Mother was right, I think it’s fair to say now. After all, I’m 60 years old, still unmarried, and the way things are going, I’ll stay unmarried not matter how long I live. She was right about that, but she wasn’t right about everything. Oh, no, Mother dear, you weren’t right about everything.
Every journey to 1,000 games begins with, well, the first game.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming became the first European to play 1,000 NHL games on Jan. 4, 1988, against the Vancouver Canucks. But when he made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 1973, he wasn’t the first European-trained player, nor was he even the first Swedish defenseman in the League. Forward Ulf Sterner played four games for the New York Rangers in 1965 and defenseman Thommie Bergman made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 7, 1972.
Open the door, Homer
I’ve heard it said before
Open the door, Homer
I’ve heard it said before
But I ain’t gonna hear it said no more
— Bob Dylan, “Open The Door, Homer”
On the south side of town, there’s a small one-room office space that looks like a living room. It’s on the street level, in the corner of a big building, and with its big windows opening on two streets, it would be perfect for a small store. It’s not a store, though, it’s a folk music center. Or, rather, a Folklore Center. Or, even more accurately since we’re in Sweden, a Folklore Centrum.
It used to be called Folklore Center, way back in the 1950s when it was located in the Greenwich Village in New York, and when Bob Dylan used to hang out there. The founder, Izzy Young, produced Dylan’s first concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York in 1961 and when he moved to Sweden in the 1970s, he took the center with him and turned it into a centrum.
Basically, Izzy’s been a folk music legend for a good five decades, but up until last winter, I had never heard of him (and that says everything about me). Then I got a new colleague, Danny, who told me stories about Izzy – he helps Izzy run his small concerts in the small space – and we laughed, and then I forgot about Izzy and folk music again.
And then Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize in literature.
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.