Undersea Adventure and Epiphany
Life begins at four. At least it does here. I wake up around eight-thirty drink some strong coffee and begin writing. I either finish at twelve-twenty and meet the Flying Dolphin or as the case has been lately, type right through until one of the girls come to get me for lunch. Then, I return to the room and read or listen to some Ken Wapnick tapes on "A Course In Miracles" and try to convince Amarandi to take a nap. I'm not always successful. At four o'clock I grab my gear and go to the sea.
Today I walk to the next beach over, the little stone inlet before Saint George. Andrea said she would come in an hour. I thought about spending some time picking up sea-urchins for my friend Niko the Contractor. Also Mister Octopus has already started hassling me for some, but the thrill of the hunt has too much power over me. But I cannot be satisfied scraping a few oversized barnacles off the sea-bed. I need to smell the blood of real fish, sense their fear as they feverishly try to escape. Feel the thrill as harpoon meets scaly flesh. Plus I need the exercise. So leaving the thousands of tasty spiny creatures behind, oblivious to how close they had come to death, I swim south along the coast, looking for prey.
As I get closer to Saint George I keep hearing the sound of racing engines. When I round the bend I see to my horror two American style yachts. And racing around the tiny quiet bay are two jerks on jet-skis.
"What is it with these people. They find the quietest place on earth and they make as much noise as they can. Anyone so obsessed with disturbing the environment must himself be quite disturbed," I tell myself, taking aim at a small skaros and blasting him into oblivion. I gather the fish pieces together. I wonder about rich people. They never have to grow up. They just keep buying toys to amuse themselves. These horrible machines are just appliances to them. Something to make their lives easier like an electric can-opener. But because of their total lack of compassion for their fellow man they are not aware of the discomfort these noisy motorcycles on skis cause the villagers, or me. If only one would pass close enough so I could shoot its reckless rider. Justifiable homicide. "I saw this terrible creature like a demon from hell coming for me spewing smoke and foam. I just closed my eyes and shot. What would you do in my place, officer?" I watch them for a moment, racing back and forth, in circles, making sharp turns and reversing directions. They remind me of the kids with skateboards going off the steps at the Chapel Hill Post Office. It's the exact same thing except these skateboards have big engines built by peace loving engineers at Honda and Yamaha and the riders have lifejackets instead of kneepads. Instead of tattoos they have their own gold cards, given to them with great ceremony on their thirteenth birthday. I congratulate myself on my brilliant analogy and continue my killing spree.
As I approach Saint George I realize that the danger of being run over by one of these upper caste daredevils, is increasing exponentially. Then, suddenly the sound stops. Like all children they had quickly become bored with their toys and moved on to something else. I imagine them in their luxury cabins playing star-destroyer or jerking off to their bleach-blonde mother's Jane Fonda exercise video. I figure I have about fifteen minutes before they find a new way to disturb the silence and endanger my life. I use that time to swim past where their yachts are moored at the church of Saint George, and continue on towards the lighthouse. As it turns out I had more time than I thought. It took them half an hour before they broke out the old water skis, primitive, yet still efficient in relieving the boredom of people in the habit of getting everything they want when they want it. At least now they won't be anywhere near the rocks and I can fish in peace.
When I reach the point, I see a small boat. In it is Panayotis, this time fishing for rofos instead of kefalo. I wave to him.
"Have you seen any rofos?" he asks me.
"Hundreds" I tell him. "They are everywhere. Do you want one?" I offer to catch one for him. I have not been hunting them because I've been waiting for Mitch to arrive. Rofos are a soup fish and the fish I have been catching were for grilling and frying. The rofos, somehow sensing that I was not a danger to them come out of their homes to watch me pass by like widows and children watching a conquering army march through their village. To shoot one now might alert them to my future plans. I am glad that Panayotis misunderstood me or has not heard me and has gone back to his fishing.
I swim a little further and turn around. I already have plenty of fish, several skaros, some gopa, a few kefalo and one barbouni, when I see a group of perka. They are hassling a large octopus. I don't even think about it. My instincts take over as soon as I realize that this octopus is big enough to shoot and not feel ashamed about it. I shoot badly. Even at close range I am so excited that I have forgotten Robert De Niro's immortal words in The Deer Hunter: You have to take a deer with one shot. It was the same with octopus. I have merely wounded the poor creature and he disengages himself and begins to swim away. I reload and shoot him again, this time fatally. The only problem is that he doesn't know it's fatal. He is stuck on the spear but still fighting to get himself off. Michali Orphanidis, my spearfishing guru had told me that when I get in this situation I need to turn the octopus's head inside-out. It sounded easy on land, drinking beer in the Old Captain bar, but at sea it's a different story. First of all the octopus does not want his head turned inside-out. It's also my one free arm against his eight tentacled arms or legs. I decide to end it quickly and pull out my trusty knife. In a moment it's all over. I have stabbed myself in the hand.
"Did you catch anything?" Panayotis calls to me from the boat. I pull out the large octopus that is still attached to the end of my spear.
"That's a great one," he tells me. His young partner had caught one too and waves it in the air. It isn't more than four inches long. He gasps when he sees mine and looks ashamedly at the lifeless baby octopus he holds. I imagine him despairing over what he has done, on the long boat-ride back to the village. He had killed a baby octopus before it had the chance to experience the true beauty of life. It would never taste the waters of a fresh mountain spring or see the leaves change from green to autumn red. It would never go to a circus or ride a pony. I, on the other hand had just brutally murdered it's mother.
"Well, I can live with it," I say to myself and force the sad thought to the deeper vaults of my mind where it would have lots of company. I continue home.
When I reach Saint George again, I have to circle around the accursed yachts so as not to pass by where the stern is moored close to the small dock. Who knows what kind of filth is spewing from those pipes that jut from the rear of the sleek craft. I swim around the bow and come face to face with one of the terrible jet-skis laying idle and unattended. As the fear quickly passes I realized this is an excellent opportunity to make a political statement. A disconnected cable here. A fuel tank punctured by a sharp three-pronged object. A kefalo jammed into the gearbox. But I remember a lesson from "A Course In Miracles" about forgiving my enemies. Divine intervention had saved the infernal machine. I swim on.
A few meters further I see my landlord Yannis Zaferis working on his boat. He asks what I'd caught and if I want a ride back. I tell him I would rather swim. He shakes his head in disbelief. As I approach the first cove I see two people sitting on a rock. As I draw closer I realize it's my cousin Christina and her pretty friend who I had been fantasizing about lately. I stop and chat before continuing on my journey. They are horrified when they see my spear-gun.
"Women," I think to myself. "They hate spear-guns but they love fish. Perhaps I should kill them more peacefully by the net-full leaving them gasping for breath on the deck as they die by the hundreds. Genocide. Let them frown on my methods and do their fishing in the market."
I remember the age old saying, "The meat is sweeter when you have slaughtered the calf." Vindicated, I swim on shooting at everything that moves.
By the time I reach the tiny beach it is obvious that someone had been there since me. There is a pile of sea-urchin shells by a rock and their stinking carcasses have attracted a horde of yellow-jackets. I try to imagine Andrea smashing the little creatures on the rock and scooping out their tasty innards with her fingers, but it does not make sense. This is not Andrea's doing. Someone else had been here, most likely Mister Octopus and his family on one of their picnics. And their carelessness had created an ecological catastrophe. Bees everywhere and I still have the unpleasant task of beating the octopus on the rocks to tenderize him. I find a semi-flat stone and begin methodically slamming the poor dead creature as the bees gather, licking their little yellow lips. I pay them no heed and show no fear as I continue my work occasionally catching a yellow-jacket unaware and sending him to Charon. This is fun, I think as yet another one gets in the way of the falling octopus and is obliterated. I carelessly brush him into the sea where he is instantly devoured by the hungry nameless black fish. But before long there are just too many bees. Outnumbered, I pack my octopus, fish and equipment and set off on the path to town.
When I get to the port I sit on a small dock and begin to clean the fish, remembering the little poem the old fisherman had taught me.
The rofos you eat the head
melanouri the body
but for skaros eat the shit
and tell me which do you prefer?
I happily chant as I go about my work. Andrea joins me. "Don't ever swim away for so long. I thought you were dead," she cajoles me. I continue cutting and cleaning unmindful of her or the new swarm of bees that have gathered around me. "I thought your shoes on the beach were the last I would ever see of you." she adds.
"Did you think about the last conversation we had and whether or not you were nice to me?" I ask innocently. She hadn't.
By now the bees are too much even for an old salt like Andrea and she leaves me to finish cleaning the fish. Task completed I dive into the sea and splash all the guts and fish juice off the small dock so nobody could complain about me using it. I climb out and walk home to shower and get ready for Saturday night.
We had planned to go to Metropolis and eat at Lula's (or as Jack calls her "Boney Marony"). Actually, they had planned. I had nothing to do with it and would have been happy to eat chicken and kokoretsi at Katina's. I hadn't eaten at Lulu's since she charged me two thousand drachma to cook the fish I had caught, almost four years ago. It was a matter of principle I told everyone. Besides, we were a little short and technically still owed her the two thousand. Best let things smooth over before we go back, I had told my family. Now years later it was time to return. Lula had probably learned her lesson by now and had most likely forgotten about the money. Once again our American sense of justice was prevailing and we were slowly but surely teaching these simple people through our painless methods.
As we climbed the hill that led to the restaurant I had Amarandi on my shoulders. The last time we had eaten here she had been a nameless fetus in Andrea's womb. How things change. Another important lesson whose symbolism would not be lost on Lulu, if, she had gotten the last lesson. When I reach the entrance I know she had. She greets us with open arms, a trace of tears in her eyes as she shows us to the best table in the house, which Andrea rejects because it is too bright and the light attracted so many bugs. We take a more humble table in the wings and wave to our friend James Crispy the artist, who is trying to hide from us in the darkened corner. We prepare for the evening's jousting. Elaine opens.
"I just found out that the people staying at the house we stayed at our first night are only paying seven and a half." We had paid nine. Elaine was up to her old tricks using an old argument to start a new one. But Andrea is on to her.
"They just tell you that price. Like when people ask me, I say we are only paying three thousand instead of four."
"Why?" we ask incredulously.
"Because I don't want to them to know we are being ripped off." answers Andrea. Elaine begins a psychological probe while I get straight to the heart of the matter.
"So you lie to them?"
WHAM. Andrea hits me with a verbal overhand roundhouse.
"JESUS CHRIST DO WE HAVE TO HAVE AN ARGUMENT. WE JUST GOT HERE!!!!" She yells with a voice that's a wonder of nature coming from such a small body.
Every table turns to look. Andrea has scored an impressive first round knock-out by catching me completely off guard. I'm too humiliated to continue. I stagger as I leave the table and hurry down the hill to the safety of Katina's. I reach the restaurant but its warm glow has deceived me. "Where's my octopus, boy!" It is Mister Octopus and the question he has been taunting me with for years. I stutter incoherently and run into the night to be alone with my thoughts.
"Where will I have dinner?" I wonder as I sit on a step just out of sight of the bar. I could go to Katina's. The chicken looked awfully good but I can't face Mister Octopus again. Not without my octopus, which is drying in the sun on the clothesline outside our house. Instead I will starve myself. That'll show Andrea. With any luck I would be dead by morning. I stop for some juice and milk for Amarandi. No reason for her to suffer because of the incompatibility of her parents, but in my delirium I drink the entire container of juice. Damn. Just enough to sustain me until morning. My plan had gone awry. I feel the sweet taste of revenge vanish from my fruity tasting lips. I would live to face other challenges and arguments.
"Yes," I tell myself. "I will live. But as what and for what purpose?"
Through the haze of my dilemma I hear Andrea's voice in my head, coming from the not too distant past soft and gentle at first. I try to make out the words, something about this afternoon's arrival of the Flying Dolphin and Greg and....the USA Today! I suddenly realize that Greg had come through. He had not forgotten. I had forgotten and in my haste to go out to dinner had left the paper in our house.
Suddenly, I feel more alive than ever before. The baseball scores! I run towards the house at breakneck speed, my will to live revived. I was looking for meaning in life and God had heard my cries. He had responded to my anguish.
"The lord works in mysterious ways," they say. But when it's time to relax he likes nothing better than a good game of baseball and a cold beer. And I, created in his image, am no different. All-knowing as he is he sent me the one thing that could save me. The USA TODAY.
"Thank-you lord," I say silently as I pick up the sports page. "You're the best God of them all."