Leif the Kind
He worked at the employment agency in Helsingborg. In fact, I believe he was the employment agency in Helsingborg—at least I saw no one else in or around that office.
Clean shaven, nerdy glasses, early thirties, I’d say. Possibly gay I thought at some point that day but on later reflection: no, no way.
I explained to him my situation. The Bull/GE 301 mainframe expert. He confirmed, after some brief exploration and a couple of phone calls, that there were no such machines in town. Sorry.
Oh, well. Other jobs? I asked. Slim pickings, he said, at least with my resume. Sorry, again. Oh, well. Thanks though for checking.
As I was leaving the office (possibly heading for Malmö after all, in search of that elusive computer operator job), I noticed that all around the walls hung small etchings of various town motifs, nicely done, not uninteresting.
I stopped to study one of them a little closer. It pictured small canal, a bridge, over-hanging trees. “Where’s this?” I asked—not entirely feigning my curiosity.
“It’s here, in Helsingborg,” he said, right away, enthusiastically—noticing that I was noticing. Some sort of internal radar picked up on this: there was some sort of opportunity to be had here, not sure of what kind or how, but I could tell that he was really happy that I showed an interest. He really was. And this, if played correctly, could greatly benefit yours truly.
So, sensing fertile waters, I looked at the next one over, same size, similar setting, a town square I believe. “And this?” I asked. “Here as well?”
“Yes. Here as well,” he answered. Smiling now, and stepping out from behind his counter to join me in, or even guide, my survey.
I quickly learned two things: one: every single etching in this office was of historical Helsingborg, and two: historical Helsingborg was Leif’s not only hobby, but passion. He had obviously been the sole decorator or at least the one in charge of this project.
All my life I had sported a fox’s scent for opportunity and my internal ditto radar was going a little crazy just about now. I still could not tell what, precisely, the opportunity was, but I sensed it: there definitely was one to be had.
So, even though I did like the etchings, I truly was not that interested, but that’s not the face I showed Leif. Realizing that he really liked to talk about the town and its history and what he was finding out (more and more of it as he researched and studied the town, he told me) I continued to ask him questions about the etchings and the town, questions that I really didn’t care too much about the answers to, just to keep the conversion going, and where it eventually led to was Leif, during his lunch hour, treating me not only to a ferry ride across the sound to Helsingør, Denmark (twenty minutes there, twenty minutes back) but also to a scrumptious liver pate sandwich in Helsingør (the Danes give you one eighth of an inch of dark bread with a full inch or more of liver pâté on top—absolutely delicious); this one might even had had crushed, dry bacon on top), and during the ferry trip back to Sweden he asked if I had any place to stay. I told him the truth and said no. And so, he invited me to stay with him, in his little house in the village of Viken half an hour or so north of Helsingborg proper as the bus flies.
Leif was recently divorced, he told me, and very happy for the company. Again, at this point I was a little weary that he might be gay (I’d had some experience with being hit on by men), but in retrospect, as I said, no way. The guy was just a very kind man who liked to talk about Helsingborg a lot and who took pity on me.
For a day or two, I stayed at his house and walked along the beach while he was at work. He’d cook a nice dinner when he returned.
Day three he had found me a stevedore job for the day, just to make some money. I helped relieve a smallish boat’s belly of sacks of grain (which I could feel the following day in my back—trust me; the guys that normally did this for a living were ten times my strength).
Day four or five he told me that he had arranged an interview for me at Sankta Maria mental hospital as a summer nurse, which I was very happy to take him up on.
The interview went well, and I got the job. Six months, I think the deal was, to be reviewed and possibly extended then if I liked the job and they were happy with me.
Sankta Maria also provided living quarters for its personnel, along with subsidized food (coupons): in other words, this was a perfect job for me under the circumstances. Simply perfect.
I thanked Leif so very much that evening. He was very (and genuinely) happy to have helped.
As an interesting aside: Leif was a classical music aficionado, great collection and great stereo (Bang Olufsen—superb Danish brand, excellent turntable, excellent speakers). The thing he taught me, which I have applied pretty much ever since, is that when it comes to classical music, you don’t just lift the cartridge off the record, or, later, press stop on the tape/cassette recorder or, even later, the CD player. No, you first turn down the volume to silence, so that you gradually ease away from the music: showing the music your respect—the respect it deserves. I really liked that notion, and, as I said, have been doing that more or less ever since.
I think of Leif now and I feel bad that I didn’t treat him with the respect that he deserved. This is how I let him down:
The job at Sankta Maria begun with a three-day Insane Asylum Nurse 101 Introduction class: This is mental illness, this is a patient, and this is how handle them (how you feed them pills and make sure that they swallow or how you sweep the floor around them). As it turned out what we as novice, substitute nurses mainly did was cleaning (around the often-immobile patients), but that’s beside the point.
During afternoon break the first day, I fell into a conversation with one of my class-mates, also a new summer-nurse hire, who, as it happened, had just returned from India via Israel and had managed to smuggle into the country five kilos of hashish (he said it was fifty-fifty hashish and opium, which I now tend to disbelieve at times and at others to believe, depending on what memory rises most vividly) in the bottom of a small suitcase. He had hidden it in his attic. Would I like to see it?
Would I like to see it? Of course, I would like to see it. And, I thought, perhaps even try it, no?
And then, ah, shucks, remembered: Leif had promised a scrumptious meal for dinner, to celebrate my new job. Be sure to be home by, say, six. Sure, I’d told him, no problem. Of course. Looking forward to it.
Leif the Kind versus Opium-Spiked Hashish. For someone who has known hashish for a lot longer than he’s known Leif the Kind—not really a contest. I went home with my new pal after school, and yes, here was that huge block of black hashish (the largest amount of hashish I had ever set eyes on) at the bottom of the little suitcase, and yes, sure I could try some, and sure I did. It was very, very good and very, very strong. Still, at some point I remembered that Leif would be expecting me just about now and somehow, despite being high as a kite, I managed to place a telephone call to him, and I think I managed to give him some sort of reason why I would be staying “with a friend in town” tonight rather than coming back for the dinner.
Now, here’s one thing about hashish: there are many things that you don’t notice, but the things that you do notice, you notice very, very well: bold, italics, underscored, resonating, earth-shatteringly well, and that is how I noticed Leif’s disappointment when he sort of shrugged verbally at being relegated to not-that-important to keep promises to. Not, perhaps, so much at the time—once I’d hung up, I was off again into whatever music we were listening to and onto another couple of deep lungfuls of this truly splendid hashish. But later, when I recalled the phone call and Leif’s reaction: I felt a millimeter tall, crushed by shame and a sense of betrayal. He had been incredibly kind to me and had helped me massively. And my thanks: standing him up when he really had looked forward to a great celebratory meal—he’d gotten me the job and this was my first day.
Shame on me, really.
I still had some of my stuff at Leif’s place which I picked up a day later. I actually don’t remember if he was at home when I collected my things (he had shown me where the key was). Then I moved into my room (which I shared with an older nurse) at Sankta Maria.
I never saw Leif again, nor did we speak.
I was a rotten fish.
Leif still stands out in my mind as one of the kindest persons I had ever met.