Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa Ju at Metz & Co - Amsterdam

A long time ago, I worked at Metz & Co, a small department store in Amsterdam, as the assistant to Cok de Rooy (since 1992 co-owner of The Frozen Fountain a haven for designers and lovers of Design in Amsterdam. The following is my memory of Holiday Season 1977.


Nine sharp I enter the buyers' office. Technically I'm in time, but you could also argue that I'm late, after all, I still have to hang up my coat. To my surprise the office isn't empty as usual when I arrive. Mr. Henselein the general manager of Metz & Co, leans into the conference table in the middle of the room where designers and artisans eager to sell to Metz, get to display their creations. I've only seen Mr. H once or twice before.
"Morning," he smiles at me without showing his teeth. "Like I said de Rooy, it means extra attention for our Christmas Market."
"Judith," Cok raises his eyebrows as a greeting.
I feel caught.
"Don't tell me, your mother called?"
Mr. H looks puzzled from Cok to me and back again.
If he weren't present, I'd tell Cok I'm in time because Mama didn't call me. Without her interference I can be in and out of the shower, dressed and on my bicycle to work in twenty-five minutes, add ten minutes of shortcuts through alleys and pedestrian areas, avoiding all traffic lights, and I'm at the Keizersgracht, locking my bike three minutes to nine. Cok must have left early to beat traffic himself, he usually arrives after I've sat down at my desk, but why is Mr. H. so early and what's he so exited about? I'll have to ask Cok.
Mister H answers my question himself. "Heinz Polzer is popular. Man he may have his Master's in Economics, he's the best known singing poet in the country. We'll get all kinds of good exposure by having him present that book of antique postcards to the Press here, at Metz."
Who's a singing poet with a Master's in Economics?
Seeing the question mark on my face Cok says, "You surely know Doctorandus P? That's the pseudonym of this Polzer fellow."
"Oh, Doctorandus P of course I know about him. He's that absentminded professor-type with a really bad voice that sings all those funny songs. I just heard his, "Troika here, troika there", on the radio. But he's also known for higgledy piggledy."
"Higgledy Piggledy? Oh, you mean Ollekebolleke," Mr. H grins, "That's it, you see Cok, even your assistant knows Doctorandus P."
"That doesn't mean a thing. Judith knows everybody. Anyway, that’s beside the point." He turns to me, "Tiebosch has published Doctorandus P's collection of antique postcards. You can tear the cards out of the book and send them like regular postcards. That it's a gift article rather than just a book justifies us selling copies in the store."
"We're going to have Santa Claus present Doctorandus P's book to the press here at Metz," H says.
"Why Santa Claus? Dutch children believe in Sinterklaas not in Santa," I say.
"Smart girl. You've got a point there. But using Santa will bring extra attention to our Christmas Market." Mr. H rises and slaps his hand on Cok's desk, "It just occurs to me we don't need an extra budget for a model, your assistant here, will make a wonderful Santa. I'll say it once more, and I won't say it again, it'll be great advertising for the holiday season."
Santa? Me? He sure knows how to compliment a girl.
"She's got enough work as is," Cok says.
 "Didn't you re-write the job description? I'm sure you'll work it out together," Mr. H winks at me.

How does the boss know?
I thought that arrangement was something between Cok and me. The moment he saw the photo he took of me, bent over paperwork, he felt sorry that I had to do all the invoice administration, and so on, by myself. He decided that we'd split the paperwork so that I could take on some of the more creative responsibilities.

"Piece of cake for you Judith. You can walk over to the costume rental place, it's just a few houses down the canal. They'll get you fitted for the costume, the wig and the beard. With those rosy cheeks you'll hardly need any make-up."
"All right then. It's up to Judith," Cok taps his pencil on his calendar. "Like I said, she's got plenty to do as is." He clearly isn't that crazy about the idea. But if it's really up to me, I'll do anything that'll take me away from my desk. Besides, meeting Doctorandus P is a real opportunity.

Cyclists who encounter me in the street, the short distance from the costume rental to Metz & Co smile at me, but the sales women inside the store look at me like I'm an intruder or a bum.
"What?" I want to grumble, "Do you think I'll pull out a flask?" But I don't. On my way to the 6th floor I say nothing but "Ho, ho, ho," each time a customer steps into the elevator.
"Must have come in from Liberty's of London," someone says.
I pat my character's thick waist. I'm wearing my own clothes underneath the flannel suit and the rolled up excess material of the men's size pants makes me look extra chubby.

Cok and Mr. H meet me in the Rietveld cupola, they introduce me to the photographer and a stylist. The latter has me get on my knees between the Christmas display tables, to wrap a copy of Drs. P's book in Christmas paper. I'm a professional wrapper. That's what got me started working for Bullock's in Westwood in 1974, so I know it's looking good. 

Doctorandus P arrives, and he and I step onto the flat roof beside the cupola. I give it my best, want to be noticed by this man, but to him I'm Santa, not a young woman waiting to be recognized for her acting talents. He doesn't even look me in the eye. But Mr. H is pleased.

Within an hour of leaving the costume rental place as a Santa, I'm sitting in the window at Berkhoff's the bakery/ tearoom across the canal, in my regular clothes, sucking whipped cream off my hot cocoa, and digging into the flaky pastry surrounding the baked apple, not a worry about my waist.

Happy Holiday Season to You All! A Season to Share Memories - Care to Share Yours? Leave a comment!

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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