March 14, 2003

Shooting Pool

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Amsterdam, 7 Aug 96

I was kicked out of the Holland Casino for a dress code violation. The Euro-trash uppercrust take their casinos seriously. My attire failed to meet the minimum specifications: clean dress shoes, pants, collared shirt, and a jacket and tie! After a quick glance at the patrons inside I realized that most of the men were well groomed and they were all wearing tuxedos! It was scene right out of a James Bond movie and there I stood at the entrance trying to get in, decked out in Birkenstocks, ripped jeans, and a NY Knicks T-shirt. It didn’t help that I had been tripping on mushrooms for most of the night, and I decided the best thing to do before I came down was to play a few hands of blackjack, and maybe even find a poker game to sit in on… but I couldn’t even get in the front door.

Defeated, I walked slowly back to the Flying Pig hostel across the street from Vondel Park, with random thoughts blindsiding me from all directions. It was my first trip to Europe and I was still processing everything and observing all at the same time. Before I got to the hostel, I saw Señor standing in front smoking a cigarette.

“What happened?” he asked.

I told him my sad story and he told me that it was probably a good thing I wasn’t dressed to gamble, because I most likely would have lost all my money anyway. I agreed as he finished his cigarette.

“I couldn’t sleep. You wanna take a walk?”

We walked back towards the Holland Casino and over to Dam Square. We sat down for a few minutes and smoked a joint and watched the late, late nightlife of Amsterdam unfold. I spotted two girls from our hostel as they were walking down a side street. We decided to follow them, even though we didn’t know them, nor where they were headed. We never even spoke to them, but they were staying in the same room as us. They occupied the bunkbeds right across from me, just a couple of the dozen or so people that we were sharing sleeping space with in the largest, and cheapest room at the hostel. And from the bits of conversation I overheard them speak to one another, I figured out they were French. After wandering down two, long and winding cobble stone blocks, they ducked into a large steel doorway, which led to a stairway down, and we continued to follow them into a cellar club.

We walked into the dark, smoky, stench pit without paying a cover charge. This polluted place was not like some of the chic clubs and discos around Amsterdam and in Europe. They still played the same awful music, a combo of techno-crap and deep house-electric noise which pumped out of the sound system, but the crowd seemed to be less glamorous and a lot more, shall we say… addicted. The French girls picked the seediest shit hole on the block, which was fine by us.

The carpet next to the bar was soaked with what I hoped was just spilled beer and drinks. The strung out, pink-haired bartender looked like she just gang banged a dozen or so tweaked up Hell’s Angels. With mascara running down her eyes and face, and welts and burn marks dotting her arms and neck, she hobbled back and forth behind the bar, nearly falling over several times in the few minutes I stood there watching her, holding my nose, desperately trying to convince myself that I was not standing in urine. She eventually gave us the wrong beers and spilled another drink all over the bar. She was fucked up for sure and I lost sight of the French girls.

Señor walked over to a pool table near the back of the club and nobody was playing. Against the graffiti splattered walls were seven or eight couches, nearly all occupied by different collectives of weirdos, freaks, and other miscreants. The backroom was poorly lit, save for a few candles and one single green light bulb that lit up the pool table. A Goth couple was making out on one couch, and I couldn’t figure out who was the male or female. Next to them were about three or four American college kids, with their baseball hats and blue jeans, possibly frat boys from the East Coast, but we avoided them, and walked past a group of three passed out people wearing purple suits. I wanted to walk up to each couch and start talking to everyone, but Señor called me over to the pool table.

“How much do you think it is?”

“Good question.”

We walked around the table and looked for a money slot, thinking it was just like a pool table in any NYC bar, one that you had to pay up to $1.00 to play one game. We couldn’t find one, so I walked back over to the bar and tried to get the burnt out, pink-haired, biker chick bartender’s attention. She looked like she was nodding out at the end of the bar, but she was actually smoking a cigarette.

“How much for the pool table?” I asked her, peering into her vacant gray eyes, side stepping a puddle of warm piss.

“There’s no swimming here,” she shouted in almost perfect English.

“No. I don’t want to swim. I want to shoot pool.”

“You can’t shoot up in here either. Go next-door,” she pointed, taking a long drag on her cigarette.

“Billiards!” I shouted as I pointed back at the table, where Señor now stood talking to the French girls, “How much does it cost to play?”

Irritated, she whispered, “It’s free.”

She dropped the cueball on the wet and sticky bar, which started to roll off, but I caught it just in time before it splashed down into the small lake of yesterday’s piss. I walked back over to Señor and he was trying his best to make nice with the French girls.

“Bro, I need you to translate,” he smiled.

“Sure, after I tell you what the bartender said.”

As we stood in the shadows of the eerie green light, I told Señor and the young ladies the odd story about the hagged out, pink-haired mixologist, and they told us that they were only there at that club to score some cocaine and they didn’t want to shoot up either. I guess the “shooting pool” expression means something different in other languages. I invited them to play billiards with us, and they agreed to, after they went to the bathroom to test out their new product.

I began to rack the pool balls and set up the table when one of the girls shouted to me, “Venez-vous avec nous?”

“What did she say?” asked Señor.

“She wanted to know if we were coming with them,” I answered.

“To the girl’s bathroom?”

“Yeah I guess we should. How many times do we get offered to do lines of blow in a bathroom in the back of a shitty-ass club in Amsterdam, with sixteen year old French girls?”

Señor’s smile said exactly what I was thinking.

“Not often enough.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from NYC.

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