The Waves

At last, the waves have come. It's a cool cloudy day with a wind blowing in from the sea. Storm clouds are hung up on the mountain peaks creating a traffic jam that might eventually bring rain. I was sitting in our house fuming because I had suspected that Elaine was smoking in the outhouse with Amarandi in there with her. I wasn't sure but I heard their voices and when they came out, Elaine, Amarandi and the outhouse smelled like cigarette smoke. It bothered me because Elaine is one of those people who watches all those Current Affair and 20/20 style shows on TV so the dangers of second hand smoke is no secret to her. It's one thing to be smoking in the same room, but when that room is three feet by three feet it seems like the dangers might be intensified. Andrea told me to speak to her about it because she's afraid that if her mother thinks that she knows about her smoking then she'll start lighting up in front of her. So, I'm supposed to confront Elaine so Andrea can continue pretending she doesn't know and Elaine can continue thinking she's fooling her.

While I was mentally struggling with this they were having a conversation about the Avon lady. I couldn't take it anymore so I walked out. Elaine tried to stop me by asking me to move the bed so Amarandi could get her little plastic ring that came as a gift from an ice cream cup and had fallen underneath. Not that Amarandi even noticed it was missing. I politely declined and she thanked me sarcastically. The last thing I heard was Andrea screaming my name, "Matthew!!!" It sounded like a horrible mother shouting at her spoiled child, which is how I felt. I realized that I went from being single and solo, to having two mothers and a daughter. The scary thing is that Amarandi won't be a child forever. I could potentially have three screaming women in my family. If my relationship with Andrea is going to continue with me being the abusive child to her domineering mother act, maybe I should buy a case of rubbers and find a girlfriend one night at a time. Someone I can tell about my terrible home life after incredible sex. I'm supposed to be a poet, a musician, like Leonard Cohen and Ray Davies. I should be living with Rebecca DeMornay for a year or so before moving on to the next young beautiful and brilliant girlfriend. I should be like Henry Miller, bald yet incredibly attractive, emanating life , humor and sex appeal. I shouldn't be trapped with three difficult women, getting sucked into daily bickering sessions. I suppose I can stand it until Amarandi is old enough to leave home but if the old adage that "If you want to know what a woman will be like in 25 years, look at her mother," is true, then I could be in big trouble. They both remind me of Gertrude Issacowitz, my grandmother on my mother's side. Perhaps I am paying off some karmic debt. I was not very tolerant of her so maybe this is the lesson I have to learn in this life, how to get along with women who badger and pick and have no idea what the hell I am talking about most of the time. My grandfather had the answer. He had a mistress for thirty years. Nobody knew about her until after he died.

So I go to the beach and there is a thin film of tar specks on the waves. Some tanker has emptied its bilge or something. In some places it has collected on seaweed into black patches. It's very disturbing. Here I have been waiting for a day like today where I could body-surf myself to exhaustion, and the sea is a black filthy mess. I walk down to the next beach beyond town and it's a little better. At least the tar hasn't arrived yet and I am able to bob around and ride a wave or two before it does. Then I quickly get out and walk to Katina’s where Amarandi and Elaine are sharing an omelet. Amarandi is playing with her nine year old boyfriend, Little Panayotis. Old Panayotis offers me the liver of a freshly killed sheep for lunch. Following the ancient advice of never turn down a Lakonian when he offers you the liver of his favorite sheep, for if you do tomorrow someone may be offered yours, I accept. Anyway with all the drinking I can use the B-vitamins.

Last night's arrival of the ferry boat was a spectacle, at least compared to other non-events of the week. We sat at the bar, drank ouzo, and ate salty peanuts and pistachios and talked about who might possibly get off the boat. James Crispy was waiting for his friend Christina who we realized after awhile was none other than my cousin Christina. We finally saw some lights on the horizon and in half an hour the enormous form of the THESEUS was filling up the harbor. We went to the end of the dock to take in the scene. Amarandi was mesmerized, especially when the big door came down and all the people, cars, trucks, boats and animals spilled onto the dock into the waiting embraces of friends and family. Greg, Anastasia and Nora who had helped set off Yannis' tirade in the Plaka that evening which seemed so long ago, were among the new crowd of vacationers, along with several familiar faces whose names we didn't know.

When the excitement had ended we walked to Katina's and were greeted with a plate of chicken, kontosouvli, salad, potatoes and a plate of fried moray eel that old Panayotis had promised me. The food was delicious but the company was terrible. Andrea ate her food in silence, claiming she had a headache while Elaine took advantage by talking non-stop through the entire meal. Even Amarandi ran off to play with Little Panayotis and her cousins, returning for the watermelon that Jack had left for us with Katina three days before and she had forgotten about. It was a sad experience, that watermelon being the last remnant of Jack, a sweet tasting Eucharist. It wasn't until the next day that we noticed the bespectacled, bearded stranger, who had magically appeared to fill the void Jack had left. If Jack had needed a stunt double, this man would have been him and we thanked God for the gentle reminder that Uncle Mister Jack would one day return to us at this first supper without him.

The girls went off to bed and even though I was invited to continue drinking and eating with the construction workers and Niko the cop, (or ex-cop depending on who you ask), I went to the "phone-card" telephone booth and called my mother. Everything was fine in America so I went back to the house. Andrea was reading with the flashlight. I talked to her but I could tell she wished I would stop talking so she could continue with her book. She would much rather read a book or a magazine than talk to me. When I was friends with her and Stewart we would go to a cafe, order drinks or coffee, and the two of them would pull out books and begin reading, leaving me to wonder what kind of relationship they had. I can understand if you are alone, going out for coffee in the morning and reading the paper, but when you are with someone you supposedly love the idea is to communicate, especially when you are sitting face to face, or even laying next to each other in bed. I don't think Andrea likes to communicate. If I talk to her while we are making love she tells me to shut up. She says I remind her of Woody Allen when I talk. What does that mean? I'm funny? I'm neurotic? Maybe when I get my mistress she'll have a wonderful sense of humor and laugh at all my bedside mannerisms. Andrea's like a guy. After we make love I can tell she wishes she could be the hell away from here, but since we live together and she can't, she does the next best thing. She closes her eyes and goes to sleep, or pretends. She complains that she is an insomniac and yet after sex I ask her a question and she doesn't answer, no matter how many times I ask. It's not like our sex is so wild that she passes out from sheer exhaustion. It's a puzzling situation, but there are remedies. Going to the bar is one of them.

When I got there I had a beer and talked to Maria, the ex-rock'n-roll bride from Atlanta, and my young cousin, another John Colombotos, who kept us entertained with stories about how much he could drink.

"How many beers is that for you Mattheos?" he asked, pointing at my half empty Amstel. I exaggerated and told him three. He pointed to his. "Twenty-five" he said proudly as Maria tried in vain to contain her admiration. They were reluctant to call it a night and asked me if I wanted to come with them to the disco at the far end of the bay. Even the possibility of dangerous sex with Maria was not enough to entice me to accept their offer, especially since my potential rival suitor was on his twenty-sixth beer, and seemed unfazed as he began to tell us stories from his stint in the Greek Marines. Besides, I had a sleeping girlfriend, daughter and mother-in-law waiting for me at home. Maybe I would get lucky with Andrea. I thought about the octopus I had let go the day before telling myself that if I spared his life I would be rewarded by an even larger and tastier one. If only it were the same with women.

So it rains all the next day, just like it did last Saturday. By the time the Flying Dolphin is due to arrive the waves are huge, breaking on the road in front of the bar. The dolphin sails into the bay and comes right towards where we are standing on the dock. They pull up alongside, start to tie up and then think better of it as the boat is lifted about twenty feet into the air and dropped with a giant splash. They back up and speed off to the fisherman's dock on the sheltered far side of the bay. It reminds me of the reason that my father is against fixing the house here. Or one of the reasons. Before they built the dock into what it is now, capable of handling ships, all the Flying Dolphins and ferries used the dock at Agios Nikolaos because it was the only place sheltered and deep enough. My father arrived on the Ionion with Angela, his wife to be, and stood on the dock watching the activity as people piled into cars and pick-up trucks for the two mile ride into town. My father, still living under the illusion that Greece in the eighties was still Greece in the sixties assumed that if he and Angela started walking with their heavy bags, some nice villager would offer them a ride, so they didn't bother asking. To their dismay they were left behind. Maybe the villagers were caught up in the excitement of their own arriving relatives or maybe they thought my father and his wife were a couple masochistic elder hostel types who enjoyed dragging a hundred pounds of luggage up and down hills on dusty back roads. Who knows? Whatever the reason my father never forgave them and always compares Kalohori and Kalithea, my Grandfather's village, which he prefers, by telling me about the goats they slaughter to celebrate whenever he visits there and the fact that nobody offered him a ride that day he arrived here. But sometimes you just have to ask for a ride instead of expecting people to recognize your needs and then getting mad at them when they don't.

So now the rain has us house bound again. Andrea is cleaning and rearranging the little there is to clean and rearrange. Elaine is pretending to be asleep so she can hear what we say about her, and Amarandi is sitting on her potty, singing a little song. We hung the hammock and were swinging her slowly back and forth when the downpour started. She was moments from falling asleep but now she seems revived and happily plays with her toys and books.

I am laying in my bed reading when Andrea suggests we go to the beach. When we get to the port it's raining and the wind is blowing. The waves are incredibly large, crashing on the dock. Panayotis is braving the storm with his little drop-line and cheesy bread trying to catch a kefalo. For the weather being so nasty there are a lot of people around. Kosta the bouzouki player has parked his truck with his family in it on the end of the pier and he's casting into the waves, trying to catch melanouria. Marina's husband and his friend are in a small speedboat trolling back and forth after the same fish. To the right of the dock, on the small town beach, teenagers swim in the big waves, while children on the other shore run from the spray as those same waves hit the rocks and explode fifty feet into the air. I look at the long beach and see that's where the really big waves are breaking. As we come down the steps to the beach the geese leave their shelter to greet us, probably having been ignored by their caretakers because of the weather. Usually they run from us. Besides us, there's another couple with their son playing along the shore. Nobody else. By now it's pouring and the wind is blowing harder. It's very unpleasant for Andrea who is afraid to go in the water but for me it's heaven. The sea is warmer than the air and the waves are perfect for riding. Andrea suffers on the beach watching me come in and out a dozen times until I get roughed up by a giant wave and have to rest for awhile. After a few more rides we start back, but I stay on the pier while Andrea goes home to read. The feeling I have while standing on the dock is like being lost at sea in a storm, fearing the elements, but awed by the beauty. I'm not the only one. People are everywhere, swimming, fishing, standing in doorways and at the bar watching the giant waves. Suddenly, it starts to pour again and the wind stops dead. The waves continue rolling in larger than ever but their faces are smooth except for the tiny splashes of raindrops. The sea turns an amazing turquoise and I stand on the edge of the dock in total awe. I'm the only one left out here. When the rain began falling heavily, everyone else ran for the bar to watch from there. Just as I am losing myself in the beauty of the moment I hear a car horn and my name being called. It's Panayotis. I think he wants to warn me not to stand on the edge of the dock because I might be struck by lightning or washed out to sea, but instead he asks me to retrieve his fishing line that is tied to the dock, since I am already soaking wet.

"There is a kefalo on it," he says.

As I walk to his line a huge wave hits the dock in front of the bar washing over Greg's brand new motorcycle and me, and washing Panayotis fishing line into the sea. It's still tied to a steel rung on the dock so I am able to retrieve the end with the kefalo on it and bring it to Panayotis, sitting in his car. "Put it in the bag in the trunk." he tells me.

A couple of the men are swimming and call me in. I join them and we are all bounced around for awhile. "It's not the Atlantic, but close," one of them says to me in English. Afraid that it might be washed overboard, some of the men try in vain to move Greg's motorcycle. By now it's seven o'clock and I am freezing. I wave goodbye and go back to the house to try and get warm, but having only T-shirts and light clothing it is difficult. There are no blankets, only sheets and I don't feel completely comfortable until we go to Katina's and have a couple ouzos.

It's a totally different night at Katinas. All the action is indoors because of the weather. The construction workers are here, Katina's grandchildren and a teacher from Naphlion named Dionysious who lives in one of the old mansions across from the dock. The TV is on showing scenes of cars being washed down city streets in Skopji and floods in Thessaloniki. We drink and eat and talk to everyone. It's like a party. Even Elaine is pouring herself retsina freely and Amarandi is running back and forth playing with the children. I tell the story of my Grandmother's house for the hundredth time. "Ti crema" they always say. What a shame.

They all have advice.

"Just take it."

"Wait til your father dies."

"Get a lawyer and sue your family."

Who knows what I will do and how this will eventually turn out. Today Elaine woke up inspired to buy the house next door for a million drachma. There's only one problem, and we told her. They want fifteen million for it. That didn't dim her enthusiasm. Andrea says it's the first time she's wanted a house. She can see the possibilities of retiring here rather than in a mountain village in Mytilini where you spend the rest of your life walking up and down steps. Andrea's father can move here and become a fisherman, Elaine says. It will be one big happy family again.

Today is Sunday so Elaine gets all dressed up and takes Amarandi to church. While they are gone, John Zaferis comes with the Bulgarian guy and has him clean up the yard which in his mind meant cutting down all the bushes. I try to stop him by appealing to Yannis, but I can't locate him. We convince the Bulgarian to spare the butterfly tree that shades one of the windows on the east side of the house. Elaine is bothered by his presence and perhaps the fact that he looks like a gypsy. "Now he knows the layout of the house." she mutters from the kitchen. What layout? It's one big room and a kitchen, like most of the houses here. Did he take this job so he could case the joint? Besides, he was the one living here before we arrived. If anyone knows the layout of the house it's him.

Church was canceled this week because the priest is at another church. Probably Metropolis or Vrissi. The girls go to Katina's and have an omelet instead. All the regulars are already there drinking, probably disappointed because the priest is out of town.

The sea is again an incredible shade of turquoise, probably because the storm has stirred up the sand from the bottom. The waves are smaller but occasionally ride-able and I spend an hour floating in the surf. While we eat lunch at Katina's the TV is tuned to some stupid Hulk Hogan low budget adventure movie. I'm absentmindedly watching it while waiting for my salad. There's a scene where the muscular giant Hogan is meant to show his soft and sensitive side as he takes a little girl on different rides in an amusement park. There is a cool instrumental guitar intro and then the song dissolves into the flakiest of pop melodies. I think to myself, "How typical. You have this cool riff attached to this song of zero substance." The song begins to irritate me, as does the pretentious video that it goes along with. Andrea comes in and I point it out to her laughing. It sounds like someone trying to imitate our friend Parthenon Huxley's style. Suddenly I realize it is Parthenon. It's his voice. And the music is his style, though not a song you will find on his 100 Greatest Hits Album. I want to call him this moment. "Please Parth. Tell me that you didn't write the "Merry-go-round-of-Love" song in the Hulk Hogan movie." (He did)

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