Andreas Economakis

photo by Andreas Economakis (©2011)

“The Daze Of Old”

by Andreas Economakis

You turn yourself on. The images that pop out in front of you are colorful, ethereal. Your mind is fleeting, like the musical notes thumping out of your old Yamaha speakers, the ones your cats have scratched to pieces. You break the bounds of your small East Harlem apartment and head straight for the sun. Sundrenched Jamaica. You lie on the beach with big fat toasty lips. That night you find yourself in a club whose name you don’t know but whose baseline you recognize. For a split second you’re back on the beach. You open your eyes and realize you’re staring at a travel commercial on your 13-inch Trinitron.

Snack time. You haul yourself to the kitchen and crack the door to your refrigerator. Some scary stuff inside stares back at you, making you cringe. You slam the fridge as hard as you can and spend the next twenty-eight and a half minutes trying to find your wallet. You finally locate it under the couch. Now, about your keys… To hell with them, I’ll leave the door open, you think. On the way out you forget about the door and find yourself locked out of your apartment. What a bonehead!

You decide on Chinese, ‘cause it’s closest. When you finally get there (and you nearly freeze your ass off in the process) the gate is halfway down and they’re mopping up. You have intense cottonmouth and can’t help but stare at the shiny poster of steaming chicken legs that’s Scotch-taped to the window. A whole bunch of pedestrians walk by, looking at you. “Check him out, homey’s buggin’… Ha, ha, ha!” You feel like a village idiot. The Village Idiot. Did the Village People have an Idiot? You make a fast break and cut into the Palestinian grocery store two buildings down. Your heart is thumping.

Mohammad says “Hello, my friend!” You gasp “Hi!” in response. Shit, why did I spill the beans? What a dunce. You stall at the beer section. You try to hide behind the indecisive chin-scratching gaze of comparison-shopping. You finally snatch a rack of Buds and a can of minced clams. Then you freak out because you can’t find your wallet. You’re making a spectacle of yourself, rifling your pockets like a junkie looking for his last rock. Your heart is about to jump out of your chest and run for cover. You find your wallet comfortably ensconced in your left hand. Been there the whole time probably. You look around and notice that this big guy to your left is staring at you like he wants to kill you. You look at Mohammad for help.

“Everything okay, my friend?” Mohammad says, suspiciously, as you approach the counter. Blind confusion. You vow to never set foot in this joint again. Better yet, you vow to never ever smoke again. Sam’s stash is bug-out stash. 100% no-doubt-about-it, freak-you-out-like-a-nuclear bomb-to-your-brain-this ain’t-no-medical-marijuana-dope-this-is-the-apocalypse-now stash. You remember the good old days of yore before all this shit. One day these will be the good old days. The good old daze. You bust out into the cold and crisp street and decide to run home. By the time you reach your front door you’re sprinting as fast as you can. There’s a tremendous sense of relief hiding in your own vestibule. Shit… no keys! It gets about fifty degrees colder in a matter of seconds and you’re not sure which part of your face is chattering so loudly. The scent of junkie urine rises to your nostrils and you turn blanch white, like a Disney cartoon. You wonder whether the local shelter has got a bed before you even ponder tracking Jose down, the only other human being with keys to your apartment.

You decide to act quick. You head straight across the street to Jimmy’s under-stocked grocery/dope-dealing front to score a tub of Visine. There’s no way you’re going to confront Jose with red eyes. He’ll barrage you with tricky questions and scan you with that retired cop glare he scans tenants with. Your mind goes blank under that stare. Why on earth does your landlord have to be an ex-cop? Besides, are cops ever ex? You ask Jimmy for the eye juice. His store always carries Visine and Bamboos, if nothing else. While digging for your wallet in your jacket pocket, you find your keys amidst some old Bazooka Joes. You break into a smile and call it your lucky day.

You’re on a roll now. You beeline for your apartment. By the time you’ve cracked your first Bud, you’re already bored with the TV. Need more excitement. Maybe I’ll ride my bike, you think. Your thoughts quickly drift and settle on the image of Vinnie on his Harley. Vinnie is a small dude with long balding hair, lots of Hells Angels tats, an 883 Sportster, a shiny Bowie knife and a big attitude. Everybody knows a guy like this, right? Guys like Vinnie (plus or minus the Italian name and Hell’s Angels tats) are standard issue to every every neighborhood in the world. You remember yesterday’s conversation with Vinnie. He was cutting down your Honda CM400 when you said: “Vinnie, a bike gets you from here to there, no?” Then Vinnie replied: “Figures a Rice-hopper would say something like that about his ride.” You smiled and recalled the time Santana yelled out “The plane, boss, the plane!” when Vinnie walked by, alluding to Fantasy Island’s small man. It was quite appropriate, considering all the tats and Vinnie’s size. Since then everybody’s called Vinnie “Tattoo”” behind his back. Only Santana can call him that to his face. No one fucks with Santana. Not even little psycho-wired Vinnie and his freaky Bowie knife.

You check the blinking clock on your VCR and it flashes back 12:00 A.M. No, it always says that. You jump up from your couch and head to the kitchen. You woof down some pasta with clam sauce (a bachelor’s best friend) and note the time. Its 11:37 P.M. You pick up the phone and call your buddy Kendall. Kendall will want to go downtown.

Kendall’s machine kicks in with some weird-ass Indian music. You figure he’s probably right below his apartment, in the West End Bar, hitting on the new crop of fresh-women from the esteemed university across the street. Or maybe (and more probably) he’s in the bathroom with Tito, scoring an eight-ball. Who knows? You muffle your voice and leave a threatening message about how Kendall shouldn’t have messed around with your sister and that you’re coming around to square things with him. You hang up.

You’re really bored now. You try juggling some silverware that’s on the counter and a fork flies off and nearly beans Billy. Billy and Kaya are your two plain tiger kitties. East Harlem originals. You recall how when you found Billy under the fire escape, he was all puffed up with worms and crawling in ear mites and fleas. Don’t know why, but you started calling him Baby Billy with the Baseball Belly. You notice that Billy and Kaya’s food bowl is bone dry. You grab some Cat Chow and totally miss the bowl. The smelly stuff scatters all over the dirty hardwood floors, the majority lodging itself under the fridge. You can almost hear the roaches rustling under there with great enthusiasm. ”My enthusiasm? Baseball!” Shit… Deniro’s Al Capone was badass. While cleaning up the mess you turn on the paint-spattered Sony cassette player-radio in the bathroom. The dial’s been frozen on WNWK for a long time now. Cool. Robert Nesta Marley’s in the house, crooning “Chances Are.” You grab another Bud from the fridge and head for your electric green couch. Feet up, your mind begins to drift again (must be the damn couch). You close your eyes and vow to motivate as soon as the song ends. The song never ends.

When you open your eyes you’re driving across country in a green school bus with two miniature white dragons in the cab. Every gas station on the way is out of gas but sells fireworks. When you finally run out of gas you’re in a town you remember from your childhood. There’s a big red brick building on the right. You decide to go in and ask about gas. When you come out the dragons are gone and an air raid siren is going off. At that moment you wake up to the sound of an Emergency Broadcast Systems test and the phone ringing at the same time.

Someone on the other end of the line says: “That’s not too cool bro, setting me up like that. You better bring that shit over now.” You recognize the voice from somewhere and it brings you great dread. You quickly hang up the phone. The phone rings again, almost instantly. Hesitantly, you pick it up. “Don’t fuck with me like that, dude!” It’s Kendall. You ask him how he dialed you back so fast. “What are you talking about?” he replies. You ask him about what set up he was referring to. He’s completely lost. Confusion. “Aw, come on Kendall, stop messing with me,” you say and instantly goose bump all over your body. You just placed the voice, the first phone call’s voice, to a face. Georgie. Georgie is your ex-roommate’s psycho drug dealer crackhead gun totting ex-boyfriend who won’t go away. “What the fuck is Georgie doing out of jail?” you mutter aloud. “What’s that?” you hear Kendall say, from somewhere far off. You spit out “Gotta go,” and hang up.

The phone rings again. That’s when you wake up. Back to today. The TV is blaring: Bin Laden is dead, shot in the face by CIA-led US soldiers, Greek national debt is out of control, powerful women are unfaithful in their relationships, gas prices are out of control. You swallow hard and look around. No crackhead Georgie or Bowie knife Vinnie, no wack-out weed or cockroach apartments or electric green couches. No vestibules that smell like urine. Maybe you’re a sap after all, or maybe you’re a romantic. It might sound crazy, but life sure felt simpler back then, more “alive.” That’s the funny thing about memories.

–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

"man and ball" (photo by Andreas Economakis - ©2011)

“Size Matters”

by Andreas Economakis

Part 2 (click here for Part 1 of “Size Matters,” or visit the 3/14/11 issue of AIOTB)

I hobbled toward my bike, fishing the keys out of my jacket pocket.  One look at the hard saddle and I knew that I was in for one hell of a ride.  I gingerly cranked the ignition lever, cringing in pain and seriously considering pulling off my tight jeans despite the cold.  The ride into Athens was going to be a journey straight into the Beelzebub’s fiery inferno.  Maybe the winter wind chill factor would relieve my strained boys, kind of like putting them on ice.  After a few excruciating cranks, my pecker almost exploding in agony, my motorcycle started doing its classic boxer jiggle back and forth. I clambered on board, horror sketched on my pasty face.  I was surely going to rupture something down there.  The police report would read something like: “Anemic looking man found next to a gigantic detached penis in gruesome highway motorcycle accident.  Witnesses report that the penis was the apparent driver of the cycle.”  My Ramburglar was beginning to feel larger than the rest of me.  I was now officially becoming an appendage to my penis, rather than the other way around.  Was I the monkey on my penis’ back? READ MORE

Andreas Economakis

“Size Matters”

by Andreas Economakis

Part 1

The pain started sometime around noon, a little before our 45-minute lunch break. The slight tingling I’d been feeling in my stomach suddenly became an intense and nauseating throbbing in the groin area. It felt as if a vindictive Darth Vader was reaching down my throat with his arm, slapping my stomach out of the way for good measure and then grabbing my boys with an iron fist, trying to squeeze the life out of them. I stagger-sat on one of the suicide-car pillars in front of the El Venizelos Airport main terminal for some relief but sprang quickly to my feet. Sitting only made matters worse. I could not shake the intense pain or my increasing distress. Cold sweat trickled down my back and I swallowed stale spit. READ MORE

Andreas Economakis

photo by Andreas Economakis

“Exodus”

by Andreas Economakis

3:30 p.m. Los Angeles, California. Five months after 9/11.

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of Clive’s dented, dirt-brown Cherokee, staring out the window. The West Hollywood scenery streams past me in colorful, repetitive bursts. White stucco house, palm tree, white stucco house, palm tree. Clean driveways spill into the street, beckoning the eye upwards, inwards, for a quick glimpse of the American Dream. “Armed Response” signs keep guard next to candy-colored cars and water-fattened cactuses, defending houses that peer onto the street with glassy, vacant eyes. The image lasts for just for a second or two, quickly replaced by a slight variation of the same thing. A change of car make or color. A Japanese plum tree instead of a cactus. READ MORE

Andreas Economakis

Yiayia and Boy George (photo by Andreas Economakis)

“Perfect Makeup”

by Andreas Economakis

My grandmother Anastasia, or yiayia as I called her, must have studied Zen. She could spend hours seated motionless in her jewelry store in the Nile Hilton, a geriatric Greek sphinx staring blankly ahead. Overwhelmed by the utter tranquility in her shop, I would escape as often as I could whenever I visited her in the summers, wandering around the dusty and chaotic streets of Cairo for as long as I could stand. I would beat a hasty retreat to the cool sanctuary of the air-conditioned Hilton, with its refreshing “Asir Lemoon” lemonades and overwhelmed pink tourists, only when my feet could carry me no longer through the blazing Saharan heat and pungent city smells.

Cairo has a peculiar odor. Anyone who’s ever visited this ancient bustling city of 17 million or so souls will attest to this. You become aware of the city’s pungency from the very moment the airplane doors crack open on the sizzling tarmac of Cairo International Airport. I’m not a smell specialist, but if you put me in a headlock I guess I’d equate the city’s smells to a batch of ripe tropical fruit fermenting in old petrol smog. The Hilton was a natural haven from all this, a controlled oasis of sorts. Like any desert wanderer, I would invariably end up at the oasis when on the verge of heat stroke. In fact, I think the Hilton’s café was named The Oasis, if my memory serves me right.

There was a bookstore next to my grandmother’s shop and I started buying and feverishly reading anything I could lay my hands on. I would sit in this red and white vinyl chair behind the spotless glass of the jewelry store’s front door for hours, my head buried in Hemingway and Kazantzakis and London and Marquez. Occasionally, I would peak out at the crowds of sweaty tourists that drifted by, chuckling to myself, knowing full well what state the poor sods were in. I’ve never been good at playing salesman and I generally ignored my grandmother’s pleas to help with the odd customers who walked in, preferring my role as family bookworm. My grandmother would yell at me for reading so much, telling me that it was bad for me.

One day, I looked up into the Hilton lobby and saw Boy George walk by. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, in his black robe, jewels, long hair, bangles, make up and signature bowler hat. “Dirty, filthy hippie!” my grandmother blared out, shifting uncomfortably her seat. “I bet he sleeps with dogs!” she added. I stared at my grandmother with wide eyes, not so much surprised at her comment but at the fact that she had moved in her seat. I explained that he was a famous musician, a very rich, dirty filthy hippie. “Really?” she asked all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. My grandmother might have been conservative, but a fool she was not. Visibly excited, she asked me to bring him into the store so she could meet him.

I ran out into the lobby and caught up with Boy right before he went into The Oasis. “You’re Boy George!” I said, eyelashes batting up and down over the big stupid grin that was plastered all over my face. Boy stopped and turned toward me, smiling. A pleasant smell overtook my nostrils. 150 degrees outside but the man smelled like a bouquet of freshly cut flowers. I told him that my grandmother wanted to meet him and pointed to our shop. He courteously followed me in and I made the introductions. Boy’s presence seemed to overwhelm my grandmother. It was as if an alien from planet Zork had stepped into her inner sanctuary. She totally forgot that she wanted to sell him some jewels. The only thing she could think of to say to Boy was that his make-up was perfect. Her own was always too heavy, gooped on as if with a builder’s spatula.

Perhaps feeling awkward at all the silence, Boy smiled and excused himself. My grandmother sprang back to life and asked me to ask him if I could take a photo of the two of them together. Boy said of course and I trained my pocket Hanimex on them, snapping what was to be my first “celebrity” photograph. Boy kissed my breathless grandmother on the cheek and exited with his invisible bouquet of sweet flowers. I ran up to Boy in the lobby to thank him. Right then another member of Culture Club walked up and looked at me with a mischievous look. Then Boy asked me if I wanted to join him and the band for a drink up in his room. They all giggled flirtatiously. I kindly declined and wandered back to my grandmother’s store as Boy and the band headed to the elevators.

“A nice man,” my grandmother said, “even though he dresses and smells like a girl.”

“Yeah,” I replied, my eyes trained on a white poodle that was being led through the lobby toward the elevators by a tiny bellhop in a silly outfit. The bellhop and the poodle followed a giggling Boy and the band into the elevator.

“But you can’t judge a book by its cover,” I added, just as the elevator’s doors closed with a ding.

–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

Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer (Rock in Athens, July 27, 1985)

“Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”

by Andreas Economakis

July 27, 1985. Day 2 of the big Rock in Athens concert. S. and I squeeze our way through the excited crowd and sit down on the white marble seats. We look around the open-air Kallimarmaro Stadium, home to the 1896 Olympics. The Clash are playing tonight and the place is packed to the gills. I mention to S. that I finished the marathon in this stadium when I was twelve years old. I remember being so very upset that the local newspaper misspelled my last name in the article the next day. My mom, feeling bad, whited-out the mistake and carefully wrote in my name. It was nice of her but it didn’t take the bitterness away.

I pull out a can of smuggled Amstel beer and crack it open. I hand the can to S. and she takes a swing. She hands the can back to me, her eyes smiling, flirting. Things are finally warming up between us. The mythical woman on the pedestal is finally becoming human, approachable. I’m so infatuated with her.

The lights dim. The crowd starts whistling in anticipation. Suddenly, S. takes my hand in hers. My heart skips a beat. My mind travels to the night before. There we are, seated in the same marble seats, but things are so very different. No smiling, flirting eyes, no heart-skipping looks or touches. Almost like an anti-climax, Boy George of Culture Club steps on stage. His hair is gelled high over an overly made-up face, the eyeliner around his glazed eyes giving him an almost macabre look. He’s wearing a strange and not too flattering green training outfit with shiny reflector strips and he’s sweating buckets in the hot Athenian air. Like gasoline tossed on fire, the crowd up front, mostly punks, start heckling and jeering. Before long they start throwing pebbles and water bottles at Boy George. He leaves the stage in a fit of disappointment. After several rollicking minutes of uncertainty, an announcer comes on stage and chides the crowd. A few more awkward minutes pass by and Boy George steps back on stage, inflamed eyes scanning with crowd nervously. He walks up to the microphone, takes a deep breath, and starts singing “Do you really want to hurt me?” The crowd roars “YES!!!” in unison and pelts him with more pebbles and bottles and insults. Remarkably, Boy braves his way through the song, hips dancing and swaying melifluously around the flying detritus and hurled invectives. When the song ends and the mayhem and impending carnage becomes fully apparent, Culture Club decides to flee the stage. My last image of Boy is a frightened flurry of green fabric and black face make-up, the stage’s probing spotlights making him look a like a fugitive zombie from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Outside the stadium, petrol smoke, black as night, billows up to the darkening orange-blue sky. Word gets around that punks outside the stadium have set fire to Boy’s tour-bus. In reality, several concert crashers have set a car on fire as they are upset at being kept out of the stadium by a beefed-up police force. The stadium is rolling in confusion and smoke, everyone unsure if the concert’s going to be cancelled.

The lights dim and then, suddenly, Joe Strummer walks on stage. Back to today. The crowd explodes in applause. A hero’s welcome. “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” he bellows. “STAY!!!” the Greek crowd roars. I swear, I’m so happy to see Joe that tears well up in my eyes. A smiling S. turns toward me and kisses me on the lips. Joe finishes the song and dives into the crowd. He’s hoisted up, swirled around over people’s heads and thrown back on stage. He grabs the mic for the next song. That night S. and I become boyfriend and girlfriend. I owe it all to the Clash. Thank you, Joe Strummer. Thank you.

–Andreas Economakis

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

Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

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

Andreas Economakis

Fish

by Andreas Economakis

When he was thirteen years old he used to wander down to the little creek that slipped through the woods in front his mom’s house to fly fish. He never caught anything but he liked the whole experience, being down there with his dog, the velvety brown water reflecting the light and the clouds and the gnats and the trees amidst the clean forest smells of fermenting leaves and damp dirt and worms. He would cast tiny handmade flies into the moveable water and jerk them back up with the fishing rod, imagining a big spotted trout leaping out of the sweet water in pursuit of his bait. But no big spotted trout ever leapt out or even nibbled on his line and he got to thinking that maybe the creek had no fish in it, that maybe it was a dead creek. It didn’t bother him too much actually, it was kind of a relief, until that one afternoon when the dog started barking like mad.

The boy looked upstream and saw something big and silvery floating his way, barely moving but still alive. He waded out into the creek, he doesn’t know why, some things are hard to explain, and a big pale trout with bleached eyes flowed softly right up to his legs, on its side and gasping for air. The boy bent down and cradled the fish softly. It looked like it had been poisoned, all discolored and sickly, its cataract eyes glazed over and milky white. The fish shook for a brief second and went still in his hands. The dog stopped barking almost like he knew the fish had died a strange death. The boy waded back to shore holding the fish and the dog backed away, whimpering like his master had a stick and was gearing up to hit him. “What’s wrong dog?” he asked out loud and the dog turned and ran away.

The boy looked toward the stream for a moment and then walked to his pole. He picked up the fly end of the line, held the fish by the gills -they were brown like winter leaves not healthy pink- and holding his breath to keep the stink of decay and poison from his lungs he passed the hook through the trout’s fat cartilage lips. The fly stuck to the fish’s mouth like a girlish ribbon or a fancy pacifier. It looked so strange. It was so very dead.

The boy started back up to the house with his catch, his dog spying him from behind the trees, frightened like he’d never seen him before. The boy entered the quiet house and dropped the fish into the kitchen sink. Maybe because he didn’t want the trout’s death to mean nothing or maybe because he was on auto-pilot, he’s not sure, he pulled out a sharp little knife and stabbed the fish in its belly. Green-brown guts spilled out onto his fingers and clogged the drain. The stench made him gag and he almost vomited, but he continued until all the innards sat curdling in a frothy pool in the metal sink. When he was finished he pulled the tap and sent the slimy guts spinning down into the grinder.

The boy placed the dead fish in a rusty tin tray and doused it with olive oil and lemon slices and oregano. He turned the oven on and placed the fish inside before turning to the cupboards to pull out all that was necessary for a big family meal, a happy family meal with his mom, just him and his mom. A half hour later the fish was ready and looking quite good though the smell was one of decay and ruin. Right then his mom entered the kitchen. She had just woken up and looked the worse for wear and tear after a lonely 2-gallon night in front of the TV. She burst into tears when she saw the beautiful meal her son had prepared for her. She was so elated and overwhelmed that she turned hastily to go get dressed and accidentally smashed her face on the door, crumbling to the ground with a black eye and a sore jaw and a teardrop on the dirty cream-colored linoleum floor. She picked herself up like a work-horse and staggered off with a bitter smile and stubborn wet eyes to her room to change, not wanting to spoil this for her little baby.

The boy stood frozen for a moment. He then walked up to the fish and smelled it again. He turned and looked at the teardrop on the linoleum floor. He picked up the dead trout in its tray and walked out to the creek, the dog close behind all a wonder, all nervous energy. He slid the fish into the gurgling water. The trout slowly swam away with the lemon slices, all cooked now and ready to go.

–Andreas Economakis

Excerpt from the author’s current novel in progress: “Requiem For A Cat”.

Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

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