“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.
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.
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”.
“Hej på dig,” he said.
While “hej på dig” [hey-poh day] is not an uncommon way to say hello in Swedish, it’s one that always cracks me up because “Hej på dig” was the name of my first Swedish book in seventh grade. I – and probably thousands of Finns of my generation – can still recite the entire first chapter of the book by heart, or at least the last line, in which a dog barks in Swedish: “Vov, vov”
SOLLENTUNA, Sweden – About 35 years ago, a fair-haired boy got off bus 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop, walked through the gate and down the stone stairs to the outdoor rink, to attend Edsbergs IF’s hockey school.
Even if he had given it any thought, maybe he would have seen himself come back to the rink as an adult, and maybe a child could even imagine an indoor rink where the old outdoor rink was, and a practice rink next to it, and a full-size bandy rink next to that one, but he most likely didn’t think he’d be back at “Vallen” to unveil an image of himself on the wall of fame of the new rink.
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.
Nobody else was yet up, not even the sun, when he got up from the bed he had shared with his son, and walked to the kitchen to make some tea. On mornings like these, he felt like an old man, even though he was just 33, and he hated it.
He had slept poorly. Partly because his son had been fidgeting all night, waking him up several times. He had got up a few times and just walked around the room. His father-in-law had offered to lift his son to the sofa so that he could sleep in the bed by himself, but he had said he was fine.
A few weeks ago, I got an email from a fellow hockey fan. Mike, whom I’ve never met, but who’s been my email pal for years, wrote simply that he was forwarding an email to me because he “thought you might be interested in it.”
Below Mike’s message, there was a link to a hockey memorabilia auction site which had a brand new Valeri Kharlamov collection up for sale.
Mike was right. I did find that very interesting. Valeri Kharlamov, the fantastic Soviet forward, was my biggest childhood idol.
When Son was born, almost nine years ago, I used to see his small, wrinkled face in my mind whenever I closed my eyes. I could be lying on a bench at the gym, and his face would emerge in front of my eyes. It’s hardly surprising since most of the time when I had my eyes opened those first few weeks, I would see his little face, too.
I didn’t want to be one of those pushy new fathers, so I didn’t carry photos of him to show to people. The one image I carried with me, of him, wherever I went, was that mental one. And maybe that’s the one I will always have with me, and maybe that’s why he will always be my baby – even now when he’s a genius almost trilingual Ph.D of Harrypotterism.
But last night, and today, when I close my eyes, the image that I see is of a smiling Stefan Liv, the Swedish goalie of the Yaroslavl hockey team that was wiped out in a plane crash yesterday.