Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Shelf-life of a Smile!

In downtown Athens, merchants feel free to extend their store area out on the sidewalk, in front of their shops. Many restaurants here routinely take over the public space in front of the place by installing tables and chairs, as well as “temporary” lights and, sometimes, a television set, the better to watch futbol games. Rarely are the property laws enforced here, so, much of the time, the business owner appropriates the public spaces that surround the business with impunity.

As a result, I was not surprised that, during my recent visit to the key shop (see previous post: The Infamous Incident of the Vanishing Ignition Key), I was asked to wait on the street. The shop owner had proudly planted on the busy sidewalk two chairs, a potted plant, a small “coffee table,” newspapers and a coffee pot – the better to entertain the customers while they waited to have copies of their keys made.

After thumbing through the newspapers, I chose to watch the foot traffic, as it sought to navigate around me and the improvised waiting room. The chance to watch folks in their unguarded moments, simply being themselves, is always a treat. What better way to spend a cool, late-September morning, while waiting to get a new key for my car.

Shortly after taking up my post on the pavement, I looked up the sidewalk to see a young woman with a baby in a carriage. About the time that I noticed her, another woman, apparently a friend, also noticed and stopped to chat and admire the baby. After their brief conversation, the mother and baby continued on their way and the woman baby-admirer began to walk toward me. I couldn’t help but notice the smile on her face, for the length of several feet, after seeing the baby. Obviously, the experience of seeing her friend and “oohing” and aahing” over the baby generated pleasant feelings within the woman and her face couldn’t keep from smiling. As she walked passed me she was still smiling!

It set me to wondering: what is the shelf life of a smile? How long will a smile remain in one’s heart or on one’s face? And, does it return, later in the day? I can’t say what the woman was thinking about before she saw the other woman and the baby. I could not begin to know what problems were worrying her, how many deadlines were crashing in on her at work or what pressures she was facing at home. I have no idea whether or not she and her kids had argued that morning, whether or not her sex life was fulfilling or if she and her parents, spouse or ex were currently getting along. Who knows if she was able to pay the rent or if her ideas at work were being rejected by the boss?

I only know that, after seeing a friend and admiring her child, the smile on her face lasted into the next block! Since I did not follow that woman around all day, I can’t tell if the smile ever returned, later in the day, as she remembered meeting the mother and child. Do you reckon she thought about that happy scene later that evening when she was getting ready for bed? I don’t know.

I just know that the happy experience at least momentarily brought joy to the woman’s face. Although my days of strolling babies on the street are (most likely) over, some way, somehow, I want to be the kind of person who, when he is met on the street, can cause a smile to appear on others’ faces - maybe for as long as two blocks!

What about you?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Say What??

Since it was my day to “cook,” I called Janice while waiting in the longer than desirable line at the bank. Just as she answered the phone, the electronic “Of course-your-are-waiting-in-line! That-is-not-our-concern! You-can-just-learn-to-like-it-or dislike-it!” sign-board lit up number 128; I was holding tightly my sequence number 150!

When Janice answered the phone, I told her that, since it was my day to “cook,” I had changed my mind about lunch. Instead of going to the Greek souflaki “joint,” to fetch two gyro pork sandwiches, I had unilaterally made an executive decision; since it was my day to “cook,” I was choosing to go to the KFC place around the corner. She seemed to handle my mid-course cuisine change with little bother, indicating in some less than enthusiastic tones that whatever I chose, as long as she did not have to cook it, was fine by her.

Fully confident now, that both my initiative and my selections would be honored on the “home front,” thirty minutes later, I completed my business transactions at the bank and proceeded toward the KFC store. As I walked in, the attractive, young, behind-the-counter attendant smiled and welcomed me to the store in perfectly good English. It is not at all unusual for young, minimum-wage employees at fast food establishments in Athens to speak English and to want to practice on those of us who, despite our best efforts, always look like non-Greeks.

Emboldened now, by her alleged English language fluency, I confidently approached the counter and said, in a clear and distinct articulation: “I want an order to go!” With a forlorn look of disdain on her pretty face, she frowned and said: “So sorry, our machine is broken!” Sensing that Greek would serve us both better, I shifted to my Hellenic glossary and said: “Den perasi!” (the rough equivalent in Greek of “It’s okay!”) Without missing a beat, she looked at me and said: “Thellete Coca Cola?” (Do you want a Coca Cola?)

Walking out later, with my order of hot wings and chicken strips (with a Coca Cola) under my arm, I smiled all the way home, just thinking about that interaction with my new Greek, teeny-bopper friend. This mixed up dialogue has now become a part of the lexicon of our lives. When I say something that Janice either doesn’t like or doesn’t understand, she says back to me: “So sorry, our machine is broken!” In response, I now say to her, “Thellete Coca Cola?”

I’m thinking that when it comes my turn to “cook” again, I might just say: “So sorry, our machine is broken!” or “Thellete Coca Cola?”