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.
One of the big perks with my apartment was that in the backyard we had a big parking lot. Free parking in downtown Helsinki, it was a a great deal, although I didn’t truly appreciate it then. No circling around the block, looking for a spot. I just parked my little white Peugeot in the backyard, and went home.
The only downside with the parking space was that it was outside. All year long. Even in the winter.
One of those Helsinki winter days when I came down to my little white Peugeot 205, I found it covered in snow. So much so that I almost didn’t find it. I dug it out, hopped in, started it and started to back it out of the space, but nothing happened.
There was just a lot of noise, and snow was flying through the air, but the car didn’t move.
Fifteen minutes later, I ran back inside and got my buddy to help me. Back at the car, I hopped in, and my friend pushed the car, but nothing happened. A neighbor of ours had similar problems, so he came to help us. I sat inside the car, working the gas, trying to make the car swing a little, so that when my buddy and our neighbor pushed, I’d help them with the gas.
Nothing. We tried it again, and again, but twenty minutes later, the car was still stuck. If anything, it was more stuck than before.
I was losing faith. The neighbor did lose his faith so he told me he was going back in to make some phone calls. I guess he was going to get some reinforcements.
And just then, out of the blue, there was Lothar. I don’t know what he was doing there, or who he was with, or visiting, but there he was.
“Need help?” he asked.
The thing about Lothar was that since I had bumped into him at hockey rinks, I always assumed he was, well, my age. He may have been. But unlike me, he was one of those guys who had a five o’clock shadow by noon. He was barrel chested, and his thighs were like tree trunks. So were mine, but they were like birch trunks. His were like oaks in the petrified forest.
“Yes, Lot… sure,” I said.
I wanted the help, I needed the help, but I had never called him Lothar to his face.
“Let me just get in the car,” I said.
“No need,” he said, and walked up to my car. In my memory, he’s wearing a blue jeans jacket, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the right image, because … well, it was snowing. But then again, you never knew with Lothar.
He walked up to my car, and pushed it a little. The car didn’t move.
“The SOB’s stuck in the snow,” he said.
“Yes. Yes, it is,” I said.
“Hmph,” he said, and walked around the car. He grabbed a hold of the right back fender. He squatted next to the car, and started to pull. My friend and I took a few steps back, giving Lothar all the space he needed. We simply watched him. He pulled and pulled, and he pulled some more until my car moved a little. Then a little more, until finally, Lothar had pulled my little white Peugeot out of the snow, and into the clear.
“There,” he said, and brushed the snow off his sleeves.
“Thanks. That was amazing,” I said. “You just pulled a car out of the snow, just by yourself.”
“That was nothing,” he said, turned around and walked away.
I haven’t seen him since that winter’s day in Helsinki. At least I don’t think so. But that one day, he was the best friend a man could wish for. He was Lothar, the strongest man in the world.