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Category: How people act (page 1 of 3)

What’s it like in the big house, Mickey?


I just stopped in the middle of shaving off my beard when I suddenly saw that the man in the mirror was Mickey from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

Historic Stockholm Imagery

I have recently become addicted to a website called Stockholms Källan.

The site is an amazing treasure trove of historical images of Stockholm. You can search by names or locations to find old photos and documents relating to whatever you’re interested in.

This image is from a 1960’s short film called “Ditt Stockholm” (“Your Stockholm”). It is a melodramatic public service film made to discourage people from littering and vandalizing in the city.

I found it wildly entertaining, not just because of the old timey views of the city and the people, but from the perspective of Swedish filmmaking and its characteristic qualities of sparse timing and minimalism.

Here’s the film. Enjoy!
http://stockholmskallan.se/Soksida/Post/?nid=20681

Anne

Here’s my co-worker Anne Instagramming before our after-work party. She was upset that all the men in the office had already begun drinking in the kitchen before 5:00 while the women were still working in the other room.

 

Caption this photo

1: Shit. Do all of these have alarm tags on them?

2: Why are we leaving notes for criminals on specific items? Everybody knows you might get caught if you steal things, so does this sticker mean “run faster because they’re gonna know you took something”?

3: Why are razor blades so damn expensive in the first place? Yeah, I know the Gillette story – give away the razors and make your money on the blades – but this is worse than printer ink.

4: I’m not gonna buy these, I mean the last think I want is another alarm going off in the morning.

5: I’d like to speak with the manager, please. I tried to steal this memory card which was clearly not labeled as having an alarm tag, then the sirens went off and I had to act like I was just looking at those shitty wreaths and i didn’t realize I was so close to the door.

Add your own caption in the comments below.

Pancakes and pea soup? Must be Thursday!

A week ago, it was Thanksgiving in America. Here in Sweden it was just another Thursday.

But every Thursday in Sweden brings with it a tradition many times older than Thanksgiving. It’s even many times older than the United States. Thursday in Sweden means one thing: pancakes and pea soup.

Swedish pancakes are very thin, unlike American pancakes. They are more doughy than crêpes but thin enough to be folded. They’re served with whipped cream and fruit preserves; typically strawberry, raspberry, blueberry or cloudberry.

The pea soup that accompanies them is not necessarily green. It is sometimes made with yellow peas. The pea soup in Sweden almost always has pork or ham in it, so a lot of people like to season it with mustard. Because I’m vegetarian, I skip over the pea soup on Thursdays and go straight to a double serving of pancakes.

The tradition of eating pancakes and pea soup on Thursdays goes back hundreds of years to when Sweden was more heavily populated with Catholics. I’m talking like more than 500 years ago.

Back when the Catholics were running the show and they were fasting on Fridays, the day before required a big, hearty meal. A large serving of meaty pea soup topped with a heavy dessert of sweet pancakes and even sweeter toppings was just the trick to fill up those Swedish bellies for the long haul through to Saturday morning.

After the country’s modern borders with Denmark were drawn and the Protestant Reformation took hold, the Catholic religion was largely pushed outside the borders. Today, most religions would find Sweden to be a really hard place to find followers. However, the tradition of pancakes and pea soup has survived.

Most restaurants in Stockholm have pancakes and pea soup on the lunch menu every Thursday. This meal is also still served to members of the Swedish military each week. (What? Sweden has a military?) Yes, and the country also has a king. In fact, the official name of the country is “Kingdom of Sweden.” (Sure it is.)

This dietary tradition has even claimed a notable victim. In 1577, the 43-year-old King Erik XIV, a Lutheran (gasp!) died after eating a bowl of pea soup tainted with arsenic.

Personally, I haven’t tasted any poison in my Thursday meals, but I did just now get a kick out of using the word “tainted.” Sheesh, I’d want to die, too, if someone did that to my soup. Ew.

My co-worker Fredrik is seen photographing his Swedish pancakes while sporting a traditional Scandinavian fisherman’s sweater (popularized by Pippi Longstocking, so it is sometimes called by her name “Pippi-sweater”)

“French” “Mustard”

Iida is enjoying some “French” “mustard” on the way to see Spiritualized.

I think I just got me some of that epilepsy

I saw a fantastic weeknight concert with Spiritualized tonight, but I think they just gave me some of that epilepsy.

K Composite Halloween

K Composite Halloween party at Debaser Slussen in Stockholm.

If you’re on a computer, you can click images to enlarge, then use the N and P keys to see the Next and Previous images.

Stockholm has one Halloween store

As we’ve discussed in previous years, Halloween in Sweden is not what it is in America. But it’s getting there. (See Halloween in Sweden, 27 October 2009)

I’ve noticed an increase in the excitement and decorations for Halloween just within the three autumns I’ve been living in Stockholm.

The city has one main store where people go to get costumes and supplies. The store, located centrally on Drottninggatan, is called Butterick’s.

Butterick’s opened there in 1903 and is now a 3-story complex which begins at street level and goes down two more floors.

The place is a madhouse in the weeks leading up to Halloween and even has a line queued up outside. A guard at the door lets more people in as other people leave.

A line of people waiting to get into Butterick’s on 30 October 2012

The terrifying ghost above Drottninggatan in front of Butterick’s

Emmy D

This is my dear friend and confidant Emily Dahl who works magic behind the camera for K Composite Magazine.

We had a business meeting tonight. And by “business meeting” I mean that we talked about photography and publishing for about 30 minutes, then drank for a couple hours.

All business.

Oktoberfezt

My friend and former co-worker Elin trying on my glasses at the after work Oktoberfest we held with current co-workers. I think that’s a sentence.

Miss Holsclaw was at lunch

“Well, Miss Holsclaw was at lunch so I just give Tammy a roll of dimes and she run to the libary and just use they mimeograph for the struction sheets.”

Claire Danes

I’m posting this for my friend Iida. It’s a much younger Scott Ritcher with Claire Danes in NYC, July 2001.

Act Princessy

“Kom igen, Madge. Keep it together. Act princessy. Ten more minutes.”

Nice try, Rembrandt

Nice try, Rembrandt. Don’t quit your day job of smashing crackers and screaming bloody murder.

Starring Julia Lind

Julia is taking advantage of that hallway in Ella’s building that looks like a stage set. “Let me just disappear!”

Grocery Store Ad

Grocery store ad at a bus stop.

One of these questions is asked by Swedish kids but not American kids: “Why is space black? Does God exist? What’s for dinner tonight?”

A grown man

This is my friend Ty. He is an American and a grown man.

World’s most awesome rental car

World’s most awesome rental car. Too bad we didn’t bring any good tapes.

Here’s our 300 kr/day rental car (about $45) on the ferry crossing from the main island of Gotland to beautiful Fårö, en route to Ingmar Bergman’s neighborhood.

That’s better.

“You know what would make this 300-year old church look better? My bullshit graffiti. There, that’s better.”

Kodak v. Duckface

An epidemic has consumed our young. Now it is set to ruin photography as a whole.

I’m speaking, of course, about girls making kissy faces and acting like models in every self-taken photo they post on the Internet. The plague has become known simply as Duckface.

Perhaps this pose was cute when Audrey Hepburn did it, but it just doesn’t have the same effect if you are holding the camera yourself, standing next to your toilet and wearing your ex-boyfriend’s high school hoodie.

Exhibit 1: Duckface

 

What ever happened to smiling?

Some may see the death of smiling in photos as a by-product of popular culture, but I think this plague has much deeper roots.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, it was practically unheard of to take a picture of yourself.

Not only was it expensive, but for most people who didn’t have their own darkroom, you’d have to wait several days to see the printed proof of how stupid you look.

On top of that, you couldn’t take just one picture and look at it. Believe it or not, kids, but photographs came in groups of 12 or 24 or 36, what was referred to as a “roll” of film.

Fotomat drive-thru featuring one-day service. Frackin’ finally!

After shooting a dozen or more photos, you’d then drive to the Fotomat or SupeRx drugstore, drop off your film, and come back a few days later to collect your package of photos.

Inevitably, there would be fewer prints than the number of pictures you expected because something went wrong.

After all the waiting, that highly-anticipated photo you snapped on your school trip to King’s Island of your classmate who you had a crush on, well, it just didn’t turn out. A lot of things didn’t turn out right in those days.

If a photo you really hoped for wasn’t in the envelope, you may even resort to looking through the tiny brown and orange negatives that came with your prints to see what happened or to order a reprint.

The process of needing to pay someone to develop and print your photos also meant that some strangers somewhere would inevitably see every photo you made. Film photography lacked an entirely different kind of privacy than digital photography. Someone else always saw your pictures before you did.


Instant gratification

An advertisement for the Swedish comedy sketch show “Partaj” makes fun of “online beauty” and the duckface.

Certainly nobody would ever waste the kind of time and money it took to make frivolously large stacks of photographs unless they were as rich as J.R. Ewing or as indulgent as Mackenzie Phillips. But most ragers with that kind of party scratch (these are slang terms) would go the Polaroid route like Richard Pryor and Andy Warhol.

Polaroid was the instant gratification of its day and that luxury came with a premium price tag.

For generations, for the vast millions on Earth, the simple truth was that if you owned a picture of yourself it was because you had been in a room with someone else who had a camera. And that photo was taken at least several days ago.

Basically, photos were taken by friends, relatives and photographers.

These days, that’s not the case.

 

Today, any thuggin’ jackass or too-skinny 15-year-old suburban girl wearing too much makeup can play dress up and smooch to the camera for thousands of followers like she’s Anna Nicole Smith.

Don’t do that. Not cute.

The main difference, of course, is that if you were Anna Nicole Smith, you would be surrounded by photographers instead of holding the smudged lens on your Nokia Windows phone up to your bathroom mirror.

Thanks to digital photography taking pictures has essentially become free… and limitless.

As a result, during the past fifteen years, the total number of photographs created each day on Earth has multiplied millions of times over.

And the MySpace pose – an arm’s-length self portrait – spread like a disease on photography, even before the duckface entered the frame.

 

Kodak founder George Eastman. All business. No smile. No duckface.

From paper to pixels

Because the Eastman Kodak company is now in bankruptcy protection, you might think the company is a victim of digital photography.

In fact, the once-dominant giant in the field of photography brought this on themselves.

Through a series of both good and bad decisions and an inability to handle increasingly aggressive competition in the fields they created, Kodak has gotten the short end of several successive sticks.

I’d like to show some compassion to Kodak, given their dire straits, however I feel I have no choice but to personally blame them for the perpetuation of the duckface.

 

An early Kodak ad in “The Cosmopolitan.” So easy, even a boy or girl could use it, provided they are in school. Too difficult for dropout losers.

A “roll” of film

George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, patented the roll film camera in 1888.

Prior to that, film was produced on large plates treated with chemicals. Making a photograph required time to set up the camera, position the plate, prepare some chemicals, blah blah blah. It could take an hour if everything went smoothly.

Eastman’s genius was that he figured out a way to make photo film dry and flexible. This way it could be rolled up. It not only made the film portable, but it also made it possible to take more than one photo quickly once you got the camera set up.

His company was a hit and twelve years later, he brought photography to the masses.

 

Take your own pictures

In 1900, Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie, the world’s first mass-produced, portable camera.

That thing was gangbusters. The company expanded quickly as the Brownie did for photography what high-fructose corn syrup did for XXL sweatpants.

Kodak was huge, an unstoppable force in photography, and the company didn’t show signs of losing their edge for nearly 80 years.

Polaroid inventor Edwin Land: “One day service? Ha! Check it out, bitches! Here’s a picture I took a minute ago.”

In 1976, Kodak’s dominance comprised of 90% of US of film sales and 85% of camera sales. That’s a position any company would dream of. Essentially untouchable.

And they were vigilant to protect their stronghold when Polaroid started gaining a small market share in the seventies. Kodak was already two steps ahead.

In 1975, the company assigned a project to one of their young engineers, a 25-year-old recent graduate named Steven Sasson.

 

Steven Sasson is a name everyone should know. Just three years after he began work on the project, he and Kodak were issued a patent for the digital camera. It was a futuristic, game-changing device.

Steven Sasson with his invention, the digital camera. It became even more portable later on, believe it or not.

When Apple brought one of the first consumer digital cameras to the market in 1994 – the QuickTake – it was Kodak who was manufacturing the hardware for them.

So how is it possible that Kodak has filed for bankruptcy? The company that gave film photography to ordinary people and decades later invented film’s successor – a successor now so ubiquitous that nearly every telephone you see these days is equipped with a Kodak-derived camera – they have somehow dropped some of the world’s most valuable balls.

 

Shockingly, despite Kodak’s forward-looking innovation in the seventies, the company all but abandoned digital photography in the nineties. Way to go, gang.

Fearing that the inexpensive nature of digital photos would steal business away from their incredibly profitable film processing business, they doubled down on film.

Schematic from Kodak’s US patent for the digital camera, 26 December 1978. Personally, I would have put the sync generator in front of the parallel to serial, but who am I to criticize another man’s work?

Basically, they feared that if they marketed cameras that could take an infinite number of photos, it would adversely impact the money they were making by charging people for pictures one at a time.

It turns out that they were absolutely right about digital’s impact on film.

 

It sucks to be right

The irony of course, was that by the time they realized they were right, they had so drastically reduced their digital investment that they were no longer in a position to take advantage of the exploding market they had pioneered. All the profits had moved from the film manufacturing and processing sides of the business to the camera and electronics makers.

A SupeRx drugstore in 1967 (image from Pleasant Family Shopping)

Kodak’s main competitor in film sales, Fujifilm, had brilliantly played both sides of the game. Through aggressive pricing on the film side, Fuji’s marketshare had been eating into Kodak’s since the company began marketing their film at disruptive prices in the United States.

The Economist reported earlier this year that Fujifilm “saw omens of digital doom as early as the 1980s. [Fuji] developed a three-pronged strategy: to squeeze as much money out of the film business as possible, to prepare for the switch to digital and to develop new business lines.”

Kodak failed to diversify fast enough, put their investments into things that didn’t work out, and the company was cast into a downward spiral as digital photography grew and the use of film declined.

As we now know, today’s reality is that most of the people in the western world have some form of a digital camera in their pocket right now. Many of them will use those Internet-connected devices to post images online several times today. Each one of those pictures – duckfaced or otherwise – represents money that Kodak isn’t making.

There really should be truckloads of money being dumped at Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York, every day. Instead, unfortunately, those trucks may soon be hauling off the furniture.

The catchphrase hashtag that’s sweeping the kingdom!

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying things like “Oh behave!”, “¡Ay carumba!”, “Don’t have a cow, man!”, “Sit on it!”, “Git R Done”, or “Up your nose with a rubber hose” – then sit up and listen, because I’ve got just the thing for you!

It’s not every day that you get to launch a new catchphrase, but I have now fully dedicated myself (in the past five minutes) to making that quest one of the new missions of this website.

Remember this day: The first day you heard the phrase “Grattis på fredag!

It basically means “Congratulations because it’s Friday.” This is my own personal variation of the common phrase “grattis på födelsedagen” which is the Swedish equivalent of “Happy birthday.”

Somehow everyone I work with began saying “gratis på… everything” but the Friday greeting was far and away the most popular.

Although I’m posting this on a Wednesday, there is another Friday coming up. I think it’s the day after tomorrow. Let’s get ready for this.

Here’s the to-do list for right now:

1. Go to this link and click the black “rösta” button.

Rösta means “vote.” By clicking it you are voting for my entry in the Favorite Quotes contest on the website of Vecko Revyn, Sweden’s biggest magazine for teen and twentysomething girls.

2. Tag your weekend-related or Friday-related posts on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #grattispåfredag.

3. Suggest other ways of spreading this virus in the comments below, on my Twitter @scottritcher, or just go do it!

Soon, maybe the screenshot below, showing absolutely zero instances of the #grattispåfredag hashtag, will become ancient history.

Have fun. And grattis på fredag!

I can’t watch this

I really want to watch this game on Saturday, but if I do, Louisville will lose.

I grew up in a home full of Kentucky fans, but somewhere along the way Louisville’s team became just as good, if not better.

Every year when the NCAA tournament is underway, there comes a moment when Louisville is set to play a huge game. That is, they are playing a game that wasn’t expected. This year, that moment is Saturday.

And every year when it happens, I can’t resist watching. And they can’t resist losing.

So I’m going to have to skip it and hope my theory is correct: I am the center of the universe and the outcome of basketball games depends on whether or not I am watching.

20120327-081602.jpg

Killer Socks

For the past few months, I’ve been wearing socks that don’t match each day. I prefer one wide-striped sock – usually on my right foot but not always – and one solid.

When the weather gets cold enough each winter, I recommit myself to one simple oath: “I refuse to be cold.”

The transition to walking around completely insulated against the elements consists of a base layer of long underwear, upon which I simply add more of the same clothes I wear every day. Double shirts, double socks, et cetera.

This morning as I put my socks on, I made my traditional winter transition to wearing two pairs of socks.

I had to make a choice. Would both pairs not match, even the two that aren’t seen? Would a secret match exist within the four individual socks? That is, one of the hidden socks would be a match to one of the visible socks?

While I ultimately decided that all four socks should be unique among the set, a larger realization occurred.

This is a sock-making machine.

For the first time in my life it occurred to me that socks are probably not manufactured in pairs. There is probably a big machine somewhere that spits out 20,000 socks an hour, the loose products of which are then paired up by a machine that packages them, or by an 8-year-old kid with one of those plastic guns that stabs a white I-shaped tab between the two, uniting two socks, at least until they are removed from the purchaser’s feet for the first time.

Socks are born alone and die alone. The pairing of two so-called “matching” socks is merely an illusion that has been so masterfully perpetuated that I never realized it was not the natural order until I was an adult man. Today.

I have to add a caveat. This new insight into the sock world has not been confirmed or denied by any professionals with knowledge of sock manufacturing processes.

If there is a reader in the audience who can, in fact, confirm that socks are actually made two at a time, as pairs, please let me know.

20111220-162553.jpg

The Killer showing off his new socks.

The single sock theory neither sours nor sweetens my love affair with new socks. It only provides new insight into something that is likely different from the way I always presumed it to be.

Nor do I imagine it matters much to Jerry Lee Lewis, a man who has the means to live the dream, it has been said, to wear a band new pair of socks every day. Oh that I could live like that.

Sometimes it’s good when history repeats

Earlier this week, I saw a New York Times article about California which was accompanied by a photo of Governor Jerry Brown. Wow. I totally forgot Jerry Brown was the governor of California. Again.

I lived in California for a while, and though I never lived there when he was governor before, I always liked Jerry Brown.

I liked him a lot when he was running for president in 1992. I thought if Ross Perot couldn’t pull it off, I’d be happy with Jerry Brown.

At that time, I was absolutely no fan of a man from Arkansas named Bill Clinton. I thought he was, well, I don’t remember really what I thought about Clinton, but I just thought there were other candidates who I liked. Clinton should have been an “also ran” in my opinion.

Things didn’t work out the way I had hoped. Brown eventually dropped out of the race, not becoming the nominee.

Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton in 1992

Perot, after leading in the polls– unprecedented for an independent in nearly a century – amazingly dropped out of the race after alleged “dirty tricks” by Republicans threatened to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.

Perot eventually re-entered the race several weeks before the election, but by then it was too late.

The grassroots energy of his campaign was gone, the local offices had been shut down, supporters had scattered or realigned with other candidates, and the straightforward, steady-handed Perot was now shadowed by a cloud of unpredictability.

I voted for him anyway.

This was the first election that I had become emotionally invested in, traveling to see Perot speak, doing the yard sign and bumper sticker thing, following the news, watching polling numbers, and helping distribute campaign materials.


Years before the election, my roommate and I saw Perot being interviewed on the Donahue show. He had impressed us both to the point where we agreed that he should be president, though no such topic was discussed, as I remember. We just felt he was a no-bullshit guy who said what he thought and got things done.

By the time November 1992 rolled around, the opposing candidates tried to dissuade voters from going for Perot and “splitting the vote” by arguing that voting for the independent was akin to “throwing your vote away.”

Perot urged voters to go to the polls, take a moment to reflect about who they thought was best qualified to manage the massive problems of the federal government, then, as he said, “vote your conscience.”

I liked that idea a lot, so I held out hope for a surprise upset and a Perot presidency.

In the end, Perot’s take at the voting booth brought in 19% of the electorate. George HW Bush pulled in 37.5% and Bill Clinton won the presidency with 43%.I was despondent.

It’s strange for me to think about that, because now I totally love Bill Clinton.

It took a long time for me to truly warm up to Bill Clinton. It was well into his second term, a good five or more years after he was first elected.

It wasn’t any particular event that changed my mind about Clinton, but in retrospect, it seems like it just took me a while to realize that a lot of what he was trying to do were things I supported and things that were for the good of the country.

No Clinton story is complete without reference to a scandal or two, but it was perhaps those public indictments of his character and personal life that caused me to feel more sympathetic toward him.

Over time, it certain became clearer to me that the opposition to President Clinton had little to do with his policies. It was all personal.

I’m thinking about all this because the United States has a president at the moment whose every good effort seems to be marginalized and discounted for personal reasons.

Even after his “pass this jobs bill” speech in September, in which President Obama offered his support for a laundry list of historically Republican projects and ideas to get people back to work, the blockade of opposition went up even higher.

The Republicans simply cannot allow Obama to succeed in any way, lest he be credited with saving the country from a second depression. Instead, they’re willing and prepared to welcome economic catastrophes, if only so he will get the blame.

While millions remain unemployed, uninsured, or even homeless, they’re looking only toward the next election.

My hope is that the same transformation which happened in me as someone unenthusiastic about President Clinton could be happening in millions of Americans who have been heretofore unenthusiastic about President Obama.

The results of the local and state elections earlier this month certainly seem to suggest some support for the idea that Americans are beginning to tire of the Republicans, whose most common policy objective over the past three years has been that of simply saying “no.”

Regular people are the new celebrities

Early this past summer, I posted an article here about the magazine I publish of interviews with my friends.

The story detailed how I was bringing K Composite Magazine into a new world by beginning to publish it to the iPad.

I asked you and your fellow Snuggling readers to get involved by applying to be interviewed, and many of you stepped forward to be subjected to the third degree.

Now, the new issue of K Composite is available as a free download for your iPad and you can see for yourself what I’ve been working on all summer.

And it’s off to a big start, too. In its first week in the App Store, K Composite was the #6 app in Sweden in the Lifestyle category which includes magazines and such. Pretty exciting.

My goal is to put out a new issue on the iPad every other month. The second iPad issue, which is actually issue #15, should be out in December.

For those of you who don’t have iPads, some of the interviews will soon be available on the magazine’s website at www.kcomposite.com and in the companion iPhone app K Mate which is also free.

If you’d like to get involved by interviewing one of your friends, helping with the photography or web aspects, or even by being interviewed yourself, stop by this link and let me know: www.kcomposite.com/participate

Heaven’s Gate and the Church of Sweden

20110829-081557.jpgDespite the “no advertising please” sign that is posted on nearly every door and mailbox in Sweden — including mine — it seems like it’s still okay for the Church of Sweden (Svenska kyrkan) and a number of schools to put their pamphlets through my door.

The picture on the front of this magazine from the church (which shows the shoes of some people kneeling while wearing churchy clothes) immediately reminded me of the Heaven’s Gate cult.

Heaven’s Gate was a California mass suicide in which all the “victims” got saved from the cleansing of the Earth by being beamed up to space.

You see, a lot of people don’t realize this, but the planet Earth was wiped clean in March 1997. The Heaven’s Gate people, thirty-nine of them, laced up their matching Nike Dunk Pro SB sneakers, got in bed, and escaped just in time. You call it mass suicide, I call it a quick getaway to sweet freedom in the sky. We’re quibbling over semantics here.

Either way, Nike couldn’t thank their lucky stars enough for all the free promotion that came out of the event by way of news photos. Just do it, already.

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A spaceship, which was following the Hale-Bopp comet (pretty foolproof disguise, actually) collected their souls and whisked them away. Finally, dudes, let’s GTFO.

The method of escape was a delicious pudding, laced with phenobarbital and a vodka chaser. Kool Aid was already taken, so the Gate had to do their own thang.

Once on board the ship, it was quite important that each member took $5.75 along with them. I’m not sure if this was for snacks or what, but this is true, each corpse at the scene in San Diego was found with a five dollar bill and three quarters in their pocket.

Update: Those people are now living in a kickass paradise somewhere a few light years past Orion. Unfortunately, Nike has no distribution in that area, but I hear five bucks goes a long way.

The Church of Sweden is a Lutheran denomination that has nothing to do with Heaven’s Gate – to my knowledge – except that their magazine cover sure looks a lot like some crime scene photos.

It was the country of Sweden’s official church until 2000. Pretty late to lighten up on that one, but Sweden can’t win ’em all.

Money from general taxes still fund the church, though Swedes can opt out when filing their taxes if they don’t wish to support it.

Most people don’t opt out for the simple reason that paying taxes in Sweden is as simple as answering yes or no. When your tax forms come in the mail, all the numbers are already filled in. All you need to do is confirm that the total is correct, which you can do online, by phone, SMS or even the tax agency’s iPhone app. If you want to opt out of giving the church some money, this creates extra steps in the process and – good news for the church – most people just don’t bother.

I didn’t bother opting out either. It took me seven minutes to do my taxes in Sweden this year. My American taxes, however, usually take all afternoon and I still don’t know if I’m doing it right.

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The church’s leadership is elected in general elections exactly as the Swedish Parliament. You just have to be a member of the church, a resident of Sweden and over 16 in order to vote.

Their website says that “up to seven million people” are members of the church. Up to? Okay, so it could be five people or it could be 6.99 million. We’re not sure, but it’s definitely no more than seven million.

(Coincidentally, I just bought a washing machine today and I paid up to seven million dollars for it. Well, up to 44 million kronor. Sounds like a lot, but delivery was included.)

Given that the population of the entire country is 9.4 million, it seems that figure of 7 million may have been, well, pulled out of the heavens.

A 2005 study commissioned by the European Union found only 23% of Swedes willing to report that they “believe there is a God.”

Another 23% indicated that they “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force.” These are the godless atheist socialists you hear about when Republicans in Congress talk about how health care destroys society.

The majority, 53%, said they believe there is “some sort of spirit or life force,” which doesn’t exactly sound like someone who is a dedicated member of a church. I’m no historian, but I’m pretty sure Martin Luther didn’t subject himself to abuse from the Catholics and the Holy Roman Empire because he thought there was probably “some sort of spirit or life force” out there.

I’m also not sure how the Church of Sweden is counting their membership, but it doesn’t seem very accurate.

If everyone in Sweden who believes in any god is a member of the Church of Sweden, that puts the membership number only around 2.1 million people, according the EU’s statistics.

Sure, 2.1 million is, in fact, a number that is “up to seven million,” so I guess they’re right on that account.

Oh well. The good news is that the church is responsible for all the cemeteries in the country and — even if you don’t believe in anything — they’ll pay for your funeral.

That’s right. The Church of Sweden provides free funeral services for every Swedish resident. The family left behind pays only the undertaker’s fees.

All in all, it seems like a really nice little send-off for all these damn atheists on their way to Hell. But since the Church of Sweden also performs gay marriages, the clergy will probably be on the next boat right behind ’em. Bon voyage suckaaaaahhhhhhs!!!!!

Just a reminder

This sign is in the elevator of the apartment building I moved into earlier this month:

“Household garbage should be thrown into the designated placeand not off the balcony. Thanks for your help in keeping it clean and pretty outside the building.”

Oh no problem. You’re welcome.

It wasn’t me, by the way, who threw garbage off my balcony. Nor was it me who designed the award-winning flyer.

(What are the arrows showing me?)

Not throwing bags of garbage off the balcony may seem like an obvious thing to most people.

However, there are a few more signs I’m thinking about making and posting around the building, just to make sure everyone knows the rules of common courtesy. For instance:

“Please don’t record your bullshit Swedish hip-hop album in an apartment building at 1:00 in the morning.”

I know what you’re thinking. “Swedish hip-hop? What the hell?” Yeah, I know. And you maybe haven’t even heard it. If you’re reading this in America, relax, you will never hear it.

I understand that just like any other music, there is really good hip-hop and really bad. Personally, I can’t stand the really good stuff, so imagine how bad this must be.

If you associate hip-hop with urban struggle, I’m sure you’ll have no problem picturing the overwhelming oppression of universal healthcare, subways that have new-car-smell, city sidewalks crowded with model-worthy beauties draped in next year’s fashions, rolling countrysides dotted with charming summer vacation houses, and armies of cops who pose for pictures with tourists and carefully help drunks so as not to injure them.

Straight outta Dalarna, bitches!

So anyway, yeah, I need to make a sign outlining the appropriate hours for laying down your dope tracks. I just don’t wanna hear the advance tracks before it drops.

If you ask me, the appropriate hours for recording Swedish hip-hop are, well, never. But since I am a guest in this country, I’ll be generous and ask that we shut it down around 10:00 pm.

I may offer my services to my Swedish hip-hop neighbors. You know, as an American I have a lot of street cred that these Svensk homies just can’t buy. I can tell ’em all about what it’s like growing up in Middletown, Kentucky. I mean, if they wanna hear me drop some science (off the balcony).

Princess Preggers!

Well it’s like the wheels are about to come off the tabloids here in Sweden over the past week, on the heels of the news that the crown princess has a little majesty in the oven.

Victoria, the oldest daughter of the king and queen of Sweden — not to be confused with Madeleine (the cute one who likes to party… she’s like the Mary-Kate and Victoria is like the Ashley) — got married last summer to a commoner, Daniel Westling.

It now seems that Prince Daniel has made short work of getting some more Swedish blood back into the royal lineage.

The Swedish Royal Family has a mix of French and German heritage at the moment, with a dash of Brazilian, depending on how you’re keeping score.

Just a year after Sweden was wrapt in royal wedding fever, now royal baby fever is the wildfire du jour.

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The morning after the announcement, I was on the train to work when I took a quick look at the Expressen newspaper’s website on my iPhone.

The site was ablaze with every angle of the pregnant princess story. In fact, I counted the headlines: eleven of the top 14 stories were related to the royal pregnancy.

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The free daily Metro paper dedicated a magazine-style cover to its front page, which is usually a standard newspaper style headlines-n-articles things.

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One article I read was completely dedicated to speculation about the exact moment the princess got knocked up. Best guesses are placing the moment some time before a late-May visit to Munich or some events around Sweden’s National Day on June 6. Too much information?

Another article asked people on the street what they think the child should be named. One guy said Mohammed if it’s a boy and Aisha if it’s a girl. Just to do something unexpected.

My vote is for Princess if it’s a girl or Prince if it’s a boy. Chances are, this kid will be king or queen one day. How awesome would it be to have a King Prince or a Queen Princess?

The 18 and Over Airline

Earlier this year, I wrote about how excited I was to see one of my favorite bands, Säkert. As you may recall, the band played two shows in Stockholm. The Sunday night show was your standard 18-and-over event, while the Monday night show – for which I was able to get tickets – was an all-ages engagement.

I’m 41-years-old (that’s 34 in metric), so I was one of the tallest people at the performance. Luckily, I wasn’t in the “oldest at the concert” group, on account of some attendees being accompanied by their parents.

Having to attend the all-ages show was fine with me. In fact, it was fantastic. The room was filled with youthful enthusiasm that mirrored my own excitement. Based on the band’s reaction to this warmth, it’s possible that the previous night’s 18-and-over show was not as energetically received.

Youthful enthusiasm, however, is not always a good thing. In this rock concert setting it worked out great. However, in places where adults like to do adult things, youthful enthusiasm can be the arch-enemy of a good time.

If you have a baby – which, if you’re Swedish, is a genuinely high possibility – I hope you have the common courtesy to keep it away from the following situations: restaurants, cafés, air travel, your place of employment, other people’s places of employment, public transit, the whole world outside of your house.

I said “if you have a baby” but what I really mean is that “if you have a child who is not yet old enough to know how to behave or shut its mouth” … then I hope you’ll be polite enough to keep it away from people who do know how to do these things.

I’m thinking particularly about youths who are in the 0 to 15 age group. Margin of error +/- 3 years, actually just +3 years.

It has been said that people don’t hesiate to bring their babies to restaurants for one simple reason: if the kid has already ruined your life, it doesn’t much matter if it ruins my dinner. I think it has been said by me.

This sign could significantly reduce the usage of Xanax and lower the number of in-flight alcohol purchases.

Because of this premise, I would like to propose an amazing new revenue stream for owners of airlines, restaurants, and virtually every other place where screaming at the top of one’s lungs for hours on end, is inappropriate. Let’s call it The 18 & Over Flight.

We’ve gotten rid of smoking in these places, isn’t it about time we put an end to the shrieks of death, the smashing of crackers, the running through the aisles, the kicking of seats, and the relentless stomping and chasing in circles?

Parents need to be held accountable for how annoying their kids are. And businesses need to begin laying down the law by disallowing young children during certain hours or in certain rooms.

As much as the 18 & Over Airline may be a pipe dream, I think 18 & over timeframes at restaurants would be an immediate success. A truly happy hour: no kids after 6:00 pm.

You said it.

I also think that callous, cranky, A-holes like me would be happy to pay a premium of at least 25% more for this luxury.

Most businesses should be delighted to pull in an extra 25% profit for providing the same services without the disruption and distraction, and I have a feeling their employees would share that delight.

As I’ve been writing this article, it has been brought to my attention that a restaurant in Pennsylvania has taken the bold first move.

In an email sent to customers, Mike Vuick, the owner of McDain’s Restaurant in the booming metropolis of Monroeville, announced that children under 6 were no longer welcome in his establishment:

“Beginning July 16, 2011, McDain’s Restaurant will no longer admit children under six years of age. We feel that McDain’s is not a place for young children.”

The food is sounding better already.

“Their volume can’t be controlled and many, many times, they have disturbed other customers.”

Amen, brother. Mike Vuick is like the Jonas Saulk of our time. He has found the cure for absurd, unreasonable nonsense.

Hearing about a restaurant in Pennsylvania reminds me of a local delicacy they have in that area of the country. It’s called scrapple.

About fifteen years ago while on a tour in America, we stopped in a late-night diner to have some food. That was the night I was introduced to scrapple. None of the people I was with knew what it was. So we asked.

Our waitress replied, “If you don’t know, you don’t want it.” Wow, what a sales pitch!

A writer for a South Jersey/Philadelphia-area newspaper calls scrapple 'the other kind of meat.' Mmmm.

She went on to explain that it’s a Pennsylvania Dutch treat made of leftover pork waste from the kitchen. Mmmmmm.

Officially, scrapple is “cornmeal mush made with the meat and broth of pork, seasoned with onions, spices and herbs and shaped into loaves for slicing and frying.” Hold me back.

I checked out McDain’s menu online and they don’t have scrapple, so it must be a pretty nice place – especially without screaming kids everywhere.

If Mr. Vuick can get that age limit up to 18 or so, it might be worth the trip from Sweden. That eggplant parmesan and ravioli-of-the-week look pretty tasty.