I coulda been a contender

Finland had a presidential election recently, and for the first time in my lifetime, the new President is younger than me, albeit only by a few months. The new head of state is also someone I’ve played hockey against when we were – both – pre-teens and teens. 

A few weeks ago, I was sitting across the table from his father, a prominent hockey executive, talking hockey for a book I’m working on. And since it was right in the middle of the campaign, the topic of presidency came up. 

“I’m sure he’ll win,” I said, while grabbing another Jaffa cake (which, for some reason, you can’t find in Sweden, but that’s another story).  

“We’ll see,” said the then-future Father of the President. 

“It could’ve been me.”

I didn’t say that out loud but I did think it. And then I took another Jaffa cake – because they were there. 

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Let’s take a cruise

I once tried to estimate the number of times I’ve been on these ferries that traffic between Sweden and Finland. It’s almost like one of those questions you might expect to get at a Google job interview in which the right answer is less important than how you try to get there.

The first three – six, if you count return trips, and why wouldn’t you? – are pretty easy.

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The Tao of the Butabis

A Night at the Roxbury opens with a shot of the Butabi brothers hitting the clubs, perfecting their dance moves and bopping their heads as they drive through the city, Haddaway’s “What Is Love” blasting in the background. 

Life is good, and the boys are feeling great, when suddenly, Doug hits the passenger’s side window with his head, smashing it into a thousand pieces. 

He looks at his brother, Steve, sheepishly. 

“I broke the window again,” he says then. 

That’s one of my all-time favourite movie lines, and also one that I quote frequently. Basically, every time I do something that is moderately stupid, but stupid enough to make me swear. 

I love how that one word adds another dimension to the story. Obviously, they’ve been at it before, and obviously, they haven’t learned anything. The “again” is such a clever way to convey to the viewers that these two guys are the opposite of clever.

But it doesn’t matter. They’re so happy together. 

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Shitty Beetles? Are they any good?

For two years, I’ve been writing an 80s music newsletter with a friend of mine. Well, not just any of buddy of mine, but my very own musical advisor and a pop guru who introduced many artists to me back in the original 1980s. 

We named it after the Finnish title of St. Elmo’s Fire, the movie, and don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it. First of all, it’s in Finnish, and second of all, we’ve been very patiently waiting to get discovered, and have wanted to let that happen organically. Without marketing, that is. 

And for “research” purposes, I’ve also been reading or maybe re-reading the local paper from the 1980s, practically daily. (It started when I was writing Someday Jennifer in which the main character “travels” back in time). 

It’s been surprisingly uplifting.

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Plates, trains and automobiles

This may come as a surprise to you, but Swedes love vanity plates. That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn in my twenty-plus years driving (and sitting) in Stockholm traffic. Every day, I find myself behind someone who wants to signal something to their fellow citizens.

Since the maximum number of characters is seven, there’s not a lot of room for witticism on the plate, and off the top of my head, I’d say the most common vanity plates are people’s first names. You know, the Monicas and the Anderses. And the Ömers.

There’s a HEJ close to where we live, and a VIRGO about as close but in the opposite direction from our house. I’ve seen a SORRY and an R2D2, too.

I’ve often thought what I’d like to have on my vanity plate. I’m too private a person to have my name on a plate – I don’t want others to know my name! I wouldn’t want to have Wife’s name on the plate, either.

What about our dog’s name? That would only be funny if he also drove the car, and while he’s smart enough to do it, he’s too short.

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Do you know the way to San Jose?

I’ve spent two days trying to remember a line from a movie. Or a TV show. I can’t remember which. I don’t actually remember the line, either, except for two things: It mentioned Klamath Falls, Oregon and that whoever had written the Swedish subtitles had misspelled Klamath to read Clamouth. 

It was – most likely – a throwaway line in a – evidently – forgettable movie or TV show and it wouldn’t matter if not for the fact that I have never heard anyone mention Klamath Falls before. And I’ve been there!

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A detective story

Like many, if not all other kids in the world, I, too, once ran a detective agency. It was a very small, no-name – literally – agency, based out of a small, second-floor room in a Helsinki suburb. All I had was a desk. I didn’t even have a chair for my partner. 

Then again, my partner was our dog. And like all proper detectives, I detested sitting at a desk anyway, so I spent most of my time out in the field, looking for cases. 

The chances of a damsel in distress walking up the stairs and into our apartment were slim anyway. 

Probably needless to say, but my detective agency didn’t have any cases per se, but I did spend many an afternoon shadowing people, and even more time shaking off bad guys I suspected were shadowing me. Now, I am sorry to say, my agency has laid dormant for many years. 

Until last week. 

Call it a hunch, call it intuition, call it whatever you want, but as I drove out car onto the ferry to Finland, I felt a familiar, funny feeling in my stomach. Something was up. 

“Something’s up, Riku,” I muttered, out of habit. (It was, and is, something of a catchphrase of mine). 

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A (charismatic) French rock star seeks work

A charismatic, ageing French rock star will compose and record an original song for you, your mom, your lover or your pet in French, English, or Franglais (recommended). US$200.
– A classified ad in the London Review of Books, 2022–

[Phone rings]

“Bonjour.”

“Hullo, sir.”

“Is this the London Review of Books?”

“Yes, sir. Yes, it is. How may I help you?”

“I would like to place an ad, please.”

“Certainly, sir. What kind of advertisement are we talking about? We have a quarter-page in the front, half-page next to the letters–“

“In the back, with the holidays and writing retreats. And dating ads.”

“I’m not sure we have dating ads, sir.”

“Oh, please. In the back? The ‘Lonely and desperate man seeks – anyone” types.

“The personals?”

“Some of them seem very personal, yes. Too personal.”

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Greetings from Asbury Park, Rantakylä

One day when I got home from school Terry was sitting in our TV chair, his feet on our dog’s back, his eyes glued to a music video on TV. On the screen, there was a man in a white shirt that was unbuttoned halfway down and sleeves rolled up to reveal his biceps. It was Bruce Springsteen “Dancing in the Dark” with Monica from Friends, even though nobody knew it back then.

And Terry certainly didn’t care. He paused the video and waited for to give him my full attention as his often did. He was about to make an Annoucement, and I’d better be ready for it.

I sat down on the sofa and listened to Terry deliver his verdict.

“Man, he’s old,” Terry said. “He must be 35. Look at his hair. I bet that’s a piece.”

“Really?” I said.

“Just look at it,” Terry said.

Then he rewound the tape back to the beginning of the song, and sang along. Except for when he came to the line, “I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.”

Terry exchanged “my” to “your.” We both thought it was funny.

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Men in tights (or Houdini v Boudini)

“The two shackle-breaking artists stripped for the contest. Houdini wore tights under his clothing. Boudini did not.”
New York Times, Sept. 21, 1905

Bess wrapped her bonnet tighter around her ears. The wind was cold that morning, coming from the east. 

Harlem was quiet as Bess hurried west along the 112ndth Street, toward the 116th Street subway stop. She didn’t like traveling underground and she knew Ehrich didn’t like her spending 5 cents on the trip, but there was no other way for her to get to South Ferry in time.  

She pulled her handbag tighter under her arm as she walked inside the control house. She looked around to make sure she was in the right place, then walked in and bought a ticket from a man inside an oak booth. She carefully lifted her skirt as she walked down the stairs, gripping the handle of her handbag, making sure she still had it with her.

The handbag was the sole reason for this trip. Or, rather, what was inside it. 

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