Eternal Memory | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

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Eternal Memory

Remembering a dear friend and irreplaceable community member, the late Vasilios Priskos.

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Last week, I worked from home for a few days because my horoscope said to. Mostly, I slid into a lounge chair and thought about my good friend Vasilios Priskos who died on Oct. 9. Priskos was more than a friend. So much more that a major reason you're reading this now is because he made it a point that this newspaper would not die when perhaps it should have. I would rather have the paper die and not him.

His legendary generosity, coupled with his true north passion for investigative news stories and the free press, led to his making sure that when fortunes changed in the news industry, and cash flows ebbed and flowed, we were certain to cover our own behind. And he did most of that after becoming partner to a wheelchair that the cancer choking his spinal cord had bound him to. He did that when most of the media intelligentsia had forsaken print, claiming—wrongly, but believably—that we were doomed to the same fate as the whale oil industry. Priskos knew our value and he never wavered. He knew our role and he never questioned it. Now, damn the fates and the false prophets, he is not here to read it.

While at home, I spent a fair amount of time flicking through the maze of mindless television. One of my mechanical flicks landed on the movie Serendipity starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. I pay attention to strokes of serendipity because, thanks to scores of unexplainable events, I've come to believe nothing is random.

Who else can claim to have hailed the same cab driver six times out of 10 rides on six random corners at six different times of the day in Mazatlán, where the drivers and their golf-cart taxis buzz like flies? Even the driver couldn't believe it. On the final pick up, he turned off the meter and showed us a side of the beach town tourists never get to see.

Years ago, I sat at a casino bar in Wendover at 4 a.m. with just one other customer and we began a conversation. His favorite baseball team was the New York Yankees, as was mine. He'd only been to one Yankee game ever and saw Ron Guidry win his 20th game of the 1978 season. I was also in the Yankee Stadium that day, and it was my first time, too.

A month prior, he'd watched the Marshall Tucker Band during Summerfest in Milwaukee. I was there dancing to "Fire on The Mountain" at the exact same time. A couple weeks after that, we passed each other in Price, Utah, and this night we ended up on those bar stools at 4 a.m. in Wendover. We both just shook our heads. Weird.

Another less weird and more mysterious incident happened in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was July 15, 2005, exactly six months after my father's passing. My mother, along on the trip, said she was sad and didn't want to go walking with us that day. I told her to pick out a church—there are hundreds of them—and light a candle for Dad in order to feel better. For an hour she kept asking, "Which church? Which church?" and I said, "Geez, just pick one, they're like candy stores." So, she pointed over there and off we went. When we came out I took her picture. I looked at the picture later and read the name of the church. It was my father's guardian Saints name.

Yeah, I know. But as I was watching Serendipity and all these little clues of randomness kept popping up in scenes or pieces of dialogue and I kept getting misty-eyed. I kept thinking the friendship between Vasilios and I was not just some random thing; there was something behind it, just like in the movie. There was a larger meaning to our friendship. I remember him serving me burgers at Royal Burger—the diner on 400 S. Main (later Royal Eatery) where his immigrant family first realized their American Dream. Maybe that wasn't random either. Maybe everything that came later was payback for those first french fries. It had to be something.

Then, as I am literally reading his obituary, one of the Serendipity characters said to another, "You know the Greeks didn't write obituaries, they only asked one question after a man died: 'Did he have passion?'" Wait, what? That's not entirely so, barely true even, but no matter, I believed it at that moment, and if anyone lived a life of passion—in spades and in every other suit—it was Vasilios Priskos, a husband, son, father, brother, raconteur, gambler, teacher, businessman, mentor and friend.

Well over 1,000 fellow citizens bid him farewell last week. With mercy, none of us will see another funeral ceremony the likes of which the Salt Lake City community gave to Priskos. So big, so grand, so many people, so sad. So young to go. So brutal.

We shall scurry on to fight and survive another day, issue, month, and so should you. You did not know Priskos randomly. You knew him because you were supposed to know him, if only for the lesson to never give up. He fought hard, harder than most of us ever will, against an enemy stronger than any most of us will know. And for longer, too.

But people die. In one last piece of randomness, another line from the same movie or Jeopardy!, I forget: "People live as long as you keep remembering them." In his native Greece they say, "May his memory be eternal." That would be a very long, rewarding ending, perfect for Vasilios Priskos.

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