LIFE ON A COCKTAIL NAPKIN, the book—a story of the joyous, free-spirited, and sometimes unsettling early years in the life of a city bartender in the 1970s— is now available on Amazon

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Undercover narcotics cops, and some mafia wannabees. A tall, mysterious blond woman who wants to be tied up and spanked—it’s a different world behind the bar.


Fresh from a small town, a young man is thrown into a bartending nightlife at a city tavern in the early 1970s. With humor, grit, and the company of good people—including that provocative blonde met by chance—I struggle to find my way in the carnival-like atmosphere during an extraordinary and challenging time.

While still in my twenties, I step off a Greyhound bus and land a job at a popular city nightspot. But I’m not prepared for the crazy mix of customers lined down the bar. Each of them has a story.


Shameless deadbeats drink beside a scheming housewife while the manager pulls out a gun to settle a bar dispute. As everyone celebrates the weekend, a seventeen-year-old virgin walks in seeking advice. Meanwhile, the old-timers sit quietly, nursing their beers. They’ve been watching this sort of thing for years.

It’s a world of phone numbers on cocktail napkins and parties until dawn–but it’s also a rough introduction to the dark side of city nightlife. Violence and crooked cops are sometimes a part of daily business.

Fortunately, three women help me cope. The first is the tavern owner’s nineteen-year-old daughter. She’s a friend and a bartender with a smile that suggests experience beyond her years. Another of the bartenders, Kate, becomes my best friend. Despite struggling with the effects of a horrible childhood, she’s a brilliant and articulate companion.


Then I meet that enigmatic blonde woman who, after several weeks, moves into my basement apartment with me. She lights up my world, free-spirited and full of life, although deep secrets eventually emerge.

All the while—as typical in the early 1970s—I’m just trying to be a good person and put one foot in front of the other.

Jackie Rabbit, one of the old-time regulars (photo by Kate)

Gail Maugere, the owner’s daughter

To find a copy on Amazon, search LIFE ON A COCKTAIL NAPKIN under the category, “Books” 

— OR use this link —

Three sample chapters below . . .
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DANNY (sample chapter)

(In the 1970s, I was still in my twenties and tending bar at The Lark Tavern in Albany, NY. I also volunteered one overnight each week at a neighborhood hotline and crisis center, Refer Switchboard, half a block from The Lark.

This true story about a struggling young customer named Danny was posted on this blog in a slightly different form in 2011 and then removed when writing the book. Here it is again as a sample chapter.)

Meanwhile, as life rolled on at The Lark and at my apartment, New York State was caught in a severe financial crisis. In the struggle to cut budgets, someone had an idea to save a lot of money on mental health. They decided to move thousands of patients out of the psychiatric hospitals, placing them instead in local, less expensive group homes.

I’d heard about the plan from volunteering on the hotlines and never thought it would affect me. Then late one afternoon, one of the newly-released patients walked into The Lark Tavern. On a slow day, a quiet young man had plopped himself down at the end by the window. He lifted his hand for service, neatly dressed with an easy-going, goofy smile.

We’d all just been told a little about him. When he walked in, a counselor from Refer Switchboard happened to be sitting at the bar, and he said the kid’s name was Danny and that he had grown up in a mental hospital. Danny’s family sent him there when he was five years old because they couldn’t handle his strange behavior. For the next twenty years, his world was a row of hospital beds and the nurses’ station with a slick tile floor beneath his state-issued slippers. Now he had been released.

“It’s called deinstitutionalization,” the counselor explained as we watched Danny settle onto an empty stool. “New York is moving most of the patients to group homes, so they’ll be housed in nearby communities.” Bartending beside me, Kate asked, “Does the plan include warning all the local pubs?”

Heading down to the young man, I thought about his recent transition. I pictured them dropping him off at the group home with the car motor still running and someone saying, “There you go, Danny!” As the car door swung shut behind him, suddenly he was in the wider world. He might have stood on the front stoop and looked around, grinning. For the first time, Danny lived in a house, on a street, in a neighborhood. Each day he stepped off the stoop, there were endless possibilities. He could walk down whatever street he liked and stop anyplace he liked. On this day, he had walked into The Lark Tavern, sat down and ordered a beer, probably for the first time ever.

“I’d like a cold one!” he told me with a big smile, and then he added, “. . . my name is Danny!” I stood behind the bar. He was an overgrown kid whose only concept of what bars are like had been pieced together from watching the hospital TV. I had to think about it for a moment.

“Danny,” I asked, “should you be drinking? How about a Coke instead?”

The Lark Tavern’s interior back then

On sunny days, a bar feels so much like home. The large front window filled the place with light as Danny played a few old tunes on the jukebox. He scooped up a basketful of peanuts from the tin washtub and sat at the bar with shells scattered around him, grinning and on top of the world. “I’ll have another one!” he said, pushing his soda glass forward.

We always had a few customers at the bar in the afternoons, regulars mostly. Danny began stopping in every day. He was neatly dressed, pleasant with the staff, and the regulars barely gave him a second look after a while. They probably saw him as the quiet sort, a bit odd, but that was his business. He sat alone, but whenever one of the bartenders came over, he’d give us a quick smile and blurt out, “How are you today?” We knew he felt excited just to be allowed to stay.

The days went by, and Danny began to talk with the customers. At first, we were concerned because we’d have to ask him to leave if he made people uncomfortable. As it turned out, he was surprisingly at ease, commenting about the weather, about something on the TV, or how the New York Yankees were doing. Small differences might stop people from talking in the outside world, but it doesn’t take much to get along inside a pub. “I like Thurman Munson,” Danny said to someone watching the televised baseball game beside him. The man agreed while Danny sat beaming. He was a regular guy now, talking about everyday stuff in a bar. “I’ll be right back,” Danny said when he got up to go to the men’s room. He gestured to his barstool, making sure I would save it for him. He had found his spot.

Then he started to take an interest in the women. I should have seen it coming. It’s a different conversation, talking with a woman in a bar. Most of the women couldn’t be bothered with Danny, and they let him know. They didn’t respond or looked the other way. One girl swiveled in her seat, turning her back on him while he was talking as though something else had her attention. Danny realized it was a lost cause and quietly got up. “I didn’t mean to trouble you,” he said, returning to his barstool.

One afternoon, a new woman came into the bar, and she seemed somewhat friendly toward Danny. She gave him a casual nod as he introduced himself, and when he sat beside her, she appeared attentive and listened to what he had to say. Danny told her he liked her dress. He got her to laugh a few times. “Wait, I’ve got another one!” Danny said, and they talked for almost an hour. A few days later, they sat together again and this went on for several weeks. They’d sit and chat when at the bar, and Danny eventually told me they planned to meet somewhere for lunch.

“That’s great, Danny,” I said, although I wondered if it was the best idea. If you stepped back and noticed him, he was a good-looking guy—but he’d grown up in a mental hospital. He didn’t have a job.

By now, we knew that the woman worked as a receptionist in the downtown government offices. She was a reserved, early-thirties brunette, pretty in a way. She sat with her drink and Danny had his Coke, and it made you wonder, “What’s the story there?” When the two of them left early on a weekend afternoon, one of the new waitresses suggested they were probably having sex. “Maybe Danny is a good lover,” she said, and somebody called out, “Yeah, right!”

“He might be really hung,” the waitress said, and the entire place burst into laughter.

Evidently, they had a good lunch because they continued to meet at The Lark, talking about whatever they’d just seen on the bar’s TV. Sometimes when they left together, Danny struggled to keep the smile off his face. After a while, I wondered if I should say something to her. She had to know about Danny and the hospital, but to bring it up, so she kept it in mind. Social life can be chancy in a bar. I remember a Refer counselor once brought a client into The Lark; she handed him a Coke and introduced her “friend” to the other customers. Maybe she wanted the man to feel more comfortable in public places. This must have looked like the perfect spot to practice. “As long as you stay with him,” I thought.

But Danny and the woman from the government offices appeared to get along well, and their contact did Danny a world of good. Maybe it was the sex if they were having sex. He was definitely more relaxed, more confident now, and he’d order his Coke as though he really belonged. All the staff liked him, and he had a friend for the afternoons spent in the neighborhood bar. For him, it was fall days, football games on the TV, and an individual basket filled with peanuts in the shell. Danny was at the jukebox when Kate said, “He’s hung his life on The Lark Tavern like a coat on a hook.”

As the days continued to pass, however, we noticed a gradual change in Danny. It’s hard to describe, but there were small things—a difference in how he acted or how he sat on his stool. He’d turn to her with his hands in his lap and almost a pleading expression. Everyone might feel that way sometime, but they usually don’t show it in a bar. In those moments, Danny didn’t seem old enough to be in here.

The woman had been patient at first, but clearly something was changing. Now they’d face each other in what looked like arguments. Their voices remained too low to be heard, but her gestures were stern, choppy. And sometimes, she would stare at him hard without saying anything. Finally one afternoon, she stood up in the middle of their conversation. “You have to leave all that behind you, Danny,” she said, picking up her purse and jacket. “You have to stop living in the past.” Then she left. We never saw her again.

“She and I will have to wait for a while,” Danny explained a couple of days later why she hadn’t been stopping by. “She’s very busy with her work right now.” All the staff knew the relationship was over.

Danny tried to talk with other women, but they silently ignored him or sometimes stood up and took another seat. So he sat with his hands wrapped around a glass of Coke. “Danny,” I said, standing across the bar from him, “maybe it would be better not to mention the hospital right away.”

“What else am I going to talk about?” he looked straight at me. “That’s who I am. It’s all I’ve got.”

A week later, Danny sat by himself, not talking with anyone. The staff paid attention to him whenever we walked by, asking how things were going with the usual cheerfulness. But he didn’t smile. I wanted to do something, but what? He stayed in his spot, with an empty stool on either side, alone in the crowd. At one point, he got up to go to the men’s room. When he didn’t return for a while, I knocked on the bathroom door. “Danny,” I said, knocking, “Danny, are you in there?” With no response, I twisted the doorknob, knocking harder. “Danny, what’s going on, pal? Are you OK?”

When pounding on the door didn’t bring an answer, one of the regulars came over and Kate ran out from behind the bar. Someone grabbed a hammer and a screwdriver, and we popped the bolts from the hinges, pulling the door out of its frame.

Danny sat alone on the bathroom floor next to the sink with his back against the wall, his shirt unbuttoned and pulled out. Blood was splattered everywhere. He sat in a small puddle of it. With his shirt sleeve soaked and arms loose at his sides, a razor blade had fallen on the tile near an open hand. At first, he didn’t move at all, but then he lifted his head and looked up at us.

Danny was finally carried out on a stretcher. A paramedic shoved equipment back into a medical duffel bag as they took him outside. “He’ll be fine,” the paramedic said, “his cuts are across the wrist . . . it takes a long time to bleed to death that way. Cut yourself lengthwise, open up a long section of the vein, and you’ll be dead in a few minutes.”

An ambulance was backed up onto the sidewalk in front of The Lark with its rear doors open. Two small fire trucks had parked beside the ambulance. The lights on the vehicles continued flashing their warning in silence, but it was too late now. I stood at the end of the bar by the front window and watched the ambulance doors close.

We didn’t see Danny after that. When we followed up with the Refer counselors, we found out he was going to be OK. Later, we heard he’d been sent back to Marcy State Hospital.

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BLINDFOLDS AND BINDINGS (and then a big step)

(In this sample chapter, I’ve finally met a young woman that I had noticed since moving to Albany. She walks into The Lark Tavern one night, and we start dating, staying one night at her place, and the next date at mine . . . which is where this chapter begins.)

“Awww, you spank like a little boy would!” Kristin laughed. She started this, and now it was her turn. We’d been lying naked on the mattress on my living floor when she smacked my ass with her open hand. Then, still grinning, she did it again—so I rolled her over to return the gesture. It was another two nights off spent with Kristin, and she’d been acting frisky the whole time. Evidently, this had been building up. Now she lay flat on her stomach as I slapped her bottom.

“Big strong man,” she teased, “that’s as hard as you can hit?”

So I began spanking her sharply until her bare cheeks started to redden a little, but she didn’t protest. She remained on her stomach and seemed to relax. If she’d been a kitten, she would have been purring.

“I like it when you’re aggressive,” Kristin said after we’d finished screwing again. We had ended up doing it just about everywhere in the living room. The spanking seemed to have set something loose in her. “Some night, you should tie me up and put a blindfold over my eyes,” Kristin said. “Then you can do whatever you want with me.”

Asking to be tied up? Anything I wanted? It sounded hot, so I started to think where you could buy the stuff to do that. Albany had a small D/s boutique on Western Ave, just down the street from The Outside Inn. It was a secretive little shop, and once inside, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. The racks displayed bondage masks, whips and chains, thigh-high vinyl ladies’ boots, and fancy black leather corsets.

“Can I help you?” a girl with heavy makeup asked from behind the counter. Despite the adult cosmetics, she looked like she might be fresh out of high school. She was a young girl but a lot more experienced than I was in this, and she knew it. Beneath the glass top, the counter held an assortment of dildos, some huge with knobs and ridges, while the smaller ones were battery-operated.

The girl waited with an amused smile. “Just looking,” I told her and left the shop after a minute without making a purchase or asking questions. Maybe the necessary items could be found at a traditional department store. At Flah’s department store, I looked through the racks of scarves, choosing a colorful one that might work as a blindfold. The next item was ten feet of fancy, designer cord probably meant for interior decorating. Instead of picking up something a bit dark and sexy, I returned to the basement apartment with a bag of vanilla stuff. I had no idea what I was doing.

Digital “pencil drawing” of Kristin

I tied the scarf over Kristin’s eyes on the living room mattress that night. Wrapping her wrists gently with the designer cord, I secured the cords to one of the couch’s short legs. But as we began to do it, the rocking movement made the scarf slide off her eyes. She kept turning her head to the side, trying to push the blindfold back in place with her shoulder. We continued to screw, but the cords on her wrists began to loosen and slip, so she was holding her arms straight back on her own. “Fuck me hard!” Kristin said, nudging the scarf with her shoulder. “Fuck me good . . . you know you want to!”

Kristin lay with one closed eye exposed by a pink-and-cream scarf angled across her face. She was determined to go along even as this first effort unraveled. Kristin finally pulled both hands completely free, rolled over onto her forearms and knees, and I spanked her ass as I thrust from behind. “Spank my ass!” she called out as the scarf swayed around her neck. “Slap my bottom!”

Resting on the mattress afterward, Kristin still hadn’t said anything about the wayward blindfold or a rookie attempt at bondage. I had some catching up to do. But while it might take time to master the accessories, lying on my back beside her, I could understand why she liked it. The new options, slightly relaxing the rules, somehow made it a little more raw and exciting. In any event, everything seemed to be working out. I had a steady girlfriend, and she could be kinky, although one unexpected turn lay ahead.


Kristin and I always saw each other now on both my nights off. It wasn’t only sex. We’d end up laughing at something on a shared trip to the supermarket or waiting at the corner bus stop. We had a great time. I looked forward to our two days all week, the way most people wait for their weekends. Then, after about a month of regularly meeting, Kristin was clearly upset when she arrived at my apartment. “I don’t want to talk about it right this minute,” she said. “Let’s go to dinner first.”

Since it was Tuesday, we headed to the Irish bar for spaghetti night. It was usually relaxed and lighthearted, this start of our time together, but something else was going on tonight. Kristin finally felt ready to talk when we each had a glass of red wine in front of us and waited for our meals. “I’m being evicted from my apartment,” she said. “My landlord has decided to sell the building, and I’ll have to get out by the end of the month.” She sat quietly, looking so bummed out. As a tenant-at-will, there was nothing she could do about it. She’d lose the small studio in just four weeks. “God, I hate the idea of moving again,” Kristin told me. “And what kind of place am I going to find on such short notice?

“I may end up living in the park for a while,” she said with a half-laugh.

While she talked, a thought crossed my mind, but I hesitated before saying it. It felt a little strange as if this might be presumptuous, and I wondered about any complications. Finally, I spoke up. “If you don’t find a place right away,” I said, “you can always stay with me.”

She smiled and seemed to suddenly relax. I should have stopped there, but I kept talking. “Stay with me until you find the place you want,” I added.

“And then move again?” She had an accusing glare.

“Or just stay all the time,” I immediately came back. The ball was rolling, and even if everything felt a little out of control, I wasn’t sure I wanted it to stop. “Why look for another place,” I said as we sat at the bar. “If you can put up with a basement apartment, you can move in with me.”

She looked straight at me. “Are you sure?” she asked.

“Why not?” I answered. I was warming up to the idea, although also beginning to think it’s what she expected all along. But even when we weren’t together, I thought about her every day. “Sure, why not?”  I said. I was so caught up with her, a little head over heels, and then there was the thought of spending every night in bed with her.

“Of course, you’ll have to do all the cooking and cleaning,” I said with a straight face.

“You’re such a jerk,” Kristin smiled, “you know that, don’t you?

“Let’s talk about it,” she went on. “Let’s think it over for a couple of days.”

Instead of thinking it over, we began moving some of her stuff the following afternoon. She didn’t have much, so we decided to make a series of short trips, carting a few boxes from her place to mine. I carried over the little end table she’d bought at the second-hand store, and she put it beside my couch, arranging a white doily and small lamp on top of it.

During the next two days, we carried over more of her clothes, a box of books, and a record collection she’d kept even though she didn’t have a stereo. Soon I was making trips back and forth by myself while Kristin stayed at the basement apartment, straightening things up. She already had the place looking much more like a home with small changes, a few things added here and there. Then before I left for work on Thursday evening, we stopped at the hardware store to have a spare key made for Kristin—and just like that, we were living together.

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THE BRUTAL LESSON (last sample chapter)

(Paul and Sonny are two undercover narcotics cops, friends of our bar manager, Marty. They become regulars at The Lark Tavern, and in this sample, they step in to help Marty out of a jam. This true story was originally posted here in 2011. It’s back now as a sample chapter.)

Life at the bar rolled on, and everything still seemed to move too fast. I kept expecting a little quiet after a rocky start. In sports, there’s an old saying: “The game slows down!” It’s advice a veteran ballplayer might pass on to the youngsters, explaining that, in time, the game won’t feel so out of control. It wasn’t happening at The Lark. Despite months of pouring drafts, sometimes I still had to put on a brave face. This was a city bar, each night was new, and the place could get crazy.

The bar manager, Marty, started having trouble with a customer we’d just shut off, a seedy guy in his early thirties. He kept making a fuss about being asked to leave, yelling about his legal rights. Of course, it was only stupid bar talk, but Marty took it personally this night. Marty stood lean and muscular at 6’5”. He’d been a military guard in the Marine Corps. He grabbed the guy by the shirt, lifted him off the floor, and carried him in the air for three or four long strides before throwing him toward the door. The man landed on his feet, stumbling to catch his balance, and made one last comment about his citizenship rights before ducking out the door as Marty advanced.

Half an hour later, Marty got a call on the kitchen phone. “Just a minute,” he said to the caller. “Give me a minute. I’ve got customers.” He walked out from the kitchen over to Paul and Sonny, the undercover cops sitting at their usual spot at the bar; the other bartender and I joined them. The man who had been thrown out was on the phone, Marty told us. He planned to hire a lawyer and sue Marty for assault.

“Get him to come down here,” Sonny interrupted right away. He chimed in while Marty was still speaking before the rest of us had time to figure out what was going on. “Tell him you want to talk first,” Sonny said. “Suggest settling out of court, that you’ll make him a good offer.”

Marty returned to the kitchen as Paul and Sonny moved apart without saying a word to each other. Paul stood with his elbow leaned on the bar, looking toward the TV—while Sonny sat a little further down, bent over his drink. A half-turned barstool was now empty, with one of them on each side; I suppose they looked like anyone else at the bar. When the man walked through the front door fifteen minutes later, Marty waited behind the bar across from Paul and Sonny, so the guy stepped into the space between them. “You had no right to put your hands on me!” he snapped immediately. “You had no right! I called a lawyer.” Paul and Sonny never moved.

“I’m sorry,” Marty said, “I know I was wrong. It’s been a long day.”

“You were way out of line,” the returned customer leaned forward, “and I’m gonna sue your ass!”

Lark Tavern exterior a few years after this incident

“Look,” Marty continued quietly, “I told you I was sorry. Let’s talk about it.

“There’s other things,” Marty said, “and I can’t afford to go to court right now. So what can I do for you? How can we make this go away?

“Listen,” Marty said, “. . . can I give you some money? How much would take care of it, fifty dollars? A hundred dollars?” The man tried hard not to smile as he gained the upper hand. Our jukebox played in the background.

“What do you say?” Marty asked. “How about two hundred dollars. Is that enough?”

The guy thought about it for a moment, and then he made the mistake. “I guess that would be fair,” he said, “. . . two hundred dollars?”

Paul and Sonny pounced simultaneously in a split second, throwing the man forward and bouncing his head off the bar rail. Paul spun him into a full nelson, pinning his arms up above him. Sonny whipped his badge from his pocket and slammed it on the guy’s face. “That’s extortion, asshole!” Sonny shouted. “Asshole . . . asshole!” He kept bringing the badge down hard, again and again. Blood spurted from the man’s eyebrow.

They rushed him toward the door, twisting and turning. Paul slammed the man’s face into the door frame on their way out. Splinters of white wood popped out from the frame. The man moaned something, slumped forward in the full nelson, but his words were unintelligible.

It all happened in a blur. Paul and Sonny hustled him outside and into their car. Paul drove while Sonny held the customer in the back seat. We saw Sonny’s fist snap down in the rear window as the car peeled away. The entire incident lasted about twenty seconds.

When they returned later, we learned that Paul and Sonny had driven the man around, continuing to hit him, telling him they were going to send him to prison—for extortion, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer. “You’re going away for fifteen years, asshole!” Sonny shouted as he punched him.

“Maybe we should whack him out,” Sonny said, turning to look at Paul while holding the customer in the back seat. “Why don’t we kill him?” Sonny said. They talked about how they could dump his body by the projects, in the poor section, which had so much crime no one would really investigate. The guy was so scared he pissed in his pants, wetting his crotch. When they finally dropped him off near the projects, he bolted from the car as soon as the door was opened and ran stumbling across the parking lot.

“I don’t think we’ll see him back here anytime soon,” Sonny laughed as he and Paul told the story after hours. Later, when Marty and Paul stepped away, leaving just the two of us at the bar, I asked Sonny what would happen if the man filed a complaint against them. “What if he claims it was entrapment or excessive use of force?” I asked.

“Well,” Sonny said, “in that case, I’d have to kill him, wouldn’t I?” He laughed, but he wasn’t kidding. “He’d have to disappear,” Sonny said. “They’d never find the body. I’d never let a jerk like that fuck up my career.”  *****************************************************************************************

— Below is a link to LIFE ON A COCKTAIL NAPKIN on Amazon:

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Johnny D's 2016As Johnny D’s is about to close, a lot of us who worked there have been called for interviews. The club’s upcoming exit made the front page of The Boston Globe. It’s a big deal in this city … Johnny D’s has become an institution, winning national awards and featuring live performances by Dixie Chicks, Allison Krause, Neil Young, and Irma Thomas whose 60’s hit “Time is on my side” was later a smash cover for the Rolling Stones.

So, along with owner Carla DeLellis and others, last week I wound up talking about Johnny D’s with Amelia Mason of Boston’s National Public Radio Station, WBUR. (You can read the full transcript and Amelia’s oral history of our nightspot here. The actual broadcast on WBUR 90.9 was on the afternoon of 3/10/16. )

(Don’t forget to check out Amelia Mason’s great piece on Johnny D’s. Again, it’s .)

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