When I'm working for my Iranian boss in our cafe/restaurant, I spend about 60% of my time behind the front counter washing dishes and 40% of my time in the kitchen preparing food.
I worked a lot during my first two weeks on the job. Then, a Swedish friend, Jojo, who I'd met during college, invited me to a party. I took a long weekend off and flew down to Jojo's place in Stockholm. (I flew stand-by, for $45 each way.)
Several travellers had told me they love Stockholm, that it's maybe the prettiest city in northern Europe.
Big, old, faded-red and faded-green, kingly buildings stand over an archipelago of many islands lying between shimmering-blue canals and sea. I absolutely loved it when Jojo and I went swimming right in the middle of this capital city. We and fifteen young strangers dove from the grassy courtyard of the majestic chocolate-brown city hall, fifteen feet down into the cooling blue brigade. We tred water, underneath the sun, surrounded by tourist boats, custard-white bridges whose supports leapt from the sea like playing dolphins, old churches, and the lives of a million people. The fresh water in Stockholm's canals is so clean that important city guests are sometimes invited to drink from it; the blowing air, also, tastes fresher than that of many countries' countrysides.
I was being shown around town by Jojo, a very cool guy. Jojo measures a giant six-foot-nine-inches tall, he's muscular, he's athletic and a successful basketball player, and with his moussed-up hair he's popular with the ladies. Yet, he's as gentle as most Swedes, he's humble, and he loves to laugh big. He's game for anything fun and creative. (In 2000, he ate four-and-a-half huge plates of Chinese food, only to fall to me in a classic eating contest near our college.)
Jojo can be funny. One day in Stockholm, a friend of Jojo's was lamenting that he and his girlfriend fought all the time. The friend turned and asked Jojo, "You don't fight that much, do you?" Jojo responded: "Me? No, I never fight. (he cast a blaming finger at his girlfriend) It's her."
Jojo's girlfriend, Karin, was also cool to meet and hang out with. She's beautiful. She has a lightly-freckled face, dark eyes that adorably squeeze when she smiles, and sandy-blond hair whose sharp trim falls on her back. She was inquisitive and a great conversationalist, and her English accent had a Scandinavian royal crispness to it. She said a lot, "That's fantastic!" in her royal, happy way with a smile.
Karin loves seafood, and we visited a party one night to eat "kraftor" (crayfish). It's a Swedish tradition to eat red-as-toys crayfish this time of year. You suck dirty-tasting juice out of their chests, then rip their heads off, then eat a small amount of bitter meat off their body cavity, and then crack open their tails which contain a bulk of tender white meat. If you're wily like Jojo, you can quickly eat the tails off all the crayfish, then pass over the more-frustrating parts to your girlfriend.
Another day, we went ot Skansen (a Stockholm zoo) to see typical Swedish animals instead of eat them. I became very, very, so excited, because I thought I would see my first "igelkottur" (hedgehog) ever (unless you include "Porcu," the stuffed-animal my grandma once gave me).
Well, the zoo began well. It was a nice day,and the animals loved it. Adolescent bears stood up and wrestled each other and splashed in their bath. A red fox glided elegantly over a path. Box-shaped lynx, whose hind legs lifted their butts above their head, stalked about with big, over-furry paws. Lynx kittens with wanna-be-tough faces pranced and played on rocks. One kitten batted at a little black something as if it were a soccer ball. It was so cute.
But, then, Jojo and Karin realized exactly what the kitten was batting around. They told me: it was a poor, dying "igelkottur!" Oh, man, I felt so bad. Tears nearly came to my eyes, and my voice squeaked, I felt so sad for the little igelkottur. I hadn't wanted to see one like that! I was traumatized. I just wanted to hug "Porcu." Darned lynx.
At least I had Jojo's party to keep me feeling positive.
Saturday was the night of the house-party. We grilled outside; then, the main event - a "femkamp" (pentathlon) of Jojo's design - followed. We divided into teams to: 1. Chip golf balls. 2. Throw darts. 3. Play "catch" with eggs. 4. Throw cards into a hat. 5. Toss a heavy ball for accuracy, something called "Boule."
As we played, I drank vodka-and-lemon-soda and mingled. Most of Jojo's friends were in their late twenties. Many Swedes have personalities as colorful as their looks.
Hider was a friendly guy and a real character. He was half-Iraqi, half-Iranian - the last combination I would expect to get together - but he'd lived in Sweden since age two. He had a sleeked-back, black ponytail and fancy clothes, so he looked like a real playboy. But, he drove a little, red, beat-up car that stalled frequently. He had cuts on his face from a fight with his older sister.
Hider really wanted a girl; any girl his friends knew - ANY girl! - Hider wanted to meet. In the past, when Jojo and all his friends had been single and enjoyed the clubbing scene together, Hider had had a girlfriend and couldn't go out. Then, as soon as Hider became single, all his friends got girlfriends. Poor Hider is also very gullible. So, when he does go to clubs, he often spends the whole night trying to win at the gambling tables the nightclubs have here in Sweden.
Jojo's friend, Jana, is the real "winner" type of guy. His blond head is perhaps wider than it is tall, and it usually holds a life-enjoying smile. During his mid-twenties, Jana made a sum of money running his own business doing surveys. Then, one day, he decided that was no longer fun. He quit and spent the next year-and-a-half drinking coffee with friends by day and drinking beer with friends by night. Then, one month ago, he thought it would be fun to buy a small "kokosbullar" (chocolate ball) factory. He now operates that by himself, which I think is funny. He should have the song, "Chocolate Salty Balls," by Chef from Southpark, as his theme song.
When Hider saw Jana, Hider asked his friend what he'd been up to. Jana came up with a great lie and said, "Oh, last night, I was at this new club. They brought in and filled the place up with palm trees and sand. It was a Hawaiian Tropics party, and there were all these girls there in bikinis. It was great." Gullible Hider almost fainted. He started yelling at Jana, "Oh, man, why didn't you call me!? How could you not call me!?" Jana laughed and told Hider he'd been fibbing.
Other characters at the party included Markus and Mats. Markus had big eyes, a goofy smile, and a military haircut. His life and stories seemed to consist of only one thing: trying to pick up and take home girls. He was a much less romantic and more short-term kind of guy than Hider. He'd been on forty party cruises to Finland, and I think the only word in Finnish he knew was "piito" (cabin), as in, "Do you want to come back to my piito?"
Markus's travel companion, Mats, was small and harmless like an ant. In the "femkamp," Mats was the anti-Jojo. The team he headed took last place in almost every event. (Jojo, meanwhile, did the best in most of competitions, and his team won big.)
One of Jojo's best friends was a guy named Fredrik. Fredrik was skinny and had blond hair white like the heavens. He had a light face and deep-set eyes, and he seemed not-as-confident as some of Jojo's other friends. Fredrik was perhaps a little bit homophobic. In a subplot on the night, Fredrik had always felt suspicious and uncomfortable around that little guy, Mats.
At about one o'clock a.m., Jojo's house-party ended. Hider tried to convince everyone to go out to a club with him, but most guys retired peacefully home with their girlfriends.
Mats was one of the guys who hadn't drank, so he drove a bunch of people home. Suspicious Fredrik lives very close to Mats, and so he was the last person dropped off. Mats took this opportunity to invite Fredrik up to his room. Mats offered Fredrik a late coffee. Needless to say, Fredrik felt very uncertain in this situation.
Aah, but little Mats was merely being a friend. The night worked out well and good for everybody.
All of Jojo's friends seemed like nice guys and girls. Stockholm was a lot of fun, more fun than dishwashing.
Later, Modern Oddyseus
Much thanks to Jojo & parents Storre & Agneta for the place to sleep!
P.S. - Congratulations to my best friend's sister, Sarah Gray, and Clay, who got married this Saturday. I love you guys! Have fun!