The Way We Are
The Way We Are
I walked over to the café on a sunny and boring Thursday afternoon in Amsterdam. I found him sitting at the bar, next to a young blond woman and an older man. Their heads were inclined toward each others’ at an angle that indicated drunkenness.
“Let’s go to a movie.” They all looked up. “Come on,” I said to him, “I’m going nuts in this town. I’ll pay.”
“What do you want to see?” he asked.
“The Way We Were, Streisand and Redford. I want to cry.”
“Shit,” he said and slid off the barstool, leaving the woman and man. He didn’t say goodbye. They watched us go.
We jumped into a taxi at the Rembrandtplein and sped to the cinema as if leaving the scene of a crime. There was some relief just being in a taxi. We arrived at the movie two minutes before showtime. “You see,” I muttered to him, “we were meant to be here.”
Four o’clock in the afternoon and there were only twenty people in the theater—tourists or depressives at this time of day. We took seats in the center of the hall. There was no one in front of us. I slipped my feet out of my shoes, and he went to take a piss. He’d had eight beers by the time I’d commandeered him out of the café. He returned with chocolates.
It was a lowdown, dirty day. I was leading the life of a bat, a fascinated bat, in a dark hole, eating candy and gobbling images. I plugged my naked feet in between the empty seats as tears rolled down my cheeks. I’ve learned to cry silently during movies. The usher, who was probably bored, too, wanting to be outside, not here with us on a sunny day, asked me to remove my feet from the seat in front. I did as I was told, my eyes on the screen, but my friend immediately threw his legs over the seat in front of him. He looked with menace at the usher. The usher took note and left.
Redford’s telling Streisand why she’s not right for him just as the usher returns. My friend says he won’t take his feet down. The usher stands there. My friend pretends he is absorbed in what’s on the screen. A minute or two passes. They’re in a standoff. I’m trying to watch the movie. Streisand and Redford are fighting. Then fists start flying. Streisand is crying. With one eye on the screen, I try to break up the fight between the two incensed men. My friend turns and yells at me, “Why are you on his side?” “I’m not, I’m not,” I protest. His glasses fly off so I drop to the floor, crying, to search for them.
They’re swinging at each other and I’m on the floor wondering what’s happening to Streisand and Redford. The usher pulls away from my friend, who had him in a bear hug. The usher shouts “Politie” and starts up the aisle; my friend storms up the aisle after him. I try to concentrate on the movie. Someone else finds my friend’s glasses—no one is really able to watch the movie—and when he returns he puts them on and says, “I’m demanding our money back.”
We walk to the lobby where he threatens the ticket taker, an overweight elderly woman. He looms over her, all hair and eyes. “Let’s go,” I say sensibly, “the cops will be here any minute.”
Back on the street, on the outside, he throws his arm around me and curses. He murmurs that the world is too hard for us. We walk a block or two and begin to cross a busy street when he pushes me forward, toward an oncoming car, insisting it should stop. The car swerves. We are on the white line, rush-hour traffic running both ways.
“They should stop,” my friend says. He seizes my hand. This time we both jump into the path of an oncoming car. He kicks it because it doesn’t stop. He is wearing sandals. He kicks it a second time; the third time he dents it. The car stops and the driver bounces out. He asks, in Dutch, “What the hell is going on?” My friend responds, in English, “We had the right of way.” My friend blames the driver, who is both furious and incredulous. Then we walk away.
We are trailed by the car driver, a taxi driver who had witnessed every- thing, and a man on a bicycle, another eyewitness. We arrive at a bridge, leading these three like pied pipers. My friend urges me, a foreigner, to flee, to run away. “Go,” he says, “before the cops get here.”
I march to the corner and stand behind a telephone pole. I watch my friend, the car driver, the taxi driver, the bicyclist, and the cops who arrive in no time. They all talk for a while. Then my friend is escorted into the cop car where he disappears in the backseat.
The cop car drives away, followed by the three indignant Dutch men. I telephone someone and explain that my friend has been taken away. Someone reassures me that he will be released immediately because this is Amsterdam.
I walk home. I avoid the movie house. My friend is not charged. His behavior, he tells me, is considered ludieke, too strange, really, to be a crime.