Imagine a teenage boy. Now imagine he’s a hockey player, then imagine he’s a pretty good one, and then, imagine him on the ice. Imagine it’s the 1980s, and imagine he’s playing a game in a fairly big rink. Imagine it’s the main rink of the town.
Despite it being the city’s biggest rink, and the only indoor arena, imagine only a handful of people watching the game. Imagine there are a few teenage girls, but mostly men of different ages. Imagine some of them in the stands, and some of the standing behind the plexiglass at ice level.
Remember how I ran 25 blocks in New York to get to a coffee shop in time? Yeah?
This is why:
One of the coolest pieces of clothing I know is a blue spring jacket. To me, a blue jacket is a true sign of spring, just like running shoes, and a net bag in which I’d carry my soccer ball.
As soon as Mom let me wear running shoes outside, take a soccer ball to the back yard, and wear my blue jacket, winter was over.
When I was twelve, I had a blue winter jacket as well. Most kids in my hockey team had one, a team jacket, as did Mom and Dad, so we, too, made a good-looking team. But Dad also had a blue spring jacket, sort of like a bomber jacket except that wasn’t what we called them then, and it was a little more special than any other jacket I’ve ever seen.
Dad’s jacket was a magic jacket.
“Hej på dig,” he said.
While “hej på dig” [hey-poh day] is not an uncommon way to say hello in Swedish, it’s one that always cracks me up because “Hej på dig” was the name of my first Swedish book in seventh grade. I – and probably thousands of Finns of my generation – can still recite the entire first chapter of the book by heart, or at least the last line, in which a dog barks in Swedish: “Vov, vov”
We all know the basic rules of dividing up shame in a relationship. Your mother must have taught them to you, or maybe your brother, or father did. (Or maybe you learned them from George W. Bush). But to refresh you memory, here it is:
Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Simple, and therefore very easy to remember. It also makes sense intuitively. But it’s also so very inadequate, albeit understandably so. Not many of us have ever needed to know the rules beyond those two.
However, these days we get fooled almost daily, thanks to the Internet, and especially the social media. The current archaic set of rules is not enough anymore.
SOLLENTUNA, Sweden – About 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off bus 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop, walked through the gate and down the stone stairs to the outdoor rink, to attend Edsbergs IF’s hockey school.
Even if he had given it any thought, maybe he would have seen himself come back to the rink as an adult, and maybe a child could even imagine an indoor rink where the old outdoor rink was, and a practice rink next to it, and a full-size bandy rink next to that one, but he most likely didn’t think he’d be back at “Vallen” to unveil an image of himself on the wall of fame of the new rink.
“Every time I jump like that, I feel like time slows down a little bit.”
– Son, today, after a hop over a puddle
On the back wall of my elementary school cafeteria, there was a big clock. White background, black hands, no numbers, just the short lines that indicate the five-minute (or second) intervals the hands have to make to travel around the face.
There was also something else I’ve never been able to forget in my school, and that was the rule that you had to finish your plate, because food was never to be wasted. That’s why I sometimes sat alone at a long table and stared at the clock, while trying to chew whatever food was given to me that day.
One time, when I was there alone, trying to make the food go down, I glanced at the clock, and waited for the seconds hand to move, as it did, second by second, not in one smooth motion – but it didn’t.
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.