Tuesday, November 13, 2012

twice-told tale

Once upon a time in my favorite bar in Berlin, a young American sat down at my table. He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and although I was not much older than he, still, perhaps because I was in the army, I felt older.

The young man bubbled and gushed with his adventures traveling around Europe on his parents' unacknowledged largesse. He was a good kid and one tale he told me as we drank our beer in the early 1960's was a keeper.

He was traveling in back-country Greece, hitch-hiking and walking through the mountains with no certain destination. He had no money, but still he kept going. And as time passed, he realized he was hungry. Not just a little hungry, but very, very hungry. Famished. The road led up one hill and down the next and must lead somewhere, an yet he saw no town ahead and he was alone with his hunger.

Finally, he came to a small town and down the main street, he saw a cafe or well-worn restaurant. His hunger leapt up redoubled ... salvation was at hand. He sat down at a table and, because he spoke and read no Greek, ordered literally everything on the small menu. The food came and, dish by dish, he wolfed it down.

But as his stomach filled and the insane one-pointedness of hunger retreated, he was able to take notice of his situation and surroundings. The more he ate, the more he became aware that he had no way to pay. And more, he became aware of the eight or ten men scattered around the cantina -- seasoned men with mustaches and hawk-still eyes, men as browned and fit as he was pink and out of his depth. And the more he ate, the more he could see that these men who were comfortable and at home were ... looking at him.

His now-full stomach began to trouble him in new ways. There was panic, and the panic was not reduced as he saw two of the men approaching his table. Somehow, he imagined, they knew he was a moocher and a thief and were going to beat the crap out of him for it.

The men stopped and stood over him and suddenly the young man saw something else in their demeanor and eyes ... these men were inexplicably shy.

At last, in halting English, one of the men made it clear they were not there to beat the crap out of this young American. What they wanted ... if he were amenable ... if he would consent ... if he would be so kind ... if he would take pity on their ignorance ... if he would accede to their small petition ...

What they wanted from this young American was ... to dance. They hoped he would teach them the American dances they had heard about on the radio but didn't know how to perform ... the twist, perhaps. Everyone in the room loved to dance and in Greece, men dance together ... but they did not know what this pink American knew.

And everyone danced ... and the food was on the house ... and ....

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