Björn Svensson was strutting around the rocky cove naked and bellowing fierce obscenities at the waves. I observed him from a safe distance, feeling like a genuine Euro-perv as he bent over, picked up a stone, and then chucked it into the water with a thunderous, “Må djävulen ta dig! Du onda jävla fitta!”
I had been searching for him all afternoon but as I watched his nude temper-tantrum unfold before my eyes I could only deduce that my success had come at a very inopportune moment. I’m quite comfortable with failure, having become intimately familiar with it early in life, so I didn’t harbor any reservations about accepting defeat now. I turned around to leave and that’s when I heard him shout in my direction, “Du! Hej — du! Har du sett min flaska? Jag har tappat bort min mest älskade flaska!” This was followed by a very somber-sounding, “Oi…”
I stopped and looked back at him. He squinted at me from his perch atop a granite outcropping, shoulders slouched, belly protruding, beard frayed, and ding-dong dangling in plain sight. This was not the confident appearance of the once proud Viking warrior-poet that I had been expecting. This was the appearance of a regular, everyday, frazzled Swede whose glory days had long since passed him by, and now to make matters worse, he had accidentally just dropped his beloved bottle of alcohol into the ocean.
“Nej!” I answered.
“Oh, you English?” he asked, because, despite my best efforts, I still can’t even pronounce the one-syllable Swedish word for “no” with enough authenticity to convince any of the locals that I actually know some of their language. But that doesn’t stop them from always incorrectly assuming I’m English.
“No, I’m American, actually.”
“Oh, you come from the US? Why are you here? This place is boring. Why didn’t you stay in Göteborg?”
Göteborg, or Gothenburg as it is known to non-Scandinavians, is more fun and exciting, but not just for Americans. It’s more fun and exciting for everyone. The historic center of the maritime city features countless opportunities for shopping and dining along its wide esplanades while the drab suburbs feature countless unattended passenger vehicles that make easy targets for the ever-increasing numbers of disgruntled denizens to set on fire. Svensson’s home in the village of Rönnäng, which lies situated on the southern shore of the island of Tjörn about an hour north of Göteborg, on the other hand, features only a small smattering of fishing shacks and summertime cottages where nothing ever happens.
“Well, I’m here because I’ve been looking for you actually,” I answered. “You are Björn Svensson, right?” I proceeded to explain the purpose of my self-appointed mission.
In the year preceding my arrival to Scandinavia I had discovered various rumors online through several Nordic chatrooms of an unusual spasm of medieval activity that had occurred in the region shortly after the turn of the millennium. According to these rumors, modern-day Norwegian whalers had sacked the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, newage Spear-Danes had constructed a great earthen fortress to fend off incursions from the Franks and the Geats, and surly Icelandic fisherman had attempted to recolonize Greenland. Unfortunately, the only two legitimate references confirming any kernel of truth in these rumors came from a single, small-town Norwegian newspaper’s website. I suspected that other, concurrent happenings such as the incident when one Kardashian got caught having sex with another Kardashian in a frozen yogurt shop had been deemed better for business by the global media and as a result the entire Nordic phenomenon had gone by essentially unobserved and unreported. Thus, after a few weeks of intensely devouring what sparse information I could find about this so-called Modern Viking Movement, I had resolved it upon myself to track down and interview its prime protagonists during a moment of particular lucidity fueled by too much beer and an intense loathing for my own livelihood.
I was about six months into my venture and Svensson was the last remaining heavy-hitter on my list of must-talk-to modern Vikings. A Geat himself, he was renowned online for a unique oratory prowess that he supposedly flaunted during an escalating series of skirmishes with his Spear-Danish enemies. Beginning with the defacement of Spear-Danish cultural memorabilia relating to William Shakespeare and Hans Christian Andersen, his campaign eventually culminated in a full-scale Geatish attempt to vandalize the original Legoland amusement park. Or so the trolls lurking in the world wide woods claimed.
Svensson just looked at me while I spoke, his innate reserved Swedishness masking any emotion he might have been feeling. “Well, that is quite something,” he eventually stated. “Not many Americans know about my accomplishments. Nor many Swedes, either, for that matter. Actually, only a few people in the world even have any idea…but I’d be delighted to tell you. I’ll tell you the whole story, from beginning to end.”
“Hey, that’s great — thank you so much.” I stared past him to the glistening surface of the water. I really wasn’t sure whether I should be looking at him or not given his current state of dress. “But, you know, I can come back later, I mean, I don’t want to interrupt you if you’re in the middle of something — “
“No, no, I’m not in the middle of anything at all.” He began to walk towards me, which was basically the polar opposite action as I would have taken had our positions been reversed and I had been the one venting nude, drunken hostilities at the ocean when some strange guy from a foreign country stumbled upon me. “I have no plans for the rest of the day. You don’t happen to have a bottle of vodka there in your backpack, do you?”
“No…” I trailed off because he had closed the distance rather quickly. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and began directing me towards the water’s edge.
“That is quite unfortunate,” he sighed as he guided me. “I dropped mine in the water, as you know. Quite a frustrating setback if I may say so. And this story I have to tell you, it really is best told over a drink. But I suppose we can make do for now, and then later, perhaps we can go to Systembolaget.”
Systembolaget is the Swedish state-owned liquor monopoly. The nation has an official policy to thwart the ability of its citizens to get shit-faced drunk by taxing the bejusus out of alcohol, while its citizens have an unofficial policy to circumnavigate the system by purchasing huge quantities of hard liquor in neighboring countries and on booze cruises around the Baltic so that they may then proceed to get shit-faced drunk once they return home. In addition to the taxes, Systembolaget is a generally nightmarish shopping experience characterized by inconvenient opening hours, long waits in line, a limited selection of products, and a usually drab and uncomfortable interior.
But if Systembolaget’s interior could be described as lifeless and drab, Svensson’s exterior could conversely be described as colorful and phallically boingy. I was in fact both shocked and nullified by how calm and natural he seemed to feel in his birthday suit as he walked beside me, his arm still slung around my shoulder. He showed not even the slightest hint of trepidation about his complete lack of clothing. Nor did he display any trepidation about physical contact with me either for that matter, and that actually caused me some concern. According to the world-renowned myth, Swedes possess a very relaxed attitude towards public nudity, and Svensson was genuinely giving it 110% to prove its truth here and now. That same myth, however, usually neglects to mention that Swedish nudity is never ever sexual or that Swedes generally abhor physical contact of any sort with strangers. Svensson was flagrantly deviating from at least one of these two lesser-known stereotypes and I worried whether he had any plans to increase the count to two in the immediate future.
“You know, I only declared war on the Spear-Danes because I was commanded to in a dream,” Svensson said as he directed me to his favorite ledge overlooking the water. He spoke with his face closer to mine than I usually prefer of a conversation partner, especially one whose breath reeks of lingonberry flavored Absolut Vodka and stale cinnamon buns. “It was quite a thing, really. You see, normally I don’t dream. Or I don’t remember my dreams, I’m not so sure how it works. But this one night, I had this dream, and in this dream . . . how do you say . . . ah, boner! Yes, boner. A boner, an angry boner that is, commanded me to take action against the Spear-Danes.”
“An angry boner?”
“Yes!” He was as solid as oak in his conviction, but thankfully not his manhood. “It was truly an angry boner! The angriest I’ve ever seen. Or dreamed, I suppose. You see, it was bent out of shape. Or more accurately, it was bent into shape and the shape it was bent into was like that of a gallows pole, for hanging people, you know? Now what boner wouldn’t be angry if it had to contort itself into a shape like that?”
“I suppose you have a point…” It did sound painful, if not downright impossible, but crazy shit can happen in dreams and who am I to judge? My dreams are usually haunted by the lame apparitions of project schedule spreadsheets and an ever-increasing flood of unanswered emails.
“Indeed. And do you know who the Lord of the Gallows is?”
“Odin?” I did know this but I wasn’t feeling very confident thanks to all this bizarre penis talk I was having with a naked stranger who was touching me and breathing acrid booze breath in my face as we walked side-by-side.
“Correct! And as you may know, Odin lost one eye to gain the knowledge of the runes, so isn’t it only natural that if he wanted to communicate with me, that he’d send to me his own little one-eyed warrior as a messenger in my dreams?”
Finally, we reached the water’s edge and Svensson withdrew his arm and squatted down, his trouser-less trouser snake swinging freely with the motion. He sat on the ledge, dangling his legs over it and looked back up at me with a certain expectation written clearly across his face
I sat down myself and then looked off into the distance, not really sure what to say next and wishing that he’d carry the weight of the conversation for awhile longer. Making small talk with strangers has never been one of my natural strengths, but I’ve found that it’s easier to do when the stranger is actually wearing clothes. I was also wondering why it was that Svensson just had to be the one naked Viking that I encountered in all my travels. Why couldn’t it have been the super hot Ingrid Törnblom instead? I had just recently completed an interview with her up in Stockholm, and of course she had refused to remove any of her clothing at all whatsoever while she was in my presence. Not that I had even dared to ask her to do so, but still, that’s not the point. The point is that I wouldn’t have minded if I had unintentionally caught her skinny dipping, but such was not my luck. No, instead I caught a frazzled, bearded drunk dude letting it all hang out. Sometimes I wish the norns would just go fuck themselves.
Svensson interrupted the inner turmoil of my negative thoughts. “You know, if the angry boner had had red hair and thrown lighting bolts from its tip,” he tugged at his beard. “Then it might have been another matter entirely. That might have meant that it had been sent by Thor. I also thought about the possibility that Freyr might have been involved, but nothing about the boner spoke of crops or the harvest season or other boners. It was all ‘kill, kill, kill, battle, battle, battle, poetry, poetry, poetry.’ So there’s no way it could have been from anyone but Odin.”
“Did the boner tell you a poem?”
“I think so, but it was in ancient Swedish, so I didn’t actually understand any of what it was saying.”
“Well, then how do you know it was carrying on about killing and battle and all that other stuff?”
“I just knew…that’s the way it is with dreams of divine importance. Either that or you have to get them interpreted by a völva.”
“A vulva?” I wasn’t sure I had heard him right, but I figured that, given the rather one-dimensional territory that our conversation had ventured through so far, why not expand our horizons and start talking about vaginas too?
“No! A völva was a female pagan oracle in the original Viking Age.”
I thought about this in the context of the 21st century and my brain started to hurt so I stopped and we sat in silence for a few moments until I asked, “Well…why you? Did you do something special the night before to catch Odin’s attention or something?”
“I got shit-faced,” he stated matter of factly.
The Swedes’ mastery of colloquial English never ceases to amaze me, just as my own inability to think of constructive responses never ceases to disappoint me. He looked me sternly in the eye and then leaned backwards, propping himself up by his elbows. I suffered a sudden fear that he was about to launch into a series of aerobic pelvic thrusts.
“Yeah, you know, it really wasn’t that different from most the times when I drink too much.” His pelvis remained motionless to my great relief. “Except for maybe that it was midsummer that night. Midsummer is a big holiday here in Sweden, you know. We construct a maypole, which symbolizes a giant penis, which is probably part of the reason why Odin chose to commune with me on that specific night…but anyway, after we erect the maypole, we then decorate it with garlands so that it looks like it has veins writhing up and down its shaft. And then we get drunk and everyone sings and dances around the maypole pretending to be little froggies, even the adults.”
“Is ‘froggie’ some sort of Swedish slang for ballsack or something?” I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.
“No. I mean, only froggies, you know, you say what, frogs in English, right? Like eh, what’s the other one…toads?” He ribbited in his throat to illustrate his point.
“Yeah, that’s the sound a frog makes. Or a toad. Whatever…”
“Well then, you know. We do the frog dance.”
I neither knew nor cared about the frog dance, so I attempted to guide us back towards a topic of significantly higher importance, “So…Odin’s dick?”
“Yes, Odin’s dick,” he confirmed. “What a cock.”
He shifted from laying on his back to laying on his side to face me, his frank and beans flailing towards me with the motion. I reacted spontaneously by scooting a few inches away.
Fortunately, he didn’t seem to care as he just continued speaking, now with his head resting on his hand which was in turn supported by his elbow. “Odin’s dick was so angry, so very angry. It was in fact so angry, that not only did it haunt my dreams that night, but it also left me with a horrible hangover. I had visions of it even when I woke up.”
“What do you mean?”
“I had the image of the angry boner seared into my mind, even after I opened my eyes. The pain in my head throbbed and the boner itself was pulsating and I was not able to focus on anything else. I couldn’t even stand up, I was so weak.”
“The boner was pulsating?”
“Oh, yes. As I told you, it was a very angry boner. Truly, truly, an angry boner. You have never seen such an angry boner.”
“Well, I’ve never seen a boner bent into the shape of a gallows pole, so that’s probably true.”
“Of course it is true! And until you see one for yourself with your own eyes, you’ll never fully understand.”
I have very few high hopes or dreams of grandeur remaining in my life. The ritual of growing up and being thrust into the brutality of the real world saw to it that those youthful hopes and dreams that I had once harbored were officially demolished and replaced instead with a steady sense of defeatism and forlorn nostalgia. I had given up on ever having a grand, new hope, but here and now, in a most unexpected way and in a most unexpected place, I had found the glimmer of something new to hope for because I never, ever want to see a pissed-off, gallows-shaped boner on a vengeful mission from a Norse god with my own two eyes. But I didn’t want to admit this to the naked stranger who was lounging beside me with his own exposed cock and balls protruding uncomfortably close to my own territorial bubble of personal space. So I tried to make light of the situation instead, “Well, I suppose it’s no coincidence that Odin is so well hung.”
Svensson laughed but remained serious when he asked, “True, but how would you feel if you woke up and had such an angry boner spying on you, stalking you in your mind, cursing you and spitting at you with its slanted little eye?”
A horrible thought occurred to me just then: what if all this talk was just a delusional cover story for an inability on his part to control his own junk or impulses? What if his sleepy tally-whacker suddenly levitated itself up into a demonic cobra-like striking position from where it slouched so dangerously close to me? I hated the thought and I immediately regretted that it had ever even entered my mind, but it gave me a second new hope to long for, and should this hope prove to be in vain, I was fully prepared to hurl myself off the ledge and into the water below.
I turned my head to look at him and caught another woeful glimpse out of the corner of my eye of his placid package as it drooped down alongside his groin. I quickly diverted my eyes again as I responded, “I think I would feel distraught.”
“Yes! Distraught is a good word. I was myself distraught. You see, the angry boner, it wouldn’t leave me alone. And its pulsation grew faster and faster and all I wanted to do was to run away but I couldn’t. You can’t run from your own mind. It screamed its commandments at me, full of rage. I was overwhelmed, and when everything was said and done and the unholy spirit had vanished, I just barely managed to speak these words before I passed out:
“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
“What?” He sounded genuinely confused.
“Huh?” And I was confused that he was confused.
“That was my first ever skaldic verse,” he explained with a tone of pride that belied an apparent ignorance about the true origins of the verse. “Odin’s little one-eyed warrior left me with a new skill with words.”
While the rumors online had indeed indicated that Svensson had emerged as the Modern Viking Movement’s preeminent skald, they had also failed to reveal that he was really only just a cover-poet who didn’t write his own material. I didn’t want to belittle his self-esteem or provoke him into a bitter Norseman’s rage, so I just said, “Well, I guess Odin is the god of poetry, so that’s cool.”
“Yeah, it’s really cool,” he confirmed. “At the time it was frightening and painful, but my life really changed for the better because of that angry boner. If it hadn’t been for it, I never would have achieved my full potential. Up to that point, my life had been nothing special. I was just another Svensson going through the motions with no meaning or purpose in my life. But Big One-Eye’s little one-eye changed all that. That penis prevented me from becoming like everyone else who just goes to school because they have to, then gets a pointless job because they have to, and then dies because they have to without ever achieving any real meaning in their life.”
“Everybody’s got their dues in life to pay . . . and sometime you got to lose to know how to win,” I responded, thinking that maybe I could eventually become a cover-skald, too. Half my life’s been wasted in Microsoft’s digital pages and if I was a fool, then Svensson was a sage and I sure wished I could learn from him. I genuinely admired the way he had successfully subverted his own personal 21st century grind and transcended the trivial status quo of contemporary existence. And if it had taken an alcohol-induced nightmare about a divine dick for him to be able to do it, then so be it. At least he had found a way, and like Odin’s little helper, had risen to the challenge.
“You know, it is true, and all these feelings, they come back to you . . . ” He nodded his approval of my pop wisdom and perhaps just for today, the good norns slowly took our conversation away.
ROWDY GEIRSSON’s investigative journalism has previously appeared online at Jersey Devil Press and Word Riot and he currently serves as McSweeney’s Norse History for Bostonians correspondent. He skulked among the abandoned factory buildings of Eastern Geatland in 2015 but has since returned to resume his life-long languishing under the fluorescent lights and ceiling tiles of New England. Hail him online at www.scandinavianaggression.com. Or don’t, either way.