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.