Greek-American Stories: What Are Friends For   

Αssociated Press

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

George hadn’t yet arrived at Dixon’s. That gave Dimos the opportunity to tell Yiannis that George appeared sore at something. “Did you say something to him, Yiannis?” Thinking hard, Yiannis shrugged, “I can’t think of anything I’ve said, lately.” He sipped his coffee.  John said, “Think! Friends should get along.” Again, Yiannis couldn’t recall anything to upset George. Dimos reminded, “he, along with us, helped you move to your new apartment, remember.”

“I remember,” Yiannis said, calmly. John added, “he did most of the work. You just watched and gave orders.”

Yiannis, trying hard to look sorry, conceded. “You’re right! When George comes, I’ll treat him with more appreciation,” adding, “It’s a tough job!” George arrived, got his coffee and sat, greeting everyone, even Yiannis. All awaited Yiannis’ promised change of attitude. “George...” began Yiannis, grinning, “I never apologized for the time we went to my barber and I made sure I was the fifth customer so that I got the free hair cut. Well, next time you’ll be fifth! Hey! What are friends for?” George gave half a nod but concentrated on his coffee.

Yiannis, not used to feeling any guilt and couldn’t recall saying anything, anyway, decided to turn things around. Appearing downcast, he said, “I have a gripe, guys. But, I’m a good sport and always forgive.” He had everyone’s attention. Puzzled, John asked, “what gripe, Yiannis.” Continuing the ‘hurt’ look, he told them, “everyone isn’t sensitive about things like that, but, I am!” “What is it?” Asked Dimos, familiar with his myths. Yiannis began, soulfully. “No one...not any of you remembered my birthday,” his chin sank into his chest. Then, he lifted his head. “But, well, never mind. I forgive you all – even George,” he said while everyone tried to recall when Yiannis had ever remembered anyone’s birthday.

That Sunday’s meeting ended more amiably. The following Sunday Dimos, a mischievous grin on his face, arrived early displaying his remedy to the birthday issue. “I’ve made up a calendar noting everyone’s birthdays, including anniversaries and name days. Each gets one.” He passed out the calendars. Studying his, John commented, “I don’t know, Dimos. Think ‘EL Cheapo’ will appreciate being reminded of all these occasions?” Grinning, Dimos said, “No! That’s the point! I’m calling him out!” Point taken, they watched as Yiannis arrived and was handed his calendar. “What’s this?” After a brief explanation, Yiannis sat down slowly, staring at the calendar that noted everyone’s birthday and wedding anniversary. And name days, too! A mental cash register calculated all the cards he’d now be obliged to buy for so many occasions. Say, about two dollars a card – four cards. Let’s see! That’s – that’s eight dollars. Then, three wives’ birthdays – that’s fourteen dollars. Sweat formed on his forehead. Making further mental calculations, he recalled the dollar store sells them for less. One dollar a card.  Still a lot of money. What about anniversaries and...and name days. He muttered under his breath. They all watched his color changing. Vocally admiring the calendar, Yiannis smiled and said, “you went to so much trouble, Dimos.  But, let’s be practical! Do we really need to send each other cards that are just pieces of paper, that don’t say what we mean?” He shrugged. “Isn’t it more personal, friendlier and better to say those good wishes in person. Besides, we, usually, speak in Greek. Cards can’t do that!  Personal greetings are more, personal!” Fumbling with his donut, causing scattered crumbs, he continued.

“Besides! Reminding me of every birthday is so... so aging. I say we forget about the card-giving stuff. I won’t be so touchy about birthdays anymore, I promise.”

Of course, they knew Yiannis’ objections were more about the cost and not about aging or being friendlier. John, familiar with Yiannis’ infamous frugality, spoke up.  “You’re right, Yiannis. I’ve got a better idea! Let’s all treat the birthday person by buying his coffee and donuts on that one day?” Making mental calculations, Yiannis tallied the price of coffee and a plate of donuts four times a year that could prove more expensive than a card. He thought hard, running an eye over the circled dates. Placing the folded calendar into his pocket he thanked Dimos and relaxed, planning to make his dentist and doctor appointments on certain days, thanks to the calendar.