ODDBALLS AND ODD SHOWS
You’ll notice that one of those ‘odd’ items above, is fused as a single word, and the other is comprised of two separate words. That is because the first one refers to a specially constituted category…namely those folk you see wandering around the streets all over the world, who are not a full shilling, not all there, not 100%, are half-baked and so on (I happened to see 2 such oddballs kicking about the Kythnos port yesterday simultaneously, which is where the inspiration for today’s pages has come from). But the second item above, has instead an adjective ‘odd’ qualifying a noun ‘show’, here in the sense of TV show, so all I mean by that, is that some stuff you see on TV, especially Sky TV, is not just bonkers, but truly off the scale. I won’t go on too much about compound words, as in ‘oddball’, not least because I give it full treatment in my novel The Legend of Liz and Joe (2009) where Joe the aged chef hotelier, whose wife shockingly has her first extra-marital affair aged 70, happens to be very interested in, indeed fascinated by, compound words.
What intrigues Joe most, is that we human beings, always without thinking, understand the semantic relation between the 2 halves of the compound, and that the only ones who don’t do so, might conceivably be autistic or schizophrenic. Or for that matter just possibly someone stocious drunk, who if you mention the word ‘oddball’ to him, thinks you are referring to a posh but crazy party you have just exited in disgust. Hence if we use the English language, we always know that ‘milkman’, where A = milk, B = man, means a B who brings us the A. We never think of it as a man made out of milk (q.v. gingerbread man) i.e. a B made out of A, or any other variation. Compound words were first subtly anatomised by the great 4th century BC Indian grammarian Panini (not to be confused with the outsize Italian sandwich) who according to the linguist and radical US academic, Noam Chomsky (born 1928, now 86) was the first ever generative grammarian, with his 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology and syntax. Including those related to compound words like bahu-vrihi, meaning ‘[a man who has] much rice’. The compound is easily definable as [an external subject] who has A of B, namely a hell of a lot of rice.
If all this strikes you as boring and jejune and of little consequence, I would argue that you should perhaps be a bit humbler, and respectfully admire the exquisite wiring in your brain that allows you to understand literally thousands of non-literal turns of phrase. Also reflect that if you were unfortunate enough to have say a bad car crash, and suffer severe brain damage, you might also enter the hideous neurologically scrambled world, brilliantly described by the English born US physician Oliver Sacks(1933-2015) in his famous book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1985).
The first oddball I briefly mentioned a few months back. He is an articulate, highly intelligent Athenian divorcee in his mid 50s, with family ties here in Kythnos. Dressed in a rather anglified cord jacket he is also a very advanced alcoholic who cannot stop putting it away, and knocks back the tsipuro grape brandy as if it were lemonade, no, as if it were nothing but flavourless water. Amazingly, he drives from village to village and bar to bar, around the island, while massively kettled. I notice that he always proceeds supremely slowly which is a very good thing. If he crashed, he might only knock a single stone out of a wall and make a nearby goat jump, and that would be it. I hadn’t seen him around the island for months, and had assumed correctly that he was in Athens, but when he returned in July, I was truly shocked by his awful pallor. He looked absolutely dreadful, as if someone, anyone, should immediately legally take him over, and make him go into Athens rehab, whether he liked it or not. Equally baffling, for I have not even a glimmering of an explanation for this, is that he is treated with every respect by all the islanders, and no one comments nor even seems to notice his perpetually drunk condition. In England he would be a laughing stock, but not here.
Part of his recent decline, as well as his looking damn near bottle green on a bad day, is he seems obsessively anxious about his grasp of social etiquette, which as you can imagine if you are always very drunk, can be a variable quantity. Mid July I bumped into him with an English friend in Hora, for the first time in weeks, and he stumbled across, shook hands politely with both of us, saying genially in English to my friend, ‘ladies first’. That was all that happened, apart from, how are you, an exchange of names, etc. Since then I have encountered him on 3 more occasions, and every time he makes a point of anxiously asking me if he was polite or rude when he met me with my friend in Hora, and sincerely apologises, should the appalling latter be the case. 3 times I have emphatically reassured him that he was infinitely polite and thoroughly gentlemanly, and yet I can tell he will never in his deteriorating alcoholic daze be appeased.
For light relief, there is 60 year-old whiskery and white-haired Stami from Loutra, who has what are termed modest learning difficulties. By that, I mean he is a bit slow and a bit simple, and very harmless and very affable. He is very fond of me, and if we cross paths 3 times in Loutra within half an hour, he will throw his arms up in joy at each encounter, and ask me how I am every time, as if this is the first. The only work he has ever had is basic labouring on construction sites, but recently, amazingly, they gave him the noble task of guiding the island’s 2 buses around a tight corner in Loutra, and also making sure cars and vans did not block the only convenient turning space. They gave Stami an enormous arm band, with ‘Kythnos Island Council’ inscribed on it, and he donned it with infinite pride. He also regularly indulged a redundant and spurious clairvoyance, approaching innocent drivers, both Kythniot and tourists, who had absolutely no intention of parking in the obstructive site, sternly forewarning them not to do so, and then went into his very long and irritating set speech about the intractable problems the 2 drivers had in such a scenario. The bus drivers themselves guffawed and chaffed him, and otherwise ignored his navigational instructions, though none of them addressed him with the obvious truth, that he was only getting in the way of things, rather than helping them in any conceivable sense.
But don’t mock Stamatis, as in his way he is a minor media star. He happens to be a keen fisherman and also occasionally a successful one. One day at far flung Potamia, where he had walked all the way from Loutra, he managed to catch a gigantic and edible vlakos fish, about the size of his upper torso. By the biggest fluke, an Athens photographer happened to be holidaying nearby, and captured the whole thing on camera. The Athenian then sold the photo to the Greek Tourism office in the capital, who in turn gave it gratis to a coffee table book publisher, putting out an undemanding but massive picture book tome about the Cyclades. What that means is that 24/7, and from whatever country you originate, you can see Stamatis grinning with his three remaining front teeth, in full colour in the Athens airport book shop. Beat that, all you pampered cosmopolitan travellers, whether you have learning difficulties or not.
Finally and apropos a very Odd Show, I have to mention the TV programme blasting in the Glaros cafe the other day, on the often startling Animal Channel, a US syndicate, which airs on digital TV all over the globe. The programme was called All The Presidents’ Pets and was a whirligig biographical tour of principally all the dogs belonging to Teddy Roosevelt, Ike Eisenhower, Lyndon B Johnson, and half a dozen others. So there was vintage b/w film of Teddy and his gun dogs, all of them leaping up lovingly at the Father of the Nation, plus umpteen scotties, sealyhams, spaniels, alsatians wagging their tails like buggery, and beaming their tender affection at their proud owners, the touchingly humble and clearly animal-loving US premiers (though at the risk of being a literalist, please note the well known fact, that Adolf Hitler also loved his dogs).
3 things to reflect on here. Firstly, the utter spontaneous sweetness of all the animals, contrasted with the set in stone saccharine grimaces of the presidents, when making their speeches or outlining their economic policies for the year ahead. Secondly, the surreal and deadly earnestness of those still living private secretaries, reminiscing as if disclosing vital state secrets, about the quirky habits of the little dogs, and the touching sentimental softness of the presidents, no matter whether that particular day the latter were struggling over the possible pressing of the nuclear button, or shucks, let’s sleep on it, maybe not. Thirdly, one of the presidents happened to have a private zoo, and that zoo happened to contain a young lion, and part of a new keeper’s duties was to be inducted on how to step inside the pen with nil protection, and feed and stroke and pet the president’s darling wild cat. It was a black guy about 30 being inducted on the vintage film, and amazingly he wasn’t shitting himself at the preposterous so called job description.
I was, as I watched him cooing to the basking smiling lion. Had Leo had a bad day or a bit of a misunderstood tooth twinge, that would have been the end of the young keeper. But madder than all that, is the sheer inane arbitrariness of the programme’s content and format. Clearly it isn’t the animals who are important here, it is the fact they are the presidents’ beasts and no one else’s. I don’t know what the ratings are, but I suspect, going by their hectic reception in the Glaros, they are absolutely enormous all over the world.