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.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 4 Comments

“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.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 18 Comments

THE PERFECT STORM (the ending)

Copy of barBack when I was working at The Sunflower Café I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on relationships.  Those of you in the business know what it’s like — everything happens so fast, and it’s non-stop.

Bar relationships come and go quickly.  After a long night of serving drinks (and keeping the crowd under control), you’re ready to party yourself when the shift is done . . . and you end up partying with whoever happens to be there.

I was still thinking about Terri (see part one and part two), but I didn’t dwell on it . . . especially with the effects of the storm still in everyone’s face.  But as tough as things were, during the blizzard the bar life became even more chaotic.  It was like the bar life on steroids.

At the end of that first night, with most of us working doubles, it felt was like we had just survived some kind of siege.  Now there was even more after-hours drinking, more madness, more of the feeling that we needed to celebrate.  The bar was lined with staff and regulars enjoying late-night drinks after we closed.

Some of the staff worried about making it home with these weather conditions.  Would they be able to get back for the next double?  So several of them came back to crash at my apartment.  I lived a ten minute walk away.

In the living room we must have been making too much noise, and my roommates got up.  (These were the roommates that didn’t get along to the point that we each had our own toilet paper in our rooms.)  Now my roommates, too, were caught up in storm-mania.

They joined us . . . it was the first time I’d ever really seen them party.  Somehow it seemed right, with conditions so bad outside, that everyone would gather in our shelter with fellow survivors.  And those roommates didn’t have to go to work for a couple of days.

That first night, four of The Sunflower staff slept over at my apartment.  The next night it was around six of them, and by the third night it was almost ten.  By now I’m sure most of them could actually have made it back to their own place — but this was a good excuse — they just wanted to join the party.  We would stay up all night, and then the guests would sleep on the couch and in the chairs, or just stretch out on the living room floor beneath extra blankets.

By the fourth day I was no longer doing doubles — so the rest of the staff had already left by the time I headed for The Sunflower.  I was walking alone.

Slogging along I passed a guy trying to move his car out of a snow drift.  There was a woman inside running the motor and the guy was bent over pushing, but he couldn’t get the car to budge.

I  didn’t want to be late for work so I walked by . . . but then a few steps later I turned around to go back and help.

By now two other people had joined the guy pushing, and then third man in an expensive trench coat set down his brief case and began to help too.

Copy of snow_pushing_carNow we had five of us pushing on the rear of the car, and then someone else joined.  People were pushing on the car, and other people were pushing on the backs of the people pushing the car.

The whole thing took less than a minute, and the car was suddenly freed.

I remember thinking that normally none of us might have even nodded hello we walked down the street.  Now we’d all stopped to help a complete stranger.  It’s amazing how a storm pulls folks together.

A woman passing by who had joined us late now looked almost disappointed once the job was done.

I saw the same spirit at The Sunflower Café.  Everyone was in a great mood and they were all inquiring how everyone else was doing with the storm.  It wasn’t that they simply wanted to appear concerned . . . it was as though they were genuinely happy for a small chance to help someone else out, to ask how everyone was doing.

And they were all great tippers . . .

Not many other places were open, and the people crowding into The Sunflower Café showed their gratitude with tips that rivaled a New Year’s Eve.  People were tired of being cooped up in their homes, tired of their own cooking, maybe they’d run out of food . . . and when it was time to leave a tip, they were extraordinarily generous.

I had a guy who nursed one beer for over an hour, talking with the people on either side of him.  When he got up to leave he laid down a ten-dollar bill.  He was tipping me just for being open.

Monday night finally came around, and I went on a date with that female playwright I’d met at The Sunflower.  We had a great time . . . again probably in part because of the spirit generated by the storm.

We went back to her place afterward and ended up in the sack.  She was a “liberated” woman.  (I could almost hear her thinking:  “If men can enjoy sex just for sex’s sake, why shouldn’t I?”)

We’d been at it for quite a while when she reached under my arms to pull me further up on top of her.  She was on her back and she pulled me up so far that that my knees straddled her face.

She put her hands on my hips and began to move me back and forth with a rapid push-pull motion.  Her hands were shoving me back and forth so violently that my hips were humping as fast as I could move them.

I’d never experienced anything quite like it.

We agreed that we’d get together again soon, but even then I had the feeling that we’d end up just friends.  Friends with benefits.

Back at The Sunflower, I was thinking about Terri again.  I was wondering if and when I should stop over to Dunster Street to see her.  But after work we were all drinking so late at The Sunflower that we never made to her place for last call.

Copy of alcohol_glass_on_bar11A week later the clean-up of the storm was complete.  It had been one hell of a blizzard, and a lot had happened during it, but things were getting back to normal.  All that was left was one last party to mark the end of a long haul.

A bunch of us got out of work early and we all went over to Dunster Street  . . . but Terri wasn’t there.

“She took the night off,” one of the waitresses told me, “She’s given her notice anyway.  She got that job with the magazine, in the art department.”

By the time they gave last call we were all pretty drunk.  I was so drunk I only wanted to get drunker.  I had just enough money left for one more shot and a beer (and a decent tip for the bartender.)  Beside me was a waiter from The Sunflower who was also pretty wasted.

We each emptied the remaining crumbled bills and change from our pockets, and it looked like we had enough for one last round.

“I shouldn’t,” the waiter said.  He was also a lawyer; he’d just passed the bar exam but was still waiting on tables until he had enough clients to rent office space and put up his shingle.

“I really can’t,” he said, “I’ve got to be in court tomorrow morning.  If I have another drink I won’t have any money left for a cab.”  The Sunflower and Dunster Street were in Cambridge; he lived in Boston.

I looked at the pile of money on the bar, then an idea hit me.

“Let’s get another shot and a beer each,” I said, “. . . Then we’ll take a cab back to my place.  I’ve got some money upstairs . . . I’ll run in and get the cab fare to get you the rest of the way home.”

So we had one last round then hailed a cab in Harvard Square, both of us quite hammered, and dead broke.

When we got to my apartment I told the cabbie to wait a minute.  I ran upstairs, grabbed a twenty dollar bill from the dresser and was about the head back down to the cab when another idea hit me.

Copy of glass-half-empty11I stopped in the kitchen and took a water glass from the cabinet.  I filled the glass half full of Sauza Blanco tequila, and now I went down to the cab.  Being totally smashed it made perfect sense to me that this waiter should have something to drink on the way home.

He  rolled down the window when I got to the cab; I handed him the twenty-dollar bill and the glass of tequila.  “See you this weekend,” I said as he rolled the window back up.

About a minute later, upstairs in my apartment again, I heard the buzzer ring.  Then it rang a second time, and a third.

“Who the hell is buzzing?” I thought.

At the downstairs door, it was the waiter.  Half the tequila was gone from the glass and he was standing there by himself, the cab  now gone.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Dunno,” he said.

Apparently he was so drunk that he’d taken a big gulp of tequila, and seeing that he was at my apartment (where he’d been staying for the last few days), he forgot that he was supposed to continue on home.  He’d handed the money to the cabbie, gotten out of the cab, and said, “Thank you.”

“Thank YOU!” the cabbie said, and drove off, leaving him alone in my driveway with half a glass of tequila in his hand.

“Come on,” I told him, “You can sleep on the couch again.”

He was gone by the time I woke up the next day.  (He told me later that he did make it to court on time, just barely.)

The storm was over and the winter moved on.  Now it was summer and I’d pretty much forgotten about Terri.  The blizzard and all that happened seemed like ancient history.

If you asked me at the time I would have said that I never expected to see her again . . . but I did happened to run into her late that summer, on the streets of Harvard Square.

Copy of GUY SILI’d been doing something in the Square and was headed to Tommy’s Lunch to grab a chicken parmesan sub.  And then there she was . . . Terri was walking down the sidewalk toward me.

I began thinking about the blizzard as we stood face to face.  For one night we’d been like two people stranded on an deserted island somewhere . . . but now we were back in our everyday mode and I didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked.

And that was the tone for the rest of the conversation.  She had a new apartment; she liked her new job.  I was still working on that academic paper.  It was a friendly back-and-forth conversation, but also strangely distant.

As we were about to split and continue on our way, she had a funny look on her face.  I wondered if she was waiting for me to ask for her new phone number.  We stood there looking at each other, and for a second we looked in each others eyes.

A hundred things ran though my mind — should I ask?

Was she the girl I knew during the blizzard?  That was a girl you shouldn’t just let walk away.

But I also remembered the way she’d come into where I worked that night.  With three other guys.  On the night afterward.  No, she was too busy . . . or there were other things going on.

“Well,” I thought, “I guess I’m pretty busy, too.”  So I didn’t ask.  I didn’t say anything more.

We kissed each other on the cheek, and then each continued on our own way.

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(This is the second part of the story, . . . the first part is here.)

Copy of Copy of unmade-bedI was still thinking about Terri when I got up the next morning.  (Arrrggh, mornings . . .  I hate using the alarm clock.  I hate getting up before noon.)  I’d already hit the snooze button three times so I had to rush to shower and get dressed . . . towel down, throw on work clothes, and then bundle up for the walk to work.

That day, after the blizzard, I was slogging through the drifts for almost half an hour — it usually took less than ten minutes to get to The Sunflower Café.  Now on either side of Harvard Street the walls of snow left by the rotary plows sometimes rose up to the telephone wires.

Halfway to Harvard Square I walked past an old woman who was standing on top of a wall of snow in front of her home.  She had a shovel in hand and was complaining loudly, although there was really no one around to hear.

“Why did they do this to me,” she was asking herself on top of this cliff of snow, “Why did they do this to me?”

She was shoveling about the equivalent of a small breadbasket full of snow with each scoop, somehow determined to dig her way down driveway level.  She’d bend over and lift up a tiny amount of snow with the tip of the shovel.  She’d toss it, and then bend down again scooping a little more snow, bitching and complaining.

It took me a while to slog past her and I was looking up at her the whole the time.

“Why did they do this to me?” she was saying,  . . . THEY KNOW I LIVE HERE!”

Copy of snow(I don’t have an actual photo, but this one will do.  Imagine a little old lady standing at the red “X” . . . a small shovel in hand, determined to work her way down to the sidewalk, scoop by tiny scoop.)


I was sure that she had someone to help her later, but she wasn’t going to wait.  She was one feisty old woman.

I opened the bar at 10:00 AM. sharp, and was surprised to find customers showing up right away.  All the seats at the bar filled up, and soon there were a lot of people at the tables.  We never had this much business during the day.

These were people who couldn’t make it to their jobs, or whose place of work was closed.  These were people who had cabin fever from being cooped up for so long during the storm.  Now they were all showing up at The Sunflower Café and they were all strangely in a great mood.

It was like some shared festive activity, an unscheduled holiday.

I was busy all day, but I kept hoping that Terri might show up to say hello.  Every time someone new walked down the stairs I looked up to see if it was her.

Around ten o’clock that night she did show up . . . but she was with three guys.  All day and half the night — all though this double behind the taps — I’d been hoping she’d stop in.  And now she was here . . . with three guys!

I didn’t know who the hell they were, but they found one open seat for her at the crowded bar.  They stood around her, all three of them good-looking and cocky, and they were all competing for her attention.

As it turned out one of them was a graduate student at Harvard University, and another was a young doctor at Mass General.  The third guy was a stock broker at a major investment firm in Boston.

“This is Mike . . . ,” Terri said after she’d introduced them and told me who they were.

That was it.

Just . . . “This is Mike.”

As in . . . “Mike the Bartender.”


)This isn't two of the guys . . . but their look was the same.)

(No, these aren’t two of the guys . . . but their look was sure the same.)

One of the guys sort of looked down his nose at me and made a little circular motion with his finger . . . as if to indicate that I should run and fetch them another round.

I went down to them once or twice later as though checking on their drinks, but what I really wanted was to somehow get Terri’s attention.  I was trying to get a word in edgewise with her.

But there was no break in the conversation that each of them tried to dominate — each hoping they’d be the one to get lucky tonight.

“You’re not talking with Terri,” one of her girlfriends said when she came down to the other end of the bar where I was working.  “ . . . How come?”

“I’m not sure she’s interested in talking to me,” I answered.

“Maybe that’s what she thought last night,” Terri’s friend said now looking right at me.

Was that the look Terri gave me as I was leaving the Inn Square bar?

Everything had happened too quickly.  We’d gone from complete strangers to opening up, and then spending the night together . . . but it had all happened in the middle of a storm, in the privacy of her apartment, with me in a woman’s bathrobe.  There was nothing from the everyday world involved, and now back in that day-to-day world it seemed we’d lost whatever we had going on between us.  We were complete strangers again.

I had no idea what Terri was thinking . . . perhaps she felt the same way.

I worked my way down to Terri’s group one last time — I figured I’d go out on a limb and try once again to talk with her.  But just as I did, she was getting up to leave with one of the guys.

She made a point to catch my eye, and waved goodnight while putting on her coat.  She had another of those equivocal looks on her face.  It might have been a look of “Hey, I’m sorry to leave like this.”  

But she was also smiling, so her face could have been saying, “See what you’re missing!”

Now I was glad that it was really busy . . . no time to think about it.  She had too many choices, and I was never any good at waiting in line.

When is being behind the bar not just the best place to be?

Copy of GreatEscapeIf you’re in a good mood everyone feeds off it, and you feed off them; it’s like some perpetual good-time atomic fusion.

And when you’re down . . . working behind the taps soon makes you forget it — all that exists is the shared energy of the crowd, the constant activity.

By now it was last call and I’d been talking off and on with a young woman at the far end of the bar.  She was a writer.  One of her plays had won some award in Boston last year.

She knew a lot about Nietzsche, so we talked about philosophy.  I was really interested in — and very impressed by — everything she was telling me about writing plays.  We were really hitting it off, so after I gave everyone last call I figured I’d give it a shot.

“If you want to hang out while I clean up,” I leaned over the bar and said to her, “I’ll be done here in about an hour.”

She laughed.  “And then what?” she asked, “. . . Then we go back to your place and fuck?”

“I don’t think so,” she laughed.  She’d caught me off guard with her directness, but the quick challenge on the nitty-gritty presented an opportunity.

“OK then,” I said with a smile, “I’ll tell you what.  I have this Monday night off.  Why don’t we go someplace nice for dinner, maybe catch a movie.”  I thought about it for a second, then continued.  “. . . And then we’ll go home and fuck.”

I kept smiling, and she laughed once more.  “We’ll see on that last one,” she said.  But she grabbed a cocktail napkin and wrote down her number.  Things were looking up again.

(OK, now I really have to apologize.  When I started this story I was thinking of one post.  Then it ran into a Part Two, and I’m still not done with it yet.  There’ll be one last part coming next week — the stuff that I originally planned to write about this story — I guess I got carried away with the other details.  One more episode of The Perfect Storm next weekend . . . and then I’ll move on.)

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Copy of BostonBlizzardFour“OK, then you’ll be over tomorrow to shovel me out . . . ?”

We were all drinking at 33 Dunster Street, the restaurant/bar that shared a back alley with The Sunflower Café.

A big snowstorm was forecast for the next few days and everyone was talking as though this was the end of the world.

“I grew up in Syracuse, NY,” I said during a pause in the chatter, “The record snowfall in Syracuse is something like six feet . . . Boston doesn’t get that the entire winter.  I’m really not worried.”

I’d already had a few beers.

“Then you’ll be over to shovel me out?” one of the Dunster waitresses laughed.

Everyone else laughed too, and I stood there for a second with my mouth half-open.  I imagine they all thought I’d been caught with my foot in my mouth, leaving myself open for some serious work.

The truth of it was  . .  I was simply dumbstruck.

This waitress — Terri — was a knock-out.  She was so good-looking.  She was always smiling, so full of life, with that gymnast’s body and thick, wavy blond hair down to her shoulders.

I’d see her working every time I came to Dunster Street and it was a struggle not to just sit there and stare at her.  She was so beautiful I’d never had the courage to try and talk with her, despite being there several times a week.  I’d never so much as given her a nod “hello” — I thought it would turn out that she was just staring at someone over my shoulder.

Now she was inviting me to shovel her driveway?

(Hell yes, I’ll shovel whatever you want!)

“Sure, no problem,” I said after regaining my composure.  I was trying to act cool about it.  “Just write down your address.”

Everyone laughed again.

The blizzard finally hit the next afternoon and it was brutal.  In upstate NY everyone is prepared for large snowfalls — all the cities have massive winter budgets, fleets of rotary snowplows already fueled, and armies of county workers just waiting to clean up after a storm.

Copy of snowplowIn Boston, where they’re used to more moderate weather, the city was caught completely off-guard.  Everyone seemed helpless as the snow continued to fall — even the major streets and roads remained buried under three feet of snow.

The schools and colleges closed, all the businesses closed, and the entire city virtually shut down.

Back at my apartment, I began getting dressed to head to Terri’s apartment.  I put on layer after layer of clothing, pulled a longshoreman’s cap over my head and wrapped a scarf around my face.

I lived near Harvard Square; Terri lived just beyond Central Square which was normally a twenty minute walk.  But now the snow was burying the cars on the streets and in some places the drifts rose half-way up to the telephone wires.  With the wind howling, the snow whipping around, I knew this trek would take a while.

“No problem,” I told myself as I opened my front door and saw nothing but a sea of swirling white.

I felt I had to go . . . or I’d look like a wimp after my upstate NY boast.  But of course the real reason I was venturing into this weather was that Terri had invited me, if only to shovel.

After five minutes, I began to think I’d made a mistake.

This was ridiculous weather.  It was bitter cold, sloppy, wet . . . . the snow was falling as heavy as rain, and the wind whipped around so much that it was hard just to put one foot in front of the other.  I’d lift one boot out of the three-foot drifts, and place it a short distance in front of me.  Then I’d lift the other leg up and do the same thing, and this continued step by step as I slogged along.

Step by step I was inching my way toward Central Square.  Nothing was going to stop me.

Twenty minutes later I’d only covered a couple of blocks.  Then it was an hour later, and I was only at the halfway point.

“Halfway there,” I told myself, “No point in turning back now.”

At this point it would have taken me just as long to turn around and go home . . . while in Central Square, Terri was waiting.

Two hours later she let me inside, laughing.  I was a shivering mound of snow standing in the middle of her living room.  I was an abominable snowman, breathing heavily, with only my eyes and thickly-frosted brows showing between the scarf and the hat pulled down tight.

“You are nuts!” she kept laughing, “You are certifiably insane!”

“Get out of those clothes,” she said, “I’ll get you some warm ones.”

Copy of woman'sbathrobeWhen she came back she was holding a fluffy woman’s bathroom.  She was still laughing.  “Get out of those clothes!” she said again, “You’ll catch you death of cold.”

But she didn’t leave.

She stood there in the living room, still smiling, holding the bathrobe.

So I began to peel off the layers in front of her.

When I finally got down to my underpants, she held out the robe.

“Want to take a shower?” she asked as I put it on, “You must be soaked.”

After a quick shower, she had warm eggnog waiting on the kitchen table.  I’d say it was about equal portions — fifty/fifty — eggnog and Captain Morgan’s rum.

She cooked us dinner — pasta and vegetables sautéed in olive oil and garlic — and I sat at the kitchen table still trying to thaw out.  This was the first time it was just her and me.  I didn’t know her, never talked with her before.  Now I was across the table wearing a woman’s bathroom with only my underpants on underneath — and it was strangely intimate.  We began opening up about our lives, our plans for the future.

She had a degree in art and was hoping to land a job with a local, start-up magazine.  She let me go on and on about an academic paper in literature I wanted to publish . . . and how I was going to be a writer.

Maybe it was the storm conditions outside — as though we were two people huddled in a shelter just trying to survive, so it was natural to open up and talk about what really mattered to us.

Later we got stoned and watched a movie on TV.  She made some popcorn.  Once I knew where everything was I kept refreshing our drinks.

After a few hours she got up from the couch and said, “I’m going to bed.”  She stood there looking at me.

So I got up and went into the bedroom with her.

We didn’t talk about it.  Nothing was said . . . but it seemed perfectly normal, as though this is what two people do when facing the hostile elements together.

We were at it all night.  Something about those brutal conditions outside had taken away any restraints.  It felt like we were the last two people in the world, just doing what has been done naturally since primordial times.

The bedroom window was letting in the morning light when I finally rolled off, and we lay side-by-side breathing heavily.

I was the first one to get up and get dressed the next day.  It was around noon.  I felt like my knees were bending both ways as I walked into the kitchen.

By the time she got up some of her neighbors had stopped by, and we sat in the kitchen talking about the storm.  Terri made a huge frying pan full of eggs, and we all had breakfast while finishing off another bottle of Captain Morgan.  There were more bottles of various liquors in the cabinet, but we were running out of eggnog.

Copy of boston_blizzard_shovelingIt took me three hours to shovel her driveway.  It was still snowing and howling, and it seemed like I was out there forever.

Another friend of Terri’s was there by the time I came back into the kitchen.  I knew him from The Sunflower Café.  His name was Charles — he was a black guy who was always laughing and joking around, and who always seemed a little high on something.

He said that the Inn Square Men’s Bar was open, and that we should all go there.  By now it was around five in the afternoon.

So we all bundled up and trekked to bar.

We started tossing down the beers, with occasional shots of Sauza Conmemorativo.

Around midnight I started wondering what was going on with The Sunflower Café, where I bartended five nights a week.  The last two days had been nights off for me, but tomorrow night I was scheduled to work.  Would The Sunflower be open?

“Of course we stayed open!” the owner told me when I called from the Inn Square pay phone.  “Can you work a double tomorrow?” he asked, “We’re having trouble finding staff who can make it in.”

Copy of tequilashotsI’d already been feeling that I was on my last legs when I called The Sunflower.  The long trek to Terri’s, an all-nighter in bed — a fantastic all-nighter, but hardly any sleep — and then shoveling for hours and now drinking all afternoon, and all night . . .  I felt like I was about to collapse.  I thought I might pass out at any moment.

And now I had to be at The Sunflower at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning — to work all day and all night.  If I stayed with Terri again, I’d have to get up even earlier to trek back to my apartment in time to shower and change.

I really wanted to stay, but I didn’t think I was going to make it.  It wasn’t fair . . . it just wasn’t fair.

“I think I’m going to take off,” I told everyone when I got back to the booth, “Got to work a double tomorrow.”

I took some good-natured ribbing for being a quitter and Terri gave me a strange look.  I’m not sure what it was . . . a combination of looks, as though I was in some way betraying her, or that I was a disappointment to her now.

There were too many people hanging around for me to say anything to her in private.  These were all people Terri knew, both guys and girls gathered by our booth.  Everything had happened so quickly between us, I didn’t feel comfortable taking her away from her friends to talk with her on the side.  I had no idea what my status was with her.  So I had one last shot with everyone, and then I left.

It was a long, dark, lonely walk back through the snow drifts to my apartment.

It had been a crazy day, but when I finally plopped down on my bed I wasn’t thinking about anything.  All I wanted was sleep . . . and Lord knows, I was going to need it.

(Stay tuned next weekend for more of THE PERFECT STORM; part two.)

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