HOWIE

Copy of Harvard Square ClockFaceAt first, we thought he was just a little weird, one of the many off-beat characters in Harvard Square. He wasn’t a bad guy; sometimes he was even funny, doing or saying something that made everyone laugh. And when they did laugh, Howie would stand there with that lopsided grin, snorting short little laughs of his own.

This was my first job in the Boston area, at a place called Jake’s. Later the joint would become The Sunflower Café, which in turn would eventually be bought out by Pizzeria Uno, an operation still there today on 22 JFK Street, in the heart of the square.

But back then it was Jake’s, and it was a popular local watering hole with a small pub in the basement, and a full restaurant upstairs at street level. Having just moved to Boston, it felt great to be working in a bar again, and as the new bartender I’m sure I let a lot of things slide–trying to figure out and deal with all these new, sometimes strange people. Howie was only one of them.

Howie could definitely be a pain in the ass. He was one of those guys you had to constantly keep an eye on–where he went, who he was talking with, and especially how other customers were reacting to him.

He wasn’t loud, or rude, not really offensive in any way. He was just weird, and sometimes that could make people uncomfortable. A lot of college students frequented Jake’s, and along with the occasional professor they set the tone for the place–Harvard University was right across the street. The place wasn’t snobby, but definitely upscale and perhaps with an intellectual air you wouldn’t find in downtown Boston bars.

Howie didn’t fit in; he acted goofy, and was goofy-looking. The clothes he had on were definitely a little weird, as though he were intentionally dressing out of style. He’d wear these oversized, tan-colored Bermuda shorts, with the pants legs coming down below his knees. He usually had on a brightly-colored Hawaiian-type shirt, and he kept his sunglasses on even inside the bar.

“Why don’t you take the sunglasses off, Howie,” I said to him one day, after I’d gotten to know him a little better. He just looked at me, leaning forward a bit as if trying to see through the dark lenses. “You should lose the shades, Howie,” I continued, “unless your goal is to make people stare.”

After that when Howie came down the pub steps, he usually would put the sunglasses in his shirt pocket.

Copy of Hawaiian ShirtBut it wasn’t only what he wore. Howie’s behavior was a little weird. He’d kind of lean in toward people when he talked with them, as though he really wanted to connect with them, these complete strangers–apparently not realizing he might actually be making them uncomfortable.

And he’d speak slowly, very carefully, sometimes hanging onto a word or two longer than necessary. Like when he told people his name. He’d hang onto his name as he spoke it, dragging it out. “I’m Hooow-ie,” he’d say. “My name is “Hooow-ie!”

After a few months, we learned that he was a disabled Vietnam veteran. We heard that he was living off monthly checks for unspecified injuries suffered during the war. Whoever told us wasn’t sure of all the details, but we figured it had to involve PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For those of us working the bar, this news had a weird, contradictory effect. On the one hand, any of the staff who had bitched and moaned about Howie now seemed more sympathetic toward him. But at the same time, even those of us who sort of liked Howie were now a little more cautious.

Back then you’d hear stories, true or not, about veterans who had suddenly snapped in a bar–doing something crazy, maybe even violent. “I don’t think you have to worry about Howie,” one of the local cops told me, when hanging out at the bar one night.

“It’s a shame,” I said. “A lot of guys got really fucked-up over there.”

“Hey, he was always a little off, even before Vietnam,” the cop replied. “I’ve known Howie since he was a kid in the streets,  . . . he was never exactly normal. Too shy, too quiet, almost helpless.”

“They never should have drafted him,” the cop said. “They never should have sent a kid like that to war.”

“But I don’t think he’ll ever give you any trouble,” the cop ordered another beer. “He’s OK, just weird, an outsider.”

Soon everyone who worked at Jake’s knew about Howie’s story. A few of the customers did, too–and definitely the management had heard all about it.

Up to this point, they were always telling us to just deal with Howie, that he was a paying customer, and this was our job. But now the managers were the first ones to  question everything he did. Jake’s was owned by a New York City restaurant group, and everything was always corporate down the line. Maybe they were worried about a lawsuit if Howie should lose it some day and go after another customer, or something worse.

Now it was the staff defending Howie. “He never really bothers anyone,” we explained to one of the managers, “and this is Harvard Square. What are we going to do . . . kick out everyone who doesn’t fit the mold? We’ll have no customers.”

Just like before, the bartenders were all keeping an eye on Howie, but now we were watching him because we sort of wanted to take care of him, I guess. We didn’t want him to do anything that would get him kicked out of the place.

For Howie, this bar had become a kind of home. It was hard to see him getting along in any of the other bars in the square. At least the staff here liked him and put up with him.

Most of the customers didn’t seem to mind Howie being there, and if we thought he was making someone uncomfortable, we’d quickly go over. “Howie,” we’d say, “come here for a minute. I want to talk with you.”

We’d  take him to the other end of the bar. “Stay here for a few minutes, Howie,” we’d say. “I think you’re better off down here for a while.”

He’d put a finger to his lips, as though silently saying, “Shhhush.” He’d have that goofy, lopsided grin, and say something like, “I’d better stay down here for a while. I’m better off down here.” As though it had all been his idea, to get him away from the nervous customer.

One night Howie did get into a confrontation with one of the customers–but I have to say it was the other guy who was being a jerk. Howie was actually the reasonable one of the two.

Something had happened, and this wannabe tough guy started mouthing off to Howie. The guy stood up in Howie‘s face. Their voices were raised for a minute, but then Howie just stepped back. He said something about not being interested in a fight, and then he walked away.

When word of this got back to Jake’s management, I guess it was the excuse they’d wanted. Back then, from time to time, we’d have actual brawls in Jake’s–bartenders jumping over the bar to break it up, and doormen carrying guys up the stairs to the front door.

This had only been a few quick, loud words and Howie had been the better man, walking away from it. Afterward he even tried to see what we were thinking about the incident. “How aaarrre you?” he asked with that grin. “How are we  . . . is everything OK here?” And the bartenders were fine with it, but now the management decided that Howie should be permanently barred

We felt bad about the decision–the bartenders and staff, and a good number of customers. For the next couple of days, everyone working behind the bar dreaded the idea that they would be the one to have to tell him. Tell him that he couldn’t come here anymore. I was glad it wasn’t me.

Later we heard that Howie actually tried to make several appointments with the management, to talk it over, to discuss things–but it was a done deal. Howie was out, permanently, they said.

We never saw Howie in Jake’s after he’d been told. We figured he found someplace else to hang out.

Copy of Harvard Square Clock

Harvard Square Public Clock

I ran into him one more time in Harvard Square, late one afternoon on my way to work. I was about to cross the street on the way to Jake’s, when I saw Howie standing by that antique-style, public clock in Harvard Square–right across from the subway station.

Howie was leaned against the pole of the clock, beneath its round face with the roman numerals. He had his sunglasses on, wearing those Bermuda shorts, and a loose, crazily-colored shirt. There was a large gauze bandage wrapped around the bottom of his left leg. The bandage was wrapped entirely around his leg, covering an area from just below his knee down to his ankle.

“How’s it going, Howie,” I asked when I stopped for a second. “What happened to your leg?”

Howie then told me that he’d been drinking at another bar in the square–I won’t mention the name, but back then it was a tough place, certainly rougher than Jake’s.

Howie said that he’d probably had too much to drink, and he must have dozed off, eyes closed, sitting there hunched over at the bar. Someone at the bar must have splashed some lighter fluid on the pair of pants he was wearing, and then they lit a match.

“I woke up,” Howie said, “and my pant’s leg was on fire!”

“I was jumping around, trying to put the flames out,” he said, “and everyone was lauuuughing!

“They were laaughing,” he said, as he stood beneath the old clock. “They were all laaauuughing.”

“Jesus . . . I’m sorry, Howie,” I said. I really didn’t know what to say. I stood there for a second. What was I supposed to say?

“You need anything, Howie?” I asked, “you need a couple of bucks for some beers or anything?”

“Naaaawww,” he said, “I’m OK.”

I still didn’t know what I should do. Nothing was going to make this better. “I wish things had worked out at Jake’s,” I said. “We all liked you, Howie . . . you know that.”

Then the light changed, and I had to get across the street. I was already a couple of minutes late for work. “Got to run, Howie,” I said, “you take care of yourself, OK?”

“You take care of yourself,” I said again, then I turned to leave and that was the last time I saw him.

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FRESH STARTS/NEW ENDINGS

Copy of NewBeginningsNewEndingsHappy New Year to everyone!  Let’s hope it’s a good one.  Now that the champagne bottle is empty and the noise-makers have bleated their last toot, here’s a few thoughts and resolutions that caught my eye–hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  (Gotta love the world-wide web. Where credit is due, click on the pic to learn the source.  Back with more stories in two weeks.)

 

 

Copy of NewBeginningsNewEndingsKaitlinScottPic“We were still twirling around the tiny parking lot when the neighbors screamed ‘Happy New Year’. Unfortunately we weren’t sober enough to realize that was our cue to call it a night. Josh had a new beer in his hands, Danny was eating the last hot dog and Darren and I were still dancing when the cops showed up.”
– Kaitlin Scott, For Danny

 

 

 

 

Copy of susan_sontag_01“Kindness, kindness, kindness.  I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.” — Susan Sontag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copy of Mark-Twain-006“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”  — Mark Twain

 

 

 

 

 

 

“New Year’s Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly . . . provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.”
James Agate

 

 

Copy of yoda“Do, or do not. There is no ‘Try’.”
–  Yoda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copy of Abraham Lincoln“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
-  Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copy of NewBeginningsNewEndingsTwo

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ONE NIGHT STAND

Copy of Copy of WomanInBathrobe(This note is from Albany, NY–back when I was working at The Lark Tavern, and living in the Washington Park area.)

I’m not really sure whose idea it was first–whether I picked up her, or she simply went after me.  We’d been casually talking on and off that night, while I worked up and down the bar.  She was a short, cute coed; a graduate student at Albany State.  I’d seen her in The Lark before, most often with her sister, who was apparently her roommate in a near-by apartment.

At the end of the night, she kept hanging out even after we’d turned up the lights, and yelled for everyone to start moving toward the door.  “You don’t have to go home,” we yelled, “But you can’t stay here!  Closing time!”

“Are you going home tonight,” she smiled, looking right at me.

“We have to clean up first, but then I guess I’m headed home.”  I wasn’t entirely serious about what I said next; I was simply being the bartender, playing the game.  “Unless of course, you want to make me breakfast in the morning.”

She didn’t blink; she just sat there smiling.  “I could be up for that,” she said.

At her apartment, we had some drinks at her kitchen table, then went into her bedroom.  We were complete strangers; I’d seen her at the bar, but had never spoken with her until tonight, and that was only passing conversation as I worked.  I’d learned that she was going for her Master’s Degree in Education–and now on a whim, she had invited me home with her.  I guess we were just two adults, doing what adults can do, if they want.

In her bed, it was tentative at first, as we tried to get a sense of what each of us was ready for . . . then things opened up.  Afterward, I was wondering if I should head home, but she turned and spooned up next to me with her arm over my shoulder, and I stayed for the night.

She was still half-asleep when I got up and got dressed early the next morning.  I went back out into the kitchen.  Her sister was at the kitchen table with another girl, a friend.  I’d seen them at The Lark as well, although I’d never spoken with them either.  Now they were both sitting at the kitchen table in their bathrobes, eating breakfast.  “Are you hungry?” the sister asked.  She didn’t wait for an answer as she brought out another plate, and poured me a cup of coffee.

“Do you want a lot, or a little?” she asked, holding a bottle of Jameson Irish whiskey in one hand, ready to pour some into my cup.  “If I know Nancy,” she said about her sleeping sister, “She won’t be getting up before noon.”

We all introduced ourselves, but in a morning fog, just a minute later I was trying to remember the friend’s name.  She was twenty-something blond, with that just-rolled-out-of-bed look, and clearly more than a little hung-over.  Nancy’s sister, Jeanne–at least I remembered her name–kept glancing warmly at me as we all talked.  They asked what it was like tending bar at The Lark.

“It’s raining pretty hard outside,” Jeanne said at one point, “Why don’t you stay until it clears up?” Jeanne had short, bobbing reddish hair, with a straight-forward look in her eyes, and a devilish smile. We each poured another shot of Irish whiskey into our cups.

Where was all this coming from–the invitation for breakfast, suggesting I stay, those doe-eyed looks?  From what I‘d seen at bar, Nancy and Jeanne could be pretty competitive as sisters, at least when it came to men.  Was Jeanne just being hospitable, or was she hitting on me because I’d come home with her sister?  And her friend at the kitchen table was also giving me these mysterious, come-hither looks.

The bathrobes of both girls were only loosely tied at the waist, and the sides kept falling open as they turned one way or the other.  At one point Jeanne’s breasts were exposed, but she laughed as she pulled the bathrobe closed again.  “We’re pretty casual around here in the morning,” she said with a sheepish grin.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  The girl I’d come back with was sleeping right in the next room.  After a while I told them I was pretty tired, and probably should head home.  “You can take a nap in my room, if you want,” Jeanne said, “If you’re worried about waking Nancy,   . . . you can sleep in my bed for a while.”

Did she just say that? Was I reading too much into it . . . did she plan to join me?  Jeanne’s friend was looking right at me again, smiling.  There were only two bedrooms in this apartment, and it was clear that the friend had stayed overnight; they must have slept together in Jeanne’s bedroom.  Were they now thinking about a morning three-some?

I’d never been in a three-some with two girls, although back in Cortland there had been a few “two-guys-and-a-girl” things.  Soon after I’d taken the job at The Lark Tavern, I’d gone back to Cortland to see some friends.  Stopping at the old frat house, I’d unintentionally walked in on Mark Albrechta in the afternoon.  He was in bed with a woman I’d later learn was known as “Ramblin’ Rims.”

That was her CB handle; she was a female teamster who talked with the other drivers on the CB radio network as she barreled along.  She was from the mid-West, and was really into being a teamster, although in appearance she looked as fresh and innocent as a Sunday School teacher.  She got a kick out of everyone’s surprise when she told them what she did for work.  She was a tiny little woman, probably in her late twenties, standing about 4’ 10”, and weighing no more than 90 pounds.

Mark was a wild man, just like Gringes, only Mark had good eyesight and he had dropped out of college to join the Marine Corps.  He was back in Cortland while on leave.

Mark and the lady teamster were going at it on the bed when I leaned my head around the half-open door.  “Sorry,“ I said, and turned to walk back out.  Three or four steps down the hallway, I heard Mark’s voice.  “Hey, Mike!” Mark called out, “She says it’s OK.  You can join us if you want.”

So I went back, and participated in the fun.

At one point, I was in a missionary position with the woman, and Mark was straddling her shoulders as she lay there.  All I could see was Mark’s ugly butt, his broad back, and her little arms sticking out on either side beneath him, spread out as wide as she could possibly stretch them.  It was as though she wanted us to know that she was completely opening herself to us.

Now in this Washington Park apartment, apparently here was an opportunity for a three-some with two girls.  Those damn. teasing bathrobes kept flashing open from time to time, exposing more bare skin.  Neither of them had anything on underneath other than their panties, but neither seemed to giving it much thought–or maybe they were giving it some thought, doing it intentionally.

They were both real cute, sitting there without make-up, their hair a little rumpled–but something about that, too, fit with the casual, open way they were acting.  They were comfortable just being honest in appearance, without pretense.  There was something very sexy about that.

I thought of Nancy, who was still sleeping in next room, in her bedroom.  Where did she fit into all of this?  Maybe these sisters shared, or was this part of the competitive thing between them?  I didn’t know Nancy at all, but did I owe her something–at least enough respect that I wouldn’t do this?  The two girls were looking so hot at the kitchen table, relaxed and waiting as they sat smiling in those loose bathrobes.

I finally said, “No, no nap,” making some excuse that I’d better be going, even in the rain.  I actually was a little tired from the night before, and then there was trying to consider how Nancy would feel, having me come home with her, then sleeping with her sister.  I didn’t want to be a jerk, whether I really knew Nancy, or not.

“Yeah, I think I’m going to take off,“ I said.  The two girls now exchanged a meaningful glance, and I still wasn’t sure what was going with them–what they’d had in mind, if anything.  Had it all been only my reading into things, wishful thinking?

“You’ll be kicking yourself for this later,” I thought as I closed the apartment door behind me.  And on the rain-soaked walk home, I was doing just that.

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ALBANY CORRUPTION

Copy of moneyTwo(This note is from The Lark Tavern in Albany NY, where two undercover narcotics detectives would hang out at the bar. For more background on Paul and Sonny, see Part I and Part II of their stories.)

At the time I wouldn’t have said that Paul and Sonny were really, seriously crooked cops.  They certainly bent the law, and sometimes Sonny was completely out of control.  But they always had our backs at The Lark Tavern–in fact they’d just saved the bar manager’s ass–so I guess I looked at the whole thing both ways, the good and the  bad.  It was as though Paul and Sonny simply knew what they could get away with, and what they couldn’t.

From what I’d seen so far, that seemed to be the rule of thumb in Albany.  What can we get away with . . . what laws do we have to obey?  When first arriving in town, I remember stopping at a bar called G.J.’s late one afternoon.

There were a couple of booths on the left as you first walked in, and in the front one closest to the door, a well-dressed black man had his briefcase open on the booth table.  The man was dressed Super-fly style.  He was wearing a light red, flamboyant three-piece suit with bell-bottomed pants.  He had his sunglasses on inside the bar.  That briefcase had the top open and set straight up, and there were these small, clear packets containing some white powder stacked inside.

The briefcase was full of them.  He was holding up one of the packets, about to hand it to someone who was slipping him some folded money.

This was in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, just inside G.J.’s front door.  There were large front windows behind him, with a direct line of vision from the street.

“Welcome to the city,” I thought, having just moved here from the small town of Cortland, NY.  I figured that for him to be doing this so openly, someone must be seriously taking care of somebody.  At least one or two of the local patrolmen must have had their palms greased.

Later, when I began working at The Lark Tavern, a stereotype, middle-aged Italian man walked in with two large, thick-necked guys.  This middle-aged man must have been wearing a thousand-dollar worth of clothes and jewelry.  An expensive-looking silk suit, a  fat gold chain hanging from his neck, and these ridiculously large rings on several fingers of each hand, some with flashing stones.

When I finished making their drinks, the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a large wad of one-hundred-dollar bills, so fat it almost didn’t fit in the palm of his hand.

With the prices back then, the round of drinks only came to around ten or twelve dollars, so when I set the man’s change on the bar, I gave him a fifty-dollar bill with it.  He picked up the fifty slowly, looked at it for a minute in front of his face, then handed it to me.  Back then it was almost as much as I’d make for an entire night of bartending.  “This is a good drink,” he said, looking right at me, “You make it like this every time, and we‘ll get along.”

The three of them only stayed for one more round, but with that last round they got drinks for everyone at the bar.  They bought about twenty or thirty people drinks, and everyone began applauding.  Then the three of them got up and left.

What struck me was that The Lark was just a neighborhood bar, not a gangster hang-out.  Along with the mafia guys that night. we also had doctors and lawyers seated a couple of stools away.  A few politicians had stopped in from the New York State capitol buildings two blocks down the street.  There were some college students hanging around.  But from the moment they walked in, these bent-nose types were immediately accepted.  This was a bar, and it was as though everyone knew that there were many ways to make a living in Albany; some legal, some not.

Copy of NewYorkLotteryLogoOne night the man who ran the New York State Lottery was in The Lark for some kind of going away party.  (At least that’s what Tommy Talbor told me–that the man was either in charge of the New York Lottery, or at least one of its higher-ups.)  This going-away party was to send the man off in style, because he was apparently beginning his prison sentence the next morning.  He’d been found guilty of some scam involving the state lottery.  Everyone was making toasts, and giving the sentenced man hugs.

Albany was so corrupt that one day when I asked a graduate student why she‘d chosen to attend college here, she said it was specifically because of the corruption.  “It was either Chicago or Albany,” she told me, “I’m going for my Master’s Degree in urban sociology.  Chicago and Albany are the last two cities still totally run on the patronage system.“

I remember a story about a mayor of Albany who had owned at least half the stock in a local brewery–Hedrick’s beer, I think.  Jackie Rabbit told me that in those days every bar in the city had to offer Hedrick’s beer.  If some upstart owner didn’t go along, his place would be suddenly shut down for some city liquor violation.  The bar couldn’t open again until all Hedrick’s beer was on each and every tap.

Albany’s corruption was right in your face, right on the surface of things.  It was as though everyone was so confident they didn’t even bother to hide what they were doing, and they took more chances.

It was something of a scandal in Albany when a lot of rich people’s homes were being broken into, robberies where the crooks seemed to know to exactly when and where to strike.  These robbers were organized, they took everything of value.  They must have backed up a truck to the targeted homes, stealing everything from cash, jewelry, and electronic equipment, to sometimes even furniture.

No one could figure how the crooks kept getting away with this, until one victimized family apparently said something that caught a reporter’s ear.   They said it was a surprise that their home had been burglarized because they had specifically called the police, and asked them to keep an eye on the place while they were on vacation.

On a hunch, the reporter dug further . . . and what do you know? All these homes that had been looted were homes where the owners had called the police, telling them that they’d be away.  Somebody in the chain, answering the police phones, or who had access to the phone log, or perhaps someone working in the detective division–someone was setting up the robberies from the comfort of the police station. It was a police-run burglary ring.

When the burglars were finally busted,  everyone at The Lark just shook their heads and laughed.  They all knew how this town operated.

Maybe the biggest, open secret was in Albany was the prostitution. Prostitution was absolutely rampant in this city.  Albany was the capital city of New York State, which at the time was the largest and richest state in the country.  With all the politicians, lobbyists, and the cash and influence spilling into this small city, prostitution might have been one of the biggest industries in Albany.

One day a cute young girl was sitting at the bar at The Lark.  I was thinking that she might be new in town because she had that not-quite-yet-comfortable innocence about her.  She was soon joined by a shady-looking dude, and I was surprised that she seemed to know him, at least who he was.  As I walked by them on my way to the other end of the bar, I overheard them talking.  “They’re going to be paying good money for you,” the slick dude was saying, “You’ll be living in style if you work for me.”

The guy was a pimp.  Apparently he’d found the girl at the Albany Greyhound bus terminal, just as she’d gotten of the bus from somewhere, or from nowhere.

Prostitution was everywhere in Albany.  One day in Washington Park, I walked up a wooded hill to sit and relax for a while.  Washington Park was a huge, sprawling park, designed by the same man who designed Central Park in New York City.

Copy of prostitute_0As I sat on the hillside, I noticed a cop car parked down by a road that ran along the park’s edge.  From the hill, I saw a young woman walk over to the cop car.  She talked with whoever was inside for a moment, and then handed an envelope through the rolled-down front window.

I didn’t think too much about it, until another woman walked up to the cop car, and did the same thing.  Then another woman, and another.

Later, behind the bar at The Lark, I mentioned this to one of the regulars.  “Oh, that’s just the hookers making their payoffs,” the regular laughed. “The cops run the prostitution out of Washington Park.  Everyone knows that.”

It was weird at first, having all the corruption so close to the surface, so readily seen.  But after a while, I accepted it like everyone else.  Welcome to the city.

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EDDIE VEDDER IN THE HOUSE

Copy of EddieVedder

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder

What a World Series!  Great games, controversial calls, weird endings — and Boston won.  Perfect.

But what was with all the Eddie Vedder references?  Apparently Pearl Jam has a new CD coming out, and during every night’s game they broadcast Pearl Jam music and mentioned the band’s lead singer.

So I guess I’ll tell a Johnny D’s “Eddie Vedder” story from one Monday night a while back.

Shawn Day used to work with me on Monday’s behind the bar; we had a live Salsa band and dancing until midnight.  Back then (ten years ago) Shawn was single, and a wild man.  He downed shots of Patron tequila, followed by pint after pint of Fat Cat ESB (a great local beer at the time.)

Shawn was living the life, bartending to the hilt.  He knew everybody, everyone knew him, and they all loved him.  Just to give you an idea of how popular he was, I was genuinely sorry for the guy who replaced him.

When Shawn finally left the bar, he was replaced by Greg — also a great bartender, a good guy, and a funny bastard.  But everyone missed Shawn.  One night a customer paid Greg a rare compliment.  “You’re good,” the customer said after a few hours of slam business at the bar, “You’re good, and you’re not a bad guy.”

The customer paused for a moment, as Greg’s face lit up with a little smile of appreciation.  “You’re good,” the customer continued. “ . . . But you’re no Shawn Day!”

Everyone at the bar laughed for a long time, everyone of course, except Greg.

After that, customer after customer began repeating the same thing time and again.  It became something of an insider’s joke among regulars, and then even some of the staff started using the line.

Greg would be cruising, making all the customers laugh.  (He did have a great sense of humor; he had talked everyone into called him “G Money,” just because he thought it sounded cool.  He was a riot behind the bar.)  But after doing absolutely everything that a bartender could possibly do, at some point when he least expected it, someone else would drop the line.  “Nice job, Greg,” someone would say, “ . . . But you’re no Shawn Day!”  Followed by raucous laughter from everyone.

Anyway, at the time of this story Shawn was still bartending at the club, and we were working the early part of a Monday night when a non-descript sort of guy sat at the end of the bar.  Shawn turned to get to him, but then he stopped after a step or two.  He stood there for a moment looking at the guy, then he turned back to me.

“Jesus,” Shawn said, “Isn’t that Eddie Vedder?”

Shawn was a big Pearl Jam fan.  I knew of the band, although I wouldn’t have recognized its lead singer from Adam.  But when Shawn went down to the guy he blurted out, “Eddie Vedder!  I can’t believe it!  I can’t believe I’ve got the chance to serve you!”

Great Woods, Mansfield MA

Great Woods, Mansfield MA

Eddie was in town for a concert with Pearl Jam at Great Woods (now known as the Comcast Center), in Mansfield MA.  Shawn put Eddie’s first beer on the house, then took money for the next beers out of our tip jar.  “Go ahead,” I told him, “Might as well make him feel welcome.”

Shawn got Eddie to sign a series of autographs on cocktail napkins — one for himself, I think one for his girlfriend, one for a nephew who was also a Pearl Jam fan.

Basically I tended bar while Shawn shot the breeze with Eddie Vedder.  Shawn told him about the other places in the area he might want to hit; an Irish bar called The Burren for a pint of Guinness.  A small place in Porter Square called Toad, where local musician Tim Gearan played every Monday.

When Eddie left, he was shaking hands with Shawn as though they were best friends.

Shawn got out early, as always on Monday’s, and when he walked into Toad he was telling everyone that he’d met Eddie Vedder!  He’d served Edder Vedder!

“Naw, no way you met him,” Mike Byrne said, “You’re just busting my balls.”

In those days, Mike Byrne was a weekend doorman at Johnny D’s.  He just happened to be drinking at Toad that night.  Byrnsie was around 5’ 11”, and easily 300 lbs.  He had arms thicker than most people’s thighs.  His chest was the size of a wooden barrel, and he had no neck.  Once I told him that he was a living reincarnation of Archie Bunker, from “All in the Family,” and Byrnsie took it as a compliment.

“No way you met Eddie Vedder!” Byrnsie kept saying, “No way! You’re bullshiting me!”

This went on and on . . . until Eddie Vedder walked into Toad, apparently done with his Guinness pints at The Burren.

Eddie stood inside the front door, and was looking around the bar just as Byrnsie finished ragging on Shawn one more time.

“Shawn!” Eddie shouted as soon as he spotted him.  The way he said it, you would have thought these guys were old college roommates or something.  Everyone in the bar turned to look at Eddie standing at the front door.  “Shawn,” he called out, “Let me buy YOU a beer for a change!”

Byrnsie just sat there with his mouth open, for a long time.

When Toad closed, Eddie went back with a small group to Tim Gearan’s apartment.

Tim’s wife, Paula, who had been a waitress at Johnny D’s, brought out snacks and cold beers for everyone.  After a while, Tim picked up a guitar and began singing, “Ain’t no sunshine (when she’s gone.)”   He played the song real slow and soulful, until Eddie grabbed a second guitar, and began playing and singing along with him.  The two of them sat in Tim’s living room, creating the most beautiful music.

“It was unbelievable,” Shawn told me the next day, “I mean, I had tears in my eyes from the way these two were playing.”

The next night, at the Pearl Jam concert, Eddie stopped to announce to the 20,000 fans in attendance that he had felt so welcomed on this trip to Boston.  He told about meeting a bartender, and the night at Toad, and about how he ended up playing with a local musician in an apartment after hours.

“This song goes out to all those people who made me feel so at home here,” Eddie said, “They know who they are.”  And then he started in on that slow version of  “Ain’t no Sunshine.”

It’s always nice when a rock star stops at your bar, and turns out to be just a regular guy.  I was stuck working the night of the concert, but Shawn and a few others used the free tickets Eddie got for them . . . and they all said it was a blast.

(You can hear Tim Gearan Friday nights at Atwood’s Tavern.  If you do stop in, make sure to say hello to Randi, the rocking, multi-talented booking agent at Atwood’s.  Bill Withers singing his hit, “Ain’t no Sunshine,” is below.)

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