On the Road

On the Road: 2002

My Big Regret
1 December 2002

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Well, after six months on the road, it was bound to happen. A big regret. And it turned out to be a surprising one at that. Sure, there were a couple women here and there I should've chatted up and it's unfortunate I didn't. But, there's only one real regret. More on that in a bit.

The regret came at the end of a rough week. The World's Biggest Lemonade Stand was the subject of a terrorist attack, but it survived (I'll explain that later). Thank goodness I made it out of pure Mattonium, a very strong and resilient "Matterial."

Saturday was a mishmash. Having messed around with preparing for Monday's class part of the day, I didn't arrive in Amsterdam until 5:00 p.m. There was a thick fog in the area, adding a sense of mystery to the place. In the Dam, an outdoor ice rink had opened up for the holidays. Sinterklaus festivities were in full swing. Nice stuff.

But, my timing was off. Fun Lovin' Criminals at the Paradiso were uitverkocht (sold out) as was the Samsonic Pop/Rock Finals at the Melkweg.

Still restless and unsettled from Thursday evening's terrorist attack, the jaded sense continued as I received immaculately poor service at St. James' Gate (uh, yeah, another Irish pub). The Guinness and Beef Pie was yummy, though.

That left me with time on my hands for the evening and I went for a stroll over to the Jolly Joker, a coffee shop recommended by another coworker. Alas, the place was closed for two weeks ending 8 December as a penalty for police finding a 17-year-old boy in the establishment earlier in the year. Not that he was doing anything wrong or purchasing something he shouldn't, but simply that he was there. The notice also included a warning that going forward IDs would be checked and this was not negotiable!

So that left me with some window shopping in the Red Light District and falling into My Big Regret.

In the district there's one particularly narrow alley. It's simply called Centrum on the street sign and, in it's narrowest section, it's barely wide enough for two people to pass each other walking sideways, scraping the walls as they pass.

In this alley there was one room with two ladies. I had seen that done before and I finally wanted to get to the bottom of it: Are we talking about a menage a trois? I finally doubled back and was about to approach them, simply for "research purposes," mind you, when a couple guys ahead of me drew the attention of the ladies.

One was a rather chubby man with short, short hair and wire-rimmed spectacles. He might've been in his early forties and spoke with what seemed to be a pleasant British accent. His friend was a much younger guy, maybe late teens, early twenties. They stopped to discuss the price. The women invited them both to come in. Turns out they do not provide the fantasy of a menage a trois, so my research was complete... But it's fun to watch guys talk about price with the girls and I looked on a moment longer... Perhaps one moment too long.

The ladies invited both of the guys in, but the bespectacled one quickly balked and said, "Oh no. Not for me. I can't. It's for him."

One of the ladies asked why he can't.

"Because I'm a priest," he said in a hush-hush tone.

Ahhh... The politics of religion.

True to form, though, the bespectacled one took great offense when the ladies used the term "suck and f***" during their business discussion.

"That's rude!" he exclaimed.

He was taken aback by their frankness. He simply wanted to orchestrate the boy's deflowering, apparently, and make sure he was kept "safe." He'd wait outside while one of the ladies ushered the boy into adulthood.

I was, as they say in England, gobsmacked. I walked on.

A sense of lost opportunity quickly set in, though. I should've challenged the guy. I should've asked him, "You'll go to work tomorrow and tell people prostitution is revolting, a sin, evil, the Devil's work, and talk about how everybody's going to go to Hell unless they confess their sins and pay off God with what amounts to a bribe. What's up with that?"

During a stroll down the canal, I realized I had to satisfy myself and I went back. Unfortunately, the guy was gone and the two women were back in the window. Surely the boy wasn't that fast... or maybe he was...

That became My Big Regret. Not confronting the priest on the prostitutes.

As if I'd ask him, "What's your name?" and he'd tell me.

As if I'd ask him, "Which church do you work at?" and he'd tell me.

Come on, Matt, be realistic. A date with Angelina Jolie is far more likely.

Maybe nothing happened. The priest was checking his wallet and made comments about the expense.

I don't know.

But the principle still stands.

Leave it to man to mess up and confuse God's work. I don't make a claim to any particular organized religion. After the embarrassments of Jimmy Swaggart (caught with a prostitute, remember?) and the repeated offenses of Jerry Falwell's mouth and let's not forget Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and so many others... They're the church's equivalent of Enron. Living high on the hog while the congregation gives it all away.

To quote a rock star, "My God isn't short of cash, mister."

I do know I've got my soul back and I do know how to care for it and feed it.

Lordy. Sitting here writing this up, it's occurred to me that the past six months have indeed been my own little Zooropa, an out-there experience in which your perception of so many different things changes. You're chewed up and spat out... and much, much the better for it.

The night was tied up in a ribbon with a Guinness nightcap at O'Reilly's. I caught the tail end of a Guinness commercial on the telly behind the bar: A man walks across flaming embers, a crowd watching in astonishment as he enters a building in flames from a volcanic eruption, and triumphantly returns with two pints of Guinness. The crowd cheers. Guinness: Believe flashes on the screen.

I believe in the power of Guinness.

I believe in something bigger.

I believe in me.

As for whether or not other people believe in me? Well, it just doesn't matter.

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