Greek-American Stories: Penny Wise

October 14, 2019
Phyllis “Kiki” Sembos

George was complaining to his buddies around the table at Dixon’s that Sunday that Yiannis still owed him for the gallon of paint he’d bought for him two weeks ago.” He hasn’t paid up. And, I’m afraid he’ll find a way not to.” Dimos smiled. “Today, just ask him for it. With us around he’d have no choice but to feel too embarrassed not to hand it over.” George doubted anything could embarrass Yiannis when it came to money. John, grinning, pointed out that Yiannis just entered the cafeteria. “Here’s your chance to collect, George. Be firm!”

Seating himself after getting his coffee, Yiannis, after greeting them all, eyed the donuts. Kipreos, having taken up Yiannis’s favorite sprinkled donut told him that it was collection day. Looking puzzled, Yiannis asked, “Collection day? What’s that all about?” Dimos explained. “Don’t you remember you still owe George here for the gallon of paint you ordered two weeks ago?” “Oh, yeah! I forgot!” “We know!” responded George. Yiannis bit into his donut, thoughtfully. “How much was it?” “Exactly $28.01,” reminded George. Reaching into his pocket, taking out his wallet, Yiannis, carefully and cautiously, counted out the money and laid it on the table. Then, decided to recount it. After counting it twice and making sure it was $28.00, his shaking hand handed it over. “Don’t say I don’t pay my debts!” he said grudgingly, settling back in his seat and placing his depleted wallet back in his pocket, sorrowfully. George, feeling miffed that he’d repaid the money owed with an attitude decided to goad him further.  “What about the penny, Yiannis? A debt is a debt until fully paid!” Looking surprised, Yiannis shrugged and said, “I paid the bulk of it and you’re making a fuss over a penny?”

Ordinarily, George would not have pushed so meager a matter. But, the occasion to banter the greatest skinflint in the hemisphere was too much to resist. It was the principle of that matter. He stuck his hand out. “It’s my penny, Yiannis! You owe it. So, pay up!” Yiannis, always eager to be the winner in any economic situation but not desirous of letting go of even one cent, spoke up with amusement. “Come on, George! You sure you really want that penny? It’s just a penny!”  Palm still extended, George insisted he get what’s owed him. “I paid for that gallon of paint, Yiannis. And, it’s not paid in full. Try buying a gallon of paint and not paying the full amount asked for, Yiannis. Even the bank wouldn’t let you get away with a penny.” John agreed. “George is right, Yiannis. Your receipt proves you owe him a penny more. Like you said, it’s just a penny.” Kipreos added, “I had a client whose bill came to $5.10. He handed me a five-dollar bill. When I told him he still owed ten cents on his bill he told me to take it out of the tip he’d given me. So, I had to pay up. That wasn’t right, I think. But, I did it!” But, that penny clung tenaciously in Yiannis’ hand, figuring it was the principle of the matter. It bothered him to give it up, meanwhile recalling that old saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

He figured he earned it! Didn’t he carry that gallon up the stairs to his apartment? Didn’t he paint the whole kitchen with no help from George? Then, he brightened. “Tell y’ what, George! You’re a sportsman. Let’s make a deal.” George, suspicious, cautiously nodded, wondering what he had in mind. How the world’s infamous miser was going to try and get away from surrendering that penny. “What kind of deal?” Looking serious and anxious to hang on to the coin that he firmly believed was his, Yiannis placed the penny into the palm of his left hand and covered it with his right. Then, looking up, he asked, “Heads or tails?”


This article is part of a continuing series dealing with reports of Greek POWs in Asia Minor in the Thessaloniki newspaper, Makedonia in July 1936.

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