Buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue. They’re so special that people refer to them as “blue buses”, instead of using their line numbers. In Sollentuna, an affluent suburb a 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm only the 179 going to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red, including the 520.
mAbout 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and from the top of the hill, he could see the view over the 17th century mansion and the Baltic sea bay, a running track, and most importantly, the outdoor hockey rink.
It was his big brother who had got him into hockey to begin with, and the kid turned out to be so good that when he was seven, the instructors at the hockey school considered him too good to play with the other kids, and directed him to the youngest junior team in town. The others were two years older but he either didn’t notice it or didn’t care.
The track field got a bandy and skating rink next to it, and they built a new outdoor rink next to the old one. A new indoor arena was built but by then the fair-haired boy was already an international star and the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His name was Mats Sundin.
Fifteen years ago, a colleague of mine arranged a visit to the Swedish state alcohol monopoly’s lab. She was a member of their language task force that aimed to come up just the perfect words to describe the wines on the shelves, to make sure the way the words matched the taste of the wines so that the nakedly elegant wine truly was that and that people intuitively understood what that meant.
We weren’t there to taste wines, we were there to see how difficult it was to put things like taste into words, but the thing I remember the best was our cinnamon test. Each one of us got a little cinnamon, maybe a half a tablespoon, while we held our noses, waited a while and then, at the instructor’s signal, let go of our noses.
I’m sure you know, or can guess, what happened, but I’ll tell you anyway.
TAMPERE – For three years in a row, Tappara players had to stand on the ice and watch the other team celebrate. Not in 2016. This time, they were the ones parading with the Canada Bowl wearing brand new championship caps, hugging each other, having just beaten Helsinki IFK 2-1 in Game 6 of the Finnish Liiga final.
All three goals were scored in the first period, within 7 minutes and 37 seconds. Juuso Puustinen gave HIFK the lead at 3:21, Patrik Laine, 18, tied the game with his tenth playoff goal four and a half minutes later, and Henrik Haapala redirected the game-winner with 9:02 remaining in the period. HIFK won the shots 20-7 in the last two periods and got the puck over the goal line in the end … only, it came a second too late.
Laine was named the winner of Jari Kurri Trophy as the playoffs MVP.
I suppose it’s possible that Pekka was trying to get me off my game with his question, although I doubt it. I think it was just something that occurred to him in the heat of the moment. He was never one to focus on football all that much.
Anyway, we were on our home field, on the small lot of grass between Pekka’s house and mine, and it was my turn to be the goalie. I had made a couple of saves and kicked the ball back to Pekka. He stopped it, put his foot on the ball, his hands on his hips, and asked me: “Hey, how old are your parents?
I didn’t say anything.
Pekka asked me again.
I said nothing. Pekka looked at me, and then – to be helpful, I guess – he said, “Mine are 35. Or, Mom’s 35, Dad’s a little older.”
He coulda bin a contender. His words, not mine. Actually, that’s not true, they were my words because his words were, “Coulda been an A-list celebrity”, but the idea was the same. Had he got his break, the one he thought he had deserved, things would have been different. Very different.
The first time I saw him, I heard him first. I heard the sound of a skipping rope hitting the floor, but not the sound of his sneakers softly landing on the same floor. There was only a centimeter, at most, between his shoes and the wooden surface that had once been blue, and it was almost as if he’d just but now had black scuff marks from all the skipping and other training that took place in the small workout area.
This may look like just another small plastic bag. Just another plastic bag with a plastic bracelet inside. And to most people, that’s exactly what it is. Just another plastic bag, just another plastic bracelet, except that at second glance, you may notice that the bracelet is a Fitbit, one of those activity trackers, workout buddies that count steps and calories, and track sleep.
Yet, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while.
And I’m going to tell you why.
Twelve years ago, Wife and I shook hands in the little kitchen of our little apartment in downtown Helsinki, on a closed deal. She’d start up a Swedish-language site and a discussion forum for expecting and new parents, and I would start up a Finnish-language site and a discussion forum for … hockey fans.
Wife’s site was up and running a few weeks later, and it turned into a big success.
Meanwhile, I was still working at my day job, while trying to get my writer friends to contribute to my new magazine that was going to come out that fall, still six months away. I wrote several articles myself, translated the ones my buddies – and brother-in-law – had written in English and Swedish, traveled to Sweden to meet with the designer who donated his time for my cause, negotiated with the printers, and the distribution channels, while trying to be a father and a boyfriend.
There’s a circus in town. The trucks and caravans rolled in late the night before, and by morning the big red tent has taken over the parking area of the town’s sports grounds. The entrance is set up, along with the popcorn stands, the candy store, and the ticket booth.
That same night, a bit before 7pm, the band starts to play. As soon as the audience find their seats inside the tent, the ushers close the doors, and with every beat the anticipation rises.
Then a tall man in shoes and pants that are several sizes too big stomps in with a big smile on his face, waving his hands like a conductor. The first laughs echo inside the tent – and the big man hasn’t done anything yet except show up.
“Caps, T-shirts, and sneakers, that’s what we need,” Wife told me the other day. I was a little surprised because that’s basically the contents of my entire wardrobe, but happy, because if you ask me, everybody needs caps, T-shirts, and sneakers.
Turned out that she wasn’t looking to add more caps, T-shirts, and sneakers into my wardrobe, but to take some out of there so she could send them to the refugees on Lesbos, Greece. Her office works with an organization that delivers clothes and other items to Greece to help the people who have nothing.
Like so many others, we wanted to help, simply because we want to help. Also, I’d like to see our kids become better people than I am and I’d like to see them become human beings who feel empathy, and sympathy, and who act. No, I’m not a sociopath, of course I feel empathy, and sympathy. It’s the last part that’s my weakness, which is why Wife is my hero. She’s a doer.
Anyway, we wanted to show Son and Daughter that everybody can do something.
Believe it or not, I do remember the moment I read the April 1997 issue of the Rolling Stone magazine. I was traveling on business – if you consider government employees’ travel as business – in Newfoundland in Canada. I had just checked in at my hotel in St. John’s and hadn’t had time to finish reading the article on the plane so fighting off the jetlag, I picked up the magazine again.
And this is what I remember: MTV’s trend watchers said that the next big thing would be “good”. Not just a good thing, but that being good, instead of bad, would be the next megatrend in pop. They said they could see signs of the pendulum going from the dangerous Madonnas, and Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” towards artists and movies that represented goodness.
I remember it because it surprised me and because I hoped it to be true. Because I considered myself a good guy, a nice guy, and for once, I also wanted that to mean that I was cool as well.