Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cub Scouts in Stockholm

I am a failed Boy Scout. That’s not true, I never actually made it to the Boy Scouts. I quit after Webelos. It was a good run. A run filled with plenty of Cub Scout meetings. Aside from the Pinewood Derby, I remember three things: our den leader nearly burning down his garage, learning to change a flat tire, and playing Nightmare on Sesame Street with a child-sized play set.

There are probably several things you think I should remember from those days. Like how to read a map. Or a compass. How to build a fire. Maybe how to tie several different knots. Survival skills.

I don’t remember those things. I don’t know if we even learned how to do those things. Maybe they were only for the Boy Scouts. All that matters is that at the age of 30, I can’t do most of those things properly (and plenty of others, actually).

Of the long list of skills I do not have, there is one in particular that rears its ugly head all too often. I am incapable of reading a map. This matters because I am in a book club. I am in a book club and was on my way to our monthly meeting the other night. Our monthly meeting rotates between the different members. People move. New people join. I’ve been gone for four years. I can’t read a map.

This time though, I was late. I hate being late. I get really flustered and I sweat a lot. I should specify that a lot just means more than usual. So as the clock struck 6:30pm, I was just climbing off the subway instead of walking through a front door. And because I was sweaty and flustered, I walked out the wrong subway entrance. Despite looking at a map. It’s something I do on a regular basis when I’m in a hurry and stop to look at a map thinking that it will help orient me.

My continued attempts at map reading would prove to add several minutes to my walk. But have no fear. I have an iPhone! With Google Maps! And so I was on my way stretching my long legs as long as my legs would stretch. I turned right when I should have turned left. Despite looking at a map. Maps are hard. But I righted myself, like any former Cub Scout would do.

That’s when my cousin called. Wondering. She’s in the book club too, you see. Have no fear, dear cousin, for I am on my way! Those were probably my exact words. I hung up, and kept walking. Faster now.

I turned left and looked down to see my iPhone shut off. In just 15 minutes, 40% of my battery had disappeared. A minor inconvenience, but I remembered the address and the code into the building. This would be easy. Who needs maps anyway? Especially when you can’t read them properly.

I kept walking and came to a fork in the road. Two roads diverged in a city, and I, I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. Because it was the wrong, god damned road. I found my way back to the correct road and walked through the front door of the building about 30 minutes late. Not my finest moment.

Most Swedish apartment buildings (and maybe apartment buildings in other countries) have a noticeboard where the names of each apartment occupant is listed along with their floor number. I went to the board. And was met with a wave of embarrassment. There was no one there, and I could still feel my cheeks heat up and the sweat droplets forming. That's what embarrassment feels like. Because I didn’t know the last name of the person in whose apartment we would be discussing Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her (a book I had suggested, by the way). It was on my phone. My very dead phone. Shit.

I went to the top floor. And I stopped at every. Single. Door. I gently placed my ear near the door and listened for any hint of English. Eight floors. Several apartments on each floor. As those sweat droplets began dripping off the tip of my nose, I creepily listened for a few seconds. Nothing. No English. No literary discussions. No arrests, either. In case you were wondering.

Down to the lobby I went. At this point, I had no cell phone. Which meant no email. No calendar. No map. And I was frozen by my lack of technology. Frozen! My Cub Scout training kicked in, because word association. Or something. My phone was also frozen. Batteries don’t just dump 40% for nothing. My poor iPhone was cold. I found a chair in the lobby, sat down, and did the only logical thing left to do: I took out my phone, smushed it between my hands, and smushed my hands between my knees. Bending over, my forehead nearly touched my knees as I used my body heat to warm a piece of metal, plastic, glass, and precious minerals. There’s probably some sort of social commentary to be made about my position mimicking that of a person in prayer, but my focus being on the physical, the technological, the secular.

Whatever. It worked. With a warm phone in hand, I was able to turn it on, open my email and find which floor I was meant to be on. The seventh. Up I went. In I strode. Embarrassed. Sweaty. Flushed. Forty-five minutes late.

Welcome to Sweden. And the last Cub Scout.

P.S. Having made it this far, you deserve some good writing. Check out fellow former Cub Scout Peter Derk’s work here. I’ve been creepily following him on Twitter at @helpfulsnowman. I don’t think I’ve seen or talked to him since at least high school. It doesn’t matter. He’s a damn fine writer. Read his stuff here: Origins or Tough Shoot: A Short Essay or The First of Me: Stories or Barehanded: Poems.


  1. I think I would have given up and just gone home... Well done!

    1. I think it was my Cub Scout training kicking in.