more hash, and she caught my expression and rolled her eyes.
“Yeah dude, I know I’m a total stoner”, she said frowning, “My folks would be so disappointed in me!” Then tilting her head and grinning, “But I’m just enjoying that other way of looking at the world when you’re high, everything becomes all like playful and exotic.”
She sighed, resigned. “I know I’ll have to straighten up my act when I get home. Get a job. Maybe see if I can eventually go to art school like your mom did.” She then furrowed her brow, thinking and pushing her auburn curls back from her eyes.
“So no smoke for you I guess”, she said, grinning, “You don’t want a repeat of yesterday’s encounter at the BOAC office.”
“Please no!” I said, making wide eyes.
Gwendolyn chuckled. “She was something! Wasn’t she? Poor thing has to put up with crazies like us all day. And I really DID love her hair! Have half a mind to get mine all cut off when I go out job hunting. Look all professional like that. And I LOVED her cap!”
I nodded and chuckled. “And those blue fingernails matching her uniform!”
“I KNOW!”, she replied, shaking her head in mock amazement. Then composing herself and putting on a thoughtful look.
“It’s been a real pleasure meeting you Coopenstein”, she using Butch’s nickname for me. “I know it’s a silly nickname Butch gave you but it kind of fits, don’t ask me why.” She laughed.
I laughed too. “Yeah I guess so”, I said, still flummoxed by all the things I was feeling to say something profound in the moment. “Butch is something else. I never met anyone quite like him!”
She nodded, lowering her voice. “Butch is going to miss you”, she noted, shaking her head, “I mean we’re all going to miss you, but he REALLY is!”
I chuckled, realizing how close he and I had become in like just seventy-two hours.
She continued, “I mean before you were here it was just Burton and I being a couple, doing couple stuff, and then Butch, feeling like a third wheel. You like changed the dynamic completely. Gave HIM a partner, if that makes any sense. And when you and I were hanging out together he and Burton could be partners without feeling they were excluding me. When you joined us we all just got looser, had more fun, and just got more connected somehow.”
Then pausing and rolling her eyes again and putting her hands on her forehead. “I’m fucking stoned. I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“No”, I finally chimed in trying to be supportive, “It makes total sense!”
She scoffed and wrinkled her nose. “Glad it makes total sense to YOU!”
Then I could see a thought pop in her mind. “So you and your mom have inspired me to buy oil paints when I get home!”
“And a palette knife?” I asked.
“Fuck yeah!” she acknowledged, and she laughed. It came from her belly and was of course a kick for me to hear. There was something about a stoned young woman with big wild hair laughing and swearing in a t-shirt and panties with no bra, that was pretty damn awesome, at least to my libidinized eyes. It struck me that she always seemed more assertive around me and Butch than when she was interacting with her boyfriend. Like there was that older demure Gwendolyn that had been Burton’s girlfriend for years, but also this newer feistier version she was trying on with Butch and I, but not ready to unveil to or unleash on her boyfriend. His loss!
“Anyway”, she continued, sighing and flashing a pout, “I must say my goodbyes! You do hugs?”
I nodded but noted, “I didn’t used to before I came to Europe.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I had never been much of a hugger in my life in the States. But here in Europe, in the intensity of the bonds that formed quickly with my fellow travelers, and then the too quick partings that followed, I had learned my lesson.
“Oh good”, she said, wiggling her shoulders playfully, “It’s way more ‘civilized’, don’t you think?”
“Indeed”, I replied.
“Indeed!” she said emphatically.
Oh god Gwendolyn, I spun off in thought, unleash your new and improved self on me! Make me surrender my virginity, and take it proudly knowing that so many other young women could not wrest it from my too tight grip. I imagined us naked, her on top of me, my mind’s jukebox adding Paul Revere and the Raiders ‘Just Like Me’ to the scene…
It’s just like me
To say to you
Love me do
And I’ll be true
And what I’d like
For you to say
Is you’ll come home
To me each day
It’s just like me
To feel so blue
And fall so much
In love with you
Bringing myself back to the moment, I realized that this was my sad parting with her, a person I had known for less than three days, but had connected with in the midst of our shared intoxication and other experiences. Sad indeed, but at least now ‘the hug’. Some might argue that a brief moment of physical intimacy was just a tease, and as Smokey Robinson sang…
A taste of honey is worse than none at all
But I was learning to savor those short few seconds, to replay forever in my mind, and hope that some day in the not too distant future, those moments with someone would no longer be so truncated.
In my own underwear and t-shirt, and first confirming that my penis was behaving itself down there and would not embarrass me with an erection, I swung my feet out of my sleeping bag and over the side of my bunk and raised myself to a sitting position, finally sliding my butt off the mattress and dropping to a standing position on the floor in front of her. I could almost not believe that this was about to happen. Our two semi naked bodies were about to embrace, if just for a few fleeting seconds, and with just two thin layers of cotton material between her breasts and my chest, and our genitals. She raised one arm to the height of my shoulder and the other at the level of my waist. I had learned this protocol from watching and participating in other hugs, and raised my own arms to mimic hers but on the opposite side.
She came forward and brought herself against me with none of the reticence one might have had in such a hug, perhaps because she was stoned, wrapping her arms around my back to anchor her body against mine. I quickly followed suit with my arms around her, pressing myself against her. She turned her head away from mine, and being about four inches shorter than I was, rested it against my right shoulder, as our big manes of hair, hers more triangular and mine a big circle, encountered each other, hers smelling of burnt hashish and faintly of lavender. Through our t-shirts I felt her nipples press against my chest followed by the entirety of her small breasts. Below, her vulva behind cotton panties gently touching against my bare thigh, my own parts in their briefs, encountering her hip bone. Our arms engulfed each other. It seemed like much longer, because my mind was counting in milliseconds, but it was maybe four seconds, and it was the most intimately erotic four seconds I had ever experienced.
It’s just like me
To feel so blue
And fall so much
In love with you
She pulled away but kept her arms on my shoulders for a moment and said, “Good travels mate!” Her eyes kind of telegraphed that she was wrestling with saying something else, but she did not. She took her hands off my shoulders, briefly touched my cheek with one, and turned and headed back across the room where Burton and Butch were sitting and now watching the two of us.
She stood over them. Showing me just her big mane of curls, her cute pear-shaped butt in white panties, and long legs.
“Next?” she said.
As she sat down next to him, Burton got up and advanced toward me, in his underwear and t-shirt like the others. He raised his hand to his chest and made the fist salute.
“Be well dude!” he said.
“You too”, I replied, doing my version of the same fist gesture.
“So what’s next for you?” he asked. I guess not having made the same level of connection with me as his comrades, that at least was showing his interest and concern for me.
I rattled off the train ride to the Hook of Holland, ferry across the North Sea, and then the train from Harwich to Colchester, just another day for the seasoned traveler. A couple days in Colchester with family friends, then a couple in Oxford before heading back to Heathrow for my flight back to the States.
He said he and Gwendolyn would be flying home from Hamburg in two weeks. In the meantime they were thinking of using their rail passes to take the long train ride up to Copenhagen, then across to Norway, and then all the way up to the end of the line above the arctic circle at Narvik, to try and maybe see the Northern Lights.
Attempting to make some level of connection with him I said, with all the passion I could muster, “That’s SO COOL! I’d thought about doing that while my rail pass was still good.” I frowned. “Of course it’s better if you do that with a partner I imagine.”
His eyes flared and he grinned almost smuggly I thought. Maybe it was just me being SO FUCKING JEALOUS that he got to take that adventure with Gwendolyn.
He stuck out his hand for a handshake. I went with the drill and grabbed him with mine.
“It’s been a pleasure”, I said, recalling fondly Jen and Trix.
“Pleasure dude, definitely!” Our hands unclasped. I sensed we both felt that really wasn’t quite enough, but was all we had between us. But he turned and headed back to where Gwendolyn was sitting on the floor.
Butch was standing behind him, also in t-shirt and boxers, and now came towards me. He looked into my eyes and showed a sad face and big dark dilated pupils.
“So headed out to the train station to ride the rails to Holland’s little ‘hoek’, then board the big boat to Britannia.”
I nodded and grinned at his alliteration.
“So one last puff on the pipe to add a little spice to the day’s journey?”
Now I made MY sad face and shook my head.
“So no toke over the line sweet Jesus?”, he noted.
I immediately picked up on his reference to the Brewer and Shipley song, the song had popped up in my mind’s own jukebox just yesterday.
“No toke over the line!” I replied appropriately, and then it just felt right to burst into song, Butch instantly catching on and singing with me.
“I’ll (he’ll) be sittin’ downtown in a railway station, no toke over the line!”
“Goddess I’m going to miss you”, he said, the sad face then morphing into the big shiteating grin, “You march into my life in your big black boots and turn everything upside down. I fashion you into my ‘Coopenstein’ but now, TOO TOO soon, I must release you from my nest and let you try your new wings!”
“Ain’t it always the case?” I responded, going with the schticky scene.
“Dude”, he said emphatically, for once trying to be genuinely serious but having cried wolf so many times. “Dude, dude, dude, dude, DUDE!” he repeated.
Still trying to be genuine he said, “This is one moment when I wish either I wasn’t stoned or you were. Not sure the thoughts and feelings can bridge the realities”, and he held his hand up parallel to the line between us and moved it back and forth between our faces.
‘Coopster’, ‘Coopenstein’, whatever, I took action. I had a sudden rush of feeling for this unique person who had made such an effort to bring our little cabal together, propel us on our adventures, and kept us cared for and ‘fed’ in so many ways.
“No words necessary, dude!” I said, even used the ‘d-word’. Then I stepped forward and pressed myself against him and wrapped my hands around his big body. I somehow felt like I’d known him forever, or that he was some long lost sibling I had finally reunited with, only to have to say goodbye again.
Being three inches taller than me, it was my head that turned to fit between his neck and shoulder, my big mass of curly hair tussling with his huge exploding pigtail on that side. His big body was warm and quivered with energy, smelling of hashish and a slight tang of deodorant mixed with sweat. His crotch brushed against mine and I could feel its big contents. Though it did not send my libido percolating like with Gwendolyn, it was deliciously intimate and all good!
The embrace must have been at least twenty seconds. Finally came Burton’s voice from the peanut gallery.
“Okay you two, get a room!”
“BURTON!” It was Gwendolyn’s voice admonishing him. I heard a smack of skin on skin.
I withdrew my hands from around Butch’s back, but he still was clutching me in his big bearhug.
“Dude”, he whispered, “Coopenstein, Cooper, whoever the hell you are. A true pleasure making your acquaintance!”
I somehow managed to remember his real given name from hearing it three days ago. “Kaleiokalani”, I whispered back, “I feel better about the human species knowing that you are a member in good standing!”
“Well I wouldn’t go THAT far”, he quipped in response, returning to more normal form as he released my body from his clinch.
Then he said with a completely straight face, “But yeah, Malo soifua!”, apparently something from his own language and culture. “Back at you!”
Then raising his hand to shoulder level and clenching his fist. “Damn the Man!”
I made the same gesture. “Damn the Man!”
His mouth cracked a satisfied grin, this morning I was HIS obedient lap dog.
We all busied ourselves putting our clothes on, including Gwendolyn, who apparently had her clothes from last night when she never went back to the female bunk room. The three of them, now all poncho’d up and standing by the door to the stairwell, were headed out to the Rijksmuseum, at Gwendolyn’s urging, after another tour of the Heineken brewery of course. Burton waved to me and Gwendolyn blew me a kiss. Butch pointed his index finger at me.
“Now go home and do something about your ‘Tricky Dick’!” Then thinking about the possible meanings of the words he just said, “Not yours personally, but your country’s!”
And then they were gone down the stairs. It was all too quick per my new usual.
I was there alone by my bunk, feeling the void of finally separating from the hive mind we had created together with Butch’s amazing hash and all Lady Amsterdam’s other intoxications and inducements. I suddenly felt like the lamest of lame ducks, with no desire to really go anywhere other than hit the grocery store for food for the day and then make my way to the train station. I quickly packed my backpack, donned my down jacket and then shouldered my big pack. With that fifty pounds weighing me down again, my entire home of sorts on my back, I then managed awkwardly to cover it and me with my poncho and headed out of the bunkroom and its persistent smell of hashish and down the stairs to exit the hostel.
Greta was at her post at the front desk, slouched in her office chair with her bare feet up on the desk as she read a big unfolded newspaper. She was wearing what looked like an old high school marching band jacket over a tie dyed sweatshirt and yet another pair of ratty old bell bottom jeans, covered with sewn on patches of various random fabric, but still a few holes and rips unmended, including one on her butt that revealed a peek at black underwear. Her toenails were painted a shiny black as well. She sized me up through those round metal rimmed Janis Joplin glasses and noticed the big hump on my back under my poncho.
“You look like you are leaving us!” she said, and then putting on her best mock TV commercial English, “Thank you for choosing the Amsterdam Christian Youth Hostel!”
I nodded with a bit of a grimace.
“Ach… sad face!” she noted, followed by, “Remember, ‘Tot heil des volks’”, the words above the door of the hostel, ‘The salvation of the people’ in English, spoken by her in her nice German accent with a big toothy grin and a wink. That finally got a smile out of me.
“Thanks for everything Greta”, I said, “This place is awesome.”
“Hey. ‘Salvation’ baby! We do what we can”, she responded, “Goede reis. Vive la révolution”.
Thinking of Butch I said, “Damn the Man!”, and did the clenched fist thing and headed out of the hostel door down the steps to the street.
Yes I wanted so much to go home, but there was still a part of me that had wanted to stay. To buzz up on Butch’s killer hashish once again with the rest of them, and continue to explore this friendly, rainy city with the rest of the ‘Amsterdamned’, within the intimate connection of our shared altered state of consciousness. Continue to get to know the three of them, particularly the intriguing Gwendolyn as she continued to peel her own developmental onion, even if as Burton’s girlfriend.
Limited as it was, the gestalt of what the four of us had created together, our hive mind of four unique but connected souls in a unique moment in time and space, would never exist again, forever. Sure other moments of connection were obviously ahead with other people, some that would hopefully turn out to be even more compelling. But a thing was, then it wasn’t, and we moved on, hopefully anticipating the next thing.
All this ran through my foggy mind, still recovering from yesterday’s hash and beer bash, as I wrestled the hood of my poncho over my big hair and soldiered my way down to Willemsstraat. It was still chilling, but more of a light rain this morning than the ubiquitous drizzle, the goddess Amsterdam’s cold wet kiss all over my exposed face.
I headed down the street to the grocery store to provision for the day ahead, which I anticipated would be on trains and ships and the stations in between, all of which I knew from experience would likely feature very expensive food. I only had a few guilders left in cash, but the store was willing to accept one of my three remaining $20 American Express traveler’s checks. In my intense fiscal frugalness, I struggled a moment with cashing it and being left with all those remaining guilders that I would have to exchange when I got to England, always feeling like I was getting ripped off at those exchange windows.
I plotted out my food needs for a whole day. A full loaf of unsliced rye bread. A full pound of inexpensive hard salami. A half pound of hard cheese, Jarlsberg in this case. Hard always kept better. A tin of sardines. Two tubs of yogurt. A bag of dried apricots. A package of cookies. A plastic bottle of Coke. I managed to cram it all in my backpack, which along with all the stuff I had brought with me from the States (minus the items I had lost along the way), included the Christmas gifts I had bought for my family, particularly that large glass decanter I had bought for my dad in Italy.
I had the decanter nestled in the middle of my pack to try to keep it from getting broken in transit, and each time I encountered it unpacking or repacking items around it, it struck me how, if nothing else, it was logistically not the best gift to have bought. After all my thought and careful budgeting to keep a pot of money aside for buying Christmas gifts for my family, I had purchased the thing on a whim and I probably could have made a better choice. Oh well!
Leaving the store, I retraced my route from the hostel and then back to the train station in reverse, a couple blocks up the street then right on Brouwersgracht, along its big canal, pretty painted boats below with cozy townhouses on either side, all glistening in the wet. Goodbye Amsterdamned. Goodbye city. Goodbye goddess. Be well. Live long and prosper.
In ten minutes I was inside the big train station, echoing with the sounds of bustling bodies and a thousand mostly to me unintelligible conversations. Though unneeded now in a physical sense, my poncho still felt like my cocoon, so I left it on though with the hood off to fly the freak flag lest it might signal others of my cohort that I was a fellow traveler. Also from a practical point of view, if I took the poncho off, what would I do with it. Stow it wet in my backpack and make everything around it all wet, then moldy and stinky. When your life was in the pack on your back, a key to survival, or at least the avoidance of severe discomfort, was keeping that pack and its contents as dry as possible.
I studied the big electromechanical board that posted all the arrivals and departures and found that my train to The ‘Hoek’ departed in about an hour. Finding an empty bench on the departure platform I laid claim to its entirety, sitting on one side of the bench and draping my wet poncho over the rest, figuring by the time my train arrived it would be dry and I could then fold and stow it in my pack. I scanned the platform for other backpacker types but saw none, and busied myself with eating, watching all the people, and catching up in my journal from the last three very full days.
I pulled out my plane ticket and wrote all my flight information on the Aerogramme I had been saving to mail to my mom, figuring she would get it before I arrived so she would know to be at the airport when my plane landed. It was an exciting act, another key task on the run up to my triumphant return. But when I slipped it in a postbox by my platform it struck me that it was a British Aerogramme and I was mailing it in the Netherlands. Had I stupidly jumped the gun to mail it here and not wait until this evening when I was back in England? Would it even be delivered? Would my mom not know when I was returning? A call back home would be really expensive on my limited remaining money.
I stewed for a few minutes but finally decided to let it go. I decided I would send my mom a postcard later today with my flight info, as a backup. Worst case I would hitchhike home from Metro Airport back to Ann Arbor. You had to learn how to cope with those mistakes or losses, big or small. You should learn a lesson, but also not get down on yourself, doing so merely increasing the loss. Sure it’d been hard when you lose a $12 knife or leave 20 French Francs just sitting at an exchange window. That last blunder was the toughest one to cope with, what a maneuver on my part. But I managed, and now I had no regrets. It occurred to me that when I got back home how easy it would be to hang onto things because the quantity I had to constantly deal with would be drastically reduced. When your entire life was carried somewhere on your person, that was a real administrative burden.
It was a two and a half hour train ride from Amsterdam through The Hague and by the big port city of Rotterdam to The ‘Hoek’ of Holland (actually meaning ‘corner’ rather than ‘hook’ in English). Every bit of the Netherlands I traversed and saw out the train window – cities, suburbs, woods, farms and port facilities – seemed well thought out and laid out, even pretty to look at. Other than that view, the train ride was uneventful, and I read a copy of the International Herald Tribune I had picked up at the Amsterdam train station.
I read that last week the U.S. Senate had overwhelmingly confirmed Gerald Ford as the country’s new Vice President and the House was expected to follow suit later this week, Ford to replace Spiro Agnew who had resigned under a legal cloud. Some commentators speculated that Ford could become the first unelected U.S. president if Nixon was actually impeached and convicted. I was now old enough to vote, though I had not had a chance yet to do so even in a local election, and was looking forward to casting my first ballot for president in 1976 for anyone but Nixon if he was still in office at that point. It felt good reading the U.S. political stories in the Tribune, even the deepening Watergate scandal, because it was beginning to get me back in the flow of things at home.
After seeing all the huge cranes and other port facilities of Rotterdam off in the distance, I was a little surprised that the train station at the Hoek was small with just a single outdoor platform with what looked like a small beach town around it. The rain had mostly stopped and since it was just a short walk to the ferry terminal I braved it without pulling out my stowed and dry poncho, for fear I would have nowhere to dry it off again on the boat. The ferry itself was huge, by far the biggest vessel I’d ever been on, the first that you might actually call a ‘ship’ rather than a ‘boat’. I queued up with several hundred other people and eventually got on. I had the option to check my pack as baggage, but that felt too weird not to have it right with me all the time, like it had been for the past ten weeks.
The ship’s whistles screamed together at different low discordant pitches, and I felt the vibrations of the big engines below, as the propellers churned up the water behind us. I stood on the stern rail watching the Continental coast recede from view, as the ship moved out into the stormy roiling sea. Goodbye people speaking languages I mostly did not understand, though with a little more understanding now than nine weeks ago. Goodbye Continent! I wondered how many years, decades, if ever, I would ply its roads, rails and rivers again.
Goodbye my fellow backpackers, I would miss you most of all. The place was all yours now to explore without me. Keep the adventure alive and take care of each other. And keep our shared dream of a transformed world that we would together make happen someday; full of peace, love and joy (and the necessary sex, drugs and rock and roll to help us keep on keepin on). The yet unrealized dream of the hippies that came before us. Following the road they had paved, against the flow of hierarchy, violence and tragedy, perpetuated through time from centuries past. The road my own cohort hoped to traverse more easily, based on groundwork those hippies had laid, into a better future.
Getting farther out from shore, we were now firmly in the grasp of the goddess of the sea. With each big swell we traversed I felt the ship rising upward underneath me for 30 seconds or more like some monstrous elevator before peaking and then heading back down for another 30 seconds. It was scary how profoundly awesome and powerful the sea was compared with the much tamer terra firma I had traversed for the last ten weeks and pretty much all of my life.