You do you

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.

After a chat with a reporter at the Riviera bar, the photographer ushered me into the movie theatre for a few photos. She asked me to sit down in one of the velvet chairs and peek over my shoulder. 

“I don’t think I can twist my legs like that,” I said, apologetically. 

“Well, let’s try something else,” she said, sighed, and stood right in front of me. 

I sat in the chair. She raised her camera and looked into the finder, and then moved the camera away from her face. 

“That’s not you,” she said. 

It’s hard to know how others see you because you can never share their point of view. We only know one way of seeing the world, through our own eyes, and we most often think that others see it the same way. 

Until something (we think is) strange happens and we’re reminded of the fact that we don’t share the same image of the world. Or ourselves. 

In my high school, the second-graders – the ones just behind the graduating class – put up a show for and about the graduating class. Somehow I was so unaware of any such traditions in my school that I didn’t know one had existed until it was my turn to graduate – and see a parody version of myself up on the stage. 

It was exciting, of course, because in way, being the subject of parody meant that I had mattered. I had been noticed. I was somebody. (And naturally, thirty years later, the only thing I remember about the show is the part of me being parodied). 

Or, was I?

In the parody, three guys entered the stage and jumped around while Bryan Adams was playing. Two of them did some headbanging, and delivered a couple of funny one-liners, and then … then … they picked up the third guy, stuffed him in a hockey bag, and carried him off the stage. 

I was the guy carried off the stage. 

That was me? That was me. I was the straight man to the funny guys. The Rick Moranis to their Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. I was astonished. 

At the same time, even if I had hoped to be a little cooler, even in parody, I did understand that it was how somebody else could see me, 

After all, I was a Bryan Adams fan, and played hockey back then, the two other guys were my classmates as well as my teammates. They were funny, and they were cool while I was small enough to fit in a bag. I get that. 

What I didn’t understand then – and I remember sitting in the auditorium, watching the show and scratching my head – is the same thing I don’t understand today: the song they chose to play. Bryan Adams was a good choice, but “Let Him Know” from “Cuts Like A Knife”?

By then, we all had heard, if not the entire “Reckless” album, then at least “Summer of ’69”, “Run To You”, “Heaven”, “Somebody”, and “It’s Only Love”. Those were the hits, that was the hit album. “Cuts Like A Knife” was and is a great album, but … “Let Him Know” wasn’t even one of the singles. Even today, you can’t find it on YouTube. 

And that made me more convinced that the choice had been a deliberate one. It would have been easy to play “Kids Wanna Rock”, but no, they chose – chose – “Let Him Know.”

Paradoxically, they didn’t let me know why. 

Was it the title? Was it the story in the song? Or was it a random choice? Somebody put in a tape and pressed Play? 

Either way, whatever the plan behind the choice was then, it sure worked, considering the opening line of the song:

“Another day goes by and still you wonder what happened.”

The photographer smiled.

“Just be yourself,” she said.

I laughed, then leaned on my hand, and looked into the horizon, and at the lamps, and made faces. 

“Do what you did there, put your hand like that.”

“Like this?”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

She fired off a half a dozen shots. 

“What if you put your legs over the armrest? Just really take it easy there.”

I did that. She took some more photos. 

“Put your hands like you did a second ago, but on the other side.”

“Like this?”

“Yeah. What’s that on your T-shirt?”

“Oh, that’s Doc Brown,” I said, and straightened my shirt to show her the image. 

“Yeah, that’s right, pull your stomach in, ha ha.”

“That’s me,” I said. 

“Great,” she replied, and took some more photos. 

“Maybe a couple in which you don’t smile?” she said and nodded. 

“You want it, you got it,” I said, quoting the title of Bryan Adams’s album just before “Cuts Like A Knife”. 

Click, click. Click.

“Naw, that’s not you,” she said, and put her camera away. 

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