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Greek-American Stories: DUPED – Or, Sunday Coffee and Coughs

Dixon Cafeteria was especially busy that Sunday due to events in the Madison Square Garden. Patrons scrambled to find a seat in the already crowded interior. Our group was, comfortably, seated at their regular table. Each table seated six – our group’s table was occupied by five. A serious looking gentleman, coffee in hand, seeing the possibility of an available space, pushed a chair over from an adjoining table and seated himself amongst our little group, much to their discomposure. Dimos wondered if they’d be able to speak Greek without the interloper finding it offensive. John, the more patient among them, remained silent, preferring to wait it out. How long can a cup of coffee last?

A relaxed George looked up at the high ceiling and began humming an unidentifiable tune, reminding himself that it’s a free country and the man had the right to sit wherever he wished. After all, they didn’t own Dixon’s!

Yiannis, obviously annoyed, blinked and grew impatient at the uncommon silence around the table. He started drumming his fingers at the table’s edge in tune with George’s cacophony humming. The stranger looked up at the five faces around the table, gave them a terse look of disapproval and then cleared his throat like a teacher calling the class to order.
He drank his coffee with agitating slowness. Looking at his watch, Kipreos asked the others in Greek, “How long does it take to drink a cup of coffee?” They didn’t dare respond as they stirred their coffees with the seriousness of monks at prayer. The atmosphere grew tense as they watched and waited. When the stranger’s coffee was finally finished they began to relax. But, then, he did the unthinkable. He took out his newspaper and began reading.

Irritated, the wheels in Yiannis’ brain began a slow whirl. He started to cough – a polite cough at first that was followed by a ripple of coughs. After a short pause, he coughed again – louder and continuously, dissolving into desperate rasping. He, then, cleared his throat so raucously that patrons at the other tables turned, wondering if someone was choking and needed first aid. John patted his back, firmly, asking in English, “Are you alright, friend?” The stranger looked up with a look of cynical disdain. But, returned his concentration to his newspaper, his face rigid. Noticing that his physical distress wasn’t creating the early dismissal he hoped for, Yiannis began sneezing, repeatedly, oblivious to sanitary concerns. That finally ended the intruder’s patience. In a sharp tone he said, “cover your damn mouth or I’ll cover it for you!” Fearing an altercation, one that short, pudgy Yiannis would come out a sure loser, George defended, explaining Yiannis was a war vet and not well “up here,” pointing to his head. Disgusted and seeing the futility in remaining or hoping for any concentration on his newspaper, the intruder leaped to his feet, folded his newspaper and left, muttering under his breath something that sounded like, “jackass!”

George grinned. Yiannis experienced a miraculous cure. Leaning back he asked George what the stranger muttered before he left. George shrugged, “oh, he just called your name in English.” Yiannis was puzzled. “I don’t know him.” “Well, he knew you.” The others laughed. Soon, their familiar camaraderie returned. But, having forgotten to remove the extra chair, a frail, elderly gentleman arrived, setting down his coffee with trembling hands, spilling some that John and Dimos blotted with a number of paper napkins. His cane fell to the ground. Kipreos, quickly, retrieved it. Nodding thanks, he drank his coffee with noisy slurps. Seconds later the elderly man began sputtering and coughing. At first it was minor coughing until he appeared to be choking. Dimos, concerned, got up and slapped his back. But, the coughs continued until they turned violent. Not willing to witness a pending emergency, a very nervous George got up, followed by Yiannis and Kipreos. John brought a paper cup of water, called the manager and walked out, hurriedly, with Dimos following. Outside, John, wondering if the old man was OK, peered into the window and witnessed the old man waving to a group of five that ran to their table. “Hey!” Yiannis cried out. “I think we were duped!” Dimos, smiling, waved his hands, “never mind. Just a case of dupers getting duped.”

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