Return of Uncle Mister Jack

Kyparissi

Jack and Sue return. They come from the airport straight to Kalohori, stopping only a half an hour in Athens. They don't even have a newspaper but that's OK. With Jack back in town I can do without the baseball scores for the few days until we must leave for Athens and then Lesvos. They are sure happy to be back. The Octopus family have roasted a lamb for Mrs. Octopus name-day. We were hoping we would be offered some and when Jack and Sue show up it is assured. The only problem is that the pieces they give us are mostly bone and fat, the kind of scraps one would throw to the animals. Still it's the thought that counts and nobody else was offered any. The Octopus family devours an entire lamb by themselves.

"The Octopus family may be fat," Andrea lectures us in their defense, "but every day they take long walks into the hills and along the coast. They go for miles. I don't see you doing that". She glares at me and I suddenly feel self-conscious about my own girth.

"They're not taking walks", I tell her. "They're foraging. They go off into those hills devouring everything in sight. Lichens, plants, grubs, insects. When they return from one of their 'walks', there is nothing edible for miles around. They leave a trail of desolation behind them."

As soon as the Marlowes leave for the evening to recuperate from their jet-lag, the party begins. First, Paraskevis, or Mrs. Octopus as we call her, passes out little baklavas wrapped up like candy bars so everyone can celebrate her name day. Then the entire Octopus family begins dancing with Dimitroula, the waitress, joining them. Then to everyone's surprise, Vassili the Greengrocer leaps up and takes the lead, dancing with an abandon seldom seen at Katina's. Within seconds he is physically spent and returns to his seat. Andrea and Amarandi have already gone home so I go to the bar where I know Lea, her husband Panayotis and Helen the girl who mourns the demise of the sea, will be and I'll have someone to talk to. There is also a panigiri in Haraka, the next village which has a Saint Paraskevis church. Marina Vavaris is taking a group of people over the mountain to represent Kalohori in the celebration. We had all been happily talking when they suddenly stand up and say good-bye. I'm a little hurt to not be invited but I don't really trust Marina's ability to drive safely over the mountain. Who knows how long she's been at the bar, throwing back those green colored drinks? The others who are probably drunker then she is, don't mind putting their lives in her hands. Actually it isn't the journey there but the trip back that concerns me. They wave happily to me as they drive off. If they don't survive the trip I will find out about it at breakfast.

July 27th

I get two letters today. One is from my mother telling me that she had gone out to dinner with Janet Powers, the woman who is renting our house in America for the summer, telling us what a nice woman she is. The other letter is from Janet Powers, postmarked the same day, wanting to know if my mother has a history of kleptomania. She is missing a sapphire ring, a camera and a yellow blouse and since the house did not seem to have been broken into, my mother is a prime suspect. Somehow I can't imagine my mother or anybody I know finding those items irresistible and stealing them but it's fun imagining her being a closet kleptomaniac and having successfully hidden it for all these years. I think of all the things I had lost since I was a child. Perhaps my mother was the culprit. One day I will go up into her attic and find everything, toys, books, pets, ex-girlfriends. Andrea and I discuss what we should do. I don't want to do anything. It seems too absurd to be sitting at Katina's, five thousand miles away from home, reading a letter from a total stranger suggesting that someone in my family is a criminal. Then I think about calling my mother to let her know she is suspect #1 so she can start working on her alibi and character references in case of an investigation. It seems kind of sad too. My mother sends a nice letter with nothing but praise for the woman who simultaneously wrote a letter that she suspected my mother of criminal behavior. I wonder what their next evening together will be like.

Today on the two o'clock news there is a report from Crete about old people being evicted from their houses so they could be bulldozed to make room for a new school. The authorities claim they are "illegal" houses, and yet the people interviewed say they had been living there for sixty years. One old guy says he would die before they take him out of his home. There are tires burning in the street and a sign in Greek and English pleading for help. An old woman crying hysterically tries to stop the policemen, tugging at their uniforms, clutching and grabbing their arms as they walk by, rudely shoving her away. It is obvious where the sympathies of the Octopus family lay. "Hit the old woman! Don't take any crap!" They cheer on the cops. My suspicions are correct about him being a retired police officer. For all we knew, big fat friendly Mister Octopus was a notorious torturer of leftists during the Junta. Who knows what the son-in-law did? Maybe the spirit that makes them dance, laugh, joke and party with wild abandon is the same spirit that made them "good cops." One thing is for certain. They spend ninety percent of their waking hours eating and drinking. As nice as Mister Octopus tries to be with his backslapping good-natured jibing, I can't help be suspicious and a little afraid of him.

"I like Christos", Jack had said, using Mister Octopuses real name. I can't really say that I like him. I don't dislike him. I'd just like to stay on his good side. Who knows what happens to those who get on his bad side.

I remember a few years ago when Andrea came here for the first time. There was another family of a retired policeman, only this guy made sure I knew he was with the Security Forces. He joked in a threatening manner and hinted that he suspected me as a narcotics user, which incidentally, was his division. Like the Octopus family all they did was hang out at Katina's and eat and drink. They were all fat. The man was loud and phony-friendly and there was something very sinister about him. I was happy the day they decided to leave, two weeks ahead of schedule because the "weather had soured on them." (It rained one day and they never recovered.) They didn't come back.

But if these fat old cops make me nervous, how do they make Niko the cop feel? Last year he spent a month in another village, being punished for who knows what? Working in a retirement community for old policemen is the last place a guy like Niko would want to be a cop and yet he is still here, or was the last time I looked. Maybe the unwritten law is that a village policeman's beat is his own private kingdom. They may disagree about how he runs it but there is honor among policemen. How else can you explain Niko still having a job? Unless none of these guys are cops. They just like to pretend they are so people will fear and respect them. Maybe Mister Octopus has a pastry shop.

Whatever it is I realize that I have a high-school pot smoker's mentality about cops, (with the exception of Niko of course). They make me nervous. I feel like a criminal when I am around them. Andrea is the same. Only she takes it a step further and believes that Vassili the Greengrocer is a spy or a police informer. Her reasons for suspecting him are simple. Last night when I left the two of them at the table she began to tell him about her grandmother's village in Mytilini, how they grew their own food, made their own wine, how there were seven cafeneons in a Village of three hundred souls and the men drink ouzo from noon to midnight. She realized that Vassili was not paying attention to her, but was looking around the little patio of Katina's, listening in on other people's conversation for evidence of criminal activity.

I had an alibi for him. Vassili has been married for about forty years to a woman he has nothing in common with besides the fact that they come from the same village. Most likely, because she is Greek, she nags him all the time, about the kids, about money, about everything. The only way he could have survived is by tuning her out. Unfortunately it has probably become a habit so firmly ingrained in him that he tunes out all women. When he hears a woman's voice his mind is automatically distracted and he scans his surroundings for something to latch on to. Andrea is curious. "How do you know all that?" she asks me.

"It's just a gut feeling I have".

I hate to admit it but I may be nearly ready to go. For one thing I am running out of things to write about. For another I am a little bored with spearfishing. It's exciting today because as soon as I swim out from the beach the wind and waves pick up and I go about two miles along the coast in a semi-fearful state. I even think about walking back but realize that if I swim and it becomes too rough I can cling for dear life to a jagged stone until some fisherman finds me hours, days, weeks or months later.

Also I am getting tired of eating fish. At least the kind that I catch which has now been reduced to two species, kefalo and skaros. The gopa have me all figured out and don't even use the same swimming lanes as I do. They used to swim about a foot from the surface. Now I see them sneaking around thirty feet below me. They're gone before I can get near them. Even the skaros are starting to avoid me and I only catch the feeble and infirm. The kefalo I hit with lucky shots, only because I have figured out their escape patterns when they are cornered, but I have never been that enthused about the way they taste. It's probably psychological because I usually associate them with harbors that are used as open sewers. They're very clean here and Amarandi likes them, as she likes all the fish so I guess I'll continue until we leave. Still I would like to go somewhere I can shoot at big round fleshy white fish like they sell at the fancy tavernas in the Plaka. Maybe they are seasonal. I saw some in Lesvos a couple years ago but by the time we get there it will be Meltemi. This could be my last fishing of the summer.

Return to Spearfishing in Skatahori Index

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