Best friends forever: Part one

Everyone knows real estate is about location. A young couple picks a home so as to be in a good school district, a businessman to have an impressive address in an upper-class enclave, a hippie to be close to “nature.” An Enthusiast is no exception.

But an Enthusiast’s real estate concerns are about how far it is to whet one’s whistle. Such is doubly important when an Enthusiast is away from his home real estate, whether on a honeymoon with a blushing bride or on a lark with a favorite prostitute—or waiting on a new visa for one’s adopted home country in the closest neighboring nation and hoping that the discovery of a nest of one’s adopted home country’s spies in one’s original home country would not derail one’s plans.

Well, now safely back in St. Petersburg (the cold one, in my adopted Russian home; not the festering pustule on the shaft of America’s most penile state) I will share with you, dear reader, tales of my jaunt to Helsinki, Finland.

Some of my best friends are Finnish (okay, one of), but because my visit to the northern nation was badly out of sync with his departure, as well as the departure of almost everyone he put me in touch with, I was left alone to fall back on my most tried and true buddies: PBR, Jack Daniels, and Taaka.

Or as they are known in Finland: Karhu, Salmari, and Koskenkorva.

But where to meet my friends? Where to warm myself in the glow of their unshakeable affection? Well, besides the obvious everywhere, the closest and most stumble-accessible place to where I was staying turned out to be right across the street: Pub Pete.

Thursday was karaoke night. This man sang “People are Strange.”

Pub Pete is a medium-sized bar, with booths lining the front window, a back room with a pool table, darts, and a couple foosball games (usually telltale jock bar signs, but outside America everyone is into soccer and shit, so I guess that’s okay), and a greenhouse-like smoking patio out front full of wonderful CO2. With a jukebox stuffed with Springsteen, the Doors, and the Rolling Stones, the place very much resembled a dive bar in the United States.

Pub Pete was situated on a side street not far from the central Helsinki bus terminal, between a gas station and either a free detox center or homeless housing (I don’t understand Finnish, but a line of sore-filled faces waiting outside a new-ish office building with a government seal on it suggested it was one or the other).

Which is to say, in the view of the alcohol enthusiast, prime fucking real estate.

But it wasn’t all homeless people. The clientele of Pub Pete also included metal kids, post-practice, guitars under their arms and even a few attractive young women; one of whom may have been a drunk-mute, a crackhead, or both. But mostly, of course, it was homeless folks—though some of them weren’t technically bereft of real estate, thanks to the largesse of Finland’s socialist government.

I ordered a Karhu, which is a beer that has a nice bear logo and tastes a little like PBR. Only later did I feel like asshole, realizing it was actually the second cheapest beer I could have bought. The cheapest, by about 40 cents, was Koff, which tastes like MGD mixed with water, but is extra cool because its name is English for a somewhat unpleasant expulsion of air.

Brew in hand, I was ready to “creep,” as The Situation might say. But instead of miniskirts and spray tans, my potential conversation mates sported high-waisted shorts, way-too-comfortable sneakers and stained XXL t-shirts. I sat at the bar for a while, browsing a stack of board games (most Helsinki bars I visited have board games), considered doing the 100-piece “Cuddly Kittens” jigsaw, then went back to scanning the room for new friends.

A few beers and a meander out to the smoking patio later, a large woman tried to say something to me in Finnish, then switched to English, asking if I was staying at the hostel across the street.

“Yeah,” I said.

“I hate that place,” she replied.

I immediately joined her at a table and tried to elicit an explanation. It turned out her reasons revolved more around the fact that she hated being, what she described as, “homeless,” and needing to constantly move from hostel to hostel.

She told me about another hostel that was a lot better, but then went on to say they weren’t being too nice to her and wouldn’t give back her things. From there, the conversation turned to America. It seems like every Finnish alco—excuse me, Enthusiast—I met had been stateside, usually for an extended period of time, and with what each described as a good job. This woman had been a hostess at an upscale French restaurant in Los Angeles for three years. It was good work, she said.

Our conversation disintegrated into fragments about her possibly having been a stewardess, the annoyance of long-distance bus travel, and something about either the Moscow or Los Angeles summer Olympics.

And then she was out the door, a packed plastic grocery bag under her arm.

To be continued…

Reporting from Russia