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Greek-American Stories: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Dimos informed those around the table in Dixon’s that this coming Saturday is Yiannis’ birthday. Keeping watch at the entrance that may soon produce the star, John asked George what was the plan. George told them, “Areti called my wife and told her that she is inviting us and our wives to her house for that occasion. It was supposed to be a surprise. But that can’t happen because Yiannis wanted to make sure to invite us, personally, when he comes here. It saves on buying commercial invitations.”  “I suppose he expects gifts,” Kipreos said, adding, “what do you get someone at Yiannis’ age?” John looked across at Dimos who might be better informed. “How old is Yiannis going to be, anyway?” Dimos shrugged. “I’m not sure. But, if I remember correctly, he’s got to be in his late fifties or early sixties.”

The subject was dropped when they observed Yiannis, coffee in hand, coming forward as he sat in his regular seat and greeting them, cheerfully.  Eyeing the donuts, he asked if everyone knew about the coming occasion of his birthday. “Areti has planned a very delicious luncheon for everyone. You know she’s a good cook! I hope you’re all coming.” He looked around for enthusiastic responses. They all nodded, muttered their appreciation for the invitation and then fell silent until Kipreos asked, “How many candles will be on the birthday cake?” Yiannis told them, “there’s not going to be any candles on the cake.” Kipreos, wrinkling his brow questioningly, asked, why not. George, grinning, said, “with so many candles the cake might sink.” Annoyed, Yiannis said, “That’s not it, wise guy! I don’t want Areti’s artistic icing designs to get messed up, that’s all.” Kipreos, trying to be helpful, advised, “they wouldn’t get messed up of you count each year by tens. Each candle will represent ten years a piece.” Yiannis shook his head, picturing five candles centering the cake. Then, there’s adding the single years. “I don’t think that would be practical, either. It would still clutter the top.” George, looking serious, “That many, eh?”  Yiannis growled, “I just don’t want the cake to…to…” Appearing sympathetic, Kipreos said, “look like a donut?” Dimos, sensing Yiannis’ reluctance at spoiling Areti’s artistic work, offered, “then, why not have Areti write the number with icing? It’ll have more sweetness and add to the decoration.” Yiannis merely shook his head. “No! My decision is final.” Then, recalling the amount of money he dished out for the luncheon, he announced, “but, expect a luncheon fit for royalty. I mean, I didn’t cut corners!  I went to a lot of…ahh …trouble,” he said, avoiding the word, ‘expense’. He continued. “I want you and your good wives to have a good time. No expenses were too much! Like the old saying says, ‘eat, drink, and be merry,” he told them leaning back. “After all, it’s only once a year, right?”

“So is Christmas and our birthdays,” Dimos uttered, recalling the suspiciously familiar neck tie at his birthday from Yiannis. And John recalled Yiannis’s gift of a bottle of unsealed cognac. George remembered that Yiannis and Areti hadn’t shown up at all for his birthday. “It’s hard to think of a gift for birthdays at our time of life, don’t you think, Yiannis?” John told him. Blinking, Yiannis smiled. “Oh, sure! Hey! Gifts are not important like when you’re my grandsons’ ages, you know. I don’t give that a thought anymore. No, no!” He studied each face hoping he didn’t give the impression that he didn’t expect any gifts. Nodding agreement, John said, “good! I wouldn’t know what to give my uncle, Pericles, if he expected a gift at his age of seventy five.” Dimos added, “You’re right! What can you choose at our age, anymore? Right, Yiannis?”  Swallowing his coffee, noisily, recalling that he’d spent a lot of bucks for the luncheon and expected returns, sputtered, “r…right! Your company is gift enough.” That subject settled, they continued discussing other matters until it came time to leave. As they headed for the exit, Yiannis extended his hands out, detaining them. “About Saturday. When you come you’ll find the door wide open. Just walk right in!” John, curious, asked, “Something wrong with your door bell?” Yiannis shrugged and said, nonchalantly, “No! It’s for convenience; you’re not going to come empty handed, are you?”

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