When Phil Verchota was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1956, pinball machines were still illegal in his home state. However, the state supreme court made a ruling that pinball was a game of skill, not chance – and therefore not gambling – a year later, so it’s safe to assume his pinball playing days weren’t cut short by law.
Although, eighteen years later, when he enrolled in University of Minnesota, pinball machines were still illegal in New York City, and the games took place in back rooms of establishments that already had a questionable reputation.
In 1980, pinball machines were legal almost everywhere in the United States, but by then, Phll was in Finland, and that’s where I met him. We played a few games of pinball in the Helsinki hockey rink cafeteria.
See, Phil was also a pretty good hockey player and had won Olympic gold in Lake Placid about six months earlier. People call it “Miracle on Ice.”
I spent a good ten years of my hockey career, or “career”, if you will, in Finnish minor leagues – a galaxy far, far away from the NHL – where games are played late at night, and the practices held even later at night, where it’s sometimes easier to get to an away game than a home game.
In the minors, the coach sometimes decides to make big league moves, such as shorten the bench in the third period, but most often he doesn’t because he can’t even if he wanted because he only has two lines to work with.
If the team has a coach, that is.
The man at the New York souvenir shop was just trying to make some chit-chat. He was the one greeting us as we walked into the “bobblehead store” which is what Son calls all those souvenir shops now because that’s where he happened to buy his Abraham Lincoln bobblehead doll.
This time, he couldn’t decide whether to get a Kennedy or Clinton, or maybe George Washington so he didn’t buy anything which is why we were hanging around the front door, waiting for Wife and Daughter.
“Where are you guys from?” the greeterman asked Son.
“Oh, we’re from, em, Sweden,” replied Son, and then looked at me.
“And Finland,” he added.
Now, if I’m traveling alone and people ask me where I’m from, I always say “Finland”, but that “I live in Sweden now”. When I’m traveling with the family, I most often say that we’re from Sweden, always making a mental note to myself that technically, we have traveled from Sweden. Sometimes, I add that I’m actually a Finn, but most often I simply don’t want to engage in a conversation, so I let it slide. It’s not important.
Wife’s sister, my sister-in-law, has a vivid imagination, and a great sense of empathy, both character eemraits that make her a caring and a popular person. What it also does is create false memories, because when she hears a good story – and she loves a good story – she gets so into it that when she tells the story later on to somebody else, she may tell it in first-person, thinking that whatever happened, had happened to her.
Of course, it doesn’t happen with every story, and with everyone, it’s often when Wife, her sister, tells her something that their experiences get intertwined. It’s sort of like meeting a celebrity on the street, and saying good morning to her, because you think it’s another one of your friends, when it is, in fact, one of the Friends.
Last weekend, Daughter had another bandy game. Bandy, if you don’t know, is like field hockey on ice, and Daughter, if you don’t know, rocks the sport. She’s a great skater, and more importantly, she’s got the gene that I don’t have, which is the one that makes her want to practice every time she gets a chance.
The games last Saturday were especially exciting because they were her first games indoors.
“You know how the homeless people say “taaaaacksåmicke”, with that long “aah”? I wonder if that’s how they were taught to say it, or if that’s their natural accent?”
– Wife, the other day
My natural accent in Swedish should be Finnish, but is not. Of course I don’t know exactly what my Swedish sounds like, except that probably worse than I think. When I first moved to Sweden, and wouldn’t speak Swedish, my colleagues and new friends often – naturally – asked me how much Swedish I spoke to begin with.
My line – because of course I had a standard line for that – was: “It’s probably better than you think but worse than I think”. And I think that applies to my accent as well.
It’s funny how one’s senses can go into hyper speed in a fraction of a second, he thought. Just a second earlier he had been leaning back in his boat, watching his two buddies pull the fish out of the water, and now he was in the water, his body and brain working overtime trying to figure out what was going on.
The water was cold, they said. It was dark, and he could hardly see anything. The lake didn’t smell, but he heard sounds of struggle behind him. He spat out the water that had got into his mouth when the boat had capsized.
Dear potential business partners, marketers, and, yes, friends—
First off, thank you for your overwhelming attention. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of all that outpouring of love – because that’s what it is – but I do appreciate it. Getting dozens of emails every day is more than I probably deserve, but I welcome them, and would also like to take this opportunity to apologize for the lack of response from my side, and for the fact that I now do so in a blog post.
Having said all that, I must say that I’m starting to feel like you don’t know me, at all.
Maybe everything would be different had I acted on my impulse. Maybe I wouldn’t be sitting in this little office room in our yellow house, for example.
Maybe I’d have another job, maybe I would wear a suit every day, and not just on days when I want to pretend to be a guy who wears suits to work, like today. Maybe I wouldn’t have seen the Life of Brian, and maybe I still couldn’t tell the Spice Girls apart.
A few days ago, I put on my father’s IT support person’s hat on and tried to help him hack into his own Apple account so he could buy an app. It was fairly easy, or should have been, as it was the same IT support person who had once created the account and the password to go with it. However, once again, I had been too clever for my own good, or the good of my father, because I simply couldn’t remember the password and had to take the bonus round: the secret password questions.
First question: What was the name of your first pet?
Since the questions were designed to retrieve my father’s password, not mine, I hesitated at first, but then asked him, “Maybe Roope?”
“Nooooo,” he said, “who’s Roope?”
Who’s Roope? Only the first pet I remember him having.