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.”
I spent a good ten years of my hockey career, or “career”, if you will, in Finnish minor leagues – a galaxy far, far away from the NHL – where games are played late at night, and the practices held even later at night, where it’s sometimes easier to get to an away game than a home game.
In the minors, the coach sometimes decides to make big league moves, such as shorten the bench in the third period, but most often he doesn’t because he can’t even if he wanted because he only has two lines to work with.
If the team has a coach, that is.
The man at the New York souvenir shop was just trying to make some chit-chat. He was the one greeting us as we walked into the “bobblehead store” which is what Son calls all those souvenir shops now because that’s where he happened to buy his Abraham Lincoln bobblehead doll.
This time, he couldn’t decide whether to get a Kennedy or Clinton, or maybe George Washington so he didn’t buy anything which is why we were hanging around the front door, waiting for Wife and Daughter.
“Where are you guys from?” the greeterman asked Son.
“Oh, we’re from, em, Sweden,” replied Son, and then looked at me.
“And Finland,” he added.
Now, if I’m traveling alone and people ask me where I’m from, I always say “Finland”, but that “I live in Sweden now”. When I’m traveling with the family, I most often say that we’re from Sweden, always making a mental note to myself that technically, we have traveled from Sweden. Sometimes, I add that I’m actually a Finn, but most often I simply don’t want to engage in a conversation, so I let it slide. It’s not important.
Wife’s sister, my sister-in-law, has a vivid imagination, and a great sense of empathy, both character eemraits that make her a caring and a popular person. What it also does is create false memories, because when she hears a good story – and she loves a good story – she gets so into it that when she tells the story later on to somebody else, she may tell it in first-person, thinking that whatever happened, had happened to her.
Of course, it doesn’t happen with every story, and with everyone, it’s often when Wife, her sister, tells her something that their experiences get intertwined. It’s sort of like meeting a celebrity on the street, and saying good morning to her, because you think it’s another one of your friends, when it is, in fact, one of the Friends.
Last weekend, Daughter had another bandy game. Bandy, if you don’t know, is like field hockey on ice, and Daughter, if you don’t know, rocks the sport. She’s a great skater, and more importantly, she’s got the gene that I don’t have, which is the one that makes her want to practice every time she gets a chance.
The games last Saturday were especially exciting because they were her first games indoors.
“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.
For the first time in my life, I have a garage, and I think that’s very exciting. From what I’ve heard, all kinds of exciting things take place in garages. Deep Throat met with Woodward and Bernstein in a large garage – “Large Garage”, a great pen name for someone – many bands have honed their acts in a garage, both Apple and Google got their starts in garages, and these days, one of the most famous garages is the one in which Marc Maron tapes his podcasts.
Having a band rehearsal on a parking lot, or sitting at a typewriter in a car port is just not the same thing.
Shortly after Son was born, in the middle of the greyest time of the year in Helsinki, Finland, my mother asked me if I ‘d ever thought that I wouldn’t have kids at all. She was holding him in her arms and Wife and I were getting ready for our first night out without the baby – “Finding Nemo”, a long story, will tell later – so I quickly just told her I hadn’t – because that was the truth.
It’s just that I hadn’t thought about having kids, either. I simply didn’t think much. When I was a teenager, and my buddies talked about their dream cars and dream girls, I sat in the sidelines, listening, because I didn’t have either.
And yet, somehow I ended up with my dream car – turns out it was a Volvo V50 – and the dreamiest of my dream girls, Wife. And with her, our dream children.
I don’t think I had seen a homeless person until I was in my twenties. I must have been aware of the people walking around, sitting on park benches, but those were mostly referred to as people who were down and out, maybe just as “drunks”.
I remember the uproar when the streets of Helsinki were wiped clean of such individuals before the CSCE meetings in Helsinki and I remember reading the daily political cartoons in the paper, and there was one recurring character who represented these people.
Decades ago, I found it fascinating to hear my grandmother talk about things that had happened decades ago. I was always fascinated by the fact that she could even remember things that had happened so long ago. Well, here we are, and I’m about to tell you a story that begins, as you guessed, decades ago.
So … decades ago … when I was a schoolboy, there was no Facebook or Twitter, or Amazon, which meant that all the recommendations of cool things to read and do, and listen to, came from my friends. One friend knew all about the coolest comics, another was in charge of sports teams, and a third one was a reader.
And then, a fourth one, Mika – name not changed – was my house guru for music. He was perfect, because he didn’t just introduce me to new music, or old music for that matter, but when he did, he put it into context. Speaking with him was like speaking with a music critic. Not only did he know that Bruce Springsteen was the Boss, he knew why he was the Boss, and why he should also be the boss of me.