SUN MAY 22, 2011 // LISTEN CLOSE THIS ONE'S FOR YOU

CASTRICUM, NETHERLANDS

Wake up and do my mountain monk exercise dance routine. Write in the black book reminding myself not to turn into a goblin.

Eric awakens and we walk through a windy morning under gray skies to find breakfast. All the businesses are closed on Sunday. We wind up at the bagel place by a draw bridge where we first ate in the delirium following our arrival. On this morning I have a moment with our waitress. She has on black tights and not very much of a skirt, and a plaid button down shirt underneath of her apron as if she came to work after a long night. Don't get the wrong impression though: She looks like a sleepy young elf person...innocent face and willowy limbs...a weary look in her eyes. We make long eye contact during a pause following a question about how much coffee.

After she leaves I tell Eric I have rediscovered the possibility of love like how born again Christians find the lord and he doesn't believe me. (he believes I'm being sarcastic, which admittedly is often how I sound.) We have a nice breakfast by the canal as the wind blows and rain begins to fall. I never get a chance to say good-bye to the love of my life.

Back to the apartment, pack the car and drive to Castricum. A tiny town on the Sea. Along the way the wind and rain subsides. City vanishes. Windmills. Cows. Sheep. Grazing along canals in grassy fields filled with flowers. Stone houses with thatched roofs. Hope and good will pay visit to our journey. Eric feels himself slip into a transcendent mood and decides to suggest the issuance of an edict/dare: Can Michael make it twenty four hours straight without saying something sarcastic?

If I succeed for twenty four hours I'm allowed to be sarcastic again and both of us will have something lost returned. If I fail the clock resets and I have to try again to make it twenty four hours eternally until I succeed.

My first attempt ends after about an hour when we see some sheep out the window and I inquire if they're concerned about the possibility of suburban sprawl or global warming effecting the price of wool. I claim I'm being sincere when Eric calls me on it and then get into an argument debating the shadow of myself which effectively ends my grounds for dispute.

After that I make it about twenty minutes before voicing a come hither remark to the English lady's voice that speaks from the GPS machine on loan to us from the theblanktapes.com.

Eric laughs and shakes his head as I am distraught by my lack of discipline. Soon after we arrive in the tiny seaside town of Castricum. We park the Fiat Panda on the edge of town and walk towards where the show will be. There is a carnival is breaking down in the misty bright light of late spring afternoon.

The venue for the show is is a tidy black room in a brick building with glass doors owned by 100 anarchist kids. There is a Dutch cover band playing rock and roll fantasy music across the street. One of the anarchist kids sees us through the glass and unlocks the door to let us in. He is very kind and soon our host appears...

....a beautiful, tiny, sprightly, powerful woman named Flora. 

Not really a woman though. Strike that and here's my explanation:

I know a lot of women who get mad when you call a woman a girl....but I want to call this woman a girl. By this I don't mean to indicate that she's unsophisticated. On the contrary...she turns out to be one of the wisest people I've ever met in the Swiss cheese universe expanding in the illusory conception of personal consciousness. 

She's was so very young and informal. Calling someone like that a woman for me confuses the issue. Also when I hear the word "woman" society's attack on my childhood has me thinking about distasteful images of makeup and high heals from nineteen eighty two. So...I'm saying "girl." 

Fight? Please get in line.

Anyway, so this girl Flora, elfin, beautiful, genuinely cheery beyond belief helps us situate our instruments/amplifier and coordinates the time of the evening with the eventual sound person and bar tender. Then she leads us out the door of the club across the brick streets and through a narrow alleyway to her home behind the churchyard.

The sun is slowly going down. The sky is changing from blue to green like it does only in the deep north in the springtime evening.

We open the broad plank of polished wood that is the front door and ascend the steep Dutch stairs that are actually closer to a ladder...a consequence of tax evasion from some king a long, long time ago. Upstairs Flora's elfin brother is playing a video game where you shoot people while two rappers from Chicago pack up their belongings and prepare to travel to Amsterdam where they will have a show later in the evening. The MC has dreadlocks and is built like he's done a lot of hard work. The DJ is very slender and sleepy. They are kind to us and show us their stack of vinyl which is tastefully decorated.

The MC tells horror stories of French train rides and waxes enthusiastically about the generosity of Denmark. Then in a strange cloud of smoke they suddenly disappear and it is Eric and I alone with Flora and her brother the elf assassin. Presently he puts down his remote control weapons and we begin to have a conversation in the kitchen while Flora prepares dinner. Fried fresh potatoes, salad of garden greens, and we snack on morning picked cherries while the food is cooking.

The elf assassin has been a counselor at a Portuguese surf camp as well as a youth prison facility in Amsterdam. He is a strong, intelligent, mysterious young person.

We eat dinner and it is perfect. Then we do the dishes and Flora tells us exactly how water gets from the clouds, is purified, and into the Dutch reservoirs. She then points out that she swims in the reservoirs.

We walk to the club for the show. The sun is nearly down and the sky is going from green to orange and purple. Flora walks us from her house to the car to pick up a few items we are missing. On the way back a cat meows from the thicket of a garden. Flora meows back and then the two are in a conversation.

"What's the cat saying?" Eric asks, quite sincerely.

"Why don't you call me?" replies Flora instantaneously with flashing eyes.

I think to myself that I would have been sent back to the beginning of time for that remark and also that this girl is top drawer.

Once the equipment is set up Eric and I make a set list and go for a long walk alone along the canal the runs parallel to the train tracks that head out of town. I contemplate jumping into the water among the Lilly pads and bullfrogs. Eric points out that this would please Flora. I decline on grounds of the maintenance of my personal wellness.

Then as we turn and head back for the club I get into an argument with myself about the effective value of my presence as an entertainer without submitting to an overtly self destructive destiny....and curses! Eric points out that this constitutes sarcasm. I respond with a wicked sarcastic condemnation of his desire for me to be sincere and alas, the twenty four hour clock resets and our prize must wait. Eric shakes his head and laughs joyfully. I fall to the brick street and stare up at the dwindling light in the beautifully colored sky.

"You made it five hours!" Eric says.

We walk back to the club and find a young anarchistic lady writing with immaculate handwriting the names and prices of the drinks on the chalkboard above the bar. It seems a humorous show of devotion seeing as how on this Sunday evening in a small town we all have the feeling that the prospects of a crowd are decidedly unlikely.

Regardless, Robert, the kid who does the sound man job takes equal pride in his craft and has us sounding really good. He is so friendly and professional all at once. We feel very lucky.

Then, by and by, a small group of Flora's friends along with the anarchists on staff and a few strays from the town gather at the foot of the stage.

We play very well. The tiny audience listens with genuine discernment and joy. The girl with the immaculate handwriting has a romantic moment with a a former lover during our "Dictionary" song. 

Robert the sound man is especially mesmerized. Afterwards he laments that people should be hearing what we're doing and promises to gather a crowd if ever we come back. I hope in the bottom of my heart that we do come back. I talk for a long time to Robert about music. Eric talks to Flora. I take their picture and both are bashful.

Then I go and get a beer from the bar scribe and return to find Flora sitting alone on the floor. We gradually get into a debate about the nature of the Dutch class system and the appearance of post colonial culture in America. Flora is clearly very educated and intelligent. She knows this and knows I know this. Furthermore, she knows I'm just a former kid turning into an old man from a provincial/rural place in the United States with considerably less worldliness than herself. 

However, she doesn't know that I come from the streets of the wilderness and my father was a con man. And as far as being beholden to someone because of their gender and beauty...

...that function of this being has been broken off and abandoned since Nam and many subsequent moons. 

And so I will not budge in our argument. Dutch people have an exploited "guest labor" situation just like the United States does. I saw those poor people painting the airport girlfriend. They were brown skinned and not born in the Netherlands. Dutch people have and do allow an unexamined nationalism impede cultural evolution as well as a nuanced sense of social justice. I saw the uniformly luxuriously attired after investment banking party people glaring at me from the tapas bar cause I was dirty and carrying a guitar. Finally, I'm the first to decry the embarrassing behavior of America.com and capitalist society and all the rest of it. And yes the healthcare/social welfare situation in the Netherlands is superior. However, let us not forget that no one naturally belongs to such a large group of people or mass of land. You've got to have pride in the place where you come from and not be ashamed. That's deeper than intellectual ideas of right and wrong in political spheres and superficially rendered borders across two dimensional paper maps. So I represent that place inside Baltimore County Maryland that has no name but for the memory of my old family and friends and the wild animals that live their proudly and will not give in or bow down to the somewhat feisty entreaties of this formidable and rather comely emissary for me to do so. 

Flora notes my intractability and seethes on a boat in the sea of her natural ebullience. (Is that last sentence pretentious? See the Fatman waiting at the end of the fence if you wish.) I wonder if her notable desire for me to acquiesce is primal or calculated like a game. I started reading Joseph Campbell's The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces on the airplane and I read the Odyssey when I was in high school though. So I know that when you're on a journey far from home and you meet a lady like this you can never ever give in or you're going to have to gouge out your eyes with the pin that keeps your clothes from falling off. 

Now, with Flora and I clearly at an impasse in our conversation and relationship, she summons her dear old friend Yarus, a slender and puckishly handsome fellow who also happened to be terribly intelligent, but in a sweetly sad and self depricating way. With Yarus in tow, Flora heads for the door and calls out for Eric and I to follow. 

We walk through the darkened streets and Eric mentions to Yarus and Flora how I have repeatedly failed to avoid sarcasm. Flora shoots me a sideways glance and then notes how the level of irony in California during her last visit was rather suffocating in dance classes and art shows she attended. I mumble a sarcastic remark in response to Flora's observation and Eric begins to laugh and resets the clock to receive freedom and our prize. I shake my head in resignation and ask Flora if she knows where she's going because the root to the car she's taking seems a bit off to me. She is annoyed by this and I smile at her as she explains that not everywhere has civilization plotted out in rectangles.

We reach the car as our guide has promised and the kids pile inside. Then I begin to drive. I navigate using the force from the spirit world as Flora, Yarus and Eric have descended immediately into a deep  discussion on the nature of particles and the nonexistence of matter and the flexible nature of time or some such things. Yarus says he reads books about high minded things because it raises his self esteem for himself. 

Finally, we are back at the home of Flora's parents in Heiloo which neighbors the town where the show was. It is a quaint and tastefully furnished house with well stocked bookshelves and self portrait paintings on the wall by a great Uncle who was an official of the Church. 

Flora brings to the table in the warm glow of the family room a bottle of scotch and a plate of chocolates. She pours four glasses and proposes a toast. At the conclusion of the toast I drink my whole glass.

"Darling," she says, "that's twelve year old scotch."

I raise my eyebrows and shrug my shoulders. Everyone else is sipping their drink. She smiles brightly at me and pours me a generous second glass.

We talk late into the night. Eric and Flora suggest that my tendency toward sarcasm stems from an overly intellectual way of living. They assert that I analyze too much.

"You need to take the wet path." Flora says.

We laugh. I don't know what she means. I feel like Yarus looks at my with sympathy.

I love these people.

Yarus and Eric retire upstairs to sleep at four in the morning or something. 

Flora takes me into the kitchen garden and shows me a wall of stones. The stones in the wall were all collected by her father as he walked the beach....some of which from a medieval town that crumbled when a storm came and broke down the dykes.

Maybe I'm confusing stories. Please don't be confused if you're reading this. I do struggle with sarcasm. And I do notice the martial arts perspective of human relationships in a room.

But my conclusion....what was real about this night...if I'm being sincere like Eric in his well intended way would want to hear...I would have to say that Yarus and Flora healed us and awakened possibilities I thought was ghosts three times over. 

I fall asleep in the attic next to Eric. We are in two trundle beds. Curtains blow in the early morning breeze. Birds sing. I am astonished at our good fortune and grateful to be alive.