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CONTINENTAL DRIFT

The bust was not the kind of thing one sees in a Dutch coffeeshop


David Hollander


The Canadians in Amsterdam downplayed their love of drink lest they be deemed provincial. Their game was competitive counterculture, climbing up the freak ladder, and it was fun to play upon it. 


I rounded up a crew in the youth hostel for a walk “in the real neighbourhoods,” and off we went through the Dutch metropolis, its streets damp with a winter chill. I maintained a lively clip until I felt a thirst coming on, and suggested a beer in the next bar we encountered (never far in a port). The Heineken draft was delicious to young Canucks reared on our domestic brews, and I soon had the gang discussing hockey and girls rather than the last time Sha Na Na played Hamilton.


I spent a fine afternoon in the neighbourhood pub before tipsily hoofing it back to the city centre for Saturday night action. The Hamilton contingent had discovered a downstairs youth club set up like a spacious private playroom. Inspired by the Woodstock soundtrack reverberating throughout the space, I won Dutch hearts with my inimitable drunken patter.


The joint began to cook after seven, the music pounding, the chatter picking up, and I was ready to roll the dice. One of the Dutch kids offered to smoke me up, and I said sure, never having smoked from a chillum before. I followed the preparation intently. It would be the last thing I’d see clearly for hours.


He gave me a sniff of the hashish and said it was from Afghanistan, then carefully crumbled it with heat and mixed it with loose tobacco. I was told how to hold the pipe and warned it had a large draw, but that didn’t spare me a coughing fit. I rallied. My next draws were successful because I knew how hard to puff and how long to hold the smoke. It was an elegant way to inhale, but he was right about the pipe’s draw; I took in so much I had no time to enjoy the high before feeling sick. Killer Afghan atop a lake of beer, not a good idea.


I rushed to the toilet, a solo unit in keeping with the private-home motif, and locked the door behind me. I fell to my knees, wrapped my arms around the bowl and let it rip. It was vomit great not only in severity but in volume. It was vomit from the heart. I puked cleanly, with the violence of youth, but the duration of the nausea was my undoing. It was Saturday night, beer was being consumed recklessly, and I had set up housekeeping in the only toilet.


At first people would try the door handle, then a polite knock followed by an angry rap, finally kicks and denunciations in a language that meant nothing to me. I puked and puked and puked, drenched in sweat, my knees aching, my head hovering inches from the malodorous bowl. The people outside could hear my retching and inchoate growls of apology, so they knew what was happening. Sometimes the door would be silent for a minute or two before a new arrival began to hammer on it. 


At length I staggered to my feet, flushed the toilet, threw water on my face and opened the door in what I hoped was a dignified manner. A girl snapped at me in Dutch and the rest of the line laughed. “Sorry,” I said, motoring for the street exit to cut short the shaming, “I don’t get around much anymore.”


•••


A Dutch jet-set groovy-woo picked me up while hitchhiking in the Canary Islands. I told him I’d gotten rattled living in a lean-to outside the surfing village of Arguineguin; every rustle in the brush suggested something green and slimy. Amused by my schtick, he bought lunch in Las Palmas and gave me a Dixie cup of light green Moroccan hashish.


I rented a room in a pension just off the boardwalk. The islands were duty free, a drunkard’s paradise. Premium rum cost less than supermarket Coke for mix. I’d cruise the beach in the morning, admiring the Scandinavian beauties and rounding up regular people for a party. I was the host who had it all, because the Moroccan was gangbusters and the drinks I served cost me only pennies. But there are diminishing returns with power dope.


I brought a handful of people to the room one afternoon, fired up a joint and handed it off while I mixed drinks. A fellow Canadian, a Winnipegger with long, straight hair and bright eyes, took exception to my choice of party favours. “That’s not weed,” he declared. “You’ve slipped us opium or some other hard drug.”


His tone was accusatory, the penalties for drug possession in Spain catastrophic; there could be no disturbance in my room. “No, man,” I replied, “it’s fine hash from Morocco, a short plane ride to the east. I got it from a dude from Delft.”


He wasn’t buying it. “That’s no hash. I know hash. You’ve given us a narcotic. A guy did this to me once before.” His voice was getting louder. He had a history.


“I know nothing from narcotics,” I argued. “I’ve never touched opium, the hash was given to me. Why would I want to get other people high on opium? It’s addictive, it must cost a lot.”


A third party finally spoke up through the catatonic high. “It’s hash, good hash,” a girl said. “I watched him roll the joint.”


The hysteric from the Peg began to calm down. “Funny-tasting hash,” he insisted.


“Dynamite,” said the girl, “sheer dynamite.”


The guy didn’t like being corrected by a woman, but found it embarrassing and knocked off the opium nonsense. I dropped it, too, hoping he would behave. He sat in a silent pout while everyone finished their drinks. There would be no second round. My guests filed out in silence into the sun-drenched afternoon. The high lent the beach vista a technicolor intensity.


•••


The first thing I noticed after the London-Montreal flight was how crappy Canadian beer was. I’d been nostalgic about it for close to a year, and was disappointed with a quick one I had at the airport bar. Blond, cold and crummy, I decided, regretting I hadn’t fully appreciated the British varieties.


I had left Canada at 20 and returned at 21, so my friends took me out for my first legal night of drinking, ironic in that Montreal bars had been serving us since high school and I had discerned no age limit in Europe.


We went to the Mansfield Tavern, near empty on an evening in late spring. There was our foursome, two kids at a table directly behind us and two older guys who set up shop behind us to one side. Our conversation was interesting because I had missed a year of Canadian life – including the October Crisis – and was grappling with the zeitgeist while entertaining my friends with mostly true tales of life on the road in Europe.


Coach pulled out his stash and began to roll, returning the bag to his pocket and leaving the fixings on the table. It was the first marijuana I’d seen after months of hashish in Europe. When he finished rolling the joint, he waved it between thumb and forefinger. I never found out where he intended to smoke it, because we were still seated when the two older guys at the next table stood up, walked over to the teens, flashed badges and busted them for underage drinking. Not the kind of thing you see in an Amsterdam drug café.


After an adolescence predicated on fake identification cards, I was on the first drink of my first legal pub crawl and had missed being collared for drugs by 20 seconds. The beer tasted like cat piss, but I was enjoying the company of old friends. I felt sorry for the boys whom the cops had hauled out of the tavern, an indignity I no longer risked, but had no faith in my luck. If they don’t get you with one thing, there will always be another.

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3 Comments


Wait, QC drinking age was not 21, was it?

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Wonderful tale. Moral being, if you're going to get high in Amsterdam, wear knee pads.

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Dave’s not here, man.

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