Friday, May 17, 2013


Speaking of Kalamata. . . .

As mentioned a few blogs back, my first wife, Maurine, and I lived in southern Greece for awhile. One day soon after moving there, we were standing around the Kalamata bus plaza waiting to catch a ride back to our home which was four miles down the coastal highway. Of all the many policemen in this city of thirty-some-thousand, one in particular had already caught our attention. We called him "Barney," which was short, of course, for Deputy Fife. We had noticed that not only did this fellow physically resemble his namesake, but he also had some similar mannerisms.

Barney loved the power he wielded as a cop; it was written all over his face. He stood around a lot, like the other policemen, striking noble poses, looking important, arms behind his back, very straight, mirror sun glasses, hairline mustache. Except for a ridiculously large hat that was twice the size of his pea head, he looked quite dapper in his gray uniform and polished shoes.  But as I said, Barney was totally aware of his lofty status and every move and step he took was the move and step of an important man. Even the drags on his cigarette were measured and dramatic.

Well, anyway, lofty and important as his position may have been, Barney's paycheck was not commensurate and so he was forced to moonlight as a ticket-taker on the regional bus line. For some strange reason, every bus in Greece needs two men-–a captain, or driver, and a lieutenant, or ticket-taker. On the day in question, while Maurine and I stood under the shade of a nearby kiosk munching sesame seed sticks, we noticed that there was a commotion at the rear of one of the buses. Some ragged country bumpkin, a short, stocky fellow whose elevator clearly didn't go all the way to the top, was trying to get on the bus with a small bath tub. Other passengers carry sacks, packages-–even baskets of baby chicks-–on board, but nothing so large and cumbersome as a wash tub. Barney was blocking the rear bus door. Without a word he just looked at the tub and slowly shook his head. Regulations were regulations. With gestures, the tub bearer made motions toward the trunk of the bus; surely there was room? But again, with pursed lips, Barney just shook his head. Thereupon, a great theatrical display for mercy ensued.

You could see by the ragamuffin's frantic actions that departure time was nigh. You could also clearly see the poor fellow's mind grinding away as it turned over the options:

1) Get on the bus for home and leave the cherished tub sitting in the plaza, or

2) Stay with the tub and live forever in Kalamata
a homeless, if scrubbed, vagabond.
Again the man implored with pleading arms. But no. Sensing the fool's helplessness only made Barney more impervious to his pleas. He just stood there by the door in all his stiff majesty, smoking his cigarette, looking here, there, anywhere but at the contemptible buffoon before him. At this point, the tub man completely broke down.
Sobbing loudly one moment, walking wildly around his tub while pulling his hair the next, pausing for a moment to kneel and thrust his praying hands up to Barney for pity, the groveling hind went through the whole drill. But if possible, Barney seemed more remote than ever. Scanning the distant mountains, sniffing the air for some imagined fragrance, Barney then took a deep drag off his cigarette, casually looked at the butt, then flicked an ash. Again, he only shook his head.
Of course, with mouths agape, all the peasants were by now gathered around, savoring the free show. Maurine and I were not a little amazed ourselves. It seemed to me that after a few minutes, Barney might have found something more to do, like take tickets or put packages in the trunk. But not today. A crawling dog was at his mercy and the job could wait.
Finally, after five or six minutes of crying and praying, it occurred to the frantic tub man that something more might be done inside the station. So, off he dashed through the crowd. In a minute he returned. And with him came the station master. And just like that, and with a loud laugh and big smile for Barney, the fellow promptly got on the bus . . . with the tub!
The crowd, though mindful that Barney was a cop, could not contain its laughter. From where we stood, I didn't see anything visible on Barney's face but it was a safe bet that his stomach was churning. I'm also sure that at some point in time, Deputy Fife found a way to get even with this fool who went over his head and made a laughingstock of him.