Friday, November 27, 2009

One Smelly Cannoli in the Gym

I am in the gym, doing my thing. The gym is small. These are old buildings so they have been converted into many things that they were never intended for. The gym has several rooms that kind of meander around in a jig saw puzzle kind of way. There is a particular section that is probably the size of a large bedroom that people use to stretch, do sit-ups, etc.

I head into this room to finish up my work out. I grab one of the giant exercise balls to do some crunches. There is a kid in there. I have seen him in the gym before. I have mildy amused myself thinking that 15 years ago I would thought him possibly worthy of working into my web, at least for a week or two. Not really being into the whole cougar thing, the thoughts quickly leave my mind and my brain moves back to the au courant place of the populist anger filtering out of my iPod.

As I enter into the small room, he is acting unusual. Nervous, maybe. Whatever, I think to myself. I chalk it up to the stereotypical Swedish, almost to the point of neurosis, reservation. Even stranger, he abruptly leaves.

Then it hits me. The stench. A green fog of putrid odor ordered up from some hell-like depths of his bowels. Gee, thanks for the parting gift, I think. Not so cute anymore, more smelly.

Now I am alone in the stretching area. In comes unsuspecting stretcher number three. And it hits me. Oh. My. God. He thinks I did that. That I am responsible for that, what is now just a lingering chartreuse mist, permeating the air. I wanted to explain, "No really, it wasn't me, it was the blonde kid. You saw him, right? He was in here, not two minutes ago, I swear." But, being somewhat neurotically reserved at times myself, I lived with the incrimination of the cannoli.

This was a few days ago but today I saw the kid again. Of course, now when I see him, I think of the cannoli. Probably it's all the other unsuspecting stretcher can think when he sees me next too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

American Taliban

But isn't it a wonderful world Carolina
Look at the birds in the sky
Jehovah made this whole joint for you, Carolina
and isn't it so wonderful to be alive

It all started so innocently. An American acquaintance on mine, fed up with ordering $5 cups of hot cocoa and then getting it handed back to her three quarters full, looked to the rest of the women at the table and said "Someone explain this to me". To which this answer was only an accepting shrug and a "Welcome to Europe".

Now, I didn't start this. Honest. But somehow the conversation got geared towards WHY? and the for WHAT reasons? and the ARE you all CRAZIES? with a little of LIFE doesn't have to be like this! thrown in for good measure. Honestly, I politely sat through it and didn't say too terribly much. What I did say was weighted. I long ago stopped trying to convert the lemmings. Banging my head against the wall would be a more fruitful endeavor.

As it was, I didn't have to do much but observe. What makes this especially interesting is my friend, who is not bashful or short on opinion, is a Mormon, a follower of the Church of Latter Day Saints. To be quite honest, in my view, Mormonism is really out there. However, I know quite a many LDS folks and truly they are made of some of the best stuff there is. Also, as a side note, you rarely meet a poor Mormon. And that makes me like them all the more.

The answer slowly unfolded like a five day old burrito and it held quite a stench. The Europeans, representing four different countries, at the table told us, that because America is such a religious society, we look to God for answers and because Europe is so secular they choose to look to the government. All four of them agreed. There we had it, America is but one religious leader away from being a big, giant Taliban with nukes.

And we are insular? I don't even think I can blame on insularity. Misinformed? Creating delusions that fit your world view that has been shaped by a lifetime of controlled media? True, America is more religious than Europe. Or maybe I should say America is more Christian than Europe. That vacuum is currently being filled.

To hear these people talk, a good 90 percent of us spend our weekends down at the Baptist hall practicing speaking in tongues while waiting for the rapture.

I am not religious at all. Just could never get there. I do not fear people who are. In fact, many of the people I call my friends are and always have been. They never preach to me or try to convert me. Of course, I know they think I am going to hell for not believing. That doesn't bother me either. Why? I probably do not believe it. In many ways I envy people of faith. I always say I'd rather have had faith and be wrong than believe in nothing and be right.

Does that mean there are not close minded, bigoted, fanatical zealots? Ofcourse not. But then, those people are more than alive and well in the circles travelled by the secularists. They are very healthfully represented in the new church of the environment. And, yeah, those people DO scare me. A lot. There is also no shortage of self-righteous liberal seculars and humanist religionists who belong to the cult of perpetual grievances and pathological social movements. I'll take a pass on them also.

If I had to make a choice between putting my faith in a God or putting my faith in the men of government, I'd go with some supreme supernatural being or nothing at all. Every time. Many people have suffered in the name of God but far more have suffered at the hands of their own government and countrymen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flash Mobs in the City Center

I miss all the good stuff. There were a series of flash mobs in the city center this week. The first one posted took place at T-Centralen which I see, at least, ten times a week. The second in the famous NK Department Store located close by. Unfortunately, I missed it all. Though from what I read, flash mobs are a rather common occurrence here in Stockholm.

A flash mob is defined as a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


It is nearly twilight time here in Northern Europe. That would be the time of year when day light is limited to a few brief hours. At the tale end, it will barely get light beyond twilight at all during the day. The days shrink until December 21st or so and then gradually get longer.

For some odd reason, I love it. There is something so relaxing about perpetual night time. A less guilt ridden excuse to give in to laziness and winter retreatism. In a word, it is snuggly. A few months long, perpetual putting your head back under the covers and hitting the snooze button. On those crazy race track American lifestyle days it is the slowness of these days that I long for but can never be replicated on American soil.

It is not anything I would want year in and year out as I need the sun to function. But to indulge in it a few years out of an entire lifetime is a guilty pleasure indeed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flick Your Bic

Round two at the orthodontist's office. It went well and did not cost even half as much as the last visit. No goodie bag emblazoned with his logo filled with fun little flosses, brushes and new products to try out. Nothing particularly notable. Oh yeah, I have to admit astonishment when instead of pulling out a the high-tech precision soldering tool that I am used to seeing, to get the thermoplastic material to a softened state, he pulled out a "high-tech" Bic lighter. Budget cuts, I guess.

Aye, yi, yi....carumba.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How the Sheep are Shorn

Or Taxation: How it Shrinks Economies and Initiative

At a dinner the other evening I got into a conversation with a woman who owned a company. She explained her company to me and it was in the same line of work as what I do. Later, the conversation turned to her asking if I would like to do some work for her. Initially, I thought it sounded great.

Then I thought about it further. If I were to work for this person, any income I make would be taxed at the highest income tax rate in Sweden. That would be 59 point something percent. Mind you, this is after a reduction. It was somewhere around 62 percent. For every dollar, I made, I would have to give the government 60 cents. At this point, I am working hard to see the up side. Jees, you must make a boatload of money then to be in this tax rate. Maybe, maybe not. This rate applies to around 300,000 Swedes with the very highest incomes, starting at 75,000 dollars a year. I don't know what is worse that only 300k Swedes make more than 75k a year or that they start this draconian rate at 75k. Who'd want to make more than 75k, you'd only be punished for your success.

For fun, I will also factor in the fact that Swedish employers match the employee’s withholding with a separate employer’s tax of 40 something percent. Let's also recognize that corporations do not pay taxes. They either pass them on to the consumer and they simply keep wages lower to compensate. Hence, the insane consumer prices.

Now, I go out shopping with my wage deflated forty cents on every dollar. Nearly every purchase is met with the 25% national sales tax or VAT tax! Factoring in my payroll tax, my employers contribution and my VAT taxes, I am now in the negative. In the red, over 20 percent. Wow, what a deal, where do I sign up?

Friday, November 6, 2009

These Shoes Are Made For...Fixing?

Here in Stockholm, nestled in between the Turkish pizza joints, the endless hair salons, the golden key makers, the dry cleaners and the coffee shops you will find a plethora of choices for shoe repair. It is safe to say I could walk two blocks in any direction and find a few. I didn't know people still repaired shoes but apparently they do. Enough to support several high rent Vastastan locations to boot. (no pun intended). Sometimes, the shoe repair place doubles as the key making place and triples as the dry cleaner. Not really any weirder than when the Taco Bell doubles as the Pizza Hut when you stop to think about it. Incidentally, I hate when they do that.

When I peek in the shops, business appears to be brisk. Shoes line the shelves, two by two in little black pairs. Typically, they do not appear to be shoes worth salvaging but there they sit waiting for new heels or zippers. The place down the road usually has two guys working diligently. Peering in through the window, one younger man looking to be of immigrant status, arduously cobbles away at a heel of a boot or diligently inspects the sole of an Italian leather.

Who even repairs shoes anymore? I can not even think of but one shoe repair place that I know of. It's a little ramshackle building on Main Avenue in Durango, Colorado. The business is actually second generation and run by the son of an Italian immigrant and cobbler. Naturally, he was taught the trade by his father growing up in the apartment upstairs from the shop. Durango is known for outdoor sports so I would think he sees many hiking and skiing boots, too pricey and used too little to just discard. I'd also imagine using his services is a bit of a sentimental act for locals in Durango.

I shudder imagining what it would even cost to have a shoe repair here in Stockholm. I used the key makers and that was frightening enough. I have used the dry cleaners and I think it may have just been more cost effective to buy new clothes, certainly it would have been more satisfying. Looking back, it was close to $35 for a suit jacket and a pair of dress trousers. The place by my house in the US is less than $5 for the same two articles of clothing.

Thinking about it, I used a shoe repair guy once. I had these shoes I loved, a funky pair of Doc Martin knockoff type things. They were really unique. Ah man, I loved those shoes. You could wear them with anything: shorts, jeans, dresses. The buckle broke off. I thought I couldn't part with them. Even though I had bought them for seven dollars on clearance, I brought them to the shoe repair guy to get a new buckle put on. My attention span and wherewithal being what it is, I never went back to get them. Which really wasn't very nice now that I stop to think about it.

I wonder whatever happened to those little beauties? Some lucky girl, somewhere, benefited from my inaction. I do my part.

If we really get back to a place where repairing our shoes is commonplace, I don't know if that is a world I really want to live in. Yeah, I said it. Just the thought of it is depressing. Unless ofcourse, we start wearing some sort of high technology Jetson like shoes that double as something else like, maybe, some sort of space age travel apparatus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Don't Know My Rodneys From My Stanleys

Nor do I know my Kappas from my Reeboks. Actually I have zero desire. I am talking about soccer. It is difficult to articulate my utter distain for soccer. It is deeper than just not liking a sport, it goes against the grain of something elemental in all good Americans. It is just wrong. Embracing soccer would be like adding a jar of Nutella to the pantry and putting it right next to the peanut butter.

I got into it once with a soccer coach. He was talking about David Beckham and explained to me that people do not understand that soccer is different. A player can be one of the best in the world and hardly ever score a goal. Ofcourse, I found that amusing. It put it all into perspective for me. Made sense. That is why the areas of the world that take it seriously as a sport embrace it. That about sums up their entire world view right there.

I do not have a problem with rugby. Americans, as a rule, don't play rugby. A Brit once explained the class structure of sports to me. I was told in Britain, it's a class thing. Blue collar plays soccer, white collar plays rugby. I do not know that we have class distinctions in sports. I guess raising thoroughbreds is a rich man's sport. Golf used to be an upper class sport but now it seems everyone golfs. Not so much because golf has gotten cheaper either, we have all just gotten a lot richer as much as most people like to believe otherwise.

I am glad the rest of the world has soccer. World soccer fans should be happy it doesn't catch on with anyone over the age of ten in the United States. Imagine if it was a popular as basketball or football. All of the best players in the world would come to the United States. Every soccer club in the world would become a farm team for US soccer as the best players would go for the highest dollar payday in the US, not at home. Hopefully for the good of all, Americans will never warm to it.