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

The author and his p-spot in second grade

The P-Spot

by Andreas Economakis

When I was a young boy I was fascinated by the Dictator of Greece and his cadre of austere military men. What I think impressed me the most was the Dictator’s black bulletproof limousine and the fact that the cops would stop all the traffic so that his convoy could roll through the lights without stopping. In a city that was already starting to show the signs of traffic gridlock like most cities today, I reckoned that the ability to cruise through red lights uninterrupted was the equivalent of absolute power. One time I even managed to see the Dictator’s shiny balding head as he sat in the back seat of the limousine. He seemed to be both smiling and angry at the same time. Maybe he was smirking at all us hapless motorists who had to wait for him to go by. I didn’t know enough back then to question the politics of the whole situation. I was blinded by all the guns and uniforms and cops and pomp and circumstance.

During the time of the US-backed military dictatorship or junta (1967-1974), my family occasionally used to eat at a restaurant called Anna’s on the corner of Kifissias and Katehaki avenues, across from the old Luna Park. I loved that restaurant for a myriad of reasons. First of all, they served steamed snails in a red sauce. Second, it was across from the Luna Park. After dinner, while my mother and father argued or drank or sat silently avoiding each other’s eyes, my brothers and I would go over to the Luna Park and play bumper cars and shoot balloons and race go carts. You could even win bottles of booze from the games, something which later became a fun way to score cheap liquor with my stepbrother Lee. But what was most cool about Anna’s was that the Dictator’s second-in-command would occasionally eat there, plain-clothes police escort always occupying the nearby tables. This man also had a shiny bald head, though his was clean shaven like Mussolini’s infamous pate. He always looked angry in his double-breasted suits. I tried to imagine what kind of cool guns he and his police escort carried under their jackets.

Though my dad and my friends all quietly intimated that the dictatorship was bad and doomed, I liked looking at those severe men in their snappy uniforms and at the symmetrical military parades they staged several times a year. And, of course, I loved being stopped at the traffic lights, hopefully first in line, where I could see the black cars and their police escorts whiz by unobstructed. What could possibly be wrong with these cool-looking people in their uniforms? I mean, everything was fine at home, right? We had food and shelter and pets and whatnot. Why was everyone complaining? Life seemed to roll on normally every day and, barring a few small hassles, I was happy. Okay, it was annoying that we had to go to church every morning before school (by Dictator’s decree), to stand for an exhausting hour while mysterious bearded men in black robes and tall hats droned on and on in an indecipherable language. But that was made up for by the cool censorship stamps on the back of every school book. Each stamp displayed an armed soldier standing in front of a flaming eagle, the Dictator’s sacred flaming phoenix. Rumor had it that if you removed the stamp you would be sent to jail instantly. My friends and I toyed with the stamp constantly, sometimes removing it and glueing it back on with spit. We imagined armed men bursting into our classroom and hauling us off kicking and screaming to the torture chambers. We were such rebels. No armed men ever came to haul us off of course, not for the stamps nor for us substituting dirty words in for the real ones when we sang the national anthem in the school yard every morning. So what was wrong with the Dictatorship? My young eyes simply could not see what the fuss was all about. Then one day it all became clear to me.

It was Apokries (Greek Halloween) and I was a bit upset because I didn’t have a costume to wear to school. I knew my friends would all dress up as Zorros and pirates and crusaders and cowboys and fairytale princes. Somehow or other my parents had forgotten to get me a costume. At the last minute at home, before my brothers and I had to go meet the school bus, my middle brother came up with the idea of having me wear some shorts and sneakers and a red and white Arsenal soccer T-shirt. I was going to go to school dressed as a footballer. I guess it was a pretty dumb idea, considering I dressed this way every day, but what other options did I have? I remember being completely embarrassed on the bus as I sat between Captain Hook and one of the Seven Dwarves. Taking pity on me, my brother inked a mustache on my upper lip. I guess he figured that I would look less stupid as an older footballer. Well, my classmates all made tremendous fun of me, but pretty soon they moved on as they were too busy showing off their own cool costumes. I dreaded the fact that the school photographer, who was making his rounds from classroom to classroom, would immortalize me in my silly duds. I decided that I would stand in the 2nd row during the photo in order to conceal my shame.

My teacher back then was a horribly strict woman who was the living reincarnation of the Devil. She loved the Dictatorship and kept us kids terrorized with threats and actual manifestations of punishment. In step with the Dictatorship’s policy of order, Mrs. M. demanded military-like obedience from her 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders. I was in the 2nd grade then and I feared and loathed this woman with passion, as did all my peers. We would sit in twos at our desks, hands clasped together in front of us (as regulations dictated), trembling with fear, hoping she wouldn’t call on us for something or other and consequently whip the shit out of us with her ruler or with the flesh-stinging mullberry twig she cut every morning from the school yard. Anyway, that Halloween we were sitting there, hands clasped in front of us, for what seemed like a very long time, waiting for the stupid photographer to come by, when I suddenly realized I had to pee real bad. I started shaking my two legs back and forth to ease the pain. The bell finally went off signaling the break. Mrs. M. ordered us to stay put. The photographer was due any minute. The pain in my bladder became intense. Braving the anticipation of Mrs. M.’s anger, I raised my hand meekly and asked her if I could run to the bathroom. “Absolutely not!” she barked. She reiterated that the photographer was due imminently. Fifteen agonizing minutes went by. I was in tears, my knees knocking together, my bladder ready to explode. I wasn’t going to make it. I raised my hand again and was shot down again, this time with a threat. I secretly cursed her and the dictators and all they stood for for the first time in my life.

It was at the very moment that the door swung open and the photographer marched in, the moment that my mind imagined a big wave crashing against the shore, that I was finally overwhelmed. Warm urine flooded my khaki shorts and trickled down my trembling leg. Mrs. M., resembling a military sergeant-at-arms, barked out that we should all line up together in front of the blackboard in two rows, one behind the other. Trying to conceal my mishap, I crept up to Mrs. M. and indicated my problem. She looked at me and my dark pee-stain with disdain and ordered me to the front line. Defeated, I edged my way to the front, choosing the corner. Maybe the photographer would crop me out by mistake. No such luck. The flash flashed and I was immortalized, huge pee-spot in the middle of my shorts, stupid Arsenal outfit and all. It was from that day on that I came to hate all fascists and military people and authoritarians. I hated Mrs. M. and everyone who was like her. I hated the Dictator and his bald-headed, limousine-riding, uniformed thugs. My eyes were finally open. I had to pee on myself to wake up, but I was finally awake.

The following year the military junta started to unravel, plagued by its catastrophic handling of student and civilian unrest and its asinine mismanagement and meddling in international affairs. Within a year of the bloody Athens Polytechnic uprising and the Cyprus fiasco the Dictatorship fell and all those bald-headed fascists and M.-types got sent to jail. I rejoiced. I’ll always remember riding my bicycle down to the center of Athens a couple of days after the Athens Polytechnic students’ revolt that ultimately led to the downfall of the Junta. The Dictator had sent in tanks and over twenty protestors were killed as they chanted anti-government slogans. One of the tanks simply rolled over the university’s gates and squashed many of the protestors. The tanks on the streets opened fire and rolled over everything in their way, leaving flattened cars and dead people lying in pools of blood. I remember walking around the area where the events had taken place, my heart pounding. As I crept amongst the carnage and bullet casings and broken glass and garbage and revolutionary fliers, I saw a tattered pair of pants lying on the street, soiled with tire and tank tracks. Near the crotch was a fist-sized imprint of dried blood. It looked a lot like the photo of my Halloween shorts. My heart sank. I was pretty sure that the pants’ occupant hadn’t met a good end. On my way back home I took an oath to never trust dictators and “men of authority.” I remembered my humiliation with Mrs. M. and I took an oath to never trust “women of authority” too. I vowed to myself to always fight violence and hatred and tyranny. I wanted to kill all the fascists. If they stick it in your face, then stick it right back to them.

The Military Junta eventually collapsed but my anti-fascist resolve and belief that violence was necessary to fight tyranny continued. It took me years to realize that I had missed the point. You cannot fight hatred and violence with hatred and violence. The proof was the military Junta itself. It fell because of mismanagement and bad decisions in the international political arena. It fell because it was unpopular. It fell because of the events at the Athens Polytechnic. But most of all it fell because it was based on a philosophy of violence and tyranny. Democracy cannot not exist where violence prospers.

Looking back now, I realize that the photograph of me with the pee-stain is the first photograph of a conscious me. It was like I was born then. That was when I woke up from my childhood dreams. I would be reborn again years later, when I freed myself from the belief that hatred and violence can solve anything. No photograph this time of a childish me with an embarassing p-spot. Just a quirky smile and one eye half-closed, questioning, wondering if the photographer back then knew what I know today.

–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

photo by Andreas Economakis

THE SEE-THROUGH CAT

by Andreas Economakis

Last night I had a strange dream about cats. I was with my family somewhere by a lake. As we walked the small dirt path between the woods and the water, we came across a cat with her litter of tiny kittens. Delighted, I knelt down and started to pet the little ones. One of the kittens was so excited he was bouncing around like a plastic ball. He bounced himself right into the lake. Miaowing and splashing about, he struggled to stay afloat. Panicked, I started to get undressed, ready to jump in and save the drowning kitten. A moment later, while I was pulling off my socks, an elderly woman waded into the lake and swam out to the struggling kitten. The white-haired woman, who looked a lot like my estranged mom, grabbed the kitten and threw him up to me. I grabbed the little wet one, happy that he was safe. At that exact moment, another cat came walking down the path. This cat was amazing. He was completely see-through, made of clear glass. The little kittens chased his glass tail as he ambled by. I turned to my daughter to see if she’d noticed how awesome this cat was. That’s when I woke up. My cat Rufus was massaging my belly, hoping to wake me up so that I could feed him. I pet him and he rumbled a purr in response. I better get another cat soon. I think Rufus needs company. I can see right through him on this one.

For Rufus, who recently went missing after 15 years of unswerving companionship.

–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

Broken Glass (photo by Andreas Economakis)

DEATH UPSIDE DOWN

by Andreas Economakis

I’m sitting at my desk in my room upstairs.  The light from my desk lamp casts trembling shadows against the pale cream walls, just like in a monk’s cell.  In front of me, a calendar counts the days until my departure.  I cross out and count the remaining days each morning.  I am alone in the quiet house, alone except for the dogs.

Idefix is lying on my bed, shuttering in a dream, emitting an occasional whimper.  I wonder if he too is counting the days.  He will be dead in less than a month.  The bad smell that has been coming from his mouth for weeks should be a sign to me.  I take it for simple bad breath.  Occasionally, I put toothpaste on my finger and coat his palate to cover up the smell.

The room is very still, the kind of still that is thick, padded, drugged.  Like antihistamine, like trying to breathe through a damp wool blanket that’s been draped over your face.  The woods outside are quiet.

Suddenly, a loud skidding noise fills the room, my ears, my skull.  Like a knife cut.  It’s the kind of skidding you know will result in a metallic crunching sound, a heart-skipping, life-shattering crunching sound.  I brace for it.  It comes, deafening, piercing.  I am startled out of my seat.  Idefix awakes abruptly and looks at me with that strange ruffled look he has when waking suddenly from a dream, one ear pressed warm against his head.

I jump up and run down the stairs in two bounds, out the front door, down the dark driveway, to the empty street.  I look to the left.  Smoke and glass and red light and liquid are everywhere.  It is surreal, a silent dream in daytime.  Only thing is it’s night.  I run to the wreck.  A car is lying upside down on another car.  How did it get there?  The smell of gasoline fills my nostrils.  I am the only one here.  No.  A man runs screaming down the street, fading into the darkness.  He runs in slow motion.  Everything is in slow motion.

I creep up to the cars.  The top car is billowing smoke.  Is it going to blow up?  I go to the car’s broken window.  A woman is trapped in the driver’s seat, suspended upside down by her seat belt.  She is crying.  Upside down.  Dark tears trickle down her forehead.  Her eyes are open.  She keeps looking at me.  Her eyes don’t blink.  We look at each other for what seems like an eternity.  Do we recognize each other?

“Go call 911!” says a voice behind me.  “GO!”  It’s my neighbor.  I turn and run back to the house.  By the time I get back to the wreck, the police have cordoned off the intersection.  I look at the neighbor.  “She didn’t make it,” he says.  I walk back to my house and lay on my bed, hugging Idefix.  I wonder… is he still counting the days?

–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

Hong Kong building (photo by Andreas Economakis)

YOUTH IN ASIA

by Andreas Economakis

When I was a kid I kept hearing the phrase “youth in Asia” around the dinner table. These youth were mentioned with guilty tones and frustration. I equated the ambience regarding these youth with another phrase that constantly popped up: “They’re starving in China.” Whenever I didn’t finish my food (a rarity I might add, as I was always hungry and had two voracious older brothers), my mother would smack my conscience with that phrase. I figured that everyone in Asia must have been starving, especially the youth.

I remember looking at my older brother in awe one day when in answer to my mother’s China guilt phrase he calmly replied: “Then go ahead and send them the remnants of my meal.” Obviously my brother was not a famished youth in Asia. He was a youth in Greece, surrounded by tons of feta cheese, ripe tomatoes, warm village bread, lemon and oregano drizzled souvlakis and oven baked moussaka. My mother slapped him upside his head and he ran away in a flurry of overturned tables and flying tri-color penne. But he had a point. The leftovers generally went in the garbage. Was my mom blowing hot air? Did no one care about the emaciated youths in Asia? I made a point of finishing my meals to a rice kernel. I still have this habit, no matter how bad the food is or how full I am.

A week after the “send them the remnants” incident, I finally understood what all the talk about youth in Asia was about. My parents were discussing the rampant stray cat and dog problem in Athens. They said it was our responsibility to stem what they called a “population explosion.” The poor animals were too numerous for the food chain. There wasn’t enough grub for them and they just kept on multiplying. Letting them be was simply hazardous and cruel, not only to them but to everyone. The solution? Euthanasia. I was shocked by the mere thought. To me it sounded like selfish cold blooded murder disguised in a duplicitous cloak of mercy. And to make matters worse, I soon realized that euthanasia didn’t only apply to kittens and puppies. I think that my parents secretly fancied applying euthanasia to Greek taxi-drivers, a few politicians, my dad’s business partner, Turks, a couple of relatives, anarchists, a certain large-framed fisherman in southern Greece, communists, one nationalist dictator who’d emptied the family’s bank accounts, the Olympiakos football team, several booming populations in Second and Third World countries and, dare I say it, youth in Asia.

The contradictions in my parents’ euthanasia philosophy confused me. We had more food than we could eat while millions of people and animals were starving all over the world. My brother’s suggestion to send food over to China seemed far more logical than subjecting anyone to euthanasia. And as for the kittens and puppies, what was even more strange was that my mom was an avid animal lover. Why did she prefer culling animals instead of neutering or feeding them? Was she so detached from reality to not see the folly of her words, of the very foundation of her philosophy? My mom was (and still is) an American woman who has lived most of her life amongst cultures and peoples who have displayed no shortage of prejudice against both women and Americans. Has she never felt the sting of sexism or ethnic bigotry? How would she like to be erased from planet earth, a victim of some chauvinist nationalist’s euthanasia policy? My dad was (and still is) a Greek from Egypt, a racy combination that raised eyebrows in the hallowed white halls of corporate America in his day, and yet he’s always admired the very people, cultures and institutions that considered him and many others like him eccentric, different, “other” and advanced his blue-blooded colleagues over him regardless of merit. It makes no sense to me.

I recently found myself in Hong Kong for work. There I was at last, a tiny speck floating in a veritable sea of youth in Asia. I’ve never seen so many people packed into one city. The apartment buildings are so tall they seem to be reaching for the stars. A walk in Hong Kong is like strolling through a Lady Gaga homecoming concert, only everyone is Chinese. If you want youth in Asia, boy, Hong Kong is the place! I made many friends, met lots of youth in Asia. I sure am glad that there was enough food to go around over the years and that my mom and dad’s euthanasia philosophies didn’t catch hold. But truth be told, I’ve come to rethink my stance on euthanasia. I just can’t figure out why so many people in Hong Kong are obsessed with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. One gander at these two and I finally understand my parents’ obsession with euthanasia.

–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

"Helidonia" (acrylic and spray paint on driftwood by Andreas Economakis), Nisiros, 2008

True Love

by Andreas Economakis

 

An olive tree sways softly in the wind, its leaves changing from silver to pale green. The motion is slow, encapsulated, dreamlike. Above the tree, two swallows scissor through the warm September air, dipping and diving against the pale Mediterranean sky, swooping in and curving back up again. A love dance with shades of blue and black and traces of silver. The birds change colors in the light, like the olive tree in the wind. The radio plays an old Italian song, circa 1920. The tree bends in the breeze, down and back up again, dancing with the music, bowing to the swallows. Smiling. One of the swallows catches an upward draft and disappears into the sun. He reappears, diving. The music pauses, crackling. The tree’s leaves bend upward, countless silver-green fingers trembling in anticipation. The swallow swoops and skirts the olive tree, a flash kiss of intertwined colors and wind and energy, an avian thank you delivered with lightning speed and delicate grace. The tree bends backwards, as if trying to catch its breath. The swallow turns and swoops again before joining its mate and disappearing over the salty blue sea. Time stands still. Two separate entities joined by the music and the wind and the light. Together so briefly and yet for eternity.

–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

Cigarette with blue smoke on black background (flickr photo by vadiko)

“Is That You Lee?”

by Andreas Economakis

My grandma Houdie was a weird bird. I mean, we almost never saw her on account of her ill relations with my ma and the fact that she lived in faraway California, but when she did show up in Greece, man, she made a colorful impression. I hate to admit it, but I was kind of embarrassed of her when I was a kid. She was a wiry, chain-smoking, sharp-tongued woman with bony hands and painted hair, all energy and tension and cigarette smoke. She sure made heads turn whenever she entered the room. I wondered if all American grannies were as loud as Houdie. She was definitely an oddball grandma for a little Greek-American boy doing his best to fit in with his little normal Greek peers and their little normal Greek yiayias.

Houdie had the most insane make-up I have ever seen, some sort of psychedelic throwback to Pharaonic Egypt, deep purples and browns and blues caked under her high-lit eyes. She looked like a mummy on acid. What a figure she must have cut when, aged 80, she up and bought a convertible sports car and raced around the wealthy streets of Carmel, skeletal hand clutching her long cigarette outside the window. She was always a maverick, a real character, not giving a nickel about what people thought. My Uncle Ric called her a genuine flapper, and boy, she could sure bend her elbow in the speak-easies of her day. Though her big drinking problem came later in life (causing all sorts of grief to her kids), in her early years she found other outlets for her rebelliousness.

In her early twenties, around the time she was trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood’s silent movies, she made a trip to India with her parents. One day, while walking around some village outside of New Delhi, she came across an execution in the village’s dirt-caked main square. Crowds had gathered around a kneeled man with his hands tied to a stick behind his back. She pushed her way to the front of the crowd, her hands clutching her camera. The executioner raised his sword and swooshed at the condemned man’s neck. At the exact moment that the sword sliced through the man’s neck, sending his head tumbling to the ground, she snapped the photo. Frozen in grainy black and white, the photo shocked me to my very core. I’ll never forget the column of blood squirting upward from the man’s neck and the alert happy faces of the bystanders. I remember turning all goose-bumped toward my Uncle Warren, seeking some sort of explanation. He smiled and turned the page of the family photo album, saying that he had the same reaction to the photo when he first saw it as a kid. To this day Warren has his doubts about the authenticity of the photo, thinking she may possibly have purchased it and added it to the family album for effect. Effect. Yeah, I guess you could say that Houdie was different all right.

Houdie, or Hildreth as she was born, was a pretty woman when she was young, part of the reason she decided to become an actress. Though she gained some notoriety on local stages, she didn’t have much luck in film. She did get some bit parts in a few B-movies of the silent era before moving on, including a small role in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Volga Boatman” (released in 1926), a film that was probably trying to ride on the profitable coattails of Eisenstien’s 1925 masterpiece “The Battleship Potemkin”.

While trying to make it in Hollywood she lived in the posh suburb of Pasadena, a place she frequently returned to for visits even later in her life. Always a lover of exotic animals, she decided one day to procure for herself a small Capuchin monkey. This species, as my Uncle Warren explains, looks a lot like a miniature gorilla. On the way back home in a taxi with her new little gorilla, she noticed that he was turning all blue and ill in his cage. Not missing a beat, Houdie pulled the poor little ape out and dangled him out of the window of the speeding car to cool him down. Luckily, the monkey (and the shocked taxi driver) survived the highway ordeal.

Houdie grew very attached to her little Capuchin friend. She bought him a big cage, which she kept in her bedroom. Every morning the monkey would wake up and beat his chest like his large macho cousins, howling. Houdie loved to see him do this and would rush to catch the spectacle. One morning she was in the shower when she heard the monkey start to beat his little chest. Head covered in a plastic bathing cap of the era, the kind with the fake plastic flowers on it, she raced all naked and dripping to the cage. She peeled the sheet off of the cage and gazed at the monkey with a wide grin on her face. Startled by the suddenness of the move, or perhaps by the sight of a grinning naked woman with plastic, dripping flowers on her head, the monkey widened his eyes and fell backwards clutching his little chest. He died of a heart attack on the spot.

Not long after the monkey’s remarkable passing, Houdie up and got herself a big colorful parrot, the kind you see hopping from tree to tree in the Amazon. She named him Burdie. I’m not sure if Burdie had been smuggled into the US by my renegade Uncle Lee. Lee, who now lives in Panama, was (and is?) a longhaired hippie who at one point or other in the 1970’s was featured in a Playboy or Penthouse article for having escaped from a Mexican prison (where he was doing time for smuggling some sort of contraband). Remarkably, Lee returned to the prison and helped a buddy of his break out.

Anyway, I remember the parrot vividly as a kid when I visited Carmel for the first time in the mid 1970’s. By that point Burdie must have been 40 or 50 years old. He was a stately bird trapped in an un-stately home with a couple of whacked out people. Houdie, heavy on the sauce then, used to spend hours and hours in her bed, drinking from a bottle that she kept hidden in a riding boot next to her nightstand. She smoked cigarette after cigarette and had a nasty, lung-wrenching cough. Lee, who was slowly descending into a lifelong escapist ennui, lived with Houdie then. It wasn’t long before the stately bird adopted some the crazy habits of his two crazy roommates, especially Houdie.

The house where Lee and Houdie lived had a very loud front door. Every time Houdie heard the door slam shut, she would yell out from her bed “Is that you Lee?” something which would automatically set off her smoker’s hack. Day in and day out Burdie heard this same routine. “Is that you Lee?! Hack, hack, hack!” It’s not surprising that after a while our little Amazonian friend adopted the same repertoire. Poor Lee. To this day, I kind of feel that my uncle was driven to Panama not by his partying wild ways, but by having to endure both his mother and her parrot screaming “Is that you Lee?! Hack, hack, hack…” every time he came and went.

Not long after Lee wigged out and moved down south (after a stint living under bridges in Carmel and avoiding people like the plague), Houdie passed away (or dissipated like cigarette smoke). Burdie came up for adoption. He made the rounds with family members, not one of whom could stand him for very long on account of his “Is that you Lee?!” routine, which he recited in perfect Houdiese every time he heard a door open or close. It drove my relatives crazy and they eventually gave him to a family friend, Reed. Reed, a stoic Vietnam War veteran turned Big Sur artist, seemed like the right man for the crazy bird. My relatives must have figured that Reed had a stronger temperament on account of all the blood and guts and shrapnel and Vietnam mayhem and whatnot.

It didn’t take long for the Zen-like Reed to blow a fuse with the nutty bird. He decided to send him to a pet psychiatrist. The shrink must have been good, for Burdie was soon cured of his need to mimic Houdie every time he heard the door. However, he became kind of sad and stopped talking all together (I remember having a similar reaction after an ex-girlfriend of mine dragged me to a relationship shrink), something which made Reed sad as well. Reed eventually gave Burdie away and now no one really knows what the parrot is up to.

We spend our lives being embarrassed about or trying to erase or avoid certain things from the past. Only when they are gone do we realize how much we miss them.

–Andreas Economakis

Author’s note: I’d like to thank my Uncle Warren for the Capuchin monkey tale (and for many other fascinating family stories that I wish I could have included here). I also would like to thank my mother and my now deceased Uncle Ric for the parrot story, which I pieced together from their recollections (a while back) and from my experiences when I first visited California in 1977. Memory can be a fickle thing sometimes, energy and psychology sticking their tendril-like fingers in the mix and playing alongside the facts and history itself. Finally, I would like to thank my entire family for being who they are. I’m proud of them, I’m mortified of them, I love them, I can’t stand them, but in the end I am whole because of them. We all think our own family is the weirdest. Only when you start talking to folks around you do you realize how bizarre all human beings are. I guess we’re all in the same boat together. Call it the human condition…

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

The Black Scorpion

by Andreas Economakis

The procession snaked through the village’s narrow streets. Up front, four men carried the flower-decorated icon of the Virgin Mary. The town folk followed, lit candles sheltered in cupped hands, religious songs competing with one another up and down the crowd. Easter Friday. Epitaphios. The Epitaph procession.

Earlier, my brothers and I had been jammed in Agios Dimitrios church, packed like rice kernels in vine leaves, holding our candles carefully in front of us, trying not to burn anyone. When the service ended we were ushered out of the church and pushed into line, the procession taking off for the village’s main church, Panagia Evangelistra. We were all eager to get there. A huge fireworks display was going to take place in front of the church. I loved watching the fireworks, especially the phosphorous ones you throw on the ground and step on, blue-green sparks scattering about busy feet in a shower of noise.

But that was all to come. First we had to snake through the village, past the scary fisherman’s house, up through the castle and down to the other church. The scary fisherman was this huge guy who always walked around alone and barefoot. People would move to the other side of the street or take another street altogether when they saw him. No one talked to him. He was scary. He had a very menacing look, kind of like the chubby shaved-head guy who blows his brains out in “Full Metal Jacket.” Village rumor had it that he was a pederast, a killer, a bad man.

One day my mom drove us into the village so she could shop. My bothers and I normally wandered around the small cobblestone streets and musty wharf together, playing and messing around while our mother took care of business. The village always seemed like a huge playground to us. For some reason, that day we all scattered, all three of us exploring different areas. When the hour was up I made my way back to the car by the port and found my mother and brothers and several villagers in a heated conversation. A small fishing boat hurriedly putt-putted away, leaving the harbor. Though far away I could tell it was the huge, evil fisherman. I approached the crowd. Evidently my mom had returned to the car in the knick of time. She saw the huge, evil fisherman lowering my brother into his already running fishing boat. She rushed over and pulled her child out. Before she could say anything, he motored away. Who knows what could have happened?

Anyway, the Easter procession hobbled along and then came to a sudden, grinding halt. People stopped singing and started muttering and asking why we stopped. I weaved my way to the front, to see what was going on. The procession had come to a stop directly in front of the evil fisherman’s house. A couple of meters in front of the icon was a large black scorpion, its glistening velvet black tail pointed upwards. The priests and folks at the front of the crowd had stalled, trying to figure out what to do with this evil omen. Finally a young man stepped forward and bravely crushed the scorpion under foot. A few people applauded and the procession started up again. I went back and rejoined my family. As we passed the evil fisherman’s house I noticed the curtains snap shut. He was inside, dark and glistening. Alone.

–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

flickr photo by mira d'oubliette

An Ataxic Minnow Amongst Whales

by Andreas Economakis

I don’t know exactly how or why I decided to buy Laurent’s tiny inflatable boat. Not much of a seaman, I guess I nonetheless always fancied myself owning a boat. Was I trying to recapture my childhood, a sometimes wondrous, oftentimes hazardous and constantly anarchic time replete with memories of our family’s small fiberglass Kris Kraft, my brothers and I whizzing around with wild abandon, water-skiing dangerously, cutting a violent white path through the calm blue waters while the local kids ran along the beach pointing at us like we were nuts?

Laurent’s boat is nowhere near the size of the old “Spitfire ERA,” but hell, it’s a boat. With great joy, I ride my bike down to the docks to meet Laurent and take her out for her first spin. I’m a boat owner at last. Time to start hanging out with yachting types. Should I buy some Nautica threads? One of those big French fisherman’s sweaters? Salt crusted on my face, talking about the big one that got away? Hemingway? I’m a fucking yachtsman at last. A man of the seas. A captain! I’m the first of my generation (or at least of my brothers) to own a boat. That’s got to count for something, right?

I park my bike on the docks like I belong, next to a boat the size of the Queen Mary. I casually stroll onto the Tweety, the powerboat that belongs to Laurent’s employer. Laurent offers me a beer and gets to inflating my boat. I must admit, she looks kind of small on the deck of the Tweety. I lean against the boat rail (portside or seaboard, aft or bow I couldn’t begin to tell you) and squint at my new possession like a well marinated skipper.

Okay, my new boat is definitely small alright, all 2.3 meters of her, with her 5 horsepower Mercury outboard motor. Still, to me, she’s a huge fucking deal. Reflected in my mind’s eyes, my inflatable is the size of one of those enormous cigarette boats on Miami Vice. Pastel poofy suits and blonde hair and 5-o’clock shadows and chicks that smell of Coppertone. Lines of coke on the Formica table down below, Cold War vodka and some crappy 80’s Bananarama synthi tune thumping from small Bose speakers.

Laurent looks at me with a smile. He knows what I’m feeling. He gives me this huge cork and points at the boat. I hold this strange object in my hand and stare at the boat with a blank expression on my face.

“What do you want me to do with this thing?” I meekly ask after twirling it in my hands for a while. It must come from an enormous bottle of champagne Laurent must obviously stock in the Tweety’s kitchen. I smack my lips with glee, ready to ask for champagne glasses.

Laurent grabs the cork from my hands and corks this hole at the base of this board where the engine slides on. “Oh, yeah!” I think to myself, remembering the days of old. You’ve got to cork and drain these fuckers too…. Like a good bottle of French vin. I smile and picture myself motoring into a small, private bay, palm trees hunched over the water. My Coppertone chick, topless of course, dives into the aquamarine waters and comes up like that Channel #5 ad. I pop the top off of a bottle of a vintage Merlot. We sip wine and eat cheese on the sandy beach, my yacht bobbing up and down in front of us. Then we drink some coconut juice from a coconut that has fallen nearby and make salty sandy love on the beach before we go nude spearfishing for octopus.

“Grab the gas can and let’s go,” Laurent blurts out, the coconut disappearing like a puff of smoke from my hands. Back on the docks in Greece, no coconut trees anywhere in sight.

We lug the boat over to the edge and slowly lower her into the water. Shouldn’t there be a brass band and a well-dressed lady with a bottle of champagne hanging from a string somewhere nearby? Who is going to inaugurate this momentous launching?

Laurent asks me what I’m going to call my dinghy.

“Um, ‘The Idefix,’” I stutter.

“That’s good. She is small and she is white.” Uhm, small and white, two things a guy hates to hear. Maybe I should rename her “The Christina 4.” My dad thinks I should name her “The Indefatiguable,” but that’s kind of hard to pronounce in Greek. “The Idefix” it is. He was good dog.

The boat in the water, Laurent jumps in and bids me to follow. I damn near fall face first into The Idefix, my motorcycle boot becoming horribly tangled on the Tweety’s ropes. This yachting business needs attention.

Laurent at the helm, we motor off into the marina, skirting the big yachts. We must look like a minnow amongst whales. After a few rounds, Laurent lets me captain The Idefix. I slide closer to the lever that controls the speed and direction of the craft. With an ease paralleled perhaps only by Bogart in The African Queen, I show my true mettle as a captain. Before long, Laurent asks me to drop him off at the dock, telling me to continue tooling around in order to get the hang of things.

I bring my ship into port like a seasoned skipper and Laurent jumps off. Then I make what turns out to be an almost fatal nautical error. I scoot over to the other side so that I can control the vessel with my left hand like Laurent. Up until now I’ve been piloting my ship with my right hand. To my surprise, when I throttle it, it heads directly into the side of a rather large parked (moored?) skip right next to me. The skip’s captain, who’s there polishing brass, leans over the side and starts yelling at me to back off. Vessel out of control (I’m doing everything backwards), I jet off toward the center of the port, other captains yelling at me to back off, to cease and desist, to abandon ship. Out of control, and rather panicked, I floor it by accident and start doing donuts, woefully glancing at Laurent, who’s bent in two, laughing his head off on the dock.

Eyes streaming with tears, Laurent yells at me to decrease my speed and bring her home. Through his guffaws I can hear him saying that throttle right makes the boat turn left and throttle left vice versa. The instructions are lost one me. Instead, I shoot off towards the open seas, doing an abrupt 180 the moment I see a huge Coast Guard boat with a cannon coming my way. Are they going to open fire on me? I can almost hear them barking commands in their walkie talkies to open fire on the leather clad motorcycle boy who’s obviously stolen somebody’s tender.

I hunch down into the belly of my craft, wind whistling through my thinning hair, arm outstretched and clinging a piece of rope in order to not fall out of the boat. Salt spray coats my motorcycle leathers. I’m hanging on for dear life. How, oh how, am I going to dock this beast? She’s out of control! At top speed I head straight for Laurent. He’s waving his arms frantically, yelling at me to decrease my speed. When I get close, I pull the power safety switch and the boat coasts up to the dock with the engine turned off at last. Laurent grabs the rope and pulls me to safety.

A few neighboring captains approach us to find out what the hell all this fuss is about. I scramble out of my vessel and dust the salt off of my leathers. The captains all look at me like I’m Bowie’s man on the moon. Laurent explains that I’m the new owner of the offending boat that nearly damaged several multi-million dollar yachts. I calmly walk over to my trusty motorcycle and start rolling a smoke to calm my nerves. I overhear one crusty captain ask Laurent what a city boy like me is doing with a boat.

“He’ll get the hang of it,” Laurent replies.

“Not in our marina! He’s ataxic,” another captain scoffs.

“Huh?” Laurent replies. “What’s ataxic?”

“Uncoordinated. His right is my left and so on. He’s a walking, talking, floating hazard. Motorcycle boy’s got boat dylsexia, if there is such a thing.”

Damn yachtsmen. Snobby, upper class boating dishrags. I climb on my bike, wave goodbye to Laurent and squeal off in a cloud of oil petrol smoke. A clumsy yachtsman maybe, but a coordinated motorcycle boy always.

–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

Shotgun

by Andreas Economakis

11:53 pm.

He’s sitting alone in the living room, alone with his two dogs. His mother is at a cocktail party down the road. Connecticut, the edge of suburbia, where manicured lawns meet the forest, the unknown, the bogeyman. The TV is chattering in the corner of the room but he’s not paying any attention to it.

He looks out the large sliding patio window in front of him, into the deep, dark forest. He can barely make out the abandoned old house that’s rotting by the fork in the little stream that cuts through the woods. That house gives him the creeps. He can feel bad energy coming from it, kind of like the energy of a motel room after a murder. He buried his cat under a tree in the woods the week before, fashioning a crude cross from birch branches. His mother had accidentally crushed her under the garage door. He kept a weary eye on the abandoned house while he dug, running away quickly once the cat was in the ground.

He switches channels on the TV and a movie with dolphins comes on. In one of the scenes, a dead man hangs upside down in a large aquarium, his frozen eyes looking directly at him. He runs upstairs and gets his mom’s shotgun. It’s a single-barrel 20-gauge Harrington and Richardson. He loads it and goes back downstairs. He sits on the couch again, his dogs at his feet, listening to the woods.

At 3 in the morning, 2 cars rumble up the driveway. He tenses, his finger on the trigger, the hammer cocked. A fist pounds on the kitchen door. A large man is holding his mother in his arms. She’s unconscious. He puts the shotgun down and holding the dogs by their chokers, he opens the door.

“Hey kid, is this your mom? She’s drunk,” the man says. After a pause, he adds: “This is the address on her license.”

“Thanks,” he says.

The man lays his mom on the kitchen floor and hands him his mom’s car keys and her purse. He smells of whiskey and cigarettes. He looks around silently, a glint in his eye. He then nods with a slight smile and exits slowly.

He locks the door behind him. He struggles to get his mother into her room. He goes back downstairs and takes the shell out of the shotgun. His mommy is home and he is safe again.

–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.