There was a lot of snow that year. So much so that it came halfway up my bedroom window, blocking the little sunlight that we had in Finland during the Christmas holidays.
I didn’t mind it, though.
To be honest, I barely noticed it because it was also the the year I got ZX Spectrum.
I spent the Christmas Eve night setting it up, connecting the tiny plastic box with the rubber keys to the 14-inch TV set on my desk, and to the tape recorder – the mass storage unit – next to it.
I only had one tape, and it was a collection of programs that came with the computer. To call it a computer makes me smile, because I think there’s more computing power in our fridge than in that Spectrum. The programs on the introduction tape were chosen to have something for everybody.
I could hear them calling for me but I wasn’t ready to come out yet. I was deep underground, in a cave where I was sure an ancient Inca treasure was buried. Or, maybe it was a treasure chest left there by Blackbeard, an infamous pirate, like my friend Ari said.
Fine, I wasn’t technically underground, because the cave Ari and I had built was made out of snow and the pile of snow was most definitely above ground.
I guess it’s needless to say that there was no real Inca treasure, either, but I’ll just say it anyway so that there aren’t any misunderstandings: there was no Inca treasure. There was no pirates’ treasure, either. It was all in our our nine-year-old heads.
One recent Thursday, I hurried across the street in Kallio in downtown Helsinki. Unlike thirty years earlier when I rushed across the street in the morning to get breakfast, this time I walked in the opposite direction.
My old apartment building was still there, as was the downstairs pub, but the store that I used to run to is all gone, and many of the other stores have become coffee shops and restaurants.
Around the corner, where there used to be nothing as far as I was concerned, there is now a small movie theatre called Riviera. That’s where I was headed.
It was the Helsinki media day of my book launch.
My first contact with a computer was a printout of Snoopy made out of x’s and o’s and ampersands. I don’t remember where it was, and not what the computer looked like – although in my head I saw it during one of our field trips during my two weeks with the scouts and it was one of those room-sized mainframes but both claims are just as likely to be fake memories I created as I typed this – but I can see that Snoopy as clearly as if I was holding the two-tone continuous form paper in my hand right now.
To me, it was the work of genius. Looking at it up close, it was just a mess of characters, but once you took two steps back, there was Snoopy dancing! Snoopy!
If that’s what computers could do, count me in! However, it took me a couple of years to get my hands on one.
When Son wants to make fun of me, he pretends to be writing a blog post as me. The punchline? They all begin with “When I was a kid.” I always laugh, because I know he must be kidding. Not ALL my posts begin like that.
When I was a kid, I often sat in a rocking chair in my grandparents’ house. It was best seat in the house. It was in the corner of the kitchen so you could see and hear everything. I also sat right next to a cupboard should you need a hiding place, and it was next to a daily calendar and sometimes I got to tear off a page. Right next to ie, there was a photo of an even smaller me which made me feel very special.
There I sat, listening to my grandmother walk around the kitchen, singing quietly or talking to herself while wiping the table, carrying things from one place to another, or cooking dinner.
Look, there he is. His hair flowing in the air, or at least the half mullet that’s sticking out from underneath his baseball cap, as he rolls down the hill on his Persian green bike, a Peugeot. He’s on his way to … well, nowhere to be honest. He just hopped on his bike and rode around for a while, and here he is now, a walkman clipped to the waist of his shorts, listening to music and taking in a perfect summer’s day. Just as comes to the edge of town and rides by the car dealership he’ll buy his first car from a couple of years later, he hears computer making beeps and bleeps.
He puts his hands back on the handlebar and turns up the volume. He’s never really listened to the song before.
“Good evening. This is the intergalactic operator. Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m trying to reach flight commander P.R. Johnson, on Mars, flight 2-4-7”
Yesterday, as I was at a hockey store, getting some new skates for Daughter, it occurred to me that outside our house, there are two places where I’m fully comfortable and at ease. One of them is a car and the other a hockey rink. Any car and any hockey rink in the world.
One of my earliest memories involves a drive to a hockey rink in Helsinki. My Dad had a game and for some strange reason I got to tag along. In the mental image in my head, it’s the middle of the winter, there’s a lot of snow, we park our car far from the rink, I walk into a wood-paneled dressing room – and smell the stench of hockey gloves for the first time.
And, oddly enough, even the smell is a pleasant memory.
Naturally, I have no way of verifying any of that, except that it probably was the middle of the winter because back then, the hockey season was much shorter and that the gloves probably did stink because they always stank back then.
The Globe, The Globe,
the pub with
next door to the Walker’s
and a lady
A bus to Hanover St passes by,
as the Starbucks busboy
picks up trash.
At night, he plays
in a band
At The Globe, The Globe:
the pub with
A notebook entry, July 2017.
“Tanssii kuin perhonen, pistää kuin ampiainen”.
Ensimmäisen kerran kuulin Muhammad Alin kuuluisan kuvauksen itsestään Hockey Sports Shop -urheiluliikkeessä Helsingin Oulunkylässä. Taivaskallion kupeessa ollut liike ei ollut ihan tavallinen urheilukauppa, sillä sen olivat perustaneet HIFK-pelaajat Lauri Mononen ja Reijo Laksola.
Syksyllä 1978 Ali oli kovan paikan edessä, sillä hän oli helmikuussa, heikosti harjoitelleena, hävinnyt raskaan sarjan MM-tittelinsä helpoksi vastustajaksi arvioidulle Leon Spinksille. Koko maailma odotti uusintaottelua ja Hockey Sports Shopissakin oli Ali v Spinks -matsin juliste.
Late matki Alin kevyttä askelta ja sanoi tanssivansa kuin perhonen.
“Ali voittaa,” Late ennusti, koska hän toivoi Alin voittoa.
Laten ennustus toteutui, ja Ali voitti Spinksin. Ali jäi eläkkeelle ainoana nyrkkeilijänä, joka oli voittanut raskaan sarjan tittelin kolmesti – mutta teki sitten paluun ja hävisi Larry Holmesille.
The family legend is that when I was born, Dad looked up “Risto Pakarinen” in the Helsinki phone book, and noting the absence of the name in the mightiest phone book in the country, he decided that it was a good name for a son.
A little special, you see. Not just another John Smith (although, back then, being called John Smith would probably have been even more special in Helsinki).
So Risto it was.
And like most of us, I take my name personally. Every time I’m traveling, and I see signs that have “Risto” in them, I take a photo, and claim ownership. In Gothenburg this week, I saw a restaurant called “Ristoria” and sent the photo to my friends and I used to do that with every single “ristorante” as well, but it got a little tiresome. For years, even decades, I also often made the same joke of my being a secret restauranteur, and that my partner’s name was “Rante”. That, too, got a little tiresome – or so I was told.