Andreas Economakis

“Wall” (Photo by Andreas Economakis ©2012)

To A Deaf Person From A Blind Person

I thought I needed to gesticulate loudly
confusing my blindness with your deafness
no matter how much I danced
my suggestions fell on deaf eyes
blind ears
so I decided I’d sleep in the kitchen
the refrigerator hum my evening lullaby
a soft wooden bed
my milk bottle filled with beer
empty of beer
awake to the sound of my inner voice
and the sting of cold sweat on hot skin
the torture of tap water dripping
down my cardboard throat
running to catch up to something
I just can’t place my finger on
a boat that never reaches port
a plane I should be on
afraid
brakes that don’t seem to work
a dark ominous room
confused
and I wander outside and listen
to the harmony of dissonance
to the reason of chaos
the silence of sound
and nature
nature
not much to qualify there
and I come to realize
darkness flows on the inside
not the outside
like a molten river under rock
insipid
adding to the hardness up above
but laughter
laughter boils to the surface
along with happiness
but only
only if you’re fast enough to catch
the sly fucker

Nisyros (July, 2012)

Andreas Economakis

 
This piece is part of a collection of words on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life. The author is not a poet.
 
Copyright © 2012, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
 
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

Andreas Economakis

“Moon Fish”
(photo by Andreas Economakis ©2012)

  
THE LETTER B

when you find yourself avoiding
the letter b in your address book
when your heart feels a foot deep
in heavy liquid
you catch yourself 
alone on the couch
unable to move on
though its been 2 years
cracked pieces on the floor
pissed off at yourself
needing a sorry,
what a sorry ass you are
drowning your thoughts
in booze and work and books
and mindless little things
that no matter what
don’t let you escape
you’re forever in a loop
you reach out and touch the image
and it repeats itself
ad nauseum
ending with the ugly part
until you find yourself
on your couch
looking for an answer
to a question that was never asked
an answer that was never given
a hand that was never held
lips that moved away
eyes that turned to ice
a song you miss hearing
and you ask yourself
why
must I be like that
why
can’t I be like the rest
why
must I be like the rest
and you sit
and wonder
what would it have been like
and you find yourself unable
to escape from yourself
for one minute
a prisoner of the past
in a future already written
wanting so bad to say
I love you.
 
-Andreas Economakis
 
This piece is part of a collection of words on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life. The author is not a poet.
 
Copyright © 2012, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
 
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.
 
 

Andreas Economakis

Athens Street (©2012 Andreas Economakis)


“Ela Re Malaka”

by Andreas Economakis

 

I awake suddenly from a deep and catatonic sleep. In a dream that quickly flutters away, I am pinned underneath a bulky red Lancia, desperately trying to lift it off of me. At the wheel is a gel-haired dude, smiling and oblivious to my predicament. Every time I manage to lift the car a bit, Gel-dude honks and the Lancia gets heavier. To make matters worse, the car horn sounds like a new age Vangelis ditty. Panic seizes me. That’s when the ground starts shaking, like there’s an earthquake.

Trumpets are blaring in my head and a tremendous pressure is weighing me down. It feels as if someone is sitting on me, blasting air-horns and juggling anvils. What the…? I open my eyes and notice that my cat Rufus is busy cleaning himself on my chest. That explains the juggling anvil earthquake. With his wet paw smoothing his forehead, he looks a little like the Gel-dude.

The horns continue blasting outside. What in tarnation is going on? Has Panathinaikos just won a match against Olympiakos? I live so close to Panathinaikos’ football stadium that riot-police often park their blue steel-cage buses on my side street when there’s a game. Bewildered, I look at the clock. 7:45AM. It can’t be a soccer match. Besides, I don’t hear any tear-gas canisters clanking against the pavement or bricks thumping on riot policemen’s plastic shields.

The honking continues. I shoo the cat off, ready to tackle the day like a bona fide Athenian. First on my list of things to do is find the cretin who’s honking the car horn and give him five fingers. No, ten! I peel the covers away, ready for battle. Bad mistake. I am greeted by an unbelievable blast of cold air, the kind of polar cold that frostbites all your extremities and freezes your lips together into a pucker. I gasp for breath, the wind literally knocked out of me. A notorious bareback sleeper, I quickly scurry into my clothes, layering them on like an attack-dog dummy. The horns outside keep sounding like there’s an air raid at hand. I cringe and waddle over to the radiator. Ice cold. Just then I remember that my apartment doesn’t have autonomous heating. This is true of most pre-‘90’s apartments in Athens. There is one boiler for everyone in the building and it is turned on whenever the building manager sees fit, which is generally for a couple of hours in the evening. Mornings are radiator free, the philosophy here that people will either sleep in late or bolt for work fast. It doesn’t matter if it is colder than Minsk outside, rules are rules. My apartment building is no different, with one slight exception. Strangely, the heat also goes on between 1 and 2 PM. I soon find out that this is the magical hour in my building when the young folk wake up and the old folk take their afternoon nap.

I pull my ski cap over my bedhead and turn on the thermosifonas (hot-water heater) to take a shower. At my dad’s place I learned that you must turn it on only when you intend to use it. The thermosifonas consumes egregious amounts of electricity and electricity does not come cheap in Greece. I’ll always remember my dad’s expression of horror when he got the electric bill after I’d spent a month at his place a couple of years back. I had left the thermosifonas running the whole time, accustomed like a good American to taking a hot shower whenever I damn well pleased. Only after seeing this bill did it finally make sense why the power switch to the hot water heater is clearly labeled in every Athenian apartment. And I thought it was because the pansies were worried about getting electrocuted while showering.

Highly irked by the honking, I step out onto my balcony and peer over the edge to the tiny street below. A middle-aged man in a suit looks up at me. He’s standing next to his blocked Nissan Micra, his right hand jabbing the horn trough an open window. His face is a portrait of anger, frustration and righteousness. It’s the car-honking cretin.

“Ela re malaka! Vgale to aftokinito sou apo edo gia na figo. Kornaro 10 lepta, gamo ton Christo mou!” (“Come on you masturbator! (sic. asshole). Move your car so I can get out. I’ve been honking for 10 minutes, fuck my Christ!”) he yells up at me, waving a hand that’s holding a cigarette. (A note to the readers: calling someone a masturbator or asshole in Greece isn’t necessarily an insult. It falls in the same category as “dude” if properly intoned. This guy however definitely just called me an asshole. And it isn’t even 8AM.)

“Who are you calling a masturbator, you masturbator! It’s not mine, that stupid Lancia!” I yell back, hand poised, ready to flip him five fingers. This guy is really frazzling my geraniums.

“Ah, signomi re file! Mipos xeris pianou ine?” he responds with a goofy smile, his tone noticeably friendlier. I look around for a bucket of water.

“No, I have no idea whose it is. But Jesus, can you honk a little louder, please? They can’t hear you in Kabul.” I respond, blood boiling.

“What do you want me to do, buddy? It’s not my fault!” he yells back, leaning on his horn once more and exhaling a stream of curses and smoke into the air.

Steamed, I reenter my frozen apartment. I feel hot. Getting into a shouting match first thing in the morning does the trick. Maybe this is how the locals keep themselves warm in the winter.

While brewing coffee, I get to thinking about the Lancia incident and the chaotic car scene in Athens in general. It’s a classic Greek problem, with deep roots. See, most of modern Athens was built without an urban plan. That is to say, after the dark ages of Turkish and colonial occupation and the mass repatriation of Greek refugees fleeing the Asia Minor Catastrophe in the 1920’s, everyone and their cousin built their apartment buildings wherever they could, generally leaving nothing more than a donkey-cart path below. The government just wasn’t strong enough to control the rabidly anti-authoritarian Greeks who wanted to build wherever a shovel could strike dirt. This was particularly true in the populist second half of the 1900’s. Needless to say, throughout this crazy building boom in Athens, donkey parking spaces, garages and wide streets were never considered. No one could afford donkeys or cars anyway and living space was far more important. Besides, the small village footpath was all most people knew. Not unlike the rest of medieval Europe really. The only difference is that the Middle Ages were long gone elsewhere in Europe, replaced by the Renaissance and the 20th Century. Not so in Greece. You would think that this free-for all building mentality would change once Greeks started getting more affluent and could afford cars and garages. Wrong. Renaissance, or rebirth, is just a word in the Greek vocabulary, not an action or period of time.

Every Greek I know subscribes to the philosophy that you can fit one more straw on the camel’s back, no matter how loaded up the poor beast is. If you can’t find a parking space on the road, park it on the sidewalk. If you can’t find a spot on the sidewalk, double or triple park. Many people go a step further, illegally saving a space on the street in front of their store or house with whatever object they can find (chairs, garbage bins, flower pots or the merchandise from their store). No one worries that the cops will do anything about this, because they don’t. Even fools know that cops don’t enforce the law in Greece. And when -on the rare odd occasion- they do, then everyone has a “friend” or “relative” in public service who will make the ticket or fine “go away.” Finally, because the streets are so small, many people buy a smaller second or third car or a motorcycle just for the city. Greece has the smallest cars and greatest number of motorcycles in the world because it has the smallest streets in the world.

To confound matters -and spurred no doubt by the government’s own megalomania, corruption and mind-boggling nepotism- upwardly mobile nouveaux riche Greeks have run out in droves and bought enormous cars. Desperate to show their newfound wealth, these Armani-Exchange small penis types are content to spend hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, polluting the air and clogging the lanes. They are also fine with squeezing their Abrams-sized vehicles down medieval alleyways, destroying all side-mirrors in their path. After all, a Land Rover is a Land Rover, even if it is scratched and has no side-mirrors. Stand back and admire my size, you poor sods!

Embarrassed by the government-toppling extent of traffic in central Athens, the authorities have tried repeatedly to solve the problem. They have done this in four ways, all without success. First, they have levied huge taxes on automobiles, especially on big, luxury cars. Instead of scaring people away, this taxation has had the opposite effect on the nouveaux riche. Almost as if excited by this rise in prices, these perfumed materialists have run out and unloaded every last penny on these overpriced cars in order to parade the fact that they have the clout. Many are the stories of families with 2 Porsches and a SUV that live in hovels and sleep on blow-up mattresses. In Greece the automobile is the undisputed heavyweight status symbol of choice, followed closely by the Rolex watch, the ring-side table at a posh night club, the summer vacation to Mykonos and the ubiquitous powerboat, moored as close to Athens as possible for everyone to see.

In its second attempt to deal with the crisis, the government has passed strict odds-evens regulations in Athens, in a ring around the center of town otherwise known as the “Daktylios.” In the Daktylios, cars ending in odd numbers can only circulate on odd days and so forth. If you are caught, get set for a hefty 200 Euro fine. Leave it to the Greeks to figure out a way around this restriction too! In fact, the government’s crafty plan has backfired horribly. What the bureaucrats didn’t count on was that everyone would rush out and buy a second car, with a different ending license plate number, of course. Now more cars than ever clog the streets of Athens and finding a parking spot is like hitting the lottery. And so the double and triple-parked cars on the streets. As if by universal accord, if a blocked car needs to get out, it honks incessantly until the occupant of the offending car hears him from whatever neighboring apartment building he is in. This can take a long time and grate one’s nerves to pulp, but people don’t seem to mind.

In its third attempt at solving the traffic and parking crisis, the government has excavated the streets and built bunches of new parking lots all over Athens. To a foreigner, this seems like a pretty darn good solution to the parking problem. Does it work? No. The reason for this is multifold. Firstly, no matter how clueless a Greek person might be, he’s definitely no sucker when it comes to money. Even the richest Greek will be a penny-pincher when it comes to certain types of spending. I’m not sure if this is a left over from the Dark Ages when my Greek forefathers had to eat fried dirt and pickled thistles to survive, but your average Greek will not drop a cent into something he thinks he can get for free. Paying for parking falls into this category. Paying for parking is for losers. (An exception to this rule is when your nouveau riche Greek goes out clubbing in his fancy car, paying dearly for parking directly in front of the club). There is simply no way in hell Dimitrakis and Fofi will park their new Yaris in a pay parking lot when they can circle the block 30 times and eventually park on the sidewalk. Even if it is illegal, it is far better to risk a possible (albeit unlikely) fine than to pay a certain parking fee. Let the pedestrians use the streets if they need to walk. They don’t matter anyway, they’re pedestrians for crying out loud!

And for those of you who suggest that law enforcement of parking regulations would help curb the sidewalk parkers, think again. The very last people in Greece who enforce the laws are the cops. They are the most visible and ironic part of the anti-authoritarian culture that keeps Greece running like a rusty Citroen 2-CV. Cops in Athens rarely ticket illegally parked vehicles. They only target specific high-profile blocks downtown, where rich politicians and well-connected ship-owners live and work.

One more thing. It is every Greek’s god-given right to park directly in front of his destination. Heaven-forbid if Efthimakis has to walk more than a few meters to where he is going. Aside from risking a certain heart attack on account of the nonstop cigarette smoking, he might throw an atrophied muscle and wear down his new Gucci loafers. And if he parks in the parking lot no one will see and admire his brand new Kompressor. I saw this happen a couple of months ago on Skoufa Street, in the posh downtown shopping district of Kolonaki. A fat man smoking a cigar and looking like he had one foot in the grave (health wise) held up traffic for 20 minutes as he tried to maneuver his big, shiny silver-blue X-5 4×4 onto a bus-loading zone sidewalk, in front of a church where a wedding was taking place. Not only did all the waiting bus passengers have to step into the street to accommodate the fat bastard, the bus itself couldn’t fit down the street when it finally arrived. Only after the bus honked incessantly did cigar-man finally exit the church, cursing and annoyed as hell at the bus driver for wrecking his cool. A 10-minute chest-pounding argument ensued between the bus driver and the fat bastard, cut short only by the symphony of car horns behind the bus and an embarrassed groom intervening. I’ve come to believe that illegal parking is as much a part of the Greek psyche as is night clubbing and chain smoking.

In its fourth and final attempt to curb the traffic problem in Athens, the government has set about creating new highways and extending the metro line. These seem like smart solutions, but they too have backfired. On the short-term, these public works have grievously exacerbated the traffic problem in the city as countless trucks and piles of dirt impede virtually everything that moves. On the long term, the beneficial effects of the metro are cancelled out, paradoxically, by the new roads. Now that Dimitrakis and Fofi can take their Yaris on the super-duper new German roads into town, they wouldn’t be caught dead in the metro. After all, the metro is for the unfortunate who cannot afford cars.

Almost as if they intended to add salt to their wounds, the incompetent government bureaucrats have encouraged the banks to provide low-interest car loans to virtually every mammal with an opposable thumb in Greece. Even more paradoxical, the government always lowers the automobile taxes right before elections, in a criminally obvious attempt to sway voters. Greece has to withstand a car-buying explosion every 4 years, further clogging the already suffocating streets. They call this progress. Truth is, the guy in the Kompressor does feel 100% more important and better off today, even if he’s spending 17 hours a day trapped in heart-stopping traffic. The paradox.

The situation is pretty hopeless. There isn’t a single Athenian who doesn’t list traffic congestion as the greatest problem afflicting Athens today. Nary a day goes by that the traffic problem isn’t the focus of every single TV channel in the evening news. My favorite is ALTER TV, a fun, yellow press station on the verge of bankruptcy that plays anthemic music over its broadcasts and has a hilarious muckraking mono-brow anchorman. Mono-brow loves to incite people, especially those trapped in their cars when they are stuck in bottleneck traffic.

Scene: Split-screen. Monobrow in the studio stares at us from one of the screens. On the other, an ALTER-TV reporter walks up to a shiny Jeep Wrangler stuck in traffic. Cameras are rolling live, with Mahler blaring in the background. The driver rolls down his window, angrily, and stares at the reporter.

Reporter: “Sir, how long have you been stuck in your car?”

Driver: “An hour and 15 minutes!”

Reporter: “And how far have you traveled in this time?”

Driver: “Three blocks!!”

Reporter: “Really? What does it feel like?”

Driver: “Grrrrrrr!!! What do you think?”

Mono-brow: “Excuse me Sotiris, allow me to intervene. Sir, Mono-brow from the studio. The question at hand, is this: Is the government to blame?”

Driver: “Of course it’s the government’s fault, the good for nothing bureaucrats in their traffic-clogging Nazi limousines!”

Mono-brow: “Does this justify the boys of November 17 or The Cells of Fire?” (homegrown terrorist groups)

Driver: “You damn right it does! After all, it’s all the Americans’ fault. Why if I had a rocket propelled grenade, I’d…”

Ahem.

–Andreas Economakis

This story is a segment from the author’s book: The Greek Paradox.

Copyright © 2012, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

Andreas Economakis

Blindness

by Andreas Economakis

(It must have happened while I was asleep.) I awake suddenly, short of breath and out of sorts. The dream I was having flutters away before I can grasp its meaning. I look around the dark room. It is still night. Or is it? The neighbor’s dogs are barking, the birds are singing, the Mexican lawnmowers are mowing the chemical green lawns, I can hear the din of morning traffic filtering into my small West Hollywood cottage bedroom. That’s when I realize that it is day. Heart pounding wildly in my chest, I rub my eyes and slowly open them again. Darkness. Electrical darkness. It’s as if someone has placed a couple of dark grey blinders in front of my eyes. The blinders pulsate constantly, a lightning storm that refuses to budge no matter how hard I rub my eyes. Nausea and fear quickly creep their way into my every fiber of my being, my intestines twisting into a sickly knot and forcing their way up my throat. I struggle out of bed, swiping spasmodically at my cat who is rumbling on my chest. I close my eyes and smack my skull with my hand, hoping to dislodge the blinders. I open them up again, slowly, tentatively. Nothing. What the fuck? Tears of panic stream down my cheeks, down my invisible frozen cheeks.

I feel my way into my small bathroom with urgency, flicking the light switch on instinctively. A ring of yellow light appears in my peripheral vision. Like a halo. Like a big neon zero. I splash water on my face, hoping, praying. Nothing. I stare into what must be the mirror. The same dark pulsating electrical storm stares back it me. Mocking. Oh god…

Backtrack. Did I do something wrong before I went to bed? Did I drink too much or smoke too much or maybe eat something bad by mistake? Did I insult someone or something I shouldn’t have, thus unleashing a wrath upon myself? What have I done to deserve this?

At a loss for what to do, I crawl back in bed. This is obviously a bad dream. I will wake up from this nightmare and everything will be okay. I click my fingers furtively, pleading for the cat to come back and keep me company in my distress. The cat doesn’t come. I close my eyes, convincing myself that things will be all right when I wake up. The lights will be on, my girlfriend will be home, my cat will be purring at the foot of the bed. Life will be normal again. Glorious, visible life. I drift back into a restless dark sleep, drift into the dark, drift…

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.

Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

Andreas Economakis

Mean

by Andreas Economakis

I’m mean.
I drop-kicked one stray cat,
flipped off a dozen motorists in one ride,
busted the tailight of a car,
left garbage at the end of the Kalalau trail,
pissed on the door of a 600 Benz.
laughed about it,
nearly got beat up because of it,
I broke a dozen good hearts,
lied when I was cornered,
stole a few dirty magazines,
buried them in odd places,
didn’t call my mom up for a decade,
ignored one important phone call,
tried to bury my head in the sand.

That stray cat sure deserved it.
He bit the shit out of my finger.

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is an attempt at poetry and part of a collection of words on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life. The author is not a poet.

Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

Andreas Economakis

A Strange Omen

by Andreas Economakis

I click the light on.  The metal-caged light bulb sputters to life, scattering velvety brown moths into the musty darkness of the cement basement.  The smell of petrol, rot, old magazines and damp dirt fills my nostrils.  I take a halting step down into the urine yellow light, concrete pebbles crunching under my sneakers.  I can feel the dampness of the room on my bare legs, the blackness of the room’s corners and cavernous depths, monsters hiding in my subconscious, hiding their evil from my fragile eyes.

Behind the dusty green boiler, a ruffling sound and the delicate crying of kittens.  Tiger pokes her head around the corner and looks at me.  She emerges with a trembling tail and dangling pink teets, swirling about my legs with nervous affection.  A cobweb dangles from her ear but she doesn’t notice it.  I kneel down and pet her, peeling the delicate cobweb off of her ear.  She hurries back around the boiler and I follow. Slowly.  Six tiny kittens squirm in a furry ball on an old rag between some bricks and a cinderblock, their necks craning toward their mother.  Next to the cinderblock, a dead lizard with caved-in eyes stands silent watch like a dehydrated sphinx, a tiny vent hole under its armpit a sign of where the worms must have entered. A strange omen.

I pick up one of the warm kittens, his little claws ticking my hands, his nose leaving a tiny cold wet spot on my cheek.  His eyes are sealed shut and his mouth is bubblegum pink.  He won’t stop squirming in my hands.  Tiger bumps into my feet constantly, eyes glued on her kitten.  I hear footsteps by the door and quickly place the kitten amongst its brothers and sisters and mommy, moving the dead lizard accidentally.

“Go back upstairs,” I hear from behind me.

I turn and see her stumbling through the darkness, a bag in her hand.  She is dark, almost black, the open basement door backlighting her.  As I walk past her, the smell the wine and cigarettes mingles with the other smells in the room.  I think of turning back but am too chicken.  I turn for one last look and see her kneeling down by the boiler, Tiger swirling about her anxiously.

I enter our quiet house, aware of the sound my footsteps are making, aware of the emptiness all around.  I walk into my bedroom and go to the window.  The narrow street down below is still.  The silver-green olive trees are not rustling and the dark grey clouds that are threatening a storm seem frozen in the sky.

She emerges into the yard, the plastic bag heavy in her hand.  She trickles down the stairs, spilling out onto the street.  She walks to our station wagon and places the bag down by the hatchback.  She walks to the driver’s side door and pulls out her keys.  I can hear the muffled tinkling sound of the keys as she opens the door.  She gets in, turns over the car and gasses the engine, metal gears and pistons groaning, straining.

She gets out and walks around the back.  I watch from the bedroom window, the glass wavy and imperfect.  Dread fills my lungs, my heart, my veins, my eyes.  She kneels down by the exhaust and ties the wriggling bag to the tailpipe.  The bag struggles violently and then goes suddenly limp. She unties the bag and tosses it in the garbage.  She turns and walks back to the running car.  I walk to my bed, burying my head under the pillows.  The wet pillowcase feels cold, cold like the kitten’s nose.  I clamp my eyes shut, and breathe hard. I must not forget to keep breathing. I must not let the worms enter.

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.

Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

Andreas Economakis

Greek camel (photo by Andreas Economakis ©2011)

Camel Man and the Airline From Hell

by Andreas Economakis

Few things in life are worse than bad breath. Ever been trapped in a confined space with someone who has halitosis? I think jabbing a souvlaki stick under a fingernail is less painful. Ever stop going out with somebody or not ask someone out on a date because his or her breath could kill your cat? Do people with bad breath realize they have bad breath? I suppose they don’t, because if they did they would do something about it, kind of like fixing a flat tire for the first time ever while trying to learn how on TreadHunter.com or pulling out a cactus thorn from their big toe. One thing is for sure: it is virtually impossible to tell someone that they have bad breath. It’s akin to offending one’s newborn or insulting a dead granddad or telling someone that a booger is stuck to the tip of their nose. We all just gulp and breathe through our mouths, praying to God and the high seas and the yellow flowerpot to get us through the encounter without turning blue. My Uncle Ric once wrote a poem about this very issue; he mentions leaving pieces of Dentyne gum around his house every time his halitosis-afflicted friend dropped by for a visit. He said it was like dropping “Dentyne hints” and, frankly, it’s not such a bad idea. Unfortunately people with bad breath don’t generally chew gum or candy. If they did, well, there wouldn’t be a problem would there?

Like most people, I always try to put some distance between people with bad breath and myself. But sometimes there’s just no choice or way around it. And so it was that I found myself flying to Greece one day, on that savage Dutch airline whose fiscal belt-tightening has practically given all its passengers gangrene. They may have cheap tickets but they sure make you pay for it in other ways. They pack you in like death row sardnines and their 747’s seem to be the oldest in the world. I arrived at LAX early, hoping to get a choice seat, bulkhead window or aisle, a seat I could stretch out in for the 12 hour first leg of the trip to Amsterdam. No such luck. The lines were huge as per usual and the cops were jittery like angry navy seals. By the time I made it to the check-in counter all that were left were seats between other seats. Damn. Oh well, I decided to drown my sorrow with a ridiculously overpriced beer from the terminal. (Man, they really stick it to you in airports, don’t they? If I wasn’t so traumatized by all the security I would have snuck in a couple of tall boys and a brown paper bag before the flight, like the good old days before 911…).

When I finally arrived at my seat assignment, my heart sank. Seated by the window was perhaps the world’s fattest man. We’re talking Guinness Book of World Records big here. This mountain of a man was sweating buckets just from the exertion of breathing and he was spilling over into my entire seat. When he saw me looking at him like a deer in headlights he kind of sucked his gut in a bit, trying to reduce the hostile takeover. Now he only spilled over into 3/4 of my seat. I stood there, wondering what I should do, when the stewardess walked by and kindly asked me to take my seat. I squeezed into my seat and became instantly slap-glued to the fat man, who started sweating even more profusely, obviously ill at ease with my dilemma. The man’s unease didn’t last for long. Remarkably, he turned his head to the window and fell into a deep, wet sleep. Like a nervous oyster stuck to a huge rock, I looked over to the empty seat on my left and prayed and prayed that it would remain empty. I even prayed for calamity to fall on the occupant’s head – anything, so long as the seat remained empty. That’s bad, and so providence punished me with a cruel trick in the end. A very thin old man approached and indicated that he was the seat’s occupant. I became instantly enthused by the prospect that at least I could spill over into his seat to avoid the perspiring mountain to my right.

The thin old man slowly sat down, arranged his affairs and reclined in his seat. All was well. Or was it? First thing that hit my nostrils was that all too familiar smell of stale tobacco most smokers have lingering about them. I then noticed the soft pack of Camel Cigarettes in his shirt pocket, kind of like an exterior pacemaker in reverse. Who smokes Camels? The man was obviously terminal. Camel Man then turned his head toward me to say hello. That’s when it happened. First came the long nicotine yellow camel teeth, large like primitive fossils desperately clinging for dear life in deathly grey gums. Camel Man unleashed an unreal nuclear blast of bad breath my way. Halitosis central. My nose hairs shrieked, curled and then dropped dead out of my nose, dusting my shorts. I pressed myself into the wet fat man fearing for my life, like in those cartoons where Daffy Duck becomes paper thin against a wall to avoid a killer car that’s trying to run him over. I became one with wet man. My eyes were watering when I introduced myself to Camel Man, half-gagging. To my horror, he smiled and then fell instantly asleep, head tilted my way, mouth agape, deathly Camel fumes blowing my way like mustard gas. I must have passed out, because I don’t really remember the rest. When I finally got home the next day, my t-shirt was still wet with the fat man’s sweat, white fat-man salt crystals forming wave patterns up and down my shirt. I could still smell Camel breath in my brain. I was a war victim. Would I ever recover? I vowed to never ever take that Dutch airline again.

Two months later, there I was again, a passenger on the same dreaded airline (they sucker punch you in the wallet every time). I had to return quickly to LA for a job and Kyriakos, my travel agent, could only find me a cheap ticket on the cursed airline. I pleaded and pleaded for something else but it was high season and I was out of luck. I would once again have to endure that clog-wearing, holier than thou, why do they all speak fluent English (?), tulip gathering airline. I got to the airport early, fingers and toes crossed. Middle seat again! If there weren’t so many Greek cops with machine guns lounging about (these guys are arguably more relaxed than their American counterparts if all the coffees and cigarettes and jocularity is any indication), I would have leapt up on the ticket counter and done a self-immolating voodoo dance in front of the smiling blonde wooden clog-wearing stewardess. Defeated, I shuffled onto the plane and arrived at my seat assignment.

To my good fortune, the two people on either side of my seat were young, thin, and, I realized upon seating myself, freshly tooth-brushed! Hallelujah! Smiling like a jackass with a fresh bucket of hay, I laughed and settled in for the long ride. The plane took off and just when the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign went off, I tried to recline my seat. Nothing. I pressed the button harder and pushed backwards. Nothing. I jammed and jammed, pushed and pushed harder. Nothing. I looked around for a stewardess for help. By this point everyone in the entire airplane was fully reclined and some had even fallen into a comfortable sleep that would last 12 hours. Desperate, I finally flagged down a stewardess who, after trying what I had tried, apologized. I asked for another seat and she shrugged with a satanic smile. The plane was booked to capacity. “Holy shit,” I thought. She smiled and walked off, leaving me bolt upright, my face millimeters away from the oily bald spot of the man in front of me. Dude was fully reclined and already sawing wood. I could practically smell his dandruff. I swallowed hard. Maybe there is something worse than halitosis after all.

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.

Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.