Veteran journalist George Giokas’ novel on growing up Greek in NICKEL ICE
‘You take the endless ride on the bus to Greek school in the Bronx, but then again on the bus you meet the girl who likes you, you’ve got teachers who whack you for minor “infractions,” but then again you got the Good Humor truck parked right outside the schoolyard.’
A graduate of Long IslandUniversity and UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television’s professional program, George Giokas has spent many years as a reporter, editor, columnist and entrepreneur. Currently, he is Chairman of the consumer health news service, HealthDay. He resides on Long Island with his wife, Debra, and dog, Bella, and teaches journalism at the StateUniversity of New York at Stony Brook. This is his first novel.
How did you get the idea for the novel?
I always wanted to write a coming of age book based in the 60s . . . a radically different time, almost fictional when compared to today’s world, but the difficulties of becoming of age are ageless.
What memories do you still have of the school?
The school in Nickel Ice is fictional, though I did go to a strict private school in the Bronx and the bus ride really did take two hours each way. Some of the smells and sights have stayed with me and I describe those in detail in various chapters.
What is real and what is fiction in the book?
Well, there were those school bus rides, but there was also the Good Humor man who came around daily during recess. The character I created around him turns out to be a major figure in the book. Everything else is fiction or embellished to the point of laying the groundwork for a good story.
Why a novel?
Why not? Sometimes fiction is more accurate than reality. A good story sends home messages as strong as or maybe stronger than a true story.
How long did it take you to write?
Was it a catharsis?
Absolutely. All writing is cathartic.
Any other Petros novels being planned?
Yes. I am planning 2 more novels taking Petros through high school and then launching him into his adult life.
How close to your life is the life of Petros?
Petros does a lot of things I didn’t dare do back then but anyone who knows me well sees a lot of Petros in me—including one or two of his mischievous streaks. And yes, I did wear the traditional fustanella every year for the Greek Independence Day parade down 5th Avenue.
How do you think the Greek community will react to a story like Nickel Ice?
I think anyone who was raised Greek-American in the boroughs of New York or anywhere here in the States will relate to Nickel Ice, especially with the Greek phrases sprinkled throughout and the traditional food and culture dished out at Greek-American kitchen tables everywhere. And it will especially resonate with those who went to a Greek parochial school in the 60s.
How have family and friends reacted–and the community?
So far, the book has been very well received judging by some of the reviews, and lovingly embraced by my family and friends.
What were the good times in those days and what do you miss the most?
I have to say I miss simplicity the most. Yes, there were serious troubles in the 60s . . . a president’s assassination, race riots, a missile crisis that kept us tense and under our school desks for drills just in case, more assassinations of beloved leaders and the cultural revolution that can probably fit under that large Woodstock umbrella. But there was a certain air of respect and awe of elders and world leaders. When someone shook your hand on a deal no contracts were necessary and there was something magical about stretching the phone cord to your room so you can talk to your friends without your parents listening.
Have you been back to the old neighborhood and what are your thoughts about it?
Many years ago I drove by what was my school, and the only thing that struck me was how small the schoolyard was. When I was 8 or 9, it was huge to me, the perspective of a growing boy.
What do you see as the theme of Nickel Ice?
The book begins with a quote from The Iliad. There’s a reason for this. Relationships between fathers and sons go back beyond antiquity and Nickel Ice not only deals with Petros’ biological father but also his de facto fathers—the ice cream man who becomes a huge influence in his life, and his strict school principal who outwardly looks mean but inwardly does everything because of his love for his de facto children, his students. The one common thread all along is we are all here on this Earth to help each other.
NICKEL ICE, Saguaro Books, saguarobooks.com