The Flaming Artist Speaks to the World
The Amsterdam Trip—January, 2005
8:45 a.m. Sunday, January 30, 2005
I delivered the pages of blurbs to Arjan, Han’s associate, when the store opened at 10:00 a.m. Arjan informed Johna and me that Han wouldn’t be in until 3:00 p.m., but they would enter my notes immediately into the computer so that Han could decide to do with them.
John wanted to buy a shirt similar the one I’d purchased from Mister B’s on Friday afternoon. Han had just bought 10 copies of TAF #2, and with that money, I decided to treat myself. The shirt was a black, short-sleeved military style, pressed, with lots of starch. John found none large enough for him in the store, asked Arjan where he could buy one. Arjan recommended 3 stores, the nearest of which was D.U.M.P. 2000, on the opposite side of Damark, the main drag/shopping street on the way to Central Station.
As we set out, the weather was overcast, cold, threatening rain, as it has been every day except Wednesday. Saturday’s weather was the most mercurial, veering from occasional sunshine to showers and sleet.
D.U.M.P. 2000 turned out to be a large, yuppified Army/Navy surplus type of store. John settled on a long sleeved XX Large military type shirt, black. While John shopped, it occurred to me what a contrast Mister. B’s was to D.U.M.P. 2000 & practically every other retail establishment I’ve ever seen. Mister. B’s is clean and austere. The wares are laid out in an almost Spartan fashion, and there’s alot of open space, allowing one’s eyes to rest. The walls are white with dark stained (or black?) timbers, except for the ancient, uneven brick wall that runs along the left side of the shop—almost an art mural in and of itself. “It’s older than the United States,” one of the “associates” quipped.
D.U.M.P 2000, like most retail establishments, inflicts sensory overload. Too many items are crammed into every available space, with mirrored surfaces confusing things even further. For instance, at one point I lost track of John in the store. I couldn’t see him even when a clerk pointed me in his direction & John himself called out to me.
Next, we took the trolley to the Rijksmuseum. The trolley let us out on the opposite side of Museum Square; we had to walk at least a quarter mile. Our feet were already starting to hurt by the time we bought our tickets and entered the gallery. John asked a docent where the water fountain was (so he could take his pain meds). He was informed that there was no water in the museum. So we left, had lunch in the nearby Van Gogh Bistro and, thus fortified with “The All-American Cheeseburger” and dosed with our various meds, we returned to the museum. We spent a couple hours checking the partial collection (most of the museum is still being renovated). I was somewhat disappointed. They had only 2 Vermeers on display. One of them, however, was “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.” I’d been fascinated by this painting as a child. My parents had a framed print of it hanging in their bedroom.
At the end of our visit, we stopped in to the museum shop. John got the idea of getting a thank you gift for Han. John felt that Han was an exemplary host, had been extremely generous with his time and support. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to give Han anything. Part of me was suffering from the suspicion that this whole thing is the gallery version of vanity press—I’m paying for it all. Mister B’s takes absolutely no financial risk, while demanding a 40% commission. However, I kept silent about my misgivings. I merely said, when asked, that I had no idea what would be an appropriate gift; and if it were up to me I’d give nothing.
I’m not proud of this attitude. I hope, if Han reads this, he’s not offended. It says more about my untrusting and ungrateful nature than any offense on our host’s part, I’m sure.
John remembered Han telling us he collected Art Deco glassware, and wanted to try to find an appropriate piece, or, perhaps, an art book on Amsterdam glass. The books were all too expensive (€60–€80). We settled on a small goblet for €25. I agreed to split the expense, but insisted John be the one to do the gifting, since it was his idea.
We stopped by Mister B’s on the way back to the hotel, at about 3:00 p.m. Arjan (pronounced “Aryan”) informed us that Han was unavailable as he was being tattooed (by Jim, the resident tattoo artist from Scotland that we had met the previous day). He continued that the staff had printed out and laminated all my blurbs (mistakes and all). They were ready to be attached to the appropriate artworks when Han emerged from his tattoo session, at around 4:00 p.m.
I returned to Mister B’s at 4:20, ready for my closeup. Hans and I applied the laminated blurb cards to the bottom right or left corners of the framed pictures. After that, we went up to the business office on the 3rd floor, worked out final inconsistencies on pricing. Han then printed out a final price list. (Note: Get a copy.) John arrived shortly before the party started, at 5:30 p.m.
The party was moderately well attended. The wine and hors d’oeuveres were laid out on the sales counter on the street level. My matted sketches were laid out alongside copies of TAF #1 and #2, on a narrow 4′ tall, 8′ long metal table in the center of the mezzanine area that usually holds leather wrist gauntlets & such. I set up my camping stool in a slightly out-of-the-way area of the mezzanine next to that table and did portrait drawings for all of the patrons who wanted them. I got Wim, the owner, to sit for me when he strolled by to see what I was doing. I made a point of complimenting him on the layout of his store. I shared with him the insight I’d gotten in D.U.M.P. 2000 that morning.
Around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., Wim interrupted the festivities to give a speech. He praised my artwork and the “atmosphere” it brought to his shop. He remarked about the convenient range of prices, and gave a little pep talk about having this sort of work displayed in one’s home. I was sort of miffed that I wasn’t invited to speak also, although I had to admit it was polite of Wim to deliver his speech in English. But I felt like a bit of a 3rd wheel at my own party. Only 4 or 5 of the attendees spoke to me. John and I had decided in the morning that I shouldn’t take any Provagil (a drug John takes to help him stay awake during the day). It has the side affect of making one overbearingly talkative. Unfortunately, I may have erred in the opposite direction. But I made conversation with those who seemed interested in talking to me.
One man asked me which was my favorite piece. I hemmed & hawed settling, finally, on “Night on Balled Mountain”—somewhat arbitrarily, as I was vacillating between feeling shades of mediocrity (to quote the Paul Simon song “Homeward Bound”) and over-inflation. Plus, as I told another guest, there are things I like and dislike in all of my pieces. “Night..,” for all its virtues (as John pointed out) doesn’t read from a distance. The shading doesn’t direct one’s eyes around the image, focusing one’s attention, as it does in the Rembrandt and Vermeer masterpieces we had seen that afternoon (and as in most of the painting there—it’s a tritism, but still true, that sthe Flemish painters were masters at depicting light & shadow).
The evening’s bummer came in the form of an attractive youngish (she later said she was 35) Black woman (light mocha, actually), Deirdre. She saw me sketching, asked what I was doing. “Sketching you, actually,” I said, got her to sit for me. It turned out she was simply walking past Mister B’s, saw the lights and decided to see what was happening. She was all for gay rights, though—she loves gays. “You’re the finest, gentlest people on Earth,” etc. etc. I tried to bring her down gently about how being gay doesn’t necessarily make you wonderful, but she wouldn’t let me get in a word edgewise. It soon became clear that she was flying solo in her own plane of existence. She had her own agenda, which seemed to be imbibing the free wine and letting her simmering resentment & hostility bubble out at odd moments. I finished her sketch. She was pleased with it but refused to take it from me. She got up for some more wine; John took her place in the chair.
I had been avoiding wine, as I was on my last day of antibiotics. Finally, I gave in and have a glass. There was nosh-food but nothing to keep the wine from affecting me rather strongly. I found myself talking to an attractive man from the suburbs. We were into each other, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere. After awhile, we ran out of conversation (unlike most of the Dutch I had met in recent days, his English was limited). We were leaning silently against the checkout counter which was serving as the bar, when Deirdre re-appeared on my other side. Now loosened with liquor, she began to flirt with me in an aggressive manner. “You’re a very attractive man,” and such. She was making me nervous—I actually found myself blushing. She saw this and commented on it teasingly, amused at my discomfort. John, who had been standing on the other side of her, intervened. I introduced him as “my spouse.” This only put her off slightly, but, gratefully, shifted her attention from me to him. John generously undertook the burden of that attention.
Her latent hostility began percolating back to the surface. She raised the issue of American insularity and provinciality. This was exemplified by the fact that most Americans can only speak one language. I had no argument to make since, other than English, I only speak enough Spanish to get me in trouble. John, however, is somewhat fluent in Portuguese, and began trying to converse with Dierdre in it. She, somewhat chastened, had to admit she didn’t know any of that language, and withdrew.
John and I decided to split before the party was over, around 7:30. Han had come over, thanked us for our gift (which he had previously taken upstairs, to be opened later). John reiterated his thanks for Han’s hospitality, aid & attention, and offered to return the favor if Han ever made it to Los Angeles. We asked if he could recommend any restaurants that serves Danish cuisine. He recommended one on the other side of Damark. We said our goodbyes to Wim and the other staffers (most of the guests had split), and left. On our way out the front door, one of the Staff teased us about the ditching the party before it was over, us being the guests of honor & all. He struck a nerve in me, causing another round of self-flagellation that John had little patience for.
We searched without success for Han’s restaurant. We discussed settling for one of the others we were passing. John insisted that he was treating me for dinner to celebrate my successful opening—it was “my party.” So emboldened, I decided on a restaurant we had seen Friday night, a restaurant that seemed to serve Danish food. The posted menu was reasonably inexpensive, but it was on the other side of the red light district, near the waterfront. Footsore & hungry, we took the trolley to Central Station, attempting to find the restaurant coming from the opposite direction of the previous night.
The restaurant which we found was “The Grand Cafe” or “Restaurant de Kroonprins.” (It was pricey: €52.50, not including tip). I promised to treat J. on his birthday.
We returned to our room around 9:30, wiped out (J. had been falling asleep in his tea). We decided to go to sleep. If I woke up in time, I’d go out, perhaps to The Cockring, the gay bar that John had visited previously. He had reported that it serves absinthe, a drink I’ve always wanted to try, at €6 a shot .
I awoke at 12:30 a.m.—John fast asleep so I went out alone. On a whim, I stopped into the Argosy (another gay bar) first. I checked my jacket at the door, bought a mineral water (I had a tickle in my throat that made me paranoid about relapsing). I visited their “Darkroom.” This turned out to be a maze constructed in the basement. It was dimly lit, with low ceilings and little wooden cubicles where couples could retire for a degree of privacy. Men would stand around looking at each other, not talking (or whispering, as if in a church), listening to the impassioned moans of the encublicled couples. It occurred to me that this was the precise opposite of a turn-on, as far as I was concerned. Bored and dispirited, I decided to leave.
However, I discovered I had lost the claim ticket for my jacket. The claim check guy, a stocky Filipino with white spiky hair, asked by way of proving that it was actually mine, to tell him what was in its pockets. I couldn’t remember anything, so I said, “Nothing.” “Wrong,”he said, “There are things in the pockets.” He told me I’d either have to wait until the 4:00 a.m. closing to get my jacket, or return at 10:00 a.m. when the bar opened. It was 2:00 a.m. I decided to wait. I was paranoid about somebody else walking off with my jacket. I’ve had it for 20 years. It’s practically falling apart, but I love it.
I sat around, waiting for time to pass. I mentally wrote the remainder of “Harry and Dickless Tom.”I pondered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Three guys from England were standing directly in front of me—two small, skinny & bald (shirtless) and one bald and fat with a long, frizzy red goatee and hairy chest (seen through his open vest). I struck up a conversation with Bald, Fat & Hairy. He informed me that he and his buds were visiting for the weekend from the Midlands (Nottingham, Sherwood). He was quite proud & sure of himself, he was an ex-bear escort, and a model in various bear porn photos and videos—I could see them on <cyberbear.com>, if I chose. When I informed him I was an artist, that my exhibit had just gone up at Mister B’s, he asked, “When are you going to paint me?” I turned him down, unable to predict J’s and my sched for Sunday. We talked politics, & the recent Presidential election theft. “You have to get rid of him,” he asserted. “We got rid of Thatcher, after all.” I found this annoying—I couldn’t disagree, but the question is, “How?” Also, they’re not doing so great themselves, as far as I can see. Tony Blair seems to be little more than W’s lap dog. I didn’t care enough about it to point this out, however.
At one point, the 2 skinny skinheads dropped their pants and began sucking and rimming each other right in front of me and anyone else inclined to watch. No one seemed particularly interested. I mentioned to BF&H that they could go downstairs; that’s what the darkroom is for. He said, matter of factly, “They want to do it here,” or something equally obvious.
Speaking of which, the Iraqi elections were held today, on schedule. There’s been a big buildup on TV the last few days. John and I had watched a nauseating Wolf Blitzer interview with Condy Rice about how this has been a “triumph for Democracy.” Neither mentioned that the Marines had to turn the country into a police state prison for 3 days for the elections to happen at all.
At another point, a young, skinny dark-haired man sat next to me. We struck up a conversation; it turned out he worked at Mister B’s. At this point he recognized me; I vaguely remembered him. But he was dressed in normal clothes, not the semi-military gear that is the uniform for staff members of the shop, so it took me a minute to make the connection. After a few minutes he put his hand on my thigh. “Sorry, dude, it’s not going to happen.” He apologized. I told I was flattered. I said that I regretted I didn’t feel the same. If I did, I could get laid. He said he was into older, balding guys who wear glasses and have hairy chests (describing me). I said, “If you don’t put your hook in the water, you’ll never catch fish.” He agreed and excused himself.
As 4:00 am approached, I stood by the coat rack, making sure that none of the departing men tried to leave with my jacket. Unlike bars in L.A., there was no “Last Call” a half hour prior to closing. They didn’t start shooing out customers until 3:55, to my annoyance. Finally, I was the last customer; The Coat Check Dude handed me my jacket. I curiously checked the pockets to see what was there that I didn’t remember. It was my hat and gloves. Duh! I was so pissed.
It is 6:15 p.m. I’m drinking a “Cannabia.” The fine print on the back label says “Cannabia is the first drink containing hemp to be brewed since 1996 using hand harvested organic hemp grown and dried under the Bavarian sun in Germany. The combination of organic roasted hemp & hops gives Cannabia its rare, delicious, hempy taste.” This is not necessarily a good thing—what I like about hemp is not its taste. Basically, it tastes like a heavy, dark ale, characteristically bitter.
Coincidentally, this is a Bear Party weekend in Amsterdam. Arjan, while we were prepping for the opening, informed us proudly that his boyfriend had organized “Fur Ball,” a Bear Rave at C.O.C., a Gay/Lesbian clubhouse in the area. To everyone’s surprise it sold out immediately. If John and I want to attend, we should show up early to get one of the 100 unreserved tickets. The party moves to the Argosy tonight. And there’ll be a “bear” dinner at “Geto,” which we’d observed advertisements for when we ate there Thursday night.
© 2005 Flaming Artist