Monday, November 10, 2008

Repeat Monday: Greek to Me

It wasn’t easy convincing my landlord that my air conditioner was really broken. He kept saying that the noise and smoke were nothing out of the ordinary, and he stood in the blast of superheated air oohing and aahing like it was a tropical waterfall. When his face took on the color of a medium-rare porterhouse, though, he gave up pretending, and in exchange for a glass of ice water he called a repairman. The next thing I knew somebody was pounding on my door at 7:30 in the morning.

“Open up!” a gravelly voice growled as I glared at my clock in disbelief. “I’m here to fix your air conditioner!” I threw on a towel and opened the door and if I wasn’t fully awake before I certainly was now: the sight of this guy was as bracing as a double espresso. I don’t mind old or out of shape folks provided they wear something to hide it -- like baggy clothes or the Houston Astrodome -- but he had on less than Britney Spears.

I tried to avert my eyes as he lumbered in but I couldn’t help but notice corduroy short-shorts, scuffed brown boots and a tool belt, with lots of blotchy red nakedness in between. He zigzagged through the place until he found the air conditioner, and after the removal of his tool belt sent his shorts plunging to new depths I fled to the shower. When I returned the air conditioner was still grinding like a cement mixer and he was sitting on my bed reading an old copy of Drummer.

Oops. “I’m a musician,” I lied. “I thought that was an instruction manual.”

“No,” he said thoughtfully, “I don’t think so. Though some of the guys look a little like Ringo.” I hadn’t picked up an accent before so I was surprised when he pronounced it “Reengo.” He was from somewhere weird, I thought, but unless he said “Blimey,” “Ah, so” or “Zeig heil!” I wasn’t in a place to guess.

He smiled and showed a jumble of teeth splayed out like shredded wheat. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “I am Greek. My people have been that way for thousands of years. Women are the mothers of our children, but men are for love and companionship. You see, in Greece young men are the tippy-top of beauty. You see that in our art and in our literature. The older men are expected to marry and raise children but also since they hold the knowledge they must share it, along with friendship and love, with impressionable youths. It is their civic duty.”

He tossed the magazine aside, extracted a screwdriver from his toolbelt and pried the front cover off the air conditioner. “Take the philosopher Aristotle, for instance. He was a very wise man. He invented geometry and logic and the VCR. He meets this kid Socrates and he embraces him like a son. He teaches him philosophy, introduces him to politics, and initiates him into sex. But, you know, it’s not just slam bam thank you ma’am sex. It’s a manly thing, like a big friendly hug. Except they were, you know . . . naked.

I couldn’t think of anything to say. I didn’t know anything about gay sex in the past because I’d been trying to get some in the present. But long ago I’d visited a civilization where men bonded together and paired off and left the women to their own devices. It was called “San Francisco.” And while Castro Street wasn’t the Parthenon and a caftan wasn’t really a toga it was still fun enough.

He pulled the air filter off and a line of dirt sprinkled to the floor. “Me, I’m sad to say I have not found a boy to tutor. Maybe I’m not as smart as Aristotle, but I’ve learned a few things and I want to pass them on.”

Now, to say I wasn’t attracted to this guy was an understatement. Though he was butch as Hoss Cartwright’s left testicle he also had a belly domed like a turtle, and his hair was a shade of black found only on newborn mink and Wayne Newton. He had a thick thatch of chest hair that started halfway between his nipples and his navel, and his legs were lumpy and red. But his story made me nostalgic. I looked at the wrinkles encircling his eyes and started to yearn for a time when sex wasn’t just a temporary bond between strangers, something to kill a couple minutes between laundry cycles. When it meant sharing, and forming a bond so tight it could only be expressed by physical affection.

To make a long story short, he showed me how to adjust my thermostat and then we did it. He undressed me slowly and then yanked his shorts down, and with paint-splattered boots still tied to his feet he had his way with me. “We are like Socrates and Aristotle,” he panted. “I share my years of knowledge and then take you from behind.” He wasn’t particularly instructive, as I’d been in that position once or twice before, but knowing it was a time-honored tradition made it special. Before I even straightened up he was gone.

I woke up in a great mood the next morning, despite the fact this was the second day in a row somebody was pounding on my door at dawn. As I wrapped myself in another towel I realized something had changed. No longer was I a shallow gym rat with no connection to the past: now I was a shallow gym rat tied to history. I flung the door open like I was greeting a fresh new life.

“Hey,” my landlord said, grimacing at my pale pink flesh. “Did the guy fix your air conditioner?”

“He sure did,” I said, blushing. “It’s running great now. That Stavros is a terrific guy.”

He looked at me like a dog would if I asked it to mix me a martini. “Stavros? You mean the husky old guy who needs more clothes? That’s my wife’s uncle Patsy. He ain’t Greek -- he’s half Irish and half Italian. Funny you should say that, though, ‘cause once he told a guy he was Greek, and they actually -- “

By the time he saw my mouth drop open it was too late.

“Oh, jeez. You didn’t fall for that ‘mentor’ crap, did you? The Socrates and Aristotle speech?”

I nodded as blotchy red flesh flashed before my eyes.

“I gotta have a talk with that guy. But you can’t really blame him, I guess. That’s the only way he can get laid.” My mood was as limp as my towel now, and he was looking guilty. “Look, if you really want a mentor, I could give it a try. But I ain’t doing any of that butt-pirate stuff.”

I shook my head, smiling in gratitude despite slowly realizing that a seventy-year-old man had just turned me down for sex. “Thanks, Mr. Carmelo. But it’s really not the same without a Greek.”

“I know what you mean,” he said. “In the forties I sent away to Japan for a mail-order bride. They sent me a German Jew named Schotzi.”

After he left I stood in the dark, listening to the air conditioner’s calm hum and feeling the cold air swirl around me. Sure, he’d tricked me. He’d used me and thrown me away. But was it as bad as all that? Maybe “Stavros” wasn’t going to be my mentor but he’d taught me something important.

If I was going to get anywhere in this world, I’d need to fake an accent.

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