Found a neo-Greek souvlaki joint in the local mall. Couldn’t resist having a go.
"Hello there, do you do vegetarian souvlaki?"
A smiling fellow with George on his nametag stepped forward, “Haha, yes, you can have anything, vegetarian.” (I may have been imagining the last comma, but then again, maybe not.)
"Great. I’ll take a wrap with everything you normally put in the souvlaki wrap, except the meat."
"Hahaha, sorry sir, souvlaki is just meat!"
"Yes I know!", (I never let an implied exclamation point go unchallenged), "what I mean is, I want a wrap with all the salad and dressing and stuff as usual but with no meat, and with some fries instead."
"Haha, okay, you want a salad wrap with some fries on the side? Or you want a platter?"
"Nope, I want the fries in the wrap with the salad."
There was a moment or two of silence as he processed this. A tiny lady working in the back came forward to listen. Clearly, neither of them had signed up for this kind of thing.
"You know, like they do it in Greece," I added, helpfully.
"Aha, you want some salad and some fries in the wrap with tzatziki?" George, god bless him, was rolling with it. Tiny lady still seemed somewhat at sea but she haltingly began to assemble this outlandish order.
“It’s okay,” George reassured her softly, “it’s the Greek way. They put everything in, they don’t even ask you.”
"You have been to Greece? Haha," he turned back to me, as though I were perhaps some ancestral Attic spirit come in disguise to test them.
“Oh yes, Athens and Corfu.”
“Haha, when was this?” I thought I detected the slightest quaver of hysteria in his voice.
“Oh, a couple of years ago, 2012.”
“Recently then? Ha.” He visibly relaxed. “Where in Athens?”
I paused momentarily for dramatic effect, “Exarchia.”
“Hahahahaha, you have been to acropolis?”
“No,” I said with a firm shake of the head.
“Haha, I am from Plaka,” at least I think that’s what he said. I shrugged with an upward nod of my head to indicate that this information was of no real worth to me.
“Are you, haha, are you Canadian?” He asked this with a tiny disbelieving shake of his head.
“Ahaaaahaaha, you are European then, that explains, ahah. You like soccer, of-course-I-mean-football-haha?”
“Eeueegh,” I replied, “why not?”
“No.” I said gravely.
“Hahaha. The national team then.”
“Sort of. What about you? Olympiakos?” Grinning, he shook his head. I dropped my voice as if asking whether he still wet his bed, “Panathinaikos?”
“Haha, no no, the third one!”
I shrugged with the negative upward nod again, this time making sure to communicate with facial expression that I doubted his grip on reason.
“Ike,” he almost swallowed the word, “haha, A…E-“
“Oh right. AEK.” I turned my face away from him.
Meanwhile, tiny lady had the fries and the wrap ready and stood hesitantly prepared to combine them.
"Ok, so you want the fries and the salad in the wrap?" She said this as if asking whether I was sure that I wanted to set myself on fire and run naked through the streets. She even exhaled puffily in a way that underlined her conscious and total rejection of any kind of comprehension.
"Yes please, and some cheese too." She froze for a second, and then quite gamely carried on, as though this wasn’t even nearly the most confrontational and challenging thing anyone had ever said to her at work. George meanwhile, was grinning and nodding.
"You want jalapenos too?" I was growing to like tiny lady very much. She had abandoned her self-limiting frame of reference and embraced the seething vortex of conceptual chaos that makes ordering vegetarian souvlaki such dangerous fun.
"Hahaha," I heard George interject with an unmistakeably patronizing tone, but I was basically done with him by this point.
"Yes, thank you."
"Haha, what? Jalapenos?" His voice had now shifted a full octave upwards in pitch over the course of our exchange.
"I’m crazy dude. I just love the jalapenos." Tiny lady went to town with spoonfuls of raw, unpickled green chilli. Silently I cursed her, and Yiorgos, and myself.
Reader, it was painful, but actually pretty good.