**Warning! Take off your laughing hats. This blog post doesn’t reach my admittedly low comedic threshold**
Imagine you lost your cat in a new city. You feel guilty because you left the hapless cat in the care of a questionable cat-sitter. You made the decision not to go with a cat hotel because the very concept of a cat hotel is ridiculous, and going with a cat sitter was more easy than right. You suppressed all the sneaking suspicions that something might go wrong because you’re a human, and that’s what humans do. The path of least resistance is a seductive wench and I am easily tantalized. How long do you stretch out the search?
Rookie cat owners, maybe a week and a half. Journeyman cat owners, two weeks. Veterans just that side of a healthy dependency on cats as social interaction, at least three weeks. Guilt is the wild card. Depending on the severity and the levels of internalization, guilt can add one to two weeks easily. Going through the motions and walking around a few streets while listening to This American Life is easy; Amsterdam can be impossibly pretty. And therein lies a distinction – those who keep looking with a sense of hope and those who just keep looking.
I’m no de Tocqueville. My social and cultural observations are not well-honed. Yet, my search for Julia did shine some light on how the Dutch think. One gentleman from the garden suggested I get the police to come to the garden with a search dog, you know, so I could at least find the body. Two others were thoroughly convinced that Julia had severely injured herself (broken legs and back were gently offered as possibilities) when she jumped into the garden. All but a very few people questioned whether Julia was even in the garden, unsubtly hinting that Silvia might have lied. And, when I called the police, both officers correctly guessed that I was American. Horrible Dutch aside, they nailed me as “foolish” enough to keep looking for a cat that had been missing for so long and still hoping to find it, er, her.
The Dutch are honest and blunt and they tend towards cynicism. Asking a woman how old she is, completely normal. How much does she weigh? Without a blink. How do I look in these pleated jeans? Tough one. The Dutch have a really annoying fashion sense. For the most part, the Dutch I’ve met so far aren’t mean, but they often see a situation for what it is, stripping away the false hope and wishful thinking hardwired into my New England brain. Expats beware! The aforementioned description is the good-natured and predominant strain of Dutchman. Some Dutch will use the “we’re very blunt” excuse to cover their predatory inclination toward assholery. Granted, it’s a good cover and I commend them for using it. Being forthright is one thing. Claiming to be forthright in order to take a dickish shot at someone else is quite another. Just taking a dickish shot without pretense is yet another thing, my thing.
I think my meandering point was that I held fast to the “aw-shucks” hope that I’d find Julia. The Dutch I met were not mean, but they were hardly kindred spirits. My Aussie and Kiwi friends were somewhere in the middle, supportive without gushing enthusiasm.
I sadly admit that my own hopes were straining after twenty-six days of fruitless searching. I’m no cat-whisperer. My attempts to rent a € 8,000 infrared camera were dashed in typically Dutch fashion. Quickly approaching the time when I’d have to drown myself Grolsch, an annoying acquaintance popped into my life. Religion.
Religion is good. Bible-thumping asshats are annoying, but I know they’re not the majority. The “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” asshats are just as bad. I’m admittedly utilitarian about religion and that’s not a good trait either. Apparently there is this old Portuguese guy named Tony that will help you find lost things if you say a few kind words, and believe. As a promise to Liz, I said a prayer to this St. Anthony in the alley outside Julia’s garden. Over the next hour I remembered an older Italian? Portuguese? lady I worked with at a courthouse. She babbled continuously to St. Anthony to help her find her keys, her glasses, or the paperclip jar. She seemed pleased by the results, and Julia is at least as important as paperclips.
That night Liz and I were getting into bed when my phone rang. I looked at the number to see if I knew who it was. Hmmm, I don’t recognize the number. Of course you don’t, idiot. You been in Holland a month, you know no one, and you’re introverted to the point of agoraphobic. The woman on the other end thought she had found my cat. Tired and dubious, I asked for a description.
“She is grey and … annoying meow … orange.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Across the street from the bench where I sat and said a prayer to Tony, I stepped into the lady’s apartment. She was easily 8 feet tall and dressed in a Jedi robe with a fitting Alec Guinness haircut. The floors were cracking cement with strange pools of liquid all over the ground. Well, all over the ground visible amid the kerosene heater, overflowing milk crates, shoulder high stacks of newspapers, and far too many metal pipes along the wall for comfort. Glaring at a bowl of milk, Julia quickly shot me a look before she ran off.
“Are you okay?” the giant Jedi asked.
“Huh? Yeah, I’m great. It’s all these kerosene fumes and the dust mites attacking my eyeballs making it look like I’m tearing up.”
I scuttle over to pick up Julia, expecting a warm reunion with a plush-feeling cat happy to see me. I grabbed a waxy-furred bag of bones whose first reaction was to take a swipe at me, reminding me that I lost her and that she was still a bitch. I’ll take it.