Downstairs penthouse

One morning a few weeks ago Boaz and I had two appointments to look at apartments.

The first place was just a couple blocks from work and a confident man with ear-length black hair showed it to us. He was wearing a gray v-neck t-shirt, jeans, and the green Stan Smiths everyone on earth is required to wear this year.

It wasn’t a great apartment, and the bathroom smelled like something bad had happened in there that the entire building would need years to recover from. Boaz thanked him and we walked to the next place, which was a 30 minute walk south.

We checked the address, rang the bell, and I swear the same realtor opened the door. He told us he had a different name, and he gave us a different business card, but how did he get there before us? Did he take the tram? It was the same guy.

This apartment was on the ground floor. In Amsterdam lots of apartments are on the ground floor. And unlike a ground floor apartment in Portland or any other American city I’ve lived, there is no yard giving you a few feet of space between your living room and passers by. My nose is inches away from a Dutch family sitting down to dinner, a boy petting a cat, a guy laughing at something on his laptop, a couple making out on a sofa.

A ground floor apartment is essentially drawing a chalk line on the sidewalk and saying the general public needs to be on this side of the line, but we’re all going to be sort of sharing the space together.

The upside of ground floor apartments is you can set up things in your windows for people to look at, or even touch. I mean really people are right there, I don’t know how to explain that I am not exaggerating a little bit about this.

When we tried to tell the realtor that we weren’t interested, he didn’t let us leave as easily as he’d let us leave the other apartment. Everyone in Amsterdam would kill for a ground floor apartment, he told us. In America sure, you want the penthouse. But here no one wants to go up and down with the bags and the bikes. You walk in, you’re home.

You’re lucky to find this ground floor, he said. And I’m sure he was lying.

But was he?

Now every time I’m walking somewhere and I accidentally make eye contact with someone sitting just inches away from me in a ground floor apartment I think of those realtors who are identical twins and I want to ask the people inside what the real story is. I wish I had a little sign I could hold up in ground-floor windows. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR APARTMENT? IS THIS A HIGHLY-COVETED FLOOR TO BE ON? THUMBS UP FOR YES.

I might wait until I know a little more Dutch.

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I haven’t taken any photos into people’s ground-floor apartments (you’re welcome) so here’s a photo of a light bulb store sign that I like.

Where are they bringing all that gravel anyway

Is the word “heren” German, and does it mean men or women? Sometimes it’s on bathroom doors, but I can never remember what it means.

Last weekend I was thinking about it as I walked across a bridge, but it was hard to concentrate because there were SO many people screaming. It seemed like everyone around me was screaming, everyone except for one guy, who was holding up a cell phone and videotaping me.

I looked to my right, toward some red flashing lights and a siren, and saw a woman in a raincoat waving her arms all over. That’s when I noticed I was the only person on the bridge, everyone else was on one side or the other screaming at me to move so that the bridge could go up and a boat covered in gravel could go through.

I ran back and stood next to a woman who told me that these bridges take everyone a while to get used to. She didn’t know that last week I moved here from a city that also has raised bridges, and I didn’t tell her.

Boaz took this photo, in Portland. Don’t show it to nice women you meet by bridges.

When the boat had gone by and the bridge was back down and we all crossed, the videotaping man was still there on the other side and still recording me. He held his phone out with both hands to get it close to my face as I passed.

I winked at him, which would have been a cool and confident way to end an embarrassing (and poorly filmed, I bet) YouTube video, except I’m terrible at winking so it probably looked like I’d just gotten sick. But I think winking is like crossing bridges. You just have to keep trying to do it until enough people scream at you to stop.

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