Two weeks ago, I was on the ferry between Stockholm and Helsinki, listening to an interview on my headphones when suddenly I saw a man standing in front of me, pointing at me with his index finger. I took off my headphones just in time to hear him say, “Risto, right?”

It was Lare. I recognized him right away, which was pretty impressive, considering that I had only seen him once since we lost touch after fourth grade (mine, Lare’s third) and even that was more than twenty years ago.

But there we were, sitting at the table by the window, talking like that was all we ever did. We talked about his Dad (who was the first person I remember dying), about his 98-year-old grandfather who had lost his driver’s license and was wondering how he’d get to the summer cottage now, about my kids, his kids, our old hood, my work, and his work as a bodyguard at the finest and most legendary hotel in Helsinki.

“Some of the celebrities are really nice,” he told me. “Like Springsteen, he’s been there a couple of times. He’s a good guy … except that he gave me a T-shirt that was way too small so I had to go back and give him some feedback,” Lare said with a laugh.

“So, no rökötys for him,” I said.


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Sliding doors

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.


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Take a bow

You can’t see me from where you are
On the stage, in the spotlight
Because I’m in the back, in the dark
But I see you as you walk out to your place
On the stage, under the spotlight

I watch you make people laugh
and I laugh with them.
I hear the people sigh at the exactly right places,
and I sigh with them
as I mouth each line with you
From my place in the back, in the dark

Then I hear the applause
and I clap my hands and
even though you can’t see me from where you are
on the stage, in the spotlight
I give you the thumbs-up
and I smile as I wipe off a tear

of pride


Make ’em laugh

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.

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Scent of a man

I became a self-taught shaver one summer’s day at the tender age of fifteen when I took a disposable yellow Bic razor and shaved the hair on my upper lip. It had grown to the point where it was no longer cool. Oddly enough, I don’t remember how often I actually shaved going through high school, but I do remember the cool summer breeze hitting my lip when I rode my bike downtown later that day.

I didn’t use any shaving cream, or foam, or gel – I’m fairly confident gel didn’t even exist then – or even soap, and neither did I use any aftershave.

Not even Dad’s Old Spice.


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A show of hands, please

I’m a simple man with simple dreams. I don’t generally think the universe owes me much, and I have no demands to make. And because I think my wishes are small, there’s no need for them to not come true. I’m the kind of guy who’s happy to have just enough milk in the carton for his cappuccino, just enough sunshine to ride my bike into town (and then sit outside for a while), and a decent WiFi connection.

Oh, and the hand.

I do want to see the hand.

You know the hand, it’s the one you see in the car in front you when they’ve passed you on a highway, and the hand you see in your rearview mirror when you’ve passed another car on a highway. The hand that waves at you when you meet a car on a narrow dirt road in the bush, and you let the other car pass first.

That hand.


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My silver spoon

Loyal readers like you will remember that Risto wasn’t my parents’ first choice for my name. Their first choice was Kalle to the point that even my godmother thought that I was going be one. I’m not sure when she heard the news that I was going to be Risto, but whenever it was, it was too late for her to get her gift spoon re-engraved.

That spoon, that had the time of my birth, my weight and height on the front, and then “Kalle” on the back, was my favorite spoon for decades, and I think I still have it, although, unfortunately, I may have lost it over the years as well, or I may have left it at Mom’s.


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Man with a magic jacket

One of the coolest pieces of clothing I know is a blue spring jacket. To me, a blue jacket is a true sign of spring, just like running shoes, and a net bag in which I’d carry my soccer ball.

As soon as Mom let me wear running shoes outside, take a soccer ball to the back yard, and wear my blue jacket, winter was over.

When I was twelve, I had a blue winter jacket as well. Most kids in my hockey team had one, a team jacket, as did Mom and Dad, so we, too, made a good-looking team. But Dad also had a blue spring jacket, sort of like a bomber jacket except that wasn’t what we called them then, and it was a little more special than any other jacket I’ve ever seen.

Dad’s jacket was a magic jacket.

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26+1 ways to survive in Sweden

“You know how the homeless people say “taaaaacksåmicke”, with that long “aah”? I wonder if that’s how they were taught to say it, or if that’s their natural accent?”
– Wife, the other day

My natural accent in Swedish should be Finnish, but is not. Of course I don’t know exactly what my Swedish sounds like, except that probably worse than I think. When I first moved to Sweden, and wouldn’t speak Swedish, my colleagues and new friends often – naturally – asked me how much Swedish I spoke to begin with.

My line – because of course I had a standard line for that – was: “It’s probably better than you think but worse than I think”. And I think that applies to my accent as well.
From Austria? "No, I'm Inga from Sveden". Continue reading