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Immortal for a Day

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

A few days ago, I drank my morning coffee while listening to a soft hiss from outside. They were finally removing the words HAIL SATAN from the university building across the street.

To celebrate the end of the face mask mandate, a supermarket in Groningen placed baskets with free chocolate bars next to the entrance, together with a sign: "We are pleased to greet you with a smile again." In the NORTH!

Floris is experiencing an international football competition with something like active interest for the first time. His mother next to him, snacks in front of us, his father: absent, disinterested, not a football fan, like his father before him. A lineage of eccentric males. We watch our first game together. The Netherlands vs. Czech Republic. We're rooting for the Netherlands. Netherlands loses, 0:2. Platitudes about sportsmanship and losing with dignity fall on deaf ears. We watch our second game. Germany vs. England. We're rooting for Germany. Germany loses, 0:2.

"I hate football! Each team I support loses zero to two!" Platitudes about statistics and representative sampling fall on deaf ears. "Next time I'm supporting whoever wins in the end." Looks like you've got yourself a new fan, Belgium.

Seriously though, England winning from Germany. The post-coital, sorry, post-surgical—damn it: post-game analyses are all filled with words like trauma, redemption, a burden crushing generations finally lifted, a poisoned chunk of apple finally puked out, etc., etc., and apparently the Dutch understand the English apotheosis only too well, because they, too, once beat Germany (at football, still talking about football here) in a fervently hoped-for revenge, one that came a long, long time after what appears to have been a bitter loss still festering in the deepest soul of the country? Unfortunately, I have no idea what they're talking about, but hey, vicarious congrats, and enjoy that slice of English victory, guys. Football is coming home!

I mean, I know Germany is never going to make the All-Time Top 5 of the World's Most Beloved Nations, but come on. It's only a game.

And if I had been sitting in that crowded Wembley Stadium in London yesterday evening, I would have happily explained this to everyone! And everyone would have appreciated it so much!

Another apotheosis, this time in the Netherlands: Hugo de Jonge, Minister of Health, Welfare, and Sport. I don't have strong feelings or ideas about him, neither positive nor negative, wouldn't vote for his party, but at the same time would rather vote for his party than some others, so, meh. I estimate his moral fortitude, like that of most people, to fall somewhere in the middle between Donald Trump and Nelson Mandela—so, within a pretty broad range, and likely average. His looks are average, too, his figure dito, and at the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, his skin was grey, his pores enormous, his eyes bulging bloodshot orbs held in place by swollen purple eyelids, and I always had the idea that inside his skull and under his increasingly unhinged hairdo, his cortex was quietly boiling and slowly congealing around his brain stem. It wouldn't have surprised me at all if he'd started to drool or spit foam. Because he looked like me, and I knew what my insides felt like.

Six months later, unlike me, he lost weight. You can tell, because he's taken to wearing tight jeans that hug the loins and bottom, and he tops them off with thin wool sweaters that, even through the underlying layer of a casually unbuttoned white shirt, manage to cling to abs that emerged from the sea of sloth like a new promised land, and a chest that almost deserves the label "defined."

Aw yes, he works out. Because, after all, what else is there to do now? So much free time! His interns play drinking games to decide who gets to take over the twitter account and post the next vaccination update. "Hey there, hello hello! Everyone born in the year XXXX can now make an appointment for their shot! Meet me at the Love Parade!" Meanwhile, Hugo is working hard on Instagram. He asks his followers and all and sundry to send him their top-5 favorite songs from the year of birth currently invited to make a vaxx appointment. From the answers, carefully filtered from replies like, "How low can you go, Hugo? You are disgusting. Keep your poison to yourself," he compiles a list on Spotify. The 2021 Vaccination Summer Hits.

And the young people, who had to wait the longest for their shot, most of whom are still not fully vaccinated yet, and who now have to stand in line for hours to get tested before throwing themselves into the newly reopened night life? ("Standing in line forever," I read somewhere, "you can tell the government is going the extra mile to approximate the real festival experience") — they have the option to skip the line for BioNTech-Pfizer/Moderna and get vaccinated with the Janssen vaccine before they dash off towards life, liberty, and beyond. (Janssen = Johnson & Johnson to the world outside of the Netherlands.) After only a few hours on the phone, you're in. He takes his time and does everything right, knocks me out with one shot for the rest of the night.

And of course there's a hashtag for that. #dansenmetjanssen. Dance with Janssen. Like with other invented expressions ("freedom fries"), I suspected a joke at first, but no. Hugo is on a roll. This was his idea. This is his bid for immortality. Viva Hollandia.

Only a few months ago, my after-dinner kitchen cleaning music was "Freiheit" (live) by Westernhagen, and I wept in solitude. Now it's "Let's Groove Tonight" by Earth Wind & Fire. Say no more? No more.

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