The Blessed Bitch
“Stand up . . . stand up . . . stand up mate! You’re sitting in a fucking pile o’ puke and piss!” Two tattooed arms forklifted Walter to his feet. He then staggered to a nearby canal where he again collapsed to the ground. Crawling on his belly to the canal’s edge, he then evacuated his demons into the water—about four still-semi-solid pot brownies.
“God damn it. Now you’re really fucked,” the Aussie stranger said as he went over to Walter. “The locals don’t take lightly to tourists chundering in their canals. That’s what these dunnies and rubbish bins are here for. Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before the police find you.”
He helped Walter to his feet again by putting an arm under him for support. “Holy shit you reek,” the stranger said. “Can you make it a few blocks? I’ve got a flat up the road; let you clean up and get your head on straight if you’d like.”
As Walter’s vision stilled, his rescuer came into focus. He was a mustached man around the same age as Walter. His mouth rested in a permanent smile with a severe gap in the middle, which was periodically interrupted by the cigarette he was smoking. His medium build was dressed in black from his ragged Cleveland Indians cap to his dirty and frayed Vans shoes. His unkempt hair stretched out wildly under his hat and his jeans only reached his ankles. His pulled-back flannel sleeves revealed extensive tattoo collages up and down his arms of horror movie characters, obscure metal bands, and bizarrely, more Ohio sports teams.
“Do I know you?” Walter asked. For some reason this stranger seemed familiar.
“No, but now you do. I’m Dug, Dug DeMargo. And that’s spelt D-U-G. You can thank my illiterate mum for that. And you are?”
“Walter, Walter Huxley.”
“Walter? What, are you a grandfather? I’m gonna call you Walty.”
“Okay…” Walter said still confused. “Why are you…”
“Saving you? Don’t know exactly myself. I’m pretty drunk and I almost pissed on ya until you started talking to yourself, but it seems the right thing to do. Also, I don’t think you’re in any shape to be on your own with all that got puke and piss you’ve got on ya.”
Walter looked down and realized he was covered.
“But your choice,” Dug continued. “Just thought I’d offer. I’m just as fine leaving you here and letting you be someone else’s problem—most likely the police.”
Walter thought about it. All points of logic advised against going to some stranger’s home in an unknown foreign land, but with a broken cellphone, no clue where he was or the hostel he was staying in, he was in desperate need for a savior—and a shower.
“I guess you’re right,” Walter said. “Uh, thank you. Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t mention it,” Dug said. “It’s been a shit night anyway, so I’m willing to throw the dice on something different. C’mon, this way,” he said then skipped away.
“So, you like the Indians?” Walter asked as he followed Dug, seeking to know more about his savior. “You don’t sound like you’re from Ohio.”
“That obvious, huh?” Dug replied. “Nope, from a little place in Queensland, Australia called Edmonton—nothing like its Canadian counterpart. I had a roomie back in uni from Cleveland who turned me onto American sports and naturally all of Cleveland’s teams became my favorite.” Dug tore out his right arm from his flannel and pulled up his shirt sleeve to reveal a huge Cleveland Browns helmet tattooed on his upper arm and a Cavs logo on the inside of it.
“So lemme guess,” Dug said, “you’re from Cali-for-nee-ya?”
“Is it that obvious?” Walter replied.
“Yes, all you Cali-for-nee-yans look and sound like people in the movies.”
Dug then paused in front of an entrance to an upscale Victorian apartment complex.
“Is this your place?” Walter asked.
“Yep. Not a bad little shag pad, huh?” Dug waved an electronic fob over a sensor next to the entrance. They then entered a foyer with a set of elevators and took one to the top floor, then went to a door at the end of a very long hallway, where Dug waved his fob over a sensor again to unlock it.
Once inside his apartment, the polarity of Dug continued to perplex Walter. In contrast to his black attire and disheveled appearance, the immense apartment was colorfully and immaculately styled in loud tones of red, orange, and dark blue. The matching furniture was modern and from a windowed balcony door, the Herengracht Canal was visible.
“Shoes off,” Dug said. “And don’t even think about sitting on anything with those stinking fucking clothes . . . Here, you can put ‘em in this.” He handed Walter a trash bag from the kitchen. “Shower’s down the hallway, and I’ll get you some new clothes and put ‘em in the guestroom for ya. We look about the same size…” he said looking Walter over. “Shit, now that we’re in the light, you actually look like you could be my brother or something. Except for that dumb hat. And what’s up with the ridiculous flares mate? Did you go to a throwback party tonight or something?”
Walter laughed. “I always wear bellbottoms—or ‘flares’ as you call them,” he said. “They’re just a part of who I am.”
“Ha, right. That’s because they’re so goddamn tight you probably can’t get them off.”
The shower was a renewing lift and just enough of home to help Walter find the rest of his mind.
After, he was taken to the guest room, or what Dug called his “Box Room”. Dug ran a small record label out of his home and boxes of records, shirts, and other paraphernalia were stacked along every wall of the room. Other than a queen-sized bed and a small nightstand, the boxes were the room’s only inhabitants. Also, even though Dug was in the music industry, he seemed unaware of Walter’s past in it, and for now, Walter was keen to keep it that way.
“It’s nothing big,” Dug said of his operation. “Just a grassroots type of thing. We mostly do reissues, and the original acts we have are real off-the-wall, extreme metal bands, freeform jazz, hard house—stuff no one listens to.”
“Seems more than just a grassroots type of thing…” Walter said gesturing to the elaborate abode around them.
“Well...” Dug said aloofly, “let’s just say I come from some money, and that’s what pays for the digs. This…” he gestured to the boxes, “this is just my rich kid pet project . . . Anyhow, here’s some pants, socks, and some unworn undies I had,” he said throwing them on the bed. “Feel free to take whatever shirt you want out of these four boxes here, but only these ones.” He pointed emphatically to four boxes of band shirts on the right-side wall. “Other than that, let me know if you need anything else.”
After Dug left, Walter was disappointed to find the pants Dug gave him were highwaters like his, and instead of hiding Walter’s cankles, they showcased them. But his bellbottoms were irredeemably soiled.
For his shirt, Walter found one in the box of mediums with a four-armed, feral-looking woman on it with blue skin and bright, red hair centered between two monarch butterfly wings. Made out of what looked to be splashed paint and organic-looking matter swirled together, the image had a textured depth, and the woman’s glowing green eyes seemed to follow his as he moved them over the shirt.
Circling the image in a lowercase Sanskrit-like print was written:
to say life has no meaning is not to say it has no value
– luna hunny
Why did that sound like an answer to a question he didn’t know he was asking? He then remembered why. Amber’s suicide note. Faintly, music then began playing inside his head and a voice he imagined was the woman’s began to sing the lyrics.
Walter put down the shirt.
He took a few deep breaths and lightly slapped his face. Perhaps his head wasn’t completely cleansed of bad chemicals yet.
Dug was behind an island counter in the kitchen pouring himself a beer from a tap built into it when Walter entered.
“Who is luna hunny?” he asked
Dug’s eyes shot up quickly, and for a moment Walter thought he saw a flicker of panic in them.
“Uh, sorry, what’d you say?” Dug asked.
Dug squinted at the shirt. “Bloody hell if I can remember,” he said. “I’ve had so many bands over the years, I can’t remember ‘em all. I’m mostly just a European distributor for vinyl reissues and bands outside of Europe. I hardly ever meet bands face-to-face, and they’re always coming and going. It’s a cool shirt though . . . Care for a pint?”
“I’m good for now,” Walter said. “Just enjoying being sober again for the moment.”
“Figured, but thought I’d ask.”
Dug then viciously clamped onto his beer and guzzled it like a crocodile swallowing a small fowl. It was followed by two less rapid shots of Jägermeister, Dug seeming to enjoy them more.
“Hm-hm-hm…” he said. “Don’t care what people say about it, but Jäger is the shiz tits. Stuff tastes like Dr. Pepper and always makes me feel better. Although, it’s usually also what made me feel bad in the first place, but you know, the hair of the dog that bit you or some shit. But in that case…” he made a large, Jack-Nicholson-like grin, however, his gap made it look much more comical, “…there’s something else I need to make amends with.” He then ducked beneath the counter and reappeared with a large bag of what looked to be cocaine.
“Want some?” Dug offered to Walter.
“Never really been my thing,” he said, “but don’t let that stop you.”
Dug poured a pile onto the countertop, chopped it into a fat line, then dove in like a seabird. After, he arose more relaxed than he’d been the entire night.
“I have a feeling you’ll want my next treat though,” Dug said and dipped again beneath the counter, coming up this time with a large bag of weed and a glass bong blown into the shape of a nude and upside down Marilyn Monroe. Her legs were wrapped around the mouthpiece protruding from her crotch, and inserted into her mouth was the bowl. While the American icon looked absurdly degraded, it was hard to deny the awesome artistry of the piece.
“Wanna take a hit outta Marilyn’s pink bits?” Dug asked. “I got the finest Pineapple Express you’ll ever find. If you need up, it brings you up; if you need down, it brings you down. It’s never treated me wrong; hangovers, spins, binges, depression, anxiety—it cures it all. I swear it’s fucking magic. I got it from this Sinatra-looking motherfucker up the road who grows it himself and only shares it with friends—never sells it. However, I managed to get a couple of ounces for some rare records. Here, come take a whiff.”
“Well...” Walter said after he did. “I guess if I need to pick a poison, that’s the one. And after all, I am in Amsterdam.”
“That’s the spirit!” Dug said. “Let’s go to the balcony though to smoke. The view’s much better.”
Outside, they both sat in silence, saturating the sounds around them while passing Marilyn back and forth. The top-story balcony overlooked a bend in the canal, allowing their eyes and ears to venture far into the city. Bicycle bells chimed, water lapped, a classical guitar played distantly, a group of girls giggled from below; the city was alive and murmuring with a cadenced clarity. A freeform jam of life, Walter thought.
“Ya know…” Dug turned to Walter with his index finger pointed to the air as if readying a conductor’s baton. “There’s music in the sound of life, you just have to shut up once in a while to hear it.”
“Did you just read my mind?” Walter asked. “I was just thinking sort of the same thing.”
“Na mate, it’s this weed. It creates connections between people; puts ‘em on the same plane of perspective if you know what I mean.
Walter couldn’t pinpoint it, but he did feel an odd sense of chirality to Dug.
“Yeah, maybe so,” Walter said putting his lips to Marilyn’s pink bits. “Either way, this is some great fucking weed.” He then lit, ripped, and exhaled, then passed Marilyn to Dug.
“Walty,” he said taking it. “I don’t do anything but fucking great—or I at least always try to. God knows I’m far from always perfect.”
“Well,” Walter said as Dug took a hit, “at least you’ve never managed to end up in the bottom of a urinal talking to yourself covered in puke and piss.”
Dug coughed the hit out and began laughing. “Yes,” he said hoarsely, “I’ve never managed that in a literal sense, but sure have plenty of times metaphorically. I guess that’s why I felt the need to help you when I found you.”
Dug then momentarily lost his loose posturing and fell into straight sternality as he took a swig of beer and lit a cigarette.
“My life’s full of fuckups,” he said exhaling his first puff, “great, giant, donkey-dick fuckups. But that’s the risk you take living in the moment; you run the risk of all the risks you take. But had I always kept it straight, I never would’ve learned the lessons I needed from my mistakes. And that’s how I’m able to forgive myself for them. Otherwise, mistakes only continue to lead your life astray from the moment, and the moment is where real life lies. Not the past, not the future, now. But so many people can’t live in now, and it usually has one or a mixture of three versions: people who don’t want to face their mistakes, so they lead their lives in the future—real anxious types; ones who can’t forgive their mistakes, so they dwell in the past—real depressed types, and ones who try to mask their mistakes with someone or something else—real pathetic types. But it’s only natural. Living for yourself and with yourself goes against the very success of our evolution. We are afraid to be alone with our true selves, mistakes and all. However, if you can find comfort in that fear, the world gradually becomes a much easier place to navigate.”
Dug then relaxed back into his careless manner. “But what the fuck do I know?” he said snubbing out his cigarette in an ashtray. “I’ve been covered deep in my own shit more times than I can count, but if it weren’t for shit, I never would’ve ended up in wonderful Amsterdam. So, shit’s not all bad.”
“What kind of shit?” Walter asked.
“Shit I don’t want to really get into right now. But originally, I came to Europe to study mathematics at Cambridge, my first blessed mistake.”
“You studied mathematics at Cambridge?” Walter asked.
“Yeah, but in my sophomore year I realized Cambridge just wasn’t my shit, so I decided to move to Paris since it always seems to be the place where people go to figure their shit out. I then got tangled up in the late-night jazz scene, and about three months later I was putting together my first operation, reissuing old, out-of-print, jazz records. I then took on some local acts, and before you know it, I was off and running.
“Soon after that, though,” Dug continued, “I met my second blessed mistake, a beautiful Parisian cabaret dancer who shall remain unnamed. That’s how much of a mistake she was and how much respect she deserves. But still, when I say she was beautiful, I mean she was flawless. And she had the best ass I still have ever seen to this day. Anyway, although she was a dancer, her true passion was painting—real abstract shit. She’d mix her vomit into the paint, along with some other things at times: semen, blood, piss. When it came to her art, the weirder the better, which was also her philosophy in bed too. She was into shit no other girl I’ve met was into. And I’ll admit, I’m into some weird shit.”
“Like what?” Walter asked.
Dug lit off a firecracker-like laugh. “I ain’t telling you. That shit stays between her and me . . . Anyway,” he continued, “she was the freak of freaks, and daddy liked—actually, I loved. I loved her so much I let her convince me to move my label to Amsterdam after only a little more than six months together. She had lived in Paris her whole life and said she needed a ‘change of scenery’ for new inspiration, and of course I was happy to appease. However, three months after I moved here, she told me one day she’d fallen in love with someone else and that was it. I never found out who or how, but after a while I didn’t care. I realized it was my prick that was in love, not me. However, I did end up falling in love with Amsterdam, so I stayed. That was two years ago now. Not even sure if that blessed bitch even still lives in the city.”
Dug lit another cigarette, took a long, slow draw, then blew a giant smoke ring. “But I’ve been passing out enough pieces of me,” he said. “What’s your story Walty? What was your journey to the bottom of an Amsterdam dunny?”
“I’m still trying to piece that together myself,” Walter said. “But before that I was on a Contiki tour. Have you heard of Contiki?”
Dug began laughing. “Explains a lot,” he said. “Of course I have. Contiki’s a Kiwi company and us Aussies love those things. But also, can’t tell you how many one-night stands I’ve returned to Hotel Nieuw Slotania.”
“Is that the Contiki hostel?” Walter asked. “I kind of forgot where I’m staying.”
Dug laughed again. “Jesus,” he said, “and to think if I never found you? Yes, and it’s not that far. You begin walking now and you’ll be there in twenty minutes. Hopefully you stick around a little longer though. I’m really enjoying our time together. Haven’t laughed this much in a while.”
“Me too,” Walter said. “It’s weird, but I feel like I know you from a past life or something, and you’re not the first person on my trip I’ve felt that way about. I was a physics major at UCLA. Maybe I read a paper by you? I was reading a lot of student theses back then.”
“I told you,” Dug said, “it’s the weed. I assure you, you’ve read nothing by me. But physics mate? That’s what my uni roomie from Cleveland was studying—actually still is. Sometimes he still sends me stuff to get my take on it, but mathematics is much more a leisure activity for me nowadays.”
“Physics is for me too. However, mind if I throw some stuff at you?”
“Of course not,” Dug said crossing his legs and taking a long draw of his cigarette. “I hardly ever get to talk shop with anyone anymore.”
And for the next half hour they did.
“Not that I’m any authority,” Dug said, “but I think you might’ve undersold yourself on theoretical physics.”
“Thanks,” Walter said. “I do miss it a lot sometimes.”
“Hey,” Dug thumped him on the chest. “It’s always still in there. You can go back any time. You don’t need school. Shit, they’ve got MIT courses online for free now. If someone wants to become a theoretical physicist without school, it’s never been a better time.”
Dug looked at his wristwatch. “Well, surprisingly it’s only a little after midnight,” he said. “If you’re up for it, we can blab more someplace else—preferably an establishment with alcoholic drinks and some women. Plus, it is your only night in Amsterdam. But don’t worry. I won’t let you end up back in a dunny.”
“I am feeling much better now,” Walter said. “And you’re right. I do only have tonight in Amsterdam . . . All right.”
“All right, all right, all right!” Dug said standing excitedly. “We’ll keep away from the Red Light District for now. We’ll go to a locals’ sector where there’s a great lounge I like. But first, shall we partake of another bong rip before we get on the tando?”
“The tando?” Walter asked.
“My tandem bicycle. It’s a beach cruiser from your part of the world.”
Walter let out a belly laugh. Nothing sounded better to his stoned mind.
After pulling it out of his garage, Dug threw his leg over the beastly tandem. It was the gaudiest thing Walter had ever seen, and was more motorcycle than bicycle, painted candy gloss white with red pinstripes running down each of its oversized fenders. Attached to the front handlebars was a chrome headlamp, large enough for a motorcycle, and a large basket with a built-in stereo. Dug flicked a switch in the center of the handlebars and the bike became accented with more red and amber lights than a semi-truck.
“Safety first,” he said. “You ever ridden a tandem?”
“No, can’t say I have,” Walter said.
“Well, you’re in for an adventure. But first, some rules. Rule one, leave the piloting to me up front. As you can see, you also have handlebars, but they are connected to my seat, so if you try to steer them, the only thing you’ll be steering is my arse, and you’ll knock me off balance if you do. Rule two, synchronicity. Peddle with me and not against me. And lastly, don’t ring your fucking bell unless I say so. Now get on.”
Walter threw his leg over the beast and sat on the over-cushioned seat.
“All right, position yourself,” Dug told him. “On the count of three, we’ll take off . . . One, two, three!”
The bike had a wobbly launch, nearly tipping over, and by instinct, Walter tried to correct by steering.
“Whoa!” Dug shouted back. “What’d I say about steering? I swear, it never fails.”
The streets of Amsterdam welcomed them back warmly. A slight breeze carried the sounds of a city still very much awake at twelve-thirty in the morning as the enormous bicycle floated down the paths like an old, cushy Cadillac.
Walter took off his hat—his only article of clothing to survive the urinal—to let the cool wind tickle every follicle of his scalp as his cheeks stretched into a broad smile. The sky had cleared, leaving a dark backdrop for the evening’s show of stars, while Dug blasted Queen’s “Bicycle Race” on repeat and barked incoherently at the rising full moon. People’s reactions to the bike were mixed. Either they shook their heads at its ridiculousness, or chimed their bells with approval as they passed by. In the latter case, Dug would then shout, “Ring the bell!” and took a swig of Jäger from his bottle riding shotgun in the basket.
After crossing three major canals, they went through a network of back alley residential streets that ended at a line of local dives and restaurants along an intersection of two smaller canals. As they drew closer to one dive, Walter was hit by music and a voice unlike any his ears had ever heard. A funky rhythm line loped like a three-wheeled jalopy, while a wild vibrato snarled with sensational emotion. The music and voice then lifted like a geyser. “California!” The word waterfalled over the air. “California!” it spouted again.
“What bar is that?” Walter asked Dug.
“The one with the music.”
“Some old man’s blues joint. You don’t wanna go there. It’s horrible. No girls, only grimy old men.”
“But that sounds like a girl singing . . . And that voice, it’s-it’s... I don’t know, but it’s doing strange things to me. It’s so moving, yet strange and sexual all at the same time. I’ve never heard anything like it. We have to stop.”
“Believe me,” Dug said. “You do not want to go there. It’s not a place for tourists, just a lot of old men and seedy scumbags who will probably pickpocket you the moment you step in. Where we’re going is much, much nicer; a lounge full of fine women who get drenched at the sound of an American accent. Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”
“But I’m more of a dive bar type of guy anyway,” Walter said. “Can’t we just check it out?”
Dug ignored him and kept pedaling.
“Dug!” Walter shouted. But Dug turned up the music and remained unresponsive. “Fucker!” Walter said, then pushed back on his pedals and gave his handlebars a sharp jerk to the right.
“What da fack!” Dug yelled as the bike went squirrely.
Unable to regain control, it eventually ejected them off, and came crashing down on its side, its bells shrilling painfully as it skidded down the pavement.
“What the fuck Walter?!” Dug screamed.
“I’m sorry,” Walter said. “I don’t know what came over me. I just wanted you to stop.”
“Well, we’re stopped! You happy?! Jesus Christ, I save you, bathe you, and clothe you, and you repay me by wrecking me bike? You’re a real fucking wanker, you know that? . . . My baby!” Dug cried as he lifted the bike and inspected it over for damage. “Great. I’m gonna have to get it repainted now. Look at all these scratches.”
“I’m so sorry Dug,” Walter said. “I’m really sorry. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll give you everything I have left for repairs.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Dug said after Walter’s beggarly face seemed to soften him a little. “It’s not that bad I suppose. I can probably paint ‘em over myself. But just why Walty? Why would you do that when I’ve been nothing but a mate to you?”
“I don’t know,” Walter said just as confused. “I just wanted you to stop so badly. It was like this sudden urge. Then when you ignored me something came over me…”
Walter’s attention trailed back to the music which had continued to chug along unchanged. Dug noticed and shook his head cynically.
“Please Dug?” Walter begged again. “Just a song or two? It’s my only night in Amsterdam. Shouldn’t we be spending it how I want to?”
“No. You lost that privilege when you decided to crash my bike.”
“Well,” Walter said, “it seems I never had that privilege to begin with anyway.”
“Well,” Dug said, “if it was any other bar, I’d be fine. But not that one. Really, I’m looking out for you. Remember, I’m supposed to keep you out of trouble, and that bar is not a tourist-friendly place. C’mon, the other place is just five minutes more up the road.” Dug then put his leg back over the beast.
Inside, Walter was being torn apart. The music—and especially that voice—had gaffed his heart and wouldn’t let go.
“Fine,” Walter said after a while. “If it’s five minutes up the road, I’ll meet you there. I’m sure the big bike out front will make it easy to spot. I just need to see who that band and especially that girl is. I’m sorry.”
“Of all the bars in Amsterdam...” Dug said shaking his head. He then pressed the pedal forward, and soon disappeared into the night. And like that, Walter was alone again . . . alone again.