Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Book of Hope 17: The Land of Summer

Maybe because I've been mostly single all my adult life (not that there's actually been much of it so far) I tend to be overly romantic and hopeful about other people's marriages. Or relationships or whatever. This began when I was a kid and used to pray to the Holy Mother that my parents would stay together every time they had a big fight--which was pretty much every time my dad was home for more than a week. Or when my brother and Carmen got divorced. Or later on in college when my roommate Miranda, who was the school beauty--she looked a lot like Gwyneth Paltrow, with long silky blonde hair--got married to her high school sweetheart, and I was one of her bridesmaids. Her boyfriend, well, husband I should say, was one of those big beefy 'earthy' type guys, which was what she liked about him, but in my experience, 'earthy' just pretty much means 'gross'. For example, he had gotten really drunk with his buddies that morning, so right after the wedding ceremony when we were all exiting the chapel, he let out this really loud fart. "That's my opinion of these proceedings," he said. And that sort of set the tone for their marriage, which she spent being mostly miserable. Luckily, it didn't last too long.

Actually, it was at the reception that I met the major boyfriend of my life so far, Gene, who was a buddy of the groom, though there was very little that was earthy about him. He was, if I'm honest, both a neat- and a control-freak. But I couldn't blame him, because he had the ultimate miserable wedding story. He had been engaged a few years before to another girl at St Mary's (I'm talking about the college in Maryland, not the sister-school to Notre Dame, which I keep getting Googled about every time I mention it here) who was a few years older than me. They had decided to have a quickie wedding when they were both juniors, not because she was pregnant, but because their families were both sort of devout, and they were madly in love and wanted to live together openly instead of sneaking around (which we did, so there's a clue for you). So the whole ceremony was all set up with all their friends and family at the University of Maryland chapel, but she had stayed behind at school to take a late final at St Mary's and was scheduled to fly over from Leonardtown at the last minute in a small chartered private plane. But she never made it--the plane crashed on the way. By the time he and I started seeing each other, I guess he was still rebounding from that horrible shock, and that's pretty much why we never worked out, though we kept trying for two years. I should have known better--no way anybody can follow an act like that. I kept hoping he'd get over it, but a part of him just stayed stuck waiting at the College Park airport in his wedding tux. Probably still is, poor guy.

Anyway, the point of all this is that it didn't take a genius to see a few signs of trouble between Riita and Erkki. Although, to be totally fair, we were all three feeling pretty down from the E wearing off the morning after the concert. Which began, as usual, about 4 am, with the sun rising through the eastern haze like a red star of death. Even so, personally I didn't feel like getting out of bed till 9 or 10 (I had insisted on switching to the couch futon, so it was pretty bright all night) and felt all whiney and depressed the way you do after you crash from the high, but Riita refused to get up at all. When I went into the bedroom with Erkki to check on her after we had our breakfast, she just pulled the sheet over her head and refused to speak. So I was like, OK...

"What is your reading?" Erkki asked me after I pulled out my Xeroxes from the library and decided to make a start on them.

"Ervast's Key to the Kalevala."

"I don't know it."

So I was like, "Well, it's a definitive commentary. Problem is, it's making me a lot more confused, not less. For example, according to this, there are actually two versions of the Kalevala, The 'Old Kalevala' and the 'New Kalevala', which Lonnrot apparently rewrote by adding a lot of his own poetry. In the new version, there are two separate creation scenes, for example--in the old one Vainomonen just suddenly appears as a smith. There's lots of stuff about smiths here, I guess they were kind of like the software engineers of ancient Finland."

He shook his head. "I don't remember anything about Kalevala. It was very boring to learn in school. I like 'Halo 2' and 'Half-life' instead." So much for that topic. I tried another.

"I want to get a nice 'thank-you' present for Riita before I go, because she's been so sweet to care of me. Can you think of anything she might like?" Now this was a teeny bit mean of me, because it's totally a trick question--asking any guy this is like sticking a dipstick into the oil sump of a relationship just to see just how hot it's running. Or how much of it is just getting burned off...

He shrugged. "You can get her a Sudoku book," he said finally. So I was like, uh oh. But there was worse to come.

He sidled closer to me on the couch. "Tell me, what would you say Riita is mood?"

It took me a moment to decipher this, but when I got it, I was like, "Not good. Not this morning, anyway."

"That is what I am thinking," he said. "I wish to tell her something honest, but I don't think today is a good day for that. You see, Eetu is asking me to come with him on location for a film shooting tomorrow, but Riita will not like this. So I will say to her I am having a company training time instead." OK, I know, I shouldn't have agreed with him--I should have lectured him about honesty in relationships or even ratted him out to her. But when he said he wanted to 'tell her something honest', I totally thought he was gonna say he wanted to dump her, and I was so relieved that I just butted out of the subject.

Instead, I was like, "What kind of film is this?"

"It is guerrilla cinema. You know, sexy statements, very extreme political actions in a public places with famous Finnish actress, Kylikki Kiissiu. It is edgy. In your face."

"You mean like 'Dogme' films?" I asked.

"No," Erkki said, "They are black and white, I think. This will be film in color."

At noon, Riita emerged from the bathroom fully dressed and with her game-face on. "Let us begin the day now," she said brightly. "Hoop, do you like Pilates?" Erkki muttered his goodbyes and left, carrying a big travel-bag. I had thought--well sort of hoped, really--that Riita might still be sulking at me for the night before, but no such luck. All was forgiven. It was Erkki she was really pissed at. "He will be gone on his company retreat for a few days," she said. "But I was thinking, there are so many exciting things in Finland for you to see, why should we just stay home and wait about for him? Why can't we make some fun for our own? We could go to the Savonlinna Opera Festival, where they are having a Kalevala opera with dogs singing all the songs. There is the Kalevala Centre in Kuhmo, and the Folk Music Festival in Kaustinen. Or we can go see Kalevala paintings at the Gallen-Kallela Museum at Tarvaspaa--that is so very near to us we could walk there."

"That all sounds wonderful, Riita," I said. "Only, I really should spend at least the first week doing research. Then I can sight-see. By the way, I don't suppose you have a blank computer CD I can borrow? Cuz I need to back up all my notes today. I've had laptop hard drives crash on me twice, so I like have to to be really careful."

"Oh, that is something that Erkki should have perhaps." She tried his cell--no answer. So she led me into the bedroom and showed me the few cubic feet that Erkki was allowed to call his own in the top of a storage closet, then left me to excavate it. There were stacks of plastic CD and DVD cakeboxes wedged between a tool-chest crammed with computer parts and an old Dell desktop tower--some had been labelled, but some looked blank. While I was rummaging through these, the Dell somehow tipped over and fell partly on my head. Luckily for me, it was hollow, just a plastic case with the motherboard still attached but with everything else stripped out of it. Instead it was crammed inside with porno books and DVDs that spilled out all over the place: I had inadvertently discovered Erkki's 'man-hole'. Well, I told you every guy had one, didn't I? Even Erkki.

As I was stuffing all his swag back into it, I noticed that most of the DVDs seemed to be Finnish porn, I couldn't tell how hard-core--several featured the name of the actress Erkki had mentioned, KIssi-somebody. So that's obviously why he was so hot to visit her film set. Then I heard Riita's footsteps coming back into the room. I propped the computer case back up again, then noticed there was still one book left lying on the floor. The Game by Neil Strauss, as it turned out. So I quickly picked it up, tucked it under my arm, and pretended it was one of mine (the damn thing actually looks like a Bible, with fake black leather covers and a little gold ribbon marker)--which is how I came to be stuck with it for the next couple of weeks. Because when we left, the only way I could figure to smuggle it back eventually was to take it along in my back-pack. How I got stuck reading it is a total other story.

"Are you OK, Hoop? I thought I heard a noise."

"I slipped and fell. Doh."

"Don't worry, I have a brilliant idea. We'll go to Turku today. That way you will see the original Kalevala manuscripts in the Lonrott Collection at the university--and then we can spend tomorrow at Moominworld! You would like that, wouldn't you, Hoop?" OK, we all have our Achilles' heel--mine is Moomintrolls. After about thirty seconds of arguing, I totally caved, and that's how we ended up spending the next three hours in Riita's family Ford on Highway (Valtatie) 1, which runs between Helsinki and the old Swedish town of Turku (Abo), which was apparently Finland's first capital. We had typical highway weather: it started dark and overcast and drizzly in Espoo, then we'd get periods of brightening mixed with occasional showers. All the towns we passed through had been historically restored, so it was like a drive through coastal Maine or Delaware, and the further west we drove, the more brightly-painted and 'Swedish' the wooden houses and barns and boating sheds on all the little finger-lakes looked. Most of the signs seemed to point at some beach town called 'Hanko'--apparently this area is called the 'Finnish Riviera' because it gets more sun and warmth than the rest of Finland. Which is not saying much, to be honest.

"Hoop, why are you so crazy for the Kalevala?" Riita wanted to know after we left Espoo.

"I'm not sure, actually," I said after I'd thought about it for awhile. "I guess because it's sort of like one of those frozen mummies they found in the Alps--it's really old and strange, yet in some ways it feels so modern that it might almost still be alive, if that makes any sense."


Sigh. "Well, I think it provides all sorts of useful parallels with other mythological belief systems, like those of Scandinavia and ancient Greece--even India and Persia. And the heroes in the Kalevala are really pretty cool dudes, when you think about it. Except for Kullervo, who's sort of of a late addition, they aren't interested in building kingdoms or murdering each other, like in the Iliad or the Bible, and there's not a whole lot of betrayal or cannibalism or incest or anything--all they want to do is chase women, and get drunk, and sing. There's something sort of, you know, nice about a culture like that. I mean, it really like says a lot about Finland."

"We have all those things in Finland," Riita said darkly.

So I was like, "Yeah, well, at least you don't brag about them." Well, except for Kullervo. And every Finnish heavy-metal band in existence. OK, so much for that theory. The truth was, I didn't know why I liked the Kalevala. I wasn't even sure I did any more.

We stopped in a tiny little town called Kirkonummi for lunch at a sort of tea-room. Up till then the traffic had been sort of leisurely, but after we passed Salo suddenly it was just like American beach traffic, bumper-to-bumper trucks and vans and cars with little trailers or camping equipment on their roofs. We could smell the ocean--not the dark, muddy gulf like in Helsinki, but the real salty Baltic sea--carried on a stiff westerly wind. Just before we got to Turku, the sun briefly came out, nearly blinding us. It was an omen.

Turku is a little like a mini-me version of Brussels. It's not a big city like Helsinki, and most of the newer buildings seem kind of bland and dinky, especially the university complex, but the old town is pretty in a sort of 18th-Century Dutch-looking way, kind of like what I imagined when I dreamed of going to Finland in the first place. It's on the water, specifically on a river that becomes an inlet into a bay of an archipelago in the Baltic, so that by the time the ocean water manages to creep in it's pretty much tamed and industrial-smelling. There's a little port next to the castle, which is the best-preserved fortress in Finland, Riita told me, (but looks sort of like a big Lutheran church actually), and at the far end of the embankment along the river, a pretty little cathedral. In between there are lots of historic buildings and museums, a town square and theater, and a surprising amount of greenery and night-life for such a small city (165,000), I guess because of the university students. Because I was feeling so indebted to Riita, I insisted on paying for expensive hotel rooms at the Radisson Scandic Marina Palace with some of the cash I'd unexpectedly gotten back from Eetu. Riita, who had wanted to cheap out and stay in a hostel, argued with me about splitting the cost of it, so in the end in order to save money we decided to share just one room overlooking the river. And, as it turned out, we were also sharing a bed, because unlike in most American hotel rooms, there was only the one. Which felt sort of awkward for several reasons. First of all, Riita was the kind of person who stacked and folded and numbered everything (I forgot to mention that she was so anal that everything she stored in her apartment was color-coded, I kid you not! Even socks and tupperware!) Secondly, I had inadvertently noticed that she liked to sleep in the nude or whatever--and I'm strictly a PJs person. And worst of all, well, this is embarrassing to confess (to confess that it made me uncomfortable, I mean) but--there was a huge gilt-framed mirror hung over the bed, so I felt like I was stuck in the set of one of Erkki's porn flicks. After reading Likkanen's blog, I kept thinking that this was the sort of place he had fantasized about taking us both that afternoon at the Torni. It even had sort of faux red velvet curtains and bed-covers, like in a Victorian brothel. Ewww!!!

But whatever. At least it had Wifi and the bathroom was nice. After we checked in, we visited the Lonnrot Collection at the university library and then some kind of 'pharmacy museum' inside the town's oldest building, which wasn't actually very old, only from 1700. But the castle and the cathedral were way older, and I discovered that if I squinted my eyes at them I could almost imagine Finland's Age of Heroes. Not that any of the figures from the Kalevala lived in places like this, since they were semi-nomadic warriors a little like the Riders of Rohan in the LOTR, but their descendants lived here. And so did some of the people who later made up the stories about them, in particular the author of the Kalevala himself, Elias Lonrott. But I felt I was somehow closer on my quest. Ethnologists and commentators on the Kalevala have always tried to shift its goal-posts away from Finland somehow--to places like Estonia or Karelia or wherever. There's even a school of thought that the legends refer to some ancestral Ural-Altaic homeland and have little to do with Finland at all, geographically, I mean. I don't know much about it, obviously, but that seems really tweaked to me. Even the shallowest reading of the legends tells you that its three primary heroes--Vainomoinen, Lemminkainen, and Ilmarinen--were living the good life in an endless land of summer. It was only greed and lust (and later the blasts of the icy winter brought on by Louhi, the evil witch of Pohjola or the Northland) that motivated them to get off their asses and go off babe-hunting and fighting. And when they did, they went off in ships, just like the Vikings, and headed north. Well, Finland may have a thousand lakes, but you couldn't sail very far north in them back then, because there were no canals. And you wouldn't get very far in the eastern Gulf, either, or on Lake Ladoga, according to the map. So the only realistic candidate for all that ancient action was the Baltic--only there can you sail all the way to Lapland. So this had to be the cradle of the Kalevala, where we were standing now staring out into the Aurajoki River. Where else--in Finnish eyes--could the Land of Summer lie, except in the 'Finnish Riviera?'

One of the other things about Turku is that a lot of Finland-Swedes still live there, so that between them and the tourists that flock there on the Viking Line ferries, you hear a lot of Swedish being spoken. During supper, I kept overhearing snippets of conversation and found I could actually recognize a word here and there, thanks to Christina! We ate at the Restaurant Teini near the Old Square next to the cathedral, which had dozens of rooms and dining halls (a chess-tournament/banquet was going on in one) and reminded me of an old-world restaurant complex we used to visit in Munich when I was a kid, a place for serious eating where you could order anything, including, when I was six, a birthday cake with candles and be pretty sure you'd get it. Apparently, the Teini was famous for its 'winter terrace' during the Christmas celebrations every year where they serve some sort of pukey-sounding hot spiced cherry wine--Turku, Riita told me, is known as the "Christmas City' and every year the Turku Mayor's 'Message of Peace' is broadcast to all of Finland on Christmas Eve. But we ate inside, because it was drizzling again and had turned almost chilly. We ordered smoked salmon and, at Riita's insistence, local 'raisin' sausage, and for dessert Lapp cloudberries in sweet cream and got out of there for less than like $80. Even so, I could seriously tell I was gonna max my Visa about halfway through the trip at the rate I was going, so I would either have to beg the Mothership for more money--or else, as she used to put it, 'go on the game'. As in: "If anything should happen to you before Hope graduates, I don't know what we'll do for money. At least I'm not too old to go on the game."

And of course, now I had the hotel room for it.

After supper we went to Puutorin Vessa, or as Riita translated it, the 'Public Toilet Pub.' This was a round building in the middle of a square in front of the old train station, which had originally served as its public restroom. Instead of bulldozing it, which in my opinion would have been the kindest thing to do, somebody had converted it into a bar--you actually sat on toilets while you were drinking and could even order your beer brought to you in chamber-pots! Riita kept trying Erkki's cell the whole evening--when she couldn't get through she ended up drinking too much and getting pretty buzzed. But she kept it under tight control, and when we got back to our room, touchingly, without even a word or a lecture on Freud being said, she even made the ultimate sacrifice. She wore her, you know, T-shirt and underpants to bed. No biggie, of course, but it was thoughtful, and really made me feel ashamed of how much I still resented her half the time. She was really really trying.

She had even found me an English translation of the 'Old Kalevala'--Magoun's--in the university book store that afternoon (my favorite translation, as it turns out, I don't really like the 'modern' one by Bosley. But you can read the gorgeously illustrated Friberg version online for free now! Check it out: I was thumbing through it at bedtime while she was in the bathroom--like me, she normally had to pee like once an hour, which was one of the reasons our drive here had taken so long--and after she came to bed and adjusted the sheets and pillows for fifteen minutes or so, she said, "Hoop, is everything you type for your notes?"

I was like, "No, why?"

"Well, you write so much I thought perhaps there was someone special in your life you were emailing or IMing."

"No, nobody special. I keep in touch with all my friends, I guess you could say they're special. [They were certainly acting 'special' lately, this means YOU if you're reading this, Kerry!] But to be honest, there is one other thing I'm working on, only it's kind of a secret. You promise not to tell anyone?"

"No, never!"

"OK, well, ever since college I've been writing a series of murder mysteries in my spare time about a little mouse detective. I've even sent the first book off to a literary agent."

Riita clapped her hands loudly with childish delight--I was hoping that wasn't gonna become a habit. "Oh, Hoop, that sounds so exciting! And also very cute. Do you make sweet little drawings for it?"

So I was like, "No, it's not a childrens' book--the murders are actually sort of gross and extreme."

Then she was like, "That doesn't sound so sensible to me. Why would adults want to read about a mouse detective?" And I totally couldn't think of an answer to that--but I guess it might explain why the agent still hadn't gotten back to me on it. So I changed the subject.

"I really appreciate all you're doing for me, Riita. I just hope you aren't taking time off from your classes or anything."

"Oh no, Hoop--classes do not begin again here for two or three more weeks. Besides, being with you is like a course of learning English for me. You are the first American friend I have ever known--and you must be sure to correct me all the time. I want my English to become more perfect."

"Well," I said, "I'm no expert, but I dunno if you can really, you know, learn to speak a language any more fluently than you already do without actually living in another country."

"Oh I could never move to another country! My life is here with my family! And with Erkki, too. But perhaps now we are true friends, someday you will invite me to come visit you in America?" And I'm proud to say that I actually sounded sincere when I agreed. I mean, anything could happen, right?

And the next day, it did.

Continued here...

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Book of Hope 16: The Crossroads

A few semesters back when I was writing a term paper on voodoo, I read that voodoo priests, or houngans, are able to travel back in time and change the past. The more powerful the houngan, the further back in time he can travel. Like if you were a female 'mambo', for instance, you could avoid a traffic accident that happened a few seconds ago--but if you were a real bad-ass 'Papa Doc' you could probably go all the way back to high school and re-take that test you forgot about. Or remember your locker combination. But according to the book I read, some events in the past are called 'immutables' because they occur at a 'crossroads', or multiple convergence point of the currents of history or the will of the gods, whichever you wanna call it. The examples this book gave (and I totally cannot remember which book this was, sorry) were really big events like the discovery of America or the dropping of the atomic bomb or the JFK assassination, because these were all such tremendously powerful crossroad occurrences they could never be altered. It was like if you went back to the Book Repository in a time machine and prevented Lee Harvey Oswald from pulling the trigger or whatever, then there would always be a second gunman on the grassy knoll to finish the job. And apparently there are lots of otherwise trivial events in all our lives that have this immutable power. I was beginning to think that the stupid black magic ceremony the girls had staged at the beach the month before was one of them

Because all three had suddenly gotten pregnant, in spite of the patch, the pill, and the condom. Jo, of course, had already taken care of things with her usual ruthless efficiency, Kerry would dither and drama-queen around for a few weeks but ultimately do the same thing--after making sure that her family and everybody else who didn't need to be involved were--but Chris was planning to have hers. Even looking forward to it, in fact. Which left me sort of mulling over two big questions. The first was: exactly what kind of kid was this occult event gonna produce? A talkative baby messiah, like in the Kalevala? A Swedish Rosemary's Baby? And the second (even more important) question was: why wasn't I pregnant, too? I mean, aside from the obvious, like that I hadn't actually had sex with anybody in many many months. In magical 'whortle-berry' terms, that shouldn't have mattered, I could have conceived from, say touching a toilet seat. Like the one I was sitting on now, which was actually none too clean. So why not me?

I was interrupted by a tapping on the stall door. Riita, of course. "Hoop, I have to make an apology for Finland," she announced. "Not so many Finnish men is like Eetu. In Finland, men expect the woman to make the 'first moves'--some are so respecting of women they would never even speak aloud to them, like Erkki. Both sexes are very equal here, that is why this Eetu is a bad person."

Sigh. I unbolted the stall door and went out and washed my hands a few times. "Honestly, Riita, it's OK." I was like, "I'm grateful for everything you've done, especially the concert tonight. Don't worry, just chill, OK?" Nobody who's ever been to an Air Force Academy party needs to worry about an Eetu, I was thinking.

"But still we must both be nice to him tonight anyway, so he will pay for the fourth ticket. I am sorry for this."

Terrific. This was shaping up as a really rockin' evening. Just how 'nice' was I expected to be? "OK, Riita." Then, to my amazement, she sort started to cry--or at least I think that's what she was doing.

"Finnish women have a very relaxed opinion about allowing many things," she wailed, burying her face in a paper towel and blowing her nose. What I could see of her forehead had turned beet red. "We are different than Americans. So I do not say anything when he is out all the nights drinking with this Eetu. It is normal, especially if we marry later. But he never helps with the housework. And if I should leave out some dirt in the kitchen or even spill a beer, then he will yell at me and call me a 'stupid moron' and such names. Lately, his language is becoming much worse. But mostly he never talks at all."

I felt totally helpless, so I was like, "I'm sorry..."

"Do you think he would cheat with other girls, Hoop?"

Like, how would I know? I mean, why ask me? I didn't have a clue. As far as I could tell, all men cheat sooner or later. But I mumbled some stuff about how devoted Erkki seemed (he actually did seem like a very sweet, patient nice guy) and got her cleaned up a bit before we went back and joined the guys for some greasy sausages and more beer. But really, I was secretly thinking, I'd want to cheat on Riita, too. If I were a guy, I mean.

After we were allowed to escape from the MOCKBA, Eetu insisted that we all go visit someplace called 'Hesari'. It was still raining, so I shared an umbrella with Riita (one of the waitresses at the bar had taken pity on me and made me a poncho out of a garbage bag, so at least my backpack was now covered), and we walked behind the guys. Erkki, being the well-organized type, had another smaller umbrella, but Eetu viewed the downpour with lordly indifference. "Yo, dig, the rains was much more worse last summer," he announced. "These two was away on holiday, but here in Stadi was much flooding of the streets and even my car." Slicked down by the rain, he was now starting to really look like a toad. 'Stadi', Riita told me later, was local slang for 'Helsinki', just as 'Hesari' was for the 'Helsinki Club'. When we arrived, Eetu said, "You all be my guests here, OK, because in this club I am very well knowed. You must just say, 'We are with the famous "Mr Platinum"! Respect!''"

At the MOCKBA. Eetu had attempted first to read my palm--and guess what? I had a strong love line, which meant I was gonna have 'many sexy loafers'--and then, when I obviously failed to recognize the potential one clutching my hand and staring hypnotically at me from across the table, he tried Positive Visualization. "When I am very attract to a lady, I feel these as a happy bubble inside my chests. And next I feel this bubble rising up, up, to my throat..."

"Like a burp?" I asked innocently, illustrating the concept. Well, Koff is a gassy beer, be fair.

When these attempts at 'sarging' failed, he fell back on the last resort of most guys: boasting. Apparently, the Helsinki Club, which was sort of like a cross between an ultra-modern Tokyo disco and a polished wood Finnish sauna, was the site of many of his greatest sexual triumphs, and one by one, we got to hear about them all during the course of the evening. The longest and most complicated story, pretty much, had taken place on his last visit there some months before and involved a night spent drinking with two friends of his (who he discreetly referred to as 'Mr White' and 'Mr Black'), who were unsuccessfully competing for the attention of 'Miss Pink', a "sexy young Finnish chick, very blonde, very cool." One by one, he heaped scorn on their bumbling and amateurish attempts at 'sarging' her. "Their technics was very, very bad," he said, chuckling, "But it was very relaxed for me to just sit and watch this like a Sensei master. It was like I was out of my body, I felt like I was float in air, like no pressure, dude, no need for pleasure myself at all. And why not? Because at the last, when Mr White was tried to feel her tight sexy ass with his hand, I was able to be thinking with luxury, 'Haha, I have already enjoyed that very young, very tight sexy ass myself last Saturday night!' It was the most best feeling, better even than a 'cock-block'." You get the picture. On and on it went all evening, pretty much like Muzak. Oh, right, what's a 'cock-block'? It pretty much seems to be stealing a girl from one of your buddies when he's too drunk to object. And he used another term too: 'Kutzwrangler' or something, which he said was Dutch for 'c-nt-in-law', the relationship between two guys who have had sex with the same woman. Yuckkk!!! But Eetu was not just a boaster, oh no. He had a softer, more vulnerable side, too, as he carefully explained. Several months before, he had been dating two girls, 'Miss Blue' and 'Miss Yellow'. Miss Blue was boring and unresponsive in bed, so he decided to dump her--but only hours after he did, Miss Yellow dumped him. "So I had beginned that night with two sexy loafers--and now I had none! I tell you these story to prove you that I am a very sensitive mother-f-cker. Everyone is thinking that a film actor is the most biggest stud, he can never be without woman. But, yo, I can be hurt."

I was trying to imagine the most painful and prolonged way to do just that all the way up Mannerheim Street after we left the club. By now the rain had slowed to a drizzle, but the sky remained dark and overcast due to the Russian forest fires, so it looked pretty much like a scene from 'Dawn of the Dead'. Crowds of people were pouring out of doorways and drunkenly marching north along with us past the art-deco trains station and toward the concert at Hartwall Arena, which is north of the city center near the Olympic Stadium (beside a lake). The whole time, Eetu was conducting a loud monologue on whether Finnish or American girls 'was the most easiest'. So I began to wonder: had Safe-T-Man been like this at our age? You know, just another typical Eurotrash 'Borat'-style a--hole, pardon my French? Or had there been something more to him? I mean, obviously there wasn't now, but it seemed to me from reading the stuff at his blog all the night before (and was that Riita's mother he'd been having a three-way with? Yikes! Not a picture I wanted in my head, for sure!) that maybe he'd been a half-way decent, almost normal kind of guy when he was young. If so, what had turned him into an aging Eetu? I mean, when I did a term paper on Casanova for my Women's Studies class, all the books I read (well, skimmed anyway) on the subject said that the definitive experience in his life--and I guess in those of most compulsive womanizers or whatever--was the withholding of his mother's love. Poor Eetu, I decided, had probably never even known his mother and was most likely raised by wolves, but what was Likkanen's excuse? It was totally crazy, but even after all the nasty things he'd said about me, I was curious to see if he'd updated his blog yet. How dumb was that???

"I do not want you thinking I am calling the American lady 'easy' in a bad way," Eetu was bawling above the traffic noise. "Yo, dig, these is a thing I like about them. Respect! Respect for the easy American lady!" Speaking of which, it was still about an hour before the Hartwall was opening its doors for the Madonna concert, so we went inside another nearby club (I think it was called the 'Ooppera Club'?) for yet another round of beers and snacks. It looked and smelled like a barn in there, because it was so crowded--too crowded for us all to sit--so naturally, Eetu grabbed the one remaining chair and tried to force me into his lap. I declined with a sweet smile, but truthfully I was seriously thinking of ways to ditch him now. Suddenly the price of that fourth ticket was looking like chump change. But, doh, I'd forgotten my concert-going etiquette--because next he was like, 'You will like me more soon, I am thinking--see, I have bringed E for everyone tonight." And I couldn't just walk away now, because that would look like I was some kind of judgmental right-wing Fundie or something. So, praying I wasn't swallowing Rohypnol or some weird industrial-strength, cocaine-laced stuff I knew nothing about, I joined the glum and mopey Riita and the two guys in a tab (it had a little Lacoste alligator on it) with our beer. It seemed only polite. And who knew? It might even make the evening bearable. Though I'm not normally all about drugs. Well, you pretty much know that from reading this blog, right?

But I hope I haven't come across as a total dork, either. Whatever.

"Go on, have two--these is a roll of good whites from Norway. Dig, all MDMA, no caffeine or coughing medicine sh-t." So sure enough, being me, I spent the next half hour feeling nothing and obsessing about it. But by the time we were inside the hall with the big crowd and all, I was definitely grooving and trying to identify the vaguely familiar pre-show music on the PA system. Also, Eetu had given up trying to feel my ass, and had mercifully abandoned us to hang with a group of journalists and local celebrities partying in a sky-box. So I was free to relax and enjoy the show, which was pretty much the same one I'd seen in Chicago. But this time, I felt sort of detached, almost like I was outside my body. When Madonna was lowered to the stage in that giant glittery disco-ball orb thingie and the light show started, it was like I was floating up off the floor into the flashing light beams, and the bass and drums were vibing and flowing through me like electricity. Then when she stepped out wearing S&M bondage gear, the stuff she wore for W Magazine, and did 'Future Lover' with a big crowd of acrobatic back-up dancers I sort of came back to earth. There was a lot of dancing going on around me, and most of the crowd was singing along to every song (she did some cool oldies like 'Like a Virgin' and 'Live to Tell'), so I should have had like a really excellent time, right? Only...well, I wasn't. And I couldn't quite figure out why until about halfway through. And then I realized what was bugging me.

My dad had lots of sayings--come to think of it, he was as bad as Riita's father about that, so maybe he was part Finnish, too! Anyway, one of his favorites, which never made any sense to me as a kid, was: 'Never shake your hero by the hand." One time when he said it (I must of been about 12 or so), I finally asked him what it meant.

"Well, Scout, it's simple," he told me ('Scout' was his nickname for me), "If you shake the hand of someone you really look up to, you're always gonna discover they have a weak and clammy grip." And that's the thing--I had met Madonna on the airplane, I mean just for a few seconds and all, but still close up and in the flesh, and now she was kind of real to me. Mortal, I guess. It was like watching a family friend or a relative, maybe, somebody your mom's age, working really hard to put on a big show. And I was thinking that she had sort of a weak grip on it at times, especially when the sound system went down for a minute or two. Her 'mambo' powers were definitely fading.

I can still remember when I first became a big Madonna fan. If I'm honest, I pretty much got into her because the Mothership absolutely banned her from the house. So it was like my big teenage rebellion or something. I saved up my money for weeks in 1996 so I could go to one of her concerts, then at the last minute the Mothership didn't allow me to go. Right in front of my friends! And since it was my first year at a new high school, that was especially humiliating. "She's offensively anti-Catholic, and I refuse to have you exposed to messages like that," she said. "When you're older, you can make your own decisions about your faith." And of course I did. And was. By being there tonight, I mean. But that was the other weird thing--during the Crucifixion number and particularly during 'Sorry', when pictures of Pope Benedict were flashing on the Jumbotron next to Hitler and Pol Pot, I was almost like, well maybe the Mothership sort of had a point. It was all a bit like the movie, 1984, you know, subliminal propaganda or whatever. Luckily that mood didn't last, what a downer.

After the concert, in the line for the restroom, Riita was all like, "Oh, can anyone see I am so high now? Oh, Hoop, I am sure everyone here knows!" Then she threw her her arms around me. "I love you, you are my only friend. My other friends all say they like me, but they don't, I can tell. If I don't call them, I will never see them, because they never call me. Why does no one love me, Hoop? Why am I so hateful?" And this was when she was high! Even worse, you know what I couldn't stop thinking about the whole time she was going on like that? Safe-T-Man. Can you believe it? I was remembering all the lies he had written about both me and Madonna. But one of them really stuck in my mind, and that was the thought of her rushing around Manhattan with his laundry. The mental picture of this was so funny, I started laughing and couldn't stop. But at least this gave Riita an excuse to get over herself and join in, though she looked pretty baffled at first. Obviously the E really was for real.

So naturally, Safe-T-Man was almost the very first person I saw when we were all exiting the arena. My ears were ringing so loudly it was almost like I was deaf or something. It was almost twilight outside, and the streets were black and shiny with rain and had that whooshing traffic sound that Proust describes--and suddenly there was Likkanen himself, standing in the middle of the intersection with cars lurching around and honking at him with what appeared to be two buddies of his. They were both middle-aged bikers wearing jean-vests with biker insignia on them, and one had a big bushy beard and grey pig-tails. All three looked pretty wasted and were sort of supporting each other as they swayed around, so they looked like the statue of Lacoon and his two sons wrestling the serpent. But when Safe-T-Man recognized me (and I guess it was the E affecting my perception here), I had this total rush that he was really sorry for being such a jerk to me. I mean, why else would he appear outside the Hartwall after he'd made such a big deal about rejecting the ticket? Unless he was hoping to get back together with Madonna. Or wanted her to iron some of his shirts, hee, hee. The two of us sort of stared at each other through the traffic. It was like he was straining to open his mouth in order to apologize, which in Finnish culture is apparently a really difficult thing to do, but no words were coming out. I guess I must have taken a step toward him, but then I felt a pair of hands tugging me back onto the crowded sidewalk. Riita again.

She was like, "Oh no, Hoop, do not talk to him! He is a very bad man for you to know. You heard what what Pekka said about him."

"It's rude not to say hi."

"No, no, the men he is with are gangsters and criminals. They are his friends. See, they are from the 'Banditos' gang, it says on their jackets. They are murderers, some of them have guns, this was on our television. Besides, he is not your friend--I am."

Then Eetu grabbed my other arm, and the two of them dragged me away. By now I was ready to bitch-slap them both, because I really, really hate being manhandled, as you know. And I'd had enough. "We are going to a sexy party!' he said.

But Riita was like, "No, we are not! We are going home!" That's when I pushed them both in front of a bus. OK, to be fair, it wasn't really moving. And its brakes were working really well, as it turned out. Finns are good about stuff like that, you know, maintenance of public transportation. But I think they got the message, because after that, they shut up, pretty much, and he actually paid for his ticket.

I guess maybe he was scared of having it punched.

Continued here...

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Book of Hope 15: The Whortleberry Tree

For Finns, the Kalevala is a little like the Iliad and the Odyssey all rolled into one. Heroes raise armies, march or sail off to battle, and perform magical quests--usually in 'triads', just like in the Mabinogeon or in German fairy tales--in order to win the hands of princesses in marriage. And Chris had been wrong: the Estonian version, the Kalevipoeg, is not more reliable than the Finnish. Both were compiled from songs ('runot' in Finnish) and oral traditions, but the Estonian (which is about a young giant resembling the tragic hero Kullervo) may be as much as two-thirds all made up. Of course, for all we know, that could be the case with the Finnish legends, too, because their compiler, the brilliant Elias Lonnrot, was a poet and mystic in his own right. So it's sort of a judgement call. In the 1920s another Finnish poet and mystic named Pekka Ervast reinterpreted Lonnrot's work in 'Christian occultist' terms. He pointed out that unlike the Greek Myths, for example, the Kalevala had both pagan and Christian influences. The final Rune 50 is clearly a parable of the Christ child--a young virgin named Marjatta gets pregnant from a whortleberry tree (or strawberry or lingonberry bush, according to which translation you believe. And don't ask me what she did with it in order to conceive!). Then when she gives birth, the old hero Vainomonen, who is sort of like a cross between Odin and Odysseus, is called in by the local wizard to decide what to do with the baby.

So he's all like, "Hey, kill the kid. He's a son of a bush, so he's most likely some kind of monster." Which is really pretty sensible if you respect his cultural POV. I mean, think about it--how many Hollywood monster film disasters could have been prevented by that kind of clear thinking? Or recent presidential elections, hee hee?

But nope, now it's too late. The newborn baby pipes up like the baby Jesus in a Nativity play, saying, "Shut up, dude, no way I'm a monster, I'm just a normal kid" or whatever, so he's crowned king of Karelia on the spot, and poor old Vainomonen slinks shamefacedly off into the sunset. Joining Bilbo in the Western Isles or Arizona or someplace I guess, wherever old legends go to die. After that, a golden age of Christian peace and harmony comes to the Finns. The saddest thing of all about the Kalevala is that most of the places mentioned in it, including Karelia, are no longer Finnish at all but now belong to Russia, with no hope of ever getting them back. So the myths have kind of a sad lost quality to them, like the Celtic legends of Ys. Or like most Finns, come to think of it.

But Ervast didn't stop with interpretation. He examined every line of the 50 runes for mystical significance and found they made up a pattern of magical incantations and symbols, sort of like a 'Bible code'. So now Wiccans and occultists and New Age mystics all over the world consult the Kalevala for prognostications just like the I Ching or the Tangram. I didn't know it yet, but they were gathering to hold a 'sunrise festival' in western Finland at that very moment.

Which also, though I didn't know this either yet, accounted for the absence of the little orange-haired Swedish magician when I went back to the National Library the next day--though I found myself constantly looking back over my shoulder in case he suddenly materialized again. Even without this distraction, I was having terrible trouble getting a handle on the whole subject of the Kalevala. I mean it was like back in America it had seemed so small and tidy and quaint, almost like a Moomintroll story--but up close, surrounded by the descendants of people who had maybe been in it or made up some of the stories in it, surrounded by people who had learned it as songs in kindergarten--suddenly it seemed really hard to, you know, comprehend or whatever. One minute, it felt huge and magnificent, part of the grand wheel of world mythology quoted in Hamlet's Mill, then the next minute, sort of boring and stupid and, well, trivial. I mean, it had suddenly occurred to me there was a whole foreign country waiting outside the library windows, and I only had a few short weeks to see it. And Madonna was playing tonight.

And to make matters even worse, I was now coming up, even slogging through dusty old academic texts, against what I have privately come to call 'kallakukko', or Finnish boneheadedness. I had discovered that if you ask any three Finns the same question, you will get three different answers. Like, for instance: "How do you say 'hello'?" A real tough one, right? (Riita: "Moi", Erkki" "Hei", Antti: "Terve"). This, I was rapidly finding out, was even more the case with academic interpretation and literary criticism. To be honest, I even think this national trait is deliberate--maybe it's why the Russians kept getting lost every time they invaded. Because they kept asking Finns for directions, doh. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to make this whole story sound like a prolonged 'Finnish joke', because actually I think Finns are totally amazing (I won't give the ending away by telling you why)--I'm just saying there's a reason why are three slightly different versions of every single event in the Kalevala. Finally, when my mind was totally whirling, I decided to go outside for a break and enjoy the sunshine.

So naturally it started raining.

I was standing on the massive front steps staring up into the dark, swirling sky and noticing a strange smell of soot when my rent-a-phone rang. It was Christina. I was like, "Thank God! Are you OK?" Directly in front of me on Senate Square there stood a collection of humongous cement cut-out statues of musical instruments that people were now trying to shelter under.

"Oh yes, I'm fine really. It was nothing."

"Where are you?"

"I'm still in the hospital. But truly I'm OK, I promise."

"Well, that's a relief," I said. "I was thinking of catching a plane tomorrow and coming to check on you."

Then she was like, "Oh, that won't be necessary. It's not a convenient time really. Besides, I am being very well looked after." She sounded really weird, like her English was staring to desert her. So naturally that put me in mind of something else weird.

"Chris, I know this is like a really strange question, but have you ever met a little Swedish guy with orange hair and an orange beard, about fifty I would say? Wears a cape sort of like a stage magician? And is really really fat?"

Silence. After a few moments, she said, kind of like from very far away, "Oh, yes, I should have told you about that. You see, he is a friend of Lennart's--I think they belong some club together in Stockholm--and that is why he came to speak to the children about the Norse gods. He is an expert in these things." It was hard for me to hear the next few sentences because the connection started breaking up. "--really quite a nice man--one of the richest men in Sweden, he has many big houses here. After the talk we were invited to a gathering at one of them, just outside Lund--his name is-- all telling ghost stories, so I suppose--"

"You told him about Billy Draper and the house in Bronzeville."

She was like, "Yes, Hope, please forgive me. It's just that I'm so happy..."

"Happy?" This convo was getting stranger and stranger.

"Yes, you see--wasn't going to tell anyone, but--I'm going to have a baby! That's why I was ill."

"Wow!" I said, after I caught my breath. Riita had arrived with a big blue umbrella and was making very 'patient' faces at me as she held it over us, which meant that she was really very cross. The rain began to drum heavily on top of it like lots of impatient fingers. "Well, what will you do?"

"Oh, I'm going to have it, of course! I'm so happy, Hope. I want to have it for him."


"Lennart--the headmaster at my school. Didn't I tell you? He left his--together ever since I came back from America."

Riita hissed at me, "Come Hoop, we must hurry! We are meeting Erkki and his friend at the MOCKBA."

"Well, congratulations, sweetie!" I said into the cell-phone. "I'll call you later and we'll talk more then. And I'll meet Lennart when I come visit you in a couple weeks, OK?"

"Everything's wonderful," said Chris, and we hung up. She sounded totally insane to me. But I guess truly happy people generally do.

Now it was pouring. All around us the outdoor cafes were shutting and waiters wearing garbage bags were dragging chairs and trays and little trolleys of food covered in napkins indoors. Inside the lights were cheery, and the muffled noise of music and people talking drifted onto the sidewalks along with the smells of cooking and damp old wood and stone. A bright red SparaKoff 'pub tram' crawled by us, crowded with seriously drinking tourists routed by the rain. The long languid love-affair with the sun was over, at least for the moment, and this made me realize that, like Hamburg or San Francisco or any seaport really, Helsinki was pretty much built for mists and drizzle. And therefore most comfortable with them. Finns weren't really being themselves when they were wandering around stoned in the sunshine, they were just imitating some California dream. Now they were all back to normal. But what was the dark smoke in the sky about? I asked Riita about this while we were huddling in a doorway during the worst of the cloudburst, and she was like, "That's George Bush's fault."

So I was like, "Huh?"

"It is because he will not sign the Kyoto Treaty," she said. "Now there is global warming, and this causes more forest fires all over Russian Karelia and Murmansk. And since they have no money for fire-fighters, these fires burn all summer now and spread to Finland, where they harm our wood industry. That is what we are seeing today, the smoke from them. It is quite usual in summer now." So, yeah, America's fault again. We shouldn't have cars. And we should pay Russians not to smoke.

We were pretty soaked by the time we got to the bar, which was about about a 10-block dash through puddles and flooded gutters. When I say 'we', I mean 'me', because Riita was wearing a raincoat and a pair of yellow rubber boots. "Erkki's friend is named Eetu," she hissed at me while we were being splashed by a large truck driving too close to the kerb. Why was she still whispering? "He is famous here--he is an actor and a journalist. But he is not a very nice person, I think. He is a 'bad influence' on Erkki," she added with heavy emphasis. "They are childhood friends, however, so I can do nothing to discourage them. But don't worry, Hoop--I will look after you and make sure he does nothing bad." So, as you can imagine, after hearing all that from her I was already inclined to like this Eetu guy a whole lot before we ever even got to the bar. That lasted about thirty seconds after meeting him.

The MOCKBA's thing--and every bar in Helsinki, I was discovering, has to have a 'thing'--is that it's a mock nostalgia cafe for old-school Finnish Communists and their anti-globalist wannabe Marxist hippie kids, decorated in dingy old curtains, heavy linoleum table-tops, and a samovar, with Soviet pop tunes playing on an old-fashioned record-player. If not for that, you could almost think you were in Fargo or Sioux Falls or someplace. Erkki and his friend were waiting for us on red-plush benches at a table in the corner, and he waved at us as we stumbled in. Eetu certainly wasn't what I expected--if he was typical of Finnish actors, then I can sorta see why they've never managed to export any to Hollywood. He was a very muscular little guy with a distinct facial resemblance to Toad of Toad Hall from the Wind in the Willows, with his hair and his stache and beard--in the style favored by IT geeks the world over--shaved to the same dark stubble. Maybe he had great stage presence, I dunno. If so, it was wasted on me. But it really wouldn't have mattered anyway--because it turned out I already knew all his lines by heart.

Maybe I've mentioned my interest in men's 'pick-up' books before. Long before I dug what sex actually was, I used to sneak into my big bros' rooms when they were off at football practice or camp and sort of sneak through their stuff peeking at things. If I'm honest, it was like a huge source of fascination to me as a kid to try and discover just what was going on inside guys' big thick skulls. And, you know, inside their testicles or whatever. Unlike most girls I know (or what they claim, anyway), I wasn't that much of a tom-boy--though I am pretty good at sports--it's just that ever since I was a kid, I've really, really wanted to understand men. Because I actually really like them, even if it's not hip to say so. Anyway, when we moved to Jacksonville from England, we lived in this strange house that had a sort of single connecting closet running along one side of it that opened out into all three of the kids' bedrooms (I'm thinking there had been plywood dividers between them that had fallen down or something). Whatever, it made it really easy to spy on each other through the louvred slats of the sliding doors, which I never got away with when they were home because my bros always seemed to hear me creeping around. So I would wait until they were gone for a few hours and get into their 'man-holes'--which is the secret place every guy hides his stuff. And trust me, every single guy on earth has one. Or two. Theirs were under some loose plywood floorboards in the long closet, so I created a little secret reading nook inside my part of it with a flashlight and a stack of fluffy pillows and slowly went through their literary collections.

Later, of course, when we moved to Chevy Chase, and they were both older and away at the Air Force Academy and then later in the service and then married, these collections of theirs shrunk down to a few piles of dog-eared books and magazines in the bottom of a box or two in the basement. But I was an excellent museum curator of these treasures--old Penthouse and Playboy magazines, old videotapes of Debby Doing Dallas and Misty playing Beethoven. I know you probably think I'm a total airhead from reading my blog, but actually I have a really orderly and methodical mind when it comes to information storage and retrieval. Believe me, it's the only reason I did so well in school, since I had to go to so many in so many different places and never had any kind of standardized K12 study program. I survived by taking equivalency tests. And notes. Lots and lots of notes.

But we're talking pick-up books here, and you don't need much education to read those. Or to write them, either I guess. In fact, you could probably say an advanced degree might even be a real handicap! The first big bestseller on the subject was written by a New York accountant named Eric Weber in 1970: How To Pick Up Girls. Yep, there's a copy still in the Mothership's basement. Then in the '80s along came hypnosis--the most famous guru of that technique was Ross Jeffries, who wrote a lot of books about using Neuro-Linguistic Programming to seduce women. My next oldest bro used to try to practice this on me, especially when I was home from school sick: "You are getting sleepy, your eyelids are so heavy, now you think you are a chicken..." And lately there's been a new cult of the 'PUA' (Pick-Up Artist) on the Internet, inspired by Neil Strauss' book, The Game, which is a huge bestseller and has been translated into like a dozen languages. Now, at this point in the story I hadn't yet read The Game, but I was about to, under circumstances that I could have never in a million years imagined in advance. In fact, for a period of a week or two, it was my only reading material, along with Ervast's Key to the Kalevala (which I had just hand-xeroxed in the National Library that morning and was in my back-pack turning into a totally sodden lump), which is sort of a form of hell in itself.

Obviously Eetu had read it though, because right off the bat, as soon as we ordered drinks, he started hitting on me: "You are not so attractive as I expect," he said. Well, yeah, it's true I was soaked to the skin, and my hair was a mess--I had to finally shoo Riita off from trying to dry it with paper placemats--but that's not why he said it. He was 'negging' me, which is what PUA's do to chicks to lower their self-esteem and make them vulnerable. In plain English this is called 'insulting' and from what I can tell is an ancient form of flirtation dating back to the dawn of kindergarten.

So I was like, "Well you certainly aren't what I expected either. What kind of acting do you do?"

"Sexy acting," he said, with a booming laugh. "You can know me in some popular films like Finska Gigant. But now I am also becoming producer and making these films of my own. Yo, dig, I am always trying to talk this boy here to become my partner with me."

"Eetu was the host for his own show on Aluetelevisio," said Erkki proudly. You could tell right away that he really looked up to his friend and thought he was cool, which is why I could see big problems down the road there for Riita. Maybe that was why she was such a crab. It was, as far as I could tell, still lunchtime, but the two guys were already 'pre-party drinking' for the Madonna concert at 7. And my internal clock was so screwed up by now that I really didn't know what time it was--basically I was hungry and sleepy 24/7. But too wired to actually sleep. So what the hell, I had a Koff beer, too. When in Rome or whatever, right? But when the drinks arrived with the MOCKBA's deliberate Soviet-style 'rude service', Eetu stared 'kinoing' me. In plain English, this is called 'pawing'. In Eric Weber's book, it's a no-no, but times change, I guess. Now in 2006, it actually seems to work, so guys in bars all over the world who use the 'Mystery Method' (named after Strauss' mentor) are all stroking the arms of the poor dumb women they've just met right above the elbow, as recommended. That's the saddest and scariest thing about these stupid little tricks--most of them actually work! Naturally, they work with guys even better--but why bother? I mean, let's face it, almost anything works with guys. They are just so easy. (Except for the one you really want, of course, who is pretty much impossible.)

And I'm pretty impossible too, I guess--at least where 'kinoing' is concerned. Because I have this thing: I totally hate to be touched by strangers. I'm not even that crazy about it with friends or family. Maybe it's because mine was pretty much non-touchy-feelie. We were affectionate, pretty much, but not in a physical way--for instance, if either of my brothers scored a touchdown or announced they were engaged or something, my father would just shake hands with them. And the Mothership will only touch any surface after she wipes it clean. Whatever, I have to actually establish social relationships with dental hygienists and manicurists, etc, etc, before I can stand for them to touch me at all. And with Eetu, that clearly was not gonna be happening. As soon as I could wrestle myself away, I excused myself to the bathroom (there was no 'Ladies'), hid inside a stall so Riita couldn't find me, and after I'd dried off a bit, called Jo in Australia. God alone knows what time it was there.

"Oh yeah," she said when I told her about Chris. "Turned out I was, too." She sounded faint and drowsy.

"You were what, too?"

"You know, preg. I just took care of it this morning. That's why I'm feeling like a dessicated aardvark turd right now."

I was like, "Oh my God."

So she was like, "Well, I just couldn't keep it, Hopey. I'm in second year, and the pressure's too intense. Besides, the father was some German back-backer who was playing the piano at a party, and that was never going to work. He had the loveliest fingers, though," she added, yawning. So after she drifted off, I called Kerry. Yep, pregnant, too.

"Oh God, Hope," she kept saying over and over, "What am I gonna do?"

"Don't ask me, girl," I said. "What do you wanna do? What's your gut telling you?"

And she was like, "You don't wanna know what it's telling me right this minute, trust me. But seriously, if I try to have it, my family's so gonna freak. I don't know what to do."

So I said, "Well, what does the guy have to say? Who is the father anyway?"

"Well, that's the other thing," Kerry said in an embarrassed voice. "I mean, I'm on the patch, so I'm not really sure."

But suddenly I was. The whortleberry tree...

Continued here...

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