Thursday, November 17, 2011

Contraptions and Technology



We are in New York City, having just had my Gamma Knife procedure.

I spent over a month anticipating the procedure, being anxious about some new activity from my tumor. I knew it was going to grow, but not that fast, I should have outlasted its growth. Now, three years post brain surgery we decided on the Gamma Knife treatment.

This is an amazing procedure, slightly misnamed by calling it a knife. It seems the inventor was a surgeon and wanted the reference of a knife. It is non-invasive surgery, though. Two hundred plus, non-lethal, gamma rays come into your head from different directions and focus carefully on the tumor, with all their power, to zap it and delay any re-growth. This is really super futuristic stuff! Something is affected, even removed from your skull without any seemingly outside intervention, science-fiction stuff, remember the Hulk…that was Gamma rays.

Before all this high-tech stuff, it is necessary to have an MRI so they can see the exact position of the tumor. Now the weird stuff starts, they have to put a contraption on your head so you can keep the same position during the MRI and later when they radiate your tumor. Accuracy is very important. The last thing you want to do is miss.

You are in the midst of one of the highest tech kind of medical procedures in the world; really 22nd century stuff…suddenly your neurosurgeon and an assistant approach you with something that looks like a Civil War relic. A metal cage type thing, that seems to have been made by an amateur blacksmith, which is supposed to be screwed on to your head.

I am given a sedative and some Novocain as well as my favorite, a medical lollypop, and then my neurosurgeon starts acting like a mechanic and screws this cage on to my head…yes I did say screws it on, into my skull. It seems to me that something a little less primitive could be developed to hold my head steady so that the Gamma rays hit the tumor accurately.

During the procedure I had a 4-hour wait with this contraption on my head, between MRI, calculation of the rays and then the actual Gamma knife procedure. I was part of three patients that were scheduled for the procedure. I was to go last since my tumor was near my left optic nerve and they required a little more time to prepare. Needless to say I got bored and made a paper mustache to wear on my rig. It seemed to have made a difference to some of the somberness that existed in the ward. Paper mustaches will do it every time.

This was an incredible experience. I am sure they got it. We will have confirmation in about 3 months when I have an MRI to check on the condition of the tumor, but I feel very optimistic. Let’s face it, if it still is there, we come back and do it again…by then the “contraption” will be redesigned and be comfortable as well as light and not have to be screwed on. And maybe it will come with a mustache!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mr. Chow’s…great food, great chairs




It was the 60’s in London; the Americans are here, at least in the ad business…also the film business.

The only time the two American communities met was in Hyde Park on Sunday mornings.

There was a softball field reserved for Americans, a reward I think for something we did a while back.

Every Sunday there was a soft ball game played by the movie guys, we came to watch, at least I never saw the ad guys playing ball.

The film being made in England at the time always determined the players.

The best game I saw was when the film “The Dirty Dozen” was being made.
Everybody was there that morning, including Mohamed Ali; I think he was still Cassius Clay then. A great day, a good game, then the Sunday ritual continued, across the road to Mr. Chows in Knightsbridge.

Mr. Chows was a popular restaurant and very“ trendy,” a nice 60’s word. Trattorias were very popular in London during the 60’s, so were Chinese restaurants, Michael Chow combined the two, Italian waiters serving Chinese food made by Chinese cooks, both groups were very vocal and emotional and could not understand each other which made for the basic entertainment of the place, lots of yelling and arm waving in short bursts.

Sunday Lunch was the ritual, we would go after the game with some friends and our young son for a great lunch, and every table had various members of the film and ad community. The really famous and the ones that thought we were famous, remember it was London in the 60’s.

Food as usual was terrific and we never found out what that fried green stuff was, seaweed, parsley, still have no idea. Everyone enjoyed the drama of watching a Chinese chef make fresh noodles in front of us all with flair and abandon. The Italian waiters did their little number blaming the Chinese cooks about something or other, lots of checking out the real celebrities…a normal Sunday lunch.

We had invited our group to our house later that afternoon for “ TEA”, our version of it…a bit English, a bit American…and maybe slightly Greek.

I suddenly realized that we didn’t really have any chairs that we liked around our Eames table at home. I always liked the chairs in Mr. Chow, Michael, the owner was there and I asked him where he got his bentwood chairs, and he said Czechoslovakia, or maybe Romania and laughed.

He told me he had some in the basement, about 50 extra ones…that was all I needed to know. Negotiations started.

“ Michael I need 6, I need them now.”
“ I can’t sell my chairs.”
“ Come on Michael…we invited people over for tea.”

20 minutes more and we agreed…I think I paid nine pounds a chair.

The chairs were cheaper than lunch for six.
We had all come in my R type Bentley, it was London in the 60’s after all.

I told the doorman to get a cab for us; we loaded the chairs in the cab and told him to follow us.
Off we went, six people in my Bentley and six chairs in a cab following us.

We still have those chairs, they have traveled the world with us and now my daughter has them.

When you go to a restaurant and you like the food, look around maybe there is something else you want to take home with you.

Take out chairs…I have to try it again, there is a Greek taverna with terrific chairs near us, come to think of it the tables aren’t so bad either.





http://www.hydeparksoftball.com/5.html

Friday, October 7, 2011

"X" marks the spot



Three years ago they found a benign tumor in my skull just above my sinus cavity.

I had three options, wait and see what happens (not for me),
We could have major surgery, going in from the top of my skull, removing the entire tumor,
Or, slightly less invasive, cut over the eyebrow and go in from the side and get as much as you can.

We chose the 3rd option knowing that it would eventually grow back but it would not be a problem in my lifetime.

It is growing, faster than we thought it would, damn thing is not going to beat me.

I have been having MRIs periodically and they showed that it is growing slightly faster than expected.

Before it becomes what it originally was, and would require invasive surgery again, there is something that can be done.

Gamma Knife seems to be the answer, non invasive in spite of the knife in the name. It is a focused controlled radiation treatment…they zap it out evidently. It has to be accurate and really on target otherwise it destroys stuff it is not supposed to.

I have been reading about it and it seems to be a remarkable procedure.
I spoke to my surgeon’s assistant and asked about timings, since it will be done in the States. She said your appointment is the 8th the procedure is the 10th and you can fly back to Greece on the 12th. Pretty amazing stuff. Needless to say we will stay in NY a little longer, just in case he missed.

I had a pretty incredible experience before we found all this out.

I sent my MRIs to my surgeon in the States.

He emailed me on Saturday the 10th of Sept, the weekend of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
That in it self was amazing, he also emailed the surgeon he recommended for the Gamma Knife surgery.
His email included all my MRIs. It is now Sunday and the other surgeon is answering, discussing my case with my original surgeon.

The secretary is sending me copies of everything to keep me informed, everything is decided, when, where, the works-and this is the weekend of the 9/11th anniversary.

I am awed by their commitment and dedication.
It still knocks me out.
These people are incredible.
I have to admire the commitment they have to their work.

Thank heavens they are my guys.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pop's store




This started out as a description of my Father’s store in Coney Island. It will change I think, as I go along.

The store, the Paradise ice cream parlour, was in Coney Island, on Surf Ave. 1604 next to the RKO Tilyou,
across from Steeplechase Park, between west 16th and 17th street.

We lived around the corner on Mermaid Ave., whoever named the avenues in Coney Island was a genius, Surf Ave, Mermaid Ave, and finally Neptune Ave.

The store burned down in the 50’s, I remember Pop told me that he saved my prize Schwinn Phantom bike, and not to worry about it.

Pop was a classic candy maker. As a young immigrant he was apprenticed to some relative in Massachusetts, who taught him the craft.

He made his own ice cream and chocolates that we sold by weight.

It was also a luncheonette; we came straight from school to the store, it was home for us. Mom and Pop never left the store alone from 9 am until midnight or later. We did have an hour or two at six o’clock in the evening when we all had dinner together at home.

The store was open 7 days a week 365 days a year; my parents never took a vacation together. The Paradise was the center of our lives. My sisters who were older than me worked there after school and weekends as waitresses, I was too young, but I did wear an apron and acted like I worked there.

Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving we had Santas, rabbits, Easter eggs, and turkeys made from chocolate, obviously the appropriate ones for each holiday. Mom decorated them with jellybeans for eyes and decorative frosting, and then wrapped them in yellow cellophane. It was a family event.

We would watch Pop make them and take them out of the molds while hoping one would break so my friends and I could have some chocolate.

If none broke Pop would break one saying it was “no good” so we could eat it, he never acknowledged that it was a perfect one he broke for us.

The store had double doors, display windows on either side in front; there they would show the different candies and seasonal displays.

When you got inside, there was a marble counter on the left with 10 or 12 stools. That is where you got sodas, ice cream sundaes even coffee and pie or some sandwiches. There were usually two old Greeks sitting at the end of the counter having coffee, the typical Greek thing anywhere in the world.

On the right was the cash register and long display cases with the different candies, some in boxes as well as loose ones…at the cash register, near the exit where you paid your bill; you could also buy cigarettes and cigars.
I think we sold cigars since Pop was a cigar smoker: I started to smoke by stealing cigars from the display case, White Owls as a matter of fact.

After the counter we had the booths, 6 on either side as well as 5 on either side in the center, an island of 10 booths, 22 booths in all.

We even had a phone booth in the back and the rest rooms.

Just before the booths began, we had an amazing juke-box, Pop thought it would help business, all it seemed to do was make the waitresses dance around.

I remember, “Shrimp boats are a comin”, by Guy Mitchell, shows you my musical tastes.

Beyond all that we had the kitchen, there was a wood burning fire to melt the chocolate in a bain-marie set up.

This was where all the great chocolates were made on long marble counters, were he poured the melted chocolate to cool.

It was an amazing room, it smelled great, and it was dark and moody, just like chocolate.

The chocolate came in twenty-pound slabs from Nestle in Switzerland.

My connection with Nestle remained for 40 more years. They were a client of McCann’s and I did ads for them in eight countries. I wonder what Pop would have made of that. I guess I am a sort of candy maker as well, at least a candy ad maker.

I still am reminded of Pop’s great candies when I have a piece of dark chocolate.

The overall feeling of the store was classic, small tile floors, probably had the Greek key design border, pressed tin ceilings, hanging fans, booths made of dark wood, marble counters, decorative display cases, beveled mirrors…very art nouveau, and even a couple of tiffany type lamps.

Some relatives, even older than me if that is possible, have confirmed this description.

Now here comes the problem…I remember the store pretty well, I also thought I remembered Pop’s sign, a big hanging neon sign.

Evidently when I found this photo of the street, it seems my memory was a little off; the movie house sign was mistaken in my mind for my fathers sign. Pop’s was a little more discreet, still pretty big…but not the monster I drew.

I guess we remember things better or sometimes even worse than what they really are.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A New York Deli...in Tokyo?



In 1970 I was sent to our Tokyo office for three months to fill in as Creative Director.
A short time in an amazing place and we have some great memories.

Japan was full of contrasts, just as something made sense and you thought you understood it
…everything changed.

While there a friend asked me if I wanted a pastrami on rye and an egg cream. This may seem like a normal question in New York but not too normal in downtown Tokyo.

I am a kid from Brooklyn, a pastrami on rye sounded great, so where do we get it in Tokyo?

He was an expat and lived in Tokyo for years, if anybody knew where, he certainly did. He took me to a typical street and we entered a building that led to a typical NY deli.

Surly, sarcastic waiters that were Japanese, that in itself was pretty odd.
Corned beef and pastrami in the showcases, rye bread and mustard on display, soda machines and behind it all was Ann Dinkins.
She was a flamboyant woman from New York, maybe even Brooklyn; at least that is what her accent told me.

It turns out, she came to Japan years ago with her husband as an expat, he had died and she remained in Japan. She was very much at home there and decided to make herself even more at home, she opened a deli.
To give it the right atmosphere, Ann trained the waiters to be sarcastic and surly and at times I thought they even had a NY Jewish accent. They would sigh and say” oy vey.”

She told me it was good for business and there was no staff turnover, due to their attitude, they could not get jobs anywhere else.
There is not a great deal of demand in Japan for sarcastic waiters. Good job Ann.

Ann also had the exclusive rights to import meats to Japan; it seems the royal family liked pastrami.

Just one of the bizarre things we enjoyed in Japan in 1970.

Today there is a NY deli, but it is in Disneyland Japan, I bet there are no sarcastic waiters there.

It just is not Ann Dinkins.










Monday, August 8, 2011

Extracting the urine or taking the piss



I like the expression “ extracting the urine”.

I have a friend, a Greek that lived in London for over 40 years,
Instead of saying taking the piss, he says, “ extracting the urine.”
Sounds like a classy way to say that I am bullshitting.

I have a tendency to make stuff up; I suppose it is lying, although I see it as creative and enjoy doing it.

The lies are like, Columbus was Greek, the turkey is an indigenous Greek bird, you can swim after you eat if you ate seafood, stuff like that, not really nasty lies, fun lies.

They are mostly entertaining not harmful. I am about to tell you how to do it; there is a basic simple rule.
All great lies, bullshit, crazy stories, have to have a basis of truth. A germ of truth gets people nodding their heads and sort of accepting the rest, no matter how preposterous, as a matter of fact, the wilder the better.

Don’t swim after you eat…it is ok if you eat seafood, simple version.

Columbus was from the island of Chios, sounds crazy, until you say Chios was part of the kingdom of Genoa, since we have heard that Genoa was the home of Columbus all our lives. Hmmm, could be true.

Turkeys are from Greece and were taken the new world by Columbus, why would one of the best Greek wines, Hadjemichalis use a turkey as his logo if it was not an indigenous bird. I actually know why, so do not write me and tell me why. Also it is called a turkey by mistake since Chios is close to Turkey.

Although one of my favorites is that the famous cold cut Armenian store in Athens, sells great vanilla ice cream.
No touch of truth to make it more acceptable, just a very trusting target. This does not happen often, so you really need a touch of truth normally.

So if you want to make stuff up, it is fun, remember the basics: a touch of truth to make it slightly more logical, and a convincing presentation. You sort of have to believe it yourself, convince yourself, before you can convince others.

As you all know, the ostrich is from the Argolida.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The two Costas go to the Royal Wedding



In Porto Heli, where we live there is one famous Costa. He is the ex king of Greece, Constantine, or sarcastically referred to as Costakis by the locals that are not royalists; the royalists actually refer to him as Your Majesty.

However, there is another Costa, a friend of ours, he is Greek and has lived over 40 years in England and worked at a public, Eton type school. He has retired about a kilometer from us here in the Argolida.

Evidently Kate’s brother went there and invited some of the staff from the school to the wedding, including our Costa. This obviously was pretty exciting for us, and I promptly told the whole town about our Costa going.

So our little village in Greece had two going to the Royal Wedding, and both named Costa.

This had to be unique, cannot imagine any Greek village, even Athens having two Costas going to the wedding.

Off he went, electronic ticket, first class, stayed overnight at the dorms of the school, limo to the wedding.

We were glued to the TV, watched every minute of the festivities hoping to get a glimpse of our Costa, or even the ex King, no such luck, lots of famous people but not the two Porto Heli Costas.

We enjoyed it and were amazed at the manners of the crowds, and wondered what would have happened if they were all Greeks.

The next day we were invited to our Costas house at midday for a drink and mezedes to hear about his amazing trip.

Some other friends were there and we assumed to celebrate Costas return, I also was hoping for some souvenirs from the event.

I, as is my manner, sat next to Costa and asked him a load of questions.

“ Who had the biggest hat?”

“Did the Queen greet you?”

“Did you have good seats?”

“Did you say hello to Elton John?”

“Did any queen say hello?”

I was so involved asking questions, that I never noticed that the rest of our “ friends”, sneaking in, dressed in fake royal gear and waving paper Union Jacks, singing “ we fooled you Greg, we fooled you, Costa never went.”

It finally dawned on me, this was an elaborate joke…and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. They were all in the know; Jeannine and I were the only suckers. I was being paid back for all my years of practical jokes.

Costa never went, this was mainly his wife’s idea, and quiet, sweet Gwen got me. Who knew she had that side to her, you never really know people.

How do I get back at them? Do I just let them worry and get them when they are least expecting it, or let them anticipate my revenge forever…and maybe not do anything? I have to think about this.

In town at the cafenion, I maintain that Costa went to the wedding, I do not want to make a complete ass of my self.

Hmm…what will be my revenge?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The first dive of the year, dolphins and lepers.



I had my first dive of the year with my son, my daughter and her boy friend as well as my dive instructor John.
My daughter and her boyfriend were visiting from NY. We were all looking forward to the dive, it was a great day, the sea was calm, I was anticipating this day all year long.

We went around a point near the fish farm and saw dolphins; they were frolicking in the sea. I guess they were waiting for the meal they were about to have from the escaped fish from the farm. I have seen them in the sea before, but they normally take off as soon as anyone approaches, not these guys, they swam around the boat and as they do, raced us. An amazing start to the day. After about twenty minutes they disappeared just as quickly as they appeared.

We were all set to dive, even more so than before.

We dove off a small island in front of Korakia; I think it is called Korakia Island. We commonly call it the Leper pottery island, there are pottery shards around the island and due to its remoteness, I made up a story, as is my wont to do, that the potters were lepers. OK, OK a pretty dumb story, but it kept us smiling.

Back to the dive, amazing visibility, John our dive instructor stayed with me and kept me at about 8 to 9 meters, no deeper due to my surgery a couple of years ago. The rest of the group dove deeper; they are younger, healthier and better divers. John and I had a great dive and found a small octopus, wonderful creatures.
John had to spend quite a bit of time keeping me from going deeper,
( the blue just looked more beautiful the deeper you went ).

Dive was great, now the problem starts, how the hell to get back on the boat, there is a ladder and it is more than adequate for most people. I cannot do it, I would have to be hauled on board like a dead walrus or put the ladder on the back so it is lower and with a bit of help get in like a normal person.

I would actually like an escalator or an elevator…they all keep talking about a crane; needless to say I am not so keen on that.

I wonder what it would cost to put an escalator on board?

Kitsou, Kitsou, Kitsou and Costa



Here is the thing, I find out that all, or most of the donkeys in Greece are called Kitsou…and it seems they always have been called Kitsou.

Our cat in Coney Island in Pop’s store was called Kitsou as well. When Kitsou died and we got a new cat he was called Kitsou, fortunately we never had more than one cat at a time. Seemed strange at the time, all Pop said was it was easier if they (the cats) were all called Kitsou. Sounded normal but I never asked why Kitsou and not Puss or something like that.

All this seemed pretty strange so I did some research, locals as well as Google, both in Greek as well as in English. This is what seems to come up, and for a change not violently contradictory.

The locals tell me all donkeys are called Kitsou in honor of a thief in the 1800’s called Kitsou who rode a donkey.

Google tells me his name was Kitsou Davelis.

There was another Kitsou that was a hero during the Greek war of Independence from the Turks. I cannot get his last name, but I am trying. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

It seems this Kitsou went to the Turks and asked for a donkey, he was sarcastically asked what he would give for this donkey and he said a Turkish prisoner. It did not go down to well with the Turkish authorities.

Knowing Greece a bit, the first Kitsou could have been the hero; thieves in those days had a pretty glorious reputation.

I am still trying to get to the bottom of the Kitsou mystery. I wonder how it got to Coney Island?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Horses in the olive groves.



I do not know why this is so surprising to me. Goats, sheep, dogs, donkeys in the groves makes some sort of sense.

Our area is almost a suburb of Athens; it is the Hamptons of Athens…at least that is what it has been called.

The locals have prospered selling land for villas to Athenians and foreigners. They had donkeys and horses; at least their fathers did, before the BMWs and the Mercedes they tool around in now.

For many years there were no horses around here, yes on the island of Spetses for the carriages that take tourists around, but not here on the mainland.

There seems to be an influx of horses now, the locals have even started an equinine club, horses seem to be all over the place. They show them and ride them around…not quite England, but close.

They ride them with a sort of western saddle with lights, especially at night, which makes sense to me.

It might be a nostalgic desire to return to their roots, a little like the wealthy ship owners having traditional wooden fishing boats “kaikia “ instead of “ gin palaces “.

I guess if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, horses and kaikia, I will have to go back to making candy, just like Pop did, or get a kaiki like Papoo.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Connections and coincidences…all the time



I know all about the connections you make through the net, social media, blogs etc.

Yeah, yeah, I know six degrees removed from everybody, five from Kevin Bacon, for God’s sake.

Combine that with coincidences that happen every day and it is starting to become unbelievable.

I have come to accept the amazing amount of connections due to the Internet.

Friends from 60 years ago Google you and find you, friends that through social media are able to connect with each other.

Many of our friends on facebook are out of our past; most would have been lost without the ease of the net.

We had our high school, fiftieth reunion thanks to the Internet. The ability to find people has been geometrically multiplied due to the net.

I can accept that, even though it is something that previous generations could not even conceive of.

This blog has resulted in finding relatives that I did not know even existed, people that have shared a common past, it still knocks me out.

What I find is the connections made through coincidences, even more amazing. OK, maybe that is what six degrees of separation is all about, but there are coincidences that are nuts.

I was on a beach in Porto Heli, Greece, at a bar naturally, and a guy about my age came for a drink. He was obviously English, socks and dessert boots and shorts; I asked were he was from. After a few moments we established that he was in the film business and his wife, on the beach, had been in advertising in London when we were there.

After about ten minutes she asked me if I knew her ex husband, not only did I know him, we worked together in London in the 60s. She and her ex husband had a daughter and she is married to a Greek and has a summer home ten minutes from us. We have all become great friends…no Internet involved in this one.

We have a guy that works on our pool that is from Edipso, on the island of Evia originally; I have relatives there (my grandfather went there after the catastrophe in 1922.) I had lost my cousin’s phone number and asked George if he knew anybody there that might be able to get her phone number. He called his sister who happened to be married to a guy who is a first cousin to my cousin’s daughter. Sounds complicated but it is simple, we now have the number and are in touch.

I think in some bizarre way I am related to George, but he still takes a week to come to the house to do some work. Since we are related he does not treat me better, actually worse. Pros and cons to this thing.

Our architects wife, who is from Chicago, and we used to shop in her fathers grocery store there 45 years ago.
Figure that one out.

There are tons more, my friend from NY whose daughter is dating a Greek guy, whose parents have a house one kilometer from ours.

It just goes on and on, maybe because we lived in so many different countries, maybe because we have met so many people over the years, maybe because I talk to pretty much to everybody I meet, maybe, maybe, maybe.

The more you think about it the weirder it gets.

Who knows, I only know it is great, and I am looking forward to the next surprising connection or coincidence.

Share some of your own coincidences or connections…the weirder the better.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Pay the cab and what's for Din-Din?"



That was the normal greeting when our friend, Stan, arrived to see us in London after one of his exotic holidays.

When the holiday was really exotic he would also ask for a doctor, or at least an appointment. We never inquired too much about why…but the sheets were burned, or at least washed in scalding water a couple of times, after he left.

He had a buddy from college that became a multimillionaire, who would take his six best friends, Stan included, on an incredible holiday every year to exotic places…obviously all expenses paid for, private jet, yachts, great hotels, great food, women…the works, hence the request for a doctor.

Stan was a great friend: he unfortunately died young at 54. He was a very successful New York artist later in life. When we first met, I was a beginning art director and he was a photographer’s rep. He came to the office to show me his photographer’s work, about 3 in the afternoon, we ended up having dinner at our apartment in Brooklyn until about two in the morning. This was the start of a great friendship.

He had bought a parking structure on Downing Street, a mostly Italian area, I am not sure if it was part of little Italy in the village. If you think about it there is no better space for an artist than parking building. No interior walls and tons of space, exactly what you need. He had to do quite a bit of work to make it habitable. I am sorry I do not have one of his tee shirts or overalls, ‘The Downing Street Erection Company” was the name of the company that he started, to do the renovations.

It was a great house, 5 floors of lofts 20 ft. by 100 ft. workspace and amazing living space…loved it.

While in London, he would go to Moss Bros, a unique English store that rented all sorts of formal attire as well as sold vintage military clothes, it also had sort of normal clothes. A great store, I wonder if it still exists.

It does exist as a chain as well, I googled it.

I remember it in the 60’s. Stan would buy Scottish regimental trousers in these wonderful plaids. With a double-breasted blazer, suede shoes, they looked great, although his Mickey Mouse tie kind of ruined the look.

He was a colorful character and always bought and wore outrageous outfits. He told us these bizarre outfits were used mainly when he was called for jury duty. Not entirely true, he often wore these incredible vintage outfits around town. Yellow check suits with two-tone shoes, were not that rare with Stan. I never saw him repeat an outfit. He certainly had enough room for his clothes in his converted parking lot.

When I was in NY, on my yearly trips, Stan would occasionally take me to see various buildings he was interested in, they ranged between empty movie houses and once we even saw a vacant synagogue.

His mother came to see it and she said he obviously fell in love with the railings…he eventually bought his great parking building.

He was looking for a station wagon type car in England to buy and take back to the States…something big and different. The nearest car he found to what he wanted was a Rolls Royce hearse; I do not remember why he didn’t buy it. A shame, it would have completed the parking lot he owned in NY.

He was an amazing character and a good friend, I have a very clear image of him telling us that the Museum of Modern Art as well as the Whitney had accepted his work to be in their collections, the same week, unbelievable.

We will forever miss his arrival in whatever country we were in, and his standard greeting, “ Pay the cab and what’s for din-din?”

Our doctor in London use to ask about him often…I wonder what went on when he went over there?

Google Stanley Landsman and see his works as well as an interview with him.

I never went to see him when he fell ill; I thought it was something minor, I will always regret it.

"Did I go to that High School?"



Reunions are murder. I go there and mistake everybody’s kid for them. I did that at the church youth club’s reunion. I walk in and say hello to the first person I see and call her Cookie and ask how she has been to be told that her mother is Cookie.

It gets worse at our High School reunion, I go, but do not really remember going there as a kid. It is the fiftieth reunion and my attendance at the school is vague. There is a nametag with my high school yearbook photo, so I guess I went there. Two of my good and pretty much only friends from high school insist I went there. They have photos of me and my yearbook picture pretty much proves it.

My memory seems to be in conflict with the facts.

So many American movies celebrate high school. The athletes who remember their glory days, the prom, the glee club and all that stuff is missing from my memory.

I go to the reunion…a bunch of old looking people, some though have their youth showing through and I recognize a few. More proof that I really went there.

I do remember the test to get in; it was harder to get into than Pratt, which supposedly has an exceptionally hard entrance exam. This school that I vaguely remember is SIA the High School of Industrial Art.

Forcing myself, some stuff does come back. A girl I was interested in, way back then, is now a Great-grandmother,
God how does this happen? OK I know how it happens; I mean how does it happen, a great-grandmother.

The school was divided in two buildings, one on 51st street between Lexington and Park; the main building was in the 70s off Third Ave…this was a very urban school. We didn’t have any sort of campus, no gym, no stadium…nothing like the suburban schools, although we did have the city.

In spite of vast gaps in my memory I do remember the gym teacher, he was called the gym teacher but he taught social dancing, mambo and rumba especially (we were a very ethnic school) and also a bit of calisthenics.

I told you we were a very urban school, but in a great neighborhood.

The gym teacher’s name was William Weintraub, I found out he had a square dance band and used the name “Wild Bill Wayne.”

This was great, I was the head of the church youth, the THY, and we were throwing a square dance. I gave the job to the gym teacher - William “Wild Bill Wayne” Weintraub. He guaranteed me an A in gym, first and only time I got an A in gym.

I had some other proof that I went to that school. Throughout the reunion people would come up to me and say “You still drawing horses Greg?”
I still am.

I really went to that school, the most accurate proof was that the great-grandmother that I used to have the hots for, still ignored me.

I was back in high school.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aristotle taxi company



I have taken cabs all over the world, some of the drivers I was actually able to understand. Since I like talking and will to everybody I meet…cabbies are great. They all have an opinion, not necessarily connected to any actual knowledge they may or may not have.

They drive all day, usually in horrific traffic, and meet all kinds of people and have plenty of time to think and form their opinions, half-baked or not.

They are a source of information as well as observations. They are like a gallop poll; they have heard hundreds of opinions, and give a summary of them. I really enjoy taking cabs.

In NY the divider that used to be between the driver and the passenger has pretty much been taken down. When I used to fly into NY from Mexico, I would take a cab that was usually driven by a Greek or a Mexican. Both would make you feel you were in their home country. The language was totally a mix between NY and Greek or Mexican. Malaka bullshit and hijo de puta shithead. Since I speak both languages I would chat with them on the way in, usually the Greeks moaned about the Mexicans and vice versa. I never got any great wisdom from them, but lots of passion.

English cab drivers are amazing, they practice for two years, it is called, “the knowledge,” and they pride themselves on knowing every street in London, quite a feat. We lived in a small new street in Knightsbridge. I took a cab and surprisingly he did not know the street, when we got there after I directed him he confessed that it was one of the very few times he did not know a street. I said, “you learn something new every day.” He looked at me and in a cockney accent; he said “I didn’t learn anything new yesterday, gov.”

In Japan my taxi rides were pretty silent, other than the hisses and hiiii from the drivers periodically.

Greece has it’s share of surprising cabdrivers, other than the ones that refuse to take you, because they are not going anywhere near your destination. There are a lot that discuss politics and their cousins in America. The situation in Greece, as you know, is pretty terrible at the moment; most everyone blames the government, and the cabbies that I take unanimously agree.

The other day in a cab, driven by a very dignified driver, I was told the solution for Greece and it’s political problems. He said, “ the politicians are all useless and corrupt; they are all the same, two families with their cronies running everything.” There are no new guys on the horizon; they do not have an Obama. The driver said, “fire them and hire foreigners to run the country; treat Greece like a corporation and get professional managers to run the country, an Austrian for example as the prime minister, some guys from Switzerland for seats in the parliament as well as English, Germans and some Chinese ministers as well.”

All foreigners, not a drop of Greek blood in any of them. It seemed so natural and right; nationals should not handle politics. We have to get foreigners that are hired to do the job, if they screw up they are fired and we hire another pro to do it. Can’t fire an elected official.

This cab driver seemed to have given this quite a bit of thought, as wacky as it sounded, it made sense to me.

We can have courses in the best universities, prime minister 101, major in finance minister. I suspect there are some problems to this but I cannot seem to think of them right now. We seem to have tried everything else; maybe if we treat the country like a big international corporation, we can have some success.

The solutions of a lot of our problems are probably driving around in yellow cabs all over the world.
Philosophers all.

Let’s give it a shot, couldn’t be worse than what we have now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

“I do not believe you are here on holiday, I think you are here to work, sir.”



Since I have always traveled a great deal, I have run into customs and immigration guys all over the world.

Usually there is not any great problem. In the old days you could even be a wise guy with them without any great fear of being arrested or worse.

I remember once returning to England from a couple of days in Paris and being asked at customs if I had anything to declare. He could not believe that I had not bought anything, cigarettes, lighters, booze, perfume, nada, nothing, I had not bought a damn thing!

Finally in desperation, he seriously asked me “what is that bulge under your jacket?”

You guessed it; I said with a smirk that it was a gun then quickly said it was a joke; after all it was the UK in the 60’s when the police did not even carry guns.

He said,” I know sir, please go into that room to be searched.”

If you say something like that today chances are a search is the least of what will happen.

A friend was returning from Tokyo to New York via Fairbanks Alaska, it was the early 70’s and there were no scanning machines at that time yet. He was being padded down by a State Trooper, arms around him checking for anything behind his back, Harry has a bigger mouth than I do, he asks. “Do you get kissed often doing this?” Try that today and you will not make the flight to N Y, or any other one.


When I was transferred to London in 1965, it was the year our son Paul was born; the situation was a bit complicated….the company had wanted us in London 4 months before but I kept stalling, we wanted our son born in Chicago. Eventually, they insisted I go before our son was born. They would have all my documents, working papers, etc. ready for me by the time we were ready to move. Sounded good. I went for a month before all the documents were ready as a tourist, found an apartment, organized everything or so I thought and returned for the birth and baptism of our son.

My wife was incredible, our son was 30 days old and we are going to live in a foreign country, not many women would do that.

We arrive in London ready for the new adventure. The first person we meet in England is the immigration guy, a little short guy wearing, if I remember correctly, a brown shirt. That should have tipped me off.

He looks at our passports and asks what we are doing there; I say, “We are on holiday.” Remember, I returned for a second time after just a month. He looks at us, me, my wife and our 30-day-old son. He stands up as tall as he can and asks,

“Are you here to work?”

I like the idiot I am, stand up taller than him, and say, “We are on holiday.”

“I do not believe you sir, I think you are here to work.”

At this point we are put in a waiting room, with a bunch of people from all kinds of countries in ethnic dress, to be sent back on the next plane, I am insisting on first class tickets.

Lots of luck on that one.

I get to a phone and call our office and speak to the company lawyer.

“If you do not get me in before they throw me out, forget the damn job.” I yell at him.

One hour later the little guy in the brown shirt comes in and says, “Have you changed your story?”
He also asks me if I am sorry to put my wife through this. Jeannine jumps to my defense and tells him, while waving our son around, that we are detained in this room with all these poor, pathetic people because of him, not me.
Go get him Jeannine.

I tell him that he knows that I am legal. He only wants me to apologize and tell him the truth, which I am not about to do. Finally, one hour later he lets us out of the room and into the country. The lawyer is outside with the correct papers; I am pissed off at him as well.

I really handled that one wrong, for years in my mind I have been blaming the agent, maybe I should have just told the truth, or the company lawyer should have told me about my papers being OK.

Today things are different…do not come up with smart-ass comments, no matter the temptation.

Beware of short guys with brown shirts in airports.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My favorite ad.




I have probably made hundreds of ads myself and been responsible for hundreds more, for some reason this one is my favorite.

I did it in Chicago in 1964 with a great copywriter I worked with, Shari Lee Mason.

We had the Marshall field account (a famous department store), we didn’t have the retail business but we did have the image account, which ran in the New Yorker magazine once a week.

For the Christmas season we had to do an ad for the toy dept. No way were we going to do the traditional corny ad of happy kids with tons of toys.

We worked on it for a while and came up with the normal junk, kids and toys.

Shari suddenly asked, “What about the toys?” She wrote the line, “Every toy should have a child.”

We knew we had something special. For me, the only visual was a crying teddy bear.

I decided to do it in black and white like a charity ad…no color, everything non Christmas.

The client loved it and even had plastic tears glued on the teddy bears, when they were sold the tear was removed.

Loved that ad! I have done more famous ads and certainly bigger and more elaborate ads for bigger clients; this still is my favorite ad. I think we made the perfect balance between picture and words.

We made people see something they knew in a different way, which I think is the definition of creativity.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Xappy Birthday from da Tsicago office."



Belly dancers play a pretty big role in my life, from going to the Egyptian Gardens and the Port Said in NY during the 50’s and the 60’s to various birthday parties as well as events that completely embarrassed me.

A friend sent a belly dancer to my office in London, it was 1967, I have to admit I lost it; I was absolutely a stuttering idiot.

This is something I have done many times to other people, but I could not handle it at the time.

If you take the piss out of people you usually are not very good at having the piss taken out of you.

When we were in Chicago, about 1963 or 4, my boss was Jeane Bice, terrific boss. The head of Interpublic at that time was the great Paul Foley. Interpublic was in NY in the Time Life Building.

Paul’s Birthday was that week and all the offices were obviously sucking up and sending “creative” birthday wishes. Billboards in NY, ads in the NY Times, radio commercials etc. Jeane says come up with some ideas. Great! Here is my chance to be noticed or fired.

My group comes up with all the normal ideas and then we remember Paul was in Turkey during the war and loved that part of the world.

Here is my chance to look good. “Why don’t we send him a belly dancer to the office?”
“Great idea, organize it.”

I call the Egyptian Gardens in NY and tell them what I want. It will cost $300, but I have to pay before she will dance, none of this ‘bill me later crap’. I have to arrange the head of traffic at NY McCann to meet the dancer, Zoroumba, in the lobby of the Time Life building and give the money to the drummer, who will be there with her.

It must have been a rather sinister sight…money being handed over to some big guy with a drum and a heavily made up girl in a trench coat, in the lobby of the Time Life building at 3 pm.

We were not there, we are in Chicago, and the head of traffic calls up and tells us we are a big success. Detroit had a stupid ad in the Times, LA did a radio spot, a poster from Atlanta…but ours lasted two hours! Paul kept throwing money at her and later went to the Egyptian Gardens with the IPG directors.

I wonder if that is why I got promoted and sent to the London office in 1965?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boy, am I glad I waited.



More about hearing aids.

I have been criticized for waiting so long before getting my hearing aid; I kept putting it off, for all kinds of reasons.

I am glad I waited; finally they are tiny and neat, not like the old ones.

Imagine trying to get around wearing one of these…my kids would have been happy, they would at least know I was wearing it.

I think I have joked around enough about hearing aids. Mine was not absolutely necessary, I could sort of function, but it has helped in a number of ways. I do not get as agitated when different things are going on around me, which in our life seems to be quite often.

It has been just enough extra hearing to make this difference. I never realized that this seemingly little bit of correction would help so much.

If you need one…do it, before they get even smaller, God knows how or where you'll wear it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The best-dressed kids in Coney Island…maybe all of Brooklyn.






Looking at these photos I realized that my Mom was amazing, being a seamstress in Paris before she married Pop, she had talent, skill and incredible energy.

My sisters had great clothes and lots of them; I even had some pretty great outfits.

Mom was the busiest person I have ever met, she worked in the store, cooked and sewed and probably did a million other things I did not know about. We were well-dressed kids, Mom and Pop were sharp as well.

Every outfit we had, Mom made. I remember, I was about 12 or 13 and pegged pants were big, she made me a pair and even added pistol pockets (flaps on the back pockets shaped like pistols) very cool at the time, would probably be pretty cool now. I am sure my love of clothes comes from Mom.

These photos are all taken in the early and mid thirties, there is no doubt in my mind, we were the best-dressed kids around.

Maybe my attraction to country and western music comes from my Greek cowboy outfit Mom made for me…love that shirt.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

" Honest Boss, it is important to go to Cannes, for the work!”



The first time I went to Cannes for the ad festival was in 1966 or ’67.

A good friend, Lew, a photographer living in London, came over one evening and asked Jeannine, “ Can Greg come out and play,” Jeannine said of course and then he asked, “ For six days?”

You have to understand how insane the request was, since we had our son who was only about 18 months old.

Jeannine was amazing and said yes when she found out it was for the Cannes festival. Most people think it is good professionally.

This is the time of year most ad guys are trying to convince their boss that going to Cannes is essential for the work. OK, to some extent it is, you meet people, see lots of ads…and some of them are even good, not many, but some are great.

We drove down in an MGB, two big guys in a tiny car with a spanakopita Jeannine made for us for the trip.
She continued being amazing, even though she would be alone for a week with our baby…she is an Albanian Saint and a great cook.

The trip was long, cramped and boring, big Citroens were passing us when we were doing 90 as if we were parked. These huge French cars seemed to be full of people looking very comfortable smoking cigars…or at least that is how I remembered it. I started to plot how I could avoid going back in that mini car. I could fly out of Nice, anything to avoid that tiny car and the disgrace of being passed by everything, even French tractors.

We get to Cannes, amazing place…on the sea, just like Coney Island and there the similarity ends. The south of France, amazing villages with great restaurants, wonderful hotels, the views are incredible.

God makes these incredible places and for some reason populates them with creeps.

We went to Saint-Paul de Vence for lunch one day at this incredible restaurant Colombe d’ Or, owned by Yves Montand and his wife Simone Signoret…and they were there, I am a kid from Brooklyn and Lew ain’t much better…unbelievable. I could not imagine that such places existed.

Monte Carlo casino was the same night…we gambled and Lew actually won, about 250 bucks. He cashes in his chips and asks for a bodyguard to walk us to his car, no wonder the folks there are such creeps, they have to deal with the likes of us. We get to the MGB, stashed behind every fantastic car in the world and we crawl out of Monte Carlo, having trouble going up the steep hill to get out of town.

During all these experiences vast amounts of wine was drunk and we were probably a bit drunk ourselves, most of the time.

The next morning we see some locals playing bowls, patonk, I think it is called there. We start a game ourselves when the locals leave, there are four of us, all loud mouthed Americans, we must look local since we are wearing French sailor shirts and wearing espadrilles.

A guide with some tourists pulls up and begins to describe this very local game to them,
at this stage Lew says in a loud voice, with a NY accent, to me,
” Come on shithead it is your turn.” Naturally the guide and the tourists take off.

You may be curious about the ads we saw…I do not remember any ads I saw that time in Cannes, but Cannes was great and so was the South of France. If the festival was in Finland or someplace like that I probably would have seen all the work.

I have been to Cannes other times and have seen the work, and actually learned something. It was never like the first time, with a good friend in a remarkable place doing and seeing remarkable things.

Next time I will tell you about the lesbian bar in Haute-de-Cagnes.

If we had only done it in a comfortable car it would have been even better.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

SSSHHH, don't yell, I can hear you.



Something I can now say easily, before I had to train everybody to speak louder, not anymore.

This is now a brief continuation of my previous blog that got such a response.

There is supposed to be 10% of the population that is hard of hearing…but a lot less wear hearing aids.
The comments on my blog showed that a hell of a lot more than 10% of my friends have a hearing problem.

I also got comments from hearing aid blogs through out the states…who knew that they existed?

I write these blogs for the education of my family and the entertainment of friends and acquaintances…now it seems this last one was a help to many readers. It was not the objective but I am glad it helped.

I think I should negotiate a commission for all the hearing aids that might be sold through my blog, or at least a big discount on my second one, which will probably be purple.

I had a problem with my hearing aid and went to the distributer in Greece, since I do not have an audiologist here.

Great service, showed me stuff I did not know, cleaning and adjustments etc. Knowledgeable guy…good to know there is somebody so close to help me out when I need it.

I just want to underline that this thing in my ear has been a tremendous help, not just physically but emotionally as well; I think that I am calmer and less grumpy.

A hearing aid is like a tranquilizer in my ear, it also calms everybody around me as well…better than Valium for everybody.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

WHAT? I don't need a hearing aid, talk louder.



I have been saying that for years, but it seems I did need a hearing aid. Not something I wanted to admit to, I did not want to be a deaf old geezer, vanity again.

Everybody in the family has been after me,
“Dad you need a hearing aid.”
“Lower the TV, it is too loud,”
I was hearing this for years. I was convinced my wife was whispering from the kitchen to make me crazy, people spoke softly so I couldn’t hear; paranoia was setting in as well.

Instead of accepting that maybe I might be a little hard of hearing, I was convinced everybody was out to make me believe I was. The conspiracy theory was alive and well…they are out to get me; it might even be a government plot.

A few years ago my kids got me an old hearing aid, those big horns that you stick in your year to magnify sounds. It was a joke, but not really…I guess it was a huge hint.

I went for a hearing test four years ago, took about three hours. I thought I did pretty well until they told me I missed about half of the sounds. Both ears are bad, but in completely opposite ways, right hears upper sounds, left, just the opposite. Not only would I be an old geezer with a hearing aid, I would be an old geezer with two hearing aids. Screw it, let everybody speak louder, there is a volume button on the TV after all.

The complaints continued same as always, the whispering continued. I had to accept, it was me, and I had to do something. I went for another hearing test. The only good thing was that it was exactly the same, as before, it was not getting worse. This time the doctor did not recommend that I wear two hearing aids, one would do.
It could have been technical progress by the hearing aid companies, or the doctor figured one may not be perfect, but it would be better than nothing.

I did it, I got one…it is tiny and not noticeable at all. I even got the piece behind my ear the same color as my hair,
Old geezer silver. What amazed me were the colors, somebody is wearing a purple hearing aid.

Now, how does this work? I have to confess, I do not wear it always, I do not hear the difference, but the whispering from the kitchen has stopped and the volume on the TV seems to be much too loud.

The crazy thing is I don’t seem to be as pissed off as much and the word WHAT is not used nearly as much.

Little by little I will use it on a more regular basis, later I may even get a purple one for my other ear.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mama goes to the MOMA




While I was at Pratt, it must have been in the late 50’s, I took my mother and my eldest sister to the Museum of Modern Art. I was presuming a bit, but I thought they might enjoy it, even though I was not sure about Mama’s reaction to some of the art.

Going into the city was not something my mother did often; she would go in to go to the department stores for fabrics, this would at least be a day out. I assumed my sister would enjoy the museum; she was a dietician and worked at the VA hospital and was incredibly well read.

We got there and it was fairly crowded, we got in and started to go around to see the permanent collection and then make our way to the exhibitions. My sister was not that happy about the museum, I guess she was more traditional and conventional than I thought she would be. I was surprised because I thought she would really enjoy it.

Mom took her time and wandered around the exhibitions not saying very much, but what she said seemed to make sense. She was a creative person; making her own clothes and my sisters, when I was small she even made my clothes. She seemed to identify with some of the work, especially the abstract expressionist work.

She really got excited when she came upon the Picasso’s; she looked at them for a while. She turned to me and said, in Greek, “ta xero afta”, she told me she knew this work. I was surprised to say the least, how did she know this work. She told me when she lived in Paris after the catastrophe; she would see this work at a gallery on her way to the workshop she ran as a seamstress.

These things come out at the weirdest times. By the way, she told me she went to see Lindberg land when he flew the Atlantic in 1927. More stuff I never knew.

The MOMA was no big deal to Mama.

She would have loved the Smithsonian; it has the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When we were nuns



We lived in Mexico from 1984 until 1994. The Brazilian embassy had a carnival party every year. They knew how to throw a party and the Mexicans knew how to party.

We were invited and the same dilemma came up, what to wear?

Brainstorm, since everybody goes virtually naked or at least very sexy, we would go as nuns. Jeannine would make a perfect nun, I on the other hand had a big mustache and smoked a cigar, a not so perfect nun, not bad, but not perfect.

I tried on my outfit in my office, at that moment, a client, Irish-American, GM marketing director walks in on me.

He panics; my outfit brings back memories from his Catholic School upbringing…it might be my mustache or my cigar. He thinks I am sister Margarite. My outfit works, it passed the test. He recovers has some water and leaves my office shaking his head.

He must have some wild memories of sister Margarite.

That night we drive to the party, I am sitting in front with our driver, Jeannine was in the back. A city bus pulls up alongside of us at a traffic light. It all seems calm, people glance in the back of the car and see a good looking nun with gold wire framed glasses, then they see me, mustache, cigar, nun’s habit. Double takes are the least things that happen, poking neighbors, pointing, signs of the cross and finally laughter.

We are going to be a hit at the party. I am ready to take on the others with their revealing costumes.

We get there, caipirinhas, food, great music, lots of bare quivering flesh…a typical carnival party, love it.

Our outfits are well received, laughter, funny comments, mostly about my cigar. We are pretty much the most covered up couple there, and the only ones without feathers or sequins.

The competition starts, dancing and judging for the best costume. There is a shortlist and we make it to the final ten. The next dance is the lambada, we are great, I am groping my dance partner, the little nun with the gold wire rimmed glasses, she is sexy as hell and really getting into it, lots of moves…we just might have a chance to win this. We are getting applause and being toasted…this might be our night.

Our only real competition is a near naked couple with strategically placed feathers and sequins, who unfotunately dance pretty good.

DAMN, they win first prize, we come in a close second and are pretty happy with that, the church has held its own, at what is in reality a religious festival.

Not bad for a couple of nuns from NY in Mexico at a Brazilian carnival party.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Do not fly through Charles de Gaulle



Last December we were going to NY, we were booked to leave on the 15th from Athens, direct to NY.
Three days before we heard about an air controller’s strike for the 15th. We changed our flight for the day before, the 14th, it was not direct and it was via Paris. Athens to Paris, Paris to NY. It seemed easy enough. We had an hour in Paris to change planes, same terminal, no big deal, or so I thought. The dreaded Charles de Gaulle airport suddenly is going to change all that.

I remember this airport and all the hype it got when it was built in the mid 70’s, it was modern and did not look like any other airport at the time. They have added on to it for the past 30 years, some of it isn’t even connected to the original; maybe it is not even in Paris. This monster airport has grown in a seemingly haphazard way. Parts of it have even collapsed.

The people that work there do not seem to have an idea of where anything is, certainly not any of the gates. But I am getting ahead of myself, back to the beginning of our trip.

We started very early, 3 am, by taxi from Porto Heli to go to the airport for our flight to Paris at 7am. Tiring but no big deal. Flight to Paris fine, considering today’s flights. Cramped, crowded but on time. We now arrive at the dreaded Charles de Gaulle airport. We land nowhere near the terminal; the plane lumbers around the airport and finally stops at some bus station in the middle of nowhere. We load on the bus and off we go to more or less where the plane originally landed, I think.

Into the terminal and the search begins for our gate for New York. I ask and am told different directions, the signs lead us outside, we rush around, the wheel chair we ordered for Jeannine is nowhere to be seen. We end up on the sidewalk outside; we go back inside and through the security check for the second time in France.

I finally go crazy at some guy that tells us to go outside and enter the terminal next door. Suddenly a man in a suit appears and reassures me that we are in the right place, but we have to hurry since the plane is loading. “It is close,” he says, we take off, sort of running, more like staggering. I have the hand luggage, two small bags, that weigh a ton by now and a computer bag. Jeannine, who supposedly needed a wheelchair, takes off to the gate, running to make sure they wait for us, for me especially.

We get there and are told there are some passengers still missing; also some of the crew cannot find the plane. We stumble on board and find ourselves in first class, this plane had two doors, and we got in the first one. First class looked pretty good and I asked if we could upgrade, the flight attendant told us it was full and could not do that, even when I offered one of our kids.

We got to our seats and were pleasantly surprised; roomy, pleasant attendants, drinks, movies, it just might be ok, in spite of starting from the dreaded de Gaulle airport.

The trip, after the insanity of de Gaulle airport is pleasant, normal and we get to NY fine.

It has been one of the longest trips we ever made, door to door.

I will never go through that airport again, I will also try not to even have it as my destination. There has to be another way to get to Paris.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Komboloi...or Fiddle Beads.



I know, I know, before you all tell me, they are worry beads, not fiddle beads. Since Greeks like to play the game of being worriers, when I think they do not really worry, I would rather call them fiddle beads, fiddle being a better word to describe how they are used.

The history of the Komboloi is readily available, the most important thing is that they have no religious use, they are the only beads handled that are not for praying. They originated from prayer beads, Buddhist, to Moslem, to Catholic (rosaries), then our beads, the newly named fiddle beads. The name komboloi is derived from the komboskini; the knotted prayer strings that Greek Orthodox monks make for praying. Komboloi means knot and word, but they have no religious use, maybe just the opposite…it is really an idler’s object.

When we first came to Greece in the early 60’s, older men, usually from Asia Minor, working-class, only used Komboloi. Everybody else fiddled with something, key-chains, string…anything else that you could fiddle with. Today it seems they are popular in all classes. They are available in periptera for a few Euros or in specialized collectors stores for up to thousands of Euros. They are collected by all levels of people and have lost some of the Rembetico connection, although maybe that is one of the attractions, for me it is.

Amber ones to be stroked and caressed due to their fragileness, Faturan ones to be handled rougher, and twirled aggressively. Komboloi are made out of everything, from precious stones to camel bones…I love them. They seem to bring me back to my roots, Asia Minor, where they originally came from.

My Father was too Americanized to use them; he was a calm guy and didn’t worry or fiddle. I, on the other hand use them often. I even had a set made to give away as a company gift; it had our logo on it “the truth well told.”
I have to admit, I got the idea from Tom Pappas when I fist came to Greece to help open McCann, he gave me a set of fiddle beads with the Esso Pappas logo on them.

The komboloi are used all over Greece, while having a coffee and a cigarette and using your cell phone, the twirling of the fiddle beads is deafening. You have to be a real Greek and done time in the Greek Army to really know how to do this…I am practicing, but without the Army, this may be a lost cause

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Hadjibirbilakis, the Birbilakis, the Birbils,




While looking at some old photos, I was curious to see if there were any physical resemblances. Do I look like my Father or my Grandfather does my son look like any of us? The span is Asia Minor, NY, and Greece, a fisherman, a candy maker, an advertising guy and a painter. I often think what would have happened if there was no catastrophe, would we all have been fishermen?

I was named after my Grandfather and kind of think I look like him. My son was named after his Grandfather, my Dad…and he kind of looks like him.

This unfortunately is as far back as we go on my Fathers side, I think I can go further back on my Mothers side, I have to talk to some cousins in France.

I have friends and I read about people that can trace their roots for hundreds of years. I wonder what is back there in my family roots, do we actually go back to Crete and before that, what?

It ain't Brooklyn Blackie, but it is Brooklyn.



I had a tattoo done while we were in NY this Christmas. My daughter’s boyfriend took me to a tattoo parlor in Brooklyn, not Coney Island unfortunately, but it nevertheless was Brooklyn.

It seems there are no more tattoo guys in Coney Island, El Greco, Brooklyn Blackie and the rest of them are gone.

We went to a parlor called the 3 Kings, great work, lots of heavily tattooed people tattooing other heavily tattooed people, men and women. I was, as usual the oldest guy there. I wanted an octopus on my shoulder; my wife designed one based on the ancient Minoan vases. Larry goes there often, he is one of the heavily tattooed guys, and he recommended one of the artists there, a heavily tattooed Josh.

Go to their site and see the place and the work. Three Kings tattoo, Brooklyn. A great place.

I imagined the place to be seedier with sawdust on the floor and lots of beer cans all over. Nope, nothing like that, a clean, well-lit place with drawings and paintings on the wall, each artist has his own station. Lots of paper towels and boxes of rubber gloves, also plenty of tracing paper with designs on them.

We did have some seediness, after Larry’s tats we did go and have some vodka and bourbon, in a great local bar, and then went for my tattoo.

I still fancy the idea of becoming an apprentice tattoo artist…I would like a nickname. These new guys don’t seem to have nicknames, I wonder why? The old guys all had nicknames, and great ones; my favorite is still Brooklyn Blackie the electric Rembrandt.