Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of the Year

And so, my dear readers, another year ends as 2011 passes into history and we get ready for 2012.
The end of the year is always a time for reflection. People consider what have been the highlights of the year, or their low points. They draw up lists of best books read, movies seen or music heard. And ofcourse, this is the time of year when people make new year's resolutions, vowing to go to the gym more, or the pub less, often. I've never been a fan of new year's resolution because I think that if you want to do something, you should just go ahead and do it rather than wait for the 1st of January to roll around.

And so it was, on a cold November evening 6 years ago, that I decided to give up smoking. I was sitting in a pub in Rotterdam, during the half time break of a particularly uninteresting FA cup match, rolled another cigarette and for some reason wondered how many cigarettes I had smoked in my life. As the game analysis on tv wasn't that interesting, I decided to work this question out on the back of a beermat and, after some 10 minutes of estimating, multiplying, adding and subtracting, I arrived at the truly staggering figure of 85.000.
Think of that number, 85.000. If you had walked half a mile for every cigarette smoked, you would have gone around the world and back. Twice. If you had given every cigarette its own seat, you would have sold out Wembley.
These figures made me decide on the spot that it was time to give up smoking and that it would be before the end of the year. As it was, I gave up smoking on December 13 2005 and I have not smoked a single cigarette since.

All these thoughts of smoking made me think of my old friend Dennis. Dennis is not his real name, but nowadays he holds a respectable job in the army and I wouldn't want to compromise his career with the story you're about to read. I've changed all the other names too to protect, well, if not the innocent, then at least all those involved.
I met Dennis some time in the mid nineties through a mutual friend. Growing up in Holland, nearly all my friends, and not least myself, were no strangers to the odd taste of mindbending substances every now and then, but in my entire life I have never met anyone who displayed such an unbridled enthusiasm towards intoxicants as Dennis. No matter where you went, if Dennis was there, you'd know that the night was going to be a long and fun filled event. The first time we were introduced, we couldn't shake hands because Dennis was carrying a tray holding a dozen bottles of beer on one hand and joint about the size of a rolled up newspaper in the other. This set the tone for our friendship because over the years I can not remember one single night that ended with both of us sober. Or even one of us, come to think of it. No matter what the occasion was, somewhere along the line a bottle of brandy, a bag of pot or a handful of pills would always appear. A score of interesting characters moved about in Dennis' world. Tommy was a rock&roll type character with a hand to mouth lifestyle who would often appear with him, looking as if he hadn't slept in 3 days which, in fact, was often the case. Dennis and Tommy both worked for a guy named Jay, a man who owned a myriad of small companies that had no obvious correlation to each other. At one point, he was said to be running a construction company, a shoe store, an import business for motor cycle spare parts and a groundwork company, which is where Dennis and Tommy were employed. The advantage of working there was that they got paid cash in hand and the boss never complained about people showing up for work hung over. On one particularly heavy night, Tommy had crashed at my place and his boss, unable to find him, called me to find out if I had seen him. When he came to pick him up, that was literally what he had to do- pick him up of the floor because he was still unconcious.

One of the side effects of Dennis' never-ending intoxication was that he seemingly never slept. In all those years, I've seen him asleep once and that was only for about 15 minutes on my couch at about 6 in the morning, after which he began pestering me with requests to have breakfast at a nearby sandwich shop which at that time of day was most certainly closed.

Because of the location of my house at the time, in the middle of the city centre, Dennis and his mates would often drop by for a drink and a smoke. I had no problems with this because they were, after all, my friends. The only thing was that visits would often come at somewhat inconvenient times, like 5am on Saturday morning or something like that when we would hear the doorbell and found Dennis standing there, clutching a bottle of vodka and a bag of pot the size of an airline pillow. In Holland, at the time, everyone who worked in construction, or for companies attached to the construction business in some way or other, would get a whole month off in the middle of summer. This was generally known as the Construction Holiday and as Dennis fell under this arrangement, he had a whole month ahead without the irritant of having to go to work the next morning. I was fast asleep one Wednesday night, when all of a sudden, at 3Am, the doorbell rang. when I went over to see who was at the door, it was Dennis and Tommy, both with beaming smiles on their faces. They proudly announced that they had stolen a case of beer from somewhere and now had decided to drink it in my living room. When I explained that I had to get up for work in about 4 hours, they looked at me with blank expressions, until I explained that I worked in an office and as such was not part of the construction holiday arrangements. In the end, we drank 2 beers each before I kicked them out on the street. I heard them walking down the street, loudly discussing some issue until they were nearly 2 blocks away.

And that was another fun thing about hanging out with Dennis; he never realised how inappropriate or reckless his escapades were. One on occasion that has gone down in local history, Dennis and his mates were sitting on a park bench, having a beer and a smoke, when a police car pulled up about 30 feet away. When the cops didn’t come out of the car after a minute, Dennis walked over to them, joint in hand, tapped the window and after the police man had slowly rolled down his window, uttered the immortal phrase

“ Hi. Can I have 2 Strawberry Cornettos please?”

With a straight face, Dennis turned around and walked back to the park bench where he received a round of high fives and a fresh beer from his friends who were all laughing their guts out.

On another particularly daring occasion, a group of us went to a summer open air music festival in Holland and, after drinking an doping around for about a day and a half, we decided to go watch a gig by Public Enemy, a millitant 1980s New York rap group with ties to the Black Panther movement. Just before the gig was about the start, Dennis turned up in full skinhead regalia. Shaved head, Ben Sherman shirt, Doc Martens boots with white laces, the works. When the band started playing, Dennis made his way to the front of the crowd, unfurled a giant Confederate Flag and started waving it at the band. After a couple of minutes, he was politely asked by security staff to go elsewhere for reasons of public safety, never mind his own. He walked back to the bar lauging uncontrollably, as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened. (It WAS funny, seriously)

Perhaps the most nerve wrecking adventure I ever ended up in with Dennis and his mates was when he arrived at the bar I worked at, at 4AM. I was just finishing my shift and Dennis rang the doorbell and asked me if I felt like partying. I happily agreed, got my coat and walked outside with him. Dennis happily pointed at a big pick-up truck, that he had “borrowed from work”. (I didn’t even ask for details). A colleague of Dennis was driving and after about half a mile I found out that, even though I had had a dozen beers during my shift, I was the sober one in the car. Dennis and his colleague had been at it since the end of the previous afternoon and were in no mood to stop. We first had to pick up Tommy who, I found out, was house-sitting for a friend. I have no idea how anybody would end up at the decision that having Tommy watch your house while you were on holiday would sound like a great idea, but apparently someone had. We arrived at a surprisingly posh-looking appartment building and my surprise grew further when I found out that the place had elevators and carpeted hallways. At the end of one hallway, a door was wide open and loud (I mean LOUD) punk music was pumping in our direction. We found Tommy on the couch in his underpants, clutching a bottle of bourbon, in what was basically nice living room that had been somewhat altered by the fact that Tommy had lived there for 2 weeks. Basically, this meant that you could not see the floor for the empty bottles and pizza boxes that covered most of it. When pressed to go out partying, Tommy drained the last 2 inches of his bourbon and declared that before we set off, we had to visit Paul first.

Paul was another local character, a guy who made a living lying on his couch eating caramel cookies and selling amphetamines to his friends. Paul was a decent guy, but at times he could be a bit strange. On one occasion, we walked in to his living room and found him asleep under his pin ball machine. When asked for the reason why he wouldn’t sleep in his bed, Paul explained that it was safer here. Another time, we walked into his garden and found a large plastic bucket full of cutlery and plates standing under a crack in his drainpipe. When Dennis asked him why the entire contents of his kitchen cabinet were out there in the rain, Paul calmly explained that it was Sunday and he always did the dishes on Sunday. As you will appreciate, Paul was a bit of a character. We arrived at Paul’s house, had a brief chat and a beer and then, restocked with all that was needed to keep the party going, we set off for The Hague. Dennis had been informed of a squatters bar that played good music and, no doubt the real reason for the trip, sold beer at a Guilder a bottle. (For those of you who have never handled Dutch money before the Euro kicked in- a Guilder was roughly 45 Eurocents at the time of the switch). We drove towards our target at an alarming speed (I was now in a car with 3 guys who had not been sober for over 12 hours) and the only reason why it took us about an hour to get to the bar was that Dennis and his colleague could not agree on the final part of the directions which showed us around some interesting parts of a nocturnal The Hague. In the end they decided that the easiest way to reach the bar was by driving down a one way street, obviously in the wrong direction, for the last mile or so. The bar, and I say this with great understatement, was very bare. A home made bar was backed by a couple of ancient fridges and the cracks in the wall were mostly covered with posters for gigs by crust punk bands. The men’s toilet consisted of a plastic funnel that was connected to some drain pipe. The ladies toilet consisted of a bucket behind a plastic shower curtain. We had a couple of beers and were eventually thrown out because Tommy thought it a good idea to throw the only bar stool in the place onto a group of dreadlocked crusties and we had to beat a hasty retreat. But what a night.

And before I leave you with my thoughts for the new year, I’ll tell you about what was arguably Dennis’ greatest stand. A couple of our friends all had their birthdays around the same time, and had decided to hold one big birthday bash in a large squat in town. I agreed to meet Dennis and another friend at the nearby railway station, so we could go and shop for the night and after that we would make our way to the party. I found Dennis and his friend at the exit of the station in a cloud of purple smoke. We made our way to the local smart shop and decided to get some magic mushrooms for the night. While I had a chat with the owner, Dennis set about doing our shopping and when he came out of the shop , he proudly showed 4 large bags of Mexican mushrooms. (For your information, half a bag would have been enough to keep someone completely of their head for an entire day). When I asked him why he had bought 4 bags while there were only 3 of us, he looked at me quizically, and then started smiling. He walked back into the shop and returned with an additional 2 bags of mushrooms. I was now carrying enough Psychopsilocybin in my backpack to keep a small city happy fir several days. The best way to consume magic mushrooms is to make a pot of sweet flavoured tea, strawberry or forest fruits or something like that, and soak the mushrooms in the tea. You then drink the tea and when the pot of tea is finished, the mushrooms have soaked up the sweet tea and you can eat them and they won’t taste as horrible anymore. After 2 pots of tea, Dennis had had enough of it, because it took to long, so he started to eat the mushrooms straight out of the bag. In any case, the tea drinking ritual was slowing down his progress on the 24pack of beer that he had dropped off earlier in the week. As the night progressed, ofcourse everyone there got increasingly intoxicated and, about halfway through the night, I asked Dennis why he was wearing a woollen beanie hat, even though it was the middle of summer and actually quite warm. Dennis took off his hat to reveal that he had a bag with about 100 xtc tables under there and he thought it a good place to keep them. When I asked him why he would take 100 pills to a party, he simply explained that he’d rather be safe than sorry.

As you will have guessed by now, the party went all night, and then progressed into the next day. After a night fuelled by pretty much every drug known to mankind and an ocean of booze, I woke up on the floor of an empty room the next morning around 10. I had blurred vision, a nagging pain in the back of my head and my throat felt as if it had been made of sanding paper. When I managed to get myself on my feet, I propelled myself in the direction of the kitchen to get a glass of water. What I found in the kitchen exceeded all my expectations. Dennis was wide awake- in fact, hadn’t even slept yet, I found later- and entertaining an audience with tales of wild nights and insane boozy adventures. While he was doing this, he kept taking hits from a big plastic bong, filled with bright orange weed, and taking sips from a bottle of clear liquid without a label on it. It was then that it dawned on me that I was supposed to go to a heavy metal festival in the far North of Holland and that the bus would be leaving in about half an hour. The thought filled me with dread, but when I reminded Dennis of this, his face lit up at the thought of another 24 hours of partying ahead. On the bus I was given a beer, drank half of it and then fell into a deep comatose sleep for the remainder of the 4 hour journey. On the festival, me and some others struggled through the day, wandering around zombie-like. Not Dennis. He was marching up and down the festival grounds, eager to check out everything that was happening, wanting to see every band, talk to everybody and make as big a party out of the day as possible. On the way back from the festival, I was again very happy to go to sleep soon after we set off, and I did not wake up until we returned back home at 5AM. Dennis was still talking and drinking.

The last time I saw Dennis was at a music festival in my home town of Rotterdam, in the summer of 2005. I was doing some promotional work for the bar I was working in at the time when, walking out of one of the toilets, I heard a familiar voice saying ‘Hey, Len!!’ . I turned around to find Dennis waddling across the footpath, clutching 3 pints of lager. He put 2 of them down to shake my hand, and we exchanged general pleasantries about work, where we were living now and what had been happening in our lives. As it turned out, Dennis had enlisted in the army and had just come back from a mission in some ridiculously dangerous part of the world like Chad or Iraq or something like that. When I asked him what the best thing about being in the army was, he told me, without blinking an eye, that the dope they smoked in some warzones was the best he had ever had, anywhere, and that he was allowed to shoot at people. The downside, he continued, was that soldiers were only allowed 2 beers a day, so as to keep them sharp and attentive. When I asked him where his friends were, he didn’t seem to understand, until I nodded to the 2 full pints standing at his feet. He smiled and told me that they were all for him, because he wouldn’t want to get stuck without a drink. I guess he still upheld his old ‘better safe than sorry’ motto after all those years.

I sometimes wonder what has become of Dennis. I like to imagine him in some high rank uniform, with a chest full of medals for bravery, but then again, I can’t really see that, just as I can’t imagine myself in a three piece suit as a corporate executive, and I think that Dennis will be just as happy to be a regular soldier, smoking excellent dope and taking pot shots at the enemy.

So here is to Dennis, and ofcourse to all my other friends, in Holland, Ireland and across the world. You were great this year, I enjoyed your company and hope to keep things rolling in 2012.



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