Walk this way

Today’s my birthday. It’s good day, a happy day, it makes me feel special. Today’s my day all day long, so there’s a little more spring to my step, and my posture’s a little better than usual.

Some time ago, about ten years ago, I decided that I’d never work on my birthday again. Since everybody else was always telling me how it was my day, why not then make it my day for real. On December 8, I don’t do work – writing this isn’t work, this is just me talking to you – and instead, I do whatever I want.

(Almost. I mean, I do have to run Daughter’s ringette practice, and those garbage cans don’t move themselves onto the curb, do they?)

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His Izzyness

 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.

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Psyched about words

“OK, pick a word,” Mika said as soon as I sat down.

I was a little out of breath because I had run all the way from the bus terminal in the middle of town to our school, and had made it to our psychology class just in time. I dropped my blue backpack on the floor, and sat down in the first row, next to him.

“Any word,” he added, like a magician, ready to amaze his crowd.

So I did.

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And don’t call me Shirley

Just as there are times when the Phantom leaves his jungle home and travels as an ordinary man there are times when this freelance writer dresses up for work. Instead of just jumping into a pair of jeans and pulling on a Back to the Future T-shirt, I may wear a shirt. With buttons and everything.

Last Friday was such a day. And when I left the house to pick up the kids from school – it was Friday, after all – I noticed my black dress shoes pushed to the side of our shoe rack and I picked them up. They looked good, really good, considering I had them polished in Las Vegas ten years ago.

I put them on.

There’s something about shoes like that that make me want to tap dance, and vow that one day, I’ll learn a few nice tap dance steps.

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From Sollentuna with love

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.

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88 miles per hour

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.

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A brush with genius

These days, sports news travel at lightning speed on Twitter, but I have to believe that even in the era of Twitter, there still have to be rink rats, people who hang out at the hockey rinks and get close to the teams. They’re often either kids or people with special needs, and I think it’s because they seem harmless. And are harmless. And have the time.

I was one once. When I was a kid. I loved being at the rink, any rink actually, so I tagged along with Dad to his beer league and oldtimers’ games, and looked for pucks, and talked with the cafeteria people, and watched Dad and his buddies play.

The most famous rink rat in town was a man everybody knew as “Puti” and while he probably wasn’t homeless for real, that’s what we’d call him today. A homeless person. He was also special.

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Spread a little happiness

If you’ve seen “A Night at the Roxbury” you’ll surely remember the Butabi brothers’ funny moves to “What is love”, and if you’ve seen it a dozen times like Wife and I – it was the first movie we saw together – you’ll also remember the scene in which the brothers rush to the rich nightclub owner Benny Zadir’s office.

“We’ve got a meeting with Mr. Zadir,” says one of the brothers, played by Will Ferrell.

“Names?” asks the assistant.

“Doug and Steve Butabi.”

Then the assistant delivers the line that is one of the running jokes of the movie:

Are you two brothers?

Earlier in the movie, when Doug and Steve have tried to get into the Roxbury, the bouncer has asked them the same question and every time, they deliver their standard reply.

“No…”

[Pause] [Eye-rolling]

And then: “YEEEEES!”

But at Mr. Zadir’s office, Doug says something else: “Ma’am, I appreciate the setup but I don’t really have time for this.”

Sometimes, though, there has to be time, regardless of the setup. Here are my top 3 lines from our recent US road trip.

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