Do you ever try making a “deal” with God? A common one would be something to the effect of promising to never do something bad again if God would just rescue you from the worst turbulence on any airplane flight you’ve ever been on. But this morning I thought of a different kind of deal I once offered The Creator. In the mid-1970s I was working at de Kosmos, Amsterdam’s storied city-owned meditation center. Those were some wonderful years and though my main job was working in and then running the macrobiotic restaurant, there were other things I did there as well— like teaching darkroom technique as a form of meditation and teaching bread-baking as a form of meditation— not just meditation but while fasting and without any speaking. Those were the days!
I also took up astrology there. My dear friend, Neeltje, taught me the basics and after that it was up to… well, Isabel Hickey and this fantastic primar, Astrology: A Cosmic Science, which I’ve been looking for all week. This is the book:
It wasn’t really that book I wanted to find though. It was a workbook of mine— all the charts I drew— that I want to find and the last time I saw it, something like 25-30 years ago, it was next to Hickey’s book. So what does this have to do with making a deal with God? Yeah, yeah… I gotta stay on track here. So first of all, besides Neeltje and Isabel, the other factor in my genesis as an astrologer had to do with that deal. Anybody can learn the mechanics of how to make a chart and even how to make a reasonable interpretation of a birth chart. Neeltje has a gift that went further and that’s what Isabel writes about in her books. That gift is what I wanted… and I felt it inside me. My charts and consultations were getting better and better and I was feeling great about it. And then the deal: God's end would be to keep the juice flowing and mine would be to never use that astrological gift for any material gain— never charge anyone, for example. So I never did. But one day I did break the deal. I used the gift to help me seduce someone. I don’t remember who or anything about it— except one thing: the gift disappeared and I never did another chart again.
So… why was I looking for the workbook again this week, something like 4-5 decades later? I was looking for a name that I can’t remember. My son’s name. His was one of the last charts I did before I lost the gift. It’s the only way I can think of to find his name. Don’t get overly excited; I’m not about to introduce a new character into the narrative, just a name that isn’t part of the narrative at all.
When I got back to Europe from my little roundtrip drive to India, I was sick, nearly crippled. I settled down in Innsbruck-- what a stupid choice-- and went to see a doctor who said I needed spinal surgery. One day I was in his waiting room, looking for a magazine to thumb through while I was waiting. I opened a cupboard and instead of a magazine, I saw the biggest collection of bags of refined white sugar I had ever seen. Even back then, it dawned on me that this was the wrong doctor for me and left. Soon I also recognized what a mistake I had made settling down in Innsbruck, which was filled with actual Nazis, and not especially friendly Nazis at that. I packed up and drove to Amsterdam.
By the time I got there, the jig was about up for me. I had no money and no way of getting hash to send back to America to replenish my meager store of cash. All I had was the van and I was living in that so I didn't want to sell it. While I was figuring out what to do, I found de Kosmos. A simple, basic meal was about one dollar and it was healthy and delicious. I would want to eat there even if I was rich, but for a dollar… how could you go wrong?
I ate there everyday. I got to know the people who worked there and eventually they asked me if I wanted to wash dishes for my meals. I did. And that led to a big change in life for me. The head cook, M., said she and her old man could cure me without surgery, just through macrobiotic eating. I was game. And then I was cured. The doctor I was seeing in Amsterdam said it was impossible but admitted I no longer needed surgery.
I soon felt part of a community— first the restaurant, then the whole meditation center, then the people I was meeting there and around Amsterdam. Ever hear of a “cracked house?” In Amsterdam’s old Jewish ghetto, the Germans had stripped all the wood— doors, floors, everything— out of the houses to use for fuel during the winter of 1943 or 1944. When I was there, the city of Amsterdam would allow you to, essentially, squat in a derelict house for a guilder a year (about 33 cents) if you rehabilitated the building— plumbing, electricity, doors, windows, floors, etc. I’ve never been too handy but I did it with the help of my friends. I remember being on a ladder, maybe plastering, maybe painting when I was interviewed for a Dutch documentary about American anti-war expats living in Amsterdam. I don't think I ever did see it. Anyway, I also remember my friend Willy, who also worked in the restaurant, and he was going to live in that house too. He came to help with the renovations one day and immediately turned around too quickly with a long piece of timber and broke a newly installed window. I think he may have given up at that moment. This is a photo of Willy with my sister Fern who came to visit for a few days:
M. lived downstairs. She had taken me in at the restaurant, helped cure me, taught me how to cook— did I mentioned I had never cooked a thing in my life previously?— and helped me make a life for myself. I owed her the world. She was a few years older than me and had a guy— a weird American cult-leader type who ran the restaurant. They lived downstairs and were bitterly estranged from each other at one point. He was tom-catting around town and she was very depressed. At night I would hear her wooden clogs on the wooden stairs coming to see me. I was very conflicted at the time. I wasn’t attracted to her at all and, in fact, had a girlfriend I was very attracted to and was questioning whether I was actually gay. But I also felt that it was supremely ungentlemanly to ever allow a woman to feel rejected or unwanted. And in M’s case… well, I owed her so much. So, we had sex whenever she wanted to for a month or so.
By the time she realized she was pregnant I had moved out and she and her weird cult guy had been kicked out of de Kosmos for stealing. I only saw her two more times. Both times she brought the kid over to meet me. He was just a couple of months old. That year I moved back to America and never saw him again. Many years later I tried finding him and only found out that they had left Holland and were probably living in France.
So I couldn’t find the astrology workbook (yet) or his name. I’m finding all kinds of other things in the search— even a diary from 2007 that I forgot existed. The kid is around the same age as Roland, late 40s. I can’t imagine he’s ever heard of me. And I don’t feel any kind of attachment to him. Like I said, he’s not part of my narrative and M., his mother… well I may come back to her when I talk more about de Kosmos and my years in Amsterdam. After I moved out of the cracked house, I rented a flat on the Overtoom over a Chinese restaurant and across the street from the Vondel Park. This photo is at the door to that house: