Chris strode toward me, Tom Cruise handsome, James Bond confident. His hands were thrust into the pockets of his elegant, black wool coat, his cashmere scarf swinging. “I thought you made the reservation.”
“What?! My dad looked straight at you and said ‘Set it up!'”
He started. Behind him, I saw the rest of our party entering the upscale restaurant. The panic rising, I went on: “You know I don’t have enough Greek to order a table! Not here! Are you telling me, we are arriving at the Blue Pine, the finest dining on the north side of Athens, a party of eight, including four international guests, and we have no reservation? Oh Chris!”
Chris was crafty and resourceful. A cascade of expressions flitted across his face as he considered and rejected the options. Suddenly his jaw set, his brow tightened, he bounced on the balls of his feet a few times, and spun around to confront the maitre d’.
During the time I lived in Greece with my father, Chris was our upstairs neighbor and my especial pal. He was as cosmopolitan and suave as could be, or seemed so to me at the time. He was an American-Greek dual national, in Greece to complete his masters degree in sociology. I was never clear if he actually chose to complete his studies in Greece, or if he had to leave the US in a hurry; he was always vague on that point. He had a job designing and installing security systems for banks, which he said was like living an episode of Mission: Impossible. I helped him build a car alarm for a Toyota that involved lasers, sonar, a seismograph, and a Mack truck air horn. He helped me rig up a school science project using a stopwatch, a flash light, a rubber band, some parts from the Toyota job, and a red-hot coil of titanium wire.
Chris taught me pickup lines in Greek, none of which worked for me. They were more effective for him, though, as demonstrated by the notorious Shaving Cream incident. Mariani came home with me from school one day; we had something we wanted to show Chris, so we ran upstairs to his apartment and pounded on the door. “Chris! It’s us! Come check this out!” No reply. “Chris? I know you’re home. Open up, you’re gonna love this.”
From inside, clear and deliberate: “Na chatheite!” (“Get lost!”, very strong stuff.) We were shocked. Mariani called, “Chris, are you all right? Is someone there?”
“Kanenas!” (“No one!”) The harsh tone was unprecedented, but the message was clear. We retreated to my apartment. Mariani was distressed and tried again, pleading through his door. As she came back downstairs, we heard a loud bang upstairs, then a scream, a shout, a slam, and another bang, this one on my door. We opened to a blazing-red-hot-furious Chris: “You two! Come!” Upstairs, the bathroom wall was completely covered with a patterned splatter of shaving cream. Through clenched teeth, Chris shouted, “I! Was! With! PENNY! Who became ANNOYED! Then IRATE! Then HYSTERICAL! She threw a can of shaving cream at my head with such force that when it missed me and hit the wall, it EXPLODED!”
Mariani whimpered, “Oh Chris…” I giggled nervously. “I’m so sorry!” she wailed. I burst out laughing. Then we both ran for it.
But Chris met his match in my drop-dead-gorgeous cousin Hanneke. She came to visit us from the Netherlands along with a girl friend whose name I forget. Chris came down to meet them. As I opened the door, he caught a glimpse of my cousin in the living room and his face went slack. I suffered through the rest of the day watching him alternate between affected sophistication and blithering moronity. It was painful. Later, when I was alone with the girlfriend for a moment, I said. “Well, Chris is in love.” She replied, “Well, Hanneke is not.”
A few days into their visit, my dad came home from work very excited. “Tonight we’re going out! Tonight we are on expense account! My client from Cairo is here with his wife. I even got a date for myself, the Norwegian. That makes eight, and we are going to the Blue Pine!” He turned to me and Chris and said airily, “Set it up!” I turned to Chris and said “Is it even possible on such short notice?” (It could take weeks to get a table at the Blue Pine.) He said “Arrangements can be made,” and that was that.
Now it was nine that night. My dad and his guests were entering from the foyer, chatting happily in English, Dutch, Norwegian and Arabic. We had no reservation. Chris strode up to the maitre d’ — and began to scream. Staff ran up on all sides. I was horrified. I glanced back at our group: they were absorbed in their conversation and had not noticed. The maitre d’ dug through his reservation book, confused, sweating, apologetic. Chris stamped his fist on the host stand, shouted some more, shook his fist in the maitre d’s face, who practically prostrated himself before us. The staff surrounded our whole group and escorted us en mass up to the mezzanine, where we were seated at a premium table set for eleven, overlooking the main dining room. Two waiters discreetly whisked away the surplus settings; another took the wine order from my father; and yet others apologized over and over to Chris.
When the staff were gone and the table was filled with ebullient chatter, I leaned in close to Chris on my right and whispered, “What did you do?”
“I made them believe I was someone.”
I had just finished the best plate of tomato soup ever when the entrees arrived — and behind me, a commotion broke out in the dining room below. I glanced down under my elbow. A tall, elegant Greek gentleman in a long wool coat and scarf stood at the head of a group of eleven and shouted at the maitre d’. The headwaiter flipped through his reservation book, apologized, sweated, made obeisance…
Chris and I sat rigid, chatting with the girls, quietly sweating, our laughter becoming increasingly shrill, waiting for the final catastrophe. I never saw how the situation downstairs was resolved, because I never took a second look, but our meal continued uninterrupted. My dad considered the evening one of the great social triumphs of his life.
The next day we confessed to the girls. My dad never knew.