I Amsterdam

13 01 2012

So my big brother, S., and I decided to give ourselves (or each other) a Christmas gift: We went to Amsterdam for a long weekend.

It has been more than 15 years since I was last in the city, but it made an impression enough to make it on my “Top 10” list. (Along with, in no particular order:  San Francisco, Berlin, Helsinki, Sydney, Philadelphia Vancouver, Singapore, Toronto and Boston.)

In the meantime, the city has given itself a very catchy advertising slogan: “I amsterdam”.


And here I thought “Be Berlin” was pretty cool.

S. is on the meatmarket again, after a failed 10-year relationship-that-turned-into-marriage, which is in its final throes. (The entire Starr family will throw a three-day celebration when all THAT is done and dusted. Stay tuned.)

And what better place to test your self-marketing skills than Amsterdam.

He has been a few times, and on his last visit he discovered a special, secret, by-invitation-and-with-reservation-only bar. It was the highlight of his trip, at which he took the opportunity to tweak his flirting skills. So of course the experience had to be repeated, with his kid sister. (Even though the mere presence of something that looked like a “date” – me – would be insurance enough against scoring any action at all.)

The club is located in an inconspicuous row house on a non-descript street, tucked between a sex shop and kebab kiosk. I walked by it twice without realizing anything was there – to his amusement. The windows are blacked out, and all that distinguishes it from any other abandoned storefront is a single tiny doorbell.

We arrived fashionably late for our 930pm reservation. The staff remembered my big bro and greeted him very warmly, like he was a regular, or an old friend. The two bartenders, already hard at work, stopped to chat with us and offered a round of bourbon on the house. And the Singapore Slings were truly the best I have had in a very long time.

I think this was what was left of the second sling. But it could have been the third.

I have rediscovered evenings out ever since Europe went smoke-free. Thankfully, I no longer come home from a restaurant or a bar smelling like I washed my hair in cigarette ash. So my still-smoker-brother had to occasionally abandon me step outside to get his nicotine fix.

During one of these absences, a man sidled up to a beautiful tall Dutch woman standing at the bar next to me and I overheard his feeble pickup line: “I noticed you since the moment you walked in the door.”

Obviously, a raw beginner. Or someone trying to get back on his dating feet after a looooooooooonnng time. Kind of like my brother. Too bad he wasn’t around to witness the poor fellow crash and burn.

Her eyes opened wide and she said something to the effect of, “Uh, gee, I think I have to go now,” high-tailing it back to her date, a balding banker-type in a monogrammed shirt sucking down his fourth cocktail.

I categorized the performance in the column: “Most spectacular strikeout”.

When my brother returned and I told him the story, he didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Damn…. I’m just hoping his pickup lines are way better than that.

Happy holidays from our orchid

8 01 2011

Now that the holidays are well behind us, I took a final look at all the greeting notes I received before packing them away in a shoebox.

In the age of at-home, three-step, do-it-yourself printing and publishing, there seems to be a strong trend towards arts & crafts for grown-ups. And don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate the thought and effort that goes into making a home-made card. Something like that is quite special, for both the sender and the recipient.

But I’m finding more and more of these greetings are plastered with photos of the sender’s children – in the snow, on the beach, playing with pets – with warm greetings from them, too.


The 2010 Xmas card harvest (sans kiddos in order to protect their identities).

I do find it rather odd that not my friends, but their kids are wishing me – someone they probably don’t know from Adam and couldn’t give two shits about – a Merry Christmas.

The most egregious example of this was a card with a photo of a 4-month-old infant. The caption: “(Name of Infant A) wishes you happy holidays.” Does Infant A even know what a holiday is? And is Infant A consciously aware of “happy”? (Beyond sleeping and suckling, that is.) And don’t you think he might also ask himself someday: who the hell are these people he is allegedly wishing happy holidays to?

And all these proud parents think they are doing something totally unique. Infant A’s parents probably honestly thought their card was the most ingenious and cutest thing on earth, because of course Infant A is the smartest and cutest kid on earth.

But I received three of these this year, featuring Children A, B, C , D and E, all under the age of 4, in an assortment of poses (sitting, eating, crawling, looking out the window) and all with similar wording.

So parents, imagine your child-free adult friends receiving their 27th holiday greeting card with nothing in it but kid photos. A typical reaction would be: “Wow. More pictures of… babies. Yay.”

One couple I know sent me a whole 2011 desk calendar with photos of their kids! (OK, the kids are teenagers and the calendar itself is actually very beautiful and well done, but it was the last holiday greeting I unpacked, and the final straw that prompted me to write this post.)

So, fine, whatever – send me pictures of your kids for Christmas if you must – but it would make a real difference, at least to me, if you sent pictures of YOURSELVES, too! The adults in the family! In most cases you and I have known each other and were friends loooooong before your offspring was a twinkle in your eye, and a human on the planet.

YOU are the people I have a history with, not your kids – they came later. YOU are the people I love and cherish. YOU are the folks who have accompanied me on this long and winding road. YOU are the people who have helped make me who I am.

After receiving all these photo-cards of kids we hardly know (and one or two from kids we do), R. and I got to thinking about what motif we should put on our own Christmas cards next year. We really value our DVD player, and our skiing equipment, and our cars, and our sofa, and our dining room table. Or how about that potted plant we love so much? It’s the only other living thing in our apartment, after all.

"A dormant orchid wishes you a Merry Christmas!"

You’re right, our friends with kids would probably take offense. So I guess I will stick with sending greeting cards bought at the After-Xmas-Sale on December 26th the year before (70% off!) as I have done for the past two decades or so. Less work and more politically correct than pretending a plant can talk like a baby.

Scrooge, the Grinch and me

23 12 2010

It’s Christmas and I’m not really inspired to write anything witty or, well, inspirational. Sorry. If anything, the spirit of this season-that-will-not-end has made me more cynical and bitter the longer it lasts.

I have been assaulted by Christmas decorations in stores since two weeks before Halloween. Every day I am subjected to multiple renditions of “Come, they told me, parumpapumpum …” and stupid advertising for giving the gift of liposucton or car insurance or 60-inch flat-screen televisions, sung by artificially jolly voices to the tune of “Deck the Halls” or “Let it Snow”. That is waterboarding for the soul and should be declared inhumane. Where are the activists from Amnesty International when you really need them?

This is Florida, people, THERE IS NO SNOW! THIS HELL WILL NOT FREEZE OVER! E-V-E-R! Even if all you Floridians have to get out your fleece gloves and wool caps when the temperature drops to below 65 degrees F (+18 degrees C).

So I’m the Grinch this year. Teaming up with Scrooge… and all the other literary figures that plot to steal/destroy/pillage Christmas. Fine – take it away… make it disappear.

And yes, dear happy parents, if I would have kids, it might be different – even if just for their sake. But remember, kids are often most underestimated by the adults closest to them. Your children will also figure out pretty quickly what is real and what is play-acting. And I’m not just talking about Santa Claus here.

During this festive season of communal commercial cheer (ka-ching!), it takes a lot to actually admit you are miserable. So I’m laying it out here for all to read. I can’t stand Christmas. And this year, I’m particularly sad, frustrated and upset. For myself and for those close to me who have to fight battles no one should be placed in the position to fight, especially not at Christmas. I’m angry at the injustice of it all.

If you also feel this way, its okay, you’re allowed to be grumpy this time of year, even if the rest of the world tells you you’re not. Please don’t be a pressure cooker and keep it all inside.

Just, if you do plan, against better judgment, to spend the holidays hanging around people you’re related to but barely know, it would probably be helpful if you concentrate on fileting the turkey and not each other – by avoiding emotionally loaded topics like politics, religion, unfulfilled expectations, lifestyle choices or hair color.

For me, I’m just hoping the next couple of days will pass quickly so that we can get back to normal and go on living our lives. 2011 seems like a happy number to me – those two 1’s at the end signify to me the best of the best. Number One followed by…Number One!

Somewhere between now and then I promise to climb out of this bottomless pit of grief, self-pity and sadness, and I shall return to inspire you.

Wishing you a peaceful weekend, in whatever form it may take. I will be at an Orlando theme park, escaping reality.

Christmas fun at airport security

10 12 2010

Have you ever wondered how much time is wasted in airport terminals? Passengers have to get there hours before take-off, and think of the lost productivity as folks just sit around in departure areas or stand in some line. Long gone are the days of an efficient, first class travel experience – unless of course you belong to the 0.01 percent of the population that has access to a private jet.

This little Citation would fit my needs if not my budget.

And honestly… there is really only so much people-watching you can do as you wait. The food in the lounges all seems to taste the same after a while, and getting a free spritz of overpriced perfume in the duty-free store is just about the highlight of any airport transit experience.

So where do you find entertainment while killing time in the terminal? Airport security of course! A never-ending source of amusement and irritation that defies any logic beyond randomly and indiscriminately imposing gratuitous hostility on the innocent. And all completely free of charge!

Though here in Europe we don’t have the TSA to command us around and sexually molest us during a pat-down, we do have the next best thing: Foul-tempered, disrespectful, German-speaking security officers progressively losing their nerves.

Take an incident in Nürnberg last Tuesday morning, 6am. Cranky, underpaid modern-day Nazis channel penned-in passengers through an obstacle course of electronic detection equipment like a herd of drugged cattle. An added bonus was the early morning breath of a flak-jacketed and armed tough-guy pseudo-cop dangerously invading my space.

After spotting something of interest on the X-ray, the junior security chick demanded I empty every corner of my carry-on, including a bag of dirty socks underwear, and then threatened to confiscate it (the carry-on, not the underwear) if I didn’t do exactly what she told me in the order in which she told it to me.

Apparently I look like someone who would smuggle C4 in used lingerie.

The offending item was a set of rare coins, carefully bubble-wrapped and worth roughly three times her monthly salary. I told her to keep her paws off it – as every wise, overprotective numismatist would. That’s when she called over Mr. Flakjacket to bark the directive a little louder, as if I didn’t hear the first time.

I slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y repacked my ransacked bag, as if I had all the time in the world, thus creating a bottleneck at the security checkpoint. That’s the part of this process I enjoy most – tossing a little sand into the machinery and watching the ensuing human and system meltdowns.

Where are YOU headed this Christmas?

So as we prepare for the annual Christmas ritual of wasting precious life time in endless airport security lines, it’s important to remember that every paying traveler has rights too. Just because some arrogant person in a silly uniform makes you undress in front of him/her (jacket, sweater, scarf, vest, belt, shoes, silver jewelry, hair clip, keys, coins, MP3 players, cell phones, Kindles, I-pads, laptops, toiletries) doesn’t mean s/he has a carte blanche to harrass you – and I firmly believe s/he needs to be told that rather directly.

Once you clear the body scanner and have settled in to the two square feet of airplane you will inhabit for the next one, two or 13 hours, there’s nothing left to do but toss back that first stiff drink.

And pity the poor suckers who missed the flight because some overzealous security-type mistook the fat guy in the red suit (with his pet reindeer and a bag of toys) for a terrorist.