For someone who has often led a colourful life, I can be incredibly naive at times. I blush a lot too, due to having fair colouring. Naivety can be sweet but it can also get you into a lot of unexpected trouble. One such example is Amsterdam. Naive people should steer clear of Amsterdam.
I think it was around 2004 that I went there with my ex partner for a long weekend. For someone who’s in a couple and doesn’t much fancy smoking or eating dope, a lot of the usual delights are a little less than appealing but I went for the architecture and culture, honestly. We flew over and I was bemused to take my first ever budget airline flight. The in flight catering was mini tubes of Pringles, which tickled me and the stewardesses were wearing sweatshirts.
I loved Amsterdam straight away. The hotel was roomy, if a little dated, the architecture was indeed beautiful and I really liked the giant phallic statue in Dam Square. The people were colourful and seemed laid back and cool, although we did get offered cocaine quite a lot as we walked about. It must have been something about the way I walk. We strolled about along canals, took in the Van Gough Museum and the Anne Frank House and had leisurely coffees outside. It was heavenly. It was autumn time and the leaves were turning brown and the canals looked romantic and picturesque. We did a little boat trip and were generally wholesome, mostly.
I was perturbed by the bicycle riding epidemic. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never mastered riding a bike and think of it as witchcraft. There were many witches about. The trams were good fun though and full of fascinating looking eccentrics and oddballs. I quickly learnt never to stop and look at a map. This invariably summoned up a beggar who would initially behave as if he was performing a great public service and offering directions, followed by a request for cash, once he’d lulled you into a false sense of security.
Being an inveterate people watcher, I loved the red light district at night. I found it utterly fascinating and was intrigued by the prostitutes with their tidy little cubicles and hygienic sinks and paper towels. I do like things clean. There seemed to be a definite pecking order with the prettier girls in tiny bikinis getting the more prominent windows and the gigantic Jabba the Hut types getting the more obscure ones. I’m not sure if there was a sliding scale of pricing or not. I didn’t like to ask. Equally intriguing were the men walking in and disappearing behind drawn curtains.
We decided to try the Sex Museum, thinking it would be amusing and of course it was. We tittered at the antique sex toys, the Victorian porn (men had some fantastic moustaches in those days) and the gigantic penis in the entrance hall. The door with a warning to put off the easily offended puzzled me. On climbing the steps, walking in and spotting the pictures of a woman being remarkably overfriendly with an Alsatian, I realised that I do actually have some boundaries and am, amazingly, still capable of being offended. I scuttled out fast.
I decided it would be fun to tour a few of the gay bars and had printed off a little guide. There were some amusing sights and a few which made me regurgitate a little. Lots of the bars had back rooms where men go to have sex. Naturally I peeked in. I can’t tell you what I saw as the hypnosis and the electro-shocks to the head have erased the grisly memories. It wasn’t pretty, is all I’m saying.
There were two bars close together on the map, one advertised as a transvestite bar and another as a “hustler bar”. The transvestite bar was very friendly. I love a bad transvestite and was sadly disappointed to see a bevy of leggy beauties. Move along, nothing to chuckle at here. The bar man was a six foot Japanese boy in a long blonde wig and silver lame frock. I think he may have been 5 foot 2 without his heels and beehive hairdo. He was very chatty and kept a huge variety of items in his bra. They were having a little singsong and naturally, as the drink flowed, we were obliged to join in.
I asked my ex what he thought a hustler bar was. He thought it was something to do with cowboys so I expected maybe a few chaps in chaps. I later recalled that that’s a rustler, not a hustler. I wondered if it was something to do with pool, thinking of the Paul Newman film. We were both wrong.
The bar was long and narrow with a motley collection of dodgy looking older men perched on stools. The room went silent as soon as we entered and everyone stared at us. There was a moment a bit like the scene in “American Werewolf in London” when they enter The Slaughtered Lamb pub.
Undeterred we headed to the bar for alcohol. At the end of the long bar was a raised platform with a pinball machine and couch and I was gratified to see a pool table. I felt vindicated and as ever, loved being right. I was wrong, of course. At the back of the bar was a curtained off doorway which I took to be the toilets. There were several youngish Eastern European blokes lolling about in provocative poses, languidly playing at playing pool, bending over the pinball machine or stretching out on the sofa. There were two free seats on the settee so I whispered to my ex that I was going to get us a seat on the platform.
His hand shot out with lightening reflexes and grabbed my wrist: “That’s where the prostitutes sit.” He hissed. It dawned on me then what a “hustler” was and I blushed at my naivety. I’d almost put myself up for sale and I expect the lack of bids would have been embarrassing. I can just see myself now, the oldest prostitute, sitting alone on the couch, as the last boy was lead behind the curtain to the private rooms. We didn’t stay long. I hate to be upstaged.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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