things that passed by on my erratic meandering through life
The Jolly Invalid
This was on a fine day, blue sky and white clouds plus a gentle breeze wafting in from the sea, in den Haag, Holland. I was riding in tram no. 9 by the Gevangenpoort, where an angry mob once lynched the de Witt brothers. No doubt incited and abetted by supporters of the House of Orange; I mean, one of the guys, statesmen, was in jail! Right across the Vijverberg pond there are the Dutch Parliament buildings. Now, there's a monument for at least one de Witt, hope he enjoys it. Anyway, there was this guy enjoying his walk by the same pond. He had only one arm and was in such a good mood that he merrily swung the empty sleeve around in circles, no doubt humming a joyous tune.
Pump or Drown
In the same City of the Hague, I was co-owner of a house at the Oranjeplein, for which we had to pay poldergeld; a sort of tax that, I guess, is rather unique to the Lower Countries Beneath the Sea. You pay it for having the water pumped out of the region you live in. Once every year or so, there was so much rain that this did not work out and the water come up through the floorboards. Mopping up didn't help much—not so you'd notice. The fire brigade were game enough and came by when you called them to start pumping, but that was of very little use. Nothing to do but wait until the gemaal had caught up with all that water. At one of these occasions, a neighbor of ours (the one with the habit of leaning out of her souterrain window, using her décolleté to entice customers in) had the bad luck to get electrocuted and had to be taken to hospital. She survived. If you think this resulted in a discount on the poldergeld, when will you wise up, kid?
Something along those lines happened when we were staying at Ira's parents' place in East Meadow, N.Y. The first sign of trouble came when we were riding home in his mother's gas guzzler during a fantastic thunderstorm. Driving rain doesn't come anywhere near describing it.
At a crossing, the car just started floating and the wheels lost contact with the ground, while the water started coming up through the floorboards. The only thing left to do was to Get out and push. The car wouldn't start anymore, big surprise. On our arrival home, the cellar was flooded as well, and we started moping and mopping. It was not of such a big help; Ira had this industrial vacuum cleaner, a water-sucking sucker, but no way it could keep up with that volume. The only thing we could do was to put stuff up high enough so it wouldn't drown.
Anyway, what I wanted to tell: I'm sure you have seen this in movies, where in a submarine or some kind of ship something gives way and this stream, this deluge of water comes pouring in. One of those windows up in the wall, on outdoors ground level, gave way and exactly that happened. I'd never thought I'd ever see this live. Very impressive, I can assure you.
If you ever wondered why you get to see so much shooting on TV-news, the following was told me by a Dutch TV-cameraman who'd just come back from Israel. He was sick to his stomach. First, you have to know that you get paid twice the normal rate for action footage; which means guns going off, people getting crippled for life, deads falling — you know the score. Not especially for this reason, the guy was with a crew shooting on the West Bank and asked the Israelis to fire a mortar or something, so they could film it. Sure... no problem, man, and so they did. Then they said We'd better get inside now, because it's usual they start shooting back for a while. But they didn't. Next day, it turned out this randomly fired grenade had scored a lucky hit, killing and maiming so many Palestines.
In the early 1970s, when recording sound with cameraman Mat van Hensbergen, we found ourselves in a situation where we had to cover a riot. There were lots of other paperazzi around, but they all had this big card on their chest PRESS. So we just took up a position behind one of them. It was really, absolutely, amazing. This was on the Damrak in Amsterdam, with a line of press persons across the road, leaving spaces in between for the performers to pass. First came a wave of rioters, fleeing in panic with the police in hot pursuit. Not a wild panic, as they passed via those spaces, not harming even one curly c-hair. Followed the police: a wave of horses, lusty baton-wielding cops on foot, Volkswagens. That stream, too, just split up and left anybody wearing the Magic Sign unharmed.
What can you conclude once again but That's Entertainment? It all came back to me when I read in some press story on the Hizballa-Israel fights of July 2006: At one point, a cameraman and I drove near an Israeli tank blasting away from the summit of a hill, and a tank commander told me to keep out of sight. He said Hezbollah gunmen wouldn't intentionally shoot at someone like me with a flak jacket marked 'press,' but their aim wasn't always accurate. Wholesome entertainment for the masses.