Before we had latte – and that’s with any prefix, whether a tall or grande or venti or just cafe – before Central Perk was on TV, before Swedish coffeeshops had landed in Finland, long, long before Starbucks made it here, and before we even had coffee to go, we had the local gas station’s caféteria.
That’s where people got together, that’s where you heard the news, met your friends, hung out, and maybe had lunch, or even dinner. But at least a cup of coffee and a donut. One of the biggest Finnish comedy characters, Uuno Turhapuro, always hung out at a gas station, another major 1970s hit TV show, Tankki Täyteen (“Fill’ er up”), told the story of a quirky family that ran a gas station, and its cafeteria.
The local gas station was where everybody knew your name, even in a city like Helsinki.
The first hockey camp I ever attended was a day camp in Helsinki. The kids would come in morning, have two practices on the ice, eat lunch, and go home and then return to the rink the next morning to do it all over again. For five days.
The camp was run by two Finnish league players that were Dad’s friends, and from Day 1, they both referred to me a “Pikku-Eikka”, Finnish for “Little Eikka”, in which Eikka is my Dad’s nickname.
When I was ten years old, Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle. After school, I’d be alone at home – well, me and our dog – listening to the Beatles, and maybe “Fonzie’s Favorites”, 50s rock tunes in the spirit of the hit TV show “Happy Days”, singing along at the top of my lungs.
When I got older, and realized that John Lennon was assassinated on my birthday – although, technically, it was already the day after my birthday in Finland – I switched allegiances and John became my favorite Beatle..
But I always liked “Let It Be”.
You know, “when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”
My mother’s name is not Mary, but when I found myself in times of trouble, she did come to me and she did speak words of wisdom.
The other day, at the Gelateriana Italiana, when Son, Daughter, and I were having our usual Friday ice creams, Son pulled an essay he had written out of his school bag. It was a story he’d written the week before, and had now got it back, graded.
“You gotta read what the teacher wrote,” he told me.
Unsurprisingly – both because he does tell a good story and because he hadn’t asked me to read it had it not been praise – the teacher had praised his storytelling skills, his vocabulary, and his cliffhangers.
“Congrats. This is fantastic. I guess I can take some of the credit here, after all, I did tirelessly tell you stories when you were just a small boy,” I told him.
He nodded. Continue reading
Oh, we’re finally here. But, as all fans of Back to the Future know, the appropriate question is not “where the hell are we?”, it’s “when the hell are we?”
That’s what Marty McFly learns from inventor Emmett “Doc” Brown when Doc demonstrates his time machine for the first time in the 1985 film “Back to the Future”, and sends Einstein the dog one minute into the future in a DeLorean sports car.
By the time the sequel rolled around four years later, McFly had learned his lesson:
McFly: “Where are we? When are we?”
Doc: “We’re descending toward Hill Valley, California at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.”
What sticks to our minds really is a curious thing. What is a throwaway line to one of us may be something the other person remembers thirty years later, for one reason or another.
This morning I posted a photo of the Finnish language exam we had in our high school finals. Basically, it’s a list of 14 topics we could choose to write an essay about. I don’t remember what I wrote about, although I could make an educated guess, knowing the frame of mind of the teenage me.
The topics ranged from literary analysis to why sports matters to rise and fall of an empire to what makes me me.
I know my Finnish teacher used to like my musings on life so I’m pretty sure I wrote about what makes me me, but it may not have been my best work, and since we wrote two essays, my official submission may have been something completely different and come from the second set of topics.
He didn’t know which one of them was the first to not see the other one. One of them had to have seen the other one first because their eyes had never met, which would have been the case had they seen each other exactly the same time.
But they hadn’t.
Now, he had seen him clean the counter of the fast food place, and maybe he had been so focused on his work that he had missed the face of the first customer in line, or maybe he’d seen so many faces that day alone that they all looked sort of the same. And to stand out, it was probably best not to be a middle-aged white male.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany. I was in the kitchen making a cappuccino when a theory started to form in my brain. A Theory of Cool, to be exact. The part of the theory that was most unclear was its name, because while it is a theory, it might be best formulated as a law instead. The Law of Cool.
But in short, this is my epiphany:
“The things you think are cool by the time you turn 17 will always be cool to you.”
It doesn’t mean that you want to wear the same clothes and listen to the same music or try to walk just like your favorite Phys Ed teacher – who does that? – your entire life, it just means that deep down, your definition of cool doesn’t change that much after you turn 18.
In the summer of 1983, everybody I knew bought the same two albums. One of them was Police’s “Synchronicity”, the other David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. “Every Breath You Take” was playing everywhere, as was the title song of the Bowie album, and by “everywhere” I mean the EF disco in downtown Oxford every Wednesday.
I spent a month in Oxford that summer, learning English and learning to be English. My English was pretty good before the trip, but it did improve there as well, and as far as being English goes, I did my best and watched Wimbledon and cricket with Jim, the father of my host family.
He was in his 70s, and nothing could make him leave his TV chair during cricket.
I am one of those people who like lyrics in songs. I listen to the text, and for me to like a song, the text has to make sense. Well, the exception that confirms the rules is “Scatman” but I’m not sure if that even counts.
I think it’s partly because my brain’s just wired to play with words and twist and shout them, and love the words, and partly because I wouldn’t want to get caught pushing a message I don’t understand. It hasn’t always been easy, especially since Mom used to play Harry Belafonte and Edith Piaf at home when I was a preschooler, and as much as I’d love to say I was fluent in French at the age of five, well, I just can’t.
And “Je ne regrette rien” may even have been be easier to understand than “Day-o, day-o, Daylight come and me wan’ go home, day, me say day, me say day, me say day”.