We arrived in Stockholm with our luggage missing in action on a rainy morning after a sleepless 8-hour transatlantic flight. A child one row to our right squealed and crawled up and down the aisles of the aircraft the entire flight. When we landed, he slumped in his mother’s arms. His energy was dissipated at last. A radical time difference between Dallas, Texas and Sweden had moved us through time as we moved through the air. We were seven hours into the future, and we didn’t like what we were seeing so far.
We lodged a complaint with Delta and KLM. Then we set about shopping for some clothes. Scandanavian people are not like us. They are built with bird-like legs. Mostly tall and willowy with blonde hair. Beautiful as a rule – as if they all belong in a commercial selling you soap or toothpaste. When I tried to fit into a pair of regular jeans in a Stockholm department store, it was like trying to slip into a wetsuit. I found a lone pair of relaxed fit blue jeans. They may as well have said Troll-size on them. I was glad for them because they fit even though they were button-fly jeans. Had Sweden not heard of the wonderful invention that is the zipper, I wondered. My wife Robyn bought some makeup she later claimed would burn her face and a few pieces of clothes. We were down several hundred kroner, but since the local currency felt and looked like Monopoly money fresh from the box, it didn’t hurt as much to spend it replacing our lost clothes that had abruptly decided to take a separate journey without us.
We climbed onto a Hop On Hop Off bus and the driver slowly inched forward through peak season summer traffic as rain fell. We were trying to make it through the day. When you are in a new country, you don’t want to miss anything. But I kept falling asleep because it was way past midnight in Dallas even though it was two in the afternoon in Sweden.
The next day was better. The sun came out, and I figured out how to button shut the exotic Swedish relaxed button-fly jeans. We hopped on a small boat named the Dancing Queen to tour the ABBA museum. When you are sleep deprived and out of your time zone and element entirely wearing strange new jeans, you want something familiar. I am not the world’s biggest fan of ABBA. I used to hear all their songs growing up on the radio, but I never bought an ABBA album or saw them in concert. The museum was a heady plunge into the ABBA experience that bordered on more information about Sweden’s best known international pop group than you might ever want to know.
One rather disturbing thing in the ABBA museum was a very realistic 3D projection of the band that enabled you to join the band for a song in a concert. Your voices blended in with ABBA’s. I had no thought of participating in the startling performance, but I clapped after witnessing a couple gamely sing a song and try to dance along with the choreographed dance moves the eerie ghostly images of ABBA made beside them.
There were depictions of ABBA in every possible manner. Large puppet-like ABBA figures. Cardboard cutouts. A disturbing life size poster on a wall of the group around a set of telephones with a telephone on a stand in front of them. “If the phone rings, pick it up. It’s ABBA calling,” the placard in front said. I did not want the phone to ring and would have had no idea what to say if ABBA called while I was in the museum. I would have wondered how lonely and desperate their lives had become if they had called their museum while I was there. Surely they could find something more productive to do with their time.
I wondered through a maze of walls lined with their records. ABBA music played continuously as we made our way through the museum. Despite the overwhelming visuals, the music made the experience pleasant. ABBA was always just about a fun simple time. Their songs didn’t make you think or feel any deep emotions. No one ever fought or protested a war while listening to ABBA. You danced to ABBA or listened to it on the radio and promptly forgot about it.
ABBA consisted of two couples who got together and became a global musical phenomenon for their simple poppy songs. Then each couple divorced, and the band broke up. End of fairy tale. But there’s some innocence or remembrance of my own innocence that ABBA evokes. Whispers of a time when I rolled around in a roller rink on skates watching some teenagers gracefully skate backwards and others flail around the sides of the rink helplessly. I was never great on skates. I got to the point where I moved forward mostly in the direction I intended, but my skating was always tentative and overly careful like the steps of a baby giraffe who only just learned to walk the day before.
Our ten-day trip through Scandanavia got better after the ABBA museum. Maybe it got better because of ABBA. The songs and faces felt familiar when time itself was out of whack and my underwear was on a separate world tour. The ABBA museum was creepy, and I never need to go there again. But I liked it. Does that make any sense at all?