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Travel Image: Athens
 Photo: Irina Kats
Travel Image: Athens
 Photo: Mimi Lee

Athens: Paranoia in the Cradle of Western Civilization (cont.)

“Let me introduce you to some of the regulars,” the old man says as he ushers me to the bar.

The regulars include a female bartender and two additional women who appear almost on cue and surround me as I sit down on a bar stool. They are in their late thirties and adorned in provocative clothing and excessive makeup. The two women on my side of the bar appear to have spent a little too much time in a tanning salon and seem to be taking an unusual interest in me.

“So you are here on vacation?” the bartender inquires.

“No, actually I’m here on business,” I begin lying again.

“Do you want to buy us a drink?”

“All of you?” The bartender nods and the woman standing to my right puts her hand on my shoulder, “No.”

Perhaps they misunderstood me, as the bartender starts pouring three glasses of brandy. She offers me a drink, which I decline with an insincere smile.

“I don’t drink, actually.”

“So what is your business?”

“I’m a minister, in town for the big ministers’ convention.”

“You’re pretty young to be a minister.” The bartender asks what I have done with my time in Athens.

“Mostly, just praying.”

Several minutes of 50% fictitious and 100% banal conversation pass. The ladies finish their drinks.

“Do you want to buy us another drink?”


The no gets lost in translation, and the three empty glasses are topped off with top-shelf brandy.

“I’m going to go now,” I mumble.

“Stay. Stay. Stay.” The bartender grabs my wrist and sweetly reminds me that they have only just began to get to know me. “Are you sure you don’t want a drink?”

“No. Thanks.”

“Have a soda or a juice, free of charge.”

I reluctantly ask for a coke, and the bartender reaches into a mini-fridge behind the bar and pulls out a small, half-drunken generic cola bottle and pours the contents into a lipstick smudged highball glass over ice.

“So, do you have a girlfriend?”

“Actually I’m happily married, I love my wife very much, and I miss her terribly.”

Hookers aren’t ones for subtly, and I am met with a barrage of questions as to why my fictitious wife has not accompanied me to Greece. I begin to play with my glass out of anxiety.

“Do you get lonely at night?” the woman with her hand on my shoulder purrs. I realize that I have involuntarily begun to drink my soda. As I continue to parry their intrusive questions with vague answers from a moral high ground, the two hookers begin to grow disinterested and petulant. I begin to wildly imagine the possibilities of what other than generic cola might be in my glass.

The old man yells something in Greek to the two men at the table who proceed through a door into the back room.

“I really have to go.”

“Alright,” the bartender says, “we just need to settle your bill.”

“You said the coke was free.”

“You bought six drinks for us, that’s 63,000 Drachmas ($180 US).”

“First of all, I didn’t buy you any drinks, and how is it 60,000 Drachma?”

The bartender pulls out a laminated sheet listing the prices of their drinks. The first 15 types of brandy cost roughly $4 a glass. They were drinking the last one on page, which cost $30 a glass.

“I actually left my wallet is at the hotel,” which was a particularly egregious lie as several hours earlier I had misunderstood the Greek ATM and accidentally withdrawn close to $2000. I also had on me: all my ATM and Credit Cards, a driver’s license featuring my current address and my passport.

“Why don’t I come back tonight with the money.”

My new friend the bartender informed me that they break the fingers of people like me. It was clearly some kind of thinly veiled threat.

“I might have an ATM card on me. Why don’t I hit an ATM and I’ll be right back?”

“I’m going with you,” sneered the old man.

And we walked out the door and casually proceeded down the stairs. When we reached the ground I began to sprint wildly, ducking and shimmying through alleyways, franticly trying to misdirect anyone who might be in hot pursuit.

But no one was on my tail.

I’ll never know if I could have out run the old man, as he never took chase. The last thing I remember is him yelling that he knew where I was staying, which he didn’t because I had lied about that too.

After a half hour of what I deemed to be sufficient evasive and protective maneuvers (which included self-induced vomiting in a McDonald’s bathroom), I found my way back to my hotel. I lay in bed writing letters to my loved ones in the very plausible event that there had been rat poison in my cola. Mtv Europe blared in the background. I waited for the poison to kick in, made my peace with God and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning at 5 am, checked out of the hotel and took the earliest possible ferry from Piraeus to the Greek Isles, where I spent a lovely week on Mykonos wading in the Aegean Sea, eating marvelous food and glancing over my shoulder every five minutes.

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