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.
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.
Today was the day. The D day. Da D Day. The day my plan finally came into fruition. Which one of them, you ask? The one in which I stand in the middle of the street in downtown Stockholm, and stop all traffic.
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.
I’m not much of an inventor, but I’ve always admired inventors, ever since my first glue experiments as a five-year-old. The purpose of the experiment was to see which one of three glues dried up the fastest, and I remember how carefully I held the piece of paper with the samples on my lap on the back seat of our car, on our way to my grandparents’ place, and the playhouse that was my laboratory.
I took the glue samples in, and then promptly forgot about them when I got excited about other things. Such as a football.
A few years later, I carried with me a red hardcover Gyro Gearloose’s Guidebook everywhere, whenever I wasn’t sitting on our balcony with Mom’s old typewriter, copying passages of the guidebook into a book of my own. Turns out I didn’t get any inventions into my brain that way, but it may have put me in a writer’s frame of mind. Also, it was nice out there on the balcony.
Fact: I can’t build anything, and I can’t fix anything. I don’t understand how an engine works, and I don’t know how you can build a bridge across deep waters (although that’s never stopped me from writing about those things) but the desire to invent something is still inside me.
I had just sat down at the table to ask Wife about something when the man came rushing to our table and also sat down. His face looked familiar, but so did dozens of other’s and just like all of them, I couldn’t put together a name and a face, let alone figure out how the man was related to Wife.
It was my third time at Wife’s family reunion on her father’s side, and with the reunions being arranged every three years, and us missing one, I’ve been going to them almost ten years now. But I’m still an outside looking in, which is fine. The family is organized like the Mafia in that everybody knows his or her close family, and how people are related, but very few have the big picture.
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.
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.
“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”
When Phil Verchota was born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1956, pinball machines were still illegal in his home state. However, the state supreme court made a ruling that pinball was a game of skill, not chance – and therefore not gambling – a year later, so it’s safe to assume his pinball playing days weren’t cut short by law.
Although, eighteen years later, when he enrolled in University of Minnesota, pinball machines were still illegal in New York City, and the games took place in back rooms of establishments that already had a questionable reputation.
In 1980, pinball machines were legal almost everywhere in the United States, but by then, Phll was in Finland, and that’s where I met him. We played a few games of pinball in the Helsinki hockey rink cafeteria.
See, Phil was also a pretty good hockey player and had won Olympic gold in Lake Placid about six months earlier. People call it “Miracle on Ice.”