The Book of Hope 10: The Triple Moon
Finland is a flat marshy little country that looks like upper Wisconsin and Minnesota (and like them is filled with lakes), which is why most Finns who emigrated to America--including my great-grandparents--settled in that area. Finland has a population of 5 1/2 million, pretty much the same as Chicago, about a quarter of it living around the capital, Helsinki. It's a much younger country than we are, because it only got its independence from the Russians in the 1890s (before that it was a province of Sweden), so its great national epic, the Kalevala, was assembled from old folk tales and songs in order to give the new little nation a sense of identity. This was why the great composer Sibelius, who wrote their famous national anthem 'Finlandia', based so much of his music on it, the Kalevala I mean. They fought two wars against the USSR, winning the first and losing the second because they were allied with the Nazis. Other than that, I really didn't know much about Finland, except for Moomintrolls, of course, so I immediately started reading up on it and trying to learn a little Finnish.
Normally, I'm actually pretty decent at languages. I'm bilingual in English and German, thanks to my heritage and childhood spent at military bases there, I can speak some high-school French and Spanish, and, because of Christina, a little Swedish now, too. I can read Latin. I've even taken a semester each of Sanskrit and Classical Greek and gotten A's in both. But Finnish is the first language that's ever like totally, completely defeated me. Honestly, I don't even get how they understand it themselves--it's more like Turkish or Mongol than it is any Indo-European language. That means it's 'agglutinative', which means that bits of lots of words are strung together to form huge long ones. Unlike French, speaking it is actually no big deal, since the accent sounds like Swedish. It's knowing what to say or what it means that's the problem--so by the time I had to start packing to go on my trip, I was in a total panic over it. Because I had sort of led the university authorities at Helsinki (the biggest university there) and Turku (the oldest) to think I was at least conversational in Finnish. So I had to get back in touch with them and admit the truth--luckily I think they're used to this from visiting American academics, because they emailed me back right away saying they'd provide a 'guide'. So that was a bit of luck. I just hoped that he or she would be prepared to help me actually translate stuff, too, because if you've ever tried to use a Finnish-to-English computer translation package you will know that it's the worst, even suckier than Chinese or Russian! Last Christmas Jo Fedexed me a book called Games the Dadaists Played as a present, where it describes how they used to take lexicons and cut them up with scissors, then randomly tape the words back together again to try to create poems at parties. That's pretty much what a Finnish-to-English translation looks like.
OK, now I had disposed of the language problem, the next biggest issue about my trip was: what should I wear? Luckily I had a full-time consultant in that department, one who had lots of credit cards, wore some of the same sizes as me, and re-gifted expensive stuff, literally at the drop of a hat. So I decided to take the Metroliner to New York and spend at a few days with Kerry first before catching my Finnair flight from JFK to Helsinki. Technically, Kerry doesn't actually live in New York--she lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the river. Her 'rents bought her a little shotgun-style apartment on the third floor of a converted row-house on Hudson Street facing an ancient water-treatment plant and a pretty park that leads down to the river. From there it's an easy commute into Manhattan using either the PATH train, a bus that goes under the Holland Tunnel, or one of the little private ferries that run across the Hudson. The night I got there she took me around the corner to Augustino's, where we had veal parmesan and split a bottle of wine, and I told her all about my little thing with Daniel.
She was like. "No way, bitch! Shut up, I can't believe you sometimes. You'll do a dork like that creepy old de Burgher King--and then you blow off a perfectly sweet normal guy your own age just because of one bad phone call? Everybody sounds weird when they're talking to their mom on the phone, you should hear yourself some time." No thanks! So then she started analyzing me and advanced the highly original theory that I am only 'picky' with younger guys because they represent the threat of a real relationship, whereas if I stick to older ones I can always be sure things won't work out. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, after that the topic turned to domineering moms, at which both of us were experts. Everyone around us was craning their necks to listen to her. Kerry's voice is thrillingly low and she has this dramatic Southern drawl--we always tell her that if all else fails she always can get work in the sex-call industry. I, on the other hand, while sounding perfectly bland and Midwestern, am always being told that I sound like a bright 12-year-old boy on the phone.
I actually went through a phase of wishing I could somehow magically acquire the best traits of all three of them--Kerry's voice and charisma and smile, Jo's brains and petite grace and big eyes, Christina's curves and perfect skin and dude-magnetism. Instead, I'm still stuck being me. The weird thing is--I photograph pretty OK and people other than the Mothership are always telling me how pretty I am (to be fair, these are always people like kindergarten teachers, old ladies, delivery guys, bums on the street, or lesbian soccer players), and yet I always seem to be the wallflower when I'm around the others. I guess it must be something seriously wrong with my personality. But how can anyone change that? It's like your laugh. As Dad used to say, you play the hand you're dealt.
OK, so, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, mothers. It's a funny thing, really--because you'd probably think, reading all this, that I'm like the most Mama-whipped chick on earth, right? And yet in her quiet, sweet, homey, loving sort of way, Kerry's mom is even worse than mine (though I hate to admit it). And weirdly, Kerry's area of academic interest pretty much reflects this: her PhD is on the Mater Dea, the universal Mother Goddess figure worshipped in the Neolithic as the 'Triple Moon-Goddess' (the Virgin, the Mother, and the Crone, as symbolized in the painting by Gustav Klimt), syncretized in modern times into the Virgin Mary. Kerry's also always been heavy into the Celtic pantheon, which is where she and I sort of part ways, because she's taken the 'soft' path into Mythology by way of Women's Studies and oral histories of stuff like Druidism. The problem is, because they are just oral histories, and so were never written down, we really know very little about the Irish gods--and even less about Druidism, in spite of what New Age types claim. Next to nothing, in fact--the main authority on the subject is Julius Caesar, who tried to exterminate it, which is sort of like consulting Mein Kampf for clues about the Talmud, if you ask me. That's why I personally prefer the 'hard' evidence of the ancient written sources--the Kalevala fits somewhere in the middle between the two extremes. Which was supposedly why I was going to Finland in the first place, to sift through all the sources.
"What's the name of the Finnish mother goddess?" Kerry asked me over dessert.
So she was like, "Ha! I so knew it! Ma, ma, ma!"
And I was like, "Kerry, stop bleating. You sound like a sheep!" And it was true--everyone in the restaurant was staring at us now for real. It's Kerry's theory that 'ma' is the oldest word in existence and was once part of a 'universal mother language'. Even babies in Japan call their mothers 'ma'. So she's obsessed with finding it in other words that have mythological weight. Like 'Mary', for instance. Or 'Madonna'. Well, enough of that intellectual kind of talk. We spent the rest of the evening planning an exhaustive but comprehensive syllabus of non-stop shopping for the next few days, boarded the 'silly bus' (Kerry's joke, not mine) the next morning and went into town. It's awesome to have one person in the world you can totally relax and shop and try stuff on and be a total juvenile dope with, though. I mean, neither of us would ever in a million years want a guy to see us acting like that!
Or would we? Is that like maybe part of the marriage test? That a man could see me all goofy around my friends like that--and still love me?
The two of us pretty much stayed on the silly bus (at times even the 'short bus') until the night before my flight was due to leave. Kerry had had her period those last few days, but suddenly her cramps got much worse, until she was all like doubled over with pain. Then she started bleeding really heavily and turned white as a sheet, though she had no fever. So finally I panicked and called 911 and put an ice-pack on her tummy until the ambulance came. We ended up spending the night at St. Mary's Hospital, which was only a few blocks away. Apparently all that was wrong with her was a burst blood vessel down there--no cyst, no cancer, not even an infection. It was basically just a bad nose-bleed in her vagina. The doctor even checked her out pretty thoroughly because Ob/Gyn is their main specialty there. They gave her a sedative and Maalox with Xylocaine in it for her tummy, but she still couldn't sleep, so I wandered around the place until I found a staff book rack, then spent the rest of the night reading her poems from an old paperback anthology. It's really amazing how different they sound aloud as opposed to just reading them silently to yourself. I particularly enjoyed the John Donne and William Blake stuff, though I'm not sure she got much of them, because she was pretty out of it.
Around noon the next day it was time for me to pack and catch the train across town to JFK, and Kerry was like, "Don't go. Stay here with me the rest of the summer."
So I was like, "Huh? I gotta go, hon! I can't cancel my tickets or anything this late. Besides they're sort of expecting me there. You know I'd stay if you were really sick, but there's nothing wrong with you."
"Seriously, Hope, I have a totally bad feeling about this trip," Kerry said--and then burst into tears. At that point I was totally WTF, because I'd never seen her cry before. I mean, I cry at anything, kid's faces on milk cartons, lost cat flyers on telephone poles, love songs on the Muzak at Safeway, you name it, plus every single movie I've ever been to (including cartoons!), but it's something that Kerry just doesn't do. So I was totally clueless what to say to reassure her. "I just know you aren't coming back. Or if you do, you'll be all different. You'll meet some Finnish guy and marry him and move over there or something."
"No way! And even if I did I wouldn't be living any further away than Chris does. Besides, what could happen to me anyway? The Finns like invented safety laws--and there's totally no crime there." (Ha! Shows what I know.)
"Just promise me you'll come back," she snuffled. "And stay away from any Finnish gods or monsters or whatever."
That was some sedative, I thought. And then on the train to the airport, it occurred to me that Kerry was the second person near me who'd gotten like really violently sick all of a sudden--the first time it had been Jo. What was up with that? Was I some kind of Typhoid Mary? Or was it something to do with the stupid black magic ritual they'd performed at the beach? Whatever, it was really starting to freak me out. I was gonna have to be super careful around Chris, I decided. And the other thing that was still freaking me out was Kerry's spooky 'Beware the Ides of March' speech. I mean, it wasn't like her fault or anything, but it sort of put a gloomy pall over the whole flight. And that was really unfair, because I'd been looking forward to it so much for months. So instead of, you know, being all happy and excited and stuff, for me everything just had this sort of foreboding fantasy-flick feeling, even at the airport. When I was 8 or 9 my mom took me to see this Muppet movie called Labyrinth. I guess she thought it was a kid's movie, but instead it was pretty dark and scary. The most depressing part for me was this long scene where the kid is trapped in this sort of marketplace full of old crones hauling all their worldly possessions around, and the airport terminal was pretty much like that too, full of yuppie boomers and businesswomen dragging huge wheeled cases stacked with plastic bags along behind them as they shambled aimlessly between Starbucks signs like homeless refugees. Luckily, the liquids ban on flights was a still a few weeks away from happening, so the security lines weren't too long. Well, just long enough for me to take care of all my cell-phone calls, anyway. Finally, we boarded. And then things really got weird.
For one thing, Madonna was on board my flight! And I am so totally not kidding! Maybe you've even read about the incident online or something. Of course I didn't get to see her for a few hours, not until we were over the Atlantic and she came out of the first-class section to visit her kids, Lourdes and Rocco, who were seated just ahead of us. And that so rocked, you know, to actually be in the same cabin as your greatest hero (well, heroine) in the world. What happened was, the stewardess (a Finnish woman with the most gorgeous white teeth I've ever seen in my life) told me, was that Madonna's private plane had been grounded because of some malfunction--she called it a 'hallucination' at first!--in the landing-gear, so she'd bought out half the tickets on our flight, and all the First-Class passengers were flying for free. And when Madonna was in our cabin, she actually came down our aisle and said a few words to several people, including me! I couldn't believe it!
She was all like, "Hi, I hope I haven't disturbed your flight. Hi, nice to see you, I hope your flight's going OK," etc, etc.
So when she got to me, I was so incredibly excited all I could think of to say was, "Shut up, I'm your biggest fan!"
So next she autographed my cocktail napkin for me--which I still totally possess to this day! And after that she said to me, "See you in Helsinki." I couldn't believe it! I mean I knew her 'Confessions Tour' was maybe going there (I had just been to see it in Chicago when I was moving the last of my stuff back and saying my goodbyes and whatever), but it hadn't registered somehow. Wow!
So the whole time this was going on the guy in the seat next to me was making faces and stuff like Madonna was personally insulting him or whatever. Earlier he'd made a big deal with the stewardess about being kicked out of first class, but he could of taken a later flight and still flown for free. So I didn't get what his act was all about. And he really needed to get over himself anyway. He was one of those aging Casanova Scandinavian boomer types who spend all their time under the sunlamp and basically dress and act like Valley girls. He was even wearing a bright blue Hawaiian shirt, OP surfer shorts, and and bedroom slippers--for a trans-Atlantic flight! I also noticed his arms were all covered in Nicoderm patches. Earlier he'd tried some lame come-on line to me about not being interested in women any more, like I was supposed to convert him or something. "Are you gay?" I asked him, hee hee. He reminded me of somebody, though (not just William, someone else), but for the moment I couldn't think who. It was kind of tantalizing.
At some point after that, we hit some vertical wind shear from an obvious super-cell beneath us the airline hadn't bothered to mention while we were still on the ground in New York. This started to cause some up and down-draughts where we would typically get plus and minus velocities of 1 - 2 gees, which means things were getting pretty gross in the cabin--you know, stuff started flying around and people puking as the plane rocked up and down. What was really embarrassing is this: I grew up in an aviation family, I'm the daughter of a military pilot who owned and flew his own Cessna, and the sister of two commercial pilots who fly me anywhere I want to go for free. For my family, flying was like driving the station-wagon to the store. Even so, I started hurling, too, really badly. Even more embarrassing is that I could never qualify for a pilot's license myself, no matter how much I wanted to please my dad, because I'm so near-sighted. Yep, I'm wearing contact lenses the size of coasters in all those pix. Blush!
Even more blush-making is what happened next. I was all bent over doing my business in the airline bag when I felt a sort of big heavy lumpy thing land on my head. It was the guy in the next seat's hand! He just rested it there, not trying to stroke my hair or anything--which would have been doubly disgusting at that point--and suddenly I was reminded of something else (remember, I was not rational by then).
A few years ago there was an e-mail craze for inventing your own 'porno name'. What you did was you took the name of your first pet for a first name and the name of the first street you lived on for a second, put them together, and that was your porno name. Naturally it was Kerry who turned us on to it first--her name was 'Tiger Magnolia--and Jo's was even better: 'Honey Maidenhead' or something. Christina's didn't count, being Swedish--as I recall, it worked out to something like 'Shoe-shoe' and then an unpronounceable five-syllable word after that. Mine was 'Wheezy Hawker'. My first memories are from when I was 4 or 5 and we lived on Hawker Street, just off the El Toro, California, Marine Air Corps base. We had a family dog, a huge sweet-tempered old Golden Retriever named Louise, who I called 'Wheezy' because she, well, made a wheezing noise and I couldn't say 'Louise' properly. Wheezy used to put her paw on my head and rest it there for hours, just like the geezer next to me was doing while I was hawking away. To be honest, I found it sort of comforting. And that's when it finally occurred to me who the guy reminded me of: Safe-T-Man! They looked alike enough to be twins--the same store-window dummy tanned features, the same chiseled jaw and brow and long nose, even pretty much the same flat, dull expression around the eyes. The resemblance was incredible, really. It was like someone had taken him out of the box, inflated him, dressed him in Surf Shop clothes, and then sat him down next to me for my flight! And now his sculpted plastic hand was resting on my head...