“It’s All Greek to Me!” by Jennifer Schaupp

Jun 21st, 2017 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

How people romantically pair up eludes me. I’d have a better chance of learning Greek from a teacher who only spoke Greek before understanding the rules and non-rules of the dating scene. I once told a gentleman pursuing me that I was in between phones. I don’t know exactly what that means, but it sounded plausible, especially in the early otts when people were exploring the possibilities of cell phones. I just didn’t know how to let him down honestly, even though I believe in the definition of honesty and how it can positively impact your life.

I’ve been on the verge of knitting sweaters and owning a slew of cats since my teen years. Even my first kiss was one of those awkward moments that I felt forced to do because my friend set me up with her boyfriend’s friend. He liked sci fi stuff, and I was busy hitting the sci books so I could maintain an above average GPA. Let’s just say the two scis didn’t equal chemistry. The kiss was by no means bad, as we were standing in the street at night (minus the sexy rain), but it just wasn’t what Parks and Rec showcases a sweet romantic comedy to be. Why couldn’t we be like Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt or Leslie Knope and waffles?

Keep in mind I was 17 when I participated in my first non-family kiss. At that point, I should have had the kissing thing down pat and probably even more. I mean have you watched Maury Povich? Unfortunately, I have.

My experience with men in the romantic vein did not improve much after my teenage years and, embarrassingly, as I approached 30.

My adventurous, take-charge friend and I were intent on traveling to Greece in 2010 before my big 3-0. We were even more intent on meeting young strapping tanned Greek men. This trip happened before Tinder, so meeting people face to face, up and down, and in the flesh, rather than left or right on a screen, was the best way to go. My friend threw a few condoms at me, even though she knew my very limited track record.

After two days of boating, donkey riding, and eating a thousand varieties of dead animals with couples surrounding our every bite, my friend and I had our fill of the newly married enjoying love’s blissful rays. While watching the bold sun set on Santorini Island, I started to realize that maybe my friend would make a better partner than any guy I’d ever meet. I mean we traveled all the way to the origins of democracy and Western theatre without any bloodshed. That counts as real commitment, I think.

When we boarded the ship that would take us back to Athens, we were prepared to sleep on the floor since we bought the cheap passes. She and I were just about to make the most of an uncomfortable situation when we found this seemingly kind-hearted employee in a red official-looking jacket. He looked to be in his 40s, neither unattractive nor the strapping ideal we had in mind.

My never-shy friend asked this most accommodating sir if he could offer any other sleeping arrangements for us. He said he had to get a key from a friend and would be right back to help us. We dreamt of a private room with a bed for sleeping! How lucky were we to find this average-looking angel!? He returned, as promised, and walked us down a long, narrow hallway to a private room with bunk beds. Then, he offered us a seat on the lower bunk of the bed and seemed ready to leave the room and go back to his important job. But, instead, he took off his official boat-hosting jacket and hung it on the back of the door. Our request to sleep right away must have gotten lost in translation, even though his grasp of English was solid. My friend and I were suddenly engaged in a My Big Fat Greek Sleepover Party.

After presenting us with fancy red wine from a box and turning on some Greek muzak, he sat down in a chair next to me. When we responded sleepily to the music selection, he eagerly said he was familiar with American music and began to up his DJing skills. He fumbled a bit on his computer, and then cranked up the ditty every sentimental lady anticipates—“Truly Madly Deeply” by the Australian pop duo, Savage Garden, from the 1990s. I wasn’t entirely certain how current he was with the American music scene, given the song was popular during the time of my first non-family kiss, but he was very proud of his selection.

He casually mentioned his buddy, presumably the one with the key, was on the way to join the sleepover bash. I don’t know how the girl-boy pairings came to pass. Was there a mental coin toss or a subtle eye flicker between the men? Did they instinctively have a particular taste and went for it, knowing the other would go the opposite way? Or maybe the first guy happened to take a seat in a chair next to me, and the second guy just took the remaining chair next to my friend. First come, first served. Ah, the lottery of short-term romance!

The man who originally showed us the room found it fun to caress the skin on my arm while we talked. The arm is an underappreciated area for caressing, I suppose. He enjoyed the “softness” of my skin, he said, even though I had been sweating all day, still hadn’t showered, and had a swollen, sunburnt ankle the size of a developing village.

On the bunk to my right was my tough friend who wouldn’t have any arm caressing from her man. She doesn’t do caressing is what she told him. He respected that.

Suddenly, my friend decided to brush her teeth. It seemed like a million arm caresses while she removed animal carcass from her teeth in the bathroom. When she returned, she brought up sleeping arrangements because we were ready to collapse from a long day of watching couples caress. Our Greek friends suggested we share a bunk bed. She agreed that she and I would share a bunk. But, the men hoped it would be more boy-girl, boy-girl–wouldn’t that be nifty? At this point, I was ready for them to announce a round of Spin the Bottle or Truth or Dare, but I didn’t want to joke out loud and encourage any barbaric American traditions.

I wondered how much influence the pop song playing through the computer speakers had on their desires. I mean “We could lay like this forever until the sky fell down on us” presents so many poetic possibilities. The men hinted at cutesy second base stuff, which I know from my limited baseball knowledge is only halfway to the ecstatic conclusion—nothing to cause a lot of yelling and screaming from the stands. Even so, I still didn’t feel like locking lips with a man who had a tactile obsession on the bottom bunk of a bed meant for a child.

My friend astutely acknowledged the contorted features on my face and dragged me into the tiny bathroom and bolted the door. She said I wasn’t second base material in this strange scenario. She was right. I still felt like the 17 year old not ready to kiss my friend’s boyfriend’s friend in the dark street.

I went frozen with the thought of telling the men the truth not because I was afraid of them but because I felt like a chicken. I couldn’t come up with an excuse nearly as lame as being in between phones. I wondered if just running out the door was feasible. It would be tricky with heavy luggage, but I wasn’t opposed to leaving behind my donkey-torn linen pants.

We stepped outside the bathroom, and she did all the heavy lifting. She told the men we would feel more comfortable mentally if we slept somewhere less comfortable physically. She said it more conversationally than that, but I can’t recall the words because I stood as close to the door as possible, listening to my heartbeat rap against my overly caressed sunburnt skin. The embarrassment of the whole night, of the romantic adventure I desperately sought but didn’t have the stomach for overcame me.

They simply replied, “Maybe the next time you’re in Greece, you can stay with us.”

Probably not. Yet, the direct honest approach worked. No lame excuses were necessary! Plus, I got to keep my donkey-torn slacks.

We collected our luggage and left the room. It was probably 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning at that point. We found the nearest counter with stools and placed our heads on the hard Formica—the peace my friend fearlessly fought for! We vowed we would avoid the men when we un-boarded the ship and never speak of the encounter again (unless one of us wanted to write a piece for publication, of course).

As we slept that night on the ship gliding back to the motherland, I had an evolving headache as well as a thousand swirling notions about our experience and my non-dating life. How is it that you can fantasize about romance, but when it kisses you on the face or rubs you on the arm, the reality seems less than desirable?

Greece may be a breathtaking backdrop for lovers, but you can’t force what doesn’t feel right to you. When I arrived home, I kept the condoms, now beyond expiration, in my bathroom cabinet as a memory of my adventure rather than as a possibility for romance in the future. Not because I don’t want romantic options to exist but because I want to remember not to settle. You can’t force what doesn’t feel right. And, if I am being 100% honest, Savage Garden’s music never felt right to me.


Jennifer Schaupp is a Pittsburgh-based storyteller, adjunct professor, and Amish Monkey (www.amishmonkeys.com). After a plethora of rejections, Jennifer self-produces plays with her creative cohorts for local events, including the Fringe Festival. She loves to write about multi-cultural experiences, the art of “quirky,” and heartbreaking moments that call forth the ache of Fiona Apple’s music. She dedicates this piece to her favorite wit, Dorothy Parker, and her upbeat travel companion, who should remain anonymous to protect her reputation.

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