Tim Kreider

excerpts from
The Book of the Dead

My name is Tim Kreider.  I'm a longtime fan of Gus's books and a friend of another of his cousins, John Hicks (currently of Clinton, MS).  In 1995 I went on sort of a quest to find out where Gus had lived and died in Greece.  I actually wrote a whole book about my journey, called The Book of the Dead.  (Later on in that trip I got stabbed in the throat, but that's another story.)  It's been sitting in a filing cabinet for a few years now, deservedly unpublished.  It would have appealed to an extremely tiny, specialized audience, of which I figure you might be one of the few members.  I've compiled all the sections that pertain to Gus, which indeed turn out to represent an embarassingly small percentage of the total number of pages.  Here they are.


    I had been wandering back and forth across Greece for over a month now, tracing a purposeless, zigzagging, occasionally retrograde magic-marker path around my tourist-office map:  from Athens to Ios to Santorini to Crete, back up to Delphi, across the Gulf of Diakofto, down the rack-and-pinion railway to Kalavrita, and back to Athens again.  I had seen the touristy sights, snuck into off-limits areas of Knossos, Mycenae, and Delphi, and looked sporadically and without much zeal for work.  But now the sightseeing tour was over.  It was time to undertake my search for Gustav Hasford.
    I was sitting in the lounge of a ferryboat en route to Ithaca, or, as it is known to the Greeks, Ithaki, passing the time by trying to construct some simple phrases out of my Greek/English dictionary and rudimentary understanding of Greek syntax which might be of some use to me in my mission:  "American writer," "live in Ithaca," "died two years ago."  The only one I had figured out was "American writer":  Amerikanos syngrafeas.  I imagined myself reciting these phrases to groups of wary, wrinkled, leathery old men sitting around tables outside taverns in little fishing villages.  Perhaps they would offer me ouzo.
    There were two Greek girls at the table next to me, playing some sort of word game in French to pass the time.  One of them, Dimitria, knew a little English, too.  She told me they were students in Athens, going home to Keffalonia for the Easter holiday.  They wondered why I was going to Keffalonia.  I told them I wasn't; I was continuing on to Ithaki.  Ithaki?, they asked.  Why would anyone go to Ithaki?  There was nothing there.
    I pulled out a piece of paper folded into my inside coat pocket and told them my story.  This was the first time I had explained my project to anyone and I wanted to see whether it would make me seem interesting or just spooky and weird.
    "I am looking for this man," I told them, pointing at the photograph.  The paper I had was a Xeroxed reproduction of an obituary from a small-town newspaper in Alabama.  The photograph was the same one I had seen on the back flaps of several books.  It had been taken on the London set of Full Metal Jacket.  The man in the picture, Gustav Hasford, had written the novel on which that film was based, The Short-Timers.  He had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay along with Kubrick and Michael Herr, the author of Dispatches, but he'd been unable to attned the awards ceremony because he'd been in jail.
    There was something impenetrable about the face in that picture; the sad, wary slope of the eyes, like holes in the mask, the sagging lines of the cheeks, the tight slash of a mouth like a scar.  He might have been writing of himself in The Short-Timers when he described a Marine general's face as "tough but sensitive--a Cro-Magnon holy man's face."  It looked to me like the face of a warrior and a seer, a man wounded not by weapons but by terrible sights and knowledge.
    In the same article there was also a photo of Hasford's friend and fellow Marine, Mawk Arnold, grimly holding a black box, about the same size as the ones that gift bottles of bourbon come in, that bore the name:  JERRY "GUS" HASFORD.  In a tribute to his dead friend, Arnold remembered that when he was alive Gus had said that he wanted to have his ashes scattered on the beach at San Clemente, "so the young girls could come and visit."  Instead they'd been flown back from Greece to be buried in his hometown, Halleyville, Alabama.  the article's headline read, "FAMOUS WRITER COMES HOME."
    "He is dead?" said Dimitria as she looked at it, a little taken aback, trying to understand.
    "Yes," I said.  "He died on Ithaca, two years ago."
    "But why are you looking for him?" she asked.
    I shrugged.  "I am interested in him," I said.  "I loved his books.  But, really, it is just something for me to do here, a quest."
    Dimitria nodded, smiling, to show me she knew the English word "quest," and it seemed to me that she understood the whimsical, pointless spirit of mine, even if maybe it was a little strange.  She was even kind enough to translate my phrases for me, conferring with her friend over Greek spelling and grammar, which she said was almost as impossible for native speakers as it was for me.  She said she hoped I would find the man I was looking for.
    "Well, even if I don't," I said, "it's not that important.  It's the search, the quest that matters, more than its object--than what I am looking for."
    She seemed struck by what I had said.
    "Do you know the poem, 'Ithaki'?" she asked.  "It is by a famous Greek poet, named Seferis.  I think that is his name."  She wrote it down for me, on the same piece of paper on which she'd written my phrases.  "I'm not sure how to spell it, but if you ask anyone they will know his name.  In his poem 'Ithaki,' he says the same thing you just said.  Not in the same words, but the same idea--that it is the voyage that matters, not the destination."
    We talked for a while more.  She told me I should visit Keffalonia, which she thought was the most beautiful of the Ionian islands.  Maybe I would, I said, after I'd finished my search.  Before she and her friend got off the boat at Keffalonia, Dimitria wished me luck.
    "I think you will find him," she said.

    I'd first read The Short-Timers when I was twenty-one, an age when whatever is ugly and pessimistic seems somehow more truthful than anything beautiful or affirmative.  I had been raised as a pacifist, and had never even been in a barfight, unless you counted getting hit in the face as a fight, but this book made me feel tough and knowing, as though I had seen something, learned some secret, that had left me stronger and more merciless.
    It was a short book, not even two hundred pages long, but it was one of those rare books that left me a different person when I looked up from the last page.  The story was as nightmarish and surreal as only pure reality can be, written in terse, staccato prose about as lyrical as automatic rifle fire:

    The snipers zero in on us.  Each shot becomes a word spoken by death.  Death is talking to us.  Death wants to tell us a funny secret.  We may not like death but death likes us.  Victor Charlie is hard but he never lies.  Guns tell the truth.  Guns never say, "I'm only kidding."  War is ugly because the truth can be ugly and war is very sincere.

    Its protagonist and narrator, Private Joker, did mocking impressions of Bob Hope and John Wayne, performed twisted stand-up routines like William S. Burrough's, tossed off shockingly tasteless one-liners that could only appeal to a sense of humor that was not just black but burned beyond recognition--disfigured, honed and exalted by horrors.  The only possible response was the mirthless rictus and silent laughter of the skull.

    The ugly that civilians choose to see in war focuses on spilled guts.  To see human beings clearly, that is ugly.  To carry death in your smile, that is ugly.  Ugly is the face of Victor Charlie, the shapeless black face of death touching each of your brothers with the clean stroke of justice.

    I had sought out Hasford's other two novels, both out of print.  The second, The Phantom Blooper, was a sequel to The Short-Timers, but very different in tone and intent.  The Short-Timers is a novel, specific and personal; The Phantom Blooper is a parable, more overtly political, riddled with long, manifesto-like passages, dedicated "to the three million men and women who were betrayed by their country."  In it, Joker joins the Viet Cong in their struggle, becoming the mythical round-eyed Victor Charlie, the "phantom blooper."  The book is a sustained, passionate polemic against the illegitimate government of the United States, and by its end has become a personal declaration of war:

    I confess I'm a traitor to the federal government.  The federal government is not the country.  It likes to think it is, and it damned sure wants honest citizens to think it is, but it's not.  I believe in America more and have risked more for America than any incestuous nest of parasites who call themselves Regulators.  Thomas Jefferson never dropped napalm on peasants.  Benjamin Franklin did not shoot students for protesting an illegal war.  George Washington could not tell a lie.  My government of self-righteous gangsters makes me ashamed to be an American.  I secede from your Vietnam death trip.

    His third and last novel, A Gypsy Good Time, was inferior to the war novels, just a sexy, violent thriller set in the war zone of Hollywood.  But its vision is the same, of an unjust and violent world where the rich own the poor and the powerful send the weak to the slaughter, and the only meaningful virtue left is honor.  In the end, the protaganist, a Viet Nam vet, puts on his fatigues and reaches for his gun--a hopeless, vengeful fantasy of reverting to the moral purity of the jungle.  His stylistic mannerisms had become tics by now, and he was constantly tossing off those deadpan one-liners of his, dry epigrams catchy and brutal enough for bumper stickers or epitaphs, like "Reality is an illusion caused by an alcohol deficiency."
    My relationship with Hasford hadn't become personal until I'd happened to meet a cousin of his, Chet Hicks.  Chet had noticed, on a visit to my house, that I owned not only The Short-Timers but a video of Full Metal Jacket and a copy of the screenplay.
    "Yeah, cousin Gus," he'd said, shaking his head and smiling.  One of his greatest regrets was that he hadn't known his famous cousin better.  He was a family legend.  Chet had written to him a few times when Gus was on what he called "a six-month paid vacation" in the San Luis Obispo jail, having been convicted of stealing thousands of library books from around the world.  Gus had written him several letters from prison:  "They were rabidly unrepentant," Chet remembered.  The last was a mimeographed sheet which Gus has sent to all of his friends and reletives, telling them that he had been houded out of the country, he was leaving America and never coming back.  Chet said it read like a paranoid screed.
    "Of course," he admitted, "it's easy to be paranoid when you're in prison."
    Gus was released after serving three months of his sentence, and left the country, never to come back alive.  Chet recalled his once saying that "Ambrose Bierce was the only writer who ever got war right."  I wondered if Hasford has been thinking of the embittered Bierce, disappearing from history without a backward glance, when he decided to flee the country.
    It was Chet who'd sent me all my materials about Gus Hasford.  From these, I learned that he had died on February 5, 1993, leaving unfinished several works-in-progress, including Voodoo Dancer, "about a mountain sculptor in Africa," and The Undefeated, a novel about a private in Lee's Army of Virginia, which he described as "a Confederate Red Badge of Courage."  One of the articles his cousin Chet had sent me said he'd been living on the island of Ithaca when he died, but another one said he'd died someplace called Aegina.  His obituary said he had died from "complications arising from diabetes"--these "complications" being that he had ignored his medication schedule and continued to drink enormous amounts of alcohol against everyone's desperate advice.  In his entry in Contemporary Authors, in the blank provided for "religion," he'd written:  "beer."
    "Gus knew his alcoholism was fatal, an abyss," Chet wrote me.  "Was he pushed, or pulled, or both?  What happens when you can't go home again?"
    Chet was one of the few people who did not think that my own flight to Greece was deluded and doomed.  "By all means, flee the blighted shores of America," he urged me.  "Ride the wild country, amigo."

I spent most of my week on Ithaca talking literature and philosophy with my neighbor Vassilis or riding around drinking Metaxa in the truck of my friend Nikolas.  I tracked down a number of false leads on Gus to dead ends.  Basically nobody on the entire island remembered him, which as far as I'm concerned means he was never there.  It's a small, sparsely populated island and people have little to do but gossip and take note of unusual foreign visitors, and Gus was by all acounts not a forgettable figure.  I suspect the information he provided on the back of A Gypsy Good Time was a private literary joke.

    Now that my only vague lead on Ithaca had led to nothing, it seemed that the time had finally come to call the fucking embassy.  It felt like a defeat.  I called them from a cardphone in the village square late that night.
    "I'm calling about an American named Gustav Hasford, who died in Greece two years ago," I explained.  "I'm trying to find out where in Greece he lived."
    "Yes, I remember when this man died," said the man on the other end of the line.  "You are a relative of his?"
    "No," I said.  "I'm--I've read his work.  He was a writer.  I am interested in his life."  I thought up a plausible lie that would make it all suddenly seem to make sense to this man.  "I'm researching a book about him.  A biograpy."
    "Hold on a minute," he said.  I waited for a long before he came back.
    "He died on Aegina."
    "Had he lived there a long time?  Or was he transported there when he was sick?"
    "I believe he had lived there for some time."
    "Where in Aegina, do you know?"
    "In Aegina town," he said impatiently, as though he'd thought we'd been through this already.
    "Do you have an address for him there?"
    "What difference does it make?" he asked me suddenly.  "He died two years ago.  There is nothing left there.  All his belongings were sent back to his family when he died."
    "That's not why I want to know," I explained.  "I don't want anything of his.  I'm just interested.  I just want to see where he lived."
    There was a pause.  Was he wavering?
    "I don't see the reason for it," said the robot voice.  "The man is dead."


    When I left Ithaki I was so tired of traveling I didn't want to think about where to go next.  I supposed that, having come this far in my search, I might as well pursue it to the end, to Aegina.  I knew I would regret it if I left without having found Gus Hasford's final home.
    My ferryboat docked at the quay in Aegina town at the same moment that the sun, orange and hard-edged, was setting behind a ridge of pale purple islands.  This is it, I promised myself.  After this I either find work or go home.  Aegina is the last stop.
    My guidebook suggested I go to the tourist office to inquire about lodgings.  The young man at the tourist office took me down a long, narrow street across town to the Hoetl Pavlou, where there took place an unusually long and tiresome negotiation.  The price was too high for me--thirty American dollars a night--but after ten or fifteen minutes he wore me down with the usual tactics and I agreed to pay a slightly reduced rate for two nights, in advance.  I threw my pack into my room.
    That night I wandered along the waterfront and narrow, meandering side streets of the town.  I liked what I saw.  Aegina, a largish island off the coast of Athens, is now a weekend resort for Athenians.  It was actually the capital of Greece for one year, in 1827, and some of the buildings from that ear remain, their delicate neoclassical facades faded but still painted gaily in pinks and oranges.  Here, as everywhere in Greece, boys on motorscooters zoomed at insane velocities through the narrow streets.  I knew that if I stayed here long enough, I would, inevitably, be killed by one.  I took refuge in a little cafe behind the fish market, where I ate crispy grilled octopus tentacles and drank an Amstel.  I drew a picture of Gus Hasford on my paper tablecloth with a felt-tip pen, working from my photo.  My waiter sat down to watch me work, and clapped me on the back in appreciation.  He was an artist too, he said, but held up a hand in self-deprecating demurral when I offered him the pen.
    Trying to lose myself in the streets, I passed a cafe where I recognized Ray Manzarek's ornate and mesmerizing psychedelic keyboard solo from "Light My Fire," a song which had been on the playlist in my head for weeks.  For a moment I wasn's sure whether it was playing in my mind or in real life.  I stopped, listened, and walked up the stairs as if in a trance.  I imagined streams of expatriates drawn like zombies through the streets to this cafe by the Doors's evil spell.  It was a large patio bar, open to the stars in the summer but roofed over with a tarpulin now.  Here, as everywhere in Greece, people were hunched over firece games of backgammon.  I ordered a pint and sat at a table where a cat was curled up on one of the other chairs.  There was a parrot in a cage who spoke English and Greek.  "Yia sas," it said.  "Hello.  Efharisto.  Fuck you."
    On the way back to the hotel I walked along the waterfront, pausing on the steps of the Byzantine church in front of the hotel to read the story of the Good Samaritan, which was inscribed and illustrated in mosaic tile above the three arched doorways.  I had known the story my whole life, of course, from Sunday School.  "Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innskeeper.  'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you have.'"  I found myself strangely moved, almost to tears.  I had had a few beers, and I was six thousand miles from home.
    By day, the waterfront was a bright, crowded, colorful place.  Aegina, I had read, was the pistachio capital of the world, and there were pistachio stands everywhere.  Tourists could buy souvenir bags of pistachios in small, medium, or large sizes, and jars of pistachios floating in dark thyme honey.  Covered boats full of produce, oranges and pineapples and mangos, were moored all along the harbor.  I bought a sweet banana and ate it as I walked.  The droning, hypnotic babble of the Greek liturgy was being broadcast over loudspeakers from the church in front of my hotel--a vestige, perhaps, of the years of Moorish occupation, when muezzins had called the faithful to prayer.  It was vacation time in Europe, and an endless parade of young Greek girls in tight Italian clothes passed by the breakfast cafes on the waterfront.
    I set right to my task that morning.  I went to the police station, buy they, like the police at Ithaki, had no record of an American named Gustav Hasford living or dying in Aegina.  Next I tried the hospital and the medical center.  No record at the hospital.  On the long, hot road to the medical center an unnaturally obese old woman, who was walking the same way by herself, started talking to me.  She kept pointing at her ankles, which were painfully swollen and mottled with ruptured veins.  I don't know if she ever realized I didn't understand Greek, but I don't think it mattered.  I understood her outraged, plaintive tone and managed to keep up my side of the conversation by filling in the pauses in her monologue with "nai, nai" (yes, yes) and "signomi" (I'm sorry).
    When I reached the medical center and asked about a dead American, they called me into a doctor's office where this same woman was being treated.  In the United States, doctor's doors are kept discreetly shut, but here everyone was stopping in to have a look at the woman's leg, which, stripped of its bandage, turned out to have an impressively ugly, suppurating wound.  They had no records there of the death of a Gustav Hasford.
    Next I tried the town hall, which was located on the second floor of one of the classical buildings around the fish market, above a general store.  They had no record of Gus Hasford there, either, but the woman in the narrow, musty office there was kind enough to phone the town halls of the the other four villages on the island to inquire about him for me.  None of them had any records, either.
    By this time I was starting to suspect that maybe there really was some sort of Mr. Mojo Risin' weirdness going on here.  My last useful thought was to go to the post office; perhaps they would have an address on file.  I showed my photo, by now much-folded and handled, to the clerk behind the window, and he made an expression which had become dully familiar to me--the chin lifted up, eyebrows raised, lips pursed in an upside-down U--which means, literally, "no," but also seems, at least to the frustrated foreigner, to convey the connotations, "whaddaya want from me?" "not my problem, buddy," and, at times, "fuck off."  He showed it to another mailman who was passing by behind the glass partition, and this one glanced at it, looked up at me in surprise, and said, "Nai!  he was my friend!"
    The man's name was Giorgiou.  He was at work and couldn't talk for long, but he gave me two addresses, the two hotels in Aegina town here Gus had lived.  I asked him how he had known him.  "We were friends," he said.  "Drinking friends.  You understand?  Friends, but only in the bar."  I didn't know what to ask, where to being.  How well did he know him?  What was he like?
    "Well, you know, Gus have problem," he said, watching me to see if I did know.  He did the International Sign Language for glug-glug.  I nodded.  "He drink all day, alone, without company.  No good."  He said he had to go to work now, but told me to meet him at the English cafe some night--the one where I'd been the night before--and we'd have a drink and talk about Gus then.
    I decided to find the first place Gus had lived before finding the second, where he had died.  Giorgiou had told me it was "behind the chuch."  I was wandering around behind the largest of the churches in town, obviously lost, when Giorgiou himself happened by on a motor-scooter, making his rounds.
    "Did you find it?" he asked me.
    "No, I was just looking for it--you said it was behind the church?"
    "No, no, the other church," he said.  "The one by the harbor!"
    I knew the one he meant.  It was the little Byzantine church there with the story of the Good Samaritan over the doors.  Its bells had woken me up that morning because it was in front of my hotel.  I had begun to understand even before I saw the sign for the Rooms Pavlou.  It was the hotel where I was staying.
    The Pavlous had nothing but nice things to say about Gus Hasford.  We stood talking in the reception area, which was also their living room, its walls covered with old photographs.  "You remember him?" Mrs. Pavlou asked her son, who had been such a tough negotiator the night before.  He nodded, and held his hand up in the air.  "Yes, big," his mother agreed, and held her own hand up in the air.  The family stood holding their flattened hands high above their heads, nodding together, to show me how he had filled the room.  Gauging the height of a ghost.
    "A nice man," said Mrs. Pavlou.  "Quiet.  Always reading.  Books, books!  Every week he call his mother."  She smiled at this, as any mother would.  "But. . . drink.  Wine and milk.  Bottles in the room, all over."
    I took a look at his room, number seven, above the one I was staying in.  It was one of the nicer ones, on a corner of the building, with a lot of light and a pretty view of the church, a little park with palm trees, and the busy harbor.  A picture of an old sailing ship on the wall.  An ecstatic cacophany of bells sounded from the church every hour.  I wondered how Gus, undoutably a late riser, had been able to stand that.  After two or three months, they told me, he had left for a cheaper place across town, the second address Giorgiou had given me, 36 Petridi Street, owned by a Mr. Nota Papadopalou.  Had they kicked him out, I asked, because of his drinking?
    "Oh, no, no," Mrs. Pavlou said.  "He leave.  Cheaper there.  He was a nice man.  Very quiet.  Never any problem.  Just--you know.  Drink."
    36 Petridi Street was a place I had passed on the road to the medical center that morning.  It was a two-story structure, set up like an American motel, encircling a garden courtyard full of little trees, shrubs, and cacti.  There were birdbaths and benches along the pathways.  In the middle of the courtyard was a wooden stump carved and painted to look like a red elf or devil.  A small gong was suspended between two poles on top of its head.
    The Papadopolous said the same things about Gus that the Pavlous had--a very nice man, but drank too much.  Mrs. Papadopolou seemed to have been very fond of him.  "Always, 'yia sas, kali mera, kali spera,'" she said--courteous, formal greetings.  "When he first came here, my husband offered him a cognac, and he said, "'Cognac!  Nai!'  He liked a drink."
    She said he slept all morning, woke up around three, wrote all afternoon, and went out drinking every night until four A.M.  She showed me his room.  It was a nice one, too, on the corner, with a large bed, kitchenette, private bathroom, a balcony overlooking the courtyard, and a window with a view of the Saronic Gulf and the lone, truncated Doric column on the Hill of Kolonis which was all that remained of the Temple of Apollo.  "View of the water," said Mrs. Papadopolou.  "He liked that."  I remembered he had wanted his ashes scattered on the beach at San Clemente.  This would have been a good place to die.
    She had shut up his room and we were walking down the stairs when she paused to tell me, as I had somehow knew she would, about the night he'd died.  She spoke in a low, secretive voice, as though she wouldn't have wanted anyone to overhear.
    "One night I saw his light on all night, and all next day.  I went up, 'tk-tk--" she pantomined knocking, "--nothing  So I try to unlock door, but key is in other side.  So I get my husband, and he force open the door, and Gus was--" she let her jaw go slack, and rolled her eyes back up into her head.
    Mr. Papadopolou was a tall, thin, soft-spoken man, with a neatly trimmed pencil-line moustache and a pipe.  He told me that the devil with the gong was a fire alarm.  It was not a devil, I learned, but an "American red man!"  He had sculpted and painted it himself.  He invited me into his house to show me other carvings he had done in soapstone--a turtle, an elephant, a rhino.  He was obviously proud of the place.  It was the house of a world traveler, full of tasteful souvenirs from Africa and the Orient.  He'd been a sailor for twenty-eight years.  He'd been to Baltimore decades ago, he said, when its waterfront was rotting and the peepshows and prostitutes of the Block were the only tourist attractions.  I was hoping he might offer me some cognac, too, but no luck.
    I asked Mr. Papadopolou how much it was to rent the place for a night.  He ruminated.  His wife seemed to like me, he said, so he would offer me a reduced rate on a room--four thousand drachmas for the night.  I told him I would be back with my pack later that afternoon.  I thanked them both and said I was sorry I had never known Gus.  He had been a fine writer.
    "Yes," said Mr. Papadopolou.  He cocked his pipesteam at me and winked.  "Full Metal Jacket!"
    The Pavlous had told me to go to see Mr. Pavlou, the family patriarch, who owned the hotel and ran the tourist office.  He had known Gus well and would be able to tell me more about him.  Mr. Pavlou was pleased to meet me.  He asked to see my photo.  I handed it across the desk to him and he looked at it for a moment, remembering.
    "I tell you something," Mr. Pavlou said, pointing at the photo.  "That man want to die.  He drink two bottles of wine every day, mixed with milk.  That was his drink.  For his stomach, he said.  Two big bottles."  He held his hands apart to show me the size of the large 750 milileter bottles.  "Not just once in a while.  Every day.  And then out at night to drink more."  But Mr. Pavlou was not judgemental.  "Everyone have their problem," he said.  "My son, he gambles.  I try to get him to stop, but . . ."  He shrugged.  "Drinking is a sickness.  I tried to tell him to stop--he look bad, he shake . . ."  Mr. Pavlou held his hands in front of him, trembling with the simulated palsy of a morning's withdrawal.  He shook his head sadly.  Two pretty French tourists, who probably had a much simpler, more practical question, were waiting patiently on a sofa in his office, reading brochures and pretending not to listen to us reminisce about a dead alcoholic American author.
    "You know what he complained about?  He complain that his mother still wants to take care of him.  'I tell her, I've been to Vietnam, Hollywood, I've done this, I've done that, but she still thinks I'm her baby!'"  Mr. Pavlou smiled, reflecting.  "I miss him.  He was a good tenant.  Paid good money.  Always quiet, never any problem.  After he moved out he would still come every three or four days to get his mail, and we would have coffee, talk for half an hour.  It was when he didn't come by for a week that I ask about him and heard what had happened.  But I already knew.  I knew he would finish bad."  He took one last look at the photo, and then pushed it back across the table to me.  He tapped it and said, "I feel sorry for this man."

    That night, my last night on Aegina, I met Giorgiou, the mailman, at the English cafe.  He brought a pint of beer over to my table and we talked about his old drinking buddy Gus Hasford.  Giorgious agreed with Mr. Pavlou that Gus had come here to die.
    "Everything the doctor tell him, he do the opposite," he said.  "He drink wine, milk, two or three ouzo, beers, coke--but all at once, you understand, all on the same table."  He would go out drinking until closing time every night, either here or, in the summers, at the hotel a few kilometers north of the city.  He would pass out there and wait for the bartender to close up and give him a ride home.  But even in the bars, Giorgiou said, he was still writing.  He was always sending pages back to his publishers.
    "And always joking, laughing."  Giorgiou tried to imitate his dead friend's laugh for me, opening his mouth wide and throwing his head back--"Hoh, hoh, hoh!"  It was a parody of a boorish American guffaw; loud, raucous, and sloppy, utterly shameless.  People at other tables turned around to look.
    "I think Gus have a good life here," he said.  "I think he decided, if the doctor say he have only two years, better to live a good life while he can."
    I was not unduly creeped out sleeping in Gustav Hasford's deathbed that night, nor did I dream.  It was a big, comfortable double bed, and the sheets were cool and clean.  I climbed into it after drinking a lot of beer and fell asleep easily.
    I woke up at some unkown hour in the darkness in a drunkard's confused horror, completely disoriented.  I had slept in so many different beds in so many places over the last two months that I literally had no idea where on Earth I was.  After a few seconds, of course, my head cleared and I calmed down.  I was on Aegina, in Gus Hasford's bed.
    "Jesus," I thought.  "I have to get home."

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