Amsterdam, Rats and Razors

We met the English sailors in a bar somewhere in Amsterdam – Andy and Mike. They were fine gentleman, considerate, attentive and generous when it came to the drinks. Just off the plane from the states, Brenda and I were ready for anything.

Because we knew nothing.

It had been a straight flight from JFK to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. We’d taken a chartered bus from our village in upstate New York to New York City the day before. There were twenty of us total, mostly seniors and juniors from our little central school with a handful of adult chaperones. I remember the note that my mother had to sign to allow me to drink alcohol in Europe. I didn’t have to beg.  She trusted me.

The hostel in Amsterdam was bare-bones but we didn’t care. Our room was in the attic of one of the brightly painted brick buildings just outside the Red Light District. There were six bunks per room and each floor had its own bathroom. It was cold. I remember I had to sleep with my coat on.

The second night there we went out on the town and our group ended up at a jazz piano bar. Brenda and I were dolled up eighties-style; Levi’s jackets, polo shirts with the collars UP and large dangling hoops. I mean we were working it. Fuzzy navels and the local beer – Heineken – were the drinks of choice. It wasn’t long before Brenda and I noticed two young men smiling at us from another table. We returned their smiles, after all that’s what women did in the movies, right?

We found out that Andy and Mike were in the British Navy and their ship was in the harbor for the night. Andy was from Wales. Brenda and I kept up with their conversation all the while nodding and flipping our hair and re-applying lip gloss every ten minutes and giggling and sipping our drinks. Remember, we were eighteen and quite sheltered eighteen-year-olds at that.

At 11 p.m. our chaperone rounded up her flock to head back to the hostel. Long-faced Andy and Mike asked if we could stay. Alas “no” but we had heard that there was a bar in the basement of the hostel where we were staying and if they wanted, Andy and Mike could meet up with us there later. We gave them the information, graciously thanked them for such an entertaining evening and left – certain we would never see them again.

We were in our bunks almost asleep when there came a knock on our door.  “There are two men downstairs in the bar asking for Kathy and Brenda.” We froze in disbelief. “What should I tell them?” the young man asked. “We’ll be right down,” I said not even thinking. And we were off… peeling off our night-clothes, tripping over luggage, brushing our hair. I looked in the mirror and was horrified. I had washed away all my make up and didn’t have time to put on a new face. OK, well I’d have to go with just mascara. I began rummaging through my toiletries bag searching for the stuff. After what seemed like forever, I found the little white tube, brushed on two coats and Brenda and I headed down to the bar.

It was a dark place and smelled like a certain substance that here was legal. Our eyes took some time to adjust. When they did I found that I was standing next to a woman, probably in her twenties who had piercings in her nose, eyebrows and lips. On her shoulder was a rat. A live rat with a studded collar with a chain that was attached to another studded collar which was around the woman’s neck. I’ll never forget it.

“Hey!” It was Andy and Mike. They had found us. We had just started to move towards their corner table when Andy stopped short. “Oh My God!” He was looking at me, his eyes filled with shock. Mike and Brenda turned and they too freaked out. “What? What?” I asked.

“Your hands!”

I held up my hands in the meager light and saw dark maroon streaks running down my fingers and wrists. It was like a scene right out of Stephen King’s “Carrie”. The four of us just stood there for a moment in disbelief. What had happened? And then like in a slow-motion replay it all made sense.

While searching frantically for the mascara I must have been slicing away at my fingers with the uncovered disposable razor. And like when you nick your legs when shaving, sometimes you don’t bleed or feel anything for several minutes. I’m sure the fuzzy navels didn’t help things either.

And before I realized it, Andy took off his HMS Navy issue coat and was wrapping my blood-soaked hands tenderly inside the satin lining.

“What are you doing?” I was aghast. But he simply held them firmly and looked at me. “What a night” was all he said.

Over the next few months I received post cards from exotic ports. Twice, when I got home from school, my mother said an “Andy” had called. I have the cards tucked away somewhere in a wooden box mostly as proof that this all really happened and sometimes I wonder if Andy still has his jacket. And whether he thinks of that night every time he puts it on.

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That Sixth Rung

I think it was in fourth grade that I broke my arm. It was a dare actually, based on the lesser of two evils. Either jump to the sixth rung of the monkey bars or kiss Billy Riser. Well you don’t break your arm kissing someone now do you?

The whole class was watching. Billy licking his lips with his fat tongue. Allison with her fingers crossed for me like a best friend should. I spat on my palms and rubbed them together like a real fighter. Now I’d made it to the fifth rung plenty of times. It was the sixth that was the playground holy grail. Only Bethany had ever achieved that lofty goal and she let everyone know about it who hadn’t been there to witness it for themselves. Now I was standing on the edge.

My knees bent building muscle tension as the crowd hushed. Like two loaded springs my legs released and catapulted me into the air. But as I rose I already knew that I would come up short. And in the knowledge that I would now have to kiss Billy Riser I turned to him and stuck out my tongue, my eyes squinted shut.

This really messes up one’s landing.

Later at the hospital mother leaned over and asked as she swept my bangs from my forehead, “What were you thinking?”

All I could picture was Billy’s lips in a fish pucker. It’s best to leave some things unsaid.

Chickens at the Bus Stop

My coffee’s still warm as I sit at the kitchen window and watch my kids walk down the stone path to the driveway. The bus should be here any minute. I catch a movement coming from the barn and see our flock of Buffs making a bee-line after the kids. Someone forgot to lock them in last night. They are hungry. I have visions of them hopping up the bus steps as the driver kindly keeps the door open.

So in my red flannel pj’s – the ones with the penguins in Santa hats – I bolt out the door into the cold. “Here Girls!” I call. “Here Girls!”

“Mom!  What are you doing?” calls my teen, a look of terror on his face.

“Oh My God!” yells my fourth-grader.

It’s not the chickens they’re worried about mind you. It’s the sight of their mother in her night wear flapping her arms at a bunch of hungry waddling chickens and what this will do their reputations.

But once I’m committed to a cause I’m tenacious. “Deal,” I tell them as I round up my girls and usher them down the driveway back to the barnyard.

I’m not sure if the kids got any flack. They haven’t said. Nor have they thanked me for my courageous efforts.

It’s just something we mothers do.