“So, d’you think we’ll just sit here like two zombies on our way back, staring ahead, all silent, all out of talk?” I asked Leppä as we sat down in our seats 5E and 5D on the plane.
He looked at me and laughed. I laughed, too. Like we’d ever shut up.
We’ve been talking since the early 1990s, almost from the day we met, except on that very first day because that day, I stood in the stands of a cold hockey rink in Finland, trying to figure out whether I was good enough to make the team that was on the ice right then. Leppä was the yardstick I measured myself against.
I did make the team, and one of my teammates was this fun-loving guy who was a salesman at an appliance store. I still call him Leppä because that’s what we called him in the hockey team’s dressing room back in the 1990s, even though, even on this trip I heard him tell stories in which he introduces himself to other people and it’s never Leppä in those stories.
Somehow we became friends during that first season. Our team wasn’t very good, and there were games in which we had just eight players. Leppä was always one of them. He wasn’t always there for the start of the game, being a working man and all, but he was always there in the end.
After games and practices, before getting in our cars and driving home, we’d stand outside, leaning on our vehicles, talking about the team, and hockey, and music, and stuff. For ten minutes, twenty, 40 minutes, an hour, to the point where Leppä’s girlfriend asked him why it took him so long to come back home from hockey.
“We just stand there and talk,” he told her.
“Nobody stands there talking for an hour,” she’d say.
We’ve sat up playing Civilization on my Olivetti deep into night, shot pucks against the wall in the summer, played soccer together. We’ve also played baseball together in the Finnish league. He’s helped me move more than once, and he’s also painted the walls of my new apartment more than once. Back when he had long hair, and I had my big, black glasses, we were like Garth and Wayne in “Wayne’s World”. We’ve painted our faces and run around the Cologne hockey arena with a white sheet, and when Leppä moved to Switzerland, and then Germany, and then to Switzerland, and then to Germany, and then to Finland, and to Germany, and back to Finland, we’ve talked a lot on the phone. Also, we’ve played a lot of catch whenever we’ve seen each other.
About a year ago, Leppä told me he always wanted to see a Formula One GP, an NHL game in North America, and El Clasico, the soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Logically, I suggested we go to London to see a Premier League match live.
And because Leppä always says ‘yes’, that’s what we did.
Before we got to the game, we walked and we talked. We walked along High Street Kensington to Notting Hill, and we talked our way through and around Notting Hill, and to Hyde Park and through Hyde Park, and then on through Piccadilly and to Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street – stopping at 130 Regent Street to admire a plaque commemorating the place where Lord Stanley of Preston purchased the bowl that is now known as the Stanley Cup – to Oxford Street, and to the British Museum and Covent Garden and – passing the statue of Monty – to the Big Ben, and the Buckingham Palace, just like in the scene in Johnny Dangerously in which Johnny and Lil walk and talk, and the scenery behind them changes, until they find themselves in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere.
Back on the plane, on our way back, I asked him something, but to my surprise, I didn’t get a reply. I thought it was funny. Maybe I had been right and we were sitting there like zombies, that maybe we had nothing left to say?
I turned to look at Leppä to tell him that. He was asleep.
The next day, when Wife and Son and Daughter were at work and school, Leppä and I walked to the playground and played catch. We broke our record of consecutive catches – it now stands at 211 – and then it was time for me to give him a ride to the ferry terminal.
When we got there, Leppä got out of the car, and took his suitcase out of the trunk. I got out of the car, too, to say bye, and we shook hands. And then we stood there for about ten minutes, leaning against the car, talking about this and that, and the other thing.