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WHY TIGER WILL SHATTER JACK’S RECORD.

Have you ever hit rock bottom?

You know, panic attacks? Hyperventilation? Hooked on booze, pills, sex, or food? Maybe you had some major credit card debt or ruined your marriage? Lost your job, got sick, maybe even had a run-in with the cops?

I bet you have. I sure have. It hurts. At times like those, it’s pretty easy to feel so worthless that you can’t see a way out. That’s a dark place and if you live long enough you’ll probably spend some time there.

Back in the spring of 2017, champion golfer Tiger Woods hit rock bottom. He got busted for DUI in Florida, having passed out at the wheel of his Cadillac, with 5 different prescription drugs in his bloodstream. He’d already blown his marriage by being a serial cheater, as the whole world read about in all its gory details. For a brief spell, Tiger Woods – golf’s first billionaire – was nothing more than a comedian’s punch line. On top of all that, he’d hurt his back so badly that merely walking was a chore. During a depressing press conference at his tournament in the Bahamas a few years ago, he admitted he wasn’t sure he’d ever play golf again.

Then he had surgery. Went to rehab. Did the painful and humbling work of rediscovering the concepts of integrity and trust. Spent lots of time with his kids. Slowly but surely, he starting hitting golf balls again. We all watched him come back to tournament golf, but his progress was tedious. One step forward, two steps back. Just when it looked like he might be getting some of his swagger back, he’d take a mighty swipe at the ball, wince in pain, and limp his ass back to the hospital. It was wretched to watch. It’s never pleasant watching a hero fail, but Tiger’s fall from grace was the stuff of legends and we all wanted him to come back. Golf was just not the same without him.

Over the past 18 months he’s been playing well. Little by little. Last summer he almost won a couple of big ones. Then he won a big one at the end of last year. And now, good God almighty, he has just won The Masters, golf’s greatest event. Tiger is back and my lord has he done it in style! If you were watching today, you know you’ll never forget what you just saw.

If you weren’t watching today, or if you hate golf and Tiger Woods, or if you read about him and just thought, “fuck that dude” – I understand that you might find all this talk of Herculean comebacks a little nauseating. You’re right – he might not deserve your forgiveness. But still, I urge you to see the human story in all of this. There’s something in this for you too.

I’m a grown man of 49 years old and I cried today when he won. Now before you write me off as a hopeless drama queen (which I am), hear me out. Why did I shed a tear today? Not because he’s the greatest golfer in history. Not because he has come back from unthinkable depths. Not because he has overcome physical injury and psychological devastation. I cried today because we all need people, real flesh and blood humans, who can show us that we too can come back from rock bottom. We need that, you and me. Sure, I’m never gonna win The Masters, but I am gonna climb out of my own personal rock bottom, and so are you. If we watch closely enough, Tiger Woods is showing us how.

So now that he is back, now that he has won golf’s greatest prize, now that the chains of his self-made prison have been removed forever, Tiger Woods will go on to shatter Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. In fact, I predict he’ll win 5 more over the course of the next ten years. Nothing to stop him now. It won’t be easy, because he’s inspired an entire generation of young golfers to be as ruthless in pursuit of victory as he is. But he’ll do it and I, for one, will cry every time.

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Take Me Out To The Ballgame.

 

My father played college football at Purdue University. He was a defensive back on the Boilermaker team that beat U.S.C. to win the Rose Bowl in 1967. Bob Griese, the legendary Hall of Famer, was the quarterback on that team.

After graduation, my dad joined the United States Navy and became an officer. He volunteered to serve our country and did two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying helicopters with the Navy Seals.

Do you think my dad is an American patriot?

I was the shooting guard on my varsity basketball team at Oyster River High School in Durham, New Hampshire. We won the state championship in 1988. I finished the season as an All-State Honorable Mention.

After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in 1992, I moved to the Netherlands where I’ve lived ever since. I speak Dutch and I’m raising my two sons bilingually. I have never served in the American Armed Forces.

Do you think I am an American patriot?

Yes? No? Tough call?

I’m asking the question because I fear we may be losing the plot. Do you feel that way too? All our “Red State, Blue State” tribal obsessions. I fear we’re losing our ability to find common ground. We’re getting nasty and somebody’s gonna get hurt. Hell, people have already gotten hurt. Killed, even.

It seems like we’re so distracted and insecure. So worried about our jobs and our pensions and our belief systems, so terrified that somebody is gonna swoop in and take it all away. We’re definitely looking for someone to blame. Somebody has to be the cause of all this bullshit. It’s human nature to find a scapegoat, we don’t have a choice. It doesn’t necessarily make us bad people.

But it’s a risky strategy.

All this hate we feel towards the other team. I don’t know about you, but it’s killing me. My blood pressure is through the roof. I’m drinking like a Russian sailor on shore leave. Every morning I grab my phone and whip out some article that proves the other team is a bunch of humiliating morons but I’m on the right side of history, motherfucker!

I get so worked up. Sitting there in my boxer shorts, screaming at my phone. In my better, less crazy, moments I ask myself, “does all this hating really help?” I mean really, is this what God intended us to do, hate the other team so much that we wanna punch ’em in the kidneys? Is this the evolution of homo sapiens that mother nature had in mind?

Who the hell knows?

But I’ve got a hunch. I don’t think it is. I think all this hating the other team goes against the unavoidable, infallible, and unstoppable evolution of our species.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example from my own family: I have an uncle who roots for the other team. And he does it rather loudly. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why he roots for the other team. How could he?

I’m picturing him in my head, right now. He’s a big dude. He played college football, just like my dad. Hockey too. He was so smooth on the ice that they called him “Cruiser”. Great skater. He started out in the Navy, but for the rest of his professional career he was an air traffic controller in New York City. That’s a stressful job. He was fucking great at it. He’s also one of the most generous guys you’ll ever meet and he’d give you the shirt right off his back. Big Brutus that he is, even he gets choked up at the sound of our niece playing a sweet song on her guitar, around the campfire, at our family reunion. “Play it again” he’d shout, all night long.

I still don’t understand why he roots for the other team. Our last family reunion was great, but we had some awkward moments, everybody trying not to talk about the other team. It makes me want to give up and run. To not go to family reunions anymore.

But, wait.

Hold on a sec.

I might root for my team and he might root for the other team, but me and my uncle, we share the same name. When I was 7 years old, he took me to my first game. This was in 1976 and back then we both still rooted for the same team. We were just kids. We took the train into the city, just the two of us. It was a beautiful summer day, I can still taste the bright sunshine and the popcorn and the cotton candy. Our team won. We got back on the train and went home. What a day!

He’s my Uncle. My family. These days we root for different teams, but we both love the game, know wadda mean?

I don’t know, man. It’s hard. I have no idea how to make things better. I don’t wanna be naive and I don’t wanna be cynical, but I’m stuck. I’m not sure what to do. In my gut it feels like we gotta do something, because things are gettin’ tight.

I guess we could just keep it simple. I could reach out to my Uncle. Talk about the game last night. It’s a start.

You could do that too. With your Uncle Bill or your sister Janine or your neighbor Youssef. Just make eye contact. Say “hi”. Take it from there.

Saying “hi” doesn’t mean you agree with him. He gets to cheer for his team, you get to cheer for yours. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, he’s “red” and you’re “blue”, but you’re both going out to the old ballgame.

Obviously we should continue to call out lies and protest injustice. We should hold our leaders and our media accountable and attempt to keep them honest. Obviously we should be wary and vigilant in the face of ignorance and extremism. We have to be.

But accusing strangers of being dumb? Hating people for wearing the wrong hat? All that energy expended, and for what?  Are we really sure we’re choosing the right battles?

After all, we are the United States, remember? The most beautiful thing about America is we all get to be patriots.

~~~~~

I invite you to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Anthony Bourdain Was My Hero.

 

For me, it wasn’t about the “bad-boy rock star chef” image, although as a one-time, wannabe rock star myself, I can’t deny his genuine swag had its appeal.

It wasn’t about the TV shows even though I shouted with glee when he plopped down at a little plastic table in Vietnam and slurped up a bowl of noodles with President Obama.

It wasn’t the brutally honest way he told the tale of kicking dope, a plight of which I am all too familiar.

It wasn’t his wit and razor sharp humour although any man who can rip to shreds the all-American obsession with “non-food” food items by writing lines such as, “…’I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter??? I can!!!…'”, should immediately proceed to the comedy hall-of-fame.

It wasn’t his outspoken advocacy for undocumented workers, LGBT people, the Palestinians, or the #MeToo movement, even though thank God somebody in this day and age had the balls, and the global reach, to effectively say what he said.

It wasn’t his 1 zillion Instagram followers or his millions of dollars or his badass tattoos. Hell, it wasn’t even the food, even though his cookbook did teach me how to make proper scrambled eggs (tip – read his cookbook because you’re still doing it wrong)

For me, it was always the writing.

Anthony Bourdain was my hero because he made me pick up a pen and write. It may sound cheesy to you, even trite, but it’s true. Bourdain’s writing empowered me to face, and conquer, my monstrous demons of resistance and simply write. Now, I’m no global celebrity or cult of personality politician, but I, too, have a story to tell and with Bourdain’s words as my guide, I finished my memoir this year. On my blog I posted one chapter a week, for 40 weeks in a row, and then submitted it to a publisher a short time ago. We’ll see what happens. The odds are ridiculously slim that my little tale will grow to the heady heights of Bourdain’s memoir, but that is irrelevant. What matters is that I wrote it, and Bourdain is the main reason why.

Having said all that, I’m aware that there’s a tendency to eulogise a revered artist and turn him into some kind of saint, especially when he took his own life. But that’s what I love about Anthony Bourdain, he was not, and never claimed to be, a saint. He was a pesky, flesh and blood human, warts and all. He admitted to contributing to the toxic culture in kitchens. He admitted that he may have unknowingly glamourised heroin and cocaine use. He also admitted that he was wrong to do those things. That is heroic and it’s pretty rare these days too.

So now, the questions. Why? How could he? After all, he had everything. What fucking happened? Hopefully we will never really find out because that kind of intimacy is for his family. But we all have our theories. Could it have been temporary depression brought on by some kind of personal tragedy? Could it have been a slip with dope? Could it be he was sick of the constant pressure? Who knows? Dominique, my girlfriend, said something that makes as much sense as anything I’ve heard so far. She said, “his flame went out”. In other words, he lost his hunger, his reason to get out of bed. He’d written the books, done the TV, won the awards, met the President, made the cash, got the girl, had the child, traveled the globe. Anything he desired, he could have. I don’t know how that feels, but it’s conceivable that a 61 year-old man could arrive at that elusive destination, find himself in another lonely hotel room, slip on the dope – knowing all too well where that will end up, and think to himself, “fuck it. I’m done”. I can see how that could possibly take him out to the precipice. Just a theory, obviously, as I’m just trying to make sense of it all.

For now though, all I’ve got is the writing. Kitchen Confidential is the only book I’ve ever owned both in paperback and on Kindle. I’ve re-read the paperback so many times that the pages are all dog-eared. I guess going back to its pages, and Bourdain’s words, are as comforting as any refuge we could hope to find.

Rest in peace, chef.

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Americano! Foreword.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

FOREWORD 

…I am an excitable man. I can get carried away, prone to a new dream every damn day. This book is one of those dreams. When the muse came calling and I got the itch, I’d constructed this project fully in my head. My plan? I would write the story of my life as a professional foreigner in the Netherlands and blog it into a book. Practically speaking I would post one chapter every Sunday, roughly 1000 words a week, until the book was finished. Flush with excitement, I shared my idea with the woman I love, Dominique. As always, she was supportive. But there was a catch.

“Dave,” she said, sweet but firm, “if you start this thing, you have to finish it. You can’t stop writing in the middle and leave people hanging.”

A few years ago, she’d gotten hooked on a certain writer’s story of his tumultuous adventures at love. The writer was an acquaintance of hers. Like mine, his plan had also been to post one chapter a week. For a while, he followed through and did just that. She loved his writing and looked forward to his posts every week. One sad day though, from out of nowhere, he stopped writing. There were no more posts. His story never got resolved.

Dominique was furious.

So, after sharing my idea with her, she put the fear of God in me. She made me promise that, once I got the ball rolling, I would keep writing and make it to the finish line. To do otherwise would be too disrespectful to my readers.

To Dominique I owe a mountain of gratitude. It was her gentle warning, her special dose of tough love that allowed me to fight through the never-ending resistance and keep writing.

Dank je wel, liefje.

PS – all the stuff I write about in this book really happened, but I have changed some names to protect the guilty…

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Americano! Why Do I Do It?

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

WHY DO I DO IT? 

…I know it’s ficticious, but the Sunday I described above is my idea of a perfect day. It’s got everything I love about life in the Netherlands: an easy Sunday, cozy breakfast, cuppa coffee, great girl, good sex, long walk in the sun, time with my kids, beautiful city, killer music, cold drinks, shameless dancing and a good night’s sleep before the hectic work week begins anew.

When the sun is shining, the Netherlands is my favorite place in the world. Having said that, I do realize it is no more of a utopia than anywhere else on the planet. It’s a country, a real country, warts and all. In the 25 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve come to know Holland’s imperfections and blind spots. The weather can be gray and gloomy for weeks on end, the taxes are outrageous, and the Dutch people can, at times, be totally lacking in common courtesy. So I get it – there is a bad that goes with all the good.

But, as I press on towards the ravage of middle age, I have chosen to focus on the good stuff, which, oddly enough, sometimes makes the Dutch raise an eyebrow. If there’s one thing that the Dutch find suspicious about my opinion of Holland it’s that I’m too positive about their country. All that positivity can’t be for real, they’ll tell me. It’s just too American. But I love the place and for the foreseeable future I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

As with everything, having chosen to stay in Holland and create my life as a professional foreigner does come with a price tag. There is pain involved, too. Most importantly, I miss my family and friends in the USA. I am blessed to have a solid relationship with my mom and dad as well as with my brother and his family. I also have very close friends in the States and they mean the world to me. We try to see each other as often as possible but it’s very easy to let a few years slip by. Despite living so far away from, and seeing each other infreqeuntly, we are still close.

How do I deal with the pain of missing them?

Most days I remind myself that even if I lived in America, I would not see them on a regular basis. We have all grown older, we all have busy lives, and America is a huge country. In a heartbeat, circumstances can change and you suddenly move several thousand miles away from your loved ones. It happens all the time. I find peace in that simple truth. On top of that, I’ve gotten used to the situation. We are all creatures of habit and this has been my reality since the day I left the USA. I have developed a kind of resilience, or numbness, to the pain.

But a few times a year, particularly around the Christmas holidays, I lose my shit entirely. Every year, like clockwork, I slip into a deep funk at the thought of not seeing my parents, or my brother, or my friends at the holidays. It’s just really hard. I always manage to keep it together when I’m with my own children at the holidays, but as soon as they go back to their mother and I am suddenly alone and staring at a Christmas tree, I drop my head into my hands and sob.

But that, too, passes.

And then I remember where I am, and that I’m living a life I could only have dreamed of as a young boy in America. I remember what makes my engines tick and I find my way out of the funk. So why do I endure the pain of missing my friends and family, each and every year? Why do I do it?

Because I’m curious, that’s why. It’s really that simple.

I want to know.

I want to learn.

I want to explore.

I want adventure.

I’m curious about how to order those delicious looking pastries at that funky bakery in Barcelona. I want to know how the Schengen agreement came into being. I want to learn how it’s possible that I can go to the pharmacy and never have to pay for medication. I’d like somebody to tell me how coffeeshops that sell weed in Holland get stocked with weed when the growing of marijuana for commercial purposes is illegal. I’m curious about why grown men and women run with bulls in Pomplona. I want to learn the difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and why they used to blow each other up. I wanna know how the Dutch invented bitterballen. I’d love to see the Northern Lights up in Sweden or Norway or wherever that happens. I’m dying to see if the cooks in Napoli can make better pizza than I can get here in Utrecht. I want to experience the atmosphere at the Ryder Cup Golf Matches in Paris when the Europeans play against the Americans. I wanna take the tour of Vermeer’s Delft. I’m curious whether Trump-style politics will spread to European countries. I wanna drive on the right in Britain and see if I can do it without crashing. I desperately want to watch the Dutch national soccer team finally win the World Cup, preferably with one of my sons on the team. I want to eat at a Michelin star restaurant in France and I want to eat gambas on a beach in Andalucia. I wanna stay in love with my special Dutch girl who can teach me new words every single day while we’re laying in bed, looking up at the stars.

And I can only do it here.

Is that too much to ask? God willing, I will live out my days trying to find answers to those questions. That’s why I want to stay and keep turning the next corner. Figuring out this stuff, learning it, experiencing it – that’s what gets me off. That’s what makes the life of a professional foreigner. Sometimes it hurts, but I learn a lot and it’s never boring.

I have no idea why I’m like this and I certainly don’t mean it in some kind of pretentious, “look at me exploring the world” kind of way. Often times, this choice of mine is a pain in the ass and I deride myself for not living a simpler life near my friends and family in New England. But this is who I am. I’m not sure if my curiosity was born of a life spent constantly moving around, or if it’s just an inherent part of my personality. I guess it doesn’t really matter. This is me and, even though I need regular reminders that a more traditional 9 to 5 life would never make me happy, I have accepted it fully.

There are still so many things that I don’t know and so many places I have not yet seen. I’m 48 years old and I haven’t yet been to Asia or Africa or South America. I can’t wait to go, I want to go, I need to go. Life hasn’t made that possible for me yet, but when it does, I’m going. And when I pack my bags and head off to the airport, flush with excitement for a new journey, my mother will call me on the phone sweetly say, “David, it’ll be an adventure.”

 

THE END. 

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Americano! Holland, A Fine Place.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

HOLLAND, A FINE PLACE.

The gentle chime of church bells, just beyond my window, awaken me sometime after dawn. It is Sunday morning in this, my city of Utrecht. I roll over and pull back the curtains, a faint summer sun pushing in. I open the window to let in morning air. Tilting the window open, I hear more bells – this time a bicycle – down on the street outside my building. I look down to see a father on his bicycle, reaching over to steady his young son who must have learned to ride very recently. He chirps words of encouragement to his boy and places his hand firmly on the kid’s shoulder as they press on down the street.

Dominique wakes up next to me, her eyes sleepy delicious. She awakes rested and smiling, always the deep sleeper. It’s one of her most endearing traits. Arching her back and stretching into this fine morning, she asks me, her voice soft, “hoe laat is het, liefje?”

We get up to brush our teeth and crawl back in bed to be with each other, in that very finest of ways, before easing into the day. Entwined in the afterglow, content and relaxed, I speak first. “It’s time for coffee”.

Luckily, there’s a great little coffee joint down on the corner. I throw on some jeans and my Red Sox cap and bound down four flights of stairs to the street. Pushing the heavy front door open, I head towards the coffee place and some much needed caffeine. Stepping inside, I pass two women sitting sipping cappuccinos. I walk to the counter where the amptly bearded Turkish proprietor coaxes the milk atop a freshly ground cappuccino into a large heart. I order two large caramel macchiatos, two small bottles of freshly squeezed orange juice and sit down to wait.

While I’m grabbing coffee, Dominique hops on her bike and shoots off to the bakery. Fresh bread. Maybe some croissants, or pain du chocolat. She insists that bread must be fresh. If bread is more than 24 hours old it is worthy only of toasting. If it’s older than that, it goes to the ducks in the park or, sadly, to the trash can. But if Dominique has her way, and when it comes to bread she most surely will, it’s not going into our mouths. According to sweet Dominique, life is just too short for day old bread. I love that about her.

Coffee and baked goodies in hand, we meet back at my place, my apartment instantly filling with the smell of freshly baked bread. The weather nice, we open the double doors to my little balcony overlooking the city and take our coffee, juice, and croissants outside to eat. Utrecht is slowly waking up. Up here on the fourth floor, we get to watch the city rise. A woman across the street has come out on her balcony to hang some laundry. A man directly across from us, his apartment also on the fourth floor of a separate building, is tidying the furniture on his own balcony. He hurriedly grabs seat cushions and deposits them in a weather proof storage box. The man is always tidying his balcony. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen him do. As you can imagine, his balcony is spotless, most surely an expression of his chronic OCD.

We sip our coffee and nibble on the bread. We don’t say much, mercifully comfortable in our silence. We let the sun warm us and enjoy the peace. The rest of the day will bring friends and festivities, but morning coffee and breakfast is a quiet moment and we take our time.

Dishes in the dishwasher, showered and shaved, we head outside for a morning walk. Heading a few blocks west from my place, we cross the canal into the city’s ancient center. We take the Predikherenkerkhof, a tony street flanked on both sides by handsome town houses. This warm day has brought the world to its feet and we are passed by families on bikes, old men walking their dogs, students in small groups and lovers strolling hand in hand. At Utrecht’s famous Neude Square, we find a table under a large oak tree and order one last espresso, stopping more for the prime spot than the coffee. It is a gorgeous spot, our table protected from the sun by the tree’s flowing branches, but we’ll stay only long enough to throw the coffee back and pay our bill. Walking away from the square, passing several cafes, a gourmet burger joint, and a Greek restaurant, the street narrows to the size of an alley – Vinkenburgstraat. This little street is unique though, as it is home to a bit of movie star fame. Utrecht is home to the Netherlands Film Festival, a cultural event held in September and October of every year. By hosting this prestigious festival, the city of Utrecht has forever linked itself to the Dutch film industry. On the charming Vinkenburgstraat, award winning actors mark their immortality by putting their hands into squares of cement on the street. Reminiscent of Hollywood’s walk of fame, the Vinkenburgstraat’s splash of movie history stops tourists and townies alike who bend down to read the names in cement. At the street’s end, we run into the city’s pearl, Oudegracht – The Old Canal.

Completed in 1275, the Old Canal was, and in many ways still is, Utrecht’s commercial heartbeat. Boats from everywhere, carrying a variety of goods, would float into the city center and deposit the goods in the typical warehouses located at water level. For centuries, the Old Canal has done plenty of business, making the city quite prosperous for its day. In modern times, the Old Canal has been transformed into the city’s most vibrant retail area, with a large number of shops located up at street level. The vast majority of the original warehouses have been transformed into restaurants, cafes, and various businesses.

Today, strolling along the Old Canal, the weather dry and warm, the outdoor cafes and restaurants fill up quickly, a nice table in the sun a valuable commodity. Big, leafy trees line both sides of the canal adding vibrant splashes of green to the area. We take the stairs from the street down to the waterline, just to watch the boats drift by. Tourists in paddle boats struggle to propel forward while locals whizz by in engine powered vessels. The restaurants are so full by now that revellers eat and drink just inches from their chairs toppling over into the canal. It’s all very nice.

We stroll down the canal, eventually taking the stairs back up to the street. Walking along, flanked by the gabled 17th Century building on both sides of the canal, I feel little pulses of excitement rise within me. I am here, in Europe, walking this beautiful canal with this beautiful lady, and this place is my home! Sometimes my good fortune in this random life startles me, but I do my best to accept the ridiculous amount of luck I forever seem to have had.

Nearing the end of the Old Canal, we reach one of my favorite streets in the town, the Twijnstraat. After my divorce I lived a stone’s throw from here and I grew to love it dearly. What is its charm, this quaint street? First, the restaurants and cafes – which are plentiful. There’s a place called Fishes on the corner that sells fresh fish and seafood. There’s a Belgian bakery that sells bread and pastries and has a nice lunch menu as well. There’s a Vietnamese joint, a French bistro, a craft beer boutique, and a gourmet cheese shop. Just to make sure things don’t get too posh, a dive bar modeled on an “American roadhouse” and a late night shoarma shack take their place on the street, just to keep the hipsters honest.

When I lived here I had my favorite stops: Cafe Ledig Erf for the best outdoor seating and strongest Belgian beer, and Cafe de Poort for good bar food, no nonsense ambiance and a nice view of the water. But my all time favorite spot on the Twijnstraat goes to a pizza place called Da Portare Via. They do the big wooden oven pizzas and I swear on the grave of my Italian Grandfather, Papa Mangini, that Portare’s pizza are the best I have ever tasted. I may be a man prone to hyperbole but, in this case, it’s genuine. Da Portare Via’s pizza chefs, none of them Italian as far as I can tell, bake the thinnest, most melt-in-your-mouth, pizza crust this side of Napoli. They’ve since expanded their operation to an even better place on Utrecht’s Voorstraat. If you are ever in town, stop at Portare Via and grab a pizza and a nice bottle of Chianti. You will not be disappointed.

We make it to the end of the street, hand in hand, and stop for a glass of prosecco at De Poort. Grabbing a table near the water, we sip our wine and watch a group of seven cyclists who’ve just finished a morning ride. They slowly unstrap their feet from the intricate pedals and stretch gingerly before sitting down for a bite and a beverage. We soak up the sun and the bubbly vino, and smile quietly while we observe people jostling to get a table in the sun. You gotta have some hustle to get a good spot in this town and we’ve been lucky this time. We finish our wine, pay the man, and scurry off.

Crossing the square, we follow a shaded sidewalk that loops around and follows a different canal back towards the center. It’s a green oasis in the middle of town, a refuge for dog owners who come here in droves to walk their pets. Thankfully, the owners respect the city’s leash laws otherwise all hell would break loose as dogs would go bonkers trying to sniff out their next mate. But today it all procedes in the most civilized of fashion and we walk briskly, slightly buzzed from the wine, and re-join the Old Canal near Utrecht’s Grand Dame, the Dom Tower.

Built so many thousands of years ago, The Dom is our Eiffel Tower, our Space Needle, our Freedom Tower. Sticking way up into the sky, tourists flock from all around and townies like me still stop and stare when the light hits her from a certain angle. She is big and beautiful and is one of those special attractions that towers above everything in her wake, while also doubling in function as a landmark to get your bearings and sense of direction. All roads lead to the Dom and one quick glance in her direction will tell you where you are and which way to go next.

Pushing through the large crowds at the Dom this morning, we make our way along the canal, turning right back onto Vinkenburgstraat, passing Neude Square, and back to my apartment. Having walked just long enough to feel it in our legs, we arrive at my place just before my sons show up to join us in watching some soccer on TV.

My boys arrive right before kick off. They come bundling in, feisty and joyous, all elbows and knees, still finding their way from puberty to young adulthood. Soccer is something we have shared since they were little. They both play the game, at the highest level for their age group, and seem to be continuing the line of good Mangene athletes. Our favorite team is FC Utrecht, the local major league franchise. It’s a blessing and a curse loving this team because to love them is to let go of ever winning the biggest prize. It’s a simple matter of economics with a smaller market team like FC Utrecht. Without the requisite dollars and cents, buying the talent necessary to win the big one is next to impossible. But we love them all the same. FC Utrecht is historically a “club of the people” meaning the core of its fanbase is local born and working class. Tickets are entirely affordable so I don’t have to take out a second mortgage to take my boys to the stadium for a match. The atmosphere in the stadium during matches is old school European with songs being sung from kick-off to final whistle. We’ve been to plenty of matches in the driving wind and rain of deep winter but it’s worth the pain. It’s a labor of love.

On this fine day though, we’re staying home to watch on TV. Utrecht is playing against Rotterdam’s biggest club, Feyenoord, which is a particularly fun rival because Dominique is from that part of the country. She cheers loudly for Feyenoord, the boys cheer even louder for Utrecht, and I am stuck somewhere in the middle. I make fresh guacamole, Dominique whips up some tasty club sandwiches, we pour ourselves tall drinks and the game is on.

The match is stellar. Both teams are in the mood to play offensive soccer. Utrecht gets on the board first, the center forward slamming a header into the top right corner of the net. Feyenoord returns the favor just minutes later to tie the game at 1-1. Both teams add another, taking the match into halftime tied at 2-2. But the second half is all Utrecht. Our guys punish the Rotterdam defense with masterful through balls, adding two more goals to bring the total to 4-2. My boys hoop and holler, rubbing salt into Dominique’s wounds and cackling their way back outside. We have a great time watching the game and my beloved sons leave happy.

The match has ended and now we’re off to a music festival on the other side of town. We’ve both taken the day off from work tomorrow so it’s no-holds-barred tonight. We text a group of friends and arrange to meet at the festival grounds in a couple of hours. The music today will be mostly EDM, but there will be enough “real bands” to keep things from getting too one sided. With the weather good, it’ll be a zoo at the festival so we decide to leave promptly to get a jump on the crowds. We like to travel light, taking only a summer jacket as well as sunglasses, keys, and money.

Having arrived at the festival, the music is top notch, the dancing sweaty, and the company divine. At midnight, when city noise ordinances force the DJs to stop, we slowly make our way outside back to our bikes. There is talk of after-parties, many of which will go on until the sun comes up, but that’s not our vibe tonight. We are headed home, to my little place in the center of town. We say our goodbyes to friends old and new, jump on our bikes, and pedal back to town, the zzzzzz of dance music still booming in our ears.

Twenty minutes later, we’re home. We lock the bikes, climb the stairs, and there’s just time enough for one last nightcap before heading to bed. Dominique carefully pours two cognacs, no ice, and accompanies them with a tall glass of San Pellegrino water, just to fend off tomorrow’s hangover. Peering over my balcony, out into the vibrant city, its frenetic energy now really heating up, we drink our way towards some well deserved sleep. Today was one for the history books.

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Americano! Still Proud To Be An American.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

STILL PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN

1.

…When I was a young man, I ran away from America. It wasn’t political or economical or anything like that. I just had to go, so I came to Europe.

As of today, I’ve been outside of the USA for more than half my life: 25 years and counting. But the cliche is true: you can take the boy out of America but you can’t take America out of the boy. I still feel as American as the day I left and I often find myself daydreaming about what my next life in America could be.

Where would I go?

What would I do?

Would the country still be recognizeable?

Would I still feel American?

Impossible to say. And there’s only one way to find out.

Despite all the turmoil in America these days, all the negativity, I still believe the American experiment is the most exciting game going. I’m still inspired by the idea of starting a brand new country, half way across the world, based on a set of ideas agreed upon by a group of entrepreneurial pioneers. Very few people have ever tried that, let alone tried it and created something as vibrant and beautifully imperfect as the behemoth that is America. I shall forever continue to be a proud American.

Having said that, there is one aspect of American culture that I just cannot accept. In fact, it makes me feel shame. Guns. I don’t care what the N.R.A., or pro-gun people argue, our gun policies make no sense. They just don’t. We’re the only “civilized” nation that has mass shootings at this rate. It’s disgusting.

I will never come to terms with guns in America and, sadly, I’m not sure it will ever change. I fucking sure hope so, but I’ll tell you this in all honesty: I’m glad my sons are being raised in the Netherlands. It feels safer somehow…

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Americano! So You Wanna Be a Professional Foreigner?

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

SO YOU WANNA BE A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER? 

1.

…Maybe you think it’d be cool to move far away and make a life for yourself in a foreign country. If so, more power to you. I encourage your wanderlust entirely. But if you really do want to get that passport and GO, GO, GO – please consider a few things before you embark.

GET A JOB.

If you’re going to move abroad and become a professional foreigner, you’re gonna need a job in the foreign country of your choice. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many ambitious young people I’ve seen show up in Europe, only to smoke pot and couch surf for an entire year. I’m not saying that’s a bad way to spend a year of your life, but if you’re looking to stay for the long haul, you’re gonna need to find proper work. Politically speaking, I must say that Europe has moved significantly to the right since I first arrived looking for a residence and work permit way back in 1993. Freeloaders are not welcome anywhere. Xenophobia is trending and most countries, in Europe or elsewhere, will demand that you add something to their society in the form of work, as opposed to “milking” their system.

First and foremost, consider teaching English. Why? Because there’s plenty of work. Everybody, from the humble shopkeeper to the travelling Grandmother to the evil terrorist, wants and needs to speak English. The power of English teaching jobs is that, as a native English speaker, you’re not taking a job from a local person. I was originally awarded a work permit in the Netherlands because a Dutch person could not do my job, because a Dutch person is not a native English speaker. To be clear, when I advise you to teach English, I mean for you to teach at a private language school for adults. Forget teaching English in elementary education as you’ll need teacher certification in the local country. The private schools for adults generally do not require local elementary education certification. Find a T.E.S.L or a T.O.E.F.L. program and apply there. One of the best advantages to teaching English in one of these programs is that you will absolutely have to use your cultural identity to get the job done and that, after all, is the core of being a professional foreigner.

GET A DEGREE.

Get a college degree before you leave your home country. Any college degree. I happen to have a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in T.E.S.L. but you don’t have to have one of those. Any degree will do. Just be able to show the locals that you finished college. When I taught at the Nuns in Vught, they pretty much hired any native English speaker with a college degree as long as they could put two sentences together and were possessed of a reasonably amiable demeanor. But the college degree was a must – so do whatever you have to do to get one.

LEARN THE LOCAL LANGUAGE.

This one is hard. Really hard. It took me three years to learn Dutch, and I’m good at languages. I took formal lessons and read books with uplifting titles such as “Dutch in Three Months!”. Ultimately though, there’s only one way to really learn a foreign language – you have to NEED to speak it, not just want to speak it. Until your livelihood, your personal relationships, or, in some extreme cases, your physical safety are at stake, you won’t learn the local language in your country of choice. Simply wanting to “sound cool” or “push your boundaries” are not enough. You gotta need it, to learn it. In my case, I ended up learning Dutch when I met people who didn’t want to speak English. They understood English, and spoke it a little bit, but I learned Dutch because they spoke it to me constantly over a long period of time. Finally, I learned to speak Dutch.

The rewards of becoming fluent in a foreign language are endless. It enables you to really talk to people. You can shop for stuff without having to flail about at the mercy of others. You increase your potential for getting a job. Some studies show that speaking multiple languages wards off dementia in later life. But this is just the practical stuff. The real reward of speaking a foreign language is inclusion. We are social animals and we all need our tribes; speaking the language is your ticket to a place in the tribe. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving in your new home country. When you speak the local language, you become a participant. You get to speak your mind. You count. You matter. You are truly seen and heard.

It takes time. It will require truck loads of patience and determination. You will need to be vulnerable and accept making mistakes. You will have to accept that you will forever have an accent and your accent will always label you as a foreigner. It’s a genuine challenge, one of life’s greatest challenges if you ask me. But it’s worth it. The sense of achievement is unsurpassed by little. Some people think that only “certain people” can learn a foreign language, as if learning a foreign language has something to do with intelligence or a special genetic disposition. Bullshit. If you can read these words you are smart enough to learn any foreign language. You just gotta need it, you gotta work at it, and you gotta keep working at it until you get it. When you do, you’ll feel an enormous sense of pride that lasts forever.

PICK A COUNTRY, ANY COUNTRY.

Leaving the country of your birth and moving elsewhere is a shock to the system. We all handle that shock differently, but it’s a shock nonetheless. We don’t have the expression “culture shock” for nothing. As a result, my advice is for you to find a foreign country and make it your home base. With a new “home country” you can put roots in the ground and grow from there. If you’ve ever listened to a professional musician talk about life on the road, you’ll hear that they never really “see” much in the countries they visit. Sure, they have fun and they pick up a few things about the places they pass through. But that’s it – they’re just passing through. A professional foreigner needs to stay somewhere long enough to compare and reflect upon what it means to be foreign, and to use that knowledge in some way that makes them a living. It’s the difference between being a tourist and being a foreign resident. Tourists are on vacation and headed to the airport sometime soon. Foreign residents are cemented into a foundation from which they can learn.

Obviously it doesn’t matter which country you choose. Whatever floats your boat. I would recommend a country that doesn’t share your native language, but that’s just me. I think being forced to learn a new language will enhance your experience tenfold. A stable country with a working economy and a lack of war would be nice. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to more volatile places. Maybe your sense of adventure needs a less stable country. I don’t know. It’s your call. Every once in a while I get an email from the American Consulate in Amsterdam warning me not to go to this country or that country because it is too dangerous, corrupt, or hostile to Americans. I’m sure these advisories are well researched and include the very best of intentions, but something about them awakes the rebel in me. Don’t go to Haiti, they say. Well, we’ll just see about that, Mr. Uncle Sam! I’m not saying I’m taking my next vacation in that “shithole country”, but I am saying I determine what is a shithole and what isn’t, not my Government. And so do you. Just pick a country and go live there as opposed to breezing through as many countries, as quickly as possible.

DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.

Being permanently foreign is not for the faint hearted. It takes resilience because some people in the local country are going to resent you, demonize you, ridicule you, pick on you, and, sadly, hate you. It’s hard, but you’ll have to do it.

Believe me, I am no paragon of thick skin. I can be ridiculously over-sensitive. This has pros and cons obviously, but over the years I’ve somehow found a way to not let the haters get me down. Do yourself a favor though – let that negativity go. As a professional foreigner, you have much to offer your new homeland. Never forget that…

 

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Americano! Finding Myself.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

FINDING MYSELF

1.

…I wrote the introduction to this book ten months ago. In it, I posed the following question: have I done everything I need to do to make my journey complete? In other words, have I “found myself” in becoming, and being, a professional foreigner? Have I become comfortable with who I am?

The honest answer is no.

It’s true. Today, as I sit and type these words, on a quiet Sunday evening, my youngest son asleep on the couch and my oldest hanging out with his girl, I am no more comfortable with myself today than I was the day I moved to Europe.

The truth is that I have never “found” myself.

I have never become “comfortable” with myself.

At least not always. Some days I am very at home in my own skin and life is easy as a Sunday morning. Twenty-four hours later I am a basket case of gut-wrenching anxiety. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. I go back and forth between war and peace, with myself and the world around me, on a daily basis. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always been skeptical of those personality tests companies employ in order to deem workers a certain color. One day I’m red, the next day I’m blue, the next day I’m green. I’m never one color for very long. The experts will tell you that we all have one prominent color at the core of our being, but it doesn’t feel that way to me.

So I haven’t found myself and I’m not comfortable with myself. So what? I am okay with it. It’s not a source of unhappiness for me as I’ve come to realize that this is par for the course in my game of life.

Here’s what my never-ending journey as professional foreigner has taught me, after all the trips, all the moves, all the airplanes, all the new schools, all the new friends: when it comes to the endlessly sticky business of our “selves”… there is nothing to find. Nothing to discover.

I am here and this is me.

I am hot and I am cold.

I’m up and I’m down.

East and then West and… that’s all there is to be found.

I will never “find” myself. I will never be completely “comfortable”. All these dizzying runs around the sun have shown me the only truth a professional foreigner, or any honest person, will ever know:

Being “comfortable” is not the end game. Finding “myself “ is not the destination. I accept that a peaceful easy feeling will not be sustainable and that’s a good thing. I won’t try to take the edge off, because that edge is my USP. That struggle, that friction, that hustle, that’s as close to me as I’m ever gonna get. It’s as close to you as you’re ever gonna get. Whatever we may discover, let’s agree on this: take it as it comes, because it only comes once. Or, in the immortal words of the comedian Bill Hicks, when speaking to the so-called meaning of life…

“It’s just a ride.”

So ride it.

Enjoy it.

Cherish it.

Nurture it.

Hate it.

Love it.

But for the love of God, live it.

Having said that, please don’t confuse my lack of comfort, or lack of finding myself, as the same as saying that life has no meaning. I am not one of these nihilist zombies who preaches (before selling you a 600 dollar self-improvement seminar) that “life is empty and meaningless and it’s empty and meaningless that it’s empty and meaningless…”.

No way, dude. Life has meaning. The way I feel about my two sons has meaning. The way I feel about my girlfriend has meaning. My work? My friendships? My family? Chock full of meaning. I also happen to think that the pursuit of meaning during our precious little time on earth is well worth it. It’s a noble quest. All I’m saying is the pursuit, thankfully, does not have to be comfortable

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Americano! Omdenken, Part 1.

AMERICANO!

TALES OF A PROFESSIONAL FOREIGNER

BY DAVE MANGENE

OMDENKEN

1.

…Over the years I continued to make my cheesy movies. I continued to write and sing songs and put them online. Most of all though, I continued to teach English to Dutch people. In 2012 I decided it was time to put my method of teaching English into words. I wrote a book called Nooit Meer Steenkolenengels which roughly translates to “Never Speak Pidgin English Again”. About half way through the process, I got the crazy idea to illustrate the book myself. I had recently taken to drawing and found, to my surprise, that it relaxed me. So I kept doing it. As with all my projects at the time (and pretty much everything in my life) I had no formal training at drawing and, as a result, had no idea what I was doing in any kind of technical sense. But as the inimitable Robbie Williams once said about his singing talents, “I can’t sing. But it never stopped me from singing.” That’s a sentiment I can get behind.

So I wrote the book in English and then went looking for a publisher. I got a grand total of 13 responses from the big, bad world of book publishing. Eleven publishers ignored me entirely. One publisher replied saying “thanks but no thanks.” And one brave publisher in The Hague, Kemper Conseil Publishing, wanted to give me a shot. There was just one catch…

The book needed to be published in Dutch, not in English.

Their reasoning was straightforward: most Dutch readers want to read books in Dutch, not in English. Even if their English is good, which is quite common in the Netherlands, statistics have always shown that most people prefer to read in their native language. After initially being turned off by the idea, I eventually agreed with the company and translated my own book into Dutch. It was slow and boring work simply because Dutch is my second language. In the end, two editors corrected the translations that I had done and the book was released in June of 2012. My launch party was a grand affair with a DJ and live music and drinks and dancing. I gave a speech in which I talked about the process of writing the book and posted that on the internet as well. I am proud of the book even though it didn’t come close to breaking any sales records in the Netherlands. The fact of the matter is, every year I get royalties totalling enough to buy a nice bottle of champagne. But I wrote the thing, and I found a publisher and my book will forever be out there. Sometimes that’s enough.

A few years later, on a ho-hum Tuesday morning, I got a Facebook message from an English woman named Lynn whom I’d met previously to talk about English teaching in the Netherlands. Lynn’s message was an advertisement by a Dutch company called Omdenken. I had heard of Omdenken years before, from my friend Sanne Paulan who had turned me on to their philosophy. Omdenken is a Dutch word that translates in English to “flip-thinking” and, every year, the company does roughly 500 in-company shows, clinics, and workshops as well as theater tours throughout the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Omdenken performs its shows for roughly 75,000 audience members per year and has a book that has been in the Dutch Top 60 bestseller list for more than 200 weeks. In fact, every single Omdenken book has become a bestseller.

The basic premise of Omdenken is to take a problem and flip it into a new possibility in such a way that the problem disappears. Sanne had told me about the company’s founder, Berthold Gunster, and I had checked out their stuff online. I immediately knew that their work would speak to me on a deep level. I was so impressed with Gunster’s concept that I promptly stole the idea for his “Ja-Maar Show” and created a show to promote the sales of my own book called “The Nooit Meer Steenkolenengels Show”. Although I didn’t use any of the Omdenken concept in my show, I did steal the marketing approach in order to sell tickets. When I finally met Berthold, it’s one of the first things I told him about myself. Upon telling him, he just titled his head back and laughed. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, is it not?

The advertisement Lynn sent me pointed out that Omdenken was looking for a “social media expert” to do their English language stuff. They wanted a native English speaker and somebody that lived in Utrecht. I matched both of those criteria and, although I was plenty busy with my English teaching and other activities, I decided to drop them a line, explaining that I loved their work and that I shared something in common with the Berthold Gunster: our mutual friend Sanne.

Omdenken’s Social Media Director, Nelleke, wrote back and invited me to come talk. A short while later I found myself sitting at a table in their cozy office on the Old Canal in Utrecht. Interestingly, I wasn’t actually looking for a job. I had my hands full with House of English at the time, and came to the “interview” just because I wanted to meet the quirky minds behind the massive success at Omdenken. In retrospect I suppose not needing a job is an effective way to enter a job interview – it takes the pressure off. We simply spent time talking and getting to know each other. It was really nice. Berthold’s first question to me was one I will never forget because it was a foreshadowing of things to come:

“Hey Dave, how’s your Dutch?” he asked, his eyes smiling.

“My Dutch is really good Berthold” I answered, a bit more precocious than I normally would be.

He didn’t follow up my answer with another question, or try to test me in any way. He seemed to just make a mental note of my answer and our conversation carried on. An hour later, we were done. They sent me back out into the bright daylight, promising to call as soon as they knew what they wanted to do. I rode my bike back to my apartment on the Gansstraat in Utrecht, inspired by our talk, but free of expectations.

An hour later, my phone rang. It was Berthold. He offered me the social media job. But there was more. He asked me to meet him at Cafe de Poort later that same afternoon to discuss another idea he had. He wouldn’t give away any details, but just told me to meet him later. This was mysterious and more than a little exciting.

At 3:00 pm, the very same day, I walked the short distance from my apartment to the cafe and found him sitting at a booth, alone. The cafe, as with most quality Dutch cafes, was bustling with afternoon revellers. I joined him at the booth.

As I sat down he reached out and gave me a firm handshake, offering me a drink. I ordered sparkling mineral water. He was drinking a Diet Coke. Never one to mince words when important business is at hand, he cut to the chase:

“Dave, we want you to do our English social media, you know that already. But I have another offer…we also want you to become an Omdenken Trainer…” he said, his words trailing off but his eyes fixed on me. I didn’t know exactly what the job of Omdenken Trainer entailed but, given the success of the company, I knew it’d be huge.

I was speechless.

That very morning, when I had woken up, I wasn’t looking for a job. I was content in my life as an English teacher, blogger, and occasional musician. And now I was being offered not one, but two jobs. It was all rather dizzying.

“Wow, Berthold…” I finally offered, several seconds later. “That sounds big” I added, unsure of my footing. “I think I’d like to order something a little stronger from the bar now” I asked, to which he just smiled and called the waiter over. He ordered a red wine and I had my favorite Belgian beer, a Duvel.

Simply put, I wasn’t sure how we’d arrived at this junction. Berthold explained to me that his partner Annemargreet, the business director at the company, had checked out my stuff online before the interview. She’d found my tiny YouTube channel, with the lo-fi sketch comedy films, the love songs, and the speech I gave at my book launch. It was that speech that most closely resembled the work I’d be doing as an Omdenken trainer, and it impressed her. She promptly gave Berthold the heads up and he checked out my stuff too. Amateur or not, my online work struck a chord with them. As fate would have it, they had recently gotten rid of a trainer after a long separation and needed a new one. They hadn’t actively started looking for a new trainer yet, and here I was falling into their laps. The timing was beyond serendipitous.

Part of the attraction to Omdenken is that the company has been doing very well the past several years. Everybody loves a winner, am I right? The word Omdenken, and our shows, books, and merchandise, have quietly become part of the national conversation here in the Netherlands. Everybody it seems has, at the very least, heard of the term Omdenken.

As I mentioned before, Annemargreet and Berthold have a simple job title for the second job they offered me that fateful day: Omdenken Trainer. In this case the word “trainer” doesn’t really cut the mustard. In reality, the job is more a combination of Master of Ceremonies, facilitator, comedian, actor, and teacher, all rolled into one. To do the job well requires an ability to both memorize and deliver scripted text as well as the agility to improvise comedically. At this point in my life, I can honestly say there is no other job on the Planet Earth better suited to my own skills set than the job of trainer at Omdenken. We fit like a glove. My work at Omdenken, doing shows all over the world, is the very definition of my dream job.

Despite being a little flabbergasted when Berthold and Annemargreet first offered me the two jobs, I took them anyway. How many times do we get a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. Well, as the saying goes, we get the opportunity exactly once. I wasn’t gonna pass this one up. It won’t come as a surprise to you, but actually taking the job was the easy part. As it turned out, I sucked at the social media job mainly because computers fill me with anxiety so my results were decidedly average. I got fired from that one after 8 months. But I took to the the trainer job very well. Still, getting on stage in front of a living, breathing audience, that’s a continuous challenge. As Jordan Peele taught me at Boom Chicago, there is only one way to really learn: on stage, and the beauty of Omdenken is that I have a steady stream of shows as a way to properly master the art of comedy and theater. It’s a pretty cool job, if I do say so myself, and I hope to continue doing it until they put me in the ground and throw dirt on my box…

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