“Well I don’t care, he gives large parties and I like large parties, they’re so intimate. Small parties there isn’t any privacy.” Jordan Baker, The Great Gatsby.
“Alone. . . and a little embarrassed. . . I decided to get roaring drunk,” Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby.
It had been a stressful few weeks. A stressful few months, actually. We had squeezed a month’s worth of work into two weeks before our departure to the states. The trip was hectic, the return was worse. Our daughter refused to go to bed before 2:00 a.m. for a week and a half. Our son was up at 6:00 a.m. Their bodies were hungry at abnormal times. Jet-lag as an adult is harsh. Jet-lag as an adult with two kids is just. . . well, there are few words.
At the time, we’re still getting adjusted back to life in the Netherlands – piles of laundry are slowly getting washed. The empty cupboard is becoming filled with non-perishables. The mountain of mail that greeted us on the floor of our foyer when we arrived is becoming more of a pile.
V comes home and tells me his work is hosting a party. “Yeah, apparently, every employee of my company is invited. All the branches in the Netherlands. My co-workers at lunch said there’s only three places in the country that could hold that many people,” he’s leaning against the hutch in the kitchen, staring at the mess our backyard had become during our absence.
I’m at the stove cooking dinner. The kids are running around screaming. I’m listening with half an ear.
“What? What does that even mean? What kind of party is this?” I strain over the screeches. Drain the pasta.
“I don’t know. They’re being pretty secretive about it. They said the dress code is ‘colorful – it’s your party’.” He shrugs and takes a sip of his wine. I’m becoming increasingly irritated. My To Do list is long enough. A party? This does not fit into my agenda. Plus, I hate walking into a social event not knowing what to expect. I like to know what I’m supposed to wear. I hate surprises.
“So, is this when I finally meet the Tasmanian Devil?” I ask, pretending to look at the bright side. V doesn’t catch the sarcasm.
“Yes, he’ll be there, I’m sure. He has to be. It’s all. . . part of it, you know?” he shrugs. I spent 4 ½ years in public accounting. I know the requirements of playing the game. At least, in retrospect I do, after failing to learn them in the beginning. "You must attend all firm-sponsored social functions" is one of the more enjoyable rules. I nod and start creating costume options in my head.
Weeks later, we say goodbye to our sitter and apologize for our daughter’s increasingly ornery, uh, mischievous behavior. “It’s just a work party. We may not even find anyone we know.” V shrugs. I eye him suspiciously. I hate surprises.
“Yeah, we’ve been so tired. We’ll probably be back before midnight,” I chime in. Puzzle pieces are all over the floor. My daughter, in footed pajamas refuses to give us a hug and kiss goodbye. Until we pretend to leave. Then she stops us and demands multiple hugs and kisses. And again.
I’m wearing shoes not made for walking. I have flats-to-go in my purse purchased at a convenience store in New York City when I was pregnant with Little Man. We board the train headed north to Schiphol airport. We switch at AMS and take another train to our destination – Heineken Music Hall. We exit the train and station, a little disillusioned, but follow another couple smartly dressed with expensive heels. They know the way.
Back in Dallas, V and I had attended a Christmas party hosted by his work at the American Airlines Center in December 2011, right before our move to the Netherlands. It was a pleasant affair. Cocktails and appetizers were served in a large, carpeted lobby under sparkling fixture lights. Music softly twinkled from the speakers overhead. There were a few tuxedoed waiters circling. We had a couple glasses of wine, chatted with many people about our upcoming move, and left with the other guests at a respectable hour of 10:00 p.m. V and I closed the evening by sipping an overpriced cocktail at the quiet W Hotel Ghost Bar overlooking downtown Dallas as a farewell to our Dallas life.
|Heineken Music Hall - Amsterdam
We exit the drizzle into the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, blinded by fluorescent lighting bouncing off tiled floors. Large, silent bouncers nod at the tickets and jerk their heads towards the stairs. The walls pulsate with rhythmic activity. My eyes are wide. I hate surprises. I grasp Vinny’s hand and we weave ourselves through the throngs of people on the concrete steps in search of the coat check. We climb to the top of the venue and deposit our coats. I take a deep breath and we edge towards the doors leading into the concert hall. Vinny reaches for the handle, pauses, and shoots me a quizzical eyebrow. The heavy metal doors unleash the madness within. The rush of sound came at us like a train. We gingerly step up to landing and survey the scene racing before us. From our birds eye perspective the rows of seats cascade to the floor. Hoards of people mingle and gyrate between tall table tops which are illuminated by single jarred candles and the flashing lights of the stage. My eyes shoot to the stage itself, which holds enough lights to host a U2 concert. A musical artist screams into the microphone while employees are whipped above the stage - a blinking, wild carnival ride is erected behind the band.
“It’s like an amusement park!” I whispered to Vinny. My eyes are wide. My chin is on the floor. He tentatively reaches for my elbow. “Are you okay?” he asks.
“Um. Yes. I doubt we’ll find the Tasmanian Devil, huh?” I pause, blinking at the “office party” we are attending. “I doubt we’ll find anyone you know, huh?” I whisper with awe. I pull my attention from the flashing lights and stare at him. The last time we’d been to a party this big was the Bacchus Mardi Gras Ball in 2005. “I think. I think I’m going to just sit here for a second.” And I ease myself into a plastic seat in the nose-bleed section of the concert hall. “Can you get us a drink?” I ask. “Of course!” and like an eager puppy (or an LSU alumni), he hot-foots it to the nearest concession stand.
With a little liquid courage we venture back out into the grand hall. There is a lounge quartet singing. The tamer crowd with luxurious smiles are mingling amongst the brush strokes of the jazz drummer. V spotted a few men he recognizes and we meander over. “Engles spreken! Engles spreken!” they announce playfully. And thus, the conversation continues in a language we understand. We talk about how much we’ve enjoyed the experience in the Netherlands and other general small talk. The white-haired man on our right rolls his eyes and mumbles about the cost of the party. The dark-haired man on our left starts asking about my career. I explained that I had experience in public accounting, but am now I am a full-time mother (with a part-time job). “Oh, yes. Yes. My wife is also a full-time mother. On some days, she calls me about 6:00, yes? And she says ‘You need to be home now or else I am going to kill one of our two children!’” he laughs. “Yes?” he says, asking for my approval. “Yes, that’s very true. Very funny.” (My English becomes worse as I speak – like my Texas accent coming out when talking to my Dad, but at the same time, I’m happy motherhood is a cross-cultural experience.) We all smile, laugh and we say goodbye. As we near the floor-level entrance of the concert hall Vinny explains, “Yes, those two men were Partners.” (In other words, the highest of the food chain.)
“Partners? Wait! What? Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, smoothing my dress and reiterating our entire conversation at lightning speed through my head. What did I say?
“Nah, I didn’t want you to know. I’d rather you just be you - your sparkling self.” And he kisses me on the cheek. “Oh whatever,” I roll my eyes, but smile.
With fresh plastic wine glasses, we head towards the back of the venue. The invitation announced ‘snacks would be provided’ but as we traverse through the concession area, we encounter twenty food trucks parked at the back of the venue. The wares they are peddling range from French delicacies, to sushi, to sliders. We already had dinner. The queues weave between each other like a loosely knit sweater. The sight of them was enough. We venture into the crowd.
We spot the couple we followed from the train. I compliment her on her shoes. We walk further to the depths, towards the lights, and into the claustrophobic mania. We see no one V recognizes and come out the other side. We’ve been to Dutch events before – Queen’s Day, Christmas Eve service at St. Pieterskerk, among others – but for the first time, we were actually invited to one! THIS is my husband’s work party. I relish a bit in the thought of being somewhere we’re supposed to be - amongst a crowd of Dutchies. And for a few seconds, I realize – that we are somewhere – 5,000 miles away from Texas, that we belong. I get really excited at this fact. We re-group (grab another drink) and dive in again. Second time around, we find them – his co-workers! We scream greetings above the music. I meet. Finally. The Tasmanian Devil and wife. He’s wearing a frown and a plaid collared button-down shirt. And everything else about him is just as unassuming.
The music is loud, the crowd is wild, and we’re screaming above it all, trying to make conversation at the only chance I’ll ever have to meet some of these co-workers. There’s the Dutch-equivalent of Sheryl Crow on stage singing along with the Dutch-equivalent of Jay-Z. “Ja! So! Let’s go!” one of the 7-foot tall co-workers grabs my arm and is ushering us towards the stage. “What?!” I shout, confused. “Ja! So! We must have a photo with Humberto Tan.” (Dutch-equivalent of David Letterman). Hotsy-Totsy Paparazzi, Hold on while I take this pic.
We dance more. V tells me we need to go, but I’m having the time of my life. He easily acquiesces. He loves parties. We dance. We sing. Everyone around us is carrying trays of Heineken to their parties. Full glasses are left on the tall tables. The floor is slick with beer. As the musicians begin their encore, V and I head to the exit. Between my heels-not-made-for-walking and dangerously slick floor, I slip, or rather – I drop. I cover my lovely dress in beer funkiness. I pop back up like a firecracker. A little party never killed nobody.
We grab out coats and exit into the mist. We race to the train platform with the others. At this late hour, the regular trains have been cancelled and we take an annoying scenic tour through Amsterdam Centraal. We try to brag to our train mates about meeting Humberto Tan. “Do you know this guy?! Isn’t he famous?!” we challenge as we wave V’s iPhone in front of them. “Uh. Yeah.” They shrug. This country is so small. I guess meeting the Dutch David-Letterman equivalent is like meeting a high school class president. They do admire my American-imported flats-to-go, though.
We enter our home and I spout apologies to our sitter. “Don’t worry honey.” V interludes. “I already texted her and she said it was fine. I’m glad you had a good time.” He ushers her out the door, and he kisses me again.
Photo Credit: Heineken Music Hall, Sigur Ros
Photo Credit: Heineken Music Hall, Sigur Ros