Continued from yesterday’s “Best friends forever: Part one.”
I resumed scanning the room. Across from me in at the bar was a skinny middle-aged blond man I’d seen a few times over the last week and who—to my perhaps overly enthusiastic mind—was either pretending to have, or actually only had, one arm. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that his other arm, strung up in a sling, was obscured by his blue jean vest. He was accompanied by what looked like a younger clone—but with two arms—and indeed, my previous companion had suggested this was his beloved son. They got the father-son special: a pitcher of sangria for 13 Euros.
I walked over to the three electronic slot machines (another feature of Helsinki bars and convenience stores). I played a 20-cent piece, got confused, and lost, then noticed a familiar looking fourth machine that seemed to have a different game—a digital version of Jasso (or Payazzo, as Wikipedia informs me it is also called) that I had played elsewhere a few days before. I dropped in my 20 cents, pulled the trigger and immediately won 60 more.
Now with analog Jasso, you drop a coin into a slot and flick a pinball-esque trigger to try and shoot the coin into one of a few different vertical columns, each representing a different amount of prize money. It’s a lot of fun, actually, like that American carnival game where you fire a coin at a moving platform full of coins and trinkets in an attempt to knock them down a slot to you. I won a pocketknife covered in sand once in that game, but I wasn’t quite as lucky at Jasso, eventually dropping a few Euros. Digital Jasso, at least as it’s played at Pub Pete, is basically the same: you flick a real coin, but then it falls down into a hole and appears on a computer screen. Which, I can testify, is just not as much fun, no matter how many Karhus you’ve had.
Waiting for yet another such beverage, I was approached by another woman of the same general demeanor as my previous conversation partner, though probably a few years and/or gallons of beer her minor. Again, she tried Finnish, and I didn’t understand, and she switched.
“I was asking you if you were standing in line,” she said in English.
Several more slurred questions later she deduced that my birthplace was Russia (it’s not), and roundly chastized me for the Winter War, before pausing to remember all the brave Finns lost in battle. She seemed on the verge of tears. Together, we concluded this segment of the conversation with a general fuck-you to Russia and a proud declaration about the essential strength of the Finnish nation vis-a-vis its much larger enemy to east.
Sitting down at a table by the window, the conversation moved to how much she loves vodka (a lot), and her trying to make suggestions of places in Finland I should visit, suggestions I mostly didn’t understand and involved pointing at places on a local map that had somehow materialized.
I asked if she had ever been to St. Petersburg, which is about six hours from Helsinki. Yes, she said, but her opinions of the trip were mixed. She and her friends had been drunk the entire time, including on the bus ride over, which seemed to have caused the Russians onboard, many accompanied by small children, to “not like them very much.”
Her group of what she described as “alcoholics” (I had to correct her English here: Enthusiasts) stayed somewhere on the edge of the city and drank continually through the weekend. She told me she didn’t care to see the touristy stuff when she traveled.
Like so many of my Pub Pete friends, she had visited America for an extended period of time. She had also worked in London as a chef for a few years, but finally tired of the atmosphere. The kitchens were full of Muslims, she told me, and “they don’t treat women right.”
Typical Muslim reacting to a woman.
After returning to Finland and working in Helsinki restaurants, she fell out of the trade altogether. Now she had a new job: driving a tram for the city.
“But they are always yelling at me,” she told me. “They still treat me as if I’m new, though I’ve been there almost three years.”
She went on to describe the indignation that had been visited upon her a few days earlier, a result of what she called “the accident.”
“They were just yelling at me because we were going to be late…” she said. Trailing off, she alternately described “the accident” as having been her accidentally arriving late, or her causing the tram to hit a man. Possibly an old man.
I tried to get clarification, but that only seemed to obscure the facts even more.
Then her friend arrived, a fellow tram worker, actually a waitress on the Helsinki Pub tram (yes, they have that). In a weird kind of Finnish huff, the tram waitress promptly informed me that the unfortunate tram driver “just wanted to relax” and led her off to another table about as far away as you can get in Pub Pete.
A week later, sitting by myself in record-breaking heat on a slow-moving train back to St. Petersburg, I thought of all the friends I’d made at Pub Pete. From the homeless hostess, to the three-armed blond dynasty, to the possible maimer of the elderly.
Two women moved up the train’s aisle, the latter carrying a metal shopping basket. “Pivo ili sok?” The woman in front asked. “Beer or juice?”
Sometimes we Enthusiasts go out into the world and meet other interesting souls. We share stories, and, together, hash over the lost loves, squandered opportunities and real or imagined slights of our liquid-filled lives. Some of these new friends become true friends. Some remain fleeting acquaintances. But through it all, we always know that the closest friend a true Enthusiast has is the one you can take with you.
“Pivo,” I said without hesitation.