On one recent April morning, Risto Pakarinen took a quick glance at a black plastic bowl. Then he grabbed a potato chip out of it, and put it in his mouth.
“I love chips,” he said to no-one in particular.
He was wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt that had an image of the DeLorean from the 1980s hit movie Back to the Future, an orange Fitbit bracelet around his right wrist, and a Mickey Mouse watch on his left wrist. No socks.
“My favorite color’s blue. What’s yours?” he said with a chuckle.
“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.
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.
It was just another Friday night. Or late afternoon, to be exact, but all I had on my mind was Friday night. It had been a rough week, and I had managed to put together a real nice string of them lately. It was the eighth rough week in a row – not that I was counting.
My landlord was, though, which is why I was trying to get out of the office in the afternoon, and hit the downstairs bar before he’d show up to collect the rent. He says it’s six weeks late. Some people have no patience.
The first day in a classroom was always the worst, he thought. Since they all knew each other already, there was none of that nervousness of meeting a new teacher for the first time to keep the kids in line. So they got out of line.
“This is not rocket science, this is Sex Ed. I’m not trying to teach you rocket science or Einstein’s theory of relativity, I’m trying to teach you people how to use a goddamn condom,” he yelled.
There was snickering. As always. Every year, every goddamn year.
After a few weeks, when we were out again, K looked at me and told me to get back into shape. Just like that.
“Man, you’re fat,” he said, like that.
I didn’t know what to say.
After the race, K’s mother invited me to their house, a rare event that made me both uncomfortable and curious at the same time. For all the time that K and I spent together, I had only been at his place once or twice. We always hung out at my place, and ate lunches that my mother made, and listened to records on my parents’ turntable. Sure, K always went back home at the end of the day, or he might zip back to get some records, but I bet I only spent a total of 30 minutes inside their house, and even then, all of it in K’s little room with the door closed.
That one time, though, I sat in their kitchen, and ate cake his mother had made. I wore my silver medal around my neck. She told me she had heard so much about me that she was curious to know what kind of a wonder boy I was, which surprised me. I couldn’t imagine K talking about me at all, let alone paint me up as a superhero.
But he was also a great running partner. That summer I was 12, and K was 13, and we talked about the World Cup, and K told me about FBI, after he’d make me promise that I’d never tell anyone because that might put his Dad in danger, and I told him about the teachers in our school. Somehow K had managed to stay out of school those weeks in May and June, and nobody seemed to miss him.
So I told him which teachers I liked, and which I didn’t like, and why. And we ran. We ran those trails and paths, and we ran on track, and we ran around our town from the tennis courts to the beach and from the Dairy Queen to the library.
The first time K and I became friends, I was 12 years old. He was thirteen, which made him the boss of me, because in that age, age is everything. I was also shorter, and a little skinnier, so even if I ever had decided to go against K’s ideas, he surely would have got me back in line, fast.
But there was never any need for that because we were the best of friends.
Another March day. The sun is shining, after some light snowfall. The snow in spring is so light it looks fake.
“It’s like the snow in the movies,” said Wife when she took off with Son and Daughter this morning.
I waved to them from the front door, until I saw Son’s red hat disappear behind the garage. I closed the door, packed my bag and went to the gym because while you can make a change any given day, sometimes you have to keep doing the same thing over and over again to really make a change.