Pip and Pop
When we go down for our final swim of the day there is a flotilla of sailing yachts moored to the dock. I count ten and a motor yacht that is searching for a non-existent parking space among them. There's something about seeing pleasure boats tied up at the dock that makes me wish for the Meltemi winds to return. The dock is so unsheltered that any kind of wind or waves can turn a night on board into hours of sleepless terror. Most sailors go to either side of the bay, where they might as well be since they all seem to cook and eat their meals on the boat anyway. What's the point of coming to Greece if you don't go out for dinner? That's where the life is in this country. But the yacht people sit there, drinking beer from the cooler, calling out to each other the names of the places they've seen and their routes while Panayotis and the children are forced to do their fishing in the little spaces between the boats.
In the bar I run into Pip and Pop, the English couple who come here every year. He's a retired police inspector and she's a vegetarian. Pip and Pop are not their real names and as I speak to them I realize that I don't know what their real names are, and in a matter of moments I will have to introduce them to Andrea or Elaine. "This is all Jack's fault," I think to myself. He always called them Pip and Pop and so I never thought to ask what their real names were. Now Jack is happily thousands of miles away while I am going through my own private hell. To compound matters, Pop buys me a drink. We go outside to wait for Esther to bring Pip's coffee, or what she thought was a coffee when she pointed to it and said she wanted one. It turns out to be a fruit smoothie and it arrives at our table just as Andrea does. "I'm sorry I've forgotten your names." I say with my most formal and apologetic voice as I introduce Andrea as my wife, for some reason.
"I'm Pip and this is kqxwlp..." I'm so surprised to hear Pip is her real name that I miss his name entirely.
A million thoughts race through my head. "So Jack didn't make it up. Pip is really her name. But what about his?" I realize I had missed it completely and I try to rerun my memory tapes but get nothing. One thing is for sure. It isn't Pop, though he appears to be a few years her senior. I get the joke. Vintage Jack.
We make uninteresting small talk but I can't focus because I am too busy trying to stay aware for any reference to Pop's real name, from Pip. Pop is quiet, obviously scrutinizing us like he had been trained and had perfected through his many years of dealing with London's underworld, listening for some inconsistency in our stories. Something he could store away and present to us at just the right moment, shredding alibis and perhaps our sordid lives. I try to steer the conversation his way while letting him know I am on to him. "Andrea's favorite show is Chief Inspector Tennysen..." I start to say, but before I can get the words out of my mouth Andrea gets up and is gone, leaving me alone and vulnerable. To sit and talk about Andrea's favorite television show without her present would be ludicrous. I scan my mind for something of interest. Something to ignite the conversation and distract Pop's sharply trained police mind from the unease I am feeling.
"It rained yesterday," I say. Bingo. They took the bait and ran with it. English people love talking about the weather.
"Yes it did, and the day before that." answers an unsuspecting Pip.
"But not today," says Pop intently. What is he getting at?
I try to defuse the situation. "Actually it did." I tell him. He looks at me suspiciously. "But only on my house." I add. He nods and smiles. Damn, that was a close one. I have to be more careful. Pop doesn't miss much.
Luckily Andrea returns with a load of fresh conversation.
"Have you eaten at Katina's?" she asks. Good work Andrea. Again Pip goes for it. "Not this year but we are going tonight. You see, I'm a vegetarian so there's not much I can eat there." The tables are turned. It is we who are now doing the police work and so far Pip and Pop have no idea they are the ones now being interrogated. "I'm having an omelet tonight." adds Pip without even being asked. Police work is easy, I'm thinking.
"What kind of omelet?" I ask her.
"Just a plain one," she says in a meek voice. I have her and she knows it. It's just a matter of time before she tells us everything.
"You should try a tomato and potato omelet with cheese. You do eat cheese, don't you?" I taunt her.
"Yes occasionally." She is beaten and confused. But what about Pop? What will he be eating tonight? But Pop won't fall for the same trap. He is experienced. He'd used the same methods a thousand times and before I could ask he was gone, taking Pip with him and leaving half a beer behind. I'd rattled him. The next step would be a little more to my liking. Routine surveillance.
We sit at the bar for a few minutes more to buy ourselves some time. We still have a problem that neither Elaine, Andrea or myself want to bring up. Will we be eating at Katina's tonight? And if not, how will we get past her without taking the torturous Mickey Mantle Lane, a two-mile detour around her restaurant. We'd have to try to sneak past. I send the women first. They can handle the flak. I will bring up the rear and face the heavy artillery.
When I get to Katina's I see that the women hadn't gotten very far. Amarandi is in the back of old Panayotis truck playing with her little cousins. Elaine and Andrea are smiling and watching. "The kids! She's using the kids to slow us down!" I psychically prod Andrea and her mother using all my secret powers, but they won't budge. They've become dangerously entranced by the children at play. I push past them. If one of us can get through, the others will have the excuse to follow. I make it past the kitchen door. Good. Katina hasn't noticed me. I sneak past the next door which is the entrance to the store, fighting the desire to look in to see who is inside. I'm halfway home. Getting past the patio is the real test. I can hear the sound of many voices. In a moment I would be in full view of the people eating at the tables, the waitresses and if I was really unlucky, Katina or Panayotis. Too late I realize. It's a trap!
Everybody I know in the village is there. Niko the contractor from Egalion, his crew, Vassili the Green Grocer, Mister Spiro and his wife, Pip and Pop, even Katina's daughters and grandchildren had come down from the mountains to help. And there is old Panayotis cutting away at the long rack of kontosouvli. To top it off, in the middle of the yard is one empty table, the perfect size for a party of three and a half. Once again the power of Katina has overcome us. Elaine surrenders without a struggle. Silently she walks straight for the table and instinctively starts to pull it out and away from the next table which is dangerously close. Panayotis stops her with a gentle hand on her arm and moves it back to where it had been. "A horse is coming through the restaurant," he explains. Of course. Sure enough a few minutes later one of Monemos' workers walks through leading his black stallion right across the restaurant patio.
I use the distraction to move to a spot directly next to Pip and Pop. She is eating a tomato and potato omelet. With cheese. I smile to myself. Pop is eating beefteki. I should have known. Pop is a classic beefteki type. He fits the profile to a "T." The mystery is over. Case closed, except for the small matter of his name. But that can wait.
We take our seats and mentally prepare ourselves for the food. The party at the next table are from one of the sailboats and by coincidence live two blocks from Vassili the Greengrocer in America. He is serving as their guide, host and unofficial consulate of San Jose. They are all good-natured and very American. Elaine tries to join in the conversation. "How many sails does your boat have?" she asks seriously.
"Four" comes the reply from one of the women, thinking Elaine had said sailors. You can tell what's on her mind.
"How many winches?" I ask. Nobody answers but that's OK because the food is starting to arrive at our table. We begin our evening routine of eating and bickering. Andrea starts the ceremony with her traditional complaint that we have ordered too much food. Elaine counters with a "whatever happened to the sweet little child she raised" story. Andrea pulls me into the fray by accusing me of knocking Amarandi into and spilling the water bottle which was strategically placed by our feet on the floor. I nail her with a guilt trip and once again we are rolling. By the time we finish Andrea was gone, taking Amarandi with her and Elaine and I are on our way to being drunk. I brace myself for tonight's obligatory lecture. Just then the American party start to leave. One of the men stops at our table long enough for me to read his 1962 Giants shirt and for him to tell me about being in the stands for the 1989 World Series earthquake.
As soon as they are gone someone asks "Matheo, where's the music?" I don't need a second invitation. I plug in the tape player and turn on Marika Ninou. The tables are pushed aside and Elaine and Niko the contractor begin dancing separately, but passionately. It was as if when the American's left someone had said "OK. They're gone. We can be Greeks again!" I realize that I am out of film and Elaine is putting on a show that would be forgotten if I don't act fast. I run back to the house and return with a new roll, and Amarandi. For the next hour Elaine, Niko, Amarandi and her little cousins dance until the French family who rent the room directly above the patio, came home and Vassili the Greengrocer feels it is his civic duty to turn the music down. The spell is broken but it was fun while it lasted.
I wake up before sunrise feeling both spiritual and hung-over. I ransack Andrea's drawer in the dark but cannot find her secret cache of ibuprofin, the only thing that has been keeping her going this summer. I give up and go out to use the toilet looking both ways for traffic. As I open the door to the outhouse something big and dark moves into the corner. What the hell was that?! I strain my eyes to give definition to the dark shape that I am sure, sits with muscles taught, ready to strike. I run inside and get my handy underwater flashlight. I point it's beam into the corner. My God. It's a frog. Deadly poisonous no doubt. I try to paralyze him by shining the halogen light directly into his eyes, a trick I knew worked with deer. He hops away. That was a close call. I make a mental note to warn the girls to be on their toes when using the toilet at night.
As I am finally falling back to sleep after several hours of wrestling with my demons, I hear the others begin to stir. Andrea's alarm goes off and she obediently leaves for her art lesson. Amarandi comes over and sits on my head which I guess is her new way of saying wake up Daddy. I hear voices coming up the road. Elaine looks out the window.
"Look, it's James Crispy with Andrea." He was on the way down the mountain when he ran into Andrea on the way up. He tells us he has had an upsetting couple of days. He is in the process of breaking up with his winter boyfriend Juan, who was to come tonight on the boat and finalize things. Maybe one last night of passion before the final goodbye, a fitting end to a stormy relationship. But this morning Juan had called to say he wasn't coming. James is clearly unhappy as he gives us a brief synopsis.
Meanwhile, my detective mind is again working overtime, trying to be in two places at once. One part of me in the here and now, the other at a table at Tiri's (or as Jack calls it "Double Limpy's") many years ago. It was me, Jack, Sue, their daughter Ryan, my brother James and another party, which included my sort-of girlfriend Silvi, and this pretentious arrogant friend of hers who Jack had dubbed "The Athenian" because he epitomized everything we disliked about modern Greeks. He was a complete snob who disliked everything and everybody. He made gross generalizations about Americans (in much the same way that Jack and I did about the Germans) and it bothered us. We challenged him at every opportunity. Jack was especially relentless, like a pit bull pulling an intruder down by his pants leg while he tries to escape over the fence. By the end of the meal, The Athenian was ready for a new bout of extensive psychotherapy muttering to himself as his friends deserted him in droves after having seen him exposed by Jacks multi-pronged attack. Jack had been troubled by his role in the ordeal and still feels a tinge of guilt whenever he eats at Double Limpy's, which is seldom. Now it dawns on me. James's lover is The Athenian. I describe The Athenian to James. Sure enough it was him.
"Yes, he is a bit of a snob," James admitted. "But it's just a part of his defensive shell," he adds. Yeah, right. That's what they said about Liona Helmsley, I say to myself.
"James," I tell him, trying to sound wise and knowledgeable. "Greek men are all incredibly screwed up by their parents. They don't know if they're coming or going. Their fathers are especially harsh with their ideas of machismo and filotimo (a kind of Greek pride that allows them to justify doing things like killing someone for insulting their mule). Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up gay in such an environment? Juan has to be completely psychotic. You're much better off without him. End it without the fanfare." He agrees. I feel it might be inappropriate to add that once Jack finds out that James' former lover was The Athenian he would never allow him to forget it. Best to put it behind him as they say, and pray that Jack never figures it out or I don't get drunk and tell him.
My father explained Cretan filotimo to me and my sister and brothers when we were taking one of our dreaded family trips to the island.
"In Crete there is an unwritten law that says: if you come to me as a stranger in need of help, I will offer you my hospitality, my home, my wine, my food, everything. ("His wife?" we asked). But if you betray me I will try my best to kill you. He then went on to tell the tale of a foreign traveler who was in need of assistance. No passport, no travelers checks, beaten by hoodlums and left for dead, he was taken in by one of these proud Cretans who nursed him back to health, shared his home, his food, his wine. (Not his wife but he did offer his favorite sheep.) When it was time for the man to leave he offered to pay the Cretan for his hospitality. The Cretan, deeply offended, tried his best to kill him." We thought that was hysterical. We imagined this Cretan guy running around chasing Alan Bates, "trying his best to kill him" in every conceivable manner. We had expected some gruesome finale where the Cretan disembowels him and feeds him to his goats, keeping his head on the mantelpiece as a warning to the next hapless visitor who tries to pay him for his hospitality.
Near disaster. I turn on the computer while I drink my morning coffee and wait to get into the ms-works program. To my surprise this file is nowhere to be found. My first experience with a lost file, and not a computer nerd within a hundred miles. I know that I have it on floppy disk so I'm not totally freaked out, but I am still nervous while I recopy this story on the the main drive. Again when I try to access it, the computer can't find it. I finally locate it somewhere and bring it home to where it should be in the MS-Word files, but it is a valuable lesson about saving material.
We manage to get by Katina's and have lunch at The Hotel again. It's a close call though. I can't walk past her restaurant without looking inside to see who's hanging around, eating or watching the afternoon soap operas that all of Greece is addicted to. Both Nikos, the contractor and the cop are there and I walk inside to greet them. Andrea rushes past me and out the back door, pulling a confused Amarandi with her. As Katina calls my name from the kitchen, Andrea beckons me from the other side. "Come on Matt. You can do it. Break free of her. Use 'The Force'." I summon all my strength. I can feel Katina's grip weakening. I could almost hear the tearing of psychic bonds as I tear myself free of her restaurant. I walk towards the light. Suddenly I am free! Immersed in the sun's golden rays I take Andrea's outstretched hand.
"C'mon honey. Let's go eat."
Elaine joins us after a few minutes. She had an easier time getting past Katina though she is still shaking from the strain. She entertains us with complaints and reprimands while she eats her souzoukakia and rice which compares unfavorably to her own. Then Andrea excuses herself to take Amarandi to the bathroom. "Uh oh. Trouble" I realize too late. I had escaped Katina only to be trapped by Elaine. She has been taking notes on the way Andrea and I relate to each other. I bite my lip and take my whipping like a man. Then she changes gears.
"You totally underestimate me." she tells me. More trouble. I smell a lecture on her prison reform work taking shape. Where the hell is Andrea? How long can it take for a three year old to pee? Elaine begins her patented attack. I try to resist but I have been drained by my psychic battle with Katina and feel the first pangs of compassion taking root within me. Maybe I had misjudged my mother-in-law. She talks about her endless letter-writing, staying up to the wee hours of the morning with no company but the constant blare of 'Cops' and 'Rescue 911' in the background. Suddenly like an angel of mercy Andrea is back.
"Will you shut-up, mother." For the second time that day Andrea had rescued me.
"What a woman," I think to myself. "What did I do to deserve her?"
After filling Amarandi with chocolate ice-cream, candy and milkshakes it is time for her nap. For some reason she won't go to sleep no matter how hard we try to force her to. We each take turns trying to wear her out, but after more than an hour we are all exhausted and she is still running around like a maniac. Her new game is to climb on top of the bedpost and jump on my stomach while I am reading or asleep. This inspires an Elaine story of a two year old who jumped on her father's stomach and ruptured his spleen necessitating emergency surgery and then countless operations for the rest of his short life. It doesn't seem to deter Amarandi and she happily continues. I am forced to put my foot down in the most drastic way possible.
"Amarandi. If you jump on me one more time I am leaving the house to go fishing."
"Can I come?" she asks.
"No. Then it wouldn't be a punishment." I'm using the old "it hurts me more than it hurts you" routine in order to justify doing something I really want to do, which is go fishing. She is intent on testing her boundaries. She takes a running leap.
"OK. that's it!" I walk out the door. Andrea follows. Amarandi cries. It's a tough lesson for a small child to learn but one day she will thank me for it. Anyway I'll make it up to her by bringing her some undersea treasure, perhaps a sea-urchin skeleton or a shell. Plus with any luck she will be eating fish tonight. I let these thoughts drown out her crying which has now turned to hysterical screaming. Andrea notices the look of unconcern on my face.
"Don't worry. She'll only cry for a few minutes and then she'll be happy with Yaya." She needlessly consoles me. But, I'm already out of ear-shot and on my way to the small beach on the path to the tiny church of Saint George.