Filed under: True story

One recent late night, when I should have been writing, and was instead scrolling up and down my Facebook page, I saw the status of an acquaintance of mine - a Formula One reporter on Finnish TV - in which he wrote: “Heard that a version of my name may have been used in the Donald Duck magazine. Can anybody confirm that?”

A couple of days later, I asked him if he’d heard anything. He hadn’t. Then I asked him why he had asked that. 

“It’d be a great honor to be featured in the Donald Duck magazine,” he said. 

Going places. Like Finland.

» Continued

Feb 22, '14 : My boy

Filed under: True story

Before Kurt Russell became Herb Brooks, the coach of the US hockey team in “Miracle”, the story of the team that beat the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, he was Elvis. And if you think he was a great Herb Brooks, I’m here to tell you he was an even better Elvis.

I saw “Elvis” with my best friend in a Saturday matinee in 1979, in a movie theatre a little outside the city, close to the store where Dad worked. Interestingly enough, when I looked up the movie right now, it’s listed as a TV movie, but I’m positive I saw it in a theatre. Or maybe we just had a huge TV, after all, Dad always made sure we had the latest TVs and VCRs.

Elvis.

» Continued

Feb 03, '14 : The ugly duckling

Filed under: True story

If there ever was a grayer person, I had never seen him. He was so grey that the first time I saw him, I didn’t see him. But he must have skated past me. Now, I was standing on the sidelines, my eyes on Daughter out there learning to skate, so I didn’t pay attention to any other people on or off the ice.

I was also listening to music, so if the grey man had said something to me, I hadn't heard a word.

I don’t know how many times he skated past me, but at some point, the fact that somebody was regularly blocking my view of the ice did register, and I had a good look at the guilty party. Having read this far you already know that he was the grayest person I’d ever seen, but let me try to describe to you just how grey he was.

He's out there somewhere.

» Continued

Dec 24, '13 : Free Santa

Filed under: True story

A few weeks ago, Son told me that he’d started a little support campaign for Santa Claus at school. Some of the kids had teased him about believing in Santa - “come on, you’re a fifth-grader” - so he had walked around the schoolyard with signs that said something like, “Santa’s real”, and “Free Santa”. And while he may have walked in support of a 300-year-old man, he did it in a 21st century style, with hashtags #freesanta, and #gottabelieve written on the bottom of the signs.

On our way home that day, after he’d told me about his campaign, he asked me if he was being silly.

“I mean, you believe in Santa, right?” he asked me.

Ho, ho, ho!

» Continued

Nov 27, '13 : Monika

Filed under: True story

My first best friends were girls. The first of them all was S, the daughter of one of Dad’s best friends. She was born exactly a week after me, so having known her all my life, I guess she’s my oldest friend. She was the princess, I was the prince, her baby brother was the horse, as we got ready to live these lives of ours happily ever after. Just not together.

Then there was M, a girl I played with at Grandma’s place when I was maybe three or four, and us being friends seemed to be a big deal for Grandma who used to often bring it up years later.

“Oh, I remember how you guys used to play here, in that sandbox over there,” she’d say.

Or, “You were so cute, you and your friend M.”

Monika just outside of the photo.

» Continued

Oct 31, '13 : Special K

Filed under: True story

Son was at a Halloween party last week. It was a major milestone in his life - and mine - as it was the first after-school party he went to that wasn’t a birthday party. It was a Halloween party so they were asked to dress up in a costume.

Son decided he wanted to go as a Russian soldier.

Pumpkins.

» Continued

Oct 30, '13 : Down on the corner

Filed under: True story

On our way up to my Dad’s on the kids’ fall break, we stopped at a gas station to get some gas, sandwiches, and to go the bathroom. Son walked in, looked around the place, and the few people hunched over their cups of coffee and their donuts, and he said, with sunshine in his voice: “Dad, this is a typical Finnish hangout.”

And it was. The gas stations used to be where people hung out and back when I was a teenager, we only had two real coffee shops in town. One of them was across the street from my Dad’s store, the other next to a bank, and being a block away from the market square, a little too far for me. So, if I ever went to a café - which I hardly ever did - I’d pick the one across the street from Dad’s store.

My hangout was the cafeteria at the hockey rink. That’s where I always found buddies, but not having a cup of coffee, but playing Pac-Man or another arcade game.

And this is what the street used to look like

» Continued

Oct 24, '13 : Rockface

Filed under: True story

For a short while, Son’s favorite song was one about a man on a polar expedition gone wrong. In the song, the man - his name is Alfred Pesonen - falls through the ice, but somehow gets back up and survives. The setback frustrates him, though, and he decides to go for an African expedition instead. While there, he sees elephants and, impressed by their size and strength - “that would beat even a walrus” - he decides to take a few of them with him to another polar expedition.

Unfortunately, the African elephants, not used to the arctic conditions, die, even though Alfred covers them with fur coats. Alfred gives up, and goes hunting for a white whale.

Years later, when scientists find them, they take them for mammoths.

Well, I can’t be entirely sure it was Son’s favorite song, because he was just a few months old when I sang it to him daily, but it’s one of the top songs on one of my favorite albums of all time: Kake Singers debut album from 1979.

Album back cover

» Continued

Oct 22, '13 : Nano, nano

Filed under: True story

A few weeks ago after dinner, Sister-in-law told us about a fun game she had played at work. Or, maybe it was a work-related event, because while guessing TV themes is no brain surgery, I wouldn’t want the actual brain surgeons humming the X-files tune when they ask for the scalpel.

She had her iPhone in her hand, and she played the tunes one by one. And Wife, me, and Brother-in-law shouted out our guesses.

“Twin Peaks!”
“Friends!”
“Seinfeld!”

And then, after the first few bars of another tune, while I was still trying to put the familiar tune together with the show, Brother-in-law yelled: “ALF!”

And I kicked myself under the table. Alf! I should have got that one. After all, I still quote jokes from Alf. Oneliners like, “Noses run in my family,”, “I kill me”, and “I guess you had to be there … I WAS!”

But out loud, I said, “Oh, of course … Alf … for Alien Life Form, but he was really Gordon Shumway from Melmac,” I said, in an attempt to show off my vast Alf knowledge, because, yes, my dinner companions just had to know that one 1980s orange puppet was “really” from “Melmac”.

Raised on television.

» Continued

Oct 07, '13 : Fool me once

Filed under: True story

Just like “there are times when the Phantom leaves the jungle and walks the streets of the town like an ordinary man”, you can sometimes spot me jogging a little around the neighborhood. Not very often, never far from home, but still, out there, with my lazy eye of the tiger.

Yesterday was one such day.

This is Litmanen, not me.

» Continued

Sep 24, '13 : Anticipation

Filed under: True story

Long before I had moved to Sweden, or met Wife, and long before there was Son and even longer for Daughter, I sat on a train. It was a red train, a commuter train, so you know it was a long time ago because it was when the trains were red, and the seats were blue, before the red-and-white and the green-and-blue-and-white trains, and before the platform at the Helsinki train station had got its roof.

Helsinki.

» Continued

Aug 11, '13 : Go [team]!

Filed under: True story

As I type this, every once in a while I catch a glimpse of something orange hovering over my keyboard. It's the plastic bracelet with the New York Mets' logo on it, together with their slogan, “Ya gotta believe!” I've been wearing it around my wrist for two weeks now.

I’ve been trying to become a fan for years. A fan of … anything, really, but mostly a team of some non-hockey sports team. My method has aways been the same: I first make up my mind about the sport, then go about deciding which team to choose – then buy that team’s fan merchandise.

Just a couple of Mets fans.

» Continued

Filed under: True story

My first trip to New York City was a 30-hour layover on my way from Montreal, Canada to Helsinki, Finland. I had been at a sports fair in Canada, and had somehow managed to convince my boss that it was a good idea for me to travel through JFK, and, well, did it really matter if I stayed there for three hours or thirty? He didn’t think it did.

That’s how I arrived in New York City late on a Friday night. I was going to stay at a friend’s place in New York, and not only had he welcomed me to his home, he had also arranged for a driver to greet me at the airport.

Ain't that America.

» Continued

Jul 01, '13 : Ma MacGyver

Filed under: True story

One of the things I remember best from my time in the business school is how our law professor, who apparently was very famous in Finland, told the packed classroom that “a lawyer’s best friend is the telephone.”

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I always thought it was a clever thing to say, and I’ve always remembered it. Especially when I’ve had car trouble.

I know nothing about cars, so my best friend has been the phone. Most often the call has been placed to a person I like to call “Dad”. The car doesn’t start? Dad walks me through it.

“OK, give it gas, reeeeeally pump some gas, and then turn the ignition,” he’d say.

There’s a weird noise? Dad knew the cause.

Oh, and if the car still wouldn’t start? Dad always knows a guy who can come and tow me.

This is not the actual cable.

» Continued

May 23, '13 : Cool? Me?

Filed under: True story

My Dad is, and has always been, a joker, a real prankster. He was also my hockey coach, so he knew all my friends, and sometimes that led to situations in which I didn’t think he was as cool as he thought he was – or as cool as my friends thought he was.

He was the guy who stuffed candy bars with salt and then gave them to kids on the team, or filled somebody’s pockets with a half dozen eggs when they didn’t pay attention.

My friends still tell me stories like that of my Dad, and while I laugh at the stories now, I also know I didn’t always laugh at them then.

It may be hard to be saint in the city, but I’m sure even The Boss would agree that it’s just as hard to be a cool Dad. It’s a moving target at best.

Joe Cool hanging around the student union

» Continued

Apr 24, '13 : Undercover agent

Filed under: True story

Had they not rebuilt the Joensuu rink the way they have, I’d be able to show you exactly where I was when I realized I wasn’t going to become a hockey star, down to an inch. It was the middle of the night, and my team had just got back from a road trip to the west coast of Finland. I had probably not played a lot so for me, it had mostly been a 12-hour bus ride across Finland, with Twisted Sister playing in my Walkman.

I got my hockey bag from the trunk of the bus, and as I lifted it on my shoulder and started to walk towards the arena entrance. And that’s where it finally dawned on me. I wasn’t going to be the next Gretzky, or even Matti Forss, my big idol in the Finnish league.

Show me the … door.

» Continued

Apr 18, '13 : This man's best friend

Filed under: True story

I lay in the backseat of our car, seemingly sleeping, but secretly eavesdropping on my parents’ conversation in front. Back then, kids could do that, and I usually sat in the back, on my knees on the hump that runs through the middle of the car, but my head between the two front seats – if I wasn’t reading comics, that is.

We were on our way home from my aunt’s place just outside Helsinki. We didn’t visit her often, and I didn’t really know her, which made me dread those trips a little, but that one time I almost didn’t want to go home, because in the back of her yard, behind a chicken netting fence, my aunt had a half a dozen German shepherd puppies.

Riku.

» Continued

Filed under: True story

Aah, it’s springtime in Paris. It’s a little chilly, yes, but the sun has just come out, we’ve just wandered through and around the Louvre, and have seen the Mona Lisa, and we're just enjoying being right here, right now, with the Seine in front of us, and farther down the river, the Eiffel tower looming large over the city.

Wife is a couple of steps in front of me, Son and Daughter just behind me, when suddenly an old lady crouches in front of us and picks something from the ground. I don’t see her at first - because I’m taking photos - but when I almost bump into her, I take notice.

“Is this yours?” she asks, and shows me a gold ring.

Uh oh.

» Continued

Mar 13, '13 : Top of the morning

Filed under: True story

For about six years, I’ve had a theory about what makes certain people sleepyheads, and what makes others get up early - way too early - in the morning. For my research, I have used human guinea pigs.

Exhibit A, “Son”, gets up at the crack of dawn and refuses to go back to sleep, fearing that he will miss something while asleep. What that might be is a topic for another study for which I don’t have funding yet.

Exhibit B, “Daughter”, refuses to get up at all, kicking and screaming everybody and everything within, well, a kicking distance from her bed. Once up, though, all sunshine.

“Son” was born in the middle of the night, 2.58 am, and “Daughter” in the evening, at 6.30 pm.

Here she's just six years, 11 months and 12 days old.

» Continued

Mar 11, '13 : Small Things of Joy

Filed under: True story

According to a Finnish proverb, “if sauna, tar and booze don’t cure the disease, it’ll kill you”. I’ve never had to try all three to feel better, so I’ve always simply assumed it to be true, which is why I keep spreading the words of wisdom to Wife, and Son and Daughter.

Fortunately, those three aren’t at the top of the list of cures in our household. Fortunately, because we haven’t been sick very often, and because I’m not sure how to use tar as medicine.

Anyway, at the first signs of a cold I turn to another holy trinity.

Our store.

» Continued

Mar 07, '13 : The one that got away

Filed under: True story

On the top shelf in our basement, there’s a brown cardboard box with dozens of baseball hats in it. I don’t know the exact number, but if I say forty, I won’t be off by more than five, either way. And those are hats that aren’t in active rotation, because those forty or so, are in a metal basket next to our front door.

On my way out, I grab the one that matches my mood, if not always my clothes.

Nobody needs close to hundred baseball hats, of course. I didn’t want a hundred hats originally. All I wanted was one.

The Risto hat trick

» Continued

Feb 28, '13 : He believes he can fly

Filed under: True story

Like many, or most, small boys, I, too, had ideas about the future, and what the world would look like when I grew up. Well, I had one idea. I thought it would be neat - that is the technical term for it - if the roads and streets of Finland were covered by a similar electric ceiling like the bumper cars at Linnanmäki, the amusement park in Helsinki.

I also thought it would be neat if all the streets in Helsinki would freeze over so I could just skate to school every day.

Anoher one bites the ice chips.

» Continued

Feb 09, '13 : The Slovak Code

Filed under: True story

Greetings from Poprad, Slovakia. Ďakujem. That’s all I can say in Slovak, and while I know it’s not much, according to my mother it’s the most important word in the world. It means “thank you”.

I’m here to cover the women’s Olympic qualification hockey tournament, and - as far as I can tell - I am the only reporter who’s not either from Slovakia or Japan.

Follow me.

» Continued

Filed under: True story

The other day, a friend of mine tweeted something about his childhood in Oshawa, Ontario. While I knew that he was Canadian, and may have been aware of the fact that he was from "Toronto", I never knew he was from Oshawa.

Not that it mattered to me, but I replied to him, and said that you learn something new every day.

I often tell Son and Daughter that you learn something every day. Just the other day Son was a one-boy audience to a medium-long speech that Herb Brooks would have been jealous of, on the importance of practice, and learning by doing. Yesterday, when Daughter and I hung out at the rink, she worked on her math skills by tying to figure out how much time was left on the clock.

“Well, a bandy game lasts 90 minutes, and now they’ve played 86 .. so…,” I’d say, and she would be quiet for a while, and then deliver her answer with a big smile.

Sometimes, though, we learn something when things go wrong.

Stay curious.

» Continued

Jan 29, '13 : Suit up

Filed under: True story

My first real soccer shirt was a yellow, short-sleeved shirt with a small crest on the chest, with a stylized G in the middle of it. G for Gnistan, or “spark”. The day I got my first real soccer shirt was the biggest day of my life, until I got my first real hockey sweater.

The hockey sweater was dark green and had the word “KERHO” - “club” in Finnish - diagonally across the chest.

And the year after that, I got a sweater with real advertisement on it, a career highlight.

Skate, Son, skate!

» Continued

Jan 22, '13 : Sisu

Filed under: True story

The young, dark-haired man behind the desk at the gym said something to me and whatever it was, he was being passionate about it, that much I knew. He was smiling, and pounding his chest, and pointing at me. I’m reasonably good at lip reading, but that time, I was confused.

Usually, he just takes my card, swipes it, and gives it back to me, so I often keep my earphones in my ears, smile politely, and keep walking.

But, this time, he was still holding onto my card and talking, so I scratched my head a little, and like a great magician, discreetly pulled the earphone out without him noticing.

Sisu.

» Continued

Jan 11, '13 : Whose line is it anyway?

Filed under: True story

I don’t know why I remember that particular line, but I do, and I think it’s funny. I think it’s funny that I remember it, and I think it’s a funny line. Maybe I remember it because I caught myself by surprise with my witty answer. It was almost as if I didn’t realize what I had said until I heard the words come out of my mouth.

Jäähalli.

» Continued

Dec 31, '12 : Two miserable bachelors

Filed under: True story

About 15 years ago, I spent New Year’s Eve with my best friend at my place. It was a nice place, in a Helsinki suburb, a ten-minute train ride from downtown Helsinki. We made some food, we called up another buddy to come over - he did, briefly - and we danced to the Doors.

“You know what my mother said when I told her about us hanging out at New Year’s?” my buddy asked me.

I had no idea.

“She said that she felt bad for us, ‘two miserable bachelors, alone at New Year’s’,” he added, and we laughed.

Happy new year!

» Continued

Filed under: True story

The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves. Except that it’s not a screen door, and there’s no Mary around. Instead, it’s the door of our microwave oven. I put a Finnish meat pie in there and sit at our kitchen table with a comic book. It's cold and dark outside because it's winter in Joensuu, Finland, a provincial city in eastern Finland, just 102 kilometers from the border between Finland and the Soviet Union.

I could have gone to the outside skating rink just outside our house but it's difficult to find the motivation once I've got home from school. The thermometer on the roof of the bank at the market square said it was minus-30 degrees today, just like yesterday. I had wrapped my scarf around my face but it only helped for a short while, until my breath made it wet so it froze. Every time I inhaled, my nostrils seemed to freeze up as well.

No, I'd just eat my pie, read my comics, and then put on some Springsteen. Born To Run.

It was a dark and stormy night.

» Continued

Dec 05, '12 : Age against the machine

Filed under: True story

My parents were in their early twenties when I was born, even if I didn’t know it then, and to be honest, I didn’t much think about it even as I grew up to understand it. In fact, when my best friend asked the seven-year-old me how old my parents were, I said I didn’t know.

“My mother’s 35,” he announced.

“Huh. I think mine’s 35, too,” I said, and then we continued our football match.

My mother was 28 at the time.

Higher, and higher.

» Continued

Filed under: True story

1. When he was just three apples high, like the Smurfs, one of Son's favorite places to go to was the local park, because there were animals. Some sheep, some horses, some rabbits, some chicken. And a big rooster. Sometimes we took sandwiches with us, other times we bought some cookies or hotdogs there.
This was one of the other times.
Son got a hotdog in his hand, and he stood there on the park bench, quietly enjoying his hot dog, looking around. At one point, when he was looking around, the rooster snuck up on him, and snatched the hot dog out of his tiny hand.
Early lesson to parents. Son can hold a grudge. We don’t like roosters much anymore.

10.

» Continued

Nov 10, '12 : The Bicycle Grief

Filed under: True story

Somebody stole my bike. My trusty sidekick, my ride, my wheels, my friend. Gone. It was so sudden, and so unexpected. I had ridden it to the mall, just a kilometer from our house, and left it at the almost-usual-spot. I usually parked my bike next to the hotel bikes, but since there were only a few bikes closer to the main door, I decided to leave it there.

I went, got changed, walked around the gym, and walked out 35 minutes later.

And just twenty minutes later, I had gone through all five stages of grief.

Me on a bike that never did get stolen.

» Continued

Nov 05, '12 : Behind the mask

Filed under: True story

“They get paid for that? It’s their job? I want that job!” – Daughter, having heard that you have to buy a ticket to a hockey game so that the clubs can pay the players’ salaries.
I can understand that she didn’t know the players were pros but it had never occurred to me that Daughter wouldn’t know you had to pay to go to a game. Then again, kids think different.

Me.

» Continued

Oct 26, '12 : A little spark

Filed under: True story

One of the upsides of being a freelance writer is that I say yes to assignments I might not otherwise get or find, or look for. I just came home from an interview with a young Indian woman, Mala. The actual story will be more of a business story, but she also told me about her other project, an educational project back home in India.

Mala is 28, or so, a daughter of two professors. One a philosopher, the other an engineer, and they had lived in Germany and the US, they’d been in Finland and Sweden, and she was looking to work in cancer research, and getting her Ph.D.

A couple of years ago, she was back home in India, in a town south of Calcutta, thinking about her options, wondering whether she should pursue her doctorate or whether to switch lanes completely. That’s when she became friends with the young girl who used to come to their house to help her mother clean it.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

» Continued

Oct 19, '12 : Just do it

Filed under: True story

Off the top of my head, I can think of five races that I’ve run in. The first one a 60-meter dash in fourth grade, the second a three-kilometer race a couple of years later, the third a 100-meter race in high school, the fourth a 5-kilometer run in Harbor Beach, Michigan, the year after, and the fifth,a relay in my second year in business school.

I was never a great runner. I like to remember that I made it to semifinal in that first race and I also tell the kids I ran in the final in the high school 100-meter race.

Zzzzz...

» Continued

Oct 11, '12 : The Coral Island

Filed under: True story

Next to my bed, under the nightstand, and under a stack of books that I’d like to have read already, there’s a little basket for things that don’t have a place anywhere else: an Oscar Wilde book, a pair of socks, some comic books, old issues of Wired and New Yorker, a baseball hat, and a sweatband.

And then there’s a copy of R.M. Ballantyne’s “The Coral Island”, a book that I read a dozen times as a boy. Every once in a while I take it up and ask Son if he’d like to read it, but so far, Harry Potter and the Three Detectives have always pulled him stronger.

Here it is.

» Continued

Oct 02, '12 : Airport magic

Filed under: True story

I’ve always liked the Helsinki airport. Back in the olden days, when I was a wide-eyed boy - instead of this wide-eyed man I’ve become - the airport was one of the family’s favorite Sunday afternoon drive destinations. Back then, the planes took off and landed right in front of the main terminal, and kids, like myself, even got to climb all the way to the window to see them go up and down.

There was nothing more exciting than to hear my dad say on a Sunday afternoon:

“Wanna go see some planes?”

See? No snow at all.

» Continued

Oct 01, '12 : The Return of Tarzan

Filed under: True story

The most super of all the superheroes I’ve liked is the one who isn’t even a superhero, but instead, just your regular noble man, born in the deepest jungles of Africa, then adopted by apes after the same apes killed his parents.

Tarzan.

I wear my Tarzan on my sleeve.

» Continued

Sep 27, '12 : From Finland, with love

Filed under: True story

Last night, Son was playing with his Nintendo, recording sounds and then altering them to make them funny, and he asked me to say something.

I thought about it for a second, and then said, “Are you a Finn? I’m a Finn, too.” But I said it in a gruffy voice.

“Perfect!” said Son, and laughed so hard he almost fell on the floor.

They, too, are Finns.

» Continued

Sep 21, '12 : Carrots and sticks

Filed under: True story

Often, when I try to explain something to a friend or Wife, I find myself drawing analogies to hockey. It seems like such a simple way to make sense of the world. Not that it always is that, like when I try to explain the euro crisis drawing parallels to no-touch icing, but sometimes it is.

A hockey rink is a miniature version of the world – because there’s a mix of all kinds of people, and, hey, we are the world.

These are the sticks.

» Continued

Sep 17, '12 : Craven Cottage

Filed under: True story

Craven Cottage, if you don’t know, is the oldest football stadium in London and the home field of Fulham Football Club.

A few years ago, when I translated a soccer magazine from Swedish into Finnish, there was a story about the legend of Cottage, its demise and return to the days of glory and while I didn’t remember much of the story when I got there, I remembered this much: Craven Cottage was a magical place.

And there we were, Buddy and I, last Saturday. We clapped our hands when the players walked onto the pitch, cheered on Fulham - “Come on Fuuuuuuulham” - and jumped onto our feet when Berbatov scored for Fulham. Well, I did, Buddy just laughed at me. We ate the longest hotdogs I've ever seen, and we took a lot of photos. However, while the match was fine, it wasn't magical.

Mr. Haynes.

» Continued

Filed under: True story

All I know about the guy is that his name was Lothar. He was one of those people that I sort of thought I knew when I never knew him at all. I knew he was a hockey player, and today, 25 years since I last saw him, I don’t even remember where we played together – or whether we ever did.

I think we may have played together on my university’s ice time, or maybe not. He may have gone to the same university with me, although I don’t think he did. Our paths crossed only a few times in the late 1980s, maybe early 1990s.

In short, all I know is that did play hockey, that we kind of knew each other, and, while I didn’t know his real name, I knew he was called Lothar after Mandrake the Magician’s best friend, the Prince of the Seven Nations, and more importantly, the world’s strongest man.

Mandrake (left) and Lothar (right).

» Continued

Aug 26, '12 : Iron Man and Woman

Filed under: True story

Was I worried that she’d say no? Well, I did expect her to say yes, but I was ready for a no, too. Honestly.

I had originally imagined myself on my knee in front of her, holding the most beautiful ring in my hand. The snow would fall on us slowly, and she’d fight off the tears, then tell me to get up, but she’d say it in a romantic comedy sort of way, so she’d say, “get up, you big old… you big, you…” but she wouldn’t be able to finish the sentence because I’d be up, and we’d kiss.

Our Iron Anniversary.

» Continued

Aug 25, '12 : The book of Mormon

Filed under: True story

One day, in second grade, I came home from school with a form that I was supposed to return the next day, with my choice of foreign languages filled in. I was asked to rank the languages in order of preference, and with luck, my number one choice would be the one I’d start studying the next fall.

Coca-Cola had come to Finland with the Summer Olympics in 1952, and by the time I was about to make that language choice, that faraway Nordic country had fallen in love with Rodney in “Peyton Place”, and Ben Cartwright in “Bonanza”.

Then the 50s America was cool, and “Happy Days” was cool. While Fonzie was the coolest of cool, even Ralph Malph had something I really wanted. A cool high school jacket.

Men.

» Continued

Aug 20, '12 : Nice to meat you

Filed under: True story

In one of my first soccer tournaments ever, in one of the biggest ones at least, our coach told me before a game against a Swedish team that he’d make another boy the captain of the team for that game.

“It’s just because he speaks Swedish, you know,” the coach told me.

I took off the captain’s armband and handed it over to the coach who told me I’d be the captain in the next game again.

I was about ten years old, and I knew the coach was right. I didn’t speak Swedish. I only knew how to count to ten, and then fake it to thirteen. I knew just one other word in Swedish: Kött. “Meat”.

Who's the captain?

» Continued

Aug 05, '12 : One hundred meters

Filed under: True story

Jim Hines. I never saw Jim Hines run, but when I was a kid, he was one of the sprinters I knew by name because that Jim Hines held the 100 meter world record. His 9.95 was the ultimate goal the others were chasing. One of them was my favorite sprinter, Valeri Borzov, of Soviet Union. He was also the great, white hope of the sport at the time, especially after he won the Olympic gold in 1972.

He must have become the Pakarinen household favorite a year earlier, though, in 1971, when he won both the 100 meter race and the 200 meter race at the European Championships held in Helsinki. I remember watching Borzov at the 1976 Olympics, in Montreal, and my father admiring the thighs on the Ukrainian.

Borzov.

» Continued

Aug 02, '12 : The choice is yours

Filed under: True story

“Becky’s dinah, nothing finah.”
For somebody coming from a country that has “our land is poor, so it remains, if you long for gold, a stranger sure abandons it, but to us, the most precious land is this” written in the national anthem, having too many options isn’t always a good thing.

After all, life is so much easier when there are just two TV channels, like in the Finland of my youth, or when the breakfast choice was simply porridge with strawberry dessert creme, which I had when Dad took me to the diner around the corner from our apartment in the Helsinki of my youth.

A lighthouse. Maine.

» Continued

Jul 28, '12 : All night long

Filed under: True story

“Are we really going to do this,” Wife asked me. She was half-sitting and half-sleeping on the couch as the athletes were marching into the London Olympic Stadium. About an hour earlier, she had been sitting, and fully awake, admiring the Opening ceremony, amazed by the production and delighted by the appearance by the Queen.

“I mean, they’re just at H, and we’ve seen Finland, this is going to take hours,” she said.

“Oh, it’s only once every four years. Besides, I really think they’ll have a big surprise in the end. It’s not going to be just Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude, I think it’s going to be a Beatles reunion. It’ll be Paul and Ringo and holograms of John and George,” I said.

“You want something to eat? A sandwich?” I then asked her on my way to the kitchen. I didn’t have to see Honduras marching in. But I did want to see the Beatles.

Eat.

» Continued

Jul 23, '12 : Gone camping

Filed under: True story

I had only been back to Vierumäki a couple of times in the last few decades, mostly just for an interview or two, and never for more than a couple of hours, but that didn’t stop me from acting as if I knew my way around the place as I showed the family how to get from the hotel to the rink and the track.

As usual, things had changed in my absence, and as usual, I told Wife all about it. I told her that the hotel must have been brand new, and how where the new rink was now, there used to be an outdoor rink. Then I also pointed out all the things that seemed to be exactly the way I remembered them from my camp.

In 1982.

The right stuff.

» Continued

Jul 18, '12 : Flying sandals

Filed under: True story

The first one was an accident, really. I was just sitting there on the swing with Son and Daughter when I happened to drop my sandal. I picked it up, sat down again, got some more speed, and then kicked the sandal off my foot so that it landed a few meters from the swings.

And then the other one.

And then I stopped the swing and walked barefoot to get my sandals. Just as I was about to slip one of them back on, I saw a blue plastic sandal in the air. Son had kicked off his new pair of Crocs.

I rushed back to the swings, and this time, I made the swing go higher, and really fast, so that I could make my sandal fly far, so far. One, two, three, I swung back and forth four times, and on the fifth, I kicked off my left sandal.

The official arena.

» Continued