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“Yes!” I swung around and sank my hand into my pocket and walked over. “You need a cigarette too?” I asked.
“No, no.” She rummaged around in her bag some more and withdrew a small white carton and held it up. “I have cigarettes,” she said. She stuck one between her lips and accepted the lighter.
“Do you ever go to any of the coffee shops around here?” I asked, trying to get a recommendation.
“I think they are closed,” she said, looking across the street at some of the darkened windows.
“No, I mean the ones where you go and smoke,” I said pressing my index finger and thumb together and tapping my lips.
“Oh, um, yeah…” she nodded and smiled.
“How does it work? You just go in and ask for a joint?” I said.
“Yes. Or two,” she replied casually.
“They roll them for you?”
“Can you take it outside? Or do you have to smoke it there?”
“Take it out, or smoke it there.”
She stared at me like I was very confused.
“That’s great. Thank you.”
I walked away, feeling there was more that could have been said but not knowing how to say it. I resumed my mission, passing bookstores, art galleries, souvenir shops. All were shuttered. The only places still open were small restaurants and bars, fast food counters and ice cream shops, scattered little patios with orange glowing lanterns, soft music and a smattering of people.
I saw a mysterious white building that was some sort of gathering place but the bright yellow sign above the blue door had nothing written on it. I thought this might be the kind of place I was looking for. I caught a few whiffs of the sweet-smelling smoke when I went inside, but only faintly. The bartender was busy preparing a cappuccino. I asked to buy a joint.
“I can’t sell it because I sell liquor,” he said. “They don’t give you a license for both.”
“There’s a place across the street. They’ll serve you.”
I slid off the stool and found a path through the people and passed between the hanging strands of beads and back out the door. I saw the place he was referring to — a squat, black, sketchy-looking brick building that bore no resemblance to the bright civilized coffee shops I had seen downtown. I glanced up and down the street four times to make sure no bicycles were bearing down from the darkness. I crossed over, climbed the steps, and went inside.
There were five or six patrons, maybe a few more in the shadows. The only light came from red and yellow bulbs suspended behind the bar and in the corners. This time the distinctive aroma was pungent. Thick twisting ribbons of grey smoke drifted and hovered in the air. The bartender turned his thin, weathered face in my direction. A long grey pony tail dangled past his shoulders.
“What can I do for you?” he said. He didn’t smile.
“Ahh…” I hesitated a second too long and he slid a yellow laminated menu in front of me.
“Start with this,” he said, and turned away.
I looked at the bill of fare and studied the different varieties. They had names like Strawberry Cough, Blue Mist, Panama Red. Gorilla Glue. Sour Diesel. It was all meaningless to me.
“Can I just get a joint?” I said as I pushed away the menu.
“One?” he asked.
He pulled out a sizeable cone-shaped joint from beneath the counter.
“We mix with tobacco,” he said, as though I might take offence.
“That’s all right.”
He pitched the joint into a little plastic bag like he was throwing a dart.
“Maybe two,” I said.
He fired a second joint into the bag.
“Four-fifty euros,” he said.
Wispy tendrils of smoke clawed at my back like spirits as I departed. There was a cozy-looking bench in an isolated spot that overlooked the canal. I reached into the bag and collected one of the cylinders. The paper was semi-transparent and I noticed it seemed to be more brown than green. I put it between my lips and lit the tip, feeling a little funny doing it out in the open, but reminding myself that this was perfectly acceptable in Amsterdam, nothing to be anxious about. It burned well and fast. I finished it and flicked the roach out into the dark water. I waited, thinking it should have hit me sooner, but after several minutes I had to acknowledge that I felt no different. I pulled out the other one and smoked most of it before giving it up as a waste of time. They had cut it too much. There was no potency. Maybe this was the standard wimpy stuff they doled out to tourists.