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My Life In America
A SHORT BACKGROUND
I am stating my experiences through my autobiography so that I may reveal to you
the simplicities and complexities, along with the competence and incompetence
that I have encountered over the past thirty-five years in my artistic
“To Succeed! One Single Pledge Is Needed! And That Is-
TO POSITIVELY LOVE TO DO IT!
Then, And Only Then, Will You Overcome All The Obstacles!”
MY ARRIVAL IN AMERICA
The SS Olympia, a small Greek ship, pulled into the Hudson River on a gloomy
Wednesday afternoon in late September of 1955. We could hardly see the skylight
of New York because of the heavy fog and the light rain that was falling. This
was the day I arrived from my small town called Flórina, in the Northwest corner
of Greece. I had just disembarked onto Pier 52 and was waiting under a very
large letter L (indicating my last name Liampas) for my uncle, Nicholas Zaimas,
whom I had never met and hoped to recognize from his pictures.
It was very noisy that afternoon with Greek immigrants disembarking in tears and
screaming with joy as they found their relatives.
A man touched my shoulder saying, “Are you Irakles?” (In Greek for Hercules) I
turned and saw my uncle. I recognized him at once – a stout man a little less
than six feet tall. In his late fifties with gray hair, he was very well-dressed
and distinguished looking. He looked very much like my mother.
“Yes, Uncle Nicholas. It’s me!”
I opened my arms to hug him, but instead he put his hands on my shoulders
saying, “Let me look at you.” Then he stepped back a step or two. I had gotten
sick on the ship and lost a lot of weight. I could not have weighed more than
“We can’t call you Hercules!” he said, “People will laugh at you.” I did not
know what to say as I put my head down, embarrassed and crushed.
“We’ll have to change your name to Harry.”
“Why, Theo (Uncle)?” I asked.
“We’ll call you Harry.”
“Haary? Is that Irakles (Hercules) in English?”
“No, but it will fit you better.” I could see that he was not very pleased with
my lean appearance. I must’ve looked very weak, and he certainly did not want to
bring someone from Greece who was not strong to work hard. I was a bit
disappointed with his coolness toward me; he was my mother’s brother, and I was
expecting a warmer greeting. I found my valise and was ready to follow him when
Penny began to call my name. I stopped and turned to see her running toward me.
My uncle asked with a serious expression, “Who is that girl?”
“She’s a Greek-American girl, Theo, that I met on the ship. She and her parents
were in Greece on a visit. They live in a place called Florida.”
“Irakles, I’m so glad I found you. I looked everywhere for you on the ship. I
wanted to say good-bye and to tell you how much I’ll miss you. Please write to
me, okay? Here is my address. Good-bye, good-bye and good luck in America. Se-agapo
(I love you)!” She put a piece of paper in my hand and turned to introduce
herself to my uncle. She shook his hand and spoke to him about me in English. I
don’t know what she told him because he never said a word to me. She then
reached over and gave me a kiss before she hurried back to her parents, who were
waiting for her by the stairs. She was a beautiful young girl about seventeen
years old. She spoke very little Greek, and I spoke no English at all, except
the few words she taught me. We spent lots of time together trying to
communicate. I taught her some romantic Greek words, and she did the same for me
in English. We would break into hysterical laughter every time we tried to
express our feelings toward each other. The last five days were very beautiful
and romantic on the top deck of the ship. In each other’s arms, we looked at the
dark waves and the stars above. Every day grew more and more heartbreaking as we
came closer to our separation. Now I was watching her run away, never to see her
again. Just before she disappeared down the stairs, she turned and waved at me
with a sad expression. My uncle was not very pleased with this scene, so he
began to walk toward the exit, leaving me behind with my deep thoughts. I
quickly picked up my valise and rushed to catch up with him. We walked d own the
street and into a taxi.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH TIMES SQUARE
My uncle's apartment was under renovation at this time, so for the past three
days he had been staying at the Taft Hotel on 7th Avenue and 50th Street. We
stopped at his restaurant, The Nautilus Seafood Restaurant, at 267 West 23rd
Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, not too far from the pier. The restaurant
had two dining rooms, one by the bar and the one called The Submarine Room by
the main dining room. It was beautifully decorated with wooden tables and had a
seating capacity of 115. All the waiters and cooks came to meet me and wished me
well. With few exceptions, all the help was Greek. My uncle asked me to stay in
the kitchen during dinnertime to watch and help the dishwasher. After the dinner
business was over and we had finished eating, my uncle asked me to take whatever
I might need from my suitcase for an overnight stay.
We said good night to everyone and walked up 7th Avenue toward 42nd Street. When
we approached 42nd Street, I looked to my left with my mouth wide open in
amazement as I stared at all the movie houses and lights. Then straight ahead in
front of us on 47th Street, I saw a giant eagle flying before it changed into
eight big horses pulling a wagon loaded with beer barrels. To the right was the
giant face of a man blowing smoke rings! Neon signs with all kinds of design
figures were everywhere. It was after 11:00 at night, and this place was as
bright as day. I was in a wonderland!
In the lobby of the Taft Hotel, my uncle registered me and said to me in Greek,
“Harry, you go with this man; he’ll show you to your room. Get a good night’s
sleep, and I’ll see you here tomorrow morning at 8:00.” I felt a slight fear
knowing that he would not be with me, but I concealed it and followed the man to
the elevator. As the door of the elevator opened, I turned to see my uncle
leaving the hotel. More fear now was evident in me; he left me alone in this
very strange place with so many people inside the lobby and outside on the
sidewalks. He did not tell me where he was going or if he was coming back. The
bellman showed me to my room (a beautiful big room, according to my standards
then). He showed me the bathroom, speaking to me all the while; unfortunately, I
could not understand a word he was saying. I just nodded. Then he turned on this
box that was covered by a dark gray glass in front, and shortly a picture
appeared. He said something again (I guess how to change the channels or to
adjust the volume), and then he left. I undressed quickly, got into the single
bed, and completely mesmerized, I watched the picture in this box. My God! I
have a movie in my room! It must have been Channel 2 because after two to three
hours everything went off, except for this big eye staring at me. I waited for a
long time hoping the picture would come back, but it didn’t. I must have fallen
asleep around three or four in the morning. At seven a.m. the phone awakened me.
I said, “Embros,” the Greek way of saying hello. The woman said something and
then hung up. I got dressed, left my room, and pressed the button by the
elevator, which was just across from my room. I remembered seeing the bellhop
press the number 8 button in the elevator the night before, so when the door
opened I pressed number 1. The elevator stopped on the first floor, and when I
got out, I noticed it wasn’t the lobby. So I took the elevator back to number
8th floor and stood in front of my door hoping my uncle would come to pick me
up. Perspiration began to break out on my face as I wondered how in the hell I
was going to find the lobby. Then, I saw a couple carrying two suitcases coming
from down the hall. The moment they got into the elevator, I rushed in behind
them. I saw the man press a word instead of a number. That was it! Lobby. The
door opened to the noisy and crowded lobby.
“Phew! This is it.” I came out and stood by the corner waiting for my uncle. He
never knew about my adventure with the elevator, and I tried to hide how naïve I
was. I had never been in an elevator before, and the couple of times that I
visited the American consulate in Thessalonica for my visa, I took the stairs up
to the second floor instead.
A few minutes later my uncle came out of the elevator and looked at me
surprised. “What happened to you? Didn’t you sleep? Your eyes look terrible.”
I was pleased to know that he was staying in the same hotel and that his eyes
were as bloodshot as mine. Not long after that, I found out one of my uncle’s
vises – was young women.
“Not very well, Theo.” I did not tell him about the TV that kept me up almost
all night. He didn’t seem to understand what I was going through – this
extraordinary transformation of coming from so small a city like Flórina to one
of the world’s greatest metropolis! We took a taxi back to the restaurant, and
immediately the hard work began. He asked one of the dishwashers to show me how
to operate the dishwashing machine and how to clean the floors of the dining
rooms and the kitchen. For the next few months I was washing dishes and cleaning
the two dining rooms and kitchen, working from eight in the morning till closing
time – one and sometimes two in the morning.
After more than six months of washing dishes and learning the restaurant
business, my longings toward the artistic world began to arise in me. I would
spend half a day off a week, that my uncle finally allowed me to have, at the
42nd Street movie houses watching two to three pictures in a row.
THE MAN WHO STARTED ME SINGING
J ohn Cassavetes had just come out with a movie (I can’t recall the name of it.)
that co-starred Sidney Poitier and Jack Warden. I saw it several times, and then
afterwards I said, “Hmm, I can do that.” I began to read about his theatrical
career in many magazines, and the fact that he was Greek like me gave me an
incentive. His father, who had a travel agency somewhere on 8th Avenue, was very
much against him choosing a show business career, according to a magazine I’d
read. That’s why, when I began taking singing lessons, I concealed them from my
uncle for many months.
One day I saw an ad in a movie magazine that Cassavetes had a studio on 46th
Street, west of Broadway. I showed it to Andreas, a waiter in my uncle's
restaurant, and the nicest guy whom I trusted with all my secrets. Until I
learned to read and to understand the language better, he would read to me all
the theatrical anecdotes, especially the ones concerning John Cassavetes.
“Go and try it out, Harry. You’re young and good-looking. Why not!” he said.
For a couple of weeks, instead of going to the movies, I would stand at the
entrance to Cassavetes’ studio, trying to gather enough courage to go in, but
somehow always backed out. Because he was Greek, I assumed lots of his students
would be Greeks. Big surprise!
“Andreas, I can’t do it, I am afraid to go in.”
Disappointed, he looked at me and put his arm around my shoulder.
“Well, if you cannot go in, you can’t do it! Possibly you do not have what it
takes. But don’t give up; otherwise, you’ll be a restaurant man all your life
like your uncle and me. You really have to want it, Harry – more than anything!”
Later he told me that he also had similar dreams when he was young, but not the
courage to follow through.
The following week I waited until a group of girls and guys entered the studio,
and I followed behind them up the stairs to the second floor to John Cassavetes’
acting studio. To the left of the narrow hallway was an open door to a little
theater with a small stage on the right. The group entered to loud greetings
from the 25 to 30 young men and girls who were chatting, reading and simply
kidding around. I figured this was the school for acting. It looked similar to
the night class in English I was taking twice a week at the junior high on 18th
Street, except here they were all speaking English. Unnoticed by the others, I
sat in one of the few empty seats in the back, where I acted like James Dean – a
A middle-aged man entered shortly thereafter and closed the door. He then came
and sat in the middle of the fifth row (Three seats were kept empty for him and
his girl assistant.), and after looking at his papers, he called a girl’s name.
A pretty actress stepped on the stage, and before she began to read she asked,
“Paul? Is John coming?”
“No, not today.” She expressed her disappointment and reluctantly began to read
from a play. When she finished, the director turned to the class for comments. I
could not completely understand what they were discussing or from what play or
script she read. The only thing I knew was that if he called on me, I would have
to do something. I had entered an acting class from which there was no way out.
My heart began to pound. I looked at Photoplay, the magazine I was holding. In
its center there was a short article about the premature death of the actor
James Dean. Discreetly, I began to glance at it and tried to read a bit to
myself. After about an hour and a half, many of them had read and recited their
monologues and scenes of which I understood nothing. Then the inevitable
happened. He looked at me for a second or two wondering who the hell I was.
Almost peeing on myself, I had nowhere to hide – just like in the school days
back in Greece when I didn’t know the lesson and was trying to hide behind the
kid in front of me.
“You! Back there.” I looked up. Yes, he was pointing at me. “Who are you? I
never saw you here before; what is your name?”
I stood up. “Erry,” I said.
“Erry? Erry what? Spell it.”
“Oh! Harry,” the class reacted “Harry? Harry what?” I was looking at him
bewildered; I couldn’t understand what he wanted. Then I repeated my name again.
“I know, I know. What is your other name – your second name? Is it Harry Smith?
Harry what? Does this guy speak English? How did he get in here?” I put my head
down and waited for the class to quiet down. Then it dawned on me that he wanted
my last name.
“Oh! Yes, yes, my next name, yes?” He nodded trying to control himself. “Erry,
Erry Liampas. I could not pronounce Harry and disliked it every time I had to
tell my name. That’s why the first thing I did when I became a citizen was to
change my first name to Marko, my father’s name. My given name was Irakles
(Hercules). I also left out the letter (i) from my last name to simplify it, so
I became Marko Lampas.
“Harry Liampas?” he repeated. “Sounds Greek. Are you Greek?”
“Yes, Crick!” I said with some kind of pride, being that Cassavetes was also
Greek. The class broke out in laughter. My accent must've tickled a funny bone
in them. He put his hands up, and the class calmed down.
“What are you doing here?“ I felt fear as I had never felt before and wanted to
run out. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders and said softly so they couldn’t hear
“I want to be star in movies.” But they did hear me. Some of them imitated me,
and the laughter rose to a big crescendo. I didn’t know the word actor at that
time and believed everyone who was in the movies was called star.
The director lifted his hands again and said, “Quiet! Please!” They stopped.
“Come down.” Humiliated and ready to exit, I walked down toward the door.
“Wait, wait a moment,” he said looking at me sympathetically.
“What do you have there?” referring to the magazine I was holding.
“Can you read? Do you read English? Is there something from that magazine that
you can read for us?” he asked as he pointed to the Photoplay I was holding.
“Yes! I said. Sure I read.
“God! What are you doing? Get the hell out of here, you idiot. Leave!” I was
murmuring to myself. My inner voice was screaming, but what one needs to be a
performer is to have the other voice, also. That voice which says, “Yes, sure, I
read,” with no fear of any kind, always spontaneously telling you, “Go On! Go
The director pointed toward the stage and said, “All right then, step up on the
stage and read.” I hesitated for a couple of seconds, then climbed up the two
steps onto the stage as if someone were moving my legs. A table and two chairs
were upstage right.
“Bring one of the chairs down,” he pointed. As I grabbed the chair, my heart was
pounding so loudly that I thought they could hear it. The fear that I would be
humiliated was evident, and there was no way out of this predicament. This would
be my first performance ever, and it had to be in front of these young acting
students. Panayia mou! Voithyseme (Mother of Christ! Help me!) The class was
getting ready to have its amusement. I brought the chair down and stood next to
“Sit, sit on the chair.” He was kind, very kind indeed.
He saw my knees trembling and felt my fear. My mouth was so dry now I could not
swallow. Perspiration broke out on my forehead again, and my hands and my legs
could not stop shaking. I felt nauseous.
“Oh, God, all I need now is to throw up.” (I wonder if the same thing ever
happened to Elvis Presley at his first performance, and he cleverly turned the
shaking of his legs into his trademark gimmick.) I would remember that
terrifying moment of that late summer afternoon every time I was in the wings or
behind a curtain ready to go on. All the times I thought, “That’s easy, I can do
that,” but at that moment, I thought otherwise. I became very humble. With a
stronger voice, the director ordered the whispering class to quiet down.
“Go on.” I opened to the center of the magazine, where my finger was holding the
place. I sat down on the chair and began to read. I don’t remember what it was
that I read, only that after a few lines the class and the director broke out
into uncontrollable screaming laughter. I stopped, and with my head bent down, I
glanced at them. They were laughing so hard that I cracked a little smile
myself. All my casual James Dean kind of cool acting completely disappeared. I
didn’t know what else to do. They didn’t understand one word I read, including
the name, James Dean. To me, a was pronounced ah in Greek, and e eh. So, I
pronounced the a as in the word father and e as in the word dense. When I read
the name James Dean it came out as Jáhmes Déahn. I stood up, walked off the
stage and headed toward the door.
“Wait! Wait! Hold on.” He was still recovering from his giggle. He stood up and
got out of his seat. I was waiting by the door and looking at the floor. I could
understand the English language when someone spoke to me slowly, but for me to
speak or read at that time was almost impossible.
Before I followed the director out of the little theater, I turned and looked at
all the young actors and softly said, “Very sorry.” Some of them laughed while
others put their hands together and began to clap.
Expecting to be shown out of the studio by this man, I was surprised when he
turned left and entered a room at the end of the hall. He had brought me to John
Cassavetes’ office. Cassavetes was sitting behind a large desk with his feet
propped up on top of it. A pretty young girl was sitting across from him with a
notebook in her hands. I did not understand completely what the director told
John, but I do remember Cassavetes looking at me with amazement with a smile on
The director patted my head and gave me a smile before he returned to the class.
“You’re Greek, eh?”
“Neh eemeh Ellinas (Yes, I am Greek),” I said with confidence. He proceeded by
telling me that I could not participate in the acting class until I could speak
and read English better. Before I could say anything, he asked the young girl to
look up a name in the Rolodex.
She did and gave him a card.
John turned to me and said, “Go across the street to the second floor and see
this man. You like to sing, don’t you?”
“Yes, I like to sing. I sing good!” He cracked a smile.
“Then take some voice lessons first. You don’t need to speak English for that.”
He paused, “Do you go to school?”
“Yes, I go to night school two nights a week.”
“Good, that’s very good. Learn the language, and then you can join the class.
But listen, first you must come and see this young lady, or me and she’ll tell
you how to register for the class, okay? Don’t go into the class like you did,
endaxi (all right)?” I realized he didn’t want to have another class
interruption by me.
“Signomy (Excuse me)!” I said and put my head down. I reached for his hand and
shook it. “Addio!” I said.
“Good luck! Come back and see me when you speak better English.”
“Efharisto! Efharisto poli (Thank you! Thank you very much)!” I turned and
walked down the stairs and crossed over 46th Street. His Greek was much better
than my English. Because of Cassavetes and the director’s kindness and
understanding, I continued on the road to my dreams instead of abandoning them.
I will always be very grateful to both of them.
On the second floor I saw the name that I was looking for inscribed on a glass
door. I knocked, and a tall heavyset man with bushy, jet-black hair opened the
door and asked me to come in.
“Cassavetes just called me and told me that you’d be coming and that you like to
I put together what he was saying the moment he mentioned Cassavetes. “Yes,
please, I want to sing. I don’t speak good English, but Cassavetes told me to
learn how to sing. You teach me? Yes?”
Hanging on the walls of his big room were pictures of actors and scenes from
various plays. He had a small grand piano almost in the center of the room with
musical scores on top of it and other desks and chairs all around. The room and
the two big windows looking down on 46th Street were kind of dirty. He sat at
the piano and started to play.
“You know this song?” I nodded my head and made a soft sound, inhaling breath
through my teeth to indicate the northern Greek custom. It used to drive my poor
“Stop that,” he would say. “Just say no!” This gentleman also had a problem not
knowing if it meant yes or no. So after he tried the introductions of two to
three songs, he said, “Well then, sing something you know.”
“Autumn Leaves,” I said.
“Okay, good, sing that.”
“The autumn leaves drift by the window, the autumn leaves of red and gold.”
“All right, all right, you’re a beginner. I don’t work with beginners. I’ll send
you to a lady, a good teacher. She’s not far from here.” I did not understand
all he said, but I guessed. He also was sending me to someone else. He went to a
table and wrote down her name and address. I thanked him and walked out. With
shattered pride and a low opinion of myself, I paused on the sidewalk unable to
make a decision if I should return to the restaurant and forget all about this
“No! I will go and see this teacher.” I crossed the street and walked up
Broadway to 54th Street.
MY FIRST VOICE TEACHER
Lillian Delson Voice Teacher was written on the door on the 3rd floor of the
Bryan Hotel. She was in her sixties, small with a round, pretty face and almost
white hair. She must have been very pretty in her youth.
She asked me to sit on the sofa until she finished with her student, a tall,
thin, not very attractive girl with a big voice singing a song I never heard
before. It might have been Carol Burnett before she opened in Once Upon A
Mattress. She kissed her student good-bye and sat on the piano bench facing me.
“Tell me, young man, what can I do for you?”
“I want to learn to sing. Can you teach me? Please! I do not know how to sing
good.” She broke into a smile and took my hand.
“Come.” I stood next to the big upright piano. Her room facing Broadway was
small with very nice furniture and much cleaner than the one I had just left.
She started a three-note exercise. First she demonstrated and said, “Now, you do
the same.” I imitated her up and down in a very short range for 15-20 minutes
until she stopped.
“I charge $8.00 per hour, and yes, I can help you sing. When can you come? Do
I told her I worked at my uncle’s restaurant, The Naftilos (Nautilus). I also
had a hard time pronouncing the restaurant’s name. “Miss Delson, I come only in
afternoons. Is that good?”
She opened her book and asked, “Can you come Monday?”
“Sure, Monday is good. Is three in afternoon okay? And how much I pay now,
She smiled. “No, nothing now, my boy. You pay me Monday.” I shook her hand. She
touched my face, and we said good-bye. I walked down 8th Avenue toward the
restaurant, softly humming the three-note exercises. The following Monday I
began my musical training.
This went on for more than six months. I would wait for my uncle to leave after
lunch for his afternoon rest in his apartment on 20th Street. Then I would take
the 8th Avenue subway to 54th Street for my lesson. Lillian Delson was very kind
and patient with me. I knew nothing about music or musical pitches. She would
work with me a note at a time, and my frustration would become uncontrollable at
times. I wanted to sing songs, not these silly exercises, but she was firm.
“Patience, Harry, patience, my boy. Soon we’ll start to learn songs.”
“Yes! Yes! But when? All these months, maybe seven months now, we only do this.”
The voice began to grow, and slowly we started with some pop songs and show
Across the street from the restaurant on 23rd Street, under the famous Hotel
Chelsea, was a music store. In the afternoons I would spend lots of time
looking, listening and buying records of all the pop singers. One day I saw the
movie Serenade with Mario Lanza, a man who influenced me toward classical music.
That did it. I found his records and the aria that made the most impression on
me – E lucevan le stelle from Puccini’s Tosca. At my next lesson I put the music
of this aria in front of Lillian and said, “Lillian? I want to sing this like
Mario Lanza.” She looked at the music, stood up, hugged me, and began to laugh.
“Harry, this is opera, you silly boy, you can’t sing this. It is too high for
you and too difficult.”
“Bring it lower,” I said, “I’ll work hard to learn this song, Lillian.” She
“It is not called a song; it’s called an aria, and I cannot bring it lower.”
“Whatever you call it,” I said, “I like to sing it. Please!” We gave it a try,
and I began to choke on the high F’s and G’s, and forget about the A’s.
“You see why you cannot sing this? At least not yet. This is a tenor’s aria.”
“What is a tenor? I am not that?”
“No you’re a very light pop singer.” We continued with one of my first songs,
With a Song in My Heart, then Night and Day, and I Believe. But this song, I
Believe, was giving me trouble at the end of it; I could not finish the ending.
I liked the song, so I tried and tried to manage the F in the passagio (bridge
as its called on musicals). It would always crack or bring tears to my eyes. I
was pushing, which frustrated Lillian.
“Let us sing something else, Harry. This song is too difficult for you.”
“No, I like this song, and I can sing it. Don’t worry, Miss Delson, only little
tickle I have in my throat. It’s okay. You see? I’ll drink little water, and we
try again.” I was determined.
Above my uncle’s restaurant on the 3rd floor lived Dorothy Georgiou, the wife of
my uncle’s ex-partner. She was a tall, very attractive young woman in her late
thirties with long brown hair and a beautiful figure. She was also a singer
because I would hear her vocalizing in the mornings and singing very high songs
that I didn’t recognize.
When she would stop, I would begin. I wanted to show off, I suppose.
But the problem was that I would start the songs I learned with Miss Delson in a
much higher key because I had no voice in the low register and no idea what in
the hell I was doing at that time. All this occurred while I was sweeping and
buffing the floors of the restaurant. The ending of Guy d’Hardelot’s beautiful
song “Because” would kill me as I would scream and screech for the high F’s and
G’s. The same thing would happen with One Alone from Sigmund Romberg’s “The
Desert Song.” I would take the optional high A-flat at the end (if she were mine
alone), but who knows if I was singing in the right key?
The biggest problem I used to have was with Vincent Youmans “Without A Song.”
With this one it was the high A at the phrase “strong in my soul!” Ouch! Good
thing I had the buffing machine making enough noise to cover my squeals.
When the man in the music store would ask me in which key I wanted the songs, I
would say the tenor, high key. Lillian would have a fit, saying. “Harry, I wrote
down the keys for the songs that are suitable for your voice. Why did they give
you these high keys? They are too high for you. You’ll harm your voice! I want
you to take them back!”
“No, Miss Delson, I sing higher all the time, don’t I? Soon I will be able to
sing them. You’ll see!” She’d shake her head, not knowing what to do with me. I
knew she liked me, and I was not afraid that she would throw me out of her
Every Sunday afternoon, since we opened only for dinner on Sundays, I would take
all the wooden boards from the kitchen out in the back yard to wash them. One
Sunday Dorothy Georgiou was leaning out of her window calling my name.
“Harry, I heard you singing this morning. You have a pretty voice.” I turned off
the hose and looked up. Her long brown hair was loose on her shoulders, and she
was wearing a negligée.
“Thank you, Mrs. Georgiou. I hear you, too. You have a big and beautiful voice.”
“Oh! Thank you. I’m an opera singer, and I have been singing for a long time.”
“Oh! Opera?” My face lit up. “You sing like Mario Lanza?”
“Yes, I suppose I do,” she said.
“I too sing. How you call one song from opera?”
“Yes! Yes, aria. My teacher told me to call it this way. Listen, Mrs. Georgiou,
I come to her with one aria that Mario Lanza sings that I like very much. I
don’t know the name because is in Italian, but my teacher says I cannot sing
this. It is too hard. What do you think?”
She laughed and said, “I’ll tell you one day, or maybe I’ll take you to my
teacher, and we’ll see what she thinks of your voice.” I had a terrible crush on
Mrs. Georgiou, but knowing who she was, I had to control myself
“Thank you, Mrs. Georgiou, that will be very good if you do that. But please do
not tell my uncle. He may not like this.
“Don’t worry, Harry. Bye.” Suddenly she hurried away from the window the moment
she saw the second chef, the salad man and the two waiters come out. They looked
up, but she was gone. Then, whispering in Greek, some of them started to tease
“You falling for her, Harry,” one said.
Another chimed in, “I love you! I love you till I die. Be careful; she’ll break
your heart.” I was angry with them for disrupting my chat with her.
“Shut up, you bastards,” I said and went on with my work while aiming the hose
at them. Before I could open the water, they all ran inside because they knew I
would do it. Give them a cold shower. I was alone again in the back yard. I took
some of the boards by the side of the yard – away from their view. Then
discreetly, I would look up to see if she would come out and talk to me again,
but she didn’t. A few times she would pass in front of the window with her
negligée off of one of her shoulders, revealing a little more of her sensual
She would always smile at me and then disappear. I thought of her up there alone
and me down here horny as hell.
One early morning – I believe it was a Monday – while I was waxing the floor, I
heard Dorothy knocking on the window. I went outside to meet her.
“Harry, next Wednesday I have a lesson with Miss Fuss, my voice teacher. I spoke
to her about you, and she’d like to hear you. Can you come?”
“Sure, Mrs. Georgiou, but what time? I can only come in the afternoon.”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “I see Miss Fuss from 3 to 4 p.m. We have to leave here
at 2:45. Is that all right?”
“Oh! Yes! That is good!” I had a big happy face.
“Bring some of your songs – and that aria that you like. Frank will take us
there. And Harry, you can call me by my first name; it’s all right.” We both
“Thank you!” I said as I watched her walk away.
Wednesday finally came, and the lunch business had finished when I looked at the
time. At 2:15 in the afternoon only four gentlemen who were having their last
cup of coffee remained in the Submarine Room.
The waiters began to set the room for dinner. I quickly finished all my chores
and gave the menu order to the printers for the next day’s lunch. Then I ordered
the vegetables and fish that we needed – all the usual things I did before I
went for my lessons. Now I waited for my uncle to leave.
“Harry,” my uncle called. He was by the register when I came out of the kitchen,
and he seemed happy.
“I am going to see a lawyer friend of mine and may be having dinner with him.” I
must have had a questionable expression on my face because he continued, “I’ll
see you tonight and tell you all about it. All right?”
“Is their anything wrong, Theo?”
“No! No, nothing is wrong!” He smiled.
“I’ll be here. Don’t worry,” I said. He took his hat and left. “Great!” I said
to myself. I looked at the time and it was 2:20 p.m. Dorothy would be down
shortly. Andreas was delighted when I told him.
“Sing well!” he said.
“I will. Don’t worry.” Frank Georgiou pulled up in front of the restaurant in
his Lincoln Town Car. Frank was my uncle’s age, early sixties, about 5’7”, thin,
with a funny looking face, big ears and a big nose. He was losing his hair fast,
but he was attractive in a strange way. He worked as an insurance broker, and he
loved classical music. I grabbed my music and sat in the back.
“Are you nervous, Harry?”
“No, Frank. Well, a little,” I said.
“Don’t be. She’s a very nice lady” He got out of the car as soon as he saw his
wife and opened the door to let her in.
“Hello, Harry” she said. “ Are you ready?”
“Yes! I am.” She looked at my briefcase to make sure I brought my music.
“Yes, I have my music,” I said. We turned right on 8th Avenue and headed uptown.
MY SECOND AND BEST VOICE TEACHER
F rank stopped the car on 86th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues. We said
good-bye, and Dorothy and I walked up to the second floor.
“Miss Fuss, this is the young man I spoke to you about.” A tall, heavy woman
with a round, attractive, smiling face took my hand.
“Velkome young man, take a seat. I’ll vork vit Dorothy first, and then you vill
sing for me. There is coffee or tea; you’re velkom to have some.” It was a big
studio that she probably shared with a dance teacher because the sidewall was
covered with a mirror and dance bars. Across from the grand piano and near the
big window were a few chairs and a table with coffee and hot water for tea. I
sat on a chair on the opposite side of the room. She looked at me from the piano
and gave me a smile, put her glasses on, then turned to Dorothy.
Standing tall and beautiful by the piano, Dorothy was ready! From somewhere in
the middle of the piano Miss Fuss started with oo, oo, oo, (u) descending three
notes at a time. She had a big beautiful voice. “Ah! The same three notes I work
with Miss Delson, but not from the same place,” I thought to myself. Dorothy
imitated her, and after 20 minutes of exercises, she took her music and started
to sing a song. I don’t remember the song, probably some German lieder, then a
German opera aria. I was overwhelmed. How big their voices were!
After 45 minutes Miss Fuss turned to me.
“Come, come, let us hear your voice now. Completely intimidated, I approached
the piano. Dorothy poured some tea into a cup and sat where I had been sitting.
Miss Fuss started to demonstrate.
She was a Wagnerian soprano who had a career in Europe with some notable
success. She played the same exercises she had just done with Dorothy. I copied
her as much as I could until we came somewhere near the passaggio, and I started
to spread and force my voice.
She stopped me. “No, Harry! Harry is your name, yes?” I nodded.
“Here, Harry, in these four to five tones.…” She paused. “Do you know music? Do
you read music?” I pressed my lips together and shook my head sideways. I was a
bit embarrassed. She didn’t make much of it.
“Okay, that’s all right. Not everyone reads music, but you’ll learn.
Come here, let me show you on the piano.” I moved next to her.
“These notes you sing always like a fish,” playing the E-flat to F-sharp.
“You never sing open.” She widened her mouth demonstrating the way I had just
done, “but like this,” she said pressing her lips with her two fingers to a fish
mouth shape. “Like a fish. Do that.” I hesitated. “Go on! Do like I did,” she
said. “Make me a fish mouth.” I did. “Ja, like that. Good!” She began to ascend
from the C above the middle C to F-sharp, first with the i vowel and gradually
changing it to e as she approached the E-flat. Then she did the same with o to u
and a to o. (The pronunciation of the vowels are: i (ee), u (oo), e (eh), o (oh)
and a (ah).)
I imitated her to perfection with no concern for the strange sound I was making.
But as I was doing these vocalizations, I did not feel the usual strain I used
to feel in that particular part of my voice. I was passing through the passagio
with much more ease. We did these exercises for about 10 minutes.
“Now give me something for you to sing. Vat you have?” I took out the song I
Believe, which I had recently learned and which had become a favorite of mine.
Also, it was not as high as the other songs. I recognized immediately that her
piano playing was not as good as Miss Delson’s, but then she was not an
accompanist. As we approached the ending, “or touch a leaf, or see the sky, then
I know why I...,” I went back to my old habits, and my voice began to constrict
on the D’s and E-flats. I could not reach the F, so I stopped.
“Ja! You see is no good open.” As I cleared my throat, I began to cough as tears
filled my eyes.
“Go have some vawter.” I did as Miss Fuss looked at Dorothy with a soft smile.
“Now,” she said, “vee try this vay.” She sang the same phrase, closing all the
open vowels so skai changed to skoi. She narrowed the ai know to oi know, then
why I believe to whoi I believe. All the bright spread a’s she closed to almost
o’s. She must have seen the odd expression on my face after her demonstration.
“I know, I know this sounds strange to you, but for now this is vat vee must do.
Start from the same place.” Looking at her face, I began the same phrase.
“Fish, like a fish!” the E-flats and F’s somehow did not scratch my throat, and
I could sustain the long notes effortlessly.
“Daas is good!” she enthusiastically said. Dorothy expressed the same enthusiasm
as she called from her seat.
“Very good, Harry.” I had a smile and was filled with pride as if I had achieved
a major accomplishment.
“Vat else you have? Something classical maybe?”
“Yes,” I looked at Dorothy as I was taking out the aria E lucevan le stelle from
Puccini’s Tosca for approval.
She said, “Yes, try it.” I gave the music to Miss Fuss, who disapproved
immediately, but put the music in front of her.
“This is very dramatic, you know. She gave Dorothy a glance. But vee try it very
soft. After me, a phrase at a time.” She cautiously looked at me above her small
reading glasses. It was in vain; I could not manage the high G’s and A’s, but my
courage and drive impressed her. Dorothy came over to us at the end of the aria.
I felt a bit embarrassed. Miss Fuss said looking at us, “Yes, he could be a
tenor, but much vork is needed.” The word tenor put a big grin on my face and
“Ven can you start?” she asked me.
“Tomorrow!” I said anxiously. Then I caught myself. “Sorry, it must be in the
afternoon, Miss Fuss. Please, you tell me what day is possible for you!” She
looked at Dorothy.
“Vensday after Dorothy.” Dorothy’s expression registered a slight negativity,
and Miss Fuss saw it. I guess Dorothy did not want to be burdened with me.
“Vell, let me look.” she opened her book and said. “Monday is possible, also
“Monday is good, Miss Fuss, but not Friday. Friday is very busy in the
restaurant.” This was before the Pope allowed all Catholics to eat meat on
Friday. My uncle’s restaurant was a seafood restaurant, and Friday was our
“All right then. You come next Monday at 3:00. I charge $10.00. Bring your
music.” The bell rang. She gave me back my music from her piano. Dorothy gave
her a check for her lesson, and Miss Fuss opened the door to a young, attractive
“Come in, Pamela. You know Dorothy. This young man is Harry.” I took her hand.
“Very good to meet you.” I said. Beautiful girl, in her twenties with long black
hair and big black eye. She looked Italian or Spanish. We said good-bye, and
Dorothy and I took a taxi back to the restaurant.
“Thank you, Dorothy, very, very, much. I like Miss Fuss. She’s very good! I am
very happy to learn from her. But you! You have a strong and beautiful voice! My
God! Do you think I will have a voice big like yours?” She had a proud smile.
“You’re young, Harry, and if you work hard, you will!”
“This was most important what you did for me.”
After some silence she said, “Harry, listen, you’ll have to stop your lessons
with the other teacher. What’s her name?”
“Yes, I will. Miss Lillian Delson is her name.” I jumped out of the taxi as it
stopped in front of the restaurant and gave her my hand to help her out. She
kissed me on the cheek and walked upstairs. Andreas was watching from the
“Well?” he said.
“It was great, Andreas. She said I will be a tenor! Do you hear that – a tenor?
I will sing like Mario Lanza! She’s a very good teacher.”
“Bravo, my boy, bravo!”
Now I was happy and sad at the same time. How would I say good-bye to this
wonderful woman who I liked so much? She had helped me learn so many show tunes
and pop songs for the past seven or eight months. She showed incredible
tolerance for my naïveté toward music and languages. My enthusiasm was so that I
couldn’t wait for Mondays to go to her. Now how does one tell her that I will be
going to study with someone else?
That Wednesday evening Dorothy and Frank came for dinner. My uncle called me
from the restaurant where he was having dinner with his lawyer friend. He told
me that he was not coming that night and would see me the next day. After
Dorothy and Frank finished with their dinner, they asked me to sit with them for
“Harry,” Frank said. “You obviously did very well today because Miss Fuss does
not accept just any student.”
“I’m very happy, Frank. Thank you for taking me there, but now I have a problem
– how to tell my teacher Miss Delson that I will be not studying with her
anymore. Please, you tell me how to do it. She’s been so kind to me.” Dorothy
had a sympathetic look on her face.
“I know, Harry. It is not easy.” Frank interrupted. He was a businessman and did
not believe in personal feelings. With a strong voice he said, “Harry, just call
her or see her, but it’s better to call her, and simply say you’ll have to stop
your lessons for now.”
“Yes, but what excuse do I tell her, Frank?”
“No excuse. Say something has come up that you have to stop your lessons for
now. She’ll understand!” There was no relief in my sorrow, but the next day I
made the call.
“Miss Delson, this is Harry.”
“Yes, Harry. What is it, my boy?”
“Something has happened. I just received a letter from the army (What a story!),
and they want me to go to the army next month. I have to prepare for some
things, so I have to stop my lessons for now.”
“Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry. You were doing so well. I guess there is nothing one
can do about that. You do whatever you have to do, but I want you to come to say
good-bye before you go.”
“I can come tomorrow if that is okay.”
“Yes, tomorrow is fine.”
“What time, please?”
“Come any time in the afternoon.” I could not say another word.
“Harry! Are you there?”
“Yes, Miss Delson, I am here. Good-bye.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, my little Greek.” She used to call me that. “Don’t be
sad. I’ll miss you!” Then she hung up the phone.
The next Friday was a very heavy day for me. The lunch went fast, and it was
after 2:00 p.m. My uncle and I had just finished having lunch when he told me
the news. “Harry, last Wednesday I asked my lawyer to draw the necessary papers
to bring your Aunt Katerina here!” My mouth must have fallen open.
“It is wonderful, Theo, great!” I said. “I am so surprised!”
He stood up, messed up my hair with his hand, and happily said, “Shortly, you’ll
have your aunt here, and we’ll be a family!” He took his hat and left. Every
time he used to ask me if he should bring his wife over, I always encouraged him
since he had never divorced her. Plus, for so many years she took care of his
parents and was a good aunt to me.
This is one incredible story! When he was twenty years old, my uncle returned to
Greece from Canada to get married. He married Katerina, the prettiest girl in
this small village called Nimfeon, where he, my mother and my three aunts were
born. After the wedding he stayed two months and then returned to Canada with
the promise to bring his new wife to him soon. Well, 43 years later he’s telling
me he has decided to do just that. After the Second World War in the mid- or
late forties, Greece had its civil war. In the year 1947, my aunt was exiled
from Greece with her entire family because her brother and father had joined the
Communist Party. She was now living in Czechoslovakia.
I knocked at the door of Lillian’s studio. She stopped the lesson with a young
girl for five minutes, pulled me inside, gave me a big hug and whispered, “Oh,
how I will miss you, my little Greek. Aren’t you too young for the army? Or
don’t you have to be a citizen first?”
“This October I’ll be twenty, Miss Delson. I don’t know about the citizen.”
“Here, my little darling, I have something for you to take with you to the
army.” She gave me a beautifully wrapped package.
“Good-bye and don’t forget to write to me!” She was very sad, as was I. I gave
her a big hug, and before she could see my tears I left. The present was a
beautiful shaving kit.
VOICE LESSONS WITH EMMA FUSS
AND THE SCARE OF MY LIFE
Mondays appeared to be a new adventure for me now. I was acquiring a new vocal
technique from Madam Fuss and learning the music that enlightened my soul.
We started with i and u, bringing the other three vowels e, o and a from the
same narrow column in the passagio, which helped my high notes to come freely.
Madam Fuss then showed me a yellow book of classic Italian songs and arias and
told me to buy one. After a year or so of hard work, my voice began to sound
like a tenor. I was reaching high B-flats and sometimes a high C! Still my voice
was very light in comparison to hers. I learned many classical songs, and slowly
she started me in arias and operatic roles – Una furtiva lagrima from L'Elisir
d'amore, Dalla sua pace and Il mio tesoro from Don Giovanni, Lucia di Lammermoor,
Rigoletto, La Bohème, Gianni Schicchi, and La Traviata. I was completely
involved in opera now.
One day she suggested that I go to Paul Meyers, a friend of hers and a terrific
coach, at the Masters Hotel on 103rd Street and Riverside Drive. Now I could
begin coaching these songs and arias with someone who could play the piano well
and was well acquainted with the repertoire from many years of experience.
One afternoon I returned from my lesson with Mr. Meyers to unexpectedly find my
uncle by the register. Before I could say anything, he screamed at me, “Where
the hell have you been? And what is that you’re holding in your hand?”
I said, “Nothing, Theo, just some music.” I was confused.
“Music? What music? What are you doing with music?” I saw he was angry about
something, and I hoped nothing happened while I was out.
“I am taking some voice lessons just so I can learn how to sing,” I casually
answered. He grabbed the music from my hand.
“Let me see what you’re wasting your money on.” He looked at it and slammed it
on the counter in front of the coatroom, sending some of the music books flying
on the floor. I kneeled and started to gather the music while looking up at him.
“What is the matter? Why are you so mad? What did I do?” Some of the waiters
came from the back of the restaurant to see what was going on.
“You are supposed to watch the business here – not fly away to some kind of
theatrical nonsense. I brought you here to help me with the restaurant business,
not for you to prostitute yourself with music.” He was screaming! The waiters
knew better and retreated to the other room.
At that moment Frank Georgiou came in and saw me on the floor. He turned to my
uncle. “What is going on, Nicholas? I could hear you out in the street.”
“Look at him,” pointing at me, “he’s going to become a singer. I spend all that
money to bring him here and teach him the business, but no! He wants to become a
singer. No! I don’t need this.” With a threatening voice he continued, “I am
going to call the travel agent and have him make arrangements to send him back.
Let him become a singer in Greece where he came from, not here!”
I was horrified hearing the words send him back! Intense pain seized my chest; I
had difficulty breathing as tears filled my eyes. Frank saw me, then turned to
“Are you crazy? Are you out of your mind scaring the kid like that? What the
hell is the matter with you?”
I gathered together all my courage as I stood up. “Theo,” I said, “what
complaints do you have? What have I not done that you asked of me? From
dishwasher to busboy to bartender – I learned all of these. I learned how to
cook. You said that I cook better than the chef. I do all the books; I give all
the orders; and I clean the place every day. I look after the customers when you
are not here. What have I refused to do? I like the cinema, yes, and music and
the theater. Is this so bad? I am not a prostitute because of that? You...”
Frank interrupted me saying, “I too like the theater and classical music, and
once in a while I go to the opera.” Pointing at my uncle, he asked, “And what
about you, Nicholas? Don’t you like to go to the racetrack? Don’t you like to
play the horses? Have you forgotten the problem we had years ago with you and
the horses? And what did you tell me then? ‘I like to do something that gives me
pleasure so I can forget the restaurant business.’ Isn’t that what you told me?”
My uncle was fuming.
“Frank, do not encourage him, and don’t tell me what I did and said.” At that
point he took a letter from his jacket and slammed it on the counter.
“Here, read this letter from your Aunt Katerina.” I took the letter out of the
envelope, and in it was a photograph.
“Why, why didn’t you tell me what she looks like? Look at the picture of her and
her sister. They both are so fat and ugly!” Frank took the picture from me and
figured it out. It wasn’t about me, but what my uncle saw in that picture.
“This is what is bugging you, Nicholas, not the kid. Call me if you need to
talk; call me before it is too late,” he said pointing to the picture. “You can
stop her from coming. Think about it.”
“You’re wrong about the kid.” He walked out. Andreas was near by. My uncle
signaled him to leave us alone. I stared at it in astonishment. This beautiful
woman that I remembered now appeared to be less than 5 feet tall and weighed
about 180 pounds. I looked at my uncle and quickly realized his predicament. I
understood his disappointment and anger.
“Why, in heavens sake, didn’t you tell me she looked like that?” I couldn’t
swallow. I felt his panic. Because of her exile, we kept nothing of hers except
their wedding picture.
“Theo,” I said softly, “I was not more than 7 or 8 years old the last time I saw
my Aunt Katerina. Then she looked beautiful and thin. I was very young.”
He reached and grabbed the picture and the letter from my hands. “I am very sad
and wild with anger. I made a terrible mistake. She’ll be here in a couple of
days. I was so peaceful, and now my life is upside down.” He took off his hat
and walked out. I stood there stunned. Andreas put his arm on my shoulder.
“Harry, it was not you that he was so angry with, but the way your aunt looks
now. She is not as attractive as he remembers her from 40 years ago, and your
uncle likes beautiful young girls.”
“That was 43 years ago, Andreas. He also does not look the same!”
“I know that, but he doesn’t.”
I had seen some of the young girls he’d been going out with – real beauties.
Once in a while he’d bring his dates to the restaurant for dinner. He had just
turned 63 years old, and I was concerned who would look after him – certainly
not these young model types. That’s why when he questioned me about my Aunt
Katerina, I encouraged him to bring her, against the opposition from all the
other relatives, including my mother.
“Let her rot in Czechoslovakia. She’s a Communist and chose to go with her
family,” my mother would write to me. “She’ll change his will, and we’ll be left
with nothing. She’ll take everything.” This was the cry from all of them,
something like Puccini’s opera Gianni Schicchi. As far as I was concerned, she
was his legal wife and had the right to his fortune more than any of us.
THE ARRIVAL OF MY AUNT
W e took a taxi to the International Arrival Building at Idlewild Airport, now
John F. Kennedy Airport. It was a rainy day similar to the day when I had
arrived two years earlier. There were the same cries of joy from relatives
finding each other. My uncle and I nervously waited for 30 to 40 minutes outside
customs before a distant voice in the crowd began to call, “Niko! Niko mou!
Irakly!” We turned and saw a stout, short woman rushing toward us. My uncle
turned to me, “Is that her? Is that your...?”
“I think so,” I said with a choking voice and a shock in my face. His face
turned ashen. She looked worse than in her picture. I saw the sadness in his
face for the first time and blamed myself for contributing to his great
disappointment, not knowing at the time that he had only a short time left to
live. I rushed toward her and picked up her valise. She reached for my uncle’s
embrace with uncontrollable tears. She was sobbing, repeating his name and
muttering words in a Romanian dialect that I could not understand. The last time
they were in each other’s arms was more than 43 years ego. I think he was 19
years old, and she was no more than 17. They had both been very young and
attractive then. This long and cruel separation made them unrecognizable to each
“Irakly! Hrysomou. Ah, how you’ve grown! You’re a man now.” She opened her arms,
and I reached down and hugged her. I was overcome with emotion.
“Come, Harry, take the other suitcase,” my uncle said. “Let us go home.”
I picked up her heavy suitcase, and the three of us got into a taxi back to my
uncle’s apartment on 155 West 20th Street. There was not much communication in
the taxi other than her constant crying and kissing on my uncle – to his
cleverly negative response. Shortly after we arrived, I told them I must go and
see if everything was all right at the restaurant, an excuse to leave them
alone. I walked slowly back to the restaurant, not minding the soft rain that
was falling. I thought of my uncle’s discontent and was wondering if my aunt
felt his rejection.
The next morning my uncle came in looking very somber. I was by the bar taking
“Good morning, Theo.” As he opened the register, I was waiting to hear more. He
said almost nothing, except to ask me about last night’s business and if there
were any problems.
“No, everything went all right.” He then checked the menus to see if the lunch
specials were put on, which I had already done earlier.
“I am not going to be here today,” he said.
“Okay, Theo, you don’t have to. I’ll take care of everything.”
“I have to take her shopping. She’ll need lots of things – clothes, shoes and
some kind of makeup. Maybe I’ll take her to a hairdresser.
“Sure, of course.” I said. He was desperate to improve her appearance. After
all, he was somewhat of a stylish man, always well-groomed and dressed in
“She wants you to come for dinner tonight,” he said to me casually.
“She’ll cook something you like.”
“I’ll be there. Have a good time!” I shouldn’t have said that because he gave me
a look. Helen, the cashier, had just walked in. She was a well-dressed, pretty
Greek-American in her mid-forties with blonde hair and blue eyes. I heard a
rumor from some of the waiters that my uncle and she had been lovers. Then
suddenly she got married to an elderly Italian man before I arrived.
“Congratulations on your reunion, Mr. Zaimas,” she said to my uncle.
“Thank you,” he said coldly. She then looked at me.
“Good morning, Harry!”
“Good morning, Eleni (Helen).”
My uncle came up to the bar and leaned toward me. “It’s going to be all right
with your aunt,” he whispered, “if only she stops crying. Keep your eyes open,
and watch the food coming out of the kitchen.”
“Yes, Theo, I’ll do that. Don’t worry!”
“I’ll be back soon, Helen. Take care.”
“I will, Nicholas.” He stared at her and left the restaurant. I was very happy
to hear what my uncle had whispered to me. With a sarcastic expression, Helen
now slowly approached the bar where I was setting the martini classes in the
large ball filled with ice.
“Is he all right, Harry? He looks so sad!”
“He’ll be just fine, Eleni.” She wanted to hear something else, I suppose. “They
need some time to get to know each other.”
“But more than forty years! My God! That’s a long, long time, don’t you think?
Tell me what she looks like.” She was anxious and probably had figured it out
that my aunt was not as attractive as she was. This would teach my uncle a
lesson for not marrying her.
“Yes, but they are together now,” I said while trying to busy myself to avoid
answering any more questions. Her strong curiosity revealed to me that she had
not given up, especially now that her husband was so ill. The rumor of their
affair may have been true. That afternoon I rushed to 103rd Street for my
coaching with Mr. Meyers. I had taken two weeks off in preparation for my aunt’s
arrival. Now I was back into my music and very happy until Madam Fuss told me
that she was moving out to Huntington Long Island and would teach a few of her
students if they were willing to travel out there. I was one of them. Saturday
was not very busy in the restaurant, so I asked my uncle if he could give me a
whole day off, which he did.
I would take the train from Pennsylvania Station and spend almost the whole day
in Huntington. My voice had improved greatly, and I was eager to sing wherever I
MY FIRST CONCERT
M y first concert was at the night school on 18th Street between 9th and 10th
Avenues. There I was trying to learn the language, but instead I was learning
Spanish quicker because the class was 95% Latino. One day our teacher said,
“We’re going to have a concert at the end of this semester, and we’d like to
invite anyone who would like to participate with whatever talent one has – sing,
play an instrument, or whatever.
I put my arm up as I did at Cassavetes’ studio. “Yes, sure I read,” I said to
myself – with no regard of fear of any kind – always the spontaneous invisible
voice that tells you, “Go on. Go On!”
“Yes, Liampas, what would you like to do?”
“I sing and play the harmonica, sir.”
“Good! Then you’ll sing one song and play one on your harmonica. Who else?”
Other hands went up. It was Thursday evening when my aunt and I were sitting in
this large auditorium filled with students and their families and friends. My
name was called after the first five students had finished their performances.
“Come, my golden boy, stand up,” my aunt said. The same fear and sickness in my
stomach appeared as it had at Cassavetes’ studio, but again something other than
myself was pushing my legs onto the stage. Terrified, I stood in front of the
mike in the center of the stage. I started to sing Mizerlou mou y glikiasou
matia, floga mouehy anapsy mes tin kardia. Ah! Yia berbyly, Ah! Yia memety Ah!
My legs began to tremble. I started to shake them, and the audience started to
laugh. I was doing a good imitation of Elvis Presley, and I received good
applause. My aunt told everyone in the restaurant that I was the best –
fantastic! She turned and pinched my cheek.
“Hrysomou pedy (my golden boy).” My uncle did not make much of this.
Andreas came to me. “Were you scared? Did the voice sound good?” he asked.
“Yes, of course, I was scared. I almost peed on myself, but I’ll do it again!” I
“That’s what it takes – courage and guts.” He messed up my hair and went back to
the Submarine Room. All of them liked to mess up my hair. I hated that as much
as my aunt’s pinching.
My Life In America is available in my web site free for anyone interested.
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