As I stroll down another street with a Dutch name I don't even dare attempt to pronounce, my shoulder jolts forward as an unknown figure breezes by me. I scoff, taking my gaze off the glassy, modern architecture of The Palace District of Amsterdam, and scan ahead at the offender.
From head-to-toe, the man looks like he speed-walked out of a men's casualwear magazine and straight into a perfect Dutch world made for him. Even on this drizzly day he has the confidence to wear optic white Nike kicks and light wash jeans that hug his petite thighs. His cuffs are rolled one inch to reveal bare ankles despite the rest of his body being bundled in a Canada Goose bomber. His head is freshly shaved on the sides, a perfect tuft of hair on top from what I can see under his studio grade headphones that cover his ears. Before I can even think about it, I focus on his soft, leather backpack and pick up my pace to see where the cool kids hang out in Amsterdam.
I trail my mystery man, crisscrossing across bustling bike lanes (note: look left, right, then left again), and into a much quieter neighborhood with low buildings and designer baby strollers being pushed by people who look too trendy to be parents. Despite the late January chill, homeowners and shopkeepers adorn their windowsills and cobblestoned sidewalks with flowers and potted plants. For a moment, I pretend that I'm walking to my apartment in Boston, and smile to myself.
The chic man pulls out his iPhone, presumably to pause his indie tune, and slips his headphones around his neck as he pushes the door of what I think is a furniture store. Now, I'm not exactly in the market for a side table, but he holds the door behind him and I enter with a quick "dank je."
I slide my feet against the welcome mat and my breath is stolen from my mouth. The tall, slim building has a classic 17th Century brick façade--tall and thin-- with a 21st-century spin. Despite the gray day, the shop is lit up with natural light via the roof, which is mainly all glass. Long communal tables are sprinkled around with hip young adults typing away on sleek MacBooks or chatting in European languages, sipping from glass espresso cups. I look ahead and see that the expansive shop extends further back and I catch my unknowing tour guide tying a black apron around his waist as he slips behind a counter. I quickly realize that I'm in a café-furniture-jewelry-leather-goods-store. The shop has everything, but also, nothing--it can't make up its mind of what it wants to be.
I shrug my raincoat off and drape it over my arm. I stop at a brick wall with four light boxes displaying delicate gold necklaces and geometric, rings. Next to it, I recognize Mystery Man's backpack in four different colors hanging from the walls on Phillips screws. The space is filled with hundreds of mini cacti plants in price-tagged glass, porcelain, and metal pots.
I approach the counter and look up at the menu, pretending to think of something else to get besides my regular café order of a small soymilk latte. Mystery Man has his back turned to me as he fiddles with the sound system, changing the song to FKA Twigs' "Kicks," recognizable in the first beat. He turns around and smiles through his scruffy beard (of course he has a beard, right?) and says in Dutch-accented English, "Hoi, what can I get you?"
"Can I have a small soy latte for here, please?"
"Absolutely," he says, punching in the order on the computer screen,"Have a seat and I will bring it to you. Two-fifty euro, please."
I reach for my coin purse and dump the contents into my hand, trying to fish out the right amount of change.
"Is it obvious that I am American?" I laugh, trying to make the delayed transaction less awkward.
"No, no it's fine," he assures me. "I like when new people come here."
"Well, I like coming to new places," I respond, handing him two coins, clasping my purse.
"Welcome to Amsterdam," he says warmly, "Your coffee will be done shortly." He turns his back again and fills the coffee grinder with fresh beans.
I take a seat at a small table next to the counter and flip through the first magazine on the stack. I scan the first few pages, but a pang of self-loathing emerges in the back of my mind due to my pathetic knowledge of Dutch language. Luckily, I stumble upon a spread of artwork that I immediately recognize at FKA Twigs' cover art. Mystery Man gracefully places my latte down on the table and catches what I'm looking at.
"You like?" he asks, referring to the artist.
"I love her music," I respond and add in a brief story of seeing her in Boston before I arrived in Amsterdam.
The mention of a familiar American city sparks interest in his eyes and he reveals how he's always wanted to go to "The States." Apparently, every good artist plays in America. I'm embarrassed to admit the small amount of concerts that I've been to, so I nod in agreement with him. He politely excuses himself, seeing a customer approach the counter. I sip on my coffee, admire the artwork in the Dutch magazine and smile to myself. Fuck it, I think, scribbling down "For when you want to see a show in Boston," with my name and number on the napkin Mystery Man left with my latte.
I slip the note on the counter and wish him a nice day. With this newfound confidence, I stop by the bathroom on my way out to take off my wooly socks and reveal my ankles between my Superga sneakers and cords. It's what the cool kids do.