The Ari I met

Ari’s partner Maiju requested us all to remember a story or an anecdote about him and to share it with those who are attending the memorial service today. Unfortunately I can’t be there, but I would probably have shared a (much) shorter version of this.

I don’t remember exactly when or where I first met Ari. Most likely we spotted each other in the Helsinki law school cafeteria in the mid-1980s because of the coifs that we both sported. Ari was a cross between David Sylvian and the ‘thin white duke’ with a heavy splash of hairspray domesticating the natural curls that he wasn’t fond of, and I, for my part, had shaved the sides and back of my head clean with a wedge hanging over mohawk-style. In a faculty mostly known for acrylic suit trousers and hard plastic business briefcases, haircuts like that tend to gravitate towards each other. Shortly after that we were both studying for exams and writing essays in Café Colombia, a popular spot in the city centre in the Alvar Aalto designed office building Rautatalo.

Ari was determined to become a tax lawyer because, as he quite rightly pointed out, ‘that’s where the money is’. Like an older brother who over-controls his sibling’s love life, I sensed that this would not be a good match. So with some cunning, I nudged Ari closer to my own professional plans that did not include tax law. I first recruited him into the student law society’s media team that, at the time, was practicing some form of ‘gonzo journalism’. After reading Ari’s published poems and short stories, I was even more convinced that not only would Ari do well in academia, but that academia needed Ari just as much.

We both signed up for the same LLM dissertation module in criminal law knowing that the lenient seminar leader would give us leeway in choosing our topics and perspectives. Ari wrote his dissertation on abolitionism as the theory of the anti-prison movement (this is before Foucault’s big breakthrough, so we’re mainly talking about Thomas Mathiesen, Louk Hulsman and Herman Bianchi), while I focused on criminal protests and rioting as expressive forms of political contestation (drawing mostly on Brummie subcultural theory). The work that we did for those dissertations found its way into our first international publication, a co-authored ‘dystopian manuscript’ that came out in Contemporary Crises in 1987, and apparently only after some forceful persuasion from Stanley Cohen who was our only ‘peer-reviewer’.

As part of that dissertation module, we also attended our first international seminar. The whole module group set out for Oslo with our professor chaperoning. Over the years, I got to travel a lot with Ari, and it was always a thrill. Not always in an unequivocally good sense. In this instance, we first took the overnight passenger ferry to Stockholm with train tickets for Oslo from there. On the ferry, Ari made friends with the road crew that supported the onboard entertainment. It turned into an all-nighter with the nightclub dance band’s road managers and sound engineers and continued the following day in Stockholm at the hotel where the crew was supposed to rest before their trip back. Evening came and the departure time of our train approached, and the rest of the entourage waited at Stockholm Central Station wondering what was keeping Ari, whether he’d make the train at all, or if he’d be left behind stranded. He showed up from the dead of night at the last minute.

The main seminar in Oslo was mostly a heated debate with feminist criminologists of a Maoist persuasion who had a very no-nonsense approach to crime and crime prevention. Later in the evening we attended a meeting of a local inmate organisation (Straffedes Organisasjon i Norge, SON), and to the disquiet of our chaperone, Ari and I quietly slipped into the Oslo night with the inmates and activists. We had also set time aside to interview the radical legal sociologist Thomas Mathiesen for our student law society magazine.

John Tenniel, ‘Hatter in Chains’ (from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, 1871).

During our days (was it a week?) in Oslo, we established base at the trendy Café de Stijl on Skippergata where we continued to work on our dissertations. We also plotted ways in which we could agitate the ‘woollen stockings’, as we affectionately called our left-leaning colleagues from the earlier generation. We were impressed by the way in which the different Nordic anti-prison associations had ‘acronymised’ themselves into a series suggesting kinship: KRIM, KROM and KRUM. We wanted to somehow participate in that kinship series but disrupt its straight-faced seriousness. And so at de Stijl, we devised our own ‘association’: the Collective for Negative Criminal Philosophy (NEKROFIL). I can’t exactly remember how we managed to justify that acronym, but I do remember that it had to be a ‘collective’ and not an ‘association’, and that the word ‘negative’ was our forerunner to deconstruction. Upon returning home, we printed letterheads with the stylised letters NEKROFIL accompanied by John Tenniel’s Hatter in chains as our logo. We used our letterheads to communicate written ’radical statements’ that no-one, of course, had requested.

By that Oslo seminar, Ari’s projected persona was already morphing from the ethereal ‘thin white duke’ into something more akin to a rock star with black skinny jeans, boots and a gaucho hat. His inspiration was a Finnish punk-rocker called Andy McCoy, best known from the band Hanoi Rocks. During the last post-seminar days in Oslo, Ari amused himself — and me — by approaching locals randomly and telling them in his clumsy and make-believe cockney accent: ‘Do you know who I am? I’m Andy McCoy.’

Ari’s enthusiasm for this role-playing diminished considerably when we entered a local record store and found all of Hanoi Rocks’ LPs in the sales bin for the equivalent of a few euro each.

Never a dull moment.