[Part 1 of a fictional blog serial, told in 7 installments. Only some of it really happened, but all of it is true.]
This is how it starts: an e-mail containing queries about romantic comedy craft. A brief correspondence sets up a phone date for Michelle to call from Amsterdam. Her voice, a little husky, the Dutch accent, the smart questions she asks… we talk for over two hours. More e-mails follow. Nothing overtly flirtatious, but we’re enjoying each other’s writing, and when she mentions walking her dog in the gardens of the Hague, I write back that I’d rather be there doing that with her, than having a cranky day in L.A.
Well, if you were here, she replies, we could walk through the Jordaan, we could go to the flower market, the Albert Cuyp… I’ve been needing a vacation, wanting to get out of town, and the idle fantasy is tossed up between us, a ball casually lobbed back and forth across the net of the Atlantic. I want to see this cup of Albert’s, I want to pet the dog and stride beside blonde Michelle through a rainbow of tulips. Katya and Fergus are moving to Locarno, my ex-wife is in Rome, the idea of a European tour develops. Why not visit the Netherlands?
Of course Michelle and I will know within the first two seconds of in person-ness if there’s anything… there, but if it’s a no-there there situation, with legal weed and a famed red light district, how can a lad go wrong? This is what I tell myself, as the timings go awry, Katya and Fergus moving a bit later, the ex-wife coming here and all I’m left with is Michelle in Amsterdam. But no, I tell myself, the adventure is Amsterdam, period, let’s not overload the expectations.
I’m sheepish when I tell it to friends, the craziness of it, a week in the land of windmills and space cakes. Without exception, everyone’s on board, I get nothing but grins and cocked thumbs, no one thinks it’s as nuts as I secretly do, the I who’s used to sitting safely behind a desk at home, I who’s been burned by serial bad blind dates in the wake of a crashed-and-burnt marriage. Out to dinner with Bob and Simone in Austin, they break into song, a duet whenever I speak the name, singing “Mee-shell, mah belle…” in falsetto, necks craned, eyes widening as they try to hit the high notes.
Michelle will meet me at the airport. Not really believing I’m doing what I’m doing even as I board the plane, I fly the thirteen hours plus, reading a book by Ishiguro, a kind of prolonged dream about a man who comes to a foreign city to play a concert which, as he's constantly waylaid, never materializes. And I’m well aware I could just as well be in a dream of my own, as I imagine her waiting for me outside customs, radiant and ready to be smitten... when she could be only a companionable writer, ready to be a game tour guide for awhile and then be gone.
This is the kind of schizophrenia, the dual points of view, I’ve been entertaining from the get. And that familiar tension between hopes & dreams and time & space has got me smiling, wobbly as I am, emerging into Europe’s nine a.m. while it’s midnight for me, already giddy as I wheel my one bag out into… well, nothing in particular, since there’s no one looking remotely Michelle-like in sight. I’ve come in a little early and she is late—just like me, in actuality, and as I’ll soon learn, just like her.
Though the momentum of my trajectory is arrested, I’m okay with that, a pause to gather wits, slap cheeks. But I realize now that in addition to my bag, I’ve brought a companion, who sniffs at the air like an eager dog, gazes rapturously at the bright sunlight beckoning from beyond the terminal doors. Like it or not, it’s really the two of us that have come to Amsterdam: there's me, and My Romance. I’m a little buzzed but yawning, while My Romance is on pins and needles, primed for surprise and passion. I’m merely hoping Michelle shows up, after all. But My Romance is praying she’s not too tall for me, that she might fit, you know, just right…
[to be continued]