When I arrived at the Helsinki airport last Monday afternoon, I was pleased to see that Johann was waiting for me. It was a kindness I repaid by haranguing him for waiting in the terminal for the past hour even though I told him my flight was delayed.
“But I didn’t know when you’d get here,” he explained. “So I just came at the original time.”
“That’s why I gave you my flight number,” I said. “So that you could check.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I even told you how to do it,” I continued. “You Google the number and it comes right up. Did you Google it?”
“I didn’t Google it,” he answered.
“Well you should have,” I said. “Then you wouldn’t have been waiting for an hour.”
He sighed. “It’s good to see you, Nova. Really. I missed you.”
I found it hard to believe that Johann missed me, especially since the very next thing I did was cut four people in the line for train tickets. I did it on purpose too because there were two machines and, for whatever reason, people only wanted to use one of them.
“I don’t know why no one is using the other machine,” I complained.
“Because that machine is only for long-distance trains and everyone’s probably going to the city center,” Johann answered.
He was only half right. Both machines sold tickets to the city center. And I knew that for a fact because the same thing happened the first time I visited Helsinki and, having also lost my patience on that occasion, I was familiar with the long distance machine.
“I did this before,” I said as I stepped out of line and began selecting options from the screen. Behind me, I heard Johann make the sound that people always make when I’m about to do something rude, but they still kind of want to see me do it.
“What?” I asked, turning back to Johann in line. “I have things to do. Don’t you?”
I punched a few more buttons.
“There,” I said. “See? Helsinki – City Center. First option.”
He stepped out of line and looked over my shoulder as I inserted my credit card.
“Hmm,” was all he managed.
“First time here?” I asked, handing him a ticket. “New in town?”
Incredibly, after watching that transaction take place, the rest of the line remained planted firmly in place, even as the woman at the first machine inserted what could only have been a $50 note and received the change for her $5 ticket in the form of slot machine winnings.
“USE BOTH MACHINES” I yelled as I stepped onto the escalator.
You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of the girl.
Despite all that, Johann decided that it was a good idea for me to meet his friends. They were all perfectly lovely, even the one who cornered me in her boyfriend’s kitchen to let me know that Johann is often grumpy and he never brings girls around – two points that I suspect are actually related.
“He’s really picky,” she said matter-of-factly. “So good for you.”
I didn’t share her enthusiasm. “Well there’s plenty wrong with me,” I joked.
“Oh, I’m sure there is,” she answered. “But that’s the thing. He doesn’t seem to care!”
Then, because she had no idea who she was dealing with, she handed me six miniature candles and granted me unsupervised access to a birthday cake. I can only assume she was fresh out of grenades. Later, when I told Johann it was me who placed the candles on the cake, I swear, he walked into the kitchen and glanced around the room half-expecting to see icing on the walls.
All jokes aside, Johann and I had a nice week together – even as it became increasingly clear that there is, in fact, plenty wrong with both of us. But his friend was right about one thing: it doesn’t seem to matter.
Which brings us to the question that everyone probably has: Are you going to see him again? Yes. That’s the plan, at least – though there’s not much of one beyond that, so don’t bother asking any follow up questions. Also, I’d appreciate it if no one explained to me that long distance relationships hardly ever “work” even without the added obstacle of immigration. And don’t lecture me on “being realistic” because I stopped doing that around the time I quit my day job and packed up for South Africa a year ago. My life is one big exercise in shucking expectations and convention. If anyone can do this, it’s me.
But I know a lot of you will think it anyway – and I’ll grant you this: you may very well be right. I might fall flat on my face. In which case, it’s a good thing I know how to work the airport ticket machines.