SUGAR PACKETS (More bits and pieces)

Most of the notes I’ve saved over the years are simply about what happened behind the bar — an interesting character I met, or a weird event that happened during the shift.

Some of the notes tell a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Others are just bits and pieces (see The Chocolate Starfish). Here are two more of those . . .


(This note is from my early years as a bartender at The Lark Tavern in Albany, NY.)

A quiet guy walked in into The Lark one afternoon, and ordered a short Utica Club draft.  He was a medium-built guy with thinning hair.  I’d never seen him in here before.

I set down his beer and said, “That will be fifty cents.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out two white sugar packets, the kind you see in a cafeteria or diner.

He set them on the bar, side by side.

“That’ll be 50 cents, please,” I said again.

He seemed surprised, and pulled out a handful of sugar packets.

He placed a third packet next to the first two. He watched me expectantly and then laid down another, and another, looking up at me each time. He stood there waiting for me to pick the packets up.

Then I saw the hospital band on his wrist.

The Capitol District Psychiatric Center was a couple of blocks from The Lark, on New Scotland Ave.

Maybe the patients used sugar packets in some sort of barter system, or as chips when playing cards. He’d probably broken into a pantry and taken as many handfuls as he could manage. He’d snuck off the grounds with his pockets full of sugar packets, ready for a night on the town. He was still waiting for me, more sugar in hand.

“I think you’d better call the hospital,” I told him.

The expression on his face said, “How did you know about the hospital?”

I watched him walk to the pay phone. His back was toward me and he was hunched over as he spoke quietly with someone on the phone. Then he turned and headed directly for the door.  He didn’t look left or right, not even a fraction of an inch to either side, as though he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I felt sorry for him afterwards. If I’d just given him that beer on the house, he probably would have had his best afternoon in long time.



(This note is from The Cantina Italiana, in Boston’s North End — see Joey Cigars and Ghosts of Christmas Past.)

One of the waitresses at The Cantina gave us a cat. We named the kitten, “Tina.”

She was so small, about the size of my hand, that we never let her outside.

Tina would hide somewhere in the basement until everyone was gone. Then she’d cautiously peek her head out as I sat at the desk making up the next day’s banks. She’d hop up on my knee and start purring like crazy, kneading her tiny paws into my pant’s leg.

I’d lock her in the basement when I left, but she always seemed to find her way upstairs. She kept setting off the restaurant’s motion detectors.

I was attached to her at this point, so I took Tina home with me.

At the time I was general manager at The Cantina, and worked long hours. Since I lived alone, when I finally got home Tina would be bouncing off the walls. She’d be jumping all over me, with her eyes frantic and as wide as saucers.

“Cats need company,” my date one night explained when I told her about this problem, “You have to do something to help her burn off all the energy.”

“Just trail a string in front of her,” my date suggested, demonstrating what she meant. “Run the string across the floor, up onto the couch, back across the floor and up onto the chair . . . back and forth in a figure eight. Just drag the string until she gets tired chasing it, then she’ll be back to normal.”

It worked.

Now every night when I came home, I’d run that string across the floor, back and forth in a figure eight until Tina just gave up. She’d lie on her back, panting.

Sometimes I’d tease her. I’d dangle the string above her paws and as she lay there she’d take exhausted swipes at it.

One night as she lay on her back swiping with all four paws, I quickly looped the string around her legs . . . like a cowboy tying up a steer.

Her paws now bound together, I began to rock her back and forth.

Tina struggled for a second, then she began to purr loudly. With her mouth open and her eyes half-closed, she lay on her back purring liked I’d never heard her purr.

It became a routine after that.

I’d let her chase the string until she lay down in the middle of the floor. Now when she laid down, it didn‘t seem like she was exhausted, just ready for the next part.  She’d roll onto her back and put her four paws together to make it easy.

I’d rock her back and forth with that string wrapped around her feet, and she’d just purr and purr and purr.

Someone in my apartment building must have ratted me out. My landlord came down one day and reminded me that the lease specifically said no pets.

I took Tina back to The Cantina. She was old enough now to be let out overnight.

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13 Responses to SUGAR PACKETS (More bits and pieces)

  1. JD says:

    Funny stories. I used to frequent the Lark Tavern when I was in college, but I heard they burned down recently. Too bad, that was a great hangout. Had many good nights at The Lark.

  2. Starbucks8294 says:

    The guy with the sugar packs is a classic bar tale. Goes to show you never know what to expect when bartending.

  3. Llylak says:

    Both stories are cute even though the one with the sugar packets is sad if you think about it. You used a light touch this week. Nice.

  4. Colleen says:

    A kinky kitten, eh?

  5. Susan P says:

    Aw, two cute stories this week. I’ll never let you near my cat after reading that! : )

  6. Dave says:

    Enough with the tied-up cats, what about that blond who wanted to be spanked? Good stuff though, keep going.

  7. Richie says:

    A bar I used to hang out in had a guy show up one time in a hospital nightgown. He wasn’t from a mental hospital, just tired of hospital food. He had a beer and a burger then left. He was a real card, an OK guy.

  8. Jaimee says:

    Woohoo! Lots of fun with ropes and a cat. :)~

  9. Mike Q says:

    JD: Hopefully they’ll reopen, JD. It was a great bar. We heard that it had been a speak-easy during prohibition. Since 1933 it was an Albany institution.

    Starbucks: Agreed, my friend . . . behind the bar you only expect to be surprised.

    Llylak: Thanks, and good to see you again, Lly.

    Colleen: Hey, thanks for commenting. I tell everyone reading these posts that you’re my best friend, . . . you should comment more often just not to make me look bad, right? Talk with you before work.

    Susan P and Jaimee: Glad to hear it tickeled your fancy.

    Dave: Not sure when I’ll get to that . . . the first two installments have already been posted, Kristin, part I & II.

    Richie: That’s a riot . . . wish I could have been there for that one. That’s a great bar story.

  10. Kyle says:

    The Lark Tavern sounds like every other upstate NY bar I tossed down a pint in and that’s a good thing. I liked the Jackie Rabbit piece.

  11. Sandra says:

    That’s story with the cat is too funny. I’m just catching up now after not being here for two weeks. I’m still laughing about the cat.

  12. Rebekah says:

    Next time please be responsible and get him/her fixed and an indoor home. You gave her and her thousands of offspring a bitter end.

  13. Mike Q says:

    Kyle: The thing I remember most about Upstate bars was that everyone talked with everyone else. If you were sitting next to someone, it was assumed that you’d talk and be cordial. Maybe it’s not a such good idea in a larger city, but there’s something to be said for that spirit of camaraderie.

    Sandra: Welcome back, and thanks for commenting.

    Rebekah: I only had Tina for a month or so, then she went back to the Cantina. I honestly can’t remember if she was “fixed” at some point or not, although do I know she lived a long and pretty plush life as the restaurant’s house cat. I had one other cat with a girl friend I was living with at another time (see the post “A Connected Guy”), and we did have her fixed.

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