I write to tell you of my neighbor, Olavi. We live next door to each other in a suburb of Denver. He is a mid-sixties Finnish man with a mane of shock-white hair. He speaks with a sincerity that is hard to describe; I believe every word he says. His eyes are grey and his voice is gravely. He is always clean shaven.
Each morning, Olavi tends to his garden while wearing a full suit. I asked him why last week. He said that this action is part of a performance art piece about “capitalism”. I asked who this art is for, or who sees it (aside from our neighborhood). Olavi informed me that “it is recorded on VHS each morning, rest assured” and that those tapes are then mailed to his “critics”.
I work from home now, and often have lunch with Olavi on his porch if he is about and about. Every Tuesday, he cooks a genius rendition of Mapo Tofu, the notoriously difficult-to-master dish that is considered the crown-jewel of Szechuan cuisine. His version of the dish is accented by flavors that are equally intriguing and alien to me. I believe his personal recipe contains blue-berries, radishes, melons, and horsemeat.
I once asked how he learned to cook such a challenging food. He told me that his knowledge “grew from the Steppes”.
Olavi inhabits a decent, all white-house. I have never seen him work, so I once asked him about his career. He informed me that he was previously “the Chief Sauna Architect for a well-regarded chain of hotels and casinos”. He noted that this job enabled him to travel the world. I then asked if he designed saunas in Vegas. He said yes. I asked if he had done the same in Atlantic City. He then looked into the distance, paused for a while, and said that he would rather not discuss Atlantic City. He asked if I had ever been to Macau shortly there-after. I said no; he said that I should go sometime.
At one lunch, I asked if he had children. He lit a cigarette (something I had never seen him do before) and said that he had many. One is currently imprisoned in Brunei for the illicit importation of disease-infected livestock. Another is the head of a “boutique” investment bank. One of his daughters had recently been working as Sofia Vergara’s stunt double on the set of Modern Family. His eldest son, who Olavi described as a “dour man, incapable of whimsy”, is now the leading the NFL’s efforts to introduce American football to Kazakhstan. Apparently his steely demeanor has endeared him to the Kazakhs: they view him as some kind of folk-hero. I did not fully understand why and this confused Olavi.
Olavi is very bad with computers. I often help him with his when I am free. He needs to use the internet often, as he has used his retirement to engage with his true passion: Scrimshaw. I frequently spend hours helping him use Google Translate to communicate with Japanese whaling ship captains. They know him as “フィンランド人”, which means “the Finn”. Sometimes, in the course of sending messages to the captains, Olavi becomes annoyed. This causes him to dictates messages that seem to be quite threatening. He often tells these captains that he will be informing “the oyabun”, who will not hesitate to send “several dozen soldiers from Tokyo” if there are further disputes about “what constitutes a fair price for a whale tooth”. My understanding (based off cursory googling) is that an Oyabun is the Japanese equivalent of the Don or a Godfather figure in Italian-American Mafias.
I asked Olavi about this once. He sighed and looked at me. He then said that Japanese organized crime figures “are really the last people alive who still understand the beauty of a well-made Sauna”. Apparently he gets along well with them in light of this. He also believes that he has only flourished because of their protection & favor. After mentioning this, he asked if I’d like to meet them. I said no. He noted that this is “fair, and probably all-together reasonable”.
Last year Olavi asked me to watch his house for a week. He said he was traveling to Estonia. I asked what he was planning to do there; he said “resolve some spiritual matters that have been plaguing me”. I said ok and didn’t prod further. He told me to just water his plants and that, in the event he received any packages from any addressees in Algeria, that I was to write “UNDELIVERABLE, RETURN TO SENDER” on them before returning to the post office. I asked what’s in these packages. He cocked his head fully upwards, looked at the sky, sighed, and said “frivolous nonsense”. At that point he left for the airport. I don’t know why, but the whole experience made me trust him more.
But there’s a reason I tell you of Olavi. He will be going to jail soon; he implicated himself in the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Apparently, he designed a sauna for Steve Bannon. This sauna was where a good deal of the coup-plotting took place.
Now, Olavi did not intend for this to happen — he built the sauna twelve years ago, in fact, so the idea of Donald Trump being president hadn’t occurred to anyone yet — but the guilt of the whole affair weighed him down. He turned himself into the FBI accordingly. But they refused to arrest him. Even worse, FBI actually insisted that he had committed no crime. However, this did nothing to assuage Olavi’s guilty conscience, so he asked what the easiest way to get “the jail sentence he deserved” was. The feds then refused to answer.
This did not deter Olavi. He called them constantly for weeks to ask this question — or to offer to give up information about Bannon’s sauna, or to request that he go to jail in the place of someone “less deserving”.
Eventually the FBI relented. They offered to lock him up in the supermax prison reserved for the most heinous offenders in America, ADX-Florence, for one week — as long as he promised to never call the FBI again. Olavi agreed.
My neighbor is driving to Florence to turn himself in today. I will, again, be watching his house for the next week. I asked him if he had any regrets about the way things have shaken out. He looked into my eyes with a gaze that seemed to tell of a deep, profound sadness. With tears slowly filling his eyes, he told me that he was once enrolled in college with the hopes of being an accountant, but he dropped out at 21. He spoke at great length about the peace and joy he felt while auditing accounts or reading balance sheets. He then stopped abruptly. There was a moment of silence, and after that he looked at the ground, before saying “but I gave up on all of that — my dreams”. He noted that he had to do so. He then waved to me, stepped in his car, and drove off into the distance. He’s a fascinating man.