During the break at Maffia Comedy Club a few weeks ago, a guy from the crowd walked over to me and asked me where I’m from. “Knivsta,” I replied. Yeah, but really, where am I from. “Jersey.” He told me he was from Queens, had moved to Sweden as a kid. His father was from Chile, his mother from Sweden, they visited her sister in Stockholm when he was ten. During the trip, his aunt was killed in an elevator accident that cut her in half. Since they were staying in her apartment, his mom didn’t feel good about leaving as planned, and the stay became indefinite.

I’ve met people who moved here for love, to study, to work, but as a result of bifurcation by elevator? That was a first.

This week marks seventeen years in Sweden and twelve years in standup. It was also around this time, fifteen years ago, that I told my first wife we should divorce. No, it wasn’t intentional that these things lined up, just an odd coincidence.

Regarding standup, I’ve heard comics debate whether or not 2020 and 2021 should count towards one’s total, since not much at all was going on during the covid years, but I don’t see why it matters. Okay, maybe someone who had their first gig in January 2020 and their second two years later shouldn’t go around saying they’ve got three years in the game, but for me, I don’t see a difference in saying twelve or ten. I know someone who started eleven years ago but says twelve and it just makes me scratch my head. I don’t think it adds any gravitas to inflate the number by one.

If anything, it’s a bit embarrassing. I met a rookie at Big Ben Comedy Club early 2020 about to do his third ever gig. He asked me how long I’d been performing and his eyes went wide when I said ten years. I remember how I felt when I was in his shoes, but it was like I was saying, “I know it’s a challenge now, but if you keep up the hard work, in ten years you can still be right here.”

As for life in Sweden, it’s hard to believe it’s been seventeen years. For perspective, my family moved around a bit when I was a kid, and I was ten when we moved into the house I’d live in until I went to college in Boston at eighteen. I’ve lived in Sweden more than twice as long. I lived in Boston for three years, briefly moved back to Jersey, then returned to Boston for another nine before moving here. In other words, I’ve lived most of my adult life in Sweden with no plans to leave anytime soon.

My mother’s father passed away a few months after I moved here and I traveled to the US alone for the funeral. When I returned to Sweden I felt like I was returning home, despite the move being so recent, despite the fact that I was living with my then wife’s parents, and it was odd to arrive at the airport to find my own way back to the house when everyone was speaking a language I’d barely begun to learn. Of course, it’s both fortunate and unfortunate that most Swedes are great at English and it’s easy to get around.

“Home is where the heart is,” as the saying goes. Well, I was returning to my daughter, whom I loved and still do, and my then wife, whom not so much these days. I prefer Robert Frost’s line, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Ultimately, I’ve experienced a feeling that I know is common amongst expats, to feel at home in both our native and adopted countries and also neither. Like having a foot in two hemispheres at once, belonging to both and yet not at all. The guy I mentioned earlier, who briefly had two halves an aunt rather than a whole one? He said that since he was old enough to remember living in NYC, he feels just at home when he travels there. When I visit my childhood home, I sometimes pause and remind myself that I once lived there all the time. It doesn’t feel real. It’s still the same house, though it’s changed a lot since then. It’s the same neighborhood, but it’s changed a lot since then. Obviously and most importantly, I’ve changed a lot since then. So, one more saying: “You can’t go home again.”

Being on the outside looking in is the best possible perspective for a comic. It gives you the ability to see what others take for granted, to notice what others can’t, or won’t. I suppose it’s also better for a comic to be an outsider for motivation’s sake; after all, if you felt like you belonged, why would you want to go on stage and seek approval from drunk strangers?

St Patrick’s Day is coming up this week and I’ve long since designated that as my official anniversary date for both living in Sweden and my standup “career.” The reason? I don’t remember the exact date of when I moved here, but I do remember that St Pat’s occurred within the first week, and my then wife made me a cake with a shamrock on it. I mean, she wasn’t all bad.

At least not then. Oh man, I could tell you stories from the years since that would make your head spin.