Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Home, Sweet Stockholm Home

It’s been over a week now. I am, once again, registered as a Swede living in Stockholm. Everything still feels new and familiar. Like I’ve never walked these streets a thousand times. Like there aren’t memories around each and every corner. Some that I desperately hold on to and others that I desperately try to forget. Both with varying degrees of success. Friends are older now. Married now. Divorced now. Parents now. I am only one of those things.

It’s always strange coming back to a place you once called home. And Stockholm was home for a solid few years of my life. I managed to work here and make friends here and learn here and love here. It was home. And now it’s going to be home for another year.

I fall back into my life here pretty easily. There are good friends to see and good family to hang out with. Beers to drink and chilinuts to eat. There are museums to visit and parks to walk through. Stories to tell and experiences to write about. So life is pretty good.

But it’s not the same. It won’t be and can’t be. And that’s fine. I’m on my own for a year conducting research. No 9-5 office job, no colleagues by my side. I have to be disciplined enough to get myself to the library or the archive or the university every single day. Reading and noting and photographing and maybe even interviewing. Then there’s the writing. The writing that I need to do for my dissertation and the writing I want to do for my well-being.

Writing is hard though. Hard because for the last few years I’ve been writing academically and not for myself. Hard because I haven’t written like this in years. Hard because of the fits and starts and pointless things I choose to write about. Hard because I can look back and follow my life for a three-year period. I do not have a journal or a diary. I don’t write letters. This blog was (and is again) a way to record my time in Sweden. Which is both fun and embarrassing. There are things here that I no longer agree with. That I wrote. Myself. My politics are different. My attitude is different. My hairline is different. Being able to look back and see what changed, how it changed, remembering what changed, that’s something that I quite enjoy.

Seeing the comments from people who agreed and disagreed. Logging on to Twitter to find that one person started a Twitter account just to harass me about something I had written six years ago. Realizing that I’ve written over 500 posts and nearly 600 single-spaced pages. I’m looking forward to getting back to it. To writing. To Sweden. To my life.


Welcome to Sweden. And my temporary home. Probably.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Underground Showers

The average Swedish male is 182cm tall. That’s five feet eleven and a half inches. The average Hairy Swede is 189cm tall. That’s six feet two and a half inches. I am not a giant. However, I’m apparently too tall for my shower. Not the shower head, mind you. The actual room in which the shower is located.

I’m living in a very old building. It’s a nice building. It’s one of those historically marked buildings, which makes changing anything a challenge. It has character is probably the euphemistic way of putting it. But most things seem to work. The apartment itself is nice. Very few complaints. Except my apartment does not have a shower in the actual apartment. It’s in the basement. A very musty, very creepy basement that can only be accessed by stepping outside. Something I am very much looking forward to come January.

I knew all of this in advance. Or at least that the shower was in the basement and that it could only be accessed from outside. The creepiness and mustiness were not entirely unexpected. It’s an old building. What I did not expect was the height of the ceiling in the showers. Of which there are two for the ten apartments in the building. I’ve had a private shower in every place I’ve paid rent since my first year of college. Even then, it was just a short walk down good old Sweetser Hall. It’s a privilege that I suppose I hadn’t ever thought about, but one I thought I could live with. It’s just a year. I showered every day in the dorms, just fine. Four days later, I’m already changing my tune.

I can’t stand up straight. At all. I either bow my head awkwardly for the length of my shower or squat. Both are not fun. I’ve jokingly been told to do wall squats. I sweat easily. That would defeat the purpose of the shower. I’ve been told to buy a shower stool to haul down to the basement with me every day. I’m already hauling my toiletries down there everyday and am hesitant to add another item to the list of things to forget.

I’ve taken four showers since arriving in Stockholm. I was met by a clump of hair that looked like a small mouse on the first day. Since then I have scrubbed the shower room down, trying to remove some of the disgusting that has worked its way into the walls. I have scrubbed the bench down with thoughts of sitting on it to shower, only to think better of it. I have showered in the dark, as the light turned off on me mid-shower. I have forgotten my soap and shampoo down there, bringing back to my days as a first-year student in college.

In somewhat related news, I’ll be joining a gym soon. Where there’s a shower. I’ll either be in the best shape of my adult life or I’ll be paying for a very expensive daily shower. It’s so going to be worth it.

Welcome to Sweden. And expensive showers.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Election Season 2014 in Sweden

I landed in Copenhagen on Monday. After a train ride, I finally made it to Sweden.  I’m down in southern Sweden for a few more days before heading to Stockholm. With about a year in Sweden in front of me I had a few things to take care of. One of which was getting a cell phone set up. The number I have had for nearly ten years was unceremoniously taken from me. With good reason, I suppose. It had been over a year since I had used it. So it goes.

But I would like to be able to contact people, so I headed in to Helsingborg and with no trouble at all had a new Swedish phone number. Everything worked exactly as it should. It was easy and cheap. But because it was so easy and cheap, I had some time to spare and one more important purchase to make. A beard trimmer. My luscious facelocks need to be properly cared for while abroad.

I headed to the nearest Clas Ohlson only to met by police. Everywhere. Lots of them. Police in full uniform. Police with little vests with the word “dialog” on them. Police in vans. Police. As I continued walking I noticed a fenced off square with a single podium in the middle and a lone table just to the side. Sverigedemokraterna. Resident racist and current party-leader Jimmy Åkesson was speaking in Helsingborg at noon. Awesome. Because what better way to be welcomed back to the country than by a rally of racists. I went and bought my beard trimmer and headed back to the square. I was curious.

A crowd had gathered. An all-white crowd had gathered. Maybe 200 people. Posters exhorting “Heja Jimmie” were passed out. A group of maybe a couple of hundred crowded closer to the fence. And in the mean time, a small group of protesters gathered just behind the group. Mostly young people. And then he arrived. Cheers went up. As did boos. And then a family of four directly in front of me turned their back. They said nothing. They did not boo. They did not chant. They did not sing. They silently turned their back on the aforementioned racist.

Behind me chants erupted sporadically. Inga rasister på våra gator. Inga rasister på våra gator. Inga rasister på våra gator.

Two younger men made their way to the front of the crowd with a photoshopped A-4 printout of Jimmie Åkesson in a Nazi-era uniform. They said nothing. They did not boo. They did not chant. They did not sing. They just held their pieces of paper above their heads. That’s when the guy standing next to them took notice. And by took notice I mean confronted them and tried ripping the piece of paper from their hands. One man held on tight to his paper only to then be pushed by another man with short-cropped hair and a black jacket featuring epaulets that was vaguely reminiscent of fascist Germany. Probably just a coincidence though. The police made their way over and calmed everything down. Ish. These two would be in the center of several more confrontations in the 20 minutes that I stood and watched.

But I turned my attention back to the family of four in front of me. They had been joined by an older man with a black tank top and a barrel chest to rival any. He was short and squat and looked like he had seen things. As Åkesson continued spewing nonsense, the father in the family who had turned their backs began to shake his head. With good reason. Åkesson had begun claiming that folks were no longer safe in their homes. And this man’s head just went back and forth. No. Back and forth. No. Back and forth. No. He did not boo. He did not chant. He did not sing. He just shook his head. He did not agree.

And that’s when it happened. An older man, maybe in his seventies steamed over. His face red, his finger jabbing into the chest of  the silent man. A threat erupted from the old man’s lips and the police hustled over. That’s when I noticed the son of this family make a beeline out of there. Scared. His father, now protesting to the police, explained that his son shouldn’t have to see people threatened. That’s when the purple-haired old lady piped in.  (Why do old ladies dye their hair blue or purple?) Then don’t bring him here!

Her solution was so simple. If you don’t want to hear hate and fear mongering, don’t bring him to a Sverigedemokraterna rally. It makes sense, really. Of course, I’m sure she didn’t realize the irony in her statement. At this point, the police were heavily involved as I stood staring silently at the purple-haired woman, shaking my head in disbelief. She turned to the police officer next to me. Can’t you remove these people? The officer responded. No. According to Swedish law, they have a right to be here. She scoffed. That’s too bad. Hopefully we can get that law changed. Shame you don’t use water cannons. We could rinse this garbage off the streets.

So that’s the rhetoric being used by at least some of the Sverigedemokraterna supporters. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hear much of what Åkesson said. I listened to his fear mongering for a while. I listened to a speech that sounded eerily familiar to that spewed by Ted Cruz in the US. But really, I was concentrating instead on the crowd around me. The dynamics. The protesters. The racists. The police. It was fascinating. It was scary. It was disgusting. It was sad.

Welcome to Sweden. And election season.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

I'm Back

I'm back.

Welcome to Sweden. And disclaimers. I'm here for a year conducting research for my PhD. I'm receiving funding from various organizations to conduct that research. That means that every word I write, every idea I put forth, everything I do is because I choose to do so and it represents me and me alone. Which is funny, because reading back on this thing, I've written things that I don't even agree with now. All those things I write in the future, or have already written, they do not reflect any position by any organization that is funding me - like a non-profit. Or a university. Or a government. Or a for-profit. Or anyone. Good. I'm glad we had this talk.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

MKE to LAS or: How I Came to Hate the Plane

Southwest Airlines herds people onto planes like cattle. Unless you’re rich(er) cattle. Then you get to pay to pick a seat that is slightly better, slightly earlier. Aisle and window seats fill up first, like an inverted Mohawk on each side of the plane the middle seats are left empty. Less-fortunate cattle must wander down the aisle, eyeing those middle seats and glancing towards the windows and aisles making snap judgments about those who will be their sandwich bread for the remainder of the flight. Any sign can be interpreted. Or misinterpreted. So when the middle-aged woman sitting by the aisle looked up at me as I eyed the seat beside her, she gestured as if it were mine for the taking. It was.

I sat down. I stored my bag under the seat in front of me. I buckled my seatbelt. I turned on the air. I grabbed my book and sat resting with my hands in my lap. I was ready for three hours and 48 minutes of flight time to Las Vegas on my way to Portland. I caught the tail-end of her phone call.

I feel sexy. Like really sexy.

Then it started.

So… where you from?

Here. Kind of. I go to the University here at least.

I was polite. But not overly polite. I was firm. But not overly firm. I was, well I was airplane-y. I didn’t even ask her where she was from. I didn’t care. I don’t care.

Then the onslaught began.

What city is this? Why are there no houses by the lake? Ooooh, that’s pretty. When I was little the clouds looked like they stretched forever up into the sky. But they don’t.

I buried myself in my book. It was a good book.

How old are you? Wait, let me guess. 28? 29?

29.

Well-played middle aged woman, well played.

Me too. I’m 29.

I have a habit of raising my right eyebrow at ridiculousness. A slight shake of my head and you can be damned sure all I’m thinking is – no you’re not. No. Just no.

She sensed it. I’m not sneaky.

Ok. I’m in my 30s.

This time I let it slide. But no you’re not. No. Just no.

And then it happened. Her hand. It came out of nowhere. And slammed down on my book. Fanned out, covering the poor little paperback.

You can read when we get to Vegas.

I can read now, too.

Are you gay? Do you have a girlfriend?

No. Yes.

Did I insult you asking you if you were gay?

Nope. It takes a lot more than that to insult me.

Oh. My friend got mad when I asked him if he was gay.

Bummer.

I was going to hook you up with the flight attendant if you were gay. All my best friends are gay. I call them my girls. I can do that.

This was starting to sound like a preface to a homophobic joke. I’m not a racist, but… I’m not a sexist, but… Whatever you say. I looked at her. And back to my book. Only three hours and 28 minutes to go.

That woman next to you is a bitch. She won’t talk to me. She’s just talking to the people she came on the plane with. I just quit my job. I was a lawyer. It’s the first time I’ve ever quit a job. They lied to me. So I flipped my boss off and flew home two days early. I’m coming from Orlando. I live in California. I’m a single mom with a daughter. Tomorrow I have to fire my nanny. And my housekeeper. And my driver. I have a few months’ worth of savings though. Do you think I’ll be ok?

Yes. I’ve quit a few jobs already and I’m only 29. You’ll be fine.

But all I could think was: I work three jobs while also working on my PhD and make so little that, according to the helpful information on the city bus, I would actually qualify for food stamps. Lady, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re looking for sympathy from me. I didn’t say that though. Half the time I never even think it. Not until the moment has passed, but regardless, I never say it. Back to my book.

And there was the hand again. On my book.

What’s happening in the book?

A boy is being yelled at by a teacher.

You suck at explaining things. That’s boring.

That is literally what the last paragraph I read described.

I know. I hate the word literally too. I try to avoid it. But I said it. And it fit the moment. I didn’t want to engage by actually talking about the book. And I didn’t want to say, you asked a dumb question. Because the years of higher education have shown that old adage about there not being any stupid questions to be a stupid lie. There are plenty of stupid questions. As far as I'm concerned, at that very moment, she had asked one.

Snacks! To save me. The flight attendant came by. He who was to be my lover had my sexual orientation only been a bit more fluid. Alas.

Water and cranberry juice please.

Can I get a ginger ale? And vodka? And red wine?

Only one at a time, ma’am.

Ok, vodka and ginger ale please.

The poor flight attendant. His eyes drooped, he could barely look at her, his voice was flat, bored, done. Just done.

The vodka and ginger ale was served.

My daughter is 12. She’s a diver. She’s training with the US National Team. I did too, when I was her age. My daughter shaves all of her body hair. All of it. We didn’t do that when I was younger. Do you trim yours? What color is your pubic hair?

I looked at her. I answered. I didn’t know what to do. No one has ever asked me that before. But every hair on my head gives the answer away. All I could think was: no. No. Just no. Only two hours and 28 minutes to go.

Cool. This ginger ale is gross. Especially with vodka. What else goes well with vodka?

I don’t know? Tonic water? Orange juice?

The vodka and ginger ale disappeared. Apparently, it wasn’t that gross.

Excuse me; can I get that red wine now?

Of course.

Turns out vodka, ginger ale, and red wine will go through a middle-aged woman’s system in no time. And the woman to my right and I staggered out of our seats to allow her to head to the bathroom.

I just looked at the woman in front of me. My eyes wide. Shell-shocked. Tired. Pleading. At least, that’s what I told my eyes to convey. It worked.

I’m so sorry. You’re handling it so well. I’m really impressed. She started talking to me when I got on the plane. I just shut her down when she started touching me. And then she got into it with the flight attendant. Got smart with him. She wouldn’t let people sit here.

Dear god. That means I was chosen. She chose me to sit here.

She’s back. She tried making friends with the woman on the aisle.

Can I borrow your magazine? Us Weekly?

Sure. For a little bit.

Isn’t that crazy? This woman is just a year older than me. She looks good.

She does.

I don’t know if she was on a fishing expedition looking for compliments, but I was having none of it. Instead, I peered down at the caption. 42 year old Kelly Ripa blah blah blah. Ah ha! The woman to my left was 41. Not 29. Not in her 30s. At least that made sense.

Can I buy you something?

No. No. Just no.

But I still have my corporate card. I bought everyone a drink at the bar in Orlando. I’d never done that before. I’ll buy you something from SkyMall on my corporate card.

No. No. Just no.

What about this Big Foot statue? Or this Spanx compression undershirt? How about this? It’s supposed to help regrow hair for balding men. Or this one? It does the same.

No.
No.
No.
No.

You look hot. Are you hot?

Very.

Your ear is really red.

Yeah, that happens when I get hot.

Turn the fan on.

It’s on.

And suddenly, a tug. On my ear lobe. And then another. This one harder. She was pulling my ear towards her. I’m pretty sure that’s not helping the redness of my earlobe.

No. No. Just no.

And I turned my head away. Back to my book.

Something about your face makes me want to punch you in the nose.

Thanks.

I’m too nice. Or too scared. Or polite. Or Swedish. Self-loathing was setting in. But only about one hour and 28 minutes left. Not that I was counting.

The flight attendant walked by. Or tried to.

Excuse me? Sir? He hates it when I call him sir.

Oh.

Can I have another drink?

No.

Are you cutting me off?

No. We’re landing soon.

My eyebrow shot up. We had well over an hour left. But that’s fine by me. The flight attendant walked away.

Will you buy me a drink?

No. No. Just no.

I’ll pay for it.

No. No. Just no.

Am I annoying? Am I obnoxious?

Yes.

Silence. Sweet, sweet silence. Finally. I finished my book even. Great book.

Thank you.

For what?

For letting me talk. And for telling me I was being annoying.

You’re welcome.

Damn you! Why must you play on my desire to be nice? All those mean thoughts? They feel so petty now. But we were landing. Or preparing to land.

How much time do you have in Vegas?

An hour.

That was a lie. I had over two, but I wasn’t interested in having to slither my way out of continuing this very one-sided conversation outside the friendly confines of a Boeing 737.

We landed. The woman to my right stood up. So did I. She stayed sitting by the window. I grabbed my bag. I did not look back. I used my long legs and strode off the plane. I went to the left. I saw the departure board. I didn’t look. I didn’t care. The left offered me an escape. I turned left. I turned right. I turned right again. I was free. I had found a secluded gate. I waited. I peed. Not at the gate. There was a bathroom nearby. I looked around. Nothing. To the departure board! As expected, my flight was delayed, but the gate was right there. And empty. And I was free. Free. Just free.

I hate flying. So much.

Welcome to Swedish-America. And pure, unadulterated hatred. For flying.