In the summer of 1983, everybody I knew bought the same two albums. One of them was Police’s “Synchronicity”, the other David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. “Every Breath You Take” was playing everywhere, as was the title song of the Bowie album, and by “everywhere” I mean the EF disco in downtown Oxford every Wednesday.
I spent a month in Oxford that summer, learning English and learning to be English. My English was pretty good before the trip, but it did improve there as well, and as far as being English goes, I did my best and watched Wimbledon and cricket with Jim, the father of my host family.
He was in his 70s, and nothing could make him leave his TV chair during cricket.
Other things I learned: I like chips with vinegar and dislike beans. That I know because I ate a lot of chips and because Jim’s wife Joyce tried to make me eat beans for breakfast every day.
I learned that swiping your hand under your chin is considered offensive in England. That I only know because the Finnish guy in my language school group told me so, and then went on to demonstrate it by doing so while sitting by a flower bed next to the Carfax tower, our designated meeting point.
And then he went running, chased by what I had to assume was a true English fellow.
I learned that if you throw an orange straight up in the air, it will come down, and that you can’t always tell where it’s going to land. That I know because I did that once, after yet another frustrating soccer loss to the Italian group after a picnic. I grabbed an orange and threw it straight up.
Except it couldn’t have been straight up, because it didn’t land on my hand, but instead, on top of Antonella’s head some 30 meters away from me. Ah, Antonella, she was the girl who one Wednesday taught me how to count to ten in Italian at the EF disco in downtown Oxford.
When she got hit by the orange, she got up by seven, sette. I left the disco at nine, nove, and walked to the burger joint across the street from the flowerbed, next to the Carfax tower, and next to the pub I once saw a man in tails stumble out of with the tails in tact, but with the sleeves ripped off.
See, we had moved to Joensuu, and there were no fast-food burger joints there, and having a cheeseburger for a night snack was my dream. Also, I knew I’d get beans for breakfast.
I spent most of my travel budget at that burger joint, and I remember a girl in our group telling me that “if you didn’t train so hard, you’d be really fat.”
That summer, I also learned that a travel budget is a good thing to have. I overshot a little bit and ran out of money two days before going home. On the last night in town, it was time for our fancy dinner, but all I had was a seat at the table. One of the girls in our group let me have a couple of her French fries, and a buddy of mine bought me a Coke.
The next day, I landed in Helsinki with five pence in my pocket.
Instead of records, I had invested my money in cheeseburgers, Peanuts comic books, and a Wimbledon sweatshirt.
So, a long story short: Last Sunday, I bought the Let’s Dance album when Wife and Son and Daughter and I hit a second-hand record store in Stockholm. It was cheap, it was there, and it was due.
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.