That Time I Got High in Amsterdam
Last summer, I went to Amsterdam for a few days between Stockholm and London. Although I kept a journal while there, the days passed in a swift, vivid, nauseating blur, and the story I share the most from Amsterdam with friends is one I never wrote down–out of complete, morbid embarrassment. Which means it is probably a good story.
As most people know, sale and consumption of marijuana is completely legal in Amsterdam. Like many a nerd of my generation, I’ve managed to live a fairly straight-edge life, leaving bourbon and wine as my only true vices. Unlike Stockholm and London, where I had friends to hang out with, I was alone in Amsterdam, and decided in my solitude that I’d peruse the local delicacies. “Peruse” is a Princeton SAT vocabulary word often misunderstood to mean “skim” or “briefly review.” It actually means “to thoroughly examine.”Peruse is quite indeed what I ultimately did here.
I had a small bedroom in a third floor apartment in the canals with a free-spirited middle-aged couple who did web development and yoga. Like many Dutch apartments there, the interior of the building looked vaguely like the set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, featuring thin foot-tall steps, and awkwardly placed doors that make navigating a building hellish even when not intoxicated.
While at the market on a Tuesday afternoon, I passed a “coffee shop,” which is what Amsterdam calls its pot palaces, and decided to meander inside. At 3PM, it was dead, but neon strobe lights and other exotic fixtures poured fluorescent light over old, Victorian leather sofas. The man behind the counter offered me a menu, which strongly resembled that of a hookah bar. I looked up at the man and asked, “Do you have any brownies?”
He reached up onto a shelf and pulled down a plastic tupperware container, and started to interrogate me.
“How old are you?”
“You don’t look 28.”
“I’m 28. I was born in 1984.”
“I can’t sell you anything unless you’re older than 18.”
I laugh. “Okay, trust me, I am well over 18.”
“Well, this stuff is very, very strong. You’re tiny. You should be very careful.”
“I think I can manage that.” [Wrong!]
“What flavor space cake do you want, vanilla or chocolate?”
“Yeah, that’s what they’re called.”
I bought a chocolate one for $2 USD, which I carried back to the apartment in a napkin. It was a large space cake, maybe 6″ wide, 3″ long, and 1.5″ tall. It looked very dry, like a normal brownie might if it were baked with too much flour. Being a responsible adult, I returned to my work for the rest of the day, occasionally looking over to the space cake sitting on the flimsy white napkin on the corner of the desk.
I IMed a few friends to tell them about it and started to come up with a game plan. I had food in the apartment and figured maybe I could just try it and not go anywhere for the rest of the night and if it turned out to be the worst thing ever, I could just lay down and close my eyes and be insane in my own quiet, sheltered world.
At 8PM, taking the shopkeeper’s advice, I started by eating only half the space cake. I googled “space cake,” of course. Several people mentioned that it had a timely delay in taking effect, like an hour. I started to IM my friend Nick, figuring talking to people would give me a good sanity check. But everything seemed very normal. I didn’t feel high. An hour and a half passed and I felt the same.
So I ate the other half.
Another 45 minutes passed. I speculated that the guy had sold me a ripoff space cake, and announced to everyone I knew that I was going to go explore the Red Light District, an area of Amsterdam where prostitutes stand in glass rooms lit by neon red lights, waiting for johns. I have no idea why I chose to do this on this particular night. I think I was looking for a thrill in lieu of what I felt I had missed out on with what I had written off as “fake pot.”
It was dark by the time I got to the Red Light District and there were women standing in the rooms. In comparison to a prostitute in the US, these were very gorgeous women and it felt like I was patrolling a zoo. I started to feel slightly uncomfortable though when I realized I was the only woman outside unaccompanied by a man. I grew more uncomfortable as I started to hear men say things to me, mistaking me for a prostitute. Not because of how I was dressed, which was overall casual and not particularly revealing, but because I was alone. The words were thrown on me in an insulting manner, with disgust and contempt, even odd unfamiliar Cockney rhyming slang like “Zsa Zsa” was whispered at me.
Although looking back, I’m sure the situation was quite dire and potentially dangerous, I realized I was feeling paranoid, but didn’t feel “high” so I refused to believe it was the space cake taking effect. I decided to stop inside the nearest well-lit place I could find, which turned out to be a crepe shop. The crepe shop had a pure banana yellow interior with the most jarring white fluorescent lighting imaginable. As I sat in a booth eating a fairly mediocre tomato crepe, my entire body suddenly jolted and my conscious mind felt like it was a foot behind my body. I imagine my pupils were fully dilated so that I looked like Mickey Mouse. And I meant to just mouth the words “oh shit,” but realized I had actually yelled the words because the entire staff suddenly looked at me.
I started to narrate every thought that came to mind. “They thought I was a whore. I need to get back to the apartment before I lose control! This is very bad! Very bad!”
I ran out of the restaurant.
I didn’t even know where I was going. I ran down dark alleyways. At some point, I passed a barrage of young men with a gang leader who emphatically and gleefully announced, “I’m flying! You’re flying!” and then, pointing directly at me, proclaimed, “She is definitely flying!” I wondered how they knew. I refused to believe that I looked high, that they just happened to think it because I was so terrified otherwise being mistaken for a prostitute by all these men.
I grabbed my phone out of my bag and started to look up directions to the apartment. Being high in Amsterdam is the worst place you can be high and lost. The city is a gigantic expanse of never-ending bridges leading over rings of canals. You will pass over a canal and think, “I just passed this!” You will feel like you are getting nowhere.
As I continued to look at my phone, suddenly a push notification from Mailbox appeared on my screen, an e-mail from the head of HR with the subject line “a note from HR.” I freaked out and let out an audible mini-scream in the canal, nearly dropping the phone into the water. I fumbled to open the e-mail, which, at the time, read like so:
We know where you are and what you’re doing and we’re sending someone to harvest your organs and murder you and also kill everyone you know and also we’re right behind you and we can hear what you’re thinking.
The only thing I could think to do was run. As I ran, the window of my eyes narrowed further and further and I felt like a large robotic machine being controlled by a tiny little goblin nestled deep inside my ribcage. I thought I was going to pass out. I thought if I passed out, it was only a matter of time before someone found me and dragged me into a dark heroin-rich boudoir and had their way with me. My strategy to avoid passing out was to run faster, sprinting.
As I sprinted, a guy on a bike, no longer in the Red Light District, approached me. For all I know, this guy could have been trying to help me. But my go-to reaction was to yell, “I DON’T KNOW YOU.”
I continued to yell this repeatedly because the guy wasn’t leaving me alone. I crossed the road where I saw a bar was open and stood in the doorway yelling still, as people inside stared at me, as the guy uncomfortably wandered away.
As soon as he was out of sight, I continued my sprint. Soon, the sprinting became less effective, and the feeling that I was going to faint overtook me. I started to yell out the lyrics to the Ducktales theme song. I don’t know why this song. I managed to make it to the street corner leading into the neighborhood my apartment was in.
Needing a last wind to make it to the building, I started to scream at the top of my lungs as I ran faster than I ever have in my life. As I did this, I noticed a nice-looking old lady walking her tiny yappy dog. For a millisecond, I realized how ridiculous this was and that I was not in any danger at all given that a 70-year-old woman could be standing outside in her night gown with a tiny york terrier.
I threw the keys into the main door of the building and began my perilous ascent up to the third floor. The aforementioned stair steps had individually grown 2 feet each, leading me to scale them like a small mountain, dragging my legs up them one by one, gripping each stair for dear life.
As I made it into the apartment and up the stairs to my room, I opened my bedroom door and, standing in the doorway, assessed the contents of the room and evaluated that, based on the fact that I did not recognize a small wrapper laying on the bed in what otherwise did look like my room, that this was not my bedroom and that I had used the wrong key, which was for another parallel universe where the only difference was the fact that a small red wrapped was on my bed. I stood in the doorway for about 5 minutes, unable to make an executive decision on what to do. Ultimately fatigued by the mere act of standing upright, I decided to accept my position in this new alternate universe, getting on my computer and IMing several people, apologizing beforehand for messaging them at 4AM, that HR at my job was coming to harvest my organs.
In reality, it was 12AM and the first thing people asked me was, universally: “Are you high?”
I was so high. When I woke up the next morning, I was still high. I never knew until then that you could have a hangover from marijuana. The hangover lasted 3 days. I wasn’t high during those three days, but my brain felt fuzzy and there was a perpetual buzzing feeling in my ears. I worried I’d never be myself again but at the same time, had heavily “meta” thoughts that I was going to become a poster child for any comedian who has ever ironically tweeted about their distant family members dying from smoking pot for the first time.
[6/18/13 2:47:57 AM] Aimee Ault: TIME SLOWED DOWN
[6/18/13 2:48:01 AM] Aimee Ault: it was insane
[6/18/13 2:48:08 AM] Aimee Ault: the line on google maps grew 3x
[6/18/13 2:48:32 AM] Aimee Ault: and after i could’t take it slowing down any more, i started to run throguh the folds of time
[6/18/13 2:48:40 AM] Aimee Ault: and then when that wasn’t enough i just had to scream
[6/18/13 2:49:03 AM] Aimee Ault: screams so fiery that they burned my face in their backwards radiating blast
[6/18/13 2:49:04 AM] [removed]: the fuck are you talking about
[6/18/13 2:50:08 AM] Aimee Ault: i have no idea
[6/18/13 2:50:12 AM] Aimee Ault: this is is o awful
[6/18/13 2:51:16 AM] [removed]: oh I just made the connection, you’re in amsterdam?