Our Man In Amsterdam

It could happen to you.

UNITED STATES—Tossing and turning the other sleepless night in Hollywood, I made a shocking discovery. Without ever having suspected it, there lurked within me a regret, a full-fledged, ripe, bruisingly painful, honest-to-God regret. Before this night I had always prided myself a member of that wise tribe that exclaims, “Regrets? I have no regrets. None at all.”

The tossing and turning brought me back to another sleepless night when I wrestled with a tantalizing business proposal. More to the point: I was in the belly of the thing that night a quarter of century ago, fascinated, excited and afraid.

TV showed up in his BMW at the house on the corner of 22nd street and Estrella Ave. (pronounced Estrelah in true Angelese rather then Spanish pronunciation). He wanted to give me a plane ticket to Amsterdam. Here I was about a month into managing the house, and TV offered to fly me to Europe and provide lodging. It would be a good life. I could go to a cafe along the canal and write. (Suddenly, I imagined myself in a beret and a pea jacket, ever so much better clothed than I was in Los Angeles.) And I wouldn’t have to police the lil gangtas who hung out on the porch, intimidating the amazing new tenants the owner dreamed of luring here, drinking beer and spray-painting ragged vines.

A ticket to Amsterdam would have changed my milieu, made me instantly a world traveler, it would have exposed me to a different class of people. And the work required would be minimal; it would involve wrapping parcels to be jetted back to the United States.

TV was sly and charming–he could easily have been taken for a young lawyer or Hollywood type, and a more romantically-minded college classmate had fancied TV and his girlfriend Gatsbyesque. He cut quite a figure in his shirts with alligators, his hair styled in a Sunset Strip salon blowing in the wind as he was at the wheel of his German car.

You wouldn’t have realized looking at the charismatic surface, but he was being hospitalized frequently and for longer times because of a failing kidney. He had had it transplanted as a kid, wouldn’t be alive without it, and now it was failing. Without a new kidney he would be dead in a few months, and the only potential family donor was a sister who refused on the grounds that TV was the Devil. TV had to raise some serious money fast to buy a new kidney and live.

The proposed business was devilishly enticing and it had a catch, as all businesses do whether it’s hard work or danger. The parcels I was to prepare for shipping back to the US were to contain hashish and opium. To go or not to go, the choice tore me up. I tossed and turned all night in my room not much bigger than a prison cell. It was my sole recompense for being bilingual manager and policeman. It had perhaps been the washroom in the roomy run-down Queen Anne Victorian about 30 yards from where the Santa Monica freeway curves toward Long Beach. That night of decision the continuous whooshing or cars did not lullaby me. It was a period, while writing my first screenplay, that I subsisted on about $10 a month. A lot of beans, eggs and tortillas. You need to know that to feel the pull of TV’s offer.

TV’s sob story about his kidney, true and dramatic ad it was, didn’t pull on my heartstrings–that was beside the point. Here I was being handed on a platter Europe, travel, things pined for. I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t, and not because of some innate goodness. I was scared. My regret comes from seeing now what I desired so perfectly manifest–dangled as a bauble before my hungry eyes–and I turned it down. I lacked imagination.

It broke my heart to say no, and it broke it all over again all these years later to be pinioned in the peregrine claws of regret.

to be continued

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of the humor collection, “Late Bloomer,” available on amazon.com.