He coulda bin a contender. His words, not mine. Actually, that’s not true, they were my words because his words were, “Coulda been an A-list celebrity”, but the idea was the same. Had he got his break, the one he thought he had deserved, things would have been different. Very different.
The first time I saw him, I heard him first. I heard the sound of a skipping rope hitting the floor, but not the sound of his sneakers softly landing on the same floor. There was only a centimeter, at most, between his shoes and the wooden surface that had once been blue, and it was almost as if he’d just but now had black scuff marks from all the skipping and other training that took place in the small workout area.
Before we had latte – and that’s with any prefix, whether a tall or grande or venti or just cafe – before Central Perk was on TV, before Swedish coffeeshops had landed in Finland, long, long before Starbucks made it here, and before we even had coffee to go, we had the local gas station’s caféteria.
That’s where people got together, that’s where you heard the news, met your friends, hung out, and maybe had lunch, or even dinner. But at least a cup of coffee and a donut. One of the biggest Finnish comedy characters, Uuno Turhapuro, always hung out at a gas station, another major 1970s hit TV show, Tankki Täyteen (“Fill’ er up”), told the story of a quirky family that ran a gas station, and its cafeteria.
The local gas station was where everybody knew your name, even in a city like Helsinki.
Sweden is a country where “lunch” is not just a meal but a concept of time. Meetings are booked either “before lunch” (11am) or “after lunch” (1pm) – except on Christmas Eve, when everything is different. First, not many people book meetings on Christmas Eve. Second, people may skip lunch altogether and rely on a heavy breakfast to carry them through to the dinner feast.
At Christmastime, Swedes use another concept of time. It’s used only once a year, and it’s not an actual time, either, but it does dictate the movements of an entire nation.
It’s called “Kalle Anka.” You may know it as Donald Duck.
The first hockey camp I ever attended was a day camp in Helsinki. The kids would come in morning, have two practices on the ice, eat lunch, and go home and then return to the rink the next morning to do it all over again. For five days.
The camp was run by two Finnish league players that were Dad’s friends, and from Day 1, they both referred to me a “Pikku-Eikka”, Finnish for “Little Eikka”, in which Eikka is my Dad’s nickname.
You can’t see me from where you are
On the stage, in the spotlight
Because I’m in the back, in the dark
But I see you as you walk out to your place
On the stage, under the spotlight
I watch you make people laugh
and I laugh with them.
I hear the people sigh at the exactly right places,
and I sigh with them
as I mouth each line with you
From my place in the back, in the dark
Then I hear the applause
and I clap my hands and
even though you can’t see me from where you are
on the stage, in the spotlight
I give you the thumbs-up
and I smile as I wipe off a tear
This may look like just another small plastic bag. Just another plastic bag with a plastic bracelet inside. And to most people, that’s exactly what it is. Just another plastic bag, just another plastic bracelet, except that at second glance, you may notice that the bracelet is a Fitbit, one of those activity trackers, workout buddies that count steps and calories, and track sleep.
Yet, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while.
And I’m going to tell you why.
I have to say the kid was good-looking. He looked goofy, sure, in his bleached jeans and a yellow ski jacket, and he looked a little confused, absolutely, but most of all he looked real nice. I had forgotten how good the kid looked, it’d been ages since I had last seen him. Well, decades, and three decades to be exact.
I recognized him right away. He just appeared in front of me as I was riding my bike to the mall the other day.
“Hey, kid,” I said. “Wait up.”
The world was different in 1964 when Gun opened her little store from what it looked like in 2004 when she decided to retire and sell the tiny store. You may think the city’s always looked the same, especially around her store, because the store is on the ground floor of a big old stone building, and was there even before Gun – but it hasn’t.
When I was ten years old, Paul McCartney was my favorite Beatle. After school, I’d be alone at home – well, me and our dog – listening to the Beatles, and maybe “Fonzie’s Favorites”, 50s rock tunes in the spirit of the hit TV show “Happy Days”, singing along at the top of my lungs.
When I got older, and realized that John Lennon was assassinated on my birthday – although, technically, it was already the day after my birthday in Finland – I switched allegiances and John became my favorite Beatle..
But I always liked “Let It Be”.
You know, “when I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”
My mother’s name is not Mary, but when I found myself in times of trouble, she did come to me and she did speak words of wisdom.