An Adventure of Experience + Innocence in Amsterdam, Oct 2018

I’ve been meaning to write this strange adventure down for a couple of months but haven’t had the chance, and although it was easily memorable enough on its own, I did take copious notes right after it happened as I didn’t want to risk losing a detail.  I don’t usually post ‘parental advisories’ or ‘trigger warnings’ or ‘spoilers’ or ‘trailers’ for my stories, but although most of the action that happens takes place over the course of something less than an hour in total, please be warned that what follows contains some really awkward racism, blatant anti-Semitism, inappropriate sexual propositions, and possibly some light ageism depending on your definition of ‘old’.  Also, this will probably turn out to be a little bit long because, as you can tell, a whole lot of weirdness happened all around me over some of the sixty strangest minutes I’ve ever suffered through.  One last thing to mention in this preamble is that although I am a story-teller by nature and that usually gives rise to exaggeration or conflation, everything below is one-hundred percent true, is set down pretty much exactly as it happened, and if anything, is actually a little toned-down to keep some of the language a little bit more palatable for public consumption.

In October of last year, 2018, I set off on a trip to Amsterdam, my all-time number-one bucket-list city, to go see U2.  In my life, I’ve seen those four dudes from Dublin dozens of times in cities across North America, but for this particular tour they for some reason decided not to include a show for the first time in memory in my hometown of Toronto.  I considered going to see them in Washington where my cousin George lives, and I thought about maybe going to Montreal as I haven’t been there in years, and of course I deliberated over going to Dublin to see them on their home turf, but then I noticed that they were playing Amsterdam during the Canadian Thanksgiving long-weekend, and upon realizing that I wouldn’t have to burn too many vacation days to go see my favourite band in basically my dream city, the plans were set.  My wife had been to Scotland for a few weeks earlier in the summer with her mom, so now it was my turn for a fun adventure.  All’s fair in love and being jealous over trips to Europe.

Did I think it was weird to be going alone to a foreign country just to see a rock band?  Absolutely.  But I’ve never let being weird stop me before, so social-anxiety and neurotic self-doubts be damned, I landed on Friday morning and spent a couple of days walking the city, touring the canals, checking out many museums and art installations, and eating easily the most delicious pancakes and waffles to ever grace my taste-buds.  I found a bench just across the Singel Canal from my hotel and made it my own; I’d sit there for seemingly hours on end, enjoying a warm and refreshing caramel latte and some of the best people-watching I’ve ever had the pleasure to partake in, hilariously highlighted on Saturday by a very tall elderly couple barreling around the corner whilst crowded into the tiniest orange SmartCar I’ve ever seen, giving me what I considered to be the most perfectly ridiculous Amsterdam moment.

After an utterly jam-packed couple of days of foot-swelling sight-seeing, it was somehow suddenly Sunday, the day of the first show.  I’m not going to lie, I started to get a little freaked out.  I’m generally not a fan of large crowds to begin with, and here I was preparing to head into one in a foreign country where, although almost everyone seemed to speak English (better than most native-speakers, I might add), I don’t speak their language at all outside of ‘goedemorgen’, ‘behagen’, and ‘bedankt’.  My anxiety was getting to me.  What if something happened?  Like, something really bad?  I mean, the world has gotten a little bit crazy lately, and here I was all by myself, ready to put my head right into the metaphorical lion’s gaping maw… Was I crazy?

Seriously, freaking out doesn’t come close to describing what was going on in my head in the hours leading up to the concert.  But then I remembered that I was in Amsterdam, so I grabbed another latte, went to my bench, and did what most tourists in Amsterdam go there to do and partook in some time-tested and true herbal relaxation techniques.  Then, after a little more people watching, I went back to my room to order room-service (Dion the room-service guy at the NH City Centre, if you’re somehow reading this, you were totally right and the BLT was on the spot!), and get ready for the show.

Shortly thereafter, I went downstairs and had the concierge order me a taxi to the Ziggodome, which I just want to mention is one of the best venues I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend a concert in and the sound was perfect on both nights I went, sitting on opposite sides of the hall each night, so if you ever get the chance to see a concert there while you’re in Amsterdam, I feel safe in saying that you will likely not be disappointed.

The hotel lobby was a little busy, and when the taxi driver showed up there was some small confusion as two ladies had also ordered a cab to the venue and we got mixed-up over whose cab was whose, not helped by the fact that at first I thought the cabbie was with the ladies and was introducing himself as “Amir”, when in fact he was letting me know he was my driver and was actually saying, “I’m here.”  In my defense, it was a little chaotic and cacophonous in the lobby just then, and confession time, I don’t really hear all that well to begin with, so it was an honest (and pretty funny) mistake.  Also, coincidentally, his name actually was Amir.  True story. And we laughed and laughed.

Regardless, I ended up inviting the two ladies to share my cab since we were all going to the same place, so why not split the cost and save a couple of euros, right?  They were visiting from Israel and had also come to see the show and to celebrate the blonde gregarious one’s 50th birthday.  Now, I know I said earlier that I took copious notes about this whole night, but try as I might, I just do not remember their names.  Sorry, but I don’t.  I didn’t remember them seven seconds after they said them.  Ronit?  Irit?  I don’t know.  Blame the smoke I’d enjoyed earlier, but their names just did not register with me at all.  Sorry ladies.  Actually, not sorry.  Because remember that ‘splitting the cab’ thing I mentioned earlier?  They conveniently discovered that had no small bills with them, so I ended up paying for the whole damn thing (which I was fine with because I was planning on taking one alone anyhow so it’s not like I hadn’t already been planning on spending that money, but still!), and we agreed to meet up at the taxi-line after the show and they’d pay for the cab back to the hotel in return; we made a pact to ride back together since we were all going to the same place anyhow, so again, it just made sense.  Also, I am apparently a very naïve and too-trusting individual.

Without wasting too much time by giving you a complete review of the concert because I haven’t even gotten to the meaty part of the story yet, it was an incredible show.  It was everything I wanted and more.  A splendid time was guaranteed for all.  For reals – An exciting and well-flowing passionate set-list, and the boys were tight and on point throughout.  While most U2 concerts are raucous celebrations of love and togetherness, the Experience+Innocence narrative had a bit of an angrier feel; more of a call to action against all of the scary monsters trying to snuff out the light of love in our world and how the onus is on all of us to fight back against the looming darkness that surrounds.  It was amazing and inspirational and I left with all of my fears and uncertainties silenced by the power of music.  I really can’t give a better or more honest review than that, and in the name of brevity I won’t even try.

After the concert, hovering about six inches above the pavement from the euphoria I’d received from the band – I should clarify that the Ziggodome is a strictly non-smoking venue and I didn’t want to risk anything while inside the facility – I easily found the taxi-line and set to waiting for my new Israeli friends.  And waiting.  And waiting long enough that my feet were back on the cement and my hands were starting to numb from the cold October air.  Call me a sucker, but I stood there for forty-five minutes before deciding that I’d gone somewhere past being a good guy by waiting for so long for my two new ‘friends’ whom it was now abundantly clear were not coming to join me, and as the line of people waiting for taxis was starting to shrink to a size I considered manageable, I decided to join it and if the ladies finally showed up then I’d have a place for us in the queue, and if they didn’t, well, then I could at least tell myself with a clear conscience that I’d done my due diligence.  I think it goes without saying that they didn’t show up.

While standing in line was when things began to get interesting and the adventure part of the story I was talking about earlier commenced.  I’d been in line for only a few minutes and a couple of people had joined in behind me, but I honestly didn’t pay any mind to them short of smiling when they walked up because I was getting tired and hungry, and frankly was just not interested in talking to people right then.  Soon, a tall, skinny, dark skinned man, who I’m going to guess was an African immigrant based on his accent, approached and asked me if I wanted to save ten-euros by riding with him instead of taking a cab, but being completely unfamiliar with where I was and preferring to take what in my mind was a more trusted and official ride in a registered taxi, I politely declined and he moved down the line to the couple behind me.

At first, I wasn’t really paying attention, having turned to face forward and trying to count how many people were left in front of me before I’d get my ride, but I quickly swung back around to face behind me because things had quite quickly gotten rather loud and heated.  The male part of the couple that the prospective driver had approached was a very loud, very drunk, very belligerent, bald round Irishman who looked to be in his late 30’s and carrying a very bad attitude, whereas his female counterpart, who despite her screaming, “Feck off, and get the feck away from us!” at the top of her lungs towards the affronted black man who was only trying to offer a cheap ride to anyone who wanted one, actually looked to be an otherwise lovely woman with shiny straight chestnut hair and eyes, and an lilt to her accent that couldn’t help but make me smile despite the vulgarities emanating from her mouth.  The Irish guy was also yelling, the driver dude was yelling back at them, and some of his what I assume were his friends based on the colour of their skin and how quickly they jumped to his defense joined in around him in a wall of support, and there I was, something fewer than twenty-four inches away from where it seemed punches would very imminently be thrown.

I wasn’t sure what to do, to be honest, seeing as how I’m a complete and total chicken who has less than zero desire to ever get into a fight, but I was sort of stuck by my place in line with the words ‘innocent bystander’ starting to run frantically through my brain.  Should I have just turned around and ignored the fight that was about to break out literally less than two feet away from me?  That seemed like the smartest and safest thing to do, but just as I was about to show them my back, I noticed that the Irish fella had gotten quiet.  I don’t really know how or why, but I totally read his mind in that minute and I knew with complete certainty what he was thinking about doing, and what he was thinking about doing would have absolutely escalated this shouting match into a storm of violence without a shadow of a doubt, and I just couldn’t have that, especially because I was for sure close enough that I probably would have ended up getting hurt, and while I can’t say for sure that nobody on our fine planet wants that to happen, in that moment I for one knew that I sure didn’t!

Also, having seen a show that delivered the powerful message like the one we’d just attended, I sort of had to get involved and to stand up.  Silence equals death, or something like that, right?  It most certainly wasn’t bravery or anything like that, but rather I just did what I felt was the right thing to do in the situation.

The driver man was right in the Irish guy’s face, the Irish lady was right in the driver dude’s face, and the Irish guy was swaying drunk and wondering if he should say it, if he should say the one single thing that would be sure to take this to the next level.  I’m telling you, I literally saw the word pop into his mind.  I saw it forming on his smirking lips, sliding its nefarious way down his alcohol-swollen tongue towards the stinking blowhole of his small mouth, and I just had to intervene; these two drunken Dubliners definitely needed a babysitter in that moment and I was clearly the only one immediately willing and able to take the job.

Right as the ‘N’ sound started coming out of Irish’s mouth, I pushed between the three and said, “Hey, are you guys from Ireland?  I love Ireland!  Why don’t you two split a cab with me?  Are you going back to the city centre?  I’m going back to the city centre, so why don’t we just all go in a cab together and that way it’ll be even cheaper?”  At least, that’s what I was trying to say, but it probably came out more frantically and garbled than that.  It was a really intense moment!

Everything stopped for a second.  At the very least, I’d been successful in confusing things long enough for the electricity between them to slightly defuse and for the stumblebum Irish dude to remember that he was actually in a public place in a foreign country and to reconsider his words.  Somehow in the same instant the driver guy was gone, having taken the opportunity of my interference to do the smart thing and just walk away with his compatriots.  I, on the otherhand, quite suddenly had two very loud, very boisterous, very drunk, new best friends.  Fantastic.

Now, I have to be completely honest here and let you know that when the Irish guy was talking, I only understood about half of what he was saying despite it being spoken in mostly recognizable English, and I can’t say for sure whether it was because his accent was much thicker than the Irish I’ve become accustomed to hearing on television and in movies, or if it’s because he was so drunk he was literally slurring saliva out the sides of his lips when he spoke, but my guess is had more to do with his inebriation because I had no problem comprehending the lovely lilting utterances of his lady friend, and shortly introductions were made.

Liam and Linda were from Dublin (I had guessed correctly), were not a couple (I had guessed incorrectly), but rather had somehow lost Linda’s husband and their friends in their inebriated exit from the Ziggo.  Despite the really bad first impression that they’d made on me, they were actually quite lovely for the most part after they’d calmed down, so I started to relax into small talk with them.  What else was I supposed to do?  We were stuck in a line, they were drunk and friendly, and I had no one to distract me or help pull me away.  At least they were funny.  Well, Linda was funny, anyhow, and had a really big and friendly permagrin plastered on her face.  Liam, on the other hand, was kind in that dour part of a drunken binge night and had taken to complaining that he felt the show was a little flat, although all around us in the crowd verbally disagreed when he started yelling at the moon about it.

After a few moments of chit-chat as we moved up the queue and they got excited that I was from Toronto and I got excited that they were from Ireland and we talked about how many U2 concerts we’d seen in how many cities over how many years, etc., we finally made our way to the front and were greeted by a huge minivan for a taxi, so Linda took it upon herself to invite the four people behind us in line – a stunningly gorgeous brunette woman and her three male friends – to join in if they were going to the city centre.

We all piled together into the back of the minivan with the seats set facing each other three to a side, with the last third of the stunning lady’s male companions getting into the front next to the driver.  I hadn’t really noticed our additional riders until we got into the cab as friendly Linda had started talking to them at first while we were still in line and I was trying to understand why Liam didn’t like the show (and not doing a very good job of it), so the next thing I knew was that I was following Liam’s butt into the back of the vehicle and strategically chose to sit across from him with my seat facing towards the rear with the hope that Linda would sit next to him and I could get out of this very one-sided conversation that consisted entirely of his ranting complaints and me repeating, “What?” and “Pardon?” over and over again, or else just smiling and nodding in hopes he’d move on to a new topic, which he was obviously not in the mood to do.  Linda did end up sitting next to him, with the olive-skinned goddess settling in next to her (not that Linda wasn’t very pretty in her own right, if she ever reads this or if you as a reader feel you needed to know that she had a bit of a doll-face, but this new addition to our mix was one of those otherworldly looking women who you would think only exist on photo-shopped magazine covers or George Michael videos, and not sitting diagonally across from you in a taxi after a U2 show in Amsterdam), and the other two dudes filling out the rest of the bench I’d chosen.

Linda, having taken on the role of hostess, decided to start introductions all around, first for herself and Liam, and then speaking on my behalf to introduce me as well, maybe somehow psychologically cementing me as part of their group, I don’t know.  I didn’t really pay it much mind, though.  At this point, it seemed that Linda clearly meant well and the atmosphere was shifting into a jovial tone.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last super long.  Like, not even a full minute, probably.  The female half of my new Irish gang had clearly deduced something that I had completely missed thanks to my Liam-shaped distraction.  She turned face-on to the beautiful woman beside her and politely but forcibly queried in a still somehow impressively friendly manner: “Who are you and why do you have three bodyguards?”  Even as surprising as the words were as they came out of Linda’s mouth, I still took a moment to delight in her accent as she said them.

The cab grew silent as the energy quickly shifted to a quiet momentary tension and I felt the guy in the blue button-down shirt next to me physically turn his body into a lethal weapon, poised to strike in that very second should circumstances call for it, so abruptly did his posture and stance shift in the space to my left.  Later on, I would reflect that it was almost thrilling how quickly the tension arose and dissipated, but after those few awkward seconds, Helen of Troy’s Even Prettier Sister deigned to provide us with a response and the atmosphere immediately went right back to where it was only an incredibly brief moment before.

Now, I want to make something clear at this juncture.  The woman in question is an actor, and a pretty successful one at that, but not like some A-List household name.  She’s been in things and you kind of know her when you see her; she’s one of those familiar faces who plays the friend of a friend or the third cousin most of the time, and the larger films that she has had more of a leading role in are not ones I’ve personally seen.  I also, to my grand embarrassment, have to admit that I did not catch her name when she said it.  Blame the noise in the van, blame my hardness of hearing, blame the fact that I’m sadly plain old bad with names, but I simply did not hear it, and sort of just nodded along when she said it.  I did look her up when I got home, but for the sake of the story and to keep things true to my confusion at the time, let’s just call her Grace and get on with it.  I apologize if this is a disappointing turn, but it really just feels like the right thing to do.

With a healthy middle-eastern accent, she introduced herself as, “Grace who lives in Israel,” (and before you ask, the answer is “No”.  I know Gal Gadot is easily far and away the most famous actor with Israeli roots, but I assure you that it was not her.  Believe me, I would tell you if it was Gal Gadot.  I would tell everyone on Earth if I’d shared a cab with Gal Gadot. This woman is successful and famous, but nowhere near on a Gal Gadot level), and confirmed that the three dudes with her were indeed bodyguards, and offhandedly said we could just refer to them as her “Haifa boys.”

And that’s where things went wrong.  Ugh.  I don’t even want to write about this part because it just all got so incredibly awkward, but it’s pretty much one of the most important parts of this story so here goes.

A couple of things happened all at once, but with the limitations of writing it down and not having the gift of real time to reflect how it actually happened, the following is as close as we’re going to get.

Liam was suddenly sitting up straight, sober, and interested.

I said, “Israel!  I love Israel!  I’ve been there three times!”

Linda, getting right close to Grace’s face, said, “Oh, you mean Palestine.”  Just like that.  Not a question.  Not an exclamation.  Just a statement.

And all I thought was, “Oh, fuck.”

Grace turned to face Linda so that her perfectly angular nose was mere millimetres away from the snub end of Linda’s smoothly curved one, and repeated firmly but gracefully in the tone of voice only known to those truly gifted few whom are comfortably able to take command of a room on a note, “No.  I meant Israel.”

Awkward!  Everything got suddenly silent all over again, Mr. Haifa Boy next to me got all sorts of flexed-up and ready again, Liam was totally engaged with his body leaning heavily into the fray now, and I was incredibly frightened about what might happen next in our little enclosed space that was barreling down the highway at about 100 km/h.  Luckily, however, sometimes in moments of great need or dire peril, my mouth moves faster than my brain and will occasionally get me out of rotten and horrible scary situations, and this was thankfully one of those times.  I repeated what I said about having been to Israel and asked Grace what part of the Holy Land she was from, and started rambling about my cousins who live in Petah Tikva and Eilat and all types of random nonsense like that, and we all sort of started to settle down for a second, but then Liam cut in and the atmosphere grew completely disruptive again.

Directed to the Haifa Boy in blue on my left, Liam, with the biggest shit-eating grin you can imagine, asked, “So, if ye’re her bodyguards, does tha’ mean ye’re all Mossad?”  And then, to me, in an unbelievably failed attempted aside that was spoken in an extremely loud voice that he clearly thought no one else could hear, said, “They hate when yeh ask them that.  It’s their secret service, the Mossad.  They’re not allowed to talk about it.”  At least he’d sobered up enough for the moment that I could finally understand what he was saying, although it wasn’t actually anything at all what I wanted to be hearing or that I thought was necessarily even true.

To their professional credit, none of the Haifa Boys answered, and just sat silent and ready for things to go south.

I tried again, my brain finally having caught back up to my body.  Change the subject, Jamie.  Move it away from the tetchy topic of the Middle East.

“So, as an actor, we have a pretty big film industry in Toronto.  Have you ever been to Toronto?”

Clearly catching on and taking my rope, Grace replied that she’d been to Toronto many times, of course, for TIFF (the world renowned film festival), obviously, as well as a few other occasions, and that she had family there as well.  The two of us started talking about some of the sights around my city that she enjoyed, and I was hoping that would be an end to the awfulness, but Liam wasn’t done yet.

“So, then… Are all of yuh Jewish?”

Fuckin’ Liam, man.  Seriously?  Even Linda had clued in and piped down.  But, Liam?  Nope!  I guess he wanted to see where he could take this while he had a captive audience in a moving vehicle.  A really lovely situation for me, let me tell you.  Fuckin’ Liam.

Grace and all three Haifa Boys raised their hands, as did I, and I even said, sounding to my own ears like a four-year old child whose parents are giving everyone else dessert, “Me too!  Me too!”  I’ve never felt like such a dork until I heard my own voice in that moment, but I felt it should be made clear exactly where I fit into this very strange situation.  Not that it mattered in the slightest because both Liam and Linda had both clearly missed my big reveal, which will come back around to this little story shortly.

“So, ye’re all Jews, and if ye’re bodyguards, then I suppose ye’re all Mossad trained, is that right?” Liam continued to instigate.

“I was in the army, as well,” Grace said, cutting in, “And have awards for hand-to-hand combat.”  It didn’t sound like a brag to me, but rather just a plain matter of fact.

“That’s actually kind of hot,” Linda said.  In my head I agreed, but decided not to say so aloud because things were already awkward enough as it was.  Instead, I once again tried to change the subject by noting how cool it was that this entire taxi full of people had all travelled from three different countries solely to come see U2, and something about the unifying power of music, but my attempt fell into a flat silence as everyone else in the van had somehow telepathically all decided that maybe we’d be better off not talking to each other for the rest of the ride, but I somehow missed that message.  I suppose picking up on social cues while surrounded by what was starting to feel a little bit like blatant anti-Semitism isn’t one of my stronger skills.

Luckily, we had just arrived at the Central Bus Depot and the next thing I knew we were all piling out of the minivan.  Grace offered and was already moving to cover the ride for all of us, but Linda was having none of it, going off an enthusiastic rant about how Ireland and Canada can cover themselves, thank you very much.  I considered protesting because, hey, free ride!  However, I didn’t take the chance because lovely-voiced Linda could clearly be ludicrously loud when she so chose.  Whatever – What’s ten or fifteen euros between people with whom I didn’t really want to be friends?

With that, the Israeli vision of beauty and her gaggle of Haifa Boys walked off in their own direction, and I was left alone with a stumbling Liam and a somewhat petulant Linda in a place that had turned out to not at all be the place I’d been trying to go when we left the concert.  I’d said, “NH City Centre,” when we were first trying to organize our ride, but of course, they were drunk and took it to mean ‘the city centre’, where the bus depot and a whole load of hotels were.  Nuts.  My fault – I should have been paying more attention, but I guess that I just assumed ‘City Centre’ and ‘city centre’ were the same thing when we were talking about them.  That said, the fact that I was in the wrong place wasn’t even my most immediate problem.  It was that I was in the wrong place with clearly the wrong people.

The Israelis weren’t even out of earshot before Liam started in again, and this time a lot less politely than he was to their faces while we were all in the taxi.  I kind of stood there listening to him rant for maybe twenty seconds while Linda was trying to get her bearings and not paying attention to what was going on between Liam and myself, when I decided that I really needed to say something.

“Maybe you didn’t notice it when you asked in the taxi, brother-man, but I’m Jewish, and you’re being pretty wildly offensive right now, dude.”  There.  That came out in a confident, but non-confrontational way, right?  Disapproving, but because I said ‘dude’ and ‘brother-man’, it should still come across as friendly.  That was the hope, anyhow, and it seemed to take.

“Oh, don’t listen to Liam, anyhow,” Linda rejoined the conversation.  “He’s just a stumblebum drunk, is all.  He doesn’t even know what he’s saying, and he’s not going to know about it for sure in the morning.  Pay no mind at all; he’s harmless.  Now, where’s our hotel?  I’ve got to wee like never before!”

With that, Liam took out his iPhone and started screaming at Siri to tell him how to get back to their hotel.  I wish I was joking, but I’m not.  He was seriously yelling at his phone at the top of his lungs as we made our way over a short bridge towards a sidewalk that led out of the bus terminal grounds and back onto the streets, and yes, tons of people were totally looking at us like we were a gang of drunken buffoons, which I suppose the majority of our little group were, come to think of it.  I was really just trying to get to the roadway so that I could figure out where I was, knowing my hotel couldn’t be more than a ten minute walk away once I got oriented and knew which way to head.  Linda, however, had other ideas, and had decided that I was going to come back to their hotel with them and grab some food and a drink with their friends and her husband.  I was pretty hungry, so I actually considered it for a minute, but then quickly decided that I’d actually be better off finding a way to leave at my earliest opportunity as these two had provided more than too many surprises already, and I was not even slightly interested to see what happened when their group of drunken friends were added to the mix.  Things had already been weird enough for one night.  Of course, the weirdest was yet to come.

Linda and I were walking and talking, Liam howling like a banshee and swearing vividly at Siri a few paces behind us.  We were talking about work and what we did back in our respective hometowns, and at that point I made sure to mention my wife because I was starting to think that her vibe was getting a little lurid, and although we were going to meet her husband and friends, I just wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t into anything amorous or adventurous if that was what she was angling toward.  I know that sexual openness and permissiveness is one of the things for which Amsterdam is more famously known, but sorry, it’s just not my thing.  I’m cool with the drugs and the rock n’ roll, but the wanton sex part of the saying has never really been my thing.  No judgement, but my spectrum simply prefers intimate love and monogamy.  Maybe it was presumptuous of me to even think she was considering anything like that, but stranger things have happened and I just wanted to make sure that I got out in front of the situation.

Linda asked how long I’d been married and I said that we were going on to our tenth anniversary, together for fifteen, and that stopped her in her tracks.  “Shut the feck up!  You’re lying!” She said.

Confused, I asked her why she thought so, and she caught me completely off guard and left me laughing so hard that I nearly lost my last breath right there on the sidewalk when she told me that she and Liam had thought I was some lone-travelling twenty-two year old kid that they were trying to protect and make sure got home safely, which was obviously hilarious because I’m forty-five and from my perspective had been doing my best to babysit them and keep them out of trouble from the moment that we’d met.  She yelled back to tell Liam, who at this point looked like he was about to smash his phone down onto the sidewalk and start jumping up and down on it until the poor plastic thing was pulverized into dust; I guess Siri was having as much trouble with his accent as I was, which was in a way kind of a relief.

“Wait a fahkin’ minute, whaddaya mean ye’re fahkin’ farty-fahv?  Ah’m tharty-fahkin’-hate and thahr’s noowai ye’re alder than me!”  In his technology-raging state, his accent had somehow gotten worse and slurred again.

“Yup,” I replied, grinning ear to ear because, I have to admit, even with as heavily drunk as my Irish companions were, and that they were so obviously not seeing clearly because of that, being confused for someone in his twenties, much less his early twenties, was super flattering.  I’ve never really thought much about looking my age, and it doesn’t bother me that I’m getting older because to me it’s all just part of the story and there’s nothing I can do about it anyhow, but still, it was nice to hear.  That said, I know for a fact that I don’t look anywhere close to being in my twenties, and I pretty much look my age for someone who keeps in generally decent health.  “I’ve been forty-five for just about three weeks, actually.  But, I know – I don’t look a day over forty-four.  My heavy diet of loads of caffeine and far too much sugar keeps me young.”

Liam paused, and stood in front of me just staring.  Linda was to my right, looking on in interest.

Now quieter, he said, “So, ye’re farty-fahv, murried, and a Jew?”

“Well, yeah.  But my wife is Christian, if that makes any difference.”  I wasn’t sure why I had felt the need to add that.  A search for solidarity, perhaps?  Just trying to let them know that I was open to everyone?  I don’t know, but I started to go on about how I’m not religious at all anyhow, and couldn’t even remember the last time I stepped into a synagogue.  Now rambling, I began to go into my thoughts on apatheism vs. agnosticism and how I figured that I fall somewhere in between the two in my own personal belief system, but he wasn’t paying attention at all, and Linda was still just smiling along beside us, clearly interested in seeing what was going to happen next, which, as it ended up, wasn’t something that even she, having been friends with Liam for years, was expecting.

Liam muttered something again about the Mossad and about how us Jews really hated when people brought them up, which as an aside here is something I’ve never once heard in my life and I’m pretty sure that the existence of the Mossad is very much common-knowledge world-wide and they’ve probably even been a Jeopardy clue on numerous occasions, and then he looked right into my face with a gleam in his eye and asked once again, “So, ye’re a Jewish guy then?”

“All my life, my man.”

“So, that means ye’re cut, then?”

Call me stupid, call me slow, but I didn’t immediately clue in to his meaning.

“What?” I asked.

“Ye’re cut.  Ye’re peen.  They cut yer peter when yuh were a babby, didn’t they?”

“Wh-what?” I asked again, not because I didn’t understand what he was asking this time, but because I couldn’t believe he was actually asking it.

“Liam!” Linda admonished him in a tone of bewildered shock.  “Settle it down!”

“Ye’re circumcised!” Liam proclaimed with the same look of joy covering his round cherubic face that you’d see on a six-year old kid who’d just accomplished tying their own shoes for the first time, like he’s just cracked the Gordian Knot or something equally amazing.  He figured out all on his own that a Jew had been circumcised.  Eureka!

“Again, all my life, my man.  Or, all of it less about a week, according to tradition,” I said jokingly, failing horribly at shoving down the extreme awkwardness I was feeling in what was turning into a truly surreal confrontation.

The gleam in Liam’s eye got brighter, and although I’d at this point learned to expect pretty much anything from this sad-eyed, bald, round, drunkard, I was completely caught off-guard by the three words that next came out of his mouth:

“Whip it out.”

“What?  No!  Hell, no!”

“Liam!  Jesus!  Stop!”

“Ah mean it!  Whip it out!  Ah’ve never seen a cut one before!  Whip it out!”

I took a big step back at this point, and yelled: “What are you?  Bent?”  Don’t bother trying to figure out what I meant by that; I don’t know either.

“Liam!  Inappropriate!”  Did I mention that Linda said she was a teacher when we were discussing our careers?

But Liam persisted.  “Fer real, Ah’ve never seen a cut ‘un.  Just for a second!  Please?  Come on, whip it out.”

“You’ve never seen one?” I asked with dripping sarcasm heaping off of every word.  “You’ve been yelling at Siri for the last ten minutes so clearly you know what the internet is.  Google it!  Seriously!  You’ll easily get about a zillion hits!  ‘Whip it out’.  Like, what the fuck, dude?”

“Yeah, Liam!” Linda, thankfully was completely on my side, “What the feck?  That’s all a bit much even for you!”

Finally abashed, Liam started stumbling a bit ahead of us as while Linda apologized profusely for his behaviour, saying that she knew he was drunk and kind of a cunt sometimes (her word, not mine), but that this was beyond, even for him.

I let her ramble consoling words at me and in two minutes we were finally in front of their hotel.  Very suddenly, Linda stuck up her index finger and instructed Liam and I to “wait right here” on the sidewalk outside because she had to pee more than a river’s-worth and really shouldn’t have had that seventh beer before they left the concert, assuring us that she’d be right back and we could met the rest of their Irish contingent in the restaurant momentarily upon her return, and with that she bolted inside like a racehorse from a gunshot to relieve her bladder before she ruined her black jeans or stained her red sweater, and that was the last I ever saw of Linda.

Liam was left swaying on the sidewalk, and starting to stumble-mumble some senseless sounds, but his inebriated state had taken a strong hold again and while he was struggling to form his next sentence, I grabbed his hand and shook it, said, “See ya, Liam!” and speed-walked away to a taxi-cab that was sitting on the corner.

“To the NH City Centre, please, my fine sir,” I directed.  The driver was kind of pissed when I told him I wanted a ride that would have literally been a five minute walk down the street from where we were, but I gave him twenty euros and told him it was peace-of-mind money for helping me to escape an incredibly awkward predicament with some pretty peculiar people.

I have to admit, I do feel sort of bad for just leaving without saying goodbye to Linda, because despite our differing thoughts on Middle East politics, she was actually pretty nice.  I’m sure that Liam is probably a pretty nice guy in real life, too, but drunk Liam was simply not someone I was willing to handle for one minute more than I had to, and therefore when the opportunity to run arose, I took it.

Finally arriving safely back at my hotel, I went to my bench for a late-night smoke and to call my wife, and I relayed the entire story on speaker-phone to all of our family gathered around the Thanksgiving table at her mom’s house.  Out of the bunch of us, I’d definitely had the more eventful evening.

The next morning, as I was heading out of my hotel lobby to grab yet another caramel latte and go check out the bookstore so that I could buy a friend a gift that I’d noticed a couple of days earlier and that I knew (hoped) he was going to really appreciate, I ran into the two Israeli ladies who’d stood me up at the taxi line, thereby causing me to get into the previous night’s trouble in the first place.  They were headed to the airport on their way home and were profusely, if not completely obviously fakely, super apologetic.  I politely let them know it was okay, and that I actually ended up sharing a ride with Grace, who is an unbelievably huge celebrity in their country, so though I don’t like to admit it because I try to be a better person that this, but I was more than a little joyed at their chagrin from missing out on meeting such a huge star.  I don’t think I’m all that petty normally, but I really don’t like being stood up.  Especially when it’s a cold and gloveless autumn night in a foreign country and I’m surrounded by racist anti-Semitic drunk people.

After the next night’s show, I got into the taxi line by myself, ignored everyone around me, and took a very nice and comfortable ride back to my hotel alone.  It was a much more pleasant experience all around, but sadly doesn’t make for as good a story.  Oh!  But, I did find ten euros on the ground when I got out of that cab, so at least I’ve got that going for me.