I reached out to a mentor the next day and asked what to do, a man I deeply respect, he replied about starting work at a world-famous shop and being outclassed. “all you can do is suck it up and sit down and make the best tattoos you can” and there it was. So that’s what I did, by the time the owner got back 2 weeks later, I was doing passable tattoos and he and I immediately hit it off, as a friend, as a mentor and as a boss. I was relieved but knew that It wouldn’t take the pressure off. After the second day working with him he asked how long I could stay. I played coy a little, half playing the you want me here card and the other half terrified I would have to keep upping the ante. By the end of the next day we had a handshake deal for me to remain for the full length of my visa.
I worked those first 21 days straight until my first day off when I celebrated with a haircut and a much needed massage that Violet had gifted me. The day beyond, my parents landed in Amsterdam. I had a few days alone with my sweet mother until my father joined from Norway a few days later. the highlite with my mother was going to the movies at the most beautiful art deco theatre i had ever seen, called the Tuschinski, it was nothing short of a marvelous site and we watched a film about Oscar Wilde.
it was one of those special moments in time with my parents that so few ever get to enjoy or experience. We hit all the sites and museums. My mother and I have always had a connection with our love of Van Gogh and the museum was fabulous. a few times brought me to an emotional state where I found myself connecting with him more than before.
I was especially floored by the Anne Frank museum, I found so many similarities in the political climate we are in. a depression of the economy lead to finger pointing and the rise of conservative control, which turned into the greatest tragedy our species has faced. I kept fighting tears that no one else was making the connections I was in the days and weeks that followed.
I invited Violet to join for the weekend so she could meet them and we could all celebrate their wedding anniversary. That first night, I ordered us dinner and with a little wine, my Islam raised girlfriend, Catholic mother and my wild man of a father all hit the red-light district for a couple hours, peering through windows and watching the faces of my mom and ole lady react to the sights to my complete amusement.
That weekend was filled with happy moments, some that I’ll never forget. Sleeping on the floor with violet, with a new connection now that she had met my parents and letting her see further into who I really was and where I come from. My father was slowing down a bit and after his fishing in Norway was fighting pain walking around so much, which hurt me to see, another reminder of what I was missing back home. On our last night I treated us all to wine and Dutch cheese on a really fancy private canal tour at sunset to celebrate my parent’s anniversary. I wrote them a letter thanking them for the sacrifices they had made, recognizing the effort it took for their parents to rise to the middle class and my parents to rise further to the upper middle class, ensuring them that I would not let that hard work and dedication be in vain, it was the most honest and emotional letter I’ve written, filled with all the things that might have been left unsaid. I praised the achievement of the decades they had been together and how much I loved and admired who they were and where I came from. It truly touched them I believe, and I was satisfied with the writing, something rare for me, especially without my father to edit the words I often carelessly toss at the screen.
My parents left a day before Violet and she and I had a day and a half to be alone. Once she left and the loneliness set back in, I went straight back to work, 6 days a week each day trying to better myself.
I avoided the party life that was a big part of the lives of the other tattooers in the shop. Each night, on the bike I had borrowed from the owner I would cruise home, grab a salad and stay up late doing new creative projects into the early hours of the morning. At work I was busy stacking up Euros in hopes I might have enough in the coffers to get the rent paid for the remaining months I would stay. I set a goal early on that since I had crossed 2 of the 7 seas I might as well try and rack up the remaining 5. So, I budgeted carefully, planned meticulously and kept my head down, each tattoo looking better than the last. By the 6thweek I was tattooing at about 80% what I was capable of and feeling much better about it all. the crew at the shop each were people that I considered friends and colleagues, people I would hang out with outside the shop, something I have found is very rare when you’re pinned in a small room with other men and their egos. But at that shop we would head out to the movies after work as a whole, each of us happy to hang out more and it made me feel loved and included in something I hadn’t been before. This shop, which I held in such high regard had welcomed me and we all worked towards a common goal of doing better tattoos, better design and pushing the work of each person including the owner. It was nothing short of a miracle to be there, to be wanted.
Each week, on my day off I would continue with my tap lessons, with a new teacher in a private home studio where I worked on the shim-sham. I busted my ass each week and would practice in my socks at home while working most nights. I was doing Ritalin and valium lightly and would slither over into the Dragons den and dance with the opioids here and there. The boys got me out drinking only a couple times. Usually when some famous tattooer would be visiting and it was considered disrespectful not to. I would get a little loose and then sneak off once everyone was drunk enough to not notice.
When the shop was slow I would head down to the antique district and find all kinds of treasures, I bought some ancient Roman and Greek coins dating as far back as 2400 years old and a sterling silver calligraphy pen, some ivory dominos and other weird knick knacks to satisfy my want to actually enjoy my money. We indulged in a few shows here and there at the famous music venues in the city, and sometimes would take bike rides just me and the owner to bullshit while I would trade my cash for bitcoin at the bitcoin ATM machine not far from the shop.
My nights were drug fueled and I had huge projects happening on many different fronts, all to be launched within the year, I would force myself to sleep before 04:30 or 5 and wake around 10 so that I could do yoga and get ready for the work day. I was only eating once a day and was looking thin and healthy. The summer was particularly hot for Amsterdam and at times uncomfortable but as the summer gave way to rain. Before the cold set in, I flew Violet over for a week to be together again, I missed her so, and though I still worked each day, I would come home to a home cooked meal and the affection and care I had grown accustomed to. Amsterdam was quickly becoming a little magical getaway for the two of us, and my feelings for her continued to grow as the length of our relationship grew nearer to the longest in my history. I would be sad when she would leave but happy to get back to the ever growing and ever ambitious list of things to accomplish.
I had poured hundreds of hours into proposals and pitches for a project I wanted to desperately to get off the ground, making anyone included sign NDA’s and keeping it very close to the chest. This while doing new and exciting design work that was outside the realm of art I had ever done before. I tattooed and concentrated only on tattoos during the day, and at night was creating things never created before, writing hundreds of pages of ways I could make many people obscenely rich, including myself.
Before long I had my rent paid in full and I had enough to pay to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the 3rdof my 7. The trip would take me through the Suez Canal and Red Sea, through the Arabian Sea and to Dubai. With all this madness and lack of sleep I did my first isolation tank float and didn’t find the clarity or escape that I thought I would, but my body did rebound from all the abuse I had put it through up until that point. I was over half way in my commitment to stay and things were going so well I couldn’t really believe it. Amsterdam was gorgeous, the people kind (unless you cut them off on the bicycle) and so mellow and understanding that I couldn’t really help but wish it wouldn’t end. But as always adventure lay before me and I still had so much to do, so much to see before I could claim my victory.