Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Book of Hope 28: One Of Our Zombies Is Missing

I had the world's worst hangover when I woke up. Ever. And it was so not fair, because I hadn't actually done anything to deserve it! I hadn't even had a single beer. My nose and forehead were all swollen up like a balloon, and obviously I'd bled some more in the night because the pillowcase was all stained with nasty black gooey stuff--I almost fainted when I saw it. In the bathroom mirror I saw that the spot where my face had crashed into the rock, right where my nose meets my brow, was turning all purple and had an ugly cut on it. I was covered in mosquito bites, my streaked make-up made me look like a photo of a Jane Doe corpse in a morgue, and my hair was a total mess. I felt like a casualty on CSI. Not just an actress playing a casualty--a real one. The kind that could walk and talk, maybe--but only to those 'medium' detectives who see dead people. I could see a future job market for psychic cosmeticians.

Just to put all this in even clearer perspective for me, Riita showed up at that point looking all golden and glowing like a nature goddess. Don't get me wrong, nothing could make the girl look beautiful--she was too solidly built and plain for that. But she was all brown from the sun, her hair was streaked with gold, and she was even humming! Which was totally disgusting. She'd spent the whole night stoned and doing God knows what with who, and she was practically purring like a cat--meanwhile I, who'd done absolutely nothing at all, was a total wreck. To add insult to injury, the moment she walked in and took a look at me, she started trying to clean me up in full clucking I-told-you-so mother-hen mode, with no sign at all of the crazed Maenad who'd had public sex as part of a Black Magic mass orgy just a few hours earlier.

"Oh my poor, poor Hoop," she kept saying while she dabbed ointment on me and stuck washcloths in my eyes and tried to comb my hair out by its roots, until I was just about ready to punch her out.

"Where's Kimmo?" I finally asked her instead. She shrugged and made a face like she wasn't sure who I was talking about. I decided to twist the knife in a little more. "He seemed like he was really into you last night" (hee hee.) But she just shrugged indifferently again.

She was like, "Oh, there is an American word for that, I think. He was just my 'f--k-buddy' for our holiday. But now the holiday is over. Besides, I think he is already going back to Gumbostrand now."

"Where's that?" It sounded like someplace on stilts on a bayou in Louisiana.

"A little seaside town near Helsinki. He lives at Ior Bock's house--you know, the crazy old hippie man. All the band lives there." Oh yeah, I vaguely remembered that convo from the night before. What else was I forgetting?

"So, are you gonna see him again when you get back?"

She gave a little snort of disdain. "No, no--he is too pretty for me," she said. "And I don't think he is really such a nice person. Perfect companion for vacation, though!" Damn, sometimes I really wish I was Finnish. They're just so amazingly...well, practical. Nothing ever gets wasted in that place. Especially not tears.

Since there was no food in the RV, and neither of us was in the mood to share another disgusting meal with Dr P, we decided to drive into Kaustinen and get some breakfast, then look for an optician's shop and a drug store. "But first you must see a doctor, Hoop," Riita kept saying over and over very firmly. "I am sure your nose is broken, and this could be dangerous for you. It could become terribly infected. Besides you have such a pretty nose, we don't want it to become ugly and crooked, do we?" Since Riita was always wrong at the top of her voice, her opinion made me feel a bunch better. However, I couldn't totally count on it, since she was so unreliably unreliable, so finally I caved.

As it turned out Kaustinen was too small to have either its own hospital or eye doctor. I would have to order new glasses or contact lenses, the pharmacist told me, and the earliest I could get them was in like about two weeks. So until I reached civilization, I was obviously gonna be stuck using Riita as my seeing-eye Finn. Gradually, it seemed to me, she was starting to take over all my support functions one by one--soon I wouldn't even be able to go to the bathroom without her help. For the first time I was starting to realize how my dad must have felt near the end. In the meantime, though, there was something to be said for being half-blind--in the bright sunshine, the little town had a sweet sunny glow full of fuzzy spongy green shapes for trees and blurry soft-toys for car traffic. The cartoon medical station, which was just across the street from the main stage not far from the folk museum, didn't open until noon, according to a hand-written sign on the door (which I could read by standing like six inches away from it), so we had time for some 'Finnish hot dogs' and surprisingly greasy coffee before going back there. One thing could be said for hanging with Dr P--I was already getting spoiled about food. If I was ever crazy enough to accept his marriage proposal I'd probably end up weighing almost as much as he did. Even a quarter would be bad enough.

The doctor on duty was the same very tanned goth-punk lady who'd been sitting behind me at the orgy last night. And her middle-aged husband was her male nurse! She told me that they only time they kept the Kaustinen clinic open was in the summer during the festival season--the rest of the year they worked in Ibiza, where '"there is much more money and not so much taxes." Her husband, she told me, had been a rock-music promoter and drug dealer who'd become interested in practical nursing during a prison rehab program and gone to nursing school after his release. She shyly showed me their matching eyebrow and ear rings. I declined to examine the genitalia versions.

"Your nose is not breaking," she told me after mauling it a bit, but she gave me some pain-killers and a big dorky bandage. The visit cost me $5, even though I didn't have a Finnish health insurance card. It wasn't until after I left that it occurred to me that they could of given me first aid on the spot. You know, when it actually had happened the night before. But I guess maybe they were too busy. Whatever, when I went back to the waiting-room, I found a big brown blob which I assumed to be Riita hiding behind a big white blob, which I discovered to be a copy of the Finnish national daily newspaper, the Helsingen Sanomat.

"I have made an important decision, Hoop," she was like when she saw me. "And it is all because of you. I have decided to forgive Erkki." Huh? Because of me???

"What are you forgiving him for?" I asked her instead, because I was still worried that maybe she'd found out about what he'd been doing in Moominworld after all, and that was why she'd been such a girl gone wild at Pauanne. But then I thought, doh, what I was doing protecting Erkki anyway? I mean it wasn't like I really cared. In a few short weeks I'd be gone, and I'd never see any of these people again. It was none of my business. But as soon as I had all these thoughts, I noticed Riita staring at me in horror. Was I bleeding again?

"For being such a bad partner to me, of course. We have discussed this many times between us, Hoop. You know how cold and hurtful he has become. That is why I have taken this little holiday away from him now. But I can see that you are disappointed with me."

I was like, "No, I'm not disappointed in you, Riita."

"Oh yes, I can see it in your eyes," she said. "You Americans are so simple about sex, you know. You think everyone should be married, just like you think everyone on this planet should be a Christian and eat at a MacDonalds. But life is not always so simple as that, is it?" Frankly, I was surprised she could see anything in my eyes at that point--it certainly wasn't two-way. To prove her point she started translating the front page of the newspaper for me (later I went online and dug it up again just to give you an idea of Finnish attitudes on the subject. And newspaper reporting):

'Young Finnish Women Want Safe Yet Thrilling Sex [no, I'm not kidding--that was the front page headline]

Young Finnish women appreciate sexual affairs which are safe and yet exciting. Nearly half of them think that a woman should be sexually experienced; however this fact should not be public knowledge. Senior researcher Osmo Kontula from the Family Federation commented yesterday on the questionnaire on young women's sexuality published by the pharmaceuticals company Organon. According to Kontula, the potential of female sexuality has increased among women of all age groups.

"Is sex becoming a matter of competence for women?" Kontula asked. However, he pointed out that female sexuality varies: some women prefer intimacy over sex, whereas others feel they can't cope without sex. Three-quarters of the women polled were ready to make an effort in order to keep the spark in their sexual relationships. However, over 40 percent didn't consider passion as an essential element of their lives.

"Selfishness is considered bad in a sexual affair, yet it is vital as far as pleasure is concerned. Being selfish doesn't necessarily mean one doesn't care for one's partner", Kontula said.'

"You see?" said Riita when she'd finished reading all this to me on our way back to the festival parking lot. "I am not such a terrible person, after all. I am very normal for Finland."

And I was like, "I don't think you're a bad person, whatever." But I realized that if I was honest I actually did sort of disapprove of how Riita and Erkki were acting a bit. And isn't just because I'm such a prude or moralist or whatever. It's because of 911.

Ask anyone, and I bet you they can tell you exactly what they were doing on 911, mostly in like really boring detail ("I was getting coffee when my coworkers called me into the kitchen, where the TV was on. I can still remember I was holding a bag of creme-filled doughnuts." Or "My mother-in-law called and said 'Turn on the TV.' I just stood there running the blender over and over thinking it was the end of the world.' etc). It's like some kind of collective Rohrshach (sp?) memory test, almost everybody can remember every detail of those first few hours, but everybody sort of sees them differently. So, OK, here's my 911 story.

And I swear to God I would remember that day pretty clearly anyway, because it was the day before my 22nd birthday, it was my first term at UChi, and Kerry and I had just met and finished moving into the apartment we were sharing the night before. Neither of us had early classes, so we'd both agreed to sleep in late the next morning. So there I was, sound asleep, when suddenly I saw what looked like this ghost standing at the foot of my bed with a deathly tragic look on its face. Naturally I woke up, anyway enough to notice that the ghost was my new roommate in my bedroom wearing only her PJ top with tears streaming down her face. Uh oh, I thought to myself, what kind of psycho lesbian head-case have I hooked myself up with this time? I looked at the clock, and it said 8:51.

"I think you better come see this," she said. So I got up thinking it was probably just another cockroach in the bathtub (she'd totally freaked the night before--I guess she'd never seen a bug before in her life) and went into the living room, where Kerry had propped up her little TV-DVD player on an aluminum travel-trunk. It was showing the people, you know jumping from the WTC building. So we just stood there watching and hugging each other for like forever until, like everyone else all over America, our cell phones started ringing.

OK, now you gotta remember this was just a short time after my dad died, so our family was like especially closely in touch. Plus two of my bros are commercial airline pilots, though as it turned out, neither of them was actually in the air at that particular moment. But that fact wasn't established until the Mothership had made like a bajillion brief but hysterical phone calls ("Hello, Hope? I'm putting you on hold") to all of us. The problem was that there was an additional casualty of all her cell phoning that day, and it wasn't a casualty mentioned in any newspapers or TV shows. The casualty was my middle brother Jerry's marriage.

I've mentioned my sister-in-law Carmen to you before, but in spite of the fact that the Mothership and I (after a rocky start) grew to love her to pieces, we never really got to know her as well as we'd have liked, because she and my older bro never lived anywhere nearby--mostly they were based in Texas and the West Coast, and we only saw them on family visits, pretty much. You know, weddings and funerals and the occasional Xmas. But Anna was a different story, because right after she and Jerry got married (very suddenly), they came to live near us while she went to law school here in DC. Of course, Jerry wasn't always around, being a pilot and all, so that meant she and I got to spend some time together--a lot of time actually during the year Dad was dying, and she was really really great about all that. In fact, I'm not sure we could have gotten through it all without her, because she was absolutely great about taking care of all the details and she was a fearless and patient nurse. That was one side of her personality--super-meticulous and energetic and kind. OK, that's a few sides.

For me, it was doubly cool, because I'd never had a sister. Now suddenly it was like I had one--someone who'd spend time with me and talk things through with me when I was having guy trouble (like during the worst of my time with Gene) and give me great hair and fashion advice. I mean unlike the Mothership, advice in an actual good way. She even took me to my very first spa (she always had sort of expensive tastes). To be honest it was the first time an older girl had ever like taken an interest in me before. Plus, since Jerry was away a lot at night, it gave me a sort of second home to spend the night at whenever things got too intense at school or at home. And right before she graduated, Anna got pregnant and had my nephew, Donald, who they named after my dad. Of course that didn't stop her from immediately moving the three of them to Ft Lauderdale to take a job at a law firm (she specialized in immigration law and is now one of the top legal experts on it in the country).

She was (and still is, I'm sure) a real dynamo, a big, fleshy oversized strawberry blond with an incredible history. She was actually Dutch and was an orphan or something who had grown up in state institutions and foster homes--then when she was like 14 she'd come to America to be an au pair, then went first to high school and next to college, which her adopted American family paid for. By the time she married into our family, she didn't even have a trace of an accent--you totally could not tell she hadn't always been American. I guess she was really good at fitting in, wherever she was. Of course, physically, she stood out. She looked like, well, the best example I can give you is Marie Antoinette--not the MTV Sophia Coppola singing movie version, but the real one, you know like you see on book jackets. She looked really European, like a big healthy farmer's daughter. She had curly blonde hair, sort of a perfect pinkish white complexion, huge blue eyes, a teeny little pink mouth, big boobs, strong arms, big powerful legs, and, if I'm honest, a really huge butt. But if you loved her, you thought she was pretty. I guess not, otherwise. Anyway, her personality was like that, too, once you got to know her: larger than life, you could say. Loud, earthy, salty-tongued, argumentative, petulant, pouty one minute, giggling with you the next. Truthfully, I still sort of miss her. A lot, actually.

Of course I was super-naive and gullible. I mean, you know that about me by now, right? So no surprise there. The only two warning signs I really noticed in those two years were things I just accepted as being part of her personality, like her always having to be the center of attention, always having to be right, always having to decide what was best for everyone, being really cold and stone-faced when she didn't get her way. And one other sort of weird thing--and all this is after the fact, stuff you only think about much later--was that she liked to entertain in bed. I mean socially. She would often just lie with her big legs spread talking to friends or eat her meals or study for hours there, and if you wanted to visit her you had to just go hang out with her in her bedroom. I mean, at the time she made this seem a very natural thing, sort of cool and hippyish or something, so I never gave it much thought.

Anyway that morning (of 911) Jer was scheduled to captain a Lauderdale-Newark flight (he was working for American Airlines then), but of course everyone was in a total panic, and all the airports were closed, and rumors were flying everywhere instead of planes, so he was grounded on standby. And of course, nobody remembers this, but things were especially tense in Lauderdale in particular, because a bunch of the terrorists (yes, Rosie, the ones who really did it, not Karl Rove or the CIA) had been living there just like a mile away from Jerry and Anna and Donnie, and the cops were blocking roads and turning over their entire apartment block. And just the month before there had been the anthrax attack just a few blocks north of that at the National Star offices--in fact, I'd actually been down there visiting them when that happened. So I guess when he was stuck at the airport watching CNN in a passengers' lounge, Jerry sorta freaked. Especially when the Mothership kept phoning him every five seconds with updates like, "Now they've located the mystery plane, but no one knows where it's headed." And "I've tried calling Anna a dozen times, but her cell-phone's not answering, and her switchboard at work's been turned off. Is she at home?" No, because Jerry had been trying her a dozen times, too, and their nanny who looked after Donnie in the daytime said Anna wasn't there and that she hadn't heard anything from her. So even though he wasn't supposed to, Jerry went AWOL and drove to her office looking for her.

That morning all across the country--not just in New York and DC--I've heard that offices were closing early and people were going home to be with their families. Because nobody knew just exactly what was going on. Was this just the first of many attacks? Were we at war? Everybody was scared and upset and worried about their loved ones, so there were like huge traffic jams and long lines of cars stretching in every direction in Fort Lauderdale, anyway, though parts of it, like the beach-front and the commercial downtown district, were pretty much deserted, Jerry told me. By the time he got to Anna's office, he found the building empty and locked down--the only reason he got in was because the security guard at the front desk knew him. Exactly what happened next I dunno, because he never really talked about that part of it much, because obviously it was pretty painful to think about afterwards, but to cut a long story short he went to her firm's darkened suite of offices and found her having sex with her boss. Sometimes he said it was in her office, sometimes he seemed to imply it was in his, I mean the boss's. But later Jer told the Mothership a long rambling drunken story over the phone about how he found no one in her offices at all, but on his way back down in the elevator, by accident he pushed the button for the second floor, which was being remodeled, instead of the lobby. And that when the elevator doors suddenly opened on the big empty stripped concrete space, lit by strings of utility bulbs strung across the ceiling he saw them humping on a stack of drywall panels covered by a big plastic tarp. So I'm guessing that's the true story. Because that's like an image you wouldn't find so easy to get out of your mind. At least I don't think I would, but I hope I never find out.

Anyway, when Anna got home she swore to him that this had been the only time and that it would never happen again. Then she begged him to go to couples' counseling with her so that they could 'learn to forgive each other."

"What the hell has she got to forgive me for?" Jerry asked me at the time. Well, it was a rhetorical question--he was probably having the exact same convo with everybody, even strangers he met in bars. Instead of agreeing to therapy, he moved into their basement so that he could still spend equal time with Donnie. In south Florida lots of houses have 'tearaway' first storeys that aren't connected to the house above by inside stairs--each of them had their own separate entrance so they didn't have to see each other. But he could still hear her walking around above him whenever she was home, since like a lot of large women she had a really heavy tread, and I guess that must have sucked for him a lot. He'd been suspended from his job for walking out that day, so he quit and went to work for Delta for less money. He got really dark and twisted and bitter during that period, too--whenever we talked on the phone he seemed really angry and depressed and mumbled a lot of nasty threats and stuff. Stuff he didn't mean. I guess that mood was why he hired a private detective to investigate Anna's story (later he told me that he wanted to believe her but that something the nanny had told him--he never would say what--made things not quite add up.) He even paid this guy to go up to Georgetown University in DC, where she got her law degree, and even UPenn and Beaver Falls, PA, where she went to high school, to check out her past. That's how crazy he got on the subject. And he got even crazier when the detective reported back to him.

According to this guy, Anna had always cheated. In fact, one of the other women in her law school class told him that Anna had done nine different guys her final year there--and this was while they were married, even while she was pregnant! Apparently everybody there knew about it. Just not Jerry. Or me. But it sort of explained why she never got out of bed much when she was at home. In Beaver Falls he was told that she'd seduced several of her teachers--and even the father of the family she'd lived with, which was why he'd paid her tuition all through college. So now Jerry was totally in shock--it was like everything about her was a lie. When he moved away from Lauderdale, he said he couldn't even be sure now he was really Donnie's father without a DNA test, which she would never agree to. Anna moved to Houston to join a prestigious law firm there and is really rich now, I heard, so her behavior obviously hasn't hurt her career. Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying she was an evil person or anything. She just should have never married someone and promised to only be with him when she already knew she couldn't right from the get-go. It wasn't even just that she'd hurt Jerry--the thing tore my whole family apart at a really bad time, just a few months after my dad's death. It was like she'd been a chameleon, lying to all of us, pretending to be one thing but really being something totally different, sort of like the blond Cylon babe on Battlestar Galactica. It was petty of me, compared to poor Jerry's miseries, but I guess I felt pretty personally betrayed, too. And that's why I was feeling no patience with Riita at the mo. I mean, what's the point of being together at all if you're gonna act like that? Maybe her relationship with Erkki wasn't perfect, but it looked pretty good to me from where I was standing (at least with no glasses on). I mean, I had no one to love at all. Realistically, my life was emotionally empty. I meant nothing special to anyone. If I'd fallen a bit harder and cracked my skull and died the night before maybe a few people would miss me--my close friends and family for sure--but let's face it, even they would all get over it and get on with their lives pretty fast. Like in about five minutes. Riita and Erkki had someone to love, they had a real thing going for them, and instead of valuing that, they were both behaving like stupid sluts. If they weren't careful, they were gonna really screw things up for good. OK, dumb American maybe, but at least I could tell a car wreck when it was about to happen.

But I didn't say any of this to Rita. What would be the point? Instead I was all like, "So is there like any actual news in that paper?" Bear in mind this was right after the Qana bombing, a shooting rampage in a Seattle synagogue, and Mel Gibson's drunk driving arrest. But I was living on another planet, apparently.

"Oh yes, it is a very busy time now," Riita said, stopping to read the rest of the headlines. "Festival attendance has set many new records in Finland this summer, that's a very good thing. But it says the big loser was the folk festival here at Kaustinen, not so many people want to hear folk music any more. Well I suppose it is a kind of music that is very boring for youths, of course. Here is another story of interest: 'End of summer holidays brings rush to, hmmm, what is the English word, detoxic clinics. It is because of the alcoholism here, you see. Oh look, look, Hoop! Here is a story about your friend!" She practically started jumping up and down on the pavement.

"My friend?"

"You know, your friend, that Likkanen! Listen to this:

'Two Suspects Arrested Over Attempted Waterpark Murder

Police in Espoo have arrested two men suspected of the attempted murder of an American tourist of Finnish extraction committed in the city on Monday. Night workers at Waterpark Serena were surprised to see the victim crawling inside the recreational complex from the outdoor artificial lake in the early hours of Monday morning. It is believed he was shot three times at another lake nearby and somehow waded to shore and then crossed a marsh before entering the water park, which is the largest in Europe.

"In the light of information we have now it is likely that we will ask that the two be remanded", said the head of the investigation, Detective Inspector Sakari Juurikkala of the Espoo police, speaking on Tuesday. However, he also emphasised that so far the pair are not the only suspects and that the investigation has indicated the presence of a third assailant.
Police have seized a cellphone and laptop computer that they believe the men stole during the crime, which they were attempting to sell on [the Finnish eBay]. In addition, they are examining at least two "biker vests" which they believe were worn by the perpetrators. Juurikkala says that the suspects are an Espoo native born in 1952 and another man from nearby Helsinki, who was born in 1951. Both have a long record of criminal activities - mainly petty theft and drugs dealing - and at one time were members of the 'Banditos' motorcycle club.

On Tuesday the police asked the public for information on a stolen white Ford Sierra taxi cab which might have been linked with the crime. Police are still interested in knowing more about the cab's movements, especially on Sunday night and Monday morning. Juurikkala says that the police do not know why the victim was shot. The crime is being investigated as attempted murder and aggravated robbery. In what is seen as a related development, the victim's hotel room in Helsinki was robbed and the remainder of his personal belongings stolen. At present, the location of the victim, Donho Likkanen of New York, USA, and the details of his injuries will not be released to the public for fear of further attacks on his life. After collapsing beneath a water-slide, Likkanen was given first aid by an emergency rescue team and pronounced dead at the scene. However, some minutes later he was apparently revived and flown by helicopter to an undisclosed trauma speciality hospital.

Police are also looking into the possibility of a connection between the incident and a similar crime that took place in Kankaanpää a week ago. In that crime, two masked men broke into an apartment and beat up a man living there. "The acts have certain similarities. We are looking into the possibility that they might be connected", Juurikkala says.'

"Wow, that's really amazing!" I said. "So we actually did it--we brought him back to life again! Or Dr P did, I should say."

"Don't be silly, Hoop," Riita said with a sniff. "All of this happened days ago. He was at a hospital the whole time."

"Yeah, but we didn't know that for. Maybe, I dunno, the ceremony adjusted time and space into a new continuum or whatever where he was brought back to life by what we all did. Maybe he was really dead in the old one--it says in the paper that he was pronounced medically dead at one point." I had a mental picture of poor old Safe-T-Man in an ICU somewhere guarded by police like in a movie. Poor guy--maybe I should try to send him flowers or a card or something. Of course, we hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms.

"I'm sure the doctor knew all of this before the ceremony," Riita pointed out with that peasant shrewdness that always took me by surprise. "After all, he was the person who stole Likkanen's clothes from the hotel room. Perhaps he is the third bad man the police are searching for. You just want to believe in magic, Hoop, that's why you are always have such silly ideas." And nothing I could explain to her about alternate realities and pocket universe theory all the way back in the car made any difference. Some people are just born un-silly, I guess.

Still, yesterday he'd been dead, at least as far as I knew, but today he wasn't. That's a kind of magic, isn't it? Beats the reverse anyway.

Continued here...


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