The Book of Hope 12: My First Finnish Penis
If I am totally, completely, utterly, brutally honest here the Moomin Shop was kind of a disappointment. I dunno what I expected, maybe some really great dolls or books I'd never heard of--and there were tons and tons of comics--but 90% of the stuff in there, T-shirts, 'babywear', coffee mugs, kids' tableware, rubber boots, candies, etc, etc, was Japanese junk. Apparently the Moomins are a big hit in Japan, there 's a kids' TV show there or something, and the Japanese artists and cartoonists have a way different idea of the Moomintrolls than I do, you know, how they look and stuff. Also the store was really small and cramped. And it didn't help to have Riita tapping her feet and blowing out her cheeks impatiently and telling me how cheaply and shoddily everything was made and how Finns could never manufacture such a lousy product. I decided she would make a really good addition to the cast of Harry Potter: 'Miss Ida Sapprove', the Hogwarts Pursar of Lips maybe. But I decided to sneak back again sometime soon on my own so I could look more thoroughly, if it was ever possible to ditch the bitch.
Safe-T-Man was waiting outside for us at a little outdoor bar, sipping on a second black drink and lighting yet another cigarette. It was definitely weird seeing rows of people standing and drinking at counters out in the bright sunlight--I guess it shows how seriously they take it or whatever. He must have seen the look of disappointment on my face though when we came out, because he said to me, very sweetly, "Never mind. There are many other Muumii cultural experiences for you to have here. For example, there is a Moomin theme park now, I think."
So then Riita was like, " Yes, that's right: Moomin World in Naantali. Polls have shown us that Naantali is the happiest place to live in Finland. Perhaps it would be nice for you to visit there when we are in Turku--I will arrange to get tickets for you if you like." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moomin_World)
So here was a perfect example of Finnish behavior for you--rude and insensitive one minute, kind and thoughtful the next. The whole time I was there I thought of those people exactly like I did the little hot and cold water taps on my sink in the hotel room, which would never work at the same time, so the water was either burning or freezing, but never anything in between. Well, I guess 'off' was in between, which was pretty much the normal state for most Finns. But not for these two. In Finnish terms they were both total drama queens. First they got into a big argument about coffee. Or rather, why their country drinks so much of it (they're like the biggest consumers of coffee in the world or something). Then they started bickering about local history, and Safe-T-Man even grumbled at her about it in his mopey Finnish. The two of them were glaring at each other, and Riita's face was turning red. They appeared to hate each other's guts, but maybe that was just how Finns express sexual attraction, I couldn't tell. Everything here seemed like the opposite of America. Or maybe just of me.
"Oh, I wish you could get me tickets to the Madonna concert!" I said, you know, as a joke, but the words seemed to have a magical effect on Riita, who beamed at me radiantly. Like Katje from the airplane, she had really nice teeth.
"You like her too?"
And I was like, "Only totally! I saw her in Chicago just a few weeks ago, and check this out: she was on our plane! Yes, way--she even talked to me and whatever!" So then Riita started quizzing me about what Madonna had been wearing, which songs she had done in Chicago, etc, etc. Finally, we had something in common--so naturally, she had to work it to death all the way down the Esplanade. I mean, if I'd told her a really funny joke (that she could get), I'm sure Riita would have immediately repeated the punch-line four or five times to emphasize its humorous qualities. She was just like that. The girl couldn't help it.
The Harbor Market turned out to be a real market, with dozens of stalls selling mostly junk, but also lots of farm produce like beets and leeks and endives and stuff. There were also tons of boats along the stone wharf filled with herring and cod, etc, etc, the 'fruits of the sea,' as the French say, but there wasn't much I could realistically shop for there even if I had been in the mood for a big fry-up. However, I did buy a disposable cell-phone and a rechargeable calling-card from a Turk or Gypsy (in spite of Riita's dire warnings). I guess Safe-T-Man was feeling a bit left out or something, because at that point he said something really weird, I mean weird even for him: "I think we are being followed." Great, I thought. I mean, I was beginning to realize he was an alcoholic, now he was acting like a paranoiac, too, or whatever they're called.
I was like, "Why would anybody want to follow us?" and he just shrugged. He shrugged a lot, I'd noticed, it was like some kind of cool feature built into his inflatable dummy frame, like a poseable action figure. Or, as Carlos from work would say, maybe it wasn't a feature, maybe it was a bug.
"Perhaps some poor fellow has fallen madly in love with you."
"Shut up, no way! But that's pretty much what you wanna hear when you're on vacation," I told him. "Right, Riita?" But she just glared. Ouch! On an impulse I said, "When we get back to our hotel I'm gonna go online and see if I can find somebody scalping tickets for the concert. Would you mind to help me translate the Finnish sites?" I had more or less meant the question for Riita, but instead Safe-T-Man grunted a yes. Or something. Riita looked even more furious at this.
"I have some important business to attend to this afternoon," she snapped. "So I will have to leave you now, but I will be back again tomorrow, Hope." She pronounced my name 'Hoop'. Suits me, I thought--in fact, I'm afraid almost said it aloud. "Do not eat the food at that hotel, I do not trust their kitchens," she added darkly as she left. What was she, a health and safety inspector in her day job?
"That is one strange chick," I said to Safe-T-Man after she'd gone. "Are all Finnish women like that?" He did his patented action shrug. Up, down, up down, went his (admittedly very broad) shoulders.
"She is very typical, I think," he said. "But she is of no interest to Likkanen." I'm serious, he really said that. In the third person, no less, like he was Salvador Dali or somebody! "You know, my very first job was here in this place when I was 16. I sold ice cream at a stall. Right where we are standing now." I waited for him to go on, but that was all he said. Maybe he was lost in his memories. Or maybe he was getting Alzheimer's.
So after a really long Finnish silence (well, short for Finland, long for anyplace else on earth)--six minutes by my watch--I was like, "How long has it been since you've been back?"
"Thirty years," he said.
"Wow, that's longer than I've been alive."
OK, I know that throughout this blog or blook or whatever it is, I've said that lots of things were 'weird'. I guess I've sort of over-used the word, really--maybe I should of saved it for when I really needed it. Like now. Because on our way back to the hotel, something really--well, you know, weird--happened. I mean it was too strange to be just 'odd'--but not quite strange enough to be 'bizarro'. So, I guess I have to say it was just plain weird, that's the only right word. Though I better warn you now, it was just the first of many things like that that started happening there. If words were made of paper, 'weird' would wear right out in Finland. What happened was, we were going back to the hotel via a different route, because Safe-T-Man had this sudden allergy to the Esplanadi--I guess he still thought we were being followed, like in a spy movie. So he took me on a tour of a 'historic district' to the north, which was pretty interesting and looked a lot like Chicago near the lake, all the old buildings built of grey stone, though few were taller than 10 or 12 storeys. There was a terrific old art deco railway station, and north of it were elevated tracks just like the Loop. The whole time he kept looking back over his shoulder and chain-smoking, so finally I said to him, "I thought you weren't supposed to smoke when you're wearing patches."
And he was like, "These aren't nicotine patches--they are vitamin patches I order from India. That is Vitamin C and this one is B, and the smelly one here is a mineral supplement." Whatever, it seemed to be working--he looked pretty good for an old geezer, almost as cut as a military man, only a little soft around the gut. That was probably from all the drinking. Incidentally, I grew up in a family of smokers so it really doesn't bother me much. Both of my big bros are on the patch now, which is a good thing, and my mom only ever pretended to smoke--honest, for years she would just light cigarettes and hold them in order to be 'sociable'--but Kerry and Chris both do, even though Jo was always on their case to quit. So I'm used to it. Though, of course, I'm always happy when people give it up.
Suddenly the old bum switched to English, though his was heavily accented and kind of unintelligible and guttural, and held out a chipped Moomintroll mug (I noticed because it had the Snork Maiden on it). "Come on lover-boy, don't be shy," he said. "Feed the Sampo. You have to pay to cross the river." So while Safe-T-Man was fumbling around in his OP's for some money, the guy looked at me and added, "Hey, you f-cking her? She's not bad. I'll have to tell my wife I've seen you two." And then he crouched down on the pavement and took an enormous dump! Right in front of everybody! I mean, not to be too gross or anything, but it just kept coming out like a long, dark oily coil of garden hose. Safe-T-man sort of grabbed my arm (I noticed he was pretty strong) and steered me off quickly. The whole time the bum was shouting stuff after us that I couldn't understand. But here's the craziest thing of all--I had this distinct feeling that he wasn't really a homeless guy at all, that he was just sort of playing a part. Though who on earth would want to do that? It was all part of the 'being spied on' feeling I guess, like the bum was some kind of secret agent and was passing along a message in code to Safe-T-Man. 'Hide in plain sight, Hope', was always Dad's favorite advice, along with, 'naked is the best disguise.' That old incontinent beggar guy was certainly well disguised, in that case. I guess what put that in my head, the idea of a disguise I mean, was the uncanny resemblance between them.
So when we got back to the hotel I was all like, "WTF was that all about? I mean, he acted like he knew you or something. And the two of you look enough alike to be brothers! Was he a friend of yours when you were young?"
So then Safe-T-Man gave me like the saddest smile on earth and shook his head (hey, I thought, another action movement!). "No," he said.
But I could totally tell he was lying. Which is always an attractive quality in a man, I think. I mean, that you can see right through him like that.
I spotted my second Finnish penis in Safe-T-Man's bed, and after that there was an avalanche of them in various shapes and sizes. Well, mostly shapes. What happened was after I got back to my hotel room, I tried out the disposable cell-phone I'd bought at the market and got it working after a ton of number entry. So first I called the Mothership back, to give her a chance to resume her cruelly interrupted nagging, then I tried Kerry and Chris (no answer). So I left them voice-mails, then hooked up my iBook to the hotel Wifi and sent around a mass e-mail, leaving out the part about the homeless guy who'd crapped in front of me in the street. Then I checked my e-mail. Nothing. Suddenly I felt so lonely and homesick I'd of been grateful for spam. But I didn't even have any of that. I'd been almost asleep on my feet when I'd called Mom, but now I felt all wired and nervy, so I packed up the laptop and went upstairs to Safe-T-Man's room.
Which was even smaller than mine. Which meant there was noplace to watch TV except for the bed. So after we wasted half an hour looking on Finnish websites and forums for Madonna tickets, we sort of started dozing off together watching nude Finnish TV shows like 'The Dudesons'. There was even some kind of upscale department store commercial featuring naked guys and chicks just jumping up and down flopping their, you know, boobs and penises and whatever up and down. Really in your face.
So I was like, "Oh, wow, none of them are circumcised." At which he frowned and looked sort of offended.
"It is against the law here now," he said. "It is considered infant mutilation, and one can go to jail for it. So you see, we clever Finns are socializing even the penis."
Basically, I was starting to get the vibe that the whole country was like a giant day-care center, only with heavy drinking. Speaking of which, Safe-T-Man had brought home a bottle or two of some unpronounceable Finnish liquor that appeared to be a combination of vodka and industrial sludge and was putting it away in record time. He offered me a taste in a gargle cup, but one whiff of the smell was enough for me. Actually, I gotta confess that it felt really nice slowly relaxing and falling asleep beside him like that. He was definitely a strange and untrustworthy kind of guy, totally into himself and dishonest and untruthful. And old. And alcoholic. But. He never smoked indoors (he told me that was 'unhealthful'). He was just the right temperature (which is very rare, in my humble experience), plus he smelled really comforting. None of that disgusting cologne that geezers like to wear. Or the 'floral male scents' that smell like Rescue Remedy or whatever and stick to you like Febreze. Just guy smell, really comforting and safe, like his name.
"Sometimes you say 'we'--and sometimes you say 'they'," I mumbled at him drowsily. "Which do you consider yourself to be?"
And he was like, "Well, when I am in America I often feel like a Finn. But at this moment, I am feeling very American." Fair enough, I thought as I fell asleep. So was I.