The talk of the town

On one recent April morning, Risto Pakarinen took a quick glance at a black plastic bowl. Then he grabbed a potato chip out of it, and put it in his mouth.

“I love chips,” he said to no-one in particular.

He was wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt that had an image of the DeLorean from the 1980s hit movie Back to the Future, an orange Fitbit bracelet around his right wrist, and a Mickey Mouse watch on his left wrist. No socks.

“My favorite color’s blue. What’s yours?” he said with a chuckle.


“That’s from a movie, y’know. I think it’s from “Problem Child”. The kid asks his babysitter who’s all dressed in blue what his favorite color is, just to make fun of him, but he wants to do it in a way that the babysitter doesn’t get it. Or maybe it was “Beethoven”,” he then added

Actually, it was “Problem Child”, a 1990 wacky comedy that today enjoys a four percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That appraisal comes with the description, “Mean-spirited and hopelessly short on comic invention.”

“Sort of like me: mean-spirited and hopelessly short,” Mr. Pakarinen said, deadpanned.

“Anyway, that’s all I remember about it,” he added, and dashed off to the other room to make sure that the other chip bowls were filled to the brim. They were are.

Or they were until he grabbed a handful of chips – salt and vinegar – and ran back to the kitchen window and looked to his left and to his right.

“Not a soul,” he said, again, to no-one in particular.

Mr. Pakarinen, a short and stocky Finnish-born writer, had invited some people over for a private reading of his latest blog post. The particular entry he had chosen for the event was about his old high school teacher who made kids hop around the classroom on one leg if they couldn’t answer a question, and it was yet to be published on his site, because he wanted to create an air of exclusivity to the event.

The plan was to publish the post after the thunderous applause had subsided in the room, and after the VIPs had got their glasses of champagne. Then they’d talk about the piece over the chips buffet Mr. Pakarinen had set up on the kitchen table. There were four kinds of snacks there: plain, barbecue, cheez doodles, and salt and vinegar.

Ten minutes before the planned starting time, Mr. Pakarinen was getting exceedingly anxious. The worst thing wouldn’t be if nobody came – he’d been through that before – because nobody would know. The worst thing would be if only two people came. They’d know, and they’d know someone else knew.

Then nobody would feel comfortable. Mr. Pakarinen would be disappointed and sad, and therefore not very good company, while the the two VIPs would surely feel duped and most likely not very important because they’d think that a true VIP wouldn’t have shown up in the first place.

Ten minutes after the planned starting time of the event, Mr. Pakarinen sat down at the kitchen table, and took a handful of barbecue chips.

He texted his wife to tell her the bad news, and got a reply just seconds later.

“Stop worrying. Remember your birthday in 2001?”

He did remember the birthday party in 2001. He hadn’t had a real birthday party in years, but had decided to throw one then. It was a combined housewarming party and a birthday party, set to start at 8 pm. By 8.30, nobody had arrived … but by 2 am, none of the people who had arrived, had left.

“People. Trying to be so cool. What is so bad about arriving in time? Does that make you uncool? Really?” he said.

“That’s why I’m always on time. Always. That’s how you make friends: you don’t arrive too early nor too late.”

An hour later, he was still by himself. He took down the balloons from the front door, and stepped on one of them so that it burst. His laptop was on the kitchen counter, with the red “Publish” button teasingly prominent on the screen. Mr. Pakarinen closed the laptop, and sighed.

“Well, fortunately, I do like chips,” he said.

To no-one in particular.

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