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Dutch coffeeshops

"Sea legs" in Amsterdam

Summer 2000, Amsterdam

I went into Coffeeshop Johnny on Johnny Jordaanplein once, on an afternoon early in the Summer, while I was staying in a houseboat on Nieuwe Prinsengracht. It was during the time when I had decided that I didn't have to do anything, yet.

On earlier visits, I'd sat outside, with my newspaper and a notebook in the sun at one of the two small tables. The music from inside had been fine, the fellow who'd given me tea had seemed amicable, and the clientelle had seemed respectful, friendly, and neighborly. And, I'd had a good, quiet time.

This time, I went inside to have a cup of tea and a smoke, and to relax there for a while if it was comfortable.

It was a time — short enough in hindsight — that I truly relaxed in Amsterdam; after I'd learned how to do it, and before I had had to figure out what I was going to do next.

I got a cup of tea, and the small cookie that comes with it. I don't remember if I bought any cannabis or was just rolling from the goods I had purchased elsewhere. It doesn't matter in a Dutch coffeeshop. As long as you order something, you're cool. It's normal to buy only a cup of tea.

I fell into conversation with Dave, a 60-some year-old English guy who'd been in the Navy. He and I were the only ones in the shop besides Aartie, who was working — and the odd customer who came in, bought a little smoke, and left.

Dave had been in Amsterdam for about ten years, but he didn't want to talk about that. And that was fair enough.

A jovial man, Dave smoked large amounts through a pottery chillum, which he frequently cleaned with a cone-rolled napkin.

"There's no such thing as a slow or a fast cup of tea," Dave said. We both had three or four cups of tea over probably close to the same number of hours. Dave was a regular there. I was just in a state where it was the way to spend the afternoon.

Aartie, the mid-20's Dutch guy who worked at the counter, had some metal puzzles. We worked at them some. Aartie was good at them. Dave and I showed each other about the ones we'd cracked. I cracked one that Aartie had done before but couldn't do this time.

At a point, I had to pee. The toilet was upstairs, up the steep stairs, beyond a small balcony chained off and stocked with hospitality supplies.

While I was peeing, it seemed that the ground was somewhat elastic. No.... I know that this place is built on sand. Would there be any action that would cause a tiny fluid motion on the top floor of a building? ... That's not possible ... and I'm not that stoned....

I thought about that. It made no sense. When I'd gone back downstairs and settled back onto my stool, I mentioned it. "I know it sounds stupid, but I had a strange sensation...."

"Do you know what that is?" Dave said. "You've got sea-legs." Dave hadn't thought about sea-legs for years.

In port after long periods on ship, sailors would notoriously piss all over and around the urinals, having become so accustomed to making target as the ship washed about.

I didn't miss the toilet — after all, I'd only been living (and peeing) in a houseboat on an Amsterdam canal. But it was an unmistakable sensation, however slight. It had made me wonder, that's for sure. The floor had gone elastic — only when I'd stood above the toilet.

Dave knew immediately what I was talking about.