My half Mexican, half Columbian wife Raquel and our Ukrainian Israeli friend from a village in Japan met our Dutch friend and his Japanese wife in a bar on the streets of Ultrecht. Only they didn’t know Raquel and I were coming.
We sat quietly giggling while Alex talked to Eric on the phone.
“Yes… yes… ok got it. Ok We’ll be right there.”
“We’ll?” Raquel and I gasped, “You’re going to give away the whole surprise!”
The three of us piled into a cab, eager to surprise them yet all quite convinced we’d already ruined the show. We were driving past the bar when I spotted Eric hanging onto a door frame, grinning like a fool.
Stop the car!
We all piled out. We had a plan, and we almost stuck to it. Alex went off first, muscled his way through the crowd, and greeted Eric with a big hug and a bigger exclamation of, “Oh Eric so nice to see you!” We lifted our newspapers up and approached.
Alex still swears we botched the surprise, because Eric and Nolico didn’t actually see our newspapers, but everyone else on the street did. Dutch men and women poked and prodded at the two Americans pushing through the crowded street reading newspapers by the light of a streetlamp. One particularly bold Dutchman even tried to light my newspaper on fire. Hardy-har-har!
Despite the Dutch’s murderous sense of humor, we managed to get next to Eric and Nolico without being seen. Now, the plan was for us to simply wait there, reading our papers at 11:00 at night until Alex said something like, “if only, if only the young Americans were here!” then voila, we’d drop the papers and grin, but adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and I had no patience. So instead of waiting the ten to fifteen seconds it’d take Alex to say the line, I dropped my newspaper to the ground and threw my arm around Eric’s shoulder.
“What the fuck?” he managed to say before his mouth seized up and contorted back into that foolish grin of his.
“Nolico, look what Eric got for his birthday,” Alex said and Raquel dropped her paper and exposed her winning smile.
I once thought that I had experienced joy. Certainly that Christmas when against all odds my dad got me a playstation2, or when my darling wife walked down the aisle into my arms, but after seeing Nolico’s reaction, all of this falls short.
She began with a high pitched scream that silenced not only the patio, but the people inside and at the bar next door, then moved in to an amazingly acrobatic series of jumps and mid-air twists before squeezing Raquel so tight I thought she’d pop. This accomplished she grinned at me and began to repeat “un-fucking-believable” until this overwhelmed her so much she dropped to her knees and we had to drag her back to her feet.
I will remember her reaction to that surprise for the rest of my days, and I’m sure the rest of the bar will too.
They certainly remembered us that night. Indeed, it seemed we’d been marked. We moved on to drinking Dutch beer and Jägermeister, an explosive mix if there ever was one. We got to chatting, we hadn’t seen any of these people in months after all, but the bartender was none too pleased with our excitement.
“No shouting, you can sing, but no shouting,” he said and hid behind the bar.
Alex and I looked at each other as only enraged drunkards can.
“No shouting?” Alex asked.
“No shouting,” I replied.
“But we can sing?” Alex asked.
“But we can sing,” I replied.
“Then we will S-I-I-I-I-I-I-INNNG!” Alex belted and Raquel and I cackled louder than any of our previous shouts.
Each time the bartender came by Alex would ask for further stipulations on this no shouting rule, “What about yelling? Can we yell?”
The bartender was not amused.
So displeased was he in fact that when Nolico ordered the third round of Jägermeister, he brought waters instead. I think Nolico’s hair was about to burst into flame she was so furious.
“Never in my life! Never have I been declined a drink!”
“In Holland anything can happen,” Eric said from behind that foolish grin.
I giggled enough to wake up from my nap, but after all the excitement, I was actually relieved to have a reason to leave the bar. We had a day in the Netherlands to prepare for, and I was going to need my rest.