LOOKING BACK . . . personal photos from 9/11

(Click on the image for details about a special conference held last year at the United States Air Force Academy to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Two friends and fellow Beta Phi Epsilon members were among the featured speakers.)

Last year at this time, we talked about the “Quiet Heroes of 9/11” and reprinted a story about the death of Osama Bin Laden —  a post titled, “Men with Brass Balls chasing Ghosts”.

Like most of us, I watched from the sidelines as the aftermath of 9/11 unfolded, but these two post were dedicated to the men and women who had an active role in the events that day — and in the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden.  Today my hat is off to these people again, and my heart-felt thanks — my respect and even awe go out to the friends of mine from from Beta Phi Epsilon fraternity (SUNY Cortland, NY) who were personally involved.  As members of the US Navy SEALS, the FBI, anti-terrorism and counter-intelligence networks, police officers and firefighters, they –and all the others directly participating in this battle — deserve a moment of recognition for their unselfish efforts.

I think the following photos, taken by them or of them, tell a small part of their individual stories.

Ground Zero at the World Trade Center on 9/11. (Photo by Charlie “Buff” Kerrigan)

Charlie “Buff” Kerrigan was called to ground zero the afternoon the World Trade Towers collapsed.  As Captain of the Rockville Centre Fire Department, Charlie was highly trained in “confined space and high angle rescue.”  He and his crew labored 18 straight hours trying to help contain the damage and rescue survivors.  Charlie said the devastation was the most horrible thing he’d ever witnessed, . . . and something that he hoped he’d never see again.

I know as a fireman Charlie puts his life on the line every time he goes on a call — but his work at ground zero was above and beyond.  He was asked to speak at the Air Force Academy Conference to share this experience.  He’s a former chairman of the Beta Phi Epsilon Alumni Association.

Bob Guzzo Sr. was also a featured speaker at the Air Force Academy Conference.  A life-time Navy SEAL, a friend and fellow Beta Phi Alumnus, Bob was awarded the The Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism for his efforts at the Pentagon on 9/11.  After helping to secure the area, he made repeated trips back into the burning building to rescue survivors.  Following 9/11 Bob worked at the highest levels of US anti-terrorism and counter-intelligence.  “It was like chasing ghosts,” Bob said later of the effort to contain the terrorist threats, and to capture or kill Bin Laden.


(Bio from the Air Force Conference speaker’s roster. Photo of the Navy and Marine Corps plaque below.)







(A few of his military awards hang on the walls of a small patriotic study in Bob’s home –to me, he’s the kind of guy who makes you want to say “God Bless America.”)









The next two photos were taken by Mike Garcia, Bob’s close friend and fellow anti-terrorism officer who was with him at the Pentagon on 9/11.  “Half of the photos you see from the Pentagon that day were taken by Mike,” Bob says.  Some of Garcia’s photos are in the Smithsonian Institute and at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in NYC.

The Pentagon after the 9/11 attack. (Photo by Mike Garcia)


A lone fireman struggles in the debris following the 9/11 Pentagon attack. (Photo by Mike Garcia)


Rob Guzzo JR. during the Iraq War.

In college, Bob’s son Rob Guzzo JR. was a member of his dad’s fraternity, Beta Phi Epsilon — and when he later joined the Navy SEALS right after 9/11, he was awarded Bob SR.’s old SEAL Trident.  It’s the first medal Navy SEALS receive on completion of their training.  Rob JR. was a member of Navy SEAL Team 5 and went into battle in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006.

His buddy Marc Lee lost his life there, the first Navy SEAL killed in the war.  Marc and Rob had gone though SEAL BUD/S training together.  (In background of the picture you can see the name LEE — the camp at Ramadi was renamed CAMP MARC LEE in Marc’s honor.)

Rob Jr. made it through the Iraq war and he’s back home now.  He’s pursuing a career in acting (in action films, go figure.)




A giant American flag was unfurled over the famous “Green Monster” wall at Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox) the day after Osama Bin Laden was silenced.

Photo by our club’s (Johnny D’s) GM, John Bonaccorso











Bob Guzzo SR. and Rob JR. later, in a more relaxed moment . . . at the wedding of their daughter/sister, Danielle.

Thanks for bearing with me in this little tribute.  New post coming this Saturday.

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“EDDIE C” . . . an old-school guy

(I’ve changed the names and some of the details of the exact location in this . . . don’t want to piss anyone off, if you know what I mean.)

I met “Eddie C” (as I’ll call him) at a restaurant in Boston’s North End, the Italian district.  It was just around the corner from the place where I worked. This restaurant had a great little bar and if I got out early I’d usually end up there, talking with the staff or some of their regulars.  Eddie was both — he was on the staff, and he was always sitting at the bar.

I don’t think there was ever a time I didn’t see Eddie in his usual spot, sipping his Miller Genuine Draft.  He wouldn’t pound them down, just sipped from the bottle like it was a bottle of soda.

So I never saw Eddie drunk, not even noticeably buzzed — which was probably good, because he was working at the time.  Yup, as he sipped his beers he was that restaurant’s valet guy.

The sign in front of the restaurant said “VALET PARKING — see inside.”  Customers would walk in the front door with their keys, and be directed to Eddie.

I did a quick double-take the first time I saw this — the valet was sitting at the bar drinking.  But the customer handed Eddie the keys apparently without a second thought.

“Most of them know Eddie,” the bartender explained when I asked, “He’s actually the best valet we’ve had.”

“Best in the North End,” the bartender said.

“No one’s ever said anything?” I asked.  Eddie had just accepted a second customer’s car keys, taking them with one hand while lifting the bottle to his lips with the other.  He was taking one last swig before he left to park their car.

“Naw,” the bartender said matter-of-factly, “Eddie’s never had a complaint.”

He went on to explain that Eddie had a perfect record as a valet . . . Eddie had never had an accident, never brought even one car back with the slightest new dent or nick on it.

“The guy we had before him was a nightmare,” the bartender said.

(Check out a funny video by clicking this picture. I’ve actually seen something like this happen in the North End when a valet was trying to find a spot to stash a customer’s car. It happened right across the street from the restaurant’s valet sign! Sorry no names, . . . but it sure wasn’t Eddie.)

Apparently the previous valet used to park the customer’s cars on the street instead of taking them to the parking lot.  The parking lot charged a flat fee for each car, but if the valet could find an open spot somewhere on the street, he’d still charge the customer the full fee listed on the sign . . . and keep the extra money for himself.

“Problem is . . . ,” the bartender continued, “Some customers would get a notice a month later for a parking ticket they didn’t know about, or their cars would have a dent from being parked on the street.”

“Eddie’s the only one,” the bartender told me, “Who takes ’em to the lot every time.”

I got to know the owner of the place after a while, and one day he was also talking about how much everyone loved Eddie.

“Christ, you should have seen the other guys we’ve had.”

He said they’d once had a valet who ended up stabbing a customer.  This valet had gotten into an argument with four male customers in their early twenties (probably over some minor damage to their car.)  Because there were four of them, the valet had pulled a knife.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to stab nobody,” the owner said, “It wasn’t much . . . one of them got cut a little on his arm and his hand.”

Another of valet had hit a couple walking behind the car, just as he was backing it out.  He knocked them both down.  It was during the Feast of St. Anthony, when the streets were swarming with people.

“They weren’t really hurt or nothing,” the owner assured me, “But there was a cameraman from Channel Five filming right there.” (The local station was shooting footage for coverage of the festival.)

“I’m thinking that’s all I need,” the owner said, “On TV, . . . the camera shows the couple on the ground, then pans up to my restaurant sign, . . . then back down to the couple on the ground.”

“It never got to TV,” he said, “And they weren’t hurt, . . . but it wasn’t good.”

So now they had a valet who openly drank on the job, . . . sounded a little weird, but it was starting to make more sense.

Eddie was in his late fifties; around 5’ 9” or so, a sharp-faced thin guy with slick black hair.  He’d sit there smoking butt after butt of some generic brand cigarette with no label on the pack you’d recognized.

Eddie was always broke.  He counted on free beers from the bartender, and the beers bought for him by customers who wanted their cars parked (more on that later).  But as I got to know him, I learned that Eddie had this old-school way of getting things done, and his own strange sense of morality.

He might break into a warehouse and steal himself a new lawnmower — (just as a hypothetical example, if you know what I mean) — but to him that was just getting back at the establishment.  He’d never rip off an individual.  He’d never park a car on the street, then charge the customer the parking fee.

One night Eddie found a customer’s wallet in the men’s room . . . must have fallen out the guy’s pocket.  The wallet had over $700 cash in it.  Eddie could have easily pocketed the money and tossed the wallet into the waste basket.  No one would have known.  But that’s not Eddie.

He turned it in to the bartender, with all the money still inside.

Eddie had a sense of pride, a unique code of conduct.  Although he was always down to a handful of crumpled dollar bills, whenever a regular bought him a beer, he’d insist on buying the next round back for them — even if they were drinking expensive scotch and he was only drinking beer.  It’s as if there was an old set of rules written down somewhere in his head.

One thing for sure, Eddie was everyone’s favorite.  I would watch customers take the keys for their returned car, slip Eddie a tip, . . .  and then some of them would put more money on the bar.  They’d tell the bartender to set up a drink for Eddie.  They’d tell the bartender to buy their valet another beer.  It was a riot.

But I guess I saved the best for last — I actually didn’t find this out myself for a long time.

One night in conversation with Eddie, something came up.  It turns out that Eddie . . . the valet who openly drank on the job . . . didn’t have a driver’s license.

I’m not kidding.

I laughed out loud the first time he told me.

He sat there with a look of surprise that I found this odd.

“Don’t see the big deal,” Eddie said, “Haven’t had a license since I was a teenager.  But it’s not like I’m really driving anywhere.”

“I just take the cars to the lot,” he said, “And then I bring them back.”

Like I said, Eddie had his own set of rules.  He was a trip.

Then just as I was leaving that job in the North End to work someplace new, the city passed an ordinance — any restaurant in Boston that offered valet parking now had to have a licensed company provide the service.  (I think there was some political payoff involved.  As I remember it, the service had to be licensed by the city but when the ordinance was first passed, there was only one company to choose from.)

Anyway, the time when you could hire your own valet in the North End was over.

I never heard what happened to Eddie after that ordinance.  He probably moved on to some other niche that was just waiting for an old-school guy.

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WHICH IS MORE FUN … office work, or bartending?

What would you rather be doing, . . . sitting in an office, or tending bar?

August hasn’t been a good month so far.  In July, I was set to cut down to two shifts a week at the club . . . so I could spend more time working on the book.

It never happened.

First, one of our new bartenders showed up for work drunk . . . not just a little tipsy, but totally hammered.  Evidently there was an on-going problem that we (and perhaps he) didn’t know about yet.  He’s a great guy, a good bartender, but right now this just isn’t the best job for him.

Then a week later the other new guy came in for his shift.  After a few minutes, he said that he was going to the store for a pack of cigarettes.

We haven’t seen him since.

That was two weeks week ago.

He still hasn’t returned our phone calls.  (We just wanted to make sure he was OK.  I hope they’re both doing OK.  They really were good guys.)

I guess it’s just part of this business, but instead of cutting down lately I’ve been working extra shifts.

I can’t seem to win.

And now the annual Workman’s Compensation Audit is waiting on my desk, and the Fair Share Contribution filing for Massachusetts is coming up.  More office work at a time when I can’t seem to keep my head above water.


I suppose you’re wondering . . . why is a bartender doing office work anyway?

It’s a long story, but here’s the short version.

At one point in my life, I thought I’d given up bartending.  I’d been a general manager at Friends & Company in Quincy Market, and was now the GM at The Cantina Italiana in Boston’s North End.

I was writing a regular column for Restaurant Hospitality, and on the basis of those articles was chosen as a featured speaker at the National Conference on Computer Technology in Food Service, sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.

These were opportunities that had just fallen into my lap.  I figured I should somehow follow up on them.

So I decided to become a consultant.  I thought maybe it was time to grow up.

What a mistake.

First, I hated the “salesman” element of consulting.  I’d taken a consulting course, and that’s all the instructor talked about — the need to “sell” the owners, to subtly make them feel that they couldn’t do this without you.

I’m serious . . . that was the heart this instructor’s message, and I’ve heard it often enough in other places to know it’s a standard consultant’s approach.  Instill a sense of fear in your clients.  I can understand how this works, . . . but I just couldn’t see doing it.

Also, there was too much travel involved.  Sometimes I drove three hours to a one-hour meeting, and then drove three hours back.

I quickly became tired of trying to convince owners not to reinvent the wheel.

And to top it all off — with my client list building — I began to realize that if I was going to take this seriously, at some point I’d have to rent office space.  To be professional, I’d have to find official space, buy office furniture and equipment, hire a secretary.  (Up to this point I’d been working out of my apartment, letting clients leave messages on an answering machine.)

All these things were beginning to give me second thoughts, . . . then Johnny D’s called.  They wanted help putting in a new cash register system, and adding a restaurant to their nightclub.

When I walked into the club, briefcase in hand, I had no clue what was coming.

In the beginning, all I did at Johnny D’s was help them with the changes, work on choosing the equipment and setting up the kitchen.  After we hired a chef, I set up various back office functions like food inventories and sales analysis . . . that kind of thing.

After the restaurant’s grand opening, Tina DeLellis (the owner) and her daughter Carla talked me into taking a management contract — to continue work in the office.

The new operation was quite successful, but the Johnny D’s bar staff had some weak spots.  Not all of them had the skills and experience to handle the dramatic increase in business.  There would be lines of people waiting to get in . . .  and inside, the rows of people crowding the bar were sometimes unable to get their drinks quickly.

Tina was a great bartender — she’d been doing this all her life — and she’d jump behind the bar to help out when it got busy.

One night I was in the office during a busy show.  I could hear the live band rocking upstairs.  I could hear the squeak of the dancer’s feet, the movement of the crowd on the dance floor which was upstairs above my desk.

After a couple of hours, Tina came down to the office.  She flopped into a chair at the second desk.

“I’m exhausted,” she said (in retrospect I think she might have been faking it.)  “I’m exhausted,” Tina said, “ . . . Do you think you could go upstairs for a while and help them out?”

I’d never been behind the bar at Johnny D’s.  I had no idea where anything was.  I didn’t know the prices, what the procedures were . . . anything.  The only thing I knew was how to operate the cash registers, which I’d helped them put in.

But when you’ve been doing this a while, it’s like riding a bicycle.

Within a few minutes I was keeping up, and by the end of the night I have to say I was kicking ass.

But what really struck me was the difference just being upstairs.

I’d just come from the office, where I’d been meeting with guys like Mr. Joli.  (He was my first Workman’s Comp auditor — back then they actually sent someone to the location to do an in-person audit.)

Mr. Joli (I kept thinking “Mr. Jolly!  Mr. Jolly!”) was Indian, or Pakistani.  He was in his late forties, a short pudgy man.  He had the most sour, scowling face, with his lips seemingly locked in permanent downward grimace.  He snapped out everything he said, with that thick Indian accent.

“IneedJulyfigures!” he snapped, scowling, “IneedJulyfigures!”

Which is more fun, office work . . . ?

I couldn’t drag the folders out of the cabinet fast enough for him.  Nothing would make this man happy.

And his name was, Mr. Joli.

Now, instead of being cooped up with Mr. Joli, . . . I was upstairs, behind the bar in a rocking nightclub.  It was a different world.

The band was playing.

Everyone around me — in front and in back, and on either side — three hundred people were packed into the place, and they were all laughing and having a great time.  It was like leaving the office and stepping into the middle of a carnival.

Imagine if you’d retired from a sport that you absolutely loved, and suddenly you had the chance to play again.  I swear, when my feet first hit the bar mats, it was like stepping onto the home-town turf for the big game.

. . . Or bartending?

Just as I was thinking this, an attractive young lady smiled at me as I handed her back her change.

“How in the world am I going to go back to that office?” I thought as the smiling young lady walked away.

At the end of the shift, Tina came over to me.

“You had fun,” she smiled, “Admit it.”

“Why don’t you work one night a week on the bar,” she suggested.  “I can use the help.”

After a couple of weeks, she talked me into taking another shift.  “Just work Friday and Saturday,” she suggested, “Those are the best two nights.”

A month later, Tina wanted me to take another shift.  “You’re working the two best shifts as it is now,” she said, “Don’t you think it would be fair for you to work one of the slower shifts too?  All the other bartenders have to.”

Then the next month she wanted me to work a day shift, because now I was working three nights and all of the other bartenders had to work at least one day shift.  “It only seems fair,” she said.

I’d been sitting there with the other bartenders, counting tips and having a beer after work.  I still remember my response:

“First I did one shift, and then because it was a good shift, you thought I should pay for it by working two,” I told Tina.  “Then because I was working two shifts, you said it would only be fair for me to work a third one.”

“Now  . . . because I’m working three nights, . . . you want me take a day shift during the week.  Next thing I know, . . . you’re going to hand me a mop and a broom, and make me clean the rest rooms, just to keep the day shift I didn’t want in the first place!

I’d already had a couple of beers, along with everyone else.  They all laughed.

But I don’t think I was kidding.

Anyway, that’s how I began bartending again.

It wasn’t long before I was working five shifts a week, and now when a new client called my apartment phone asking about consulting, I usually found a way to turn the job down.

I don’t have any regrets.  Working again as a bartender has given me the time to pursue other interests.  Having tried both ways, I’ve learned that some things are more important than “growing up.”

But right now I wish I could just cut down a little.  I really need work on that book.

Ah well, maybe next month.

I’m still a dreamer, aren’t I?

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Jonathan (left) on guitar and Yosef on drums — I’m sorry I don’t know the names of the other audience members performing this set. (Photo by Taylor, another regular Sunday Blues jammer.)

I know this is late.  I spent too much time this week watching the Olympics, then on Sunday I was called in during brunch — something was wrong with the soda guns.  Got stuck there for another two hours in meetings.  I returned home just in time to take a shower and head back for my regular shift.  You know how it goes . . .

Let’s face it, I’ll never make money on Sunday at Johnny D’s.  Tips on a Friday or Saturday night are sometimes 5 times better than for the Sunday afternoon/evening Blues Jam — but that aside, it’s a good shift.

There’s something honest about Jam, and about the people in the audience — especially those who are randomly thrown together on stage for each set.  Often, they’re meeting each other for the first time . . . and they just start playing.  And it’s good.  That always amazes me.

At least for the summer, something else interesting is going on — there’s no longer a house band to start things off, the music goes straight to the Jam.  The jammers themselves now sort through the sign-up sheet and call out the next names.  There’s no more cover charge at the door for customers walking in — this summer, the Jam is free for everyone.

Yup, the jammers now run the show.  (We like to say, “The inmates are running the asylum.”)  They’re breaking all the rules, but I guess it’s a good thing.

At least Sunday is a laid-back shift.  And beyond good music, the shift has perks of its own — a lot of weird stuff happens when things are done out of the box.  There’s always good conversations and great stories from the Jam.  Here are a few of my favorites . . .

(1) Fatal Attraction

Remember the old lawyer’s adage that when cross-examining a witness you should never ask a question unless you already know the answer?  The same good advice sometimes apply to bartending.

One Sunday afternoon, a long-time regular was at the bar after just playing on stage.   I’ll call him “Paul” (not using his real name for reasons that will become clear in a moment.)  I served “Paul” a beer, and I was thinking that I hadn’t heard about his new girlfriend in a while — he’d shown me a picture of her once, a tiny gal who standing next to him wasn’t much taller than his elbows.

“So Paul,  . . . how’s the little woman?” I asked before thinking.

The look on his face told me I’d just asked the wrong question.

“Oh, God!” he replied.

He began to tell me about a relationship that had gone suddenly to hell.  Apparently this little gal had a lot going on behind her quiet, innocent smile.  As the bad stuff came out, she turned into a raving lunatic.

“She was calling me all hours of the night,” Paul said, “She was complaining non-stop about everything I did.  I did this to disappoint her, I did that to make her mad.”

“I found myself apologizing,” he said, “For things I didn’t even do!

After Paul finally broke it off, she became intent on “revenge.”

The late-night phone calls and constant blaming escalated.  There were long, profanity-laced emails flooding his mailbox.  She showed up at his front door unannounced, ranting.

She even tried to get him barred from another club where he’d been a regular for years. (She’d taken a job as a waitress there recently.)  Fortunately the club’s owner tried to get things back under control.  “Just try to stay away from her,” he told Paul, “It’ll all blow over.”

“But I’d try to hide in a corner,” Paul explained now, “And she’d find me and start in all over again.”

In the end, there was no bunny being boiled in a pot of water on the stove (Fatal Attraction), but there was at least one pint of beer dumped over someone’s head . . . and through it all, Paul was the only one who got wet.

Live and learn.  I should have known there was a reason why I hadn’t heard about the “little woman” in a while.

(2) “OK, I think you’ve had enough!”

There was a server at Johnny D’s who always ended his brunch shift by staying around for the Blues Jam afterward and having a few drinks.  Actually, having quite a few drinks.

This server was on track to become a manger, and one Sunday afternoon Tina DeLellis, the owner, decided that this guy wasn’t doing himself, or her club any good by getting shit-faced in front of the customers and the rest of the staff.

She went over to him to suggest that he might slow down, perhaps go somewhere else if he was determined to get half-in-the-bag.

But this server wouldn’t hear of it, he was having too much fun.

The discussion continued with Tina becoming more and more insistent.

“No!” the waiter said finally, folding him arms across his chest, “I’m staying here . . . I want another shot and another beer!”

Tina turned as though about to walk away, . . . then she turned quickly back.  She reached out and grabbed one of the guy’s ears.  With a firm tugging motion she pulled on his ear until he had to get up off his stool and follow her.

(Image from www.fotosearch.com)

It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen.  Tina was maybe 5’ 6”, 110 pounds, a lovely sixty-something blond lady who was dragging this twenty-four-year old server toward the door by his ear.

He was 6’ tall, 200 lbs, but at the moment he looked like a little boy being dragged along by his ear by his mother.  As Tina pulled him bent over toward the door, all he could do was yell out, “Oouuch!  Hey, stop!  Ow . . . Ow . . . Ow!”

Like I said, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in a bar.

(3) Any story from Taylor is a good one

John Taylor (everyone just calls him “Taylor”) is a veteran drummer/vocalist who’s been coming to the Jam for years.  He’s one of the audience-performers now running the show.  He’s also by far the best story-teller at the Jam.

Taylor reminds me in a way of Steven King — most of King’s stories are in the horror genre, but then he writes something like “Stand by Me”, which is heart-felt tale about young boys on their way to becoming men.

In the  same sense most of Taylor’s stories are about bars, the nightlife, and about being a musician . . . but I think some of his best are about growing up in a tough Cambridge MA neighborhood.

One afternoon he told me a story very like “Stand by Me.”

It seems Taylor was confronted one day by a groups of young toughs several years older than he was — these guys were fifteen and sixteen years old, while he was only twelve.

One of the guys challenged him to a fist fight.  Taylor had done some boxing, and thought he could beat the kid, but he was worried what would happen afterward with the kid’s friends.

“I let him hit me a few times,” Taylor recalls, “I kept moving, tied him up, pushed him away . . . but I never really swung back hard.  I knew his friends would beat the crap out of me if I knocked him down.”

The next day, Taylor showed up on that kid’s doorstep.  The guy’s mom answered the door.

“Hi, Mrs. ____,” Taylor said politely, “Can Tommy come out and play?  I’m one of his friends.”

When Tommy came out, Taylor invited him to a secluded spot and proceeded to give him a lesson in boxing.  He knocked him down again and again, bloodying his nose until the kid begged to call it quits.

“Those guys never bothered me again,” Taylor explained.

I don’t know why, but I really love that story.  Every young man remembers the first time he had to make a choice — to stand up for himself — or to back down, and then live with that.

(4) First time on stage

Grant is also one of the jammers now running the show on Sunday.  He’s been playing at the Jam for twenty years, since he first arrived in Boston from his native New Zealand.

We like to bust his balls, saying that when his plane took off from New Zealand, he was seconds ahead of the local constable who stood on the runway beneath the jet’s exhaust waving a warrant for his arrest.

Grant still tells the story about the first time he stepped onto the stage at Johnny D’s — it was the first time he’d been on any stage anywhere.

“I was nervous as hell,“ he recalls, “Just starting out on guitar.”

Somehow he managed to hang in there, and after his solo he was feeling pretty good about it all.

“I thought, . . .  that wasn’t too bad,” Grant recalls, “I thought I’d gotten through it in one piece.”

Then the young man beside him began to play his solo.  The kid couldn’t have been more than thirteen years old.

“He began ripping through stuff like B. B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughan,“ Grant laughs, “He blew me off the stage!”

That first time on stage, Grant just happened to be up there with young guitar prodigy Mike Welch.

The same Mike Welch who would later be asked by Dan Akyrod to play at the opening of the original House of Blues, in nearby Cambridge, MA.  The same Mike Welch who would have that first House of Blues crowd applauding and cheering so wildly that Akyrod would leap up onto the stage shouting, “Mike Welch, ladies and gentlemen . . . Monster Mike Welch . . . Monster Mike Welch!”  It’s a name Mike Welch says has stuck with him, whether he likes it or not.  Mike now tours America and Europe with the Monster Mike Welch Band.  (Imagine being on stage for the first time at a local jam, and being followed by this guy.)

5) Stormy Monday

This might be my favorite blues jam story, but it’s too long to do justice to it here.  Let me just say that it involved the three Sunday regulars in this photo . . . and it ended with the guy in the middle trying to give the guy on the right an engagement ring — while they were sitting in a crowded blue-collar bar.  (It’s not what you think . . . read the full story here.)


This is another of my favorite Blues Jam stories.  I’ve told it before, so I’ll just give a quick synopsis here.

When Johnny D’s first started the Blues Jam, we had a young woman checking ID’s at the door.  One afternoon this huge guy walked in.  He looked like the Incredible Hulk, complete with bulging muscles beneath a torn T-shirt.  That T-shirt was smeared with dirt and it looked like there was blood on it, as though he’d already been fighting somewhere else that day.

The door lady stopped him.  It was clear they were having words.

“What the FUCK do you mean, I can’t come in!” the big guy said.

I came out from behind the bar.

“What the fuck is the problem?” the guy asked as I approached, “Why the fuck won’t this girl let me in?”

He was two feet away from me, arms away from his body as though he was about to grab and crush me.

I tried to straddle that fine line between being unbending, yet non-confrontational.  As we talked, I was thinking about what this guy might do to me.

I would later learn that he’d just gotten out of prison.  He’d been serving time for beating the shit out of people, and sending them to the hospital.  Right now he was clearly messed up on some kind of drugs.

He stood there looking at me, but when he saw that I wasn’t going to back down . . . the strangest thing happened.

His eyes began to water.  He had a few tears trickling down his dirt-smudged cheeks.

“Give me a hug,” he said, stretching out his massive arms.

“What???” I thought.

“Give me a hug,” he said again.

I hesitated.

If he got those arms around me, I’d be fucked.  There’d be no chance for a quick defensive strike to a vital area.

Give me a hug,” he said.

So I gave him a hug.

We stood in the open area by the front door, two guys with their arms wrapped around each other for a minute as I patted him on the back.

Then he turned and left.

“Thank you,” he said over his shoulder as he left, “Thank you.  I know I’m all fucked up . . . I’m all alone.”

“That was the first time in here I’ve actually been afraid for my safety,” the young door lady said afterwards.

“But all he wanted was a big hug!” she laughed.

Yup, I took a lot of ribbing for the rest of the shift.



(7) OK, I’ve run out of room — but I have to cite all the conversations and stories from the jammers on any given Sunday.

We have a great crew of regulars . . . Dan (on harmonica and vocals) and his lovely lady, Ashley.  Kevin, a regular who absolutely smoked his set this week (guitar and vocals).  Jonathan is has been stopping in again recently –one of the best guitar players at the Jam (he’s in the photo at the top of the page.)  There’s Sharkbite Mike (harmonica), and another Dan (guitar) who when he’s not rocking his stuff on stage, is a manger at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, in Sudbury MA.

Good conversation, great music, plenty of classic stories . . . I can live with that for one shift.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 16 Comments

SHIT CUSTOMERS SAY (when they think we’re not listening)

(Image from www.visualphotos.com)

It always amazes me when customers carry on private conversations — when they discuss things they clearly don’t want overheard — while there’s a bartender working just two feet away. 

They talk trash about their girlfriends or boyfriends, their bosses, even their own mothers.  They discuss the crimes they’ve pulled off, or new ones they’re plotting.  They plan to share these secrets only with the person sitting beside them although we’re standing right across from them both.

I’ve seen customers look to the left, then look to the right to make sure they aren’t being overheard . . . then tell someone the most personal things even as I reach out to pick up their glasses, or hand them their change.

Sometimes behind the bar, we’re like the invisible man (or woman.)

Often when you hear this stuff it’s hard not to laugh out loud.  Other times you want to reach over and slap them up the side of the head, . . . and sometimes it’s just like a 30-second novel, an epic story in a few dozen words.

Here are a few of my favorite things overheard while bartending:

(1) Two women in their late twenties were sitting at the bar talking; they were rough-looking gals who’d clearly been around the block a few times.  One of them said to the other, “He’s a great guy, but my God, he has the worst-tasting pee . . . !

(2)  An older, connected-looking guy (thick gold chains hanging from his neck and a gaudy pinky ring his little finger) was talking with a body-guard-looking type.  The “body-guard” listened attentively to everything the old-timer said.  The old guy sipped his brandy as he spoke in low tones:  “The guy’s real good . . . he did a lot of work for us when I was in the can.  I want you to get hold of him Monday . . . he’ll end this shit.  You know what I mean.”

(3) A middle-aged man and his girlfriend were regulars at this bar in upstate New York.  They always got along well, but one day they seemed to be arguing.  As I walked by, I happened to overhear him tell her, “You’re such a fucking slut . . . you’ve suck more cock than I saw in the Army!”

(4) Two guys in their mid-twenties were talking about the business one of them had gone into recently, something that involved medical equipment and services.  “There’s a lot of money to be made from them,” the young man said to his friend, “They’re helpless, pathetic . . . sooner or later they’re going to need everything.”

He was talking about “the boomers.”  People in their sixties.

“It’s only going to go one direction for them,” the young man continued, “You’ll be able to charge them anything you want.”

“I’m telling you,” the young man confided to his buddy, “ . . . It’s a gold mine.”

(5)  Maybe I like this next favorite because it’s so recent — just happened the other night.  It’s not from the bar, but from the door at the club — but I want to include it anyway.

At Johnny D’s when there’s a big show and a line down the street, obviously the people waiting to pay are let into the club first.  But if there’s room, people can say they’re just here for a drink, and then hang out on the bar side to enjoy what’s happening.

On this particular night, a few casual customers were being allowed into the bar side.

Joe was on the door when a shaky-looking guy stood in front of him.  “I’m not here for the music,” the man said, “I just want to come in.  Let me in . . . I just got out of the half-way house and I really need a drink!”

(6)  There was a college professor who showed up now and then at an upstate New York bar where I was working.  He once told me he taught psychology.

Sometimes he’d sit with another man in his late forties, early fifties — who I assumed was also a professor from the college.  Other times he’d come in with one or two younger guys that I figured must be among his graduate students.

I was in my early twenties, and still pretty naive.

One night the professor walked in with a young man wearing a cowboy hat.  In his mid-twenties, this guy was speaking with an exaggerated western-movie accent — which with the hat made him stand out like a sore thumb in our bar — but he didn’t seem to mind.  I think if anything he was enjoying the attention, even if it was mostly in the form of quizzical stares.

All the other times the professor was at the bar with someone, they’d just sit there talking privately  But after a few drinks, this cowboy really began to ham it up.  Soon he was all over the place.

First he was dancing in the back room with just about everybody, including men — always a couple of feet away from his dancing partners, he was doing old sixties-type dance steps.  He stopped to talk with someone at the jukebox, then with a young couple seated at one of the tables.  The couple couldn’t stop laughing at his exaggerated antics.

I was working the service station, not three feet away from where the professor was sitting.  I couldn’t help overhear hear what he said when the cowboy came back for his drink.

The young man didn’t even bother to sit down.  He just stood at the bar and took a long swig of his cocktail.  He was about to head back into the crowd when the professor spoke.

“Why do you do this to me?” the professor asked.  His voice, which was normally deep and measured, now seemed to crack a little.  I glanced over, and his eyes were brimming.  He was on the verge of tears.

“Why do you do this to me?” the professor asked, “ . . .You know I love you.”

“Oh no, . . . don’t you start that here!” the young man snapped.  He laughed, and after one more long gulp, he went back to the dance floor.

I tried to look busy, as though I was making drinks and hadn’t heard a thing — but out of the corner of my eye I saw the professor looking at me.

For whatever reason, I never saw the professor in there again.

(7)  Two striking young blonds were at the bar, dressed to kill.  They both had two- hundred-dollar haircuts, and sleek clothes to match.  One of them lifted her glass thoughtfully, tossed her hair to one side as she spoke to the other, “Well, he looked like he was established . . . but you never really know, do you?  I’m going to try to find out this weekend.”

(8) The next favorite isn’t really something overheard, but certain customers have said this from time to time . . .

A shady-looking guy walked into the bar where I worked.  He kept looking around as he sat down.  There was something strange about his eyes; they were flat, a little deadened.  “I haven’t been here in fifteen years,” he said, looking over his shoulder again.  “. . . I’ve been away.”  Judging by his behavior and what I now believed was a jail-house stare in his eyes, I figured he’d just gotten out of prison.

“I haven’t been here in . . . ten years,” another guy said one day at this same bar.  “I’ve been in . . . California.”  From the rest of his conversation, and his efforts to act like a tough guy, I figured he wanted me to think that he’d been in prison.  It was a tough bar.  He’d probably heard another customer say something like this, and he wanted to give the same impression.

(9)  Two men in business suits were sitting at the bar in a Quincy Market place.  One man said to the other, “The auditors are coming Monday . . . I think I’m fucked.”

(10)  A group of very attractive women in their early thirties were at the club on what was clearly a girl’s night out.  Each time I went down to serve them, they were talking about dogs — different kinds of dogs, which dogs they preferred, and why.

At one point they were looking over the club’s schedule, and one of them noticed that a band called The Love Dogs would be playing that weekend.  “Oh, THE LOVE DOGS!” she snorted, with a deep-throated, slightly raunchy laugh.  “I have to see THAT band!”  And they all laughed.

Another time when I came down to them, one of the girls was describing a dog.  “He’s such a beautiful animal,” she told the others, “. . . But he doesn’t know what to do.”  And they all laughed again.

This went on the entire time they were there, probably over the course of two hours.

When I recounted all this to a woman friend a few days later, she said they had probably noticed I was listening and decided to take me for a ride.

“I’ve done things like that myself,” she told me, “When I thought someone was listening to the conversation.”

I’m not really sure what was happening that night.  Maybe they were toying with me, or maybe they were just talking, oblivious to my presence.

Anyway, these are just a few of the things overheard.  A word to the wise . . . the bartender is there.  And we can hear you.


Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 15 Comments