Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

IT’S COLD IN HELL

         I met Marteina and Aliana in Woodstock during the Spring. They were visiting from Finland. Both were tall, Nordic blondes and neither one had a body with any feature I could object to, even in my most superficial, American moments. I sighting them in the meadow near my house (like prey animals) where a friend from New Jersey had brought them to admire the scenery. I decided immediately that I absolutely had to become a close friend to both. I was charming, courteous and friendly to a degree that can only be elicited in me by a trim, strong female body, or two, topped off with mounds of silky, blonde hair. Before long, I had my foot in the door, or more accurately, I had them in my living room, surrounded by everything they could possibly want or need. Within hours, I had made them too comfortable to leave.

         “Would you like some coffee?”……. As the morning dawned, there was only one thing to figure out: Which, if not possibly both, would soon be melting in my embrace? It turned out to be Marteina, and though I had not achieved “the ideal circumstance”, one out of two wasn’t bad. Oh, we had such wonderful times as the Spring blanketed the mountains in a hazy green. It was a time for new life, and celebration. Most every day and night, they enjoyed a bottle of red wine or two, each. As a rule, I don’t drink. But, I somehow shared in their high. We laughed and danced like followers of Bacchus, God of wine and song. It was a “magical” two weeks.

         I wept as I waved goodbye to the rising 747 on the day they had to return home. Over the next four months, I gave AT&T at least $6,000 for providing that wonderful service by which I could speak to Marteina, on the other side of the world, about love, honor and the promise a better future- long into the night. By the end of the Summer, I had realized that moving to Finland had been that thing in life which I’d always wanted, without ever having known it.

         We decided that the ideal time for me to visit Finland would be during Marteina’s Christmas vacation. I arrived in Helsinki on December twenty-second at ten AM. It was dark as midnight.

         At that time of year in Finland, it’s dark for 22 hours a day. Ofcourse, I knew that. It was just that it was striking to see how very dark it really was. it was also forty degrees below zero….. farenheit. I know that sounds like an exaggeration. That’s what I thought when Marteina told me. I didn’t think it actually got that cold, even in the Arctic. Well, it does.

         Marteina’s apartment building was a classic example of Russian, cold-war architecture; functional, and nothing more. (As I understand it, Finland had, essentially been a Russian sattelite for quite some time until the eighties.) Her room was big enough for a bed and a dresser. It had seven foot ceilings. Being 6’3, I couldn’t lift my arms. Still, I was there, ready to score.

         The thing is, when affection is thrust upon me too aggressively, it somehow makes it a lot less fun. I like to “build up to it”, just a little. Maybe one kiss?

         But, by the time I’d put my bags in the corner, Marteina was stripped down. She threw me down, fully clothed, onto her tiny bed and started bouncing up and down aggressively on top of me. In her enthusiasm, she must not have realized that her mighty bouncing was actually hurting my “special, no no” place.

         I tried to slow her down, holding her close, tightly, in order to immobilize her for a moment. I kissed her and whispered, “umm… I don’t have any condoms”. She immediately began weeping hysterically. I began to panic inside. What had I done? After I assured her that it was strictly for her protection, not mine, and that it was nothing personal, she told me that there is no AIDS in Finland. Therefore condoms were unnecessary, and one even had to travel some distance to buy them. She seemed to have had a lot to drink. “But when we were in New York”, I said. She was still crying.

         Having lived in NYC, I grew to believe, long ago, that falling for lines like, “there is no AIDS in Finland”, is tantamount to jumping off the Brooklyn bridge. Perhaps it was true. Still, I couldn’t conscientiously allow myself to believe it.

         So, she went out to get some condoms, refusing that I accompany her or, preferably, get them myself. I had been awake for 27 hours, but, since it was 11AM in Finland, I tried to behave accordingly. Something that made the jet-lag even harder to beat was that the sky always looked like it was just about the right time to go to sleep.

         She got weird condoms. They had all these studs and stuff and they were shaped strangely. I’ve heard them referred to as, “French ticklers”. Now, I’m just the kind of guy who is perfectly satisfied with straight sex. I’m not accustomed to “tricks” and props. So, they make me just a little bit apprehensive. Still, I didn’t want to make Marteina cry again. I “took one for the team”, holding her down with all my strength in order to avoid injury. But, they were really strange condoms.

         An hour later, she roused me from a drooling coma so I could see the sun rise. I always thought it would be interesting to see it shoot all the way across the sky in two hours. That’s not how it works: It begins to rise, and just when it’s beginning to top the horizon, it starts to go back down. It was like an apocalyptic, sci-fi movie.  It simultaneously reminded me of a biblical end to the world and, as such, was the most depressing thing I’ve ever seen. I feigned awe, thanked Marteina profusely, and went back to sleep.

         I have no idea how many days it was before it was clear to me that we were both unhappy. It was always dark. For all I know, it wasn’t even days, but hours. I soon noticed that neither Marteina, nor anyone she introduced me to EVER stopped drinking; mostly vodka. That includes her parents, and her friends parents. in speaking to some American guy in a bar about that, I learned that Finland has the highest rate of alcoholism on earth and that, incidentally, they also have the highest rate of suicide. The thing is, they don’t consider it to be alcoholism, or even a problem. It’s simply the way they have always lived.

         We went to dinner at some point. Feeling adventurous, I ordered reindeer, a Finnish delicacy. The waitress brought a plate of small cutlets with a maraschino cherry in the middle. I held up the cherry and asked, “was this his nose”? Marteina burst into tears, right in the middle of gulping down her seventh glass of vodka. She’d never heard of any reindeer named Rudolph. I spent an hour trying to explain that it might’ve been funny had she known the classic, Christmas tale. She said she felt I had mocked her nation’s culture. The reindeer was a little tough.

         That night, or day, or whatever it was, we talked about how we might make things better. She suggested we go to her parents’ now vacant country home with Aliana and her boyfriend. That sounded perfect to me. I was energized and couldn’t wait to get out of that little box in Helsinki.

         We drove far into an unpopulated, pitch-black wilderness and finally arrived at the “house”. In fact, there were two structures with five bedrooms between them. But, they were tiny, like the seven dwarves houses might have looked, and they had been built in 1672 (which was interesting). However, they had apparently never been modernized.

         There was no plumbing but there were candles in the out-house. There was no electricity, or heat but there was plenty of wood and a fireplace in every room. The ceilings were about five and a half feet high. (Again, I’m 6’3.) The doors were about four feet high. They were very heavy, and had tremendous, medieval bolt-locks that made me wonder at the size and strength of whatever it was they needed to keep from entering the house. There were no windows as i imagine that in 1672, it was more important to conserve heat. The beds were five feet long. It was a joke. Ofcourse, none of this had been mentioned to me in planning this excursion. i felt as if I’d like to sue a travel agent, but that would’ve been Marteina.

         I laughed and smiled as I spoke to her: “Oh, this place is so neat! It’s really cool. But, ha ha, I just didn’t know that……. oh, ha ha ha… So, I know it’s an inconvenience. And, I feel bad but, could we maybe go back to Helsinki?”

         I don’t know if she had purposely planned this in order to torment me, but the answer was “no”. And, after further discussion, it was still “no”. Was there a bus or something? “No”. The next day? “No”, she smiled.

         Maybe it was two days later: I  was sitting alone in my hole, tending the survival fire. I noticed that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom, successfully, since we’d arrived. Now and again, I’d make my way through the perpetual, whipping snow-storm and enter the out-house. But, to be perfectly honest, it was just too cold. Marteina and her two friends were speaking Finnish and laughing loudly, drinking in the other cottage. As I mentioned, I don’t drink as a rule. But, at that moment, I thought  a nip of alcohol might delay the onset of a murderous rage. I walked, unnoticed into the pantry in the other cottage in which there were cases upon cases of various wines and liquors. I nabbed three cases of red and lugged them back to my wooden igloo. It was an excellent vintage as far as I was concerned and I enjoyed the wine tremendously. That’s about all I remember from that point on; the deliciousness of the wine. “Mmmm, succulent”, I kept thinking, as I burned through bottle after bottle. “No wonder they drink all the time”.

         I don’t remember how it happened, but I was somehow liberated in January. The ordeal helped me to know myself. Or actually, no, it didn’t. I don’t remember.

         Anyway, the plane ride home made it all worth while. I saw the Northern lights from above for three solid hours before they faded into the distance. It looked like diamonds swirling in a pink and green cloud of light. There were streaks of gold moving across the horizon.