Monday, December 18, 2006

OK, let's talk about sexuality in the bathroom!

Hey to all, or 'moi', as we say in Finland, I am Donho Likkanen. You may not have heard of me, but if you perhaps have been invited into the bathrooms of any wealthy people with good taste (or sometimes their bedrooms too!), you may have admired my creations. I am the foremost designer in the world today of plumbing fixtures inspired by the human form. When I say 'foremost', I mean of course, I am the most highly paid. My fixtures are not for everybody. You can see for yourself if you can afford my luxurious fittings at: of course, if you have to ask the price, it is likely you cannot, LOL!

Did you know that there has always been a historical connection between sex and bathing? Yes, it's true! From the first dawn of civilizations the bath and sexual naughtiness have always gone hand in hand, as in classical Greece, the famous Baths of Caracalla in Rome, or the modern Turkish bath. Nowadays, of course, we unfortunately cannot purchase young slaves to provide us with healthful orgasms, but with a little confidence, an open attitude, and most importantly, good bathroom design, you can enjoy the joyful expression of sexual cleanliness in its natural habitat. After all, sex is just like any other bodily function; this is the Finnish way. And here at last is a Forum to discuss these matters frankly and honestly. When I think of the word 'forum' of course I am reminded of the 'Penthouse Forum', which helped to teach me so many sexual matters of etiquette and technique in my youth--as well as my fluent, full-bodied, and well-rounded English.

I wish to apologize to all for this latest change in email address. The old mailboxes keep getting filled up, so I have to constantly be opening new accounts.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 25

Bjorn and I first met during a playground fist-fight. It was my first day at Middle School, and I knew no one there. But someone there already knew me--and was lying in wait to give me a beating. Typical for Vaino, of course, he did not attack me himself but instead incited a group of other boys to do so on a dusty part of the playground where dozens of us were kicking battered old footballs around during the lunch recess. I was not a complete fool and knew straightway I was in for trouble as soon as these morons marched up to harrass me; in fact, being a true Finn and rather fond of a fight myself, I welcomed the distraction. However, as soon as I had settled comfortably into a punching match with one rather chubby lad, I was grabbed from behind by two of his mates and tackled to the ground. Having grown up in the wealthy, sheltered neighbourhood of Etu-Töölö, I was taken by surprise by this tactic and protested loudly over it until I was winded by being kicked in the stomach. Through a gap in their legs, I could see Vaino standing some distance apart from the action, watching and laughing at the sight. We had never formally met, but he had several times been pointed out to me and was easily recognizable from his good looks and bright mop of corn-silk hair. This was my first experience of his flair for the dramatic, and it was an instructive one--though, sadly, I cannot say I properly learned my lesson at the time. Perhaps I should have, had not Bjorn waded in at that moment.

'This is not very sporting, three against one!' he loudly declared, taking off his glasses and putting them in his breast pocket. His thick hair stood up like a badger's brush, so that he appeared a full head taller than any of the rest of us.

'What's it to you, homo?' one of my attackers wittily replied. Bjorni lowered his head and, butting him in the chest, bowled him over, then turned to deal with the second. Meanwhile, cheered by this diversion, I got up and resumed my punching of the fat one, though he proved largely indifferent to my blows. Seeing the fate of his two friends over my shoulder, however, he decided it most prudent to retreat, and so Bjorn and I soon found ourselves left alone.

'I'm Donho Likkanen,' I said, shaking his hand as if we were adults. 'Thanks.'

'Bjorn Wahlroos,' he said, giving a little imperial German snap of his head in salute. His face was flushed bright red, and he seemed to suddenly have a frog in his throat from embarrassment. And so we became true friends. After all, at that time we were both new at the school, and nobody else liked us. Naturally, we both assumed that this would be the case in boot camp, as well.

What neither of us could have foreseen was that Bjorni would take to army life like a duck to water. You see, Bjorn Wahlroos was a big Communist in those days. Yes, it is true. He was a "Taistolainen", which was some sort of radical 'pure Marxist' movement that was attractive to rich hippie youths, though not to those like me who hated Russians ( However, like Joschka Fischer in Germany, many of our Finnish politicians, such as the president lady who looks like Conan O'Brian and her foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, were also members of these Red cells, like Baader-Mainhof or Rote Fraktion. This was why Bjorn was going to the School of Economics at the university--to learn about money and thus destroy capitalism from within. Well, it seemed a harmless hobby to me. And besides, Bjorn had always had trouble getting girls. Though the sort of girls one met at Communist rallies in those days tended to look like, well, Conan O'Brian. No, the trouble was that Bjorni was serious. The Finnish army was entirely made up of conscripts; already there were many stories of protests, of mass slacking, even desertions. Well, it was 1973, after all--the Americans were protesting, why shouldn't we? Even though, of course, we lived in the peaceful socialist paradise of Finland and thus had nothing to actually protest about. That didn't matter to Bjorn; his plan was to organize Army cells from the ranks, like on the Battleship Potemkin, I suppose, and I was afraid he would get into big trouble. He was particularly depressed that autumn over the military coup in Chile.

'This is exactly why we workers need to be learning weapons training,' he would say angrily. 'To take the revolution to these Fascist bastards.' Myself, I thought Allende was a KGB stooge and deserved exactly what he got, but I held my tongue. Tongues, penises, these are what you keep to yourself in a military barracks; it is the opposite of sex. And of course, I needn't have worried about Bjorni getting into trouble. Within a few weeks, he had become a pet of the 'Skeba', which is what we called drill sergeants, and was already being offered a chance to go to the AUK, the reserve officers' training school.

'He's just the sort of motivated idealist we need,' the captain told me during his background interview. 'He reminds me of myself at that age. I was always saying everything was unfair, as well. Well, this is the sensible way to view things--after all, the army isn't fair. Life isn't fair!'

Life isn't fair? Hearing this officer in Mannerheim's army talking like a spoiled child in this way suddenly and unaccountably filled me with shame. I detested boot camp and was anxious to be done with my intti as quickly as possible, yet after hearing this I resolved not to do any any more slacking. In fact, if I had not met Maarit I think I might have applied to AUK myself and perhaps even have become a career soldier. In may ways, it is a life that would have suited my temperament very well. However, that didn't seriously occur to me at the time. All I knew was that now Bjorn would stay in for a year, while I, as a mere civilian conscript, would only have to put in 6 months. But things didn't work out for me exactly according to plan, either.

For the first eight weeks of camp, there was no leave, so I couldn't possibly see Maarit. Sometimes on the weekend, I would stand in the long line for the pay telephones in the 'Sode', or base canteen, and try to telephone her, but only rarely was I able to find her at home. I felt like I was dying inside from this, so much so that I scarcely even noticed the training itself, all the many things that the other 'mortti' constantly complained about. Not that we were given much time to complain. We were kept constantly busy running, marching, standing still, learning to salute, learning to polish and fire our 'rynki' (rifle), even how to clean the toilets or our teeth according to regulation. This part was good, because I didn't have to think. The part I hated came much later, when we had to ride bicycles for a hundred kilometres a day. You see, the basic tactic of the Finnish armed forces is to ride bicycles around. This is not a joke. Small squads of bicyclists are meant to retreat through forest roads and trails, constantly sniping at the flanks of the oncoming Soviet army in order to funnel them into the path of our big guns. In winter, we train to do this on skis. This is how we fought both our wars against them, and of course our military never trains to fight any other enemy (or any other war), no matter what they pretend. Who else would invade us? Norway?

No, no, here is the joke. Finland was so short of ordnance and materiel that when it came to be my time to learn to fire these big howitzer guns, I would endlessly train to carry the shells through the rain and mud, to load, to aim, to clean the firing chambers--but we never actually fired the gun! I suppose this is a proper metaphor for all those months I spent in uniform. Here is another: just outside the main gates stood a lone telephone box that someone in communications had rigged to call anywhere in Finland for just 25 penniä. So whenever a company was out in the fields training, we would try to manoeuvre our sergeant close to this call-box in order to sneak off one by one into it. Just before my first eight weeks were up, I managed to get through to Maarit this way.

'What is that noise? It sounds like a real war!'

'It's just the gas attack siren,' I said. 'We're having drills.' I was lying flat on the ground dressed in a waterproof poncho against the 'nerve-gas', but had slipped my big rubber mask off in order to talk to her into the dangling receiver. From time to time there was the rattle of machine-gun fire to keep my squad pinned down, but because no real bullets could be wasted, even the 'training' ones for recruits with wooden tips, these were usually just blanks.

'Are they using real gas?' she asked. Her voice was sweet and warm in my ear.

'No, no, just blue smoke. If they were using real gas, I'd be already dead. Then I wouldn't get to come see you next weekend. Will you keep it free for me?' There was another sudden loud racket; I had to ask her again twice before I could hear her answer.

That night in the barracks I told Bjorn I was going to see her. His was the bunk below mine.

'Well, don't eat any of the nöde from the canteen then,' said Paavo from the next bunk over. 'You won't be able to get it up if you do.' It was a common myth that the army put saltpetre ('jarru') in the Spam in order to render all us new recruits ('mortti') impotent.

'You really should think about asking her to marry you,' Bjorn told me, very seriously. 'Maarit is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of girl.'

'I have thought of it,' I said. Which was true enough, even though in Finland men and women do not normally marry until they are nearly thirty. If ever. What I did not tell Bjorni was that if I asked her, Maarit would certainly say no. He needed no more encouragement, I decided, to become a rival. But Bjorn, of course, was never the one I needed to worry about. Alone of everyone I would ever know in my life, he had old-fashioned ideas of honour. In fact, nowadays the word itself, once typed, resembles the name of a dinosaur.

'Well, let's shut up and get some sleep then. You don't want some bastard sergeant wrecking your leave with detention duty just for talking after lights-out.'

'Who needs a sergeant with you around, Nalle?' Paavo replied. ''Nalle'--Teddy-Bear--was what Bjorni told everyone was his nickname back home, though in fact only his mother had ever called him that. 'Let the man dream.'

'Let us all dream,' called out someone else in the near-dark.

But when I finally was with Maarit again the following weekend, I was impotent, after all. Paavo had been right! It was like a curse from a fairy-tale. Because as soon as I had swaggered off the bus in my combat boots and fatigues, wearing the green beret that all Finnish soldiers wore, and we had checked into a cheap hotel and ripped off all our clothes, I could not have a healthful erection.

'What's the matter?' asked Maarit, laughing. 'Gone homo? Too many cute guys in the showers?'

I shook my head. The hotel room seemed unreal to me after so many weeks in the barracks; it seemed so very strange to be alone with her and not surrounded by dozens of others. But of course we were not quite alone, were we? We were having a threesome in the bed now with my jealousy, who crouched in the corner like a shadow.

'Have you stopped wanting me, then?' she asked. I shook my head again.

'No, no, of course not. I've thought of nothing else but you every night.'

'Then what?'

'Have you been seeing anyone else?' You see, I couldn't help myself. It was just like an illness. And that is exactly how Maarit treated me, half-pitying, half-annoyed, as if I was sick with some disease to which she was immune.

'Lemo, don't ask. Seriously, never ever ask any woman a question you don't want to hear the answer to. Even if it's just whether she likes your friends or not. Or how good you are in bed. Now don't spoil our time together by sulking--we only have a few more hours. Do you really want to spend them like this?' I said nothing. She stroked my arms, then my thigh. 'You've gotten hard everywhere else,' she said. 'It must be all that exercise--it's very sexy. OK, Ok, I'll tell you a secret, then...I've missed you. And when I'm missing someone, I'm not so interested in anyone else. That will have to answer your question.'

It took another hour or two and several more tries, but finally the 'jarru' wore off. That was the last time that such an embarrassing thing has ever happened to me, until a few years ago in New York, when it happened again with my doctor. Well, I suppose, it's always a mistake to bonk your doctor, isn't it? That would make most men impotent, I think, especially after a colonoscopy.

'What's a "colonoscopy"?' Esa-Pekka interrupts me to ask. When I explain he nods, as if he has heard of some clever trick to cheat them, while Stig merely glowers incredulously, as if I'm making the whole nasty business up.

'In America, they make you have one when you turn 50,' I tell them. It seems a pretty poor birthday present indeed, now that I come to think of it. We are sitting in a new bar now, the 'William K'. which advertises itself as a 'Dutch whiskey bar'. So Esa-Pekka and Stig have switched to whiskey and begun to drink seriously, but I cannot. I do not have their body weight.

'Why didn't you just get Viagra from the doctor, so that you could bonk her?' asks Esa-Pekka. 'I've tried that stuff, and it's a wonderful invention. Say what you like about the vitun Amerikkalaiset, but they are clever at inventing useful things.'

'Jaap, but their film industry is straight from the arse-hole these days,' mutters Stig.

'I didn't like to ask her,' I tell them. 'Besides, being impotent was really just an excuse to break things off with her.' They nod sympathetically; this is a common Finnish act of male consideration when one loses interest. After all, one doesn't want to say anything unflattering to a woman, but she cannot argue with a limp penis. And with Dr. Astarte, one could not often get a word in edgeways in any case. Whatever caused me to bonk with her in the first place, I suddenly wonder? I cannot remember. That is always a very bad sign with a woman. But she was an excellent diagnostician, in spite of all her New Age nonsense--and I have always found lab smocks and uniforms attractive on chicks, like those of nurses and airline hostesses. Perhaps that was it. Or perhaps it was that i first went to see her with a urinary infection, and that created a sort of instant bond of erotic intimacy between us.

'But have you tried it?'

'Tried what?'

'Viagra!' says Esa-Pekka loudly. Several other people turn to stare at us.

'Well,' I say cautiously, 'I have experimented with it a bit, yes.' Well, quite a bit, actually, but no one really needs to know this.

'Esa-Pekka is quite the ladies' man,' observes Stig with something like envy. 'He has been married three times. I, on the other hand, haven't even bonked with a woman in many years. Finnish women are all lost to materialism these days and cannot be saved.' Saved? Saved from what? Is he some sort of religious fanatic? He glances over at a group of them now; they are in early middle age, and already have the widening waists, sausage-like upper arms, and too-bright lip gloss that signal desperation. But they do not return his wistful stare; evidently they are not yet that desperate. Of course, the night is young. As if he, too, has had this thought, Stig adds, 'But I would like to try it sometime. The problem is meeting anyone. All the older ones care about is what money and security a man has. The young ones, of course, are all little sluts and tarts these days--they are just begging for it.' The rest of his thought hangs unspoken in the air: begging for it, perhaps. But not from us any more. Not from us.

Next: "The Viagra Monologues"

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Friday, September 8, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 24

But when she took the ferry to Estonia the next weekend, Maarit didn't take me with her.

Now, there is something you must know about me--I hate detective shows on television. Or detective novels. They are all nonsense; any policeman will tell you that. Most of the time when there is a murder, like those two gangsters we found dead in Gatchina, for instance, the police may have a good idea of who did it, but only once in every ten times or in some countries, almost never, is the right person ever caught. Or convicted. And even when they are, well, the victim is often so much like his killer that it's hard for the cops to care. The cops who haven't been paid to forget all about it anyway, that is. Yet all over the world, people right at this very instant are watching TV shows about detectives, some of them gay-blade Hollywood actors, some of them little old English ladies, who solve such crimes.

But why? What is the appeal? No one cares about the victims, they are just pieces of meat. I never even found out the names of the two dead Russians in the X-ray shop. Perhaps they were brothers. Perhaps they were named Boris and Arkady. Had they drifted into crime just to support their mother? Were they Zenit Leningrad football fans? Did they enjoy reading the novels of Bulgakov? Or going to the theatre to see 'White Guard' or 'The Ascent of Mt. Fuji'? What did they think of 'Solyaris'? You see? Who cares? You don't; they are just dead meat. The story is over for them, and they are already forgotten. No, no, mystery is about something else altogether. For women, I think it has more to do with the riddle of birth; for men, perhaps, that of death (and, after all, the two are really the same thing; one is a point of origin, the other a final destination, but both are the same dark hole). The police procedures are merely a ritual, the same that people used to hear every Sunday in church. After all, until a few hundred years ago, there were no police detectives at all--and the word 'mystery' was used only in religion, as in the Medieval 'mystery plays'. Their central mystery was that of the 'Saviour', Jesus Christ, and before that, divine figures like Orpheus. The 'Crime Scene Investigation' is like a Neolithic burial rite for the soul's final journey; the autopsy like the Christian Communion. That is why such television shows are now so popular--the modern, secular human still misses this in his life.

So, if this were a detective novel, here is what would happen. I would 'tail' Maarit to Tartu and discover the identities of the gangsters who had 'framed' her cousin Märkko for the 'hit'. I would be clubbed over the head breaking into Peko's villa looking for evidence, perhaps, I would be questioned by the police, get into a fist-fight, and there would be a shootout at the end. Or a car-chase. Or both. And, of course, I would get the girl. All these pictures, I admit it, were in my head at the time. Because I am just as stupid as everyone else. Of course, if I had tried to play detective, it would have been even stupider for me; today Tiu Silves is the most famous female gangster in the world. She is the biggest crimelord in Estonia and travels everywhere with twenty armed bodyguards, more even than George Bush has. I have learned the hard way that life is not a detective novel. It reveals its mysteries very slowly over time, and by the time you learn them, mostly they no longer matter--or you no longer care. And you never get the girl, or if you do, you never keep her for very long. Because, OK, OK, I will be totally honest with you; after Maarit and I had a big fight over my coming with her to Estonia--after she said no--I decided to follow her on the ferry anyway. Just to keep her in sight and make sure she was safe. The reason for this was that after seeing those two dead bodies, for the first time in my life, I was feeling a new and very strange emotion: I was worrying about somebody besides myself. I didn't like it very much, and later, after Maarit left me, I never did it again. Because, actually it is not any fun at all to feel this way. In fact, it hurts. That is why I stopped; I may enjoy many kinky sexual turn-ons, but masochism is not one of them. In this, I think I am a true Finn.

In addition, none of this will make very good sense to a modern person, this following another person on the ferry, for example. But this was in the age before the invention of the cell-phone or the Internet. It's hard to understand, I know, but another person could walk away from you on a city street or a ferry pier and you might never hear a word from them again for the rest of your life. Truly, we lived like savages in those days.

So there I was on the ferry from Länsisatama, Helsinki's western port terminal, wearing a grey trilby hat and a bone-white 'Imper' trench-coat I had borrowed from my father's closet for a bit of a disguise. I had considered taking one of his pipes as well, but decided that would have looked too ridiculous for someone my age. Even more ridiculous than I already looked, I should say. I stood at the rail in the sea-spray feeling like Orpheus following Eurydice into Hades, ignoring the stares of the other passengers, smoking, and staring down into the urine-dark sea. Naturally, it took Maarit less than 15 minutes to spot me standing there (just as she had on that first evening just six weeks before), and so naturally, we had another big fight, much to their amusement. At the end of it, however, she was giggling again at the sight of me. 'I don't think they'll even let you into Talinn looking like that,' she said. 'Certainly you don't have a visa to go anywhere else. I have to take to take the train to Tartu, in the south. What were you thinking?'

'I was worried about you,' I said miserably.

'There's no need, these people are my family. If you had any, you would understand. I'll be perfectly safe--this is just about business.' But it was she who didn't understand. I was in love--I couldn't bear to let her out of my sight. She was the foundation stone on which all my happiness rested. And it was a very flimsy one, indeed, so not very much happiness was fated in the future for poor Likkanen. On this occasion, however, she took pity on me, invited me into the ship's lounge, bought us both coffees, and told me a bit more about her business. Women fancy themselves much smarter than men, and it's no wonder, because we are so easy for them to manipulate when they are young. However, most women are actually quite stupid and ignorant of the real world. Not Maarit, though. She was born knowing everything. Perhaps I have given you the false impression that she was talkative. Nothing could be further from the truth; for a woman, she was actually very quiet. So when she spoke, I was always careful to listen. That is why I have faithfully recorded so many of her words. 'It's about metal,' she said.

The USSR, she explained to me, was not only rotting apart, it was tipping over onto its side, so that all the pieces were falling out, like loose change being shaken from trouser pockets. And a lot of it was falling into Estonia. At the beginning, most of the metal was discarded or rusting junk from factories, but nowadays it was obsolete machinery, old cars and lorries, sometimes even whole ships. Estonians smashed them up and resmelted them, then sold the metals back again or else smuggled them out. And increasingly, it wasn't just junk being sold--it was arms, tanks, sometimes airplanes. All the military bases were being plundered, nearby Kaliningrad most of all. 'My family doesn't have much to do with any of this part of the business,' Maarit told me. 'My Finnish family, I mean. Coffee for me, spirits and cigarettes for the others, never narcotics. But Communism makes it impossible not to cheat, because it is based on unsound economics. For example, take sugar.'

'Sugar?' I thought she meant in my coffee.

'Yes, because of politics, the Russians subsidize the Cuban sugar cane industry. But the main product of Byelorussia is beet sugar, so importing it is impossible; instead it is distilled by the Cubans into cheap rum, which anyone can buy up for a few rubles all over the Eastern Bloc. So my family brings that in from Russia by the truckload, then ships it to Sweden and West Germany, where it's resold at high prices.'

'But how can you do that?' I asked her. The bus had been searched thoroughly at the border post at Nuijamaa; several of the Finnish farmers had openly wept as their contraband vodka bottles were poured out onto the road in front of them.

'What is the main legal export of the Soviet Union to Finland, aside from ore?' said Maarit.


'Jaap. The Russians hollow out the logs and stuff liquor bottles inside them, then glue the logs back together. Probably two per cent of all lumber shipments are false ones. No one notices so long as they get paid off. Or so long as nobody gets killed. My grandfather was very upset about Gatchina--that's why I'm here.' She was right about my papers. When we docked, I wasn't even allowed off the ship. I spent a lousy night sleeping on a deck chair, then was returned to Helsinki the next morning. Maarit had smiled nastily at me in farewell, then tied on her canary yellow scarf and swaggered down the gangplank, her secret roll of dollars no doubt snug inside her vagina. I forced myself not to look after her. If I do, I thought, it will be like it was with Eurydice: she will never come back to me. This was the last time in my life, I think, that I have ever allowed myself to be superstitious. I do not believe in religion--or in magic. Maarit cured me of that.

Because, of course, she did return from Tartarus. On Monday night she telephoned. 'I'm home,' she said. 'But I can't talk. I'll see you on Friday.' But when she did, things were not quite the same between us. And I didn't know why. This feeling went on for many months, then changed and became better again--but too late to save us, as you will see. And the mystery? Oh yes, Cousin Märkko was quite honest about the killings; he had shot them. He said that he had good reasons--but would only tell them to Tiu, who afterwards agreed that, yes, his reasons were perfectly sound indeed and reflected well on the family. But that's all either of them would say on the subject, even to Peko, and it would have to be enough. Eventually, I suppose, word got back to the Russian gangs from the 'chicken-farmers' that Märkko had done it, then perhaps to the Police Militia of the Leningrad Oblast. Maybe a warrant was even put out for Märkko, who can say? But I doubt it. This is how mysteries are solved in the real world. But if you want to believe in the little old English ladies, go ahead. Maybe for you they are like the Norns.

Ok, now I have left the Angleterre pub. Outside on Frederikinkatu, feeling a bit dizzy from being inside drinking all day, I make a strange discovery: a very scary weather condition has fallen over the city, like a spell from an evil sorcerer. It is as though I have walked through a door into Mordor. The sky has darkened to the colour of a bruise, and a thick, choking haze has descended over the streets. Overhead, the dark clouds boil and churn as if in a cauldron; the sun bleeds through them like the red eye of Sauron. And on the sidewalks, bathed in this eerie half-light, everyone looks like characters from the 'Lord of the Rings'. I have noticed this more and more lately, anyway, that strangers increasingly resemble to me cartoons or figures from action films or TV commercials. I had assumed that this was a feature of travel--or perhaps of age on my part. But now, suddenly I am not so sure. Maybe it's the way they dress. The other day, for example, in Hawaii, I passed a five-foot tall young Mexican body-builder dressed exactly like a Star Trek Klingon, complete with body armour, who clanked as he walked. The world has gone quite mad, IMHO--so it's no surprise that the weather has, as well.

Two Finnish guys are standing there staring at me like they know me. They are strong fellows badly run to fat, both are about my height and age and look like they've been sleeping rough, as so many Finnish drunks do in the summer months in parks and dumpsters and lean-tos beside lakes. They are dressed like biker gang members in torn jeans and vests bearing faded regalia with the word 'Bandidos' sewn on them. The 'leader', the more talkative one, has a merry, open face stitched with laugh lines like an old football boot, and resembles Frodo's companion, the hobbit Sam Gamgee. He is missing a few teeth and is unshaven; unlike my designer stubble, his just looks like white toothbrush bristles all over his face and scalp. The other, the silent one, who has a long grey beard and shoulder-length hair, reminds me of Gimli the dwarf, with dark, scowling brows and a big nose. 'What's going on with the sky?' I ask them on an impulse in Finnish. They glance at each other.

'Don't you know?' Sam Gamgee replies after a minute. 'It's the Russians.'

'They've blown themselves up at last?'

'No, no, it's their forest fires. The smoke blows over here, straight from their arse-holes. They can't afford to pay fire-fighters to put them out, so this has been going on all summer, on and off.'

'I've been out of the country,' I tell them.

'You know, I could swear I've seen you somewhere before,' says the silent one unexpectedly. 'Didn't we do our "intti" together? In '71 maybe?' There is something just a little bit shifty in the way his eyes focus slightly to the side of me. Well, he is an alcoholic, obviously. They are always shifty. What can one expect???

'I did mine in '72,' I say, and they nod. Their names, they tell me, are Esa-Pekka and Stig. I tell them to call me Lemo, and they nod again and look at each other in bafflement. What's going on with these guys? Then, Esa-Pekka, the friendly hobbity one, asks me if I want to go drinking with them. He's had a bit of luck and is buying, he says. This is most curious of all. Friendly Finns? Willing to pay for drinks? Perhaps they are on some new government-approved anti-depressant pill, LOL.

'I have a little drinking problem,' I tell them. 'My problem is that I plan to drink continuously for the next 18 hours or so, but it's important that i don't fall asleep at any point. So I will stick to little drinks with lots of coffee. Keep me awake, and I'll pay for everything.' After a moment's consideration, this strikes both of them as a very admirable and worthy plan, and they are willing to fully commit themselves to it. But there is a secret reason for my sudden generosity; behind a crowd of Orc-like teenagers, I have just spotted the blue beret of the Gollum again. Now I have a Fellowship to protect me from his mad Master.

Besides, I will confess this to you--I like them. They are the first people I have met in many years I have felt immediately comfortable with. They remind me of 'Hietanen' and 'Koskela' in Vaino Linna's classic Finnish novel, 'The Unknown Soldier'. They are like a pair of old slippers; they get along with me very companionably. You think they are stupid and boring simply because they are a couple of old Finnish drunks? How wrong you would be. I will prove this to you. But we will have to wait until we are inside the next bar.

Left to their own devices, Esa-Pekka and Stig would no doubt stop at an Alko and buy cheap viina by the bag. But that does not suit me. Of course, I would save a great deal of money this way, but that would be a false economy. It is important as a health precaution that I drink the purest-proof viina along with a good class of coffee, and perhaps even a bit of food as well in order that I do not pass out puking again. So we must only drink at the best bars. This is based on sound scientific principles, I explain to them as we walk north on Frederikinkatu, and I can see at once that they are struck by my genius. Well, I must be modest; I apply my natural gift for introspective thinking to drinking as well as bonking. In my opinion, it is only a fool who does not learn important lessons from his actions, after repeating them over and over again for forty years.

'Why don't you want to fall asleep?' Esa-Pekka asks me, rather humbly.

'So that I don't lose control of myself and become some kind of crazy cannibal,' I tell him, and they both have a good laugh. But silently, of course, Finnish-style. It's good to be with my own kind again.

We turn on Eerinkatu to the Corona bar, which is also a billiards hall, and go inside. Now I am right back where I started, near the Torni again. It is a much hipper place than the other bars, judging from the music; they are playing the Pinker Tones' 'Million Colour Revolution'. 'This place is full of juppis,' complains Esa-Pekka. 'Yuppies', that is in English.

'Well, just do your best to fit in,' I tell him. I notice that while he's ordering at the bar, he makes a call on his Nokia cell-phone. From this distance, I can't hear what he's saying. Then he sets to work to woo the bar-girl with a shy, gap-toothed smile that makes his battered old face look surprisingly boyish.

'Typical of him,' the silent Stig suddenly tells me. 'Esa-Pekka and I have been pals since we were in nursery school together. He can charm the birds off the trees. Mind you, he has a very dark side to him--I live with my elderly mother, you see; she's disabled and has a heart condition, but I won't let him sleep on the couch.' He lowers his voice to a whisper, his sad, tired bloodhound eyes shifting from side to side. 'He's a hard man to live with, sometimes. It's the scorn, you see--the scorn...'

Esa-Pekka arrives with our first round, and while we wait for a table, we discuss science-fiction novels. Apparently he is a terrific reader of these, though his tastes appear to be in no way highbrow; he is a fan of Robert Heinlein and Philip Jose Farmer's 'Riverworld' series, which I've never read. He hates 'cyber-punk'. 'I can't make any sense of William Gibson,' he says, as we thread our way through a maze of pool tables to our booth. 'But hey, I'm a moron--I can't even turn on a computer, not even to read webmail, or whatever you call it.' He used to be a union electrician, but no longer works, probably because of habitual drunkenness. 'I kept electrocuting myself. Know what the most voltage I ever survived was? Easily 500 volts. H. R. Giger, the artist who created "Alien", used to fry himself just for fun.'

'"Alien" was the definitive science-fiction film,' adds Stig, who is apparently a great film buff. Yes, this fellow drowning like a troll in a foam of grey hair, his great beer belly hanging out of his tattered biker vest, collects film criticism magazines. He used to be a roofer, he has told me, but no longer works because of a bad back. Neither of them knows me well enough yet to tell me anything but the same sort of lies they tell social workers. Esa-Pekka has just begun to heap scorn on Stig's assertion about 'Alien' when suddenly I come face to face with Dr. Pretorius, who is wedged into a dark booth in the corner from which the central table has somehow been removed. A full meal is spread across a row of white linen napkins on the bench beside him.

'I must speak to you at once!' he hisses at me in French. 'Alone, if you please!'

'Perkele,' I say in Stadi, rolling my eyes. 'Mind if I talk to this guy for a few minutes? He's a harmless nutcase.'

'Hyee, he's a remarkable fatty,' Esa-Pekka replies ( 'jokinorsu'), and they find a table nearby where they can keep an eye on us.

'You took your time getting here,' Pretorius says, waving me to the seat across from him. 'Your life is in very great danger, Herr Likkanen. Those two are planning to kill you.'

I sigh and look at the ceiling. To watch this man eat is too disgusting. 'Come on, those two aren't killers. They couldn't scare a hen into laying an egg.'

'I'm afraid I see your death very clearly, as long as you remain in their company. The Invisibles have told me this very specifically. Listen, I know what you think of me. You think I am a madman, a figure of fun. You don't believe a word I say to you. But consider this, just for a moment or two--what if I am right, and you are wrong? What if magic really, truly exists? What if it actually works? This afternoon, when you went inside the English pub, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out, yes? Yet, by the time you left it, the skies were dark and filled with smoke. I summoned this darkness as a shield for my occultation.'

'For what?' I say. 'Occultation' is too much for my French. Why were we speaking it anyway?

'To make myself hidden on the astral plane to the warlock who rules over Finland; before, he could see everywhere here. "Tuuslar" is our name for him in the Chantry. But you know him far better than we do, I think.' He leans forward. 'He is the demon who seduced your wife, Likki, or "Linda" as we call her.'

I find that I, who thought myself free from any embarrassment on this subject, have flushed bright red. But perhaps it is merely from anger, I decide with relief. Yes, I have definitely lost my temper. A tantrum is very much in order here. 'I've had enough of this,' I hear myself saying, as if from a very great distance. 'Goodbye, Pretorius.'

'Six million. I will pay you six million Euros if you drop everything and come back to Stockholm with me right now. Please. Herr Likkanen, I am begging you,' says the fat man, starting to sweat. His pink forehead is shining with it. He appears to mean every single insane word he is saying. 'I'll be perfectly honest with you--whether you live or die matters not so much to me, though of course, personally, I wish to see the line of Frederik Wilander continue to the ultimate greatness that is destined for it. According to the Invisibles, your own son will usher in a new age on Earth in 2012. But my principal wish is to preserve the book inside your safe deposit box. If you die, that will be lost to us forever.'

'"A new age on Earth"?' I ask him, so distracted by his words that i actually forget to be angry. 'You mean the Age of Aquarius?'

'Well, actually, yes. The Sixth Sun prophesied by the Mayas, in fact. Do you know anything about the precession of the planets?' This I ignore.

'What's in this book, exactly?'

'I'm afraid it would be dangerous for me to tell you that. In fact, one of the stipulations I must insist on is that you hand it over to me without looking at it. It is the most dangerous document in existence. And I can tell you this much--when you die, it will more than likely end up in the hands of Tuuslar.'

'I'm sorry,' I tell him. 'This conversation, it is finished.'

Dr. Pretorius rises to his feet heavily, and extricates himself from the booth, his feet careful not to touch any of the cracks on the flooring. He takes his cape from a wooden coat-hook on the post beside him, and swings it around his shoulders like a conjurer about to perform a trick. I notice they are speckled with dandruff.

'Who is your next of kin, Herr Likkanen? Who stands to gain the most from your death? Think about it. I'll talk to you again later tonight.' And he turns to lumber off like a dancing hippo past the pool players and out into the occultated night. I stand staring at the remains of his meal; he has obviously been sitting here eating it for at least an hour; he has even had dessert. How did he know I was coming here in the first place? How does he know I even speak French? And what was all that he said about Likki--'or "Linda", as we call her'? Since when has my marital life been common knowledge in Sweden--and since when has Likki had her very own Swedish name? For the first time, I am beginning to have that feeling of the Japanese poet again, that vague feeling of trepidation. I shake my head angrily to try to clear it and then rejoin Esa-Pekka and Stig, who now seem to me now to be my best friends on this earth--and very, very sane, as well. Well, stands to reason, doesn't it? They are sensible Finns, not crazy Swedes. I feel a surge of affection toward them. I am dying anyway, so if these two stout lads decide to kill me, well, perhaps they are really just doing me a big favour. Doing the whole world a favour, in fact. Who better to row me across the dark waters of Tuonela into the underground Land of the Dead than a pair of my own Finnish brothers? Besides, I think, having a good swallow of viina, Dr. Pretorius was quite wrong about one thing: I have no next of kin. These Invisibles of his apparently don't know everything.

'French fellow, eh,' says Esa-Pekka, when I sit down beside him. 'My favourite French film is the "Fifth Element".'

'That's not really French, it just has a French director,' Stig says. 'I prefer that guy Godard, who made--what was it called--"Alphaville"? And "La Jetee". I've read they're part of some film movement called "Nuvoo Vaaku" or something. What's that mean in Finnish?"

'"Uusi Aika",' I reply. This is a joke--I have translated this as 'New Age'. OK, OK, it's hard to be funny in two languages. Or even one. IMHO, it is always a bad idea to learn a second language at all, really. Perhaps it is OK for women, they are natural actresses, but consider how you appear to others as a man when you are trying to speak a foreign tongue: French, let us say. You stand there with a stupid grin on your face like a baboon, bowing and pretending to understand what the other person is saying, looking like some moronic servile bell-boy waiting for a tip. It is no wonder that Parisians have nothing but contempt for the African and American students, for example, who behave in this fashion; by now the French have become used to such obsequiousness, which explains the madness of Chirac and de Villepin. Far better to act as the English, who expect everyone else to learn their language. This earns the respect of all. Of course, that is not possible for a Finn, so when we are abroad we are forced to act like mimes or clowns. It stands to reason, therefore, that we are mostly silent fellows. But not when we are drinking in bars.

'I can't believe you refuse to admit that "Twelve Monkeys" is a better remake!' Esa-Pekka is saying combatively to Stig. At first I think this is an act they are putting on for my benefit, but later I am to learn that, no, this is really how the two of them spend all their time together--arguing about anything they've ever seen on TV. Films, sports, game-shows, even commercials; it doesn't matter. It is a kind of Biblical interpretation, a bickering over arcane lore ever since day-care, I guess. They are like an old married couple. Yet they are true Finns, so they are not gay-blades. Sometimes they even seem ready to come to blows over some obscure point of this lore. 'Stig gets everything wrong anyway,' he is saying to me now. 'He's an even bigger moron than me. We didn't do our military service in '71, it was '72. So maybe we were all together at Porkkalan niemi for boot camp.'

'Maybe,' I said. But, strangely, I don't remember them at all. Of course, I was there with Bjorn. Like the true friend, he had taken off a year from his studies to volunteer for his service at the same time I was forced to have mine. In fact, all that summer he was determined to get us both into the proper physical shape for boot camp; making me wake up early to go running every morning and even give up cigarettes to improve our wind, though of course I cheated like mad whenever I was with Maarit. Naturally, I had dreaded their meeting at all after the disaster with my parents, and so kept them apart as long as I could, but when they did meet at last, he was had nothing but compliments to say about her after, though they argued constantly over politics.

'She's not like your other girls,' he told me. 'Especially that bitch Stina. Maarit's got a fine head on her shoulders. What's more, she really understands Capitalism.' From Bjorni, the devout neo-Marxist, this was the highest praise possible. Nonetheless, I felt a sting of jealousy hearing it. I had no proof of course, and she had never admitted to even kissing another guy on any of her weekends away, but I still couldn't really trust her, not even with Bjorni. Who obviously was 'smitten' by her. Well, luckily, I thought to myself, he would be stuck with me inside a military barracks for the next six weeks. He was even more worried than I at the prospect. Bjorni was convinced that we, being effeminate Helsinki Finland-Swedes, would be humiliated and beaten up by tough drill sergeants or a gang of Savo farm-boys, so he constantly practiced his boxing on me and every few days would produce some new trick for self-defense. 'Did you know you can splinter a man's nose with the heel of your palm--' (here he would demonstrate) '--and drive the jagged splinters into his brain?' Or, 'Did you know the best way to disable an opponent is to suddenly clap him over both ears at once--like this?'

I would not want you to think from this, however, that I was some sort of shy, sensitive, poetic weakling, like the heroes of so many modern novels. Not at all. Likkanen hates poetry. Likkanen despises sensitivity--except, of course, for his cosmical, almost supernatural, awareness of the many emotional and sexual moods of chicks. I often feel that I am rather like a human 'mood-ring' where women are concerned. But any other kind of sensitivity is strictly for the gay blades, though of course one cannot say that out loud these days, especially in New York. So I have found it wise to stay au courant with all the latest sensitive metrosexual language by occasionally reading womens' magazines; such jargon changes so often, you see, that it is hard to keep abreast. And, naturally, I often eavesdrop on conversations at Starbucks.

After all, I rarely have anything better to do these days.

Next time: In the Army.

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Saturday, September 2, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 23

The next morning after we saw the first part of 'Solyaris', Maarit and I caught the train from Leningrad to the suburb of Gatchina, which lies south of Pulkovo Aeroport. Maarit had an appointment there with someone at an illegal trading market, where she would also meet her cousin Märkko from Estonia, which was less than 100 kilometres away. On the train I read a description of the town and its famous lake and palace from the only Finnish guidebook to Leningrad I had been able to find before we left. Gatchina sounded to me a bit like Haga Park in Stockholm, near to where my grandfather lived: ''Its marble walls were built to reflect the colour of the surroundings. In the summer sun they appear to be a warm gold, in the rains of winter a steely blue."'

'Well forget it, because we aren't going anywhere near the palace,' she said, as we left the railway station huddled under her red umbrella, ' This is just a business trip, so it's OK to buy cheap rubbish, but nothing else. We aren't here to take any stupid risks.'

'Then what are we here for?' I was not complaining, you understand; I was well content to share her umbrella. Jammed up beside mine beneath it, her body smelled of coffee, coal-tar soap, warm wet wool, and sex. This far from the sea, the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle. It was, according to the clerk at the front desk, 8 C on this day in late July. We could see our breaths.

'To fix shipment prices and dates with the Russian gangs. If this were a normal country, we could arrange it all by postcard or personal newspaper ads, but because it is still always Stalingrad here, deals have to be made with a handshake and drink of vodka. These are very backward, primitive people. It is important to them that they meet you in person, so that they can kill you later, if they have to. Of course, that doesn't make for good business.'

'But is it safe for you?' I asked, suddenly worried.

'Oh yes. My family is very old and well-connected, you see. Besides, I am just the little messenger girl. Nothing bad can happen to me here.' I was not so sure. We were walking northwest on Chekhov Street, a wide boulevard lined with eucalyptus trees and large white buildings that had, even in this weather, an oddly tropical French look, like a shabby old neighborhood of Nice or Cannes. Its mansions, streaked with soot and grime, were all schools now, or police stations, a local party headquarters, or Red Army training posts; once it had been a summer retreat for millionaires, an artists' colony, and, according to my guidebook, Imperial Russia's most 'cosmopolitan small city', filled with Germans, Swedes, and even Finns. Likely we were the only Finns who had seen it in some years--and we were certainly attracting many hard stares as we approached the apartment towers of the workers' housing estate. We turned left onto a street marked 'Radischeva'. On an abandoned muddy lot on the corner a group of young street toughs were listlessly kicking about a football so sodden it had burst apart and from a distance resembled a human head. One of these thugs spotted us and ran over to us, saying something in Russian. His hair was carefully greased back like Elvis Presley. He ogled my clothes as if they were a woman.

'He says he'll guide us there,' said Maarit. 'This part of the city is called "Zagvozdka"--that means "Big Trouble".'

'Wonderful,' I said.

'Well, literally, "Tough-As-Nails-Town".' The foot-traffic was picking up around us, the streets full of hurrying middle-aged men in translucent black nylon raincoats and women in bright scarves who might have been the cleaning ladies from the hotel. Everyone was smoking. There were a few younger girls, too, in day-glo pancake make-up and mini-skirts. Up close, it could be seen that the tenement blocks were quite new, perhaps built in the '60s, but already they looked as if they'd been shelled during the war. There was graffiti painted everywhere. The black market, or 'rynok', was in a paved arcade between two blocks of towers, and was packed with people of many different ethnic appearances, all of them dressed very badly. It was like a miniature USSR, I thought. Originally it had been created to house real shops, it seemed, but since there were none, the fronts were either boarded up or plastered over with party propaganda posters. In front of them were makeshift stalls and tables selling vegetables or dead chickens, but most activity was apparently being conducted by word of mouth. A man with no legs sat sleeping like a Hindu ascetic on a mat covered with toilet paper rolls and turnips. Next to him were strung clotheslines from which rows of spark-plugs dangled like clothespins. Maarit stopped at a folding table and bought a canary-yellow scarf from an old woman with no teeth. "Like it?' she asked me, tying it over her short black hair.

'You look like a real babuschka now,' I said.

'Well, I love it. I think it might even be real silk. You can get anything here if the traders have it in stock. Today it's Western make-up and underwear, I think--Russians hate Soviet underwear because it's made for one sex and one size.' This image was not deeply erotic to me. 'So you can see, if we can smuggle it here, we can sell anything. The problem is finding something to exchange, because the ruble is worthless. But you'd be surprised.' And so I was. So were we both, in fact. Our guide turned the corner into a covered concrete passage and gestured at a side door to one of the papered-over shops.

'Tuda,' he said, and Maarit gave him a handful of cigarettes. The door was unlocked. We went inside; there was no one there.

'What do we do now?' I said.

'We wait,' she said, looking at her watch. 'I'm a bit late. That's your fault, for keeping me awake all night.' The big room was in twilight, lit only by the gloomy daylight leaking in from the covered show-windows in front. By it I could see stacks and stacks of folded string shopping bags, some waist-high. The walls were covered from counter-top to ceiling with square medical X-rays with dark circles in the middle: skulls, chest cavities, crania, pelvic girdles, other anatomical parts I could not identify, and so I moved nearer toward them to stare.

'We used to bring those in, too,' Maarit said. 'We'd buy them from hospitals and clinics.'

'X-ray plates? Whatever for? They're useless once they're exposed.'

'Not here,' she said. 'Ten years ago, the "roentgenizdat" used to turn them into jazz phonograph records by pressing grooves on them. Nothing goes to waste in this country. This place might have been an underground music shop.' Something on the floor behind a counter caught my eye. A boot. Beside it was another boot. Both were attached to a body lying on the floor. I walked around the counter and saw there were two bodies lying there side by side with the slightly disjointed look of discarded dolls. Both were men in their forties with dark moustaches like Freddy Mercury of 'Queen', and both appeared snappily dressed. One had half-curled up on his side, but the other lay sprawled on his back with his face lolling toward me, his open mouth full of gold teeth, a blossom of dark blood staining his groin, and a single black bullet-hole between his eyes. Both corpses had defecated in dying, and up close, stank of shit.

I heard a sharp gasp behind me. 'Märkko!' Maarit said. 'Oh God, I feel sick.'

'This is your cousin Märkko?'

'No, no, Märkko did this. The lying prick set me up to finger these two for him.' Her face had drained completely of all colour, and she swayed on her feet. I caught her arm.

'It might not have been Märkko. It might have been...anybody. The KGB. Or, I don't know, Uzbeks.'

'No, it's Estonian-style. Right ball, left ball, then bang between the eyes.'

From outside I heard the distant, unmistakable sound of police sirens; a moment later, someone pounded on the front door and shouted, 'Blya, menty!' Maarit didn't move. She closed her eyes; she was shivering, and her face was bathed in sweat.

'Come on,' I said, 'We have to get out of here.' I dragged her out the way we'd come in and was almost bowled over by a group of fleeing housewives. We followed them down the passageway and out into an alley behind the apartment block. Maarit seemed about to faint, but revived a bit in the rain--somehow, we had managed to leave our umbrella behind. We had walked about two blocks away when she suddenly stopped and leaned over, breathing shallowly. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I'm acting like a complete girl, aren't I? The thing is, you see, I've never seen anything like that before.'

'It's OK,' I told her. 'It's very upsetting.'

'Look at you, though, you're being really brave.' She sounded almost resentful. Just then, Elvis peddled up to us on a bike. He braked and spoke in Russian to Maarit, his eyes flicking back and forth between us.

'He wants our money,' she said. 'Give him whatever you have.' I had a pocketful of rubles and a few Finnish markkas, which I handed to him in silence. He said something more.

'Now he says he wants our clothes.'


'Just give him your jacket, that's what he's really after,' Maarit told me, taking hers off. It was a 'blue-jean' jacket, real American Levis. I gave it to him reluctantly. 'Don't worry, I'll buy you a new one.' Elvis carefully put it in a shopping bag, then insisted on taking her watch as well before he pedaled off.

'He's going to turn us in anyway,' I said miserably, cold rain beginning to trickle down the small of my back.

'No, he won't--he'd have to give our stuff up to the militia if he did. That watch of mine is crap, but he can buy himself a motorbike with your jacket.' We turned the corner into the next street, and suddenly there he was again.

'Saatana!' I exclaimed, losing my temper. 'What, has he come back for my pants? This is straight from the arse-hole!' Beside me, Maarit gave a weak giggle. Elvis stood there for a moment or two, legs astride his bicycle, looking at us with a slightly shamefaced expression, then handed us each a crisply folded black nylon raincoat. I put mine on after he had disappeared for good. I had cut off most of my long hair before meeting Maarit's family (it was going to have to go anyway when I reported for military service in a month); now she pushed a damp lock of it off my forehead.

'You're starting to look almost Russian,' she said. 'I've never heard you curse before. It's cute.'

'What do we do now?' I asked her. 'He took all our money.' Our passports were back at the hotel; we had been given grimy photocopies. My guidebook had fallen into a rain-gutter, and I felt an irrational panic at the sight, as if I were somehow saying goodbye to the last of my Finnishness.

'Oh God,' she said, starting to tremble again. 'This is so embarrassing, Lemo. Don't look at me.' Her teeth began to chatter, clacking loudly against each other, and she retreated into a little alley behind a mound of rusting containers. I watched her pull off her panties and squat down. When, after a time, she came back looking very little better, she sat down heavily against a low brick wall. A passerby stared at her curiously.

'I always carry a roll of dollars around with me inside a certain place.' She peeled out a few five-dollar bills from a little plastic sandwich bag and handed them to me. 'A certain place you have visited many times. I'm sorry, I'm feeling too sick to move right now. There's a "Vinnyj' on the corner, see it? Go inside and buy me a bottle of vodka, just say "Stoli, Stoli", OK? Don't accept anything else. Make sure the seal is unbroken and on very tight, we don't want to poison ourselves with "samogon". Oh,' she added as I began to walk away, 'See if you can buy yourself something to eat in there. It's going to be a long walk back.'

When I returned with the Stolichnaya, she opened the bottle at once and began sipping from it. 'It's the shock. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me. Always before it was just like a game, you know?' I nodded. She staggered to her feet, and we walked slowly north and east to the 25th of October Avenue. A police Zhiguli with flashing lights roared past us down the middle of the road, followed by two black vans; we turned and continued on in the direction they'd come from, trying our best to walk like Russians. The rain was beginning to come down harder, so this was easy enough--we were hunched against the downpour like a pair of half-drowned rats (BTW, I have noticed that this 'look' is now quite fashionable these days in Manhattan for both men and women--they appear to comb their hair with stinky cologne to achieve it. Sometimes I think no one bonks from real attraction any more but just as part of some sort of hazing ritual.) Inside the liquor store I had stuffed my pockets full of a candy bar called 'Kaka-o'; these claimed to be chocolate but tasted fairly much like their name.

'What exactly happened back there?' I asked her, trying to choke one of the Kakas down. The vodka helped a bit with this.

'I'm not sure exactly. Märkko is in a gang called the "Saha-Loo'--that means the "chicken farmers"--maybe they took a contract from the Kambov gang here in Leningrad, to kill those guys we saw back there. Or maybe not. Maybe something just went wrong. Or perhaps it was a hit ordered by the Estonian Defense League; they are very closely connected. One thing is for sure,' she said, taking the bottle back. 'Nothing Märkko does is his own idea. He's really conceited and stupid. He takes all his orders from his sister Tiu, who is the toughest girl I know. These are my real cousins, you understand, not just business cousins--they are the children of my mother's older sister. She married an Estonian named Peko Silves, a friend of my grandfather.'

'This Estonian Defense League,' I said. 'Aren't they like...?"

''Japp, they're like Nazis.' She took the bottle from me, put it to her lips, and swallowed hard. 'Next weekend I'll have to go to Tartu and talk to them.' We kept walking for about an hour up to Leningradskaya before catching a local bus that, after a long whimsical detour through a labyrinth of roads around the aeroport, finally got us back to the city. The next day we returned to Finland; at the border the sun finally came out.

Next time: Eurydice in Tartarus

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 22

'All Russian weather begins here in the Baltic, then blows to Moscow where it meets the Arctic winds and gets churned up just like in an ice machine. Do you know why?' We were inside the Hermitage Museum pretending to look at famous paintings; earlier we had stood under an umbrella just outside and pretended to gaze at the famous Peter and Paul Fortress across the water, which was still, it was said, used as a KGB prison. Maarit had declared that, despite the weather, we would at least act like tourists for the rest of the afternoon. It was like the old joke about Soviet salaries, she said: '"We pretend to work, and you pretend to pay us." They pretend there are sights here to see, and we will pretend to see them.' It was fun, like playing at being spies. Maarit had the knack of making everything a game. On weekends, anyway.

'No, why?' I said now.

'Because the earth spins east to west, of course. Didn't they teach you anything at your fancy school?'

'Just how to pretend to work,' I said. 'And how to lie to our teachers and parents.'

'But not how to lie in Russian,' she said. 'I can only lie in a foreign language, never in Finnish. I think that's why I like to learn languages. Each time I do, it's as if I've become a whole different person, like an actress.'

'Perkele,' I muttered. I didn't want another Stina. I had already become addicted to Maarit's blunt honesty. It was remarkable, though at times quite painful, to be with a girl who always told you the truth. We stopped at the cafeteria for the worst food, followed by the worst coffee, I had ever had. Maarit refused hers after the first few tastes.

'Never mind, the hotel will have better. It will have to have. At least this cost us nothing, since we paid in rubles. Have you ever seen a Russian film?'

'Only "Alexander Nevsky",' I replied, after some thought. 'The one where the German knights drop the babies in the fire.'

'Let's go to the cinema tonight. Maybe there will be something more interesting playing. I'll translate it for you.' And that was how we happened to go to see 'Solyaris', the famous science-fiction film by Andrei Tarkovsky. In those days, not every Russian had a TV set, so films like this were shown on successive nights in two-hour segments. This meant that we had to also come back the next evening (after another dreadful supper; by the time we returned to Helsinki my gums ached, and my teeth felt loose from eating the Russian food) to see the second part. We sat in the dark together in the front row watching this story of a man who cannot escape his dead wife, who has been revived from his memories by an alien planet as a method of communicating with him. Beside me, Maarit whispered constantly: 'Now she is saying that she has no memory of the past, now she is begging him to tell her if he still loves her...' It was like dying or being born again, to sit in darkness staring with wide eyes at a bright, blazing mysterious new world, having it explained in whispers by the voice of the woman one loved. Did I say I had never again been so happy as on that night with Matty and Stina? I was wrong. I was happiest in Leningrad with Maarit.

And it was this very same film Solyaris that caused me to bonk my very first Russian babe. Now this is something you must know about me: even though I am a most liberal fellow when it comes to bonking all attractive young women of every race and nation of origin, still I have never cared for the Russian ones. They are like English girls; not so terribly clean downstairs. And perhaps it is the bad food, but all of them seem to become very stout and unattractive rather soon in life. The staff of the Hotel Sovietskaya, for example, aside from the KGB men, was almost completely cleaning ladies who looked like sumo wrestlers in nurses' kit and sat in a sullen group inside a closet at the end of the corridor, chain-smoking and trading dentures. The younger ones on the streets of the city were more slender of course, but they dressed badly and wore bright make-up like clowns. It is not such an easy thing to do, but they managed to make even Finnish girls look chic. So for these reasons, Likkanen had no interest in them. In fact, I had never bonked any Russian women before 1979 or so. By then many had emigrated to the West and learned how to dress and wash themselves, like gorillas in captivity.

But in spite of this I had remained in love with Soviet-bloc cinema. And to be perfectly fair, even Tarkovsky preferred to use Armenian actresses, who are very lovely women and quite bonkable, in his films. I think it was 1979, perhaps it was 1980, when his 'Stalker' was finally released in Paris, as part of a 'Soviet Science-Fiction Film Festival' at a movie theatre on the rue des Rennes. It is gone now. It was not the 'Grande' or the 'Galande'--what was it called? The 'Metropol'? I cannot remember. For years I kept the playbill and the schedule, but they are lost. If you know this, please post a message on this blog. This cinema was quite near to me at that time because I was then living in a rented flat at St. Sulpice, in fact, directly beneath a large one owned by Catharine Deneuve. And no, in reply to your natural question, I was never fortunate enough to bonk with this lovely, tragically vulnerable actress and French national sex symbol, though on the two occasions we shared a ride in the lift, she snubbed me most rudely, which is what one expects and even desires from a beautiful star of her magnitude. In some ways, that is even better than a bonk, because the memory of it stays with you longer. The little flat I had had formerly been rented to a 'Miss Kitkat', a Turkish airlines hostess; all that year, at any hour of the day or night, the telephone would ring and guttural male Muslim voices would say, 'Allo, Miss Kitkat, s'il vous plait?' Often they would not take 'non' for an answer and would attempt to forcibly negotiate a price with me. To this day, I cannot even look at the candy bar of the same name without shuddering. Sometimes I would then launder the bedclothes again (and wipe off the receiver with alcohol) after such a phone call, out of sheer hypochondria. Anyhoo, this film festival was showing three films a day for 10 days; not even I had the time or stamina to see them all. Aside from 'Stalker,' I recall quite clearly 'The Savage Hunt of King Stakh' (, the Strugatskys' 'Dead Mountaineer Hotel' (, which was Estonian, and Lem's 'Test Pilot Pirx' (, which was Polish. The highlight of this last was a scene where the rocket-ships, which had foolishly been filmed horizontally rather than vertically, all had their exhaust flames curling upward from gravity, which made the audience laugh. Well, they were used to 'Star Wars', I suppose.

The theatre was large and cavernous and had once been quite grand, with dark mauve velvet walls, art-deco sconces and railings, and marble bathrooms. Unfortunately, these were so poorly maintained that while I was pissing after watching 'Pirx', which was quite a long movie, the overhead cistern cracked and soaked me with a flood of water. Outside, it was one of those bright, sharply cool days that occasionally race through Paris in the autumn, and I stood shivering and dripping under the marquee with a group of photographers, who were there to snap some expatriate Russian celebrity or other; the theatre served as a sort of cultural centre for the Slavic exile community. A wave of Algerian terror bombings had recently hit the rue des Rennes, so the street was fenced off by a row of grilled metal crowd barriers. As I debated whether or not to try to dash the four or so blocks home in the cold (though of course this was quite pleasant weather for a true Finn), a taxi-cab pulled up directly in front of these, and a very tall, very glamourous young tinsel-haired woman in a brown sable fur coat got out and looked about, scowling. 'You!' she said with a dramatic Russian accent, pointing at me. 'Pay this man at once!' This was Batgirl.

In Paris in those days, there was a class of people, usually foreign, who existed only to be noticed. Some of these wanted to be actors, some clothes designers, some musicians, some merely wanted to become generic celebrities. And this could happen in an instant in that city, and quite often it did. I will give you an example. Not far from me on D'Assas lived a rich young Dutch fellow from a wealthy family, what we would nowadays call a 'Trustafarian'. He and his wife were also terrific hippies; I would often see them shopping at the Vie Claire on Raspail or Le Jardin on the rue du Bac. They would eat only biotically-grown grains and vegetables. They were both quite handsome people with very blonde long hair (she wore hers in flaxen braids) and fancied themselves clothes-makers; they would always be dressed in their latest creations, which were sewn together from bits of bright coloured felt and rather resembled what you might see worn by small children at a 'Renaissance Fair'. And in every sort of weather, rain or sunshine, he always wore a little gilt-edged pill-box hat that he had made himself from stiff felt and brocade. He wore this ghastly thing every day of his life for three or four years, until one night, I saw him at a 'Zoom Magazine' party in the Dixieme chatting up a few lady fashion critics. He was also pimping his wife (whom I ended taking home that night; she turned out to be quite charming, despite her unshaven legs, and was an expert at organic Tantric sexual techniques), but since all the male fashion people there were gay blades, he was a bit out of luck there. No good ever comes to anyone from bonking Likkanen. Nonetheless, the next week his stupid hat was in all the magazines, and a month later it was in the window of Galeries Lafayette. Because those writers who work at magazines have very little imagination. They are easily hypnotized by any bright new thing that is dangled in front of their eyes. Sometimes a single glimpse on a Paris sidewalk is enough to make a career. I have seen this happen with woollen caps from Ecuador and cheap red Korean ear-muffs sold by street-vendors, as well. And, of course, often with beautiful young women like Batgirl.

Normally, when I bonk a babe, I have to think up a nickname for her as an aide-memoire. This can be quite a chore! Not so with this one. 'You can call me Batgirl,' she said. Well, not just to me, but to the photographers as well, who were now all madly snapping her picture. She had leaned back against the cab and struck a pose, which caused her sable to shift enough so that one could see that underneath it she was wearing nothing but black stockings and garters. I could not help but notice that her hair was not naturally tinsel. She was a very big girl, looking a little like the tennis player Maria Sharapova, but with paler skin and finer bones and more graceful from her training as a prima ballerina. Her first name was perhaps Galina or Ludmila or Alexandra or something, but her patronymic was 'Batkovna', so she told everyone to just call her Batgirl. God only knows what her last name was; I'm sure she changed it every few months. But now, while I bargained with her Senegalese driver to take me home, she suddenly stared at me as if thunderstruck. 'Where are you going?' she demanded.

'Home. Before I catch a cold,' I said.

'OK, I will go with you,' she said, getting back into the taxi and slamming the door. 'I am a good nurse.'

I clambered in beside her while she continued to stare at me, her pupils dilated like those of a feral animal in the dark. Had I met her somewhere before? 'Are you married?' she asked suddenly, lighting one of my damp cigarettes.


'That's too bad. I prefer to be with couples--I like it to have a woman wait on me. But in this case, I will be with you only, because I'm a little bit in love with you already,' she went on, with the greatest sincerity. 'It happens to me this way sometimes. I had an orgasm when I first saw you, without even touching myself. How do you say, a spon...spon...'

'"Spontaneous'?' I suggested.

'Yes, yes, spontaneous. I am always very spontaneous. This has only happened to me twice before, so don't laugh at me. You should feel very, how do you say...'


She stuck out her tongue at me. 'No,' she said, blowing smoke at me. 'Scared!' In that moment, something about her manner reminded me of Maarit, so I took her home. Perhaps they were cousins. Or perhaps it was just having smoke blown at me. Or, as my dear friend Lou would say, blown up my ass.

The rest of the week we watched Russian films in the day and made hot squishy monkeys all night. Batgirl's sexual technique was simple, and basically it was the same one that she employed for every other activity, like eating or telling a joke; whatever she did, she tried to do it to death. I think this was something very primal from her Slavic heritage as a huntress and herder of livestock. It took a real man to please Batgirl, and I am proud to say that I survived it. But it was about this time that I decided to move to New York. The problem with Batgirl was that aside from making monkeys, she did not actually want to do anything else in life, except eat candy bars and watch TV and films. She had no interest in pursuing her career as a ballet dancer, saying only that she was already 'too old and fat for serious parts'. The one time I got her out of the flat on a grocery shopping trip to Inno, she bought a stack of Elles and Vogues, which she then flipped through indignantly for the next few days. 'I am much prettier than her!' she would exclaim contemptuously. 'I am sexier than this one!' She would then tear the offending page out and throw it on the floor, which soon became covered with debris. As she watched TV, her lips would move with those of the actors, her eyes would well up with tears, or her face would turn bright red while she laughed hysterically. This got even worse when we were watching 'Stalker' at the theatre, for instance, though luckily there were not so many laughs in that film, so she merely wept her way through it noisily. Hearing Russian again, she said, made her particularly emotional. Then why had she ever left, I asked her.

'Oh,' she snarled, 'It is a terrible shit-hole!'

One night while she was alternately shrieking and sobbing her way through a Louis de Funes comedy on FR2, I slipped out for a walk. I needed to think. In Stockholm, where I had lived for several years before moving to Paris, I had been friends with several musicians in the folk-rock bands 'Tretiarkriget' ('Thirty Years' War') and 'Knebnakajse' (the name of a famous Swedish mountain peak). One of these, a guitarist, lived with his wife in a big group house in Bromma, along with a bunch of other hippies, including a medical student. One day the medical student brought a big blonde puppy home. At first everyone loved the little monster, but it kept getting bigger and bigger, until it was eating everything in sight. In addition, it could not be paper-trained; my friend's wife soon spent most of her time either feeding it or cleaning up after it. Then the medical student decided he was sick of the animal and wanted to have it put to death. Naturally, being a tender-hearted chick, my friend's wife refused. The last time I saw the poor fellow, he had quit his gig with the band and he, his wife, and the huge monster dog were moving out to the country. I realized that this was exactly my situation with Batgirl. She was not a human being, she was simply a big blonde pet. Soon she would eat everything inside my flat. Either I would have to have her put to sleep--or else take her with me everywhere I went in life, even to New York. Though she would likely have to be kept in quarantine for several months first.

But I had forgotten that Russian wolfhounds don't just bark, sometimes they bite. And they always run in packs. There was a human one following me now across St. Sulpice on my way back home. The Place was brightly lit for the tourists, which is pretty but very annoying if your windows overlook it; by the pink sodium vapour glare I saw his sharp face quite clearly. He was dressed like a clochard and had a dark stubble of beard. How did I know he was Russian? He looked like he'd been murdered the week before but had somehow survived the autopsy. He was just too nasty to die. He stood in front of me now, blocking my way. 'Want her?' he said in bad French.

I shook my head. We both knew who he was talking about. 'Nyet, komandir,' I said, thinking of Leningrad. 'You can have her back.' He gave me a very hard stare and flicked cigarette ash at me. I knew that trick.

'Either way it will cost you the same,' he said.

'Forget it,' I said. 'Wait here and I'll send her down to you. All she does is eat.'

'Don't fuck with me, pédé, or I'll hurt you. A lot,' he said, raising his voice sharply. 'Really, it's cheaper for you just to pay me off.' This was a mistake on his part, to say 'vraiment'. It's not something real gangsters say, not even in France. He took me for a Swede, but I was actually a Finn. You see? Again, the wrong dog. So I head-butted him very suddenly, and his nose exploded. Then I kicked him hard in the groin. Well, I was in a bad mood anyway, and this made for a nice distraction. For a Russian, he was not so very tough, but I suppose living in the West had done that to him. Also, he was very likely a heroin addict, since he was also clearly a pimp. A pimp who was very bad at his job, I thought. Perhaps he was a dissident poet; these were always popping up in New York in the '80s. I made sure he had no gun and threw his switch-blade clasp knife down a drain. Then I left him there for some American tourists to rescue. It is tempting in a situation like this to have the last word, like the tough guys in the movies. It is just like dumping a woman; for hours after one's head is full of clever remarks. But take it from me, it is always best to walk away in silence and never look back. It is the Finnish way. It makes for finality. Or 'closure', as the magazines say. I felt that he and I had achieved this. But with Batgirl, it might be a bit more tricky.

Upstairs, Louis de Funes, wearing a Catholic cardinal's robes, had just jumped off a balcony into a manure pit, much to her delight. Well, this simple childlike pleasure was a great part of her charm--I could not resent it. "I met a guy outside who says he knows you,' I said to her. 'A Russian guy.' French has an excellent word for guy: 'mec'. Almost as cool as 'dude', I think.

'It has nothing to do with me,' she said, without taking her eyes from the screen.

'Is he your husband?'

'No, no! He is just some low-life scum-bag I did a few favours for once; now he thinks he owns me. He is always following me around making trouble.' But her mood was spoiled. The rest of the evening she was quite cross, and the next afternoon, she said, 'Why don't you go to the cinema by yourself today? I'm not feeling so very good.'

'Then I'll stay home with you.' I replied. 'I am a good nurse.' Ha!

'No, no, you go. I want to spend some time by myself.'

'That's just the illness talking. Besides, "Solyaris" is playing; I have seen it three times already.'

'What about "Aelita"?'

'I hate silent films,' I told her. 'Just stay in the bed, and I'll make you some soup. It may not taste very good, though--we are running short on groceries.'

Over the next two days, Batgirl grew more and more restless and angry. At one point, she even screamed at me, 'Why can't you just leave me alone? Why won't you just go out, you bastard?' She used the word 'crapule', which I have always had a very great affection for, since it sounds like 'krapula' in Finnish. So I just I pointed out, very reasonably, I thought, that it was actually my flat we were in. 'Well, why is there never anything to eat then?' she said and burst into tears. I think, in retrospect, this was a sign she actually felt some affection for me and was sorry at the direction our relationship had taken. Or perhaps she was just getting very hungry.

I gave her an embarrassed smile. 'No money,' I said. 'I'm sure my mother will send me a cheque on the first of the month--then I'll take you to the 'Tour d'Argent".' Until then, I almost said, we can live on love, but I didn't want to overdo it. The next morning she was gone, along with the television set. Which was fair enough; I was sick of the sound of it anyway. In fact, I still cannot bear to hear a very loud French film playing on TV--this is a trauma from which I may never recover. I had hidden my wallet and passport away in the one place I could be sure she would never look: inside a box of powdered soap in the cabinet under the kitchen tap, along with the other cleaning supplies. So really, I was quite lucky. If I had left the flat at all, the two of them would have stripped it completely. Russians may think all foreigners are weak-minded fools, but Finland has had 200 years experience dealing with them. They do make wonderful films, however.

Next time: Redrum!

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Don Juan in Helsinki: 21

Hey, this is Donho Likkanen, still drinking at the St. Urho Bar. Remember what I told you about Riita Koivistu? You know, the one who met Strawberry at the hotel, the typical Finnish 'daddy's girl'? Well, Maarit was a bit like that, except that her father was an alcoholic in Oulou, who she rarely ever saw. She was from a poor family, what you Americans would call 'from the wrong side of the tracks'. And while I would bet that Riita is Riita all the time. Maarit was different--she was only Maarit during the weekdays. Cool, calm, sensible, greedy, sober, responsible, hard-working, well-organized Maarit. Everything you would ever want in an office supervisor or accountant. On weekends and holidays, she was someone else altogether. Someone wild, unpredictable, almost a savage. Her hair was very dark, black and shiny as a raven; her teeth were white and sharp like the wolf. Perhaps she was part-Russian or even Sami, which is what we call the Lapp people in the north. Because on weekends, she was a witch. I had never met a girl like her before. For one thing, she was poor. For another, she was compulsively honest. Which turned out to not be such a good trait, really. But at that time, as you might imagine, I was hungry for someone who was the opposite of Stina.

I was on the deck, standing at the thick white iron railing trying to light a cigarette. In the roaring Baltic wind with its mist and spray, this was an impossible task; every time, as soon I struck a match it blew out, no matter how quickly I cupped my hand around it. Suddenly I heard a laugh beside me, and the click of a butane lighter; then a pair of pink hands holding a tiny flame were suddenly in front of me. I leaned forward and lit my cigarette from it. The owner of the hands was short, black-haired, very pale and smiling, with big icy-blue eyes and round, red cheeks, like a doll. This was Maarit. She lit her own cigarette and looked at me. I looked back. For a few moments we stared this way at each other (which I had never done before, only seen in films), while the deck pitched and rocked beneath us. In fact, it was just like a film. Her expression softened, she exhaled mentholated smoke and said, 'Want to bonk?'

To save money, I had been napping in the lounge, but she had booked a tiny sleeping cabin. For the next few hours we made hot squishy squid sex on the bottom bunk, all sweaty arms and salty squirting, adjusting our movement to the swell of the sea. In between, we drank viina, and she taught me how to play poker. I believe she enjoyed gambling more than she enjoyed bonking, even.

'I've never bonked a rich boy before,' she said while we were getting dressed in order to disembark.

'I'm not rich.'

'You talk like a Swede. You went to school with the Rosens and the Herlins and the Julins,' she said. I shrugged.

'They're just like everybody else,' I said with heavy irony. 'Under socialism, we all are.'

'Socialism is crap,' she said. 'Someday I'm going to be rich. Really, really rich. Know what I'll do then? I'll build a chain of luxury hotels with gambling casinos inside them. All over Europe. And I'll just spend my life going from one to another--there will always be a suite reserved just for me on the top floor.'

'Do you bonk lots of guys this way?' I asked her. 'You know, just meeting them casually like this?'

'Japp!' she said defiantly, her eyes daring me to say something more about it. We were walking up the stairwell now to the main deck, hauling our bags. Suddenly it seemed terribly important to me to say exactly the right words and in the right tone of voice. I tried to imagine what the Old Man of Odense would say in my shoes. Well, aside from drooling and howling.

'Do you think you might ever want to give that up for a bit? If you met the right guy, I mean?'

She looked at me crossly. 'I might,' she said at last, just as we reached the gangplank. And suddenly, just like that, I possessed a new ambition.

The problem with my ambition is that compared to hers, for example, or Stina's, or even Bjorni's, mine was not really very great, was it? Certainly my father would not have thought so, if I had offered it in place of becoming a doctor. I could just imagine that conversation: 'Donho, what do you plan to do with the rest of your life now that you've dropped out of university?'

'Oh, I plan to spend it being the right guy for Maarit, so she'll stop bonking strangers on ferries.'

But that thought leads me to another. I really had no idea of what being the right guy for Maarit, or for anyone else for that matter, might actually mean. How did one go about becoming such a person? What made my cold, distant, elderly father the 'right guy' for my mother? Certainly I hadn't been the right guy for Stina. Somehow I had managed to become so invisible to her that she had cried more tears over her agent in Copenhagen than she ever had for me. But was that what I really wanted, though--to make girls cry? One thing I already knew for sure about Maarit: however things turned out between us, she would never cry any tears for me or anyone else. She was tough. I admired that. Plus, she was amazing at bonking. Already, I didn't want anyone else. That is always the first, most dangerous trap to avoid when meeting a woman, I tell a group of Swedish dudes at the bar. Never, never limit your precious natural resource of bonking desire to just one woman, no matter how much you are tempted to do so. You are only squandering it. It is like petroleum. They agree with me enthusiastically. Then they ask me where they can actually meet some young Finnish women. I have no idea, really, so I will take them to 'Onella'. Hold on, I will BBIAF. In the meantime, think of happy thoughts, like bonking. I always do.

OK, here I am in Onella, which is a club to go to in order to dance and meet people. It is also a much noisier place than the last one. Of course, it is getting later in the day, and with the rain there is nowhere else to go for most people. I really should write bar reviews as I rove about like this. But why bother? I am sure there are many of them online already. Besides, all I am drinking is coffee right now. I suppose I could review the toilets.

That was what Maarit reminded me of. Coffee. She was sharp and dark and bittersweet, like espresso with a shot of Salmiakkikossu. Even her clothes smelled of this aroma instead of perfume (for obvious reasons, as I was later to discover. There are no coincidences). And of course menthol cigarettes. Speaking of which, it is time for a cigarette. What time is it? Late afternoon. Soon, I can call Maarit's office. Soon I can call New York. Oh wait, not until tomorrow at this time. So I have 24 hours more drinking and wandering about to do, like in 'Ulysses' by James Joyce. You are surprised I have read that book? Why? In addition to being the world's largest per capita drinkers of coffee (and therefore pissers), we Finns are also the largest per capita readers of books. Yes, it is true! It is our secret national vice. We may look stupid, sound stupid, and speak in a stupid, half-invented language, but we all read lots of books. What we choose to learn from them, of course, is anybody's guess. We aren't talking.

It may surprise you to learn this, but actually I think about bonking quite a lot. I don't just mean the sexy parts, though of course, I think about them, too; I mean that I contemplate the subject in a detached, scientific manner much as a Zen Master or a great philosopher might. Often when I am in the middle of it. Well, sometimes that is the best time for such meditation, since sex can become very boring rather quickly, actually, if you really think about it. Especially if you are doing it with someone who does not interest you. I will explain what I mean. A few years ago, I read a paper by the British academic, Will Self, called 'The Quantity Theory of Insanity'. In this he theorized, 'What if there is only a fixed proportion of sanity available in any given society in any given time?' This applies not only to society as a whole, but to smaller groups within it, such as the country of Finland or the Swedish dudes drinking with me now. The way this works is that when one person in a group, in a typical office workplace, for example, is clearly insane and causes terrible trouble for the other persons there, it unites the rest in comparative sanity. In other words, that lone nutcase person becomes a sort of totem or 'scapegoat' for all the crazy and bad behaviour in the office; it becomes mentally 'designated' to them. This causes everyone else to be nice and polite to each other. Laura the crazy temp was like that. Or Camilla in my office in New York right now. But once this person leaves or is fired, then suddenly everyone starts behaving badly toward each other again. There is no unity in the office any more. It is exactly the same principle as when you spend up to your income. Or with NATO after the end of the USSR. It is obvious that this Quantity Theory principle extends to economics, as well. Capitalism proves it; the richer one person in a group (let us say a group of friends from high school, for instance) becomes, then the poorer the rest are by comparison. By contrast, socialism is based on the principle that everyone is naturally half-poor and half-sane, and I think this is particularly true here in Finland.

So naturally then I began to wonder: is this principle also true for sex? Is there perhaps a 'Quantity Theory of Bonking'? In other words, is there only a limited quantity of sex available in any given society in any given time? In the old days, of course, young people did most of the bonking, so old people didn't bother to. But these days with Viagra all that has changed. Now seniors are bonking like crazed weasels, and the latest statistics show that young couples are too tired and busy to do it very often at all. In addition, there is always in every group of friends a sort of 'designated bonker', and this person, whether male or female, is assigned more and more of this role over time, as a quick tour of the online 'swinging community' websites will show you. Is it even possible that when one person in a small community is doing most of the heavy bonking, it makes everyone else more pleasant and polite? Like in an office? Or a primitive African tribe, where the chief has all the wives? Or even at an orgy in Westport, Connecticut? Of course, there is jealousy at first, but after a few years, doesn't that often turn into a sense of relief, even gratitude? After all, it is such hard work to just keep on bonking all those boring and sometimes surprisingly unattractive people. And one must really have a deep inner sense of optimism to keep working away at it, decade after decade. One must have 'sisu'. I think not so many people really have that these days, not where sex is concerned. Maybe even I don't any more. It is like those Hindus who are suffering from a new disease nowadays called 'curry fatigue'; they are eating spicy curries for many years, and then one day--BLAAT! Their digestive system just explodes. Perhaps that is what has happened to me with bonking.

But I do not tell the Swedish dudes this. I do not mention 'bonking fatigue', because no studly young dude wishes to hear about that. Let them find some nice young Finnish ladies to dance with. Why spoil their fun?

Only, they have not met any nice young Finnish girls. They have met two 'natashas'--Russian 'sex workers', who often come here illegally. These are a big problem to Finland nowadays, and there is talk of banning prostitution in the country, I have read. The number of sex clubs has risen in Helsinki from 1 to 13, and recently the Russian embassy was discovered to be running a brothel. I tell one of the Swedish dudes this, but unfortunately, as the result of this good deed, now I need to find another bar. The manager has overheard me and asked me to leave this club. Apparently there is an 'upper age limit of 27' here, and they don't want any old men hanging about. Quite right, too. Bonking fatigue is contagious.

BTW, another reader has emailed to me asking how I can connect to Wifi networks so easily wherever I go in Helsinki. Do they have public Wifi access for free? Well, to be totally honest, I don't know. I use a package of WEP networking password detectors called 'Aircrack' in order to connect to other people's protected networks. This scans nearby routers for password keys, which are notoriously poorly encrypted over WEP packets. For example, right now I am inside the Onella's office manager's computer on the club's private server, which is a Dell in his office. I am going through his financial records now. Oops. I accidentally deleted them. Oh well, I'm sure they are all well backed up. You are surprised I am a bit of a criminal? Don't be. Finland is perhaps the most law-abiding country in the world, with some of the world's highest luxury taxes on things like cars or computers. Or alcohol. Or cigarettes. Therefore every Finn is constantly buying and selling things on the black market and thus breaking the law. Historically, we are a nation of smugglers, anyway, especially during our 'Prohibition' years, which were roughly the same as yours in America. A true Finn is always a bit of a criminal. Maarit taught me this, as well. In fact, Maarit taught me everything I know about money.

And about life in jail. Oops, must run!

Well, he deserved that for kicking me out, didn't it? There is no justice in this life, you know--one must arrange for it oneself on an impromptu basis, when handed such an opportunity. OK, I am back. The rain is over. Now I am in a bar called the 'Angleterre', which is an English-style pub with a big Union jack flag outside the door. Have I been in here before? I cannot remember. It seems very familiar to me, however. All of these bars are beginning to look the same to me. They are like women. I think it is time to switch back to viina, I don't fancy the look of the 'fish'n'chips' here. Or maybe I will have a Guinness. Yes, it's true, I have been to jail. I haven't told you that. In fact, I have never told anyone. But it's not such a shameful thing these days to have spent a bit of time behind bars. It is common in professional sports in America. And in business. And only a few people are still alive who know my secret--Vaino, I suppose. Kylikki. Bjorn Wahlroos. And, of course, Maarit, who put me there.

It was a very strange feeling when I returned to Helsinki that midsummer. I had been away less than three days, yet my life was now changed in every way. For one thing, I was no longer in school. For another, I was madly crazy in love with Maarit. And for the third, I now had to serve my year of military service. We Finns do not quite view this the way the rest of the world does. In 1972 there was no war here and little likelihood of one. Our draft is fairly popular, even today, particularly with reservists, because it gives them a chance to get away from their wives and children for a week or two each year and go camping. The training part is most unpleasant, however, and so i was quite right to dread it, but dodging or evading it was simply out of the question. Even Vaino had submitted to his 'intti' the year before. Nowadays, of course, one can be discharged merely for being an 'Internet addict' ( I guess I would qualify for that now.

Uh oh. A 'natasha' has sat down next to me. She is not Russian but Latvian, she says when I ask. They are the 'poor country cousins' of the Swedes, just as the Estonians are ours. When she climbed into the barstool I saw needlemarks on her thighs, poor thing; she is no use to me, just as I am no use to her. But I will buy her viina until she finds a nice customer, I tell her, and she tells me to call her 'Yasmeena'. OK, Yasmeena, I will you the story of me and Maarit.

Next time: Leningrad Cowboy

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