Faneuil Hall Marketplace after revitalization.  (Photo by Gary Burke.)

Faneuil Hall Marketplace after revitalization. (Photo by Gary Burke.)

This post may be a little disjointed, but right now I’m thinking about one of the best jobs I’ve ever had — at Friends & Company, in Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

Today I want to tell you about the owner, Pam Carson, who took it in her mind to open a restaurant  . . .  even though she had no restaurant experience.  (Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?)

There’s a hundred good stories from that time, as Pam struggled with her new business; this is just one of them  . . . an hysterical incident arising from a good, if uninformed heart.

But first, here’s the back story — how Pam got started — something that still amazes me.

So you want to own a restaurant . . .

Pam Carson already ran a very successful antiques outlet called The Boston Flea Market.  Once a year she rented the entire Hynes Convention Center for a three-day crafts exposition.  Pam’s annual “Christmas Crafts and Antiques Show” featured thousands of vendors, and drew over one hundred thousand visitors yearly, each purchasing a ticket as they walked through the turnstiles.

(What did it cost just to rent out the Hynes for three consecutive days and nights?  Pam Carson was no stranger to big-risk ventures.)

Somehow in her business dealings, Pam learned about a revitalization plan for Boston’s Faneuil Hall district — and that’s where she decided she should open a restaurant.

Copy of Old bulidings TwoBack then Faneuil Hall was a run-down collection of dilapidated buildings on Boston’s waterfront, and few people could have imagined that in a short time the rows of boarded-up warehouses would become one of America’s top tourist destinations.

One of those who couldn’t imagine it was the owner of the small, empty building Pam wanted to rent.

Pam rented two floors and the basement of a vacant property for something like ten times less than that space would be worth a few years later.  She got an iron-clad, ten-year eighty-page lease, with an option to extend.  She was looking ahead — big-time.

Pam hired architects, a construction company and restaurant equipment companies to help transform her new empty space . . . and then she hired Jerry Gilbert, a highly-respected and long-time fixture in Boston restaurant management scene.  (After Jerry left Friends & Company, he became president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.)

A little over a year later, the result was a brand spanking new two-level, two hundred-seat restaurant and bar with offices on the top floor.  She’d built herself a restaurant from scratch.


The learning curve . . .

Pam had never worked in a restaurant . . . never been a manager,  or served as a waitress or bus person.  She’d never gone to school to learn, and in fact prior to thinking about opening her own place, she really hadn’t spent much time in restaurants.

So what did she do about that now she was an owner?

She asked at lot of questions.

I’d taken over as general manager after Jerry Gilbert left (I’d been the assistant manager/bar manager a year earlier.)  Now every day when Pam and I sat down for a working lunch, we’d order food . . . and then she’d start.

“I’m going to pick your brains,” she’d say with a smile.

“What do you think about trying this?” she’d ask about some new idea.

“How can we eliminate the dead time between lunch and the night business?”

“What should we do to get our drinks out faster?”

Pam picked the chef’s brains, the floor manager’s brains, even the wait staff and bartenders were solicited.  Then she’d make her decisions based on what she’d managed to pull out of everyone.

Between all her ideas, and what she learned from others, Pam put together a one-of-a-kind place.

(One of the most interesting things about Friends & Company was that everything in the restaurant was for sale.

All the unmatching tables and chairs, the odd collection of booths, the variety of old lamps that lit the place . . . all the antique posters and memorabilia that decorated the walls . . . everything had a small price sticker on it somewhere.

Pam had furnished and decorated both restaurant levels with stuff from her Boston Flea Market.  People would meet for a first date at Friends & Company . . . then come back a few months or a year later to buy the table they’d met at.  People would have a great time at the bar, and at the end of the night take home some of the memorabilia that had been hanging on the walls.  Now back to the story . . . )

In the end, Friends & Company would serve over 600 people during busy lunches . . . turning every seat over three times each . . . and then there was the bar business, as Faneuil Hall became one of Boston’s hottest nightspot attractions.

Cover of Boston Magazine

Cover of Boston Magazine

Pam’s new place won so many awards that she didn’t want to put all the plaques up because she thought it detracted from her décor:  “Boston’s Best Hamburger,” “Boston’s Best Omelets,” “Boston’s Best Blender Drinks,” “Boston’s Best Juke Box,” “Best Restaurant Décor,”  . . . I honestly can’t remember them all.


But what about the problem of learning as you go (this is the funny part) . . .

It certainly wasn’t all beer and trophies for Pam at Friends & Company . . . along the way there were (quite) a few bumps in the road.

As smart as she was (maybe the quickest learner I’ve ever seen), there were bound to be gaps in her knowledge.

For Pam, it was a problem simply understanding her staff.  She really had no idea what their lives were like, or where they were coming from.

I remember one early meeting just before the lunch rush — a meeting to discuss recent policy changes — Pam offered a new idea.

“I’ve been thinking,” she told the gathered bartenders and wait staff, “That you all come in just a minute or two before your shift starts.”

“A lot of you seem stressed and rushed, and that might not be the best way to make sure our customers get great service.”

“So . . . ,” she continued, “I’m wondering if we might not all show up a little early. Maybe I’ll have donuts, and coffee, and juice set out . . . and we can all chill out a little, relax, and get focused on the business ahead.”

“Maybe we could do some group meditation to become more centered,” she said.

Copy of meditationCome in a little earlier?  So we can all meditate before a shift????

Maybe only those who’ve worked in restaurants can appreciate the staff’s reaction.

Everyone sat there dumfounded.  Some of them had their mouths open, their jaws dropped.  There was a stunned silence . . .

Having never lived the life, Pam had no idea how a day begins for servers.  She couldn’t imagine being that hung-over and burnt-out, struggling just to make it to work a few minutes late.  She didn’t know that some of them used every little trick in the book just to show up showered, and in clean clothes.

I felt my own jaw drop.  (“She didn’t tell me she was going to say this!”)  It was like something from another planet — meditate together before work?  We’re talking about daytime bartenders and wait staff . . .

Fortunately, Tony the chef saved the day.

“Well, I could see coming in a little early,” he said with a big grin, “ . . . If we were going to play some basketball . . . some hoops!!!”  Tony was a tall black guy who lived for basketball, always playing on the streets, always talking about the sport.

Everyone burst out laughing.  I’m sure some of them thought it was hysterical, and some probably just laughed because he’d broken a dead silence.

I used the disruption to quickly scrawl a note to Pam, then turned the pad toward her.

“Let’s talk before you push this . . . ,” the note read.

Pam glanced at it, and when everyone stopped laughing at the chef’s comment she said, “Well,  get back to me with your ideas.  See if any of you can match Tony.”  Then she smiled and continued with the meeting.

Later in the office when we talked it over, the idea was dropped.  Now Pam just made sure that she always greeted the staff with a good-morning smile and lots of  encouragement . . . no more talk of pre-shift meditation, or being centered.

Anyway, even with no prior experience Pam Carson was still one of the sharpest owners I’ve worked for . . . but I guess there are some things you only learn from having been in the trenches.

(There’s a new feature in the right sidebar . . . Cocktail Napkin Haiku.  For the real deal on restaurant haiku, I’d recommend checking out Brittney’s blog — Same Food For Every Day.  See you next week.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 9 Comments


Copy of BrittneyTwoA server I know from Davis Square (Somerville, MA), recently started a blog featuring restaurant haiku.  English language haiku is typically only three lines and is meant to capture a single moment, or feeling.  Here’s a description from WikiHow“When you see or notice something that makes you want to say to others, ‘Hey, look at that,’ that experience may well be suitable for a haiku.”

Haiku-style seems perfect for bar blogs — it’s in line with today’s shorter Twitter-like communication.  (“Easily digestible, aren’t they?” this server said when I raved about her posts.)

If you want the real deal, I suggest visiting her site . . . but here are few of my own in the general style.


A bartender’s life . . .

Finished with work, tired and burnt-out,
searching through the frig for something to eat.
So you have a beer.


If you’re going to behave like a little girl, where’s your . . .

You are a restaurant worm, talking
behind everyone’s back.  PssstPsssst.
Where’s your little skirt?


You know your life is different when . . .

Hit the snooze button twice — then
struggle to sit upright, bare feet on the floor.
Trying to get to work by 6:00 PM.


I’m tempted.  I’m flattered.  But . . .

I don’t know what scares me more
than the thought of another relationship
with someone who’s a little crazy.


Not even one more . . .

I could serve you another drink, but
then I’d lie down tonight, close my eyes
and I’d still see you sitting at my bar.


Will this shift ever end . . . ?

Making martinis, margaritas, the maple honey badgers.
Pouring the draft beer, the glasses of red and white wine.
How really good would any of them taste right now?


An older couple at the bar.   Tell yourself it’s none of your concern . . .

Back and forth under their breaths,
they continue to throw at each other
cupfuls of acid.


Service industry blues, thinking this is a tough way to make a living . . .

Busy night, customers swarm the bar.
So many are taking little bites
like ants crawling up your arm.

(This is not how I feel about bartending — for that see here, or here.  This is just a quick snapshot of a feeling I had once, when in a terrible mood, and every little thing a customer asked for seemed like a giant imposition.)


Running late . . .

Socks and underwear in a tub of soapy water in the sink.
Dry them in the microwave oven,
or on the car radiator as you drive to work.

(The radiator trick is from Caveman, Tales from a Bar.  The microwave method is my own.  Back next week with a more typical post.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 9 Comments


The crowd at the Pat's first victory parade.

The crowd at the Pat’s first victory parade.

There was no Super Bowl parade for the New England Patriots this week.  (First, you have to get into the big game, and then win it — that means not dropping key passes during crucial playoff drives.)

But I’m thinking back to a better year now — back to the Pat’s first title win, and the celebration that followed.  That was a parade shared with my best friend, Colleen, and it involved a fur coat, a daring escape from the maddening crowds, and finally, a lost trophy.

The Fur Coat . . .

I was working behind the bar the night of Super Bowl XXXVI, stuck in Boston while Colleen was off in Connecticut.

She’d driven from New Hampshire to join others at the home of her friend Tom — and it sounded like a hell of a party.  On Friday night they all went into NYC’s Little Italy for dinner at Tom’s favorite Italian Restaurant.  On Saturday they were off to the Mohegan Sun Casino to try their luck at the tables, and then on Sunday they settled into Tom’s plush residence to watch the game.

“It wasn’t quite a mason,” Colleen later described Tom’s home, “But it was close.”  On two acres of land in the most expensive section of town, Tom’s home had a downstairs sauna, an outdoor whirlpool, and a large game room with a huge, big-screen TV.

There was a pool table in the game room which was in constant use, as well as pinball machines, two large arcade machines, and a full bar with Tom making drinks behind it.

While Tom and his daughter, and eight or nine of his close friends were watching the Super Bowl, the doorbell rang.

“It’s the dog,” Tom said, “He’s ready to come in.”

None of the guests believed him, so Tom took a few of them to the front door to see.  Through the windows they watched as the dog waited for Tom to let him inside.

Zeus — Tom’s friendly German shepherd — sat there wagging his tail.

The dog looked quizzically at the closed door, then at the people watching him through the windows, then at the door again.  The dog began barking while looking at the people in the windows.  He was probably thinking, “Hey, I rang the bell . . . what’s the problem here?”

Finally he stood up on hind legs — bracing himself steady with his left front paw on the front door.  Still standing upright, he used his right front paw to impatiently ring the doorbell . . . once . . . twice . . . three times, slapping it with his right front paw each time.

Then Tom let Zeus in, with everyone laughing and patting his head and back.

Anyway, the thing I want you to remember about this party is that all Tom’s friend were “high-rollers”, so Colleen took only good clothes to the gathering.

Now back to the game . . .

The Patriot’s were 14 points underdogs, but near the end of the game with seven seconds left, they were tied 17 -17 with St. Louis — and a 48-yard field goal could win the Super Bowl for them!

Copy of vinatieri_ap-01As the ball rose from it’s tee, with the clock showing 00:00 time remaining, and I was behind the bar shouting — “Yes! . . . Yesss! . . .  YESSSSSS!!!!” — as the football sailed on, and finally split the uprights.

“We won!” Colleen was shouting over the phone when she called me at the club, “We won!”  I could barely hear her.  With the cheering from Tom’s house in one ear, and the noise of the celebration in our nightclub behind me, it took several minues for each sentence to be repeated.

I asked Colleen when she’d be driving back, and it turned out that she’d be passing through Boston on her way home to New Hampshire . . . on the day before the victory parade.

“Why don’t you stop here, and we’ll see the parade together,” I shouted over the phone.

“What?” she shouted back.

The following day I reserved Colleen one of those bread-and-breakfast places in downtown Boston.

Copy of fox coatWhen I came back the next morning to pick her up for the parade . . . she was wearing a mink coat!

(Ed. note 2/23:  Colleen is back from her FLA vacation and the first thing she did was correct me.  It was her fox fur coat she had on that day, not one of her minks. To me, they’re all “mink coats.”)

She was about to head out into over one million people crowding the streets.  People would be spilling beer from their plastic cups, splashing ketchup and mustard from their hot dogs, perhaps some of them drooling . . . and she was wearing a mink coat.

“This is all I brought with me to Connecticut,” she explained.  (Of course — I hadn’t thought of that — for a party at Tom’s she would have only taken good clothes.)

Colleen on the balcony of that Bed-and-Breakfast.

Colleen on the balcony of that bed-and-breakfast.

“Well, I’ll just go like this then,” she said taking off the mink.  Now she stood there wearing just a white sweater and slacks.

This was in February.  It was brutally cold outside, freezing.  There was no time to head to my place to get her something else to wear, and she wouldn’t take my coat.

So we left the B & B, and stopped at a discount clothing store on the way to the parade.  I bought her a short ski-type jacket, nothing fancy, but warm, cute and it only cost $39.99.

“It’s a good bop-around coat,” she said, trying it on in the mirror.  (She still has it today.)

Then we headed back out onto the streets, where it was insane.


Escaping the masses . . .

For blocks and blocks, there was nothing but people.  People were shoulder-to-shoulder, touching butt-to-front . . . everyone crammed together as tightly as an over-packed elevator.

We wanted to be at Government Center, where Bill Belichick and the players would address the crowd, so we worked our way along the sidewalk toward the nearest “T” station to catch a subway.

We were literally inching our way through the crowd.

Inside the train station, layer after layer of people waited ahead of us.  After a trolley car finally picked up the first layer, everyone shuffled forward a couple of inches and another layer of people crowded in from the turnstiles behind us.

We were only two trolley stops from where we wanted to be — maybe a ten minute walk above ground — but there were too many people up there to walk anywhere.

We were stuck.  It looked like this would take us forever.

Then we heard someone in the crowd shout out, “Follow me!”

There was a man working his way along the narrow open space against the back wall.  “Follow me!” he was shouting, “Follow me!”

He was only ten feet away . . . so I grabbed Colleen’s hand, and we followed him.

Just like that . . . we didn’t know who he was, or where he was leading us . . . but we followed him.

The guy opened a door at the end of the wall; the sign on the door read:  “DO NOT ENTER!”

By now other people were joining the line behind us.  “Where are we going?” someone way back yelled.

“I have no idea!” I shouted over my shoulder, “Maybe the guy knows a shortcut!”

This is something close to what it looked like.

This is something close to what it looked like.

The door led down into a narrow tunnel lit only by those dim bulbs in their small metal cages.  They were strung along the wall in a connecting line as we lopped along.

“Follow me!” the guy kept shouting.  His voice echoed back through the dark, winding tunnel.

It was like something from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“Followww meeee!!!”

Maybe five minutes later, we came to some stairs leading up.  When we exited a door, we were at the Park Street stop.  We must have walked underground beneath the Boston Commons.


The Lost Trophy . . .

We finally made it to Government Center where there were an estimated 1.4 million people in the area with us.

“There are more people standing in these couple of blocks than every man, woman and child in New Hampshire,” I told Colleen, referring to her adapted state,  “ . . . And that includes all the cows living there, too.”

She punched me on the arm.

It was oppressive.  By now we were at the bend in Cambridge Street, a long way from the balcony where the players were.  Girlfriends were sitting on top of their boyfriend’s shoulders to get a better view.  Guys had climbed up the poles and were dangling from the street lights to get a better view.

I looked behind us . . . less than fifteen feet away, on the other side of the street where we were standing . . . there was a bar.

Copy of Copy of Government Center

The crowd gathered at Government Center. The bar is circled . . . it was only a few feet behind where we were standing on the street.












“Come on!” I said, dragging Colleen with me.

We got inside just in time . . . we squeezed by as the doorman was telling everyone that they’d hit capacity, and no one else would be admitted.

Inside, we were warm and toasty.  We could still look out the windows . . . in fact, we had relatively the same view that we’d had outside, but now we could hear what the players were saying from the broadcast on the large screen TV’s.

Perhaps more importantly . . . now we were in a bar!

Someone was just leaving and we lucked out with a seat for Colleen at the bar.  All around us people were cheering and celebrating.

I was drinking beer, but as the Patriot players continued to take turns at the microphone, Colleen said, “Order a martini next time.”

“I want to steal two of these glasses,” she said.

I protested at first — I work in this business, I didn’t want to be a jerk — but then Colleen called the bartender over.

Copy of Martini glass“You wouldn’t mind if we took these glasses with us, would you?” she smiled at him, “These will be my trophies.”

He looked at Colleen’s tasteful white sweater.  He looked at the growing pile of money on the bar in front of us, accumulating as a tip.  He looked at Colleen smiling at him.

“Naw,” he said, “No one’s going to notice something like that today.”

So I ordered an extra-dry Bombay martini.

As we left, I threw down another twenty on top of the tips already on the bar, and we took the now-empty glasses with us.

We walked down Tremont Street, headed back towards the subway station.  As we crossed a side street, right before you get to the Omni Parker-House Hotel . . . I hit a patch of black ice.

Seriously, I wasn’t drunk . . . a little buzzed maybe, definitely not drunk.  But now as we finished crossing the street, and I stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the hotel — I hit a patch of black ice.

Suddenly both of my feet went up in the air . . . they went up so fast I didn’t quite know what was going on.  Suddenly I was up in the air, stretched out like a plank of wood, parallel to the sidewalk.  And I was coming down fast.


I’d gone from walking upright to flat-on-my-back, with no break in between.

People were walking by, trying not to look at me lying there on the sidewalk.  Colleen couldn’t stop laughing.

“Sorry,” she said, “I don’t mean to laugh . . . but that was so funny!”

“Are you OK?” she asked.

I was fine, but I had been carrying one of those stolen martini glasses in my coat pocket (she had the other one in her purse.)  When I pulled it out now, it was in two separate pieces . . . the base/stem, and the V-shaped goblet part.

“Don’t worry about it,” Colleen said, as we continued to walk toward the train station, “I’ve got one . . . that’s good enough.”

I knew she was disappointed; she’d wanted a pair of them.  She was trying to make me feel better.

But at least she still has that one “trophy,” now hidden in the back of her glass cabinet.  It was one hell of a Super Bowl parade.

(Ed. Note:  I’m sitting here typing in a dark apartment lit only by the glow of the laptop, as I try to get this posted before my battery runs down and the place becomes completely pitch black.  We’re in the middle of a blizzard in Boston . . . one of the worst Nor’easters in New England history.  Three feet of snow, freezing temperatures, the wind gusts hitting 60 miles per hour, and power outages that include my street.  And where is Colleen . . . ?

She happens to be in sunny Florida.  She’s down there for three weeks at her parent’s winter home to celebrate her father’s eighty-sixth birthday — I told her not to mention the weather when I call, but so far she’s done just the opposite.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 8 Comments

LULU (and the I Ching)

Copy of Back of headHer name was Lorraine, but everyone called her “Lulu.”  She was a cute, sexy, bouncy sort of girl that everyone noticed when she walked in to apply for a waitress position.

Phil, one of the bartenders at The Sunflower Café, was practically falling all over himself trying to be helpful.  He not only handed her the application, but afterward leaned over the bar to explain what she had to fill in, and what she could leave blank.

Then he ran off to find the general manager, and Lulu was hired on the spot.

Lulu and Phil ended up taking off by themselves her first night after work.  He was married but known to fool around, and she seemed pretty grateful for getting the job.  We all figured they were screwing.

Phil was married, so that didn’t last long.  A couple of weeks later, Lulu and the chef were an item.  Then it was the assistant manager’s turn.

So when Lulu ended up hanging out after work on a night I was bartending, I guess I had all the facts clear in my mind.

But back then I wasn’t so good at paying attention to the details.  All I was thinking about was opportunity.

We made a date to see a new Star Wars movie.  She showed up at my apartment early and my roommates let her in . . . I was still in the shower.  When I walked out of bathroom I only had a towel wrapped around my waist; I didn’t know she was there.

I remember she looked me up and down.

We ended up in the sack when we returned from the movie and what an adventurous, surprising free-for-all it was.  I finally came in her mouth, but she continued to hold me there afterward with her tongue moving slowly, and she went “Hmmmmmmmm.”  She did it loudly, as though she really meant it.

Of course we had a second date, and then a third.  Then we were bopping around Boston each time we both had the same night off.  We were having great sex.  She was smart, funny.  We had a blast together, always clowning around.

I remember we were on the MBTA Red Line one afternoon, heading from Cambridge into Boston.  She was trying to translate a sign in Spanish at the end of the subway car.

“No passing between . . . cars . . . when the train . . . is moving,” I read slowly, with a break between the words as I studied the sign.

She punched me on the arm when she noticed the English version of the sign on the other side of the car.

Copy of CharlesMGHRedLine“This is where we get off,” I told her when we reached the Charles/MGH stop.  “Named after Sir Charles McGoon Huff ,” she said in a tour-guide voice,  “One of America’s most famous revolutionary patriots.”

Of course it’s really named after Charles Street, and the Mass General Hospital.  I feigned a disapproving groan.

Just stupid stuff like that, but it was fun.  Waiting for a bus with her could turn into a good time.

I don’t know when it happened, but I started falling in love with her.

Not the crazy — I-want-to-get-married — or there’ll-never-be-anyone-else-for-me kind of thing . . . but I was definitely getting hooked on her.  I guess I was slow picking up on the tell-tale signs.

One night I saw her and Phil talking intimately at the end of the bar.  Sure, they’d had a thing before, but I didn’t think too much about it.  Not too much, anyway.

A few days later one of our customers, Howie, said something like:  “She’s a popular gal!”  He’d been watching Lulu say good night to another customer who was leaving, standing real close.

There was something knowing in his tone, like an insider’s air, so I asked, “What are you trying to say, Howie?”  I said it with a laugh.

“Loose lips sinks ships,” he said, pulling his fingers over his sealed mouth.  Howie could be pretty weird after a few beers.

Lulu was late leaving work at her real job one night (she was a nurse at Mount Auburn Hospital.)  I was waiting for her at her apartment.  Her roommate had let me in, and that roommate had given me a strange look.  She’d looked me right in the eyes when she said, “You’re here to see Lulu?”

I’d thought, “Of course, what else?”  But it was one of those looks where you’re sure the person has something more they want to tell you (something about Lulu?) . . . but they’re not going to say it.

When Lulu came through the door, she seemed a bit frazzled.  She almost tried to rush by me without even saying “Hello.”  She was headed for the bathroom.

I stopped her, put my arms over her shoulders, and leaned foward to kiss her.  She let me, but she kept her lips tightly closed.  There was a faint odor . . . what was it?  Did I recognize it?

“I missed my bus,” she said over her shoulder, on the way to the bathroom now.  “One of the doctors had to give me a ride.”

“Oh Jesus!” I thought.

The faint odor . . . her musty breath.  Did she give the guy a blow job in the car just for driving her home?

Now I was trying to figure out what I should do about this relationship.  I’d felt myself becoming more involved, and now I was wondering what was going on.

But later that night, in bed together, and none of it seemed to matter.  Like I said, even with the facts in front of me, I could be pretty dumb about everything given the right distraction.

Well, at least I’d started thinking about it now and then.  There was more getting together, more thinking and wondering between dates.  It was getting pretty confusing.

Now, here comes the strange part . . .

Copy of I Ching BookA friend of mine at The Sunflower Café, Gretchen Stone, had given me a copy of a book called the I Ching.  It’s a book of ancient Chinese wisdom.

Some people consider it an oracle, a method of prophecy, a way of divining deeper truths.  (I won’t elaborate on that here, but if you’re interested you should read Carl Jung’s 1949 introduction to the Richard Wilhelm edition.)

Anyway, after Gretchen gave me the book, I’d tossed three coins now and then, and read the Hexagrams.

Now at home alone one night, I thought . . . “Why not ask the I Ching for advice?”

So I tossed the coins, and they steered me to a Hexagram called, “Coming to Meet,”  (Kou, number 44.)

“Wow,” I thought, “That’s great!”

Then I read further.  I read beyond the title, to the full text of the Hexagram.

It spoke of a bold girl who surrenders herself lightly and thus gains power . . .

“[She] seems so harmless and inviting that a man delights in it; . . . so small and weak that he imagines he may dally with it and come to no harm.”

“Hmmm,” I thought, “This must be a mistake.”

So I threw the coins again.

I got the same Hexagram, the same Judgment.

This couldn’t be right!  It’s not talking about Lulu!  I threw a third time, and got the same Hexagram.

“This is too weird!” I was thinking.  With sixty-four possible Hexagrams (determined by six tosses of three coins) . . . what were the odds that I’d draw the same Hexagram three times in a row?  I didn’t like the message, but it seemed so dead on — strangely specific.

Still wanting a different answer, I threw the coins again.

This fourth time, I drew the Hexagram “Youthful folly:”

“YOUTHFUL FOLLY had success,
It is not I who seek the youthful fool;
The young fool seeks me.
At the first oracle I inform him.
If he asks two or three times, it is importunity.
If he importunes, I give him no information.
Perseverance furthers.”

I swear this happened.  I felt like I’d been scolded.  I had another beer, and went to bed . . . but those words about “the bold girl” had definitely been planted in my brain.

Lulu and I continued to go out, although I was more sober about the whole thing now.  The obvious facts were no longer so easy to ignore.  I guess I was just waiting for something to break.

It didn’t take long.

Copy of Copy of GoldDustWomanA couple of weeks later, Lulu and I were sitting at her kitchen table after a night out.  She was playing an old Fleetwood Mac collection.  When it came to the song, Gold Dust Woman, she got up to turn up the volume really loud.

“Well, did she make you cry . . . Make you break down . . . Shatter your illusions of love.”

“And is it over now?  Do you know how . . . To pick up the pieces and go home?”

At that point in the song, Stevie Nicks hangs on the word “Love” with her vibrato . . . “Shatter your illusions of Loo…ovvee.”

“What do you think of this song,” Lulu asked over the music, sitting again across the table from me.  She had a smile on her face now . . . a smile that looked a little mean-spirited with the tight lips . . . although it was a child-like meanness, the way a child still seems innocent while perhaps being cruel.

She got up and did something to play the tune again.  “I love this song,” she turned and smiled, “Don’t you?”

As we listened to it again, we were looking at each other.  She was looking into my eyes, still smiling . . . she was playing some movie of herself in her head, while listening to a pop tune.  Finally I knew she was playing me, and she knew I knew, . . . and now she was enjoying the moment.

“Jesus,” I thought, “How old are you?”

I wasn’t angry, really.  I’d had plenty of time to prepare for this.  If anything, I felt somehow relieved.  At least now I knew for sure exactly what was going on; she’d actually done me a favor.

“I don’t know,” I answered her question about the song, “It’s alright, I guess.”

And we sat there looking at each other as the song continued.  She had that look of triumph.  I smiled back.  In a strange way it was a good moment for both of us.

After the song ended, we talked for ten or fifteen more minutes, about nothing really.  Then I got up to leave.  “I think I’m headed home,” I said, “Got a lot to do tomorrow.”

She kissed me like a woman who’s just conquered another man, and now feels a little sorry for her victim.  She was quite satisfied.  I was feeling pretty good, too, knowing I’d have no second thoughts about this.

We both were happy, each in our own way.

And I’m sure that if the I Ching were a wise old man, he also would have had a faint, knowing smile on his lips.

(I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to take a look at the I Ching.  The best edition is the Richard Wilhem translation — with that introduction by Jung.  But no matter what reason you use it, the I Ching certainly has some beautiful, breath-taking passages.)

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“HOLD THAT CHAIR!” (Christmas bar stories)

Copy of christmas dinner TwoI spent this past Christmas Day with Colleen’s family — what a great time and a wonderful meal.  (Colleen is a great cook . . . trays and trays of appetizers, followed by a twenty-pound turkey roasted perfectly, three kinds of potatoes, Italian green beans, dressing, and on and on.)

Colleen’s Uncle Tommy was there.  It was the first time I’d met him.

When he walked in the front door my first thought was that if he’d come to Johnny D’s, I would have kept an eye on him.

He looked like a tough guy.  Someone who could have just rode up on a motorcycle.  (Tommy told me later that was years ago; he drives a car now.)  He was wearing a black leather motorcycle-type jacket . . . a stocky, broad-shouldered, big-fisted kind of guy who looked to be somewhere in his early fifties.  (I’d later learn he’s actually in his seventies.)

When he heard that I was a bartender and lived in Cambridge MA, he told me that his brother-in-law used to own The Mallet, on First Street in Cambridge.  (I almost took a job at The Mallet years ago.)  He also said that his brother-in-law still owns The Cantab Lounge in Central Square, Cambridge.

I know The Cantab Lounge well, having spent some time there when I lived near Central Square.  Even now I still hear about it . . . a lot of people go back and forth between the Sunday night blues jam at The Cantab, and our afternoon jam at Johnny D’s.

His brother-in-law owns The Cantab?  Small world, isn’t it?

Then I told Tommy that I had a blog about bar stories . . . and for the next two hours he kept me spellbound with stories about growing up in bars, and about how he and his brothers — John (Colleen’s dad, also known as “Red”), and their younger brother Danny — would raise all Hell back in the day.

Apparently Tommy’s grandfather had owned a bar in Lynn, MA.  It was in a section called the “Brickyard District.”  Named after a real brickyard that had once thrived there, the Brickyard District was the rough part of town, the toughest section in Lynn, with its winding streets populated by Irish and Italian immigrants.

“It was ‘Knuckle City,’” Tommy recalled, “A real tough neighborhood, and grandad’s pub was right in the heart of it.”

(Sorry I don't have that old photo, but this is how I pictured Tommy's grandfather.)

(Sorry I don’t have that old photo, but this is how I picture Tommy’s grandfather.)

Tommy described an old photo of his grandfather standing out in front of “Lennon’s Pub”.  Taken around 1910, the photo was of an Irish guy with his tavern behind him, wearing a bartender’s apron pulled up almost to his armpits.  (Tommy tried to get me copy, but he couldn’t find it in time to post here.)

Tommy’s grandfather ran a tough bar, and he did it the old-school way.  He had a reputation for throwing trouble makers right out through the Pub’s front glass windows.  “You can’t be doing that!” the cops would tell him when they finally showed up, “Listen . . . we’re not going to warn you again!”

I suppose not everyone would be interested in a conversation like this on Christmas Day (and many of you may not be interested in this post) — but these are my favorite bars stories.  Stories about the old days.  It’s like someone who loves baseball and enjoys hearing about the early athletes, and how the game was played back then.

Tommy described generation after generation of tough Lennon boys growing up in the Brickyard District, and how they all hung out together . . . from the oldest boys in their early twenties, the middle relatives who often joined them, and then the youngest cousins who sometimes tagged along just learning the ropes.

They’d go from bar to bar drinking, chasing women, and fighting together.  “You’d get in a fight with one of the Italians in the afternoon,” Tommy said, “And then you’d be best buddies later that night.”

“But God help any outsiders who started trouble with either group . . . they’d have all the Irish and Italians joined against them.”

“Red was the toughest,” Tommy told us, referring to Colleen’s dad.  “He wasn’t the biggest guy, but nobody wanted to fight him.”

(And afterward, I know, Colleen’s dad went on to a much-decorated career in the military, during which he was a feared boxer in the U. S. Navy.  See photos at the end of this post.)

Tommy and his crew used to spend a lot of time at a place called Guffer Murphy’s, in West Lynn.

Guffer Murphy was a short, broad-shouldered man with a ruddy face, a really big nose, and a mop of scraggly hair.  Guffer had a piano in his place and several times a night he’d entertain his customers with off-key renditions of all the old songs.  Songs from the 1920’s, Irish ditties, songs from musicals — rousing and raucous bar music.

Copy of old-time pianoHe had a row of different, colored hats hanging from pegs, and he’d stop to put on a new hat before starting each song.

“He was lucky he didn’t bust the keys of that piano . . . the way he pounded them with those big paws,” Colleen’s father added, “He was more gaudy than good, playing with those crazy hats on.”

But apparently Guffer and his rowdy customers didn’t care, and this ruddy-face Irishman would just continue hammering the keys, belting out songs as everyone sang along, glasses raised.

Guffer Murphy was Irish to the core.  Tommy also told me stories about how he quickly ended trouble with a sawed-off pool cue, which he used as a billy club.

Tommy’s cousin, Ernie, owned a joint called The Crystal Lounge, another tough hang-out in downtown Lynn.  Like Guffer Murphy, Tommy’s cousin Ernie also ran his bar with a billy club in hand.

“It was a long bar,” Tommy said, “With a long row of stools lined down it.  There was door at each end.”

“When you walked in the front door, all the junkies would be sitting at the near end with their noses running.”

“The next group was the speed-freaks . . . you didn’t want to sit with them because they’d talk your ear off.”

“You didn’t want to sit with the next group either,” Tommy continued, “Because those were the pot-heads . . . and they’d just want to hug you.”

“So we’d always sit down with the last group,” he said, “ . . . The drunks.”

One afternoon Tommy and another of the Lennon family, Paul, were drinking at The Crystal Lounge.  They were alone at the bar with Ernie, all of three of them cousins, when a big guy in his twenties walked in.

“Give me a freaking beer,” the big guy bellowed before he’d even taken a stool.

“Hold on now,” Ernie said to him, standing there talking with his relatives.  Ernie had a low, raspy voice and everything he said was sort of mumbled.  “Hold your horses,” he muttered with a wave of his hand, “I’ll be right there.”

A few seconds later, the big guy called out again.  “Hey, where’s my fucking beer???”

Ernie gave him a look.  “I said, I’d be right there,” he told the big guy.

A minute later the big guy slammed his palm down on the bar.   “Give me A FUCKING BEER down here!!!” he yelled.

Ernie walked down to him, and the guy started giving him lip.  “Give me a fucking beer, the guy yelled in Ernie’s face, “. . . Or I’m coming over the fucking bar!”

(Old-time bartender's billy club)

(Old-time bartender’s billy club)

The guy looked like he was about to get up.  Maybe he intended to come over the bar . . . but Ernie reached down, grabbed his billy club, and he whacked the guy across the forehead.

The guy went down like a sack of coal, face down on the bar.  He was out cold, but he didn’t fall off his stool because his chin had landed and caught on the inner lip of the bar rail.

He was still leaned forward on his bar stool, with his chin now resting on the bar.  He was hanging there motionless.

Ernie went back to his cousins and continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.

“Geez Ernie,” Tommy said, “You could have killed the guy . . . aren’t you going to call an ambulance, or something?”

“Naw,” Ernie replied, “When he wakes up, I’ll just tell him to leave.”  And he picked up where he’d left off talking.

Tommy and his cousin Paul finally convinced Ernie to call an ambulance, and the police came into the bar with the paramedics.  The cops were more angry than surprised.  “You and your grandfather!” one of the cops yelled, “You’re two peas in a pod!  You can’t keep doing this, Ernie . . . this is the third time this month!”

As the ambulance drove off, and the cops left, Ernie was mumbling to himself about all the restrictions they were trying to place on him as a business owner, and how it just wasn’t like the old days.

But my favorite story from Tommy was the “Hold that Chair” story, from a place called The Lynn Tap.

The Lynn Tap was popular with Tommy and his buddies because it was owned by an friendly Italian who would let them run tabs until payday.  “There was always a big line on Friday as everyone cashed their paychecks and paid their tab,” Tommy recalls, “I don’t think anybody ever stiffed the place.”

Anyway, one night at The Lynn Tap, two large guys over six feet tall and 200 lbs. each got into an argument.  The guy who was a regular didn’t want any trouble, but the new guy kept pushing him.

“Hey,” the regular said, “I’m not looking for trouble.”

But the newcomer kept needling him, until finally the regular turned to him and said:  “Look, I have to warn you . . . I know Karate.”

“I don’t give a shit about Karate!” the new guy snapped.

“I just had to warn you,” the regular said.

“Tell you what,” the regular continued, “I’m going to give you a little demonstration, and then if you still want to fight, so be it.”

Copy of captain'sChairThe regular stood up and pulled over a wooden chair from one of the tables.  It was one of those classic “Captain’s” chairs with an arched back, and a solid wooden seat probably two inches thick.

The regular guy lined the chair up in front of him.

He lifted his open hand, and brought it back down slowly to just touch the thick wooden seat.  He was preparing for the Karate chop.

He did this slowly once . . . then twice . . . with everyone watching.

As he raised his hand a third time . . . now just about to crack the chair seat into two pieces . . . he paused.

“Hey,” he said to the new guy, “Grab hold of the chair will you?  Hold it steady . . . I don’t want the pieces to go flying when I split it.”

The newcomer grabbed the top of the chair with both hands, and held it firmly as the regular lifted his open hand up one more time.

Then, as his hand came down fast . . . instead of hitting the bottom of the chair . . . the regular punched the newcomer right between the eyes.

“As he was going down,” Tommy told the story now, “You could see the expression on his face — ‘Oh no, I just got suckered!’”

When the new guy came back to consciousness, they hosted him back up onto his bar stool . . . and the afternoon of drinking continued.

“After that, it became a catch-phrase,” Tommy told us.  “Whenever there was going to be trouble, one of the regulars would say to the wise-ass — ‘Hold that chair!’”

“All the regulars would laugh, and the new guy would get nervous, wondering what was going on.  If he asked what it meant, we’d just tell him — ‘You don’t want to know!’”

I have to say it was a most enjoyable Christmas afternoon.  Tommy had some great stories.

(Below are photos of Colleen and her father, and then of her two uncles, Tommy and Danny.)

Colleen and her dad (believe it or not, he's in his late eighties.)

Colleen and her dad (believe it or not, he’s in his late eighties.)











A recent photo of Tommy, on the left, and his younger brother Danny.  (Tommy's in his seventies; Danny is a few years younger.)

A recent photo of Tommy, on the left, and his younger brother Danny. (Tommy’s in his seventies; Danny is a few years younger.)

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