2 (minimum number, German riot police pretending to be hookers, from time to time, living with us)
1 (picture of Jesu at German anti-film dubbing protest, as seen right)
countless (beautiful fish, wasted, due, in a roundabout way, to dutch hash)
5 (paragraphs at the beginning you may as well just skip)
Trying to get over your father’s death is like attempting alchemy after the practice has been proven scientific heresy.
You try any number of senseless things. You quit your job. You take up running. You go to a psychologist, as if a PhD has anything to do with how much you miss the man who taught you to throw a baseball. You break up with a girlfriend. Or you marry her, either one, as long as it feels like a difference large enough to rebalance your life into a stable, sane place.
The problem is, losing a parent is just so tiring. Every day is an emotional marathon of digesting what they gave you and what they took with them. Every day you are forced to re-define your identity now that you have lost one of your creators.
As Konrad and I are waiting for the next set of guests to arrive, I try coffee.
I load up on it. Cup after cup, quick swallows to take the heat. Anything to get the juice back.
It’s 8 p.m., and Konrad and I are watching Oude Doelenkade for cars with German plates. The peaks of the buildings cast a row of pyramid shadows on the streets. The buildings all teeter forward at tipping points, or lean together like drunks in love, or, as if proving that even stones can find life untenable, they lean apart, making alleyways darkened caves. Slowly, the sea is taking back the land the Dutch have ‘reclaimed’ with their windmills. Quickly a big yellow van comes to a stop near our ship.
A man with short-cropped hair hops out, walkie-talkie pressed to his lips as he scans the area. He gives the impression of a thrift store version of Collin Farrell, except with eyebrows like someone might have glued rodents to his face as a practical joke on the long drive from Frankfurt as he drooled against the child safe windows.
I follow his line of sight to a tall, chinless man wearing Ray Ban Aviators. They frown, nod at each other. With no words I can hear spoken they form a perfectly spaced line from their cars to the gangplanks. Bags are passed with optimal efficiency. Knuckles flex white. I stand on the back deck ready to help but I’m just in the way. Konrad sulks over to me after consulting with Hamster Farrell.
‘They’re cops,’ he tells me. ‘They’re fucking German cops.’
‘That’s not necessarily a bad thing…’
He interrupts mid his sentence, or at least the one I assume he’s screaming against the inside of his skull.
‘’Just doing my job.’ It’s the most bullshit sentence of all time. It’s a choice to want to control people,’ Konrad informs me, saying the C words like they are two thirds of an unholy trinity along with his favorite word, well, you can guess it.
It makes sense that Konrad would hate cops. If Konrad’s world was an SAT analogy, sailor is to police as, say, beer is to a mouthful of shit.
There’s ten of them. Eight men, and two oddly alluring women. Once their gear has been appropriated to the assigned bunks, they ask us to show them to a restaurant in town. Turns out they’re not just cops, they’re riot cops. When they’re not busting up soccer hooligans they’re taking down drug dealers and prostitutes.
Hamster Farrell pulls me aside as we near Hoorn’s killing stone. Of course this is what he asks me:
‘Is there a coffee shop around here?’ He comes back five minutes later with a half-smoked joint hanging from his lips and a piece of hash as big as my thumb wrapped in white wax paper.
‘Don’t tell the chef,’ he says, cryptically.
‘You got it,’ I say.
They buy pizzas and eat them out of the boxes. Konrad is upset like Curly from the Three Stooges, the kind of furious mania that can only be subdued by Moe and Larry feeding him cheese.
‘They’re on vacation, for God’s sake. At least use plates. Wouldn’t you at least use plates? You’d think one of them would care enough to make a salad. Fucking cops.’
He stews for a minute. ‘Remember how I told you that you weren’t allowed to mess around with the guests?’
‘Sure.’ It was one of the cardinal rules he repeated over and over.
‘I want you to fuck them both. Sleep with both of the girls. Anything that will upset these fucking cops.’
Does Konrad think the job is called fuckingcops? I’ll have to ask him later. He’s too upset right now. He soon falls into a deep hatesleep, but is woken up at 11 by our guests talking and drinking in the cabin. He lets a deep, pained, self-righteous sigh, as if he has to be up to perform cleffed lip surgery on Indonesian orphans in the morning. He violently slides open the hatch.
‘The harbor police are patrolling. You need to be quiet or we can lose our docking license,’ he tells them with all the consternation he can muster.
I laugh out loud. He was up until five a.m. with the last group, in this very spot, hooting and yelping as he taught them how to lasso pint glasses.
‘I’m a fucking hypocrite. Good night.’
All of the German riot police have nicknames. Bond. Chuck Norris. Brokeback. They’re especially proud of that one. ‘Do you get it?’ they ask me with their very German giggles, like all their bellies are suddenly full of delicious chocolate.
As the cops are untying the sail covers other crews stop to chat, as they often do. Konrad tells them about our guests. Jeffrey, a lifer who scares me even when he’s talking about being in love with his girlfriend, says, ‘It wouldn’t be the first time I kicked the shit out of a cop,’ a statement that is apropos of absolutely nothing. Parked next to us is Guy. I tell him they cops are planning a raid in 20 minutes, but he didn’t hear it from me. Guy looks a little like Paulie Shore, if you get what I mean. His eyes go wide and he urgently turns toward his cabin.
‘Just kidding, Guy.’
He found my joke so unfunny that I’m not even worthy of a ‘Go fuck yourself.’
It’s pouring rain as I throw loose the headline and the spring. The wind is heavy, 6 knots, just a couple knots from being too heavy for our little girl to sail through. But these German riot police, man are they ready. They all have boots, gloves with the fingers cut off, rain gear, and a seeming hatred for all things ‘rope,’ as they pull our halyards and sheets harder than I’ve ever seen them pulled. They raise our giant sun-blotting mainsail in the time it takes most groups to figure out how to untie the 8-8-9 knot that keeps the ropes on the pegs.
But there’s trouble with the jib. One of the hooks is stuck on a bolt of the cliverboom, the 15-foot-long telephone pole emerging from the nose of the ship. ‘Fall back!’ I yell to the German police as I climb out there. With the mainsail raised without the jib we’re too back-balanced, the wind rocks us side to side. I climb farther, my grip on the heavily lacquered wood tenuous at best. I shake the bottom of the sail. I sqeeze the steal. Finally, whoosh! And we’re sailing.
I have never had human follow my directions more closely or with more energy. I ask Jon to hold our largest fender, the big blue one that’s almost as fat as him, over the nose, and he reacts like I just told him to tackle that crack smoking prostitute with the Chelsea jersey on. I consider asking Jon to do my laundry, a request I’m positive he would fulfill, and that I know Konrad would approve of.
The weather keeps getting worse. Waves as tall as short men are crashing over the guard rails. When the wind changes quickly the jib flaps with enough violence to knock me over as I try to steady it. To keep us from tipping the top of our swords into the water we have to tack, or change the sail direction and point the nose through the dead zone of head-on wind, at a moment’s notice. I jump and slide across the cabin to save time. We lose the water stay, a thick steel cable that reinforces the cliverboom.
‘If the water stay gets tangled with the rudder, we’re fucked,’ Konrad tells me.
A German named Christian and Hamster Farrell hold me over the front as I stretch down. ‘A little more!’ They lower me farther, literally each of them gripping one of my balls to keep me from falling into the water. A big hot wave catches us all in the face and the Hamster grips me tighter.
‘Pull me up!’ I say, because, really, enough is enough.
Some of our guests are vomiting from the ride, so we pull into a town called Merken. Ever the little devil, Heir Hamster spikes the hot chocolate with hash. Chuck Norris, the oldest of the group and a drug virgin, drinks three cups before anyone notices. The group wanders Merken for a good lunch spot, but Chuck Norris takes off. Konrad and I find him at the 1 euro fish sandwich stand.
‘Where are the others?’ we ask him.
‘I’m not sure. All I know about is this fish, and how delicious it is, and how I’m going to eat all of it,’ he tells us.
I get to know some of our guests. They love pepper spray in an odd, eyes-lighting-up, re-crossing-legs-to-hide-hard-ons kind of way. When the hooligans are fighting each other in great enough numbers the cops just watch, let them get it out of their systems. Sometimes they make the prettier girl walk the streets like a hooker so she can get intel on the prostitutes, who are committing an illegal act, unlike the johns- the grandpas, men with child seats in the back, even one of the team’s father, once- who are doing nothing wrong by German law. Our guests are desperate to have tazers added to their belts. They are embarrassed when the chief tells them to pull back from a fight. Anything not to look soft.
The weather is more calm as we pull away from Merken. Konrad steers us directly into the waves. The stoned cops take turns sitting at the nose, getting splashed like they’re at a water park. Chuck Norris pukes the afternoon away.
‘My beautiful fish!’ it is reported to me he wailed between wretches. ‘My beautiful fish… and that lovely sauce! All wasted.’
The wind all but dies. Rather than turn the engine on, first Konrad forces the cops to do a long, strenuous, and utterly unnecessary tack. He even forces Hamster and Arnie to drag buckets on either sides as bush-league oars.
The best part for me is, I’m finally getting it. For the first time I understand how sails use the wind to propel us forward with the same principles airplane wings find lift. I know what Konrad means when he yells that we’re falling or climbing the wind. I can see the difference between dancing and killing in the jib. I feel like planting a god-damn flag on the front deck. My territory. Mine mine mine.
In Enkhuizen we run into the crew of the Northstar. Their mate, a kid we call Face, had a rough day. There’s no bathroom in his room, so he pees into a bucket. The rough seas spilled his personal refuge over his floor and bed.
‘Guess he’s PeeFace now,’ Konrad says with a shrug.
I come to kind of love the cops, their energy and their predictable thought patterns. Konrad stays up all night arguing with a few of them about immigration reform and culture mixing, of all things, while I make out with the one who pretends to be a hooker for a living.
Like I said in the beginning, its alchemy. For some it’s melting down horseshoes and frying pans. For others, you use Azrael to help capture Smurfs to make gold. For me, my alchemy of finding myself after losing my dad, today at least, its all about coffee, calling someone PeeFace, mastering the wind, and having a German riot cop look at me all doe-eyed.