It was Monday morning December 3rd when I awoke after a good long sleep, more than twelve hours actually. The continuing cold symptoms I’d been having, seemed to have subsided considerably. With the releases from yesterday’s epiphanies, the one in Best and the one here sitting on my bunk last night, I felt lighter and unburdened, and was grateful for that, optimistic even. In eight days I would have done it! Completed my full odyssey through Western Europe and returned home the triumphant traveler. And perhaps a transformed one too, with at least a better idea of who I was, the baggage I still carried from my childhood, and hopefully a renewed and more focused intention to acknowledge and let go of that baggage.
My mind’s drift into a happy future swung back to the here and now. I had important business to attend to today, determining the means and how much it would cost me to get back to England. That would involve going to the train station to get the information and hopefully also purchasing my tickets, to get me on that boat to England.
Now coming back completely to the moment, there still were a number of guys asleep in their bunks, and though the light coming in through the windows indicated another gray day, it was also bright enough to indicate we were well into morning, though without a watch or other means of telling time, I could not confirm this. I realized that Gwendolyn, Burton and Butch were in a quiet but animated conversation near my bunk with hostel staffer Greta talking details about the tour of the Heineken brewery. Greta was conveying that it was drizzling, and the wait for the brewery tour would be outside in the elements, so make sure we brought our rain gear. We should also leave in no more than ten minutes in order to ensure we got a spot on the day’s tour.
I noticed that my male comrades Burton and Butch were still in their t-shirts and underwear, while Greta and Gwendolyn were more fully, though very casually clothed. I had found from the various hostel bunkrooms that t-shirts and underwear was typical backpacker sleeping wear, given most of my cohort and I did not want to use any of that precious space in our packs to carry pajamas, specialized sleep gear that could not also be worn during the day.
It was Butch, emerging as the leader of our little cabal, that saw me sit up in my bunk and called out to me, confirming that I still was going to join them taking this morning’s tour of the brewery.
“Hey Coopenstein”, he’d rolled out that nickname last night, though not sure based on what, “You ARE going to join us for the brewery tour. It’s NOT optional mate. I don’t want to get drunk stuck with just these two kissy faced love birds.” He then proceeded to wink at Burton and Gwendolyn, keeping all his sheep in the fold by whatever means necessary.
I had slept in my white briefs and t-shirt as well, and realized I would have to climb out of my bunk and rummage through my backpack for my pants with all of them watching. But given that, I also did not want to appear to be shy, or more prudish than my male comrades in front of these two vivacious young women.
What I really wanted to do was join my two male peers in the conversation in my underwear as well, in front of the two young women, but the shy part of me resisted. I thought to myself, what was I afraid of? That someone would make some sort of sexual joke with me as the focus, and I would respond in a way that would somehow reveal that I liked being looked at when I was naked, and the others would think me some sort of sexual deviant and shun me? My imagination with its worst case scenario was all so far fetched that the fear of appearing prudish turned out to be the greater motivator, and I swung my half naked body out of bed, dropped from my upper bunk to the floor and joined the conversation with my own penis and balls an obvious package under my briefs like my two male comrades. Gwendolyn and Greta looked at me, and I could see their eyes briefly look down at my crotch, but then returned to the discussion at hand, Greta finishing her explanation about where to go and what to do to be able to take the tour.
It felt so liberating to stand there in front of all of them, the male and the female types, as nearly naked as I guess one could get away with in this situation. Greta, with her lascivious proclivities, had been playing it cool during the conversation, but when we three guys headed back to our bunks to wriggle into our jeans, showing off our butts in our white briefs, I heard her aside to Gwendolyn in her German accent.
“Look at these cute young dudes in their knickers… I love this job.” And she chuckled and sauntered out of the bunkroom.
Pants and rain gear on, the four of us ventured out into the cold rainy day all poncho’d up, joining with other clusters of our larger cohort staying at the hostel making the same pilgrimage. For us young backpacker types on a limited budget and with the boundless longing for free or cheap recreational intoxicants, this was a must do. Our iconic big hair shrouded under the hoods of our ponchos, we all looked like that gaggle of colorful aliens again, some blue, some red, though more than half of us were either green or orange, the latter my poncho’s hue.
We made our way up Willemsstraat across the metal drawbridge over the narrow Lijnbaan Canal, lined with small houseboats and other small craft mostly buttoned up with tarps for the winter. Then there was a jog in the road and over the much larger Singel Canal which formed a semicircle around the center of the city as part of Amsterdam’s crescent shaped canal and street plan. The wide canal was lined with four-story townhouses on either side behind trees with winter bared branches. I enjoyed looking at the endless variety of small boats tied up along the canal, imagining what the interior spaces of each might look like, and how cool it would be to live in a houseboat in this very friendly and politically progressive city, with its legalized cannabis and prostitution.
Across the canal at the Nassau Quay it was just a five minute wait before the city bus pulled up and maybe fifteen of us poncho’d aliens climbed aboard, wrestling in the close quarters of the bus to get at our coins under our raingear to pay the fare. The coins in my own pocket still included a few Swiss and German ones along with a majority of the current Dutch specimens, from guilders and half guilders down to five cent pieces. The small denomination Dutch coins were physically small as well but had a nice heaviness to them and they made a great clinking noise against each other or when spilled out of your hand onto a hard surface. I had been keeping a collection of coins and was looking forward to getting home and sharing the visual and visceral joy of a palmful of the metal currency including each country I had visited.
It was a twenty minute bus ride along the curving canal to the stop by the brewery. The locals on the bus looked at us like familiar oddities and I imagined a regular local rider on this route would get their daily dose of foreign young people coming from the hostel with their blue jeans and big hair. Our various wild manes were on display in the sheltered confines of the bus as we removed the hoods of our ponchos and let, what David Crosby identified as our “freak flags”, spring or tumble out in all their varieties, as catalogued in the opening number of the musical Hair…
Long, straight, curly, fuzzy,
Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka dotted,
Twisted, beaded, braided
Powdered, flowered and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied
When we shuffled off the bus there were already a couple dozen other of what appeared to be our backpacker comrades standing outside the brewery waiting for the tour, along with more conventional tourist types with their umbrellas and much more low key hair.
During the first part of the tour through the various stages of the brewing process, I found it impossible to understand the guide above the ambient noise of the place, though he was trying his best to explain everything in both Dutch and English. Lacking much of the narrative thread, what was most striking were all the wild smells of the various steps of the process. The sweet earthy smell of the sprouted grain being dried and ground down in the ‘malting’ process. The various pungent smells of the further process steps – malted grain mixed with hot water to create a sugary ‘wort’, the careful boiling of the wort to create the specific flavoring of the beer, and finally the adding of yeast to the cooled wort to stimulate the fermentation process. Having not eaten any breakfast, after about a half hour amidst that varied olfactory assault, I was beginning to feel kind of queasy and even nauseous.
The second half of the tour in the bottling plant was a much different experience. I was closer to the guide and could better understand what he was saying. And the whole bottling assembly line was a wild visual and even auditory experience. Watching all those thousands of green bottles shoot along the conveyor belts, splitting into many parallel paths and then being shot full of beer and carbon dioxide, capped, and then the separate paths merging into one quivering river of filled and capped bottles, eventually slotted like bowling pins into cases for transport and sale. All this in the overwhelming din of thousands of glass bottles noisily rattling against each other.
After the bottling plant, the much anticipated third act of the tour was the tasting room. Free glasses of beer served with cubes of cheese and even Cheeto-like cheese curls. It was eleven in the morning and I think it was breakfast for many of us. I and my three comrades sat at one of the long rectangular tables scarfing cheese cubes and curls and all eventually downing our limit of five one-third liter glasses of the delicious brew. After the first few glasses, we started to laughingly note those among our larger cohort in attendance who looked to have smoked hash prior to the tour and were now “seriously fucked up” as Butch noted.
Butch was quite the unique character. He was visually striking – several inches taller than me, big boned, tattoos all over his upper arms, and of course the two massive pigtails that exploded from the sides of his head above his ears. He seemed hellaciously smart, was always bubbling over with energy, and had an honesty and acid wit that was at times a kick and at other times discomforting. He shared that he was Samoan, and had attended an otherwise all white boarding school in Christchurch.
“I was the only ‘brown boy’ in my class, but I was so big compared to the rest of my classmates that I made us look multiracial in the class photo.”
We quickly drained our third of a liter glasses of the bitter Dutch ambrosia. After the fourth one kicked in, our conversation turned to how loose and unique our ‘Christian’ youth hostel was compared to the ‘regular’, more buttoned down youth hostels we had stayed at elsewhere. Surfing the buzz, Butch waxed libidinously about Greta, with her curly hair, round rimmed glasses, and general lustfulness.
“And what about that Greta? Doesn’t it feel like she’s just coming on to you all the time?”
“Not me”, said an obviously (and I must say deliciously) tipsy Gwendolyn waving her hand in the air to to get Butch’s attention, as if to remind the rest of us there was a female type person in this conversation, “But she does seem to like flirting with my boyfriend.” Then looking at Burton and rubbing his forearm with her hand, “Should I be jealous babe?”, though not sounding like a serious question.
Burton scoffed, “Nah… She’s okay”, like it was no big deal.
“Okay?” Butch responded, incredulous, “That lady is a Yuicy Yanis Yoplin”, lampooning Greta’s German accent and pronouncing all the ‘J’s like ‘Y’s. “Ohhh, still my heart!” as he beat on the left side of his big chest. And then mugging and looking down at his crotch, “And the rest of me!”
“Dude”, said Burton, chuckling as he drew out the word, a sense of both noting the implied vulgarity AND seconding the motion in his delivery.
Gwendolyn, picking up on the latter and flashing a disgusted look, swatted Burton with the back of her hand on his upper forearm. “Burton, really?”
“He said it, not me!” Burton replied in his defence, though still chuckling, plus you could tell he was enjoying getting his girlfriend riled up.
Gwendolyn, showing a little alcohol aided feistiness shot back, “Oh, so you’d rather I smacked Butch instead?”
“Smack me, smack me”, Butch pleaded theatrically.
Gwendolyn got a kind of a wild gleam in her eye, pulled her left hand back across her chest, and then swung and delivered a loud slap with the back of her hand on Butch’s big muscular tattoo covered upper arm.
She immediately reacted like she’d hit him too hard. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry! Did I hurt you?”
Butch grinned, shook his head, and noted with a twinkle in his eye, “Oh… I SO SO deserved that!” He said each ‘so’ and the rest of his response in such a brazenly lascivious way that Burton and I laughed, and Gwendolyn dropped her jaw in mock amazement and disgust and joyfully smacked Butch again, finally joining the laughter of the three of us at the now wholly comic scene.
It was like Gwendolyn was basically flirting with Butch in front of her boyfriend, and she turned to Burton, ran her finger down the bridge of his nose, and spoke.
“So you’re okay with me getting physical with another dude while you watch, eh?”
I loved that intimate moment, plus the whole scene that led up to it, though I, only a spectator. Burton looked embarrassed and caught unprepared with a comeback, and he just scoffed and the conversation moved on.
After the fifth and final beer upped the alcohol ante even further, we were all past tipsy, particularly Gwendolyn. In her nonverbal cues, I could see her emerging from her shy shell. Her broad shoulders were now more relaxed, and her head atop them would tilt more as she reacted to what was said. Her face got more expressive, now showing a range of reactions to what was being said, from delight to nose wrinkling disgust. Butch was getting more swaggery, juiced by both the beer and the playful swats from this vibrant young woman across the table from him, and looking like he was ready for major league verbal sparring. Burton seemed mostly unchanged, maybe having been more used to consuming a larger quantity of alcohol than the rest of us.
It was Gwendolyn, continuing to let her guard down, that got our next major conversation going with her question.
“So dudes”, she said, putting a hand on both Burton’s and Butch’s wrists, plus leaning towards me sitting across the table from her, “So what do you imagine the world will be like in thirty years when we’re all middle aged?”
“A desolate planet emerging from nuclear winter ruled by cockroaches, if the U.S. and the Soviet Union incinerate everybody with all their nukes”, Burton responded sardonically, “And if the three of us even get that far without offing ourselves like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison!” Then he scoffed, “Guess they all took ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty’ seriously!”
Wanting to join the fray and always enjoying discussion of our shared hippie mythology, I asked, “Was it Jerry Rubin or Abbie Hoffman who first said that?”
“Neither”, noted Burton, obviously pleased at his expertise, “It was in fact Jack Weinberg, part of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, when he was being interviewed by some clueless over thirty hack reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle.”
“Okay”, said Gwendolyn, trying to refocus the discussion on her question, “Assuming we don’t nuke each other, and whether the three of us make it that far or not.”
“Ladies first”, teased Butch to Gwendolyn, the two of them now, since the slaps at least, now having their silly ‘thing’ going between them.
“Okay smartypants, here goes!” she responded, grooving on whatever that ‘thing’ between them was.
“Smartypants?” said Burton with mock incredulity, snickering.
“Shut up you, I got the floor, fair and square!” she fired back at Burton, with all the mock fierceness to match his incredulity.
“Okay, okay”, she repeated, then put her hands over her mouth and looked up at the ceiling thinking. Then she held up both her index fingers like the answer was coming to her.
“Okay, okay”, she continued, gesticulating with her pointed fingers as she spoke, “My dad’s an electrical engineer, and he thinks, and I agree with him on this point though very little else, that everyone will have their own private computer, like in their house. And you’ll even talk to it like they do on Star Trek. And the United Nations will have a colony on the Moon, and from there they’ll be organizing a manned mission to Mars.” She paused, and then threw up an index finger again to signal there was more. “Canada will have its first female prime minister”, and looking at Butch with a mock scowl and wiggling her shoulders, “So ladies first indeed!” And then looking at me, “Like way before you have a female president in the States.”
“So who’s this lady prime minister going to be?” said Burton, “You?”
Gwendolyn slowly turned her head to stare at her boyfriend with a truly askance look. “Bet I have a way better chance of being the first female prime minister of Canada than you do, dude!” she drawing out that last word for effect.
Then leaning across the table and putting her hand on Butch’s shoulder as if in an aside to him, maybe as part of their ‘thing’ and as a tease for his earlier implicit sexual reference, “Last I checked!”
“Okay”, said Burton with resignation, rolling his eyes. “My turn!”
He went down a litany. “Colonies on the Moon. Yes. Mission to Mars. Yes. Computers in your home. Sure, but not talking, at least not yet. And we’ll all probably be driving around in flying cars like the Jetsons and talking to each other on TV screens or those Dick Tracey wrist watches.”
Burton quieted in thought. It was like the alcohol stupor had taken over. And not just in him but in all four of us.
But Gwendolyn was determined to shake it off and hear from all of us on her topic. She leaned toward me, putting her elbows on the table and supporting her chin on her clasped hands as she looked at me.
“Coopenstein?” She had picked up on Butch’s nickname for me.
Her eyes were a light brown, just a bit bloodshot, but the pupils not dilated like they had been yesterday when the three of them had smoked the last of Burton’s hash. I was a deer in the headlights of that gaze. While most of my mind was suddenly nonfunctional, that remaining hardy bit that still worked noted that I had to learn how to look into a woman’s eyes that I was attracted to and still be able to put words together into meaningful utterances.
“I don’t know”, I managed to put at least those three words together, and then trying to recover from that obviously lame initial response, “There’s so much I’m imagining!”
There was another pause, teetering on the edge of stupor. But Butch chimed in.
“While the manster Coopenstein is momentarily befuddled by the charming Gwendolyn’s query, I’ll elaborate to you all what’s really going to happen.” His diction was still crisp like he was totally sober though he obviously was not.
“So”, he continued, “Intending no offense to my esteemed comrades of the paler skin”, gesturing with his hands to the three of us, “But I think all the white people on this planet are delusional if they think they’ll still be running the place in the 21st century, since the majority of folks on this crazy rock are much more ‘colorful’, and that ‘global village’ is going to just say ‘no’ to a white elite continuing its colonization of the rest of us.”
And then maybe a bit too proud of himself for thinking up a pithy rejoinder, “A UN led colony on the moon perhaps, but no more fucking colonies on Earth!”
It was a heavy political critique, but delivered by Butch in his signature style, kind of tossed off with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.
“But yes”, he said concluding, “Let’s hear from the Coopenstein!”
Feeling the alcohol juicing my brain and the safe space provided by my rambunctious comrades, the words spilled out of me, crafted but mostly unfiltered.
“Yeah, what Butch said, but the revolution will have been led by young people who finally stand up to their parents’ generation and say, ‘We won’t put up with anymore of your wars, your lust for riches, your hackneyed morality, your need to control and oppress people’. Real ‘peace, love and joy’ like the hippies before us had called out for but never figured how to make happen. WE made that peace, love and joy happen…”, and I felt my rambling train of thought derailing, “Somehow”.
“Good luck with that!” said Burton with a wry chuckle.
“I like it!” chimed in Gwendolyn, “Where do I sign up?”
Our stupor returned.
Finally Butch gave a big sigh and announced, “Well I’m off to maybe score some extra awesome hash. I talked to a guy who knows a guy, so I’ll see you all at dinnertime with hopefully some killer shit.”
“Burton and I are going to do the Rijksmuseum”, said Gwendolyn, then looking at me, “You want to join us?”
“Thanks”, I said (if it had just been her it would have been a total ‘yes’), “But I gotta go to the train station and sort out my passage back to England day after tomorrow. I’ll see you all back at the hostel and I’ll try some of that hash if you can score it.”
Before we left, I bought Heineken t-shirts for myself and Angie. I decided I would wear mine, all new and clean on the plane back. Then when my mom and brother saw me at Detroit Metro Airport, I’d be in full hippie backpacker regalia – jeans, hiking boots, and my Heineken t-shirt. As to the second shirt, there might have been a bit of a passive aggressive agenda there, reminding Angie of what she had missed by not continuing the odyssey with me.
All donned again in our ponchos and full of cheese and lots of beer, we left the brewery and were back out in what was now a full blown cold rainy day. Feeling deliciously buzzed and sated by the vibrant conversation with my fellow travelers, plus unburdened from yesterday’s epiphanies, I said goodbye to them and headed off on my own to walk the two and a half kilometers through the center city back to the train station to sort out my passage back to England.