Friday, April 20, 2012

Today I saw my childhood hero in the flesh.  It was a completely strange experience.

I grew up idolizing George Brett.  I didn't even really follow baseball, but I knew about the pine tar incident and I remember being vividly impressed by the way he came charging out of the dugout like a man about to commit murder.  I had a 1985 World Series pennant hanging up in my room.  He was also, in my mind as I'm sure as in many others, the embodiment of Kansas City, which for me as a child was a wonderful, far-off place where my grandparents lived and I associated with Christmas and presents and summer road trips and cousins and just generally everything fun.  I don't even care about his latter day weirdness.  

Lyndsey and I got up early this morning to go get some coffee at this place called Hi Hat, a nice little coffee shop that happens to sit in a ritzy part of town.  It's a tiny place with room for like three people, literally, to stand inside.  I think it used to be a gas station.  It's also rumored to be one of George Brett's regular hangouts.  Anyway, we took our coffee out onto the patio, where there are several tables.  There was no one else sitting outside, so we sat down at the big table right in the middle of the patio; the only one with an umbrella over it.  Later, as people start to show up, this middle-aged guy (who I'm going to call Yuppie #1, or Y1) walks past our table kind of giving us a look.  He walks over to another guy (Y2), looks at him and shakes his head.  The other guy goes "I know, I guess they don't know the code."  Direct quote.

I suspected that I committed some kind of suburban faux pas, but I couldn't figure out what it was.  Was it because I had my library ID around my neck?  Do rich suburbanites scorn blatant displays of employment in public service?  Should I have worn gym clothes, as all the younger people seemed to?  The table next to mine was discussing who they hired to do their landscaping.  Can he somehow divine that I am not a property owner?  WHAT DID I DO?

Whatever the case, he sits down behind me and I forget about him.  His table starts to fill up with balding, middle-aged dudes wearing fleece or sports jackets (Y3-6) and they start talking about, you know, whatever.  One guy tells a story about how he witnessed a car crash and a bunch of "immigrants" scattered out of one of the cars.  I guess he checked their passports.

Then I see Lyndsey's eyes kind of get big.  We had watched the Royals game at my grandparents' house the night before and George Brett was interviewed, so he was fresh in our minds.  She looked at me and goes, "there he is."  I turned around and there, looking like a six foot piece of chewed-up beef jerky, is George Brett.  He and Y1-6 commence doing a crossword puzzle.

A CROSSWORD PUZZLE.  Why is a living legend like George Brett doing crossword puzzles with a bunch of d-bags?  And more importantly, WHY ARE THEY SO TERRIBLE AT THEM?

Y3:  "1996 movie featuring Michael Jordan."
Y5:  "Yeah, and Bugs Bunny!  What was that movie?"
George Brett:  "Space Ball."
Y3:  "Doesn't fit.  We'll come back to it."

OH GOD.  GEORGE BRETT, MY GEORGE BRETT, DOES NOT KNOW ABOUT SPACE JAM.  I briefly consider turning around and giving them the answer, but I don't, because I am too nervous, mainly due to the fact that it is now dawning on me that Lyndsey and I are sitting at the table that is normally reserved for George Brett and his Terrible Crossword Crew.  We are basically usurping the King of Kansas City's territory.  My mind is now reeling.  George Brett is a regular human being and I am sitting in his seat.  

The universe can hold no more surprises.

Also everyone in Kansas City that I tell this story to is not impressed at all.  I think it's a bit like seeing John Mellencamp in Bloomington.  Everyone just kind of doesn't care.  But I do.  I'm gonna take my mitt to Hi Hat next week and see if George will hit me some grounders.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Today is the last day of my fourth week at the Johnson County Library.  Everyone I've met so far at work is collegial, smart, and focused.  I don't fit in at all.

Ha!  Only joking.  Aside from a bit of shock at being told "no" for the first time in five or so years (with good reason; I was trying to assign myself more work than I probably could handle), I like my new workplace very much.  It's the kind of library that's not afraid to try things, not afraid to challenge itself.  The decision making process is incredibly democratic, with people at pretty much every level having input into which projects move forward and which projects get shelved.  And people top to bottom really seem to care about the library, and are not just slogging through yet another work week.

Our new hometown of Kansas City is also treating us very well.  My Aunt Julie and Uncle John, with whom we're staying, are excellent hosts/landlords.  There is always beer in the fridge, dinner is always ready when I get home from work, and there is occasionally a baby to play with that I like very much now that she has learned that my beard is not a harbinger of death or danger.

Tonight we're heading out into Kansas City's Crossroads District for First Fridays, where we may or may not end up seeing Murder By Death, who are from Bloomington.  Small world.  Tomorrow we're going to hang out at the Jarboe Initiative, an awesome project being carried out by fellow Athenian Nick Ward-Bopp.  Really small world.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Today, with one final stop in Lafayette, we complete our homecoming tour of Indiana.  Tomorrow, we hitch up the wagon and hit the dusty trail (I-70) out west, to the city of fountains, George Brett, and the best barbecue in the country (don't even bring that North Carolina nonsense around here).  It's been super fun catching up with everyone but we're also super excited to get back into something resembling a normal rhythm of life.  There are only so many gin and tonics one can drink before one longs for the comforting embrace of a day job.  It sounds strange and I know I'm going to feel differently in the future but right now five straight days of work sound pretty alright.

Over the weekend we attended a wedding that was pretty much the perfect last Indiana hurrah.  We get to see (almost) all of our close friends, even some that live far away.  We got to partake in some of our favorite activities, including drinking whiskey, watching Dustin dance, singing along, cussing into a microphone, euchre, fire-building, eating pizza rolls, and sleeping with another person in a twin bed.  It was pitch perfect.

Anyway, this is really just a placeholder update to keep the blog warm.  I plan on keeping it at least semi-current, even though the title of the blog no longer makes sense.  Come see us in KC, y'all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Paris is pretty rad, guys.  At first Lyndsey and I were both a little disappointed that it didn't reflect the Paris we'd been daydreaming about for most our adult lives, but this is obviously unfair to Paris.  I was pretty disappointed that there aren't quaint little bars on every corner where old men are sipping brandy a la "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" but clearly it's not fair to expect Paris to have remained unchanged since Hemingway was wandering around looking for things to drink.  Lyndsey was disappointed that Paris didn't more closely resemble the whimsical and wonderful city depicted in The Triplets of Belleville but this can perhaps be forgiven since it's not only a movie but a cartoon.  We were both disappointed that the first food we tasted didn't inspire this kind of reaction and the whole city didn't look like an Edith Piaf song.

But again, none of this is Paris's fault, it's our fault.  Once we let go of our expectations and actually started appreciating what Paris is, as opposed to what we expected it to be, I think we both agree that Paris is pretty awesome.  There are little cafes and bakeries and bookstores and print shops and restaurants and clothing stores pretty much everywhere.  It's also refreshing to see cafes open past 8 and still doing brisk business (sorry, Helsinki).  And most of the tourist landmarks that we've seen have been well worth the hype.  Notre Dame was especially cool.  It's far more ornate and impressive than it looks in pictures.

Paris art museums also, in my opinion, completely live up to their reputation.  We went to the Musee D'Orsay and the Louvre on consecutive days and both were well worth an afternoon (although this may be partially due to an exceptionally high tolerance on our part for art museums and an exceptionally cold pair of afternoons).  I've heard several people say to skip the Louvre but I strongly advise you, if you receive the same advice, to ignore those people and question any opinion they ever offer again.

I also advise you, if you do visit the Louvre, to avoid leaning against the wall to steady your arm while you take photos of the artwork.  Turns out that this will set off an alarm that sounds like the Germans are coming although it will provoke considerably less excitement in the museum guards, one of whom we saw napping as we strolled suavely yet quickly away.  Maybe she was on some kind of strike.  Anyway, I was highly embarrassed but am now considering a second career as an art thief.

Also a word on Paris beggars:  they are many and a few are ingenious.  Near the Eiffel Tower, Lyndsey and I were approached by two girls who pretended to be deaf and mute and asked us (well, kind of gestured) to sign a petition.  It dawned on me that something was not quite right as I filled out my name, city, ZIP code (wait, what?) and then donation (ah, yes).  They only got two and a half euros from the both of us, but even that was annoying.  I blame Helsinki for lulling us into a sleepy sense of security.  Anyway we saw them a few minutes later in full sprint with a Paris policeman in hot pursuit, followed by another policeman a few minutes after that just trying to keep everyone in sight and looking like he regretted eating such a big breakfast.

Not long after, we were walking along the Seine when a dude walking the other way bent over and picked up a gold ring.  His reaction was extremely animated.  Hello, what's this?  I say, a gold ring!  Oh, but it is far to small to fit my unseemly fingers.  But here now sir, why don't you take this beautiful thing?  What good luck for you on a fine, sunny Parisian afternoon!  Now it would only be fair for you to give me a euro or two, since I am the one that found it.  Why not?  No, I don't want the ring, it doesn't fit.  You keep it.  And give me some money for a sandwich.  C'mon man, one euro.  Seriously?  Whatever you've got then.  Nothing?  Fine, forget it.  Then he waved his hand at us and walked away, like "you guys are assholes anyway."  I guess I can't blame him for being frustrated, he was probably waiting there for a long time and it was cold out.  Unluckily for him his two colleagues had put us on our guard.

Tomorrow is our last day in Paris, then we fly back to the good ole United States.  I have to say, I miss it much more than I thought I would, although reading today's headlines about Santorum gives me just a little pause.  The US is lucky it has Polar Pops or I might never come back.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Today is the first day of my last week in Finland.  I can't believe five months have gone so fast!  I also can't believe it's been a month since I've posted.  Thank you to Antti for gently reminding me of my obligations to my readership.  I know you've all been desperate to hear my opinions and observations; I apologize if you feel as if your moral and intellectual compass has been askew for the last few weeks.  I've been busy, ok?

So let's pick up where I left off, which was right after Christmas.  A few days later were visited by my sister Liz, her boyfriend Eric, and our good friends Ted and Michael.  We proceeded to light up the town, which was still mired in darkest winter.  Among many highlights was a night that we went out to Rymy-Eetu, which is a German-themed bar where there are big long tables which you are encouraged to dance on, not unlike Hofbrauhaus near Cincinnati.  I am semi-proud to say that we were easily the loudest group in the place, which the band appreciated so much that they started to play mostly American songs.  It was easily one of the funnest nights we've had in Helsinki, to the point where I don't want to go back to that bar because I don't want to dampen my memories of that night.

Then there was New Year's Eve, which we spent at our friend Tommi's house.  It was an excellent party made more excellent thanks to the Finnish custom of setting of fireworks to celebrate the New Year.  Why do Americans settle for watching Carson Daly on New  Year's Eve?  Let's go outside and blow stuff up!  Lyndsey took advantage of the opportunity to continue her long, proud tradition of getting hit with stuff falling out of the sky (bird poop, squirrel poop) to get hit with a spent firework that dropped directly onto her head.

Then I turned 30.  Elina and Maija had a big party and we celebrated not only my birthday, but Maija and her sister Miia's as well.  It was pretty epic.  Before the party, a small group of us went to sauna and did the traditional (or so they tell me) Finnish naked roll in the snow.  If there is a word to describe this sensation, I don't know what it is.  It didn't hurt, it didn't even really feel that cold.  My brain was basically just demanded that my body to get the hell out of the snow and back into the sauna but my body had trouble complying because all my motor neurons were firing at once, causing me to roll around in the snow not unlike one of those toddlers on America's Funniest Home Videos who falls into a puddle and is not only surprised but completely indignant to find themselves in such a position and is calling on their arms and legs to rescue them but their arms and legs, being unequal to the task, just splash around and make it worse.  But, when I eventually made it back into the sauna, I really did feel like a million bucks.

In other, less embarrassing news, we fly to Paris one week from today.  Neither of us have ever been to Paris; I hope by this time we look and act European enough that the French people won't recognize us as coming from the land of Freedom Fries.  Also I recently realized that I scheduled myself to be in France during the Super Bowl, which I hope does not somehow disqualify me for American citizenship.  Go Giants!

Lyndsey and I are moving to Kansas City when we get back to the States.  I'll be working for the Johnson County Public Library system.  I'm pretty pumped.  Everybody please come visit!  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Finnish Christmas was awesome.  Our good friend Elina and her family did us the honor of inviting us to their house for Christmas Dinner (which in Finland traditionally takes place on Christmas Eve, as does the opening of presents).  We felt very lucky and happy to be there, since usually it's a family-only affair.

Dinner was two courses.  First was a fish course, featuring approximately every single type of fish ever.  There was cold smoked fish, hot smoked fish, raw fish, horseradish fish, cinnamon and tomato fish, lemon fish, cream cheese and dill fish, and probably several other kinds of fish that I'm either forgetting or got lost in the shuffle.  There was even fish that was not yet fish, in the form of salmon roe that you eat mixed up with sour cream, diced onions, and dill.  They pop when you chew them.  It's amazing.  The main course was turkey and ham along with several casseroles made from root vegetables.  I wish I had taken notes because I'm having a hard time remembering what exactly was in the casseroles.

This may be partially due to the fact that at no point in the night was I allowed to see the bottom of a glass.  There was red wine, white wine, beer, whiskey, brandy, mintuu, and homemade spicy mango vodka.  Mintuu is an amazing liquor that manages to be 40% alcohol while tasting like a candy cane.  At night it's the best thing ever; in the morning it's the worst thing ever.

And the presents!  We were completely surprised to be presented with gifts from the family that were either homemade or that had very clearly been carefully thought out and were pretty much perfect bulls-eyes.  I won't bother to list them all but they included a pair of knitted socks with the Finnish flag on the foot, handwarmers for Lyndsey made from baby alpaca wool, and an awesome old-school Batman t-shirt for me.

We had been talking about how it didn't really feel like Christmas, but being with the Kosonens on Christmas Eve is pretty much as close as you can get to a perfect Christmas without being with your own family.  They should open a business providing the Christmas experience to foreigners.  This being Helsinki, they could charge an arm and a leg.  Unlike a lot of expensive stuff, this would totally be worth it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I suppose living in near-total darkness has some advantages.  If I ever wanted to become a cat burglar I could do it pretty much around the clock.  Getting drunk at 3 in the afternoon seems much more socially acceptable.  But other than these two things, I don't believe I am exaggerating TOO much when I say that it is a non-stop battle against a soul-crushing dreariness that is constantly threatening to worm its way into your mind and eat your happiness.

The Helsingin Sanomat recently published an article on its English-language website that I assume is aimed at us foreigners who are having trouble adapting to the Mordor-like qualities of the Finnish winter.  Although I'm sure the writer has nothing but good intentions, reading that "unnecessary complaining only adds to the gloom" makes me want to bloody that person's stiff upper lip.  Last month the same newspaper advised us to shine lights into our ears for relief from seasonal depression. Basically what I'm gleaning is that there is nothing to be done and I should just let the Finnish winter wash over me like a gently lapping tide that is slowly eroding my will to live.

Haha!  Only joking.  It's really not that bad.  There's actually plenty to do, especially if you are into Christmas markets. (WARNING:  This link contains an offensive amount of Comic Sans.  Probably NSFW if you are a graphic designer.)  They've also opened the Railway Square Ice Park, which is not fenced off and for some reason I never see any drunk people on when I go to catch the late bus home.

On a completely different subject, Google Statistics tells me that someone reached my blog this week by googling the term "ambassadog," which you may remember from a previous blog post is the term that the American ambassador to Finland uses to refer to his giant poodle.  So, to whoever is out there looking for information about that dog, his name is Deckard.  You're welcome, and be sure to check out the the comments where Deckard gets solicited by a pair of weirdos intent on harvesting Deckard's genes to increase the population of Labradoodles in Helsinki.