(Image from

“Hey, are you going to put the game on?” he asked.

The tone of his request made me stop and turn.  I was on my way to the other end of the bar, two pints of beer in hand, when he just about reached out and grabbed me.  These were the first words he’d said aside from ordering his initial drink, and now they came out like, “Hey, what-the-fuck, are you going to put the game on or not!”

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

There are two large-screen TV’s at Johnny D’s, one at either end of the bar.  Both had games on — at the far end the Boston Celtics were playing; the other TV had the NY Giants against the Dallas Cowboys.  Apparently he wanted to see the Giants/Cowboys football game even though he walked the full length of the bar past that TV, choosing instead to sit in front of the one showing basketball.

The Sunday blues jam was going on and no one was really paying attention to either game, so I switched them.  The guy folded his arms across his chest as though the wait was taking every bit of his patience.

“There you go,“ I said.  I stood in front of him for a second with the TV clicker in hand . . . but he didn’t say “thanks” or anything.  His arms were still folded across his chest.

I suppose in some bars this is business as usual, but the man’s attitude stood out like a sore thumb at Johnny D’s.  The guy had a bug up his ass about something.

A few minutes later, a kid in his early twenties waved his hand.  “Could I have a menu?” he snapped.

Again, that tone.  What was going on here?

He’d just taken his seat at the bar . . . I swear his butt cheeks hadn’t even fully settled onto the bar stool before he had an attitude like he’d been waiting for half an hour.

Was it me?

Then I remembered that it was the afternoon after New Year’s Eve.

“That’s it,” I thought, “It’s the Memorial Day Syndrome.”  This might be a long shift.

Of course it wasn’t actually Memorial Day, but that’s when John Bonaccorso and I first talked about this syndrome.  It was maybe ten years ago and we were tending bar over a Memorial Day Weekend when we noticed that we had a lot of new faces in the club, and their attitude and behavior was quite different than our regular crowd.  Some of these new people walked in the door with a huge chip on their shoulder.  Nothing was quite right for them — not the band, the food, the service, not the freaking bar top — they weren’t going to be satisfied with anything.

“These are the people who weren’t invited to any cookouts or parties,” John said,  “They’re not a happy bunch.”

After that we called it the Memorial Day Syndrome, although I guess it also applies to those who were disappointed with their New Year’s Eve.


I  sympathize with people who have a tough time on the holidays.  I get the holiday blues myself.  It’s a bitch when things don’t live up to your expectations.  You feel like you’re missing out on something everyone else seems to have.

And I agree with the basic instinct to head for a local bar — but when you walk in with an attitude, are things really going to get any better for you?

Maybe I was wrong about what was behind their attitude, but I couldn’t help pick up on it.  It seemed to come from nowhere.

When you’ve been in the business for awhile this sort of thing jumps out at you.  It’s like a cop who’s walked the same beat a hundred times and quickly spots the guy who’s acting strangely, a little out of synch.  It’s a survival mechanism.

You’re probably not going to do or say anything about it, . . . something so small as a sour attitude, but you notice it, and you keep it in mind.  If it gets worse you might communicate with the other bartenders.  “Keep an eye on the guy in the blue shirt . . . something’s a little off about him.  He’s in a pissy mood.”

Now the menu guy ordered a hamburger as though he were doing me a favor.  “Well, I guess I’ll just have the hamburger,” he said in a huff.  As though he really wasn’t pleased with anything on the menu, but he’d be big about it  . . . and order a burger.

“Medium rare . . . who cares?” I thought as I walked away.

I usually can’t be bothered with people’s self-imposed moods.  As long as they’re not actually starting trouble, this stuff rolls off my back behind the taps.

If I screw something up, I feel bad about it.  If the kitchen screws up, if something about the club disappoints them — if it’s something that we might have done better, I’m concerned.  I’ll apologize and try to make it up to them.

But if someone has an attitude just because they’re in a bad mood . . . that’s their problem.  And please don’t think of letting your bad mood affect the people around you, because you’ll find yourself back out on the street.

I went down to talk with the regular blues jam players.

Later I went back to see if the TV guy wanted anything else.  As I set down his new beer, I thought I probably should have talked with him first — to see how he was doing.  I’d only served him one beer, but he might already have been drinking somewhere else.

“How’s it going?” I asked as I set the beer down, “How are you doing today?”

“I’m fine,” he replied sharply, “How are YOU doing?”

“Great,” I thought, “He answers a simple question as though he’s returning a serve in some competitive game.”

“I’m doing a lot better now the holidays are over,” I said.

I wasn’t trying to be nice, or make him feel better.  I was just trying to get him to talk.  I knew that if he did spend New Year’s Eve alone, . . . I might be able to say something that would soften the sting.  But that wasn’t my goal.

“It seems like more work every year,” I continued, “I’m glad I worked New Year’s Eve . . . otherwise I probably would have stayed at home.”

“It’s too crazy,” I said, “And everything costs twice as much.”

“I hear ya,” the guy said.

We talked for a while.  I told him that I thought New Year’s Eve had changed a lot over the last 10-15 years, at least at Johnny D’s.  People didn’t seem so intent nowadays on finding that “Big-New-Year’s-Eve Date.”

“Our crowd had some couples,” I said, “But it was mostly groups of friends, male and female, and individuals who just wanted to celebrate with Booty Vortex . . . some of them knew a lot of people at the club, others were just meeting people as they went along.”

“It was a laid-back night,” I said.

He said it sounded pretty cool.

It’s funny . . . making a small effort to be a little nice to this guy made me feel good.

Later when he was leaving, he made a point to catch my eye and give me a short wave.  “Thanks,” he said, “Take it easy.”  As though we were friends.

“You, too,” I said.  I suppose, as his bartender, in a way we were.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 8 Comments

A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (My New Year’s resolution)

(Image from

Normally I’m not big on the New Year’s resolutions — haven’t bothered with one for the last 10-15 years, and I’ve never written any of them down.  (Certainly never posted one on the web for everyone to see.)

This year is different.

In 2012, I really have to get off my butt and finish the book I’ve been working on for the last three years.  Well, . . . I’ve been working on it for three years, but I’ve been talking about it for almost twenty.

Saturday at the club, New Year’s Eve, a woman came up to order a drink and said, “Oh hi, . . . you’re still here?”

“How’s the book coming?” she asked.

I hadn’t seen her since she moved out of town back when Bill Clinton was president.

Three years . . . twenty years, . . . it actually goes back even further than that.  I’ve been vaguely planning to be a writer for as long as I can remember.

I think the idea began as a way to deal with growing up.

I was  miserable following my parents divorce.  I resented my Mom for sending my father packing, although I realize now she didn’t have much choice.

When I was four we moved to rural Hanover, Massachusetts.  I was alone a lot because my sister Kathy was attending kindergarten, and my mother taught fourth grade at that same school.  I spent my days at a neighbor’s house with a woman whose face I can’t remember.

As a child Mike Q was an avid reader of comic books.

Then my sister began first grade and for some reason I didn’t go to kindergarten, so I spent another year with this faceless woman, although I remember her as being very kind and making me a lot of soup.

That’s when I began reading.  At first it was just comic books (in my defense, I read a lot of Classics Illustrated, where novels like MOBY DICK and THE CALL OF THE WILD were presented in comic book form.)

In grade school I began browsing through the family bookcase.  I think it was in third grade that I read Eager Allen Poe’s, “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

I thought, “I want to write a story like that!”

The dream of becoming a writer was something I clung to when things got tough.  My first girl friend broke up with me, but that was OK . . . someday I was going to be a writer.  Maybe I’d write about the experience.

In college I wasn’t interested in anything I studied; I had no idea what to do with my life, but I shrugged it off.

I was going to be a writer.

It wasn’t something I thought about all the time, and but it was one of those half-formed ideas, a plan for the future that can keep you going.

When I finally headed for Boston to start work on this plan, I knew it wouldn’t be easy.  I’d heard the stories about young authors struggling for years to be successful, facing hundreds of rejection letters.

I had read the strangest, perhaps saddest of these stories, in the forward of a book titled A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, by John Kennedy Toole.

It seems that after completing his Master’s Degree in Literature, this young man sat down to bang out his first novel.  He poured his heart and soul into the book, but couldn’t get anyone to take it seriously.  He sent the manuscript to publisher after publisher . . . but all that came back were curt rejections.

Perhaps it was this unrelenting stream of dismissals, or maybe he had personal problems, but in the end – John Kennedy Toole killed himself.

This is a true story.

Years later, his still distraught Mom dusted off her son’s opus and began sending it out herself, apparently determined to sanctify his effort.

Like her son, she faced repeated rejection until one day a professor at Loyola University agreed to look at it.  Percy Walker later wrote that that the only reason he read the manuscript was because Toole’s mother kept calling him and showing up unannounced at his office — but once he did read the book, he was so impressed he convinced LSU Press to publish it.

One year later, John Kennedy Toole’s A CONFERACY OF DUNCES won The Pulitzer Prize in Literature.  (It sounds unbelievable, but this is how it happened.)

John Kennedy Toole apparently had it right when he chose as the title for his book something borrowed from Jonathan Swift:

“When a true genius comes into the world, you shall know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.”

Anyway, at the time it looked to me like nobody at the publishing houses knew what they were doing.  I was as a young man . . . a bartender who wanted to be a writer, but what editor would talk with me except when they needed a drink?

So, I deceloped a strategy.  I decided that to be successful, I should establish some writing credentials before submitting a manuscript.

I’d come across something in a literature course that interested me — that would be my first publication, I decided — an academic article in literature.  Then I’d write magazine articles, and just before starting the novel, I’d warm up with some short stories.  With this professional background as a writer, I figured they’d have to listen to me.

In the meantime, I’d simply continue tending bar . . .

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know what happened next.

It’s easy to become distracted, working behind the taps.  Maybe I didn’t put as much time into this project as I should have.  There were a lot after-hours parties and nights spent raising hell.

There were a lot of wrong turns, a few missed exits and dead-ends.  Maybe I should have been more careful making life-decisions — instead of digging myself into one hole after another.  One day I was chasing madly after women like Kristin, and the next trying to foil the plots of guys like Dan Crowne.

Maybe I should blame it on Jackie Rabbit and Maude the Broad.  Or Paul and Sonny, Joey Cigars, or Johnny La La, . . . or any of one hundred real-life characters from stories I haven’t posted yet.

But put all this together, and it’s taken me twenty years to just complete a three-step plan leading up to a book.  (I substituted this blog for the warm-up short stories.)

Well, . . . no sense in looking back or bitching now.  At least I’ve laid the groundwork.

This will be the year I finally get it done . . . that’s my New Year’s resolution.  This year, Lord willing, I’m going to finish that book.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 13 Comments


Colleen visiting her parents in Florida last year.

“Are you OK?” Colleen asks.

“I’m fine,” I tell her, phone at my ear.  “Maybe I’m just coming down with a cold.”

It’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m already five days late with this week’s post.  I have the time off today, but I don’t feel like writing.

“Are you sure you‘re OK?” Colleen asks.

“Maybe it’s the holiday blues,” I say.

My mood is definitely bah-humbug today.  On Christmas, everyone will be at Colleen’s house, and I’ll be heading to work.  Johnny D’s opens at 6 P.M. Christmas night.

But this year’s no different, I always work Christmas . . . so that‘s probably not what’s bothering me.

Maybe I’m discouraged because another year has come and gone — and the book I‘ve been working on still isn’t finished.  Where does the time go?  Right now I‘m having trouble just pulling together weekly posts.

Or is it . . . here’s a horrible thought . . . that I’m just being lazy today?  (I hate when I find myself doing that.)

Anyway, instead of writing this post I called my best friend, Colleen, and we talked for a while.  Then I began reading one of David Hayden’s blogs.  He has a network of blogs, all of them top-shelf, and he also wrote a great little book on how to make more money in foodservice.

Last week in “Tips on Improving your Tips”, David wrote about the “Grinch-like” actions of a Kansas City bar owner.  The owner of Jardine’s, a highly-respected jazz club, recently fired all fifteen of her employees.

It seems that three weeks before Christmas, the staff at Jardine’s came to work at their usual time . . . and found the doors locked.  The place was closed.  They’d all been fired.

(Photo from "Tips for Improving your Tips".)

The sign on the front door said that the club would be closed while the place was remodeled and an entire new staff was hired from scratch.

(I’ve heard owners threaten this — “They’re not going to run ME . . . I’ll lock the doors and hire all new people!” — but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it done.)

Since the en mass-firing, there’s been plenty of mudslinging and finger-pointing from both Jardine’s ownership and the now-unemployed staff.

I’ve read that Jardine’s still owes some of these employees money — back tips that were never paid.  There was talk of verbal abuse and harassment, and one employee actually filed assault charges against the owner.  I read somewhere else that the whole thing started when some of the staff were caught drinking illegally after hours at the club.

But this “he said/she said” thing aside . . . what is not in dispute is the timing of the firing.

Three weeks before Christmas.

Given this business, we can assume that at least some of these employees were living paycheck to paycheck — and just before Christmas, all fifteen suddenly found themselves without jobs.

I can’t help but think of Tina DeLellis at Johnny D’s.  (Tina was the mom of current owner Carla DeLellis.)  Tina would never fire anyone during the Christmas holiday.

David and Carla with their mom, Tina DeLellis (Mrs. Johnny D). Photo from the LIVING/ARTS section of The Boston Globe, August 9,1991.

Tina demanded a lot from her staff — there was never any doubt about who was the boss — but she also treated everyone with respect.  She knew what it was like to struggle, to work hard just to get by.  She was quick to loan her staff money if someone came up short on rent at the end of the month, or was hit with sudden bills.

Maybe it was because Tina was born and raised in Naples, Italy and still had a lot of old-school ways about her — or maybe she just thought it was bad luck to fire someone around Christmas — but that was one of her unbending principles.  Everyone got at least one free pass during the holiday season.

I remember one year a prep cook was caught red-handed sneaking two bottles of beer out of the walk-in cooler downstairs.  The bartenders had noticed a bottle or two missing here and there, and now it was clear why.

The prep cook would snag a couple bottles, then go out to the back alley and chug down the beers before returning to work.

It wasn’t just the missing beers Tina was concerned about.  She didn’t want her kitchen staff working around hot stoves, handling sharp knives and even operating the slicing machine after they’d been drinking.

But it was the week before Christmas, . . . and she didn’t fire the guy.

“We’re going to talk about this after New Year’s,” Tina told him.  “For now, I need you to give me your word that this won’t happen again.”

“I need you to give me your word,” Tina said, “I can’t have you drinking on the job in my place.”

The guy finished out the holidays at Johnny D’s, then found another job, probably figuring he’d blown his chances here.

When he told Tina he was leaving, he thanked her, and kept repeating over and over how much he appreciated working for her.

Maybe it’s two different situations — Jardine’s and Johnny D’s.  Or maybe just two totally different owners.

Anyway, I want to finish this post with one further note on the Christmas spirit.

Although this isn’t technically a holiday story, I think the sentiment fits perfectly — this is from a book I found on top of the hamper in Colleen’s guest bathroom.  (I think she put it there as some sort of decoration . . . it’s a coffee-table book titled Chicken Soup for the Soul.)

One of the stories in it is from humorist Art Buchwald.

It seems that Art Buchwald was riding with a friend in a New York City taxi when the friend complimented the cabbie on his driving.

Later, when Art and his friend were walking down the sidewalk, the friend complimented some construction workers laboring at a site.

“What was that all about,” the author asked.

His friend told him that he was trying to bring some love back to New York City, one person at a time.

He said that although he was only one individual, his simple acts of kindness could multiply exponentially.

“[For example] I believe I have made that taxi driver‘s day.  Suppose he has twenty fares.  He‘s going to be nice to those twenty fares because someone was nice to him.  Those fares will in turn be kinder to their employees, shopkeepers or waiters, or even their own families.  Eventually, the goodwill could spread to at least a thousand people.  Now that isn‘t bad, is it?”

“You’re some kind of nut,“ Art Buchwald said, but the guy wasn’t discouraged.  He replied, “I’m hoping to enlist others in my campaign.”

They continued walking down the street.

“You just smiled at a very plain-looking woman,” Art Buchwald said.

“Yes, I know,” the friend replied, “And if she‘s a schoolteacher, her class is going to be in for a fantastic day.”

Here’s wishing that you and yours have a fantastic Christmas.

UPDATE 12/22 . . . David Hayden writes in the comment section below that he’s been contacted by several restaurant managers/owners who want to hire the fired Jardine’s employees.  Good news, just in time for Christmas . . . perfect.

(Coming Sunday, January 1, 2012 . . . a New Year’s Resolution!)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 14 Comments

COUPLES (Behaving badly)

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

I wish they would leave it at home.  But, of course, they don’t . . .

They hit the bars, the clubs, the nightspots — for most customers, each night out is a short vacation.  Everyone’s looking to relax and have a good time.

Some will get carried away, that’s to be expected.  Usually the only ones hurt or embarrassed are those individuals themselves.

It’s different with couples.  When they start crossing the line, couples are the worst.

I remember one couple at The Lark Tavern.  The guy was a big shot lawyer in a $500 suit.  He’d just purchased one of the large brownstone homes that surround Washington Park, and he’d show up during the week with his very attractive, somewhat younger wife.

This lawyer had a strong, positive bearing.  Big smile, big handshake, full of confidence.  He was always in a great mood, on top of the world, almost benevolent as he chatted with customers less fortunate than himself.

OK, I guess he was a bit of a jerk.

One night some construction workers were hanging out at The Lark, and the lawyer’s wife was paying a lot of attention to one of them.  The guy was a good looking young man, tan, well built.  As they talked, she laughed at something he said, touched his shoulder in a familiar way.

It was a little embarrassing to watch her flirt so openly.

The two of them became more intimate in their conversation.  They leaned close to whisper in each others’ ears, then laughed.

After a while the construction guy got up and threw on a leather jacket over the T-shirt he was wearing, and the wife picked up her purse.

They left together.

As she walked out, the wife gave her husband a quick kiss on the cheek.  I think she whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The lawyer sat alone now.  He ordered a scotch on the rocks, and another beer — quick nods between the bartenders signaled we’d better slow him down.

At one point, I walked by and he was apparently talking to himself, but he was speaking loudly enough for me to hear,  . . . so maybe he was talking to me.

“Its no one’s business,” he said, “What my wife and I do.”

It was a brave face, but I knew he was crushed.  This had happened in his neighborhood bar.

When he came in after that, he continued to flash those hundred dollar bills, and talk on and on about his wonderful townhouse — but the regulars had this little smile on their face as they listened now.

And we never saw his wife again.

A woman goes to the ladies room,  . . . and her husband immediately starts pawing the cute waitress.  The man leaves for a few minutes, and his woman makes it clear to the bartender that she’s available, that she’s really not interested in the guy — what makes people do this?

One night at Johnny D’s — this has to be ten years ago now — there was a couple down in John Bonaccorso’s section.

As soon as the couple took their seats, the girl was all over John . . .with her boyfriend sitting right next to her.

John Bonaccorso on his first New Year's Eve as a bartender.

I have to admit John is a good-looking guy, and when he was in his early twenties he was a real Tom-Cruise kind of bartender.

But as long as I’ve known him, John’s always had a steady girlfriend, and I’ve heard him say that time and again when women begin to seriously come on to him.  “Got a girlfriend,” he’ll say, and that’s what he told this one.

But she wouldn’t let up.

An hour or so later, the boyfriend went to the restroom.  As soon as he turned the corner, the girl leaned forward.  She actually stood up on the rungs of her bar stool and leaned over the bar to go talk with John.

“Look, I’m available,” she told him, “I’ve just been waiting for a good reason to dump this guy.”

“I’ve got a girlfriend,” John told her again.

When her boyfriend came back, the girl didn’t waste any time.  She broke up with the guy right there at the bar . . . while they were still eating dinner.

The poor guy couldn’t finish his meal.  He got up and walked the length of the bar with his head drooped, his jacket half over his shoulders.

John said something to the girl, . . . that maybe she should at least walk out with him, or something like that . . . so she did get up to leave.  But she stopped first to write down her phone number and hand it to John.

Sometimes you have to shake your head in disbelief.

What’s surprising is that these incidents barely stand out during the course of the night.  There are a thousand other things happening . . . you observe for the moment, then your attention is yanked someplace else.

It’s only later, maybe at the end of the night when you’re having a drink, that you sit back and say . . . “Man, that was fucked-up.”

I remember an older couple from The Sunflower Café, in Harvard Square.  They were In their late forties, and they were usually as quiet as vacant stools.

But one night just as I came over to them, the man began bitching about his wife.  The two of them were sitting next to each other, facing straight ahead, but he started bad-mouthing her as though she wasn’t there.

“She didn’t want to go out tonight,” he told me with a sneer, “She never wants to go out.  If it was up to her, we’d sit at home every night.”

His  comments caught me off guard.  I’ll never understood why people need to get the bartender involved.

I made an effort to avoid them after that, but the man finally waved me down and asked for another drink.

“Seven and Seven?” I replied, “ . . . Sure.”

“And would you like one as well?” I asked the woman.

Why can't they all be like this couple at Christopher's Restaurant (Cambridge, MA.)

“No, . . . she’s fine!” the man snapped.  His wife glanced at him, then looked down again.

Ten minutes later the two of them were arguing.  They voices were low, but I could see him berating her under his breath.

“You’re just stupid!” I heard him say when I walked over to cut this short, “We can’t just go out and have a good time.  You always have to ruin things!”

“Shut up!” he told her as I got there.

From what I’d seen, the poor woman hadn’t said a word.  Now I was standing directly across from them.

“It’s OK,” the man said quickly, “It’s OK . . . it’s alright.  We’re leaving.“

“Come on!” he said to his wife, and as they walked out he continued to snap at her.  I heard words like “Stupid” . . . and “Bitch.”

But the entire time her face remained completely flat, emotionless . . . and she continued to take his abuse without reacting.

Was this how they lived their lives?

Maybe she’d learned to just ride this sort of thing out, and wait for the next day.  I wondered if tomorrow he’d apologize, or if they’d even talk about it.  Maybe he wouldn’t remember it at all.

Two weeks later that same couple was in The Sunflower again, and now they were simply the most content and happy pair.  Whenever I come over to them, they were chatting pleasantly with each other, and smiling as though the previous visit had never happened.

Go figure.

Anyway, that’s life behind the taps . . . and on the whole I can’t complain.  Fortunately the couples mentioned here are by far the exception.   Back next week with something more upbeat.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 5 Comments


“You can’t post something like that,” Colleen said, “It just sounds too weird.”

I generally listen to Colleen.  She’s my best friend and one of the brightest people I know (graduated with a 3.8 from Suffolk University.)

As we talked on the phone yesterday afternoon, I was telling her what I had planned for the blog this week.  It’s a story about an old letter I’ve kept over the years.

“I don’t think you can use this,” Colleen said after I’d just begun the tale, “No one will believe it.”

OK, I guess I have a problem.

Listen, for those of you reading I know what I’m about to say will probably sound strange.  It is a little out there, but it really did happen, just this way . . . and now I feel obligated to tell the story.

It began back at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York, when I was bartending at The Mug.

At that time, Joey (Joanne Payden) and I spent a lot of time together.  We met in college and became really close friends . . . and we had this weird mental connection.

It’s hard to explain, but sometimes she’d look at me and know what I was about to say . . . then beat me too it.  She’d say it first.

Sometimes it was a little unnerving.

Once, I swear I heard her thoughts just as she was about to speak  It was as though I heard the words inside my head before she said them . . . it was so weird.

I repeated the unspoken words out loud to her, holding onto the back of a chair because the room seemed to be spinning.  When I looked over at her, she was sitting on the bed with her arms wrapped around her bent knees, rocking herself back and forth.

“It scares me,” she said, “Whatever is going on with our minds.”

(Alright, that’s the place in the story where Colleen said I shouldn’t post it, . . . but I’ll ask you to bear with me, at least until we get to the part about the letter.  Then you can pass judgment.)

Back at Cortland State, Joey graduated and moved to Colorado, and somehow we lost contact.

It would take a guy named “Harpo” — and a trip cross-country to California and back — to put Joey and I in touch again.

Geoffery Last (everyone called him “Harpo”) showed up at The Mug around two years after Joey left.  He was an old frat buddy of mine from Beta Phi Epsilon and he was a wild man, with a full beard and shaggy head of brown hair.

Harpo had gone to Chicago after graduation to work for some large sporting goods corporation.  He wore a suit and tie, the whole corporate deal.

Two years later, he quit that job to become a crew member on some retired executive’s yacht.  He and the rest of the crew were paid to sail around the world.

When he came back, he bought an over-sized van and had the back end converted into comfortable sleeping quarters, complete with carpeting and surround-sound stereo.

He spent the next year traveling all over the United States.  He went wherever he wanted, and stayed as long as he wanted — all this before he turned twenty-five.

Now he was in Cortland to get me out of my “rut”, as he called it.

“What are you going to do?” he asked, sitting at the bar watching me work, “Are you going to stay in this small town all your life?”

He had a plan that the two of us should move to Boston.

So I quit The Mug, leaving my good buddy Jim Fennell to run the place — Harpo and I drove to Boston to find an apartment.

While in Boston, we met two nurses and ended up staying with them while we looked for our own place.

We were at their neighborhood bar one night, when Harpo said it was too bad that I was going straight from Cortland to Boston,  . . . that I’d never seen the rest of the country.

“He’s never been to the Grand Canyon,“ he said, as the nurses listened.  Neither of them had been there, either.

“You guys really should go at some point in your lives,” Harpo intoned, “It’s so amazing.”

A few more beers, and Harpo came up with a plan that we should all hop in his van and go see the Grand Canyon.

One of the nurses was leaving her current job, and she could take a month off before finding a new one.   The other nurse could take an extra week of vacation time . . . that gave each of them four weeks free.  Harpo and I had no commitments . . . what was stopping us?

Two weeks later the four of us were on the road, headed west in Harpo’s van.

“At least I’ll have a chance to look up Joey when we hit Colorado,” I thought when it was my turn to drive.  Before we left I’d gotten her phone number from her father in Binghamton.

“You know she’s married now,” her dad told me.

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” I said, “Joey and I were really close friends.”

When we hit the Rockies, it was  breathtaking . . . absolutely amazing.

Uinta National Park

We stopped every night to cook dinner, camp out and get high.  It seemed we were always a little high during this trip, and there was plenty of cold beer, except when you were driving.

At the end of each night we took turns  — one couple stayed in the van, while the other had sleeping bags under a spellbinding night sky.

We finally hit the west coast and took a day trip over the border into Tijuana, where we shopped in a sprawling Mexican marketplace.  Everything was so inexpensive that we spent all day buying presents.

(This isn't the original silver cross that I bought for Joey, but it's as close as I could find.)

I bought something for Joey and her husband.  I found a native-looking silver cross with turquoise stones that I thought she might like, and picked-up a hand-crafted leather wallet for him.

Taking a southern route back to the east coast, we camped about an hour outside Denver, where Joey lived.

I had put off calling her until the last minute, and now I wondered about this surprise visit.  I hadn’t spoken with her in years.  It was an hour drive.  I didn’t know if I’d be intruding.

Suddenly this didn’t seem like such a good idea.  I kept thinking about it, turning the piece of jewelry I’d bought for her over and over in my hand.

I have her number,” I finally told myself, “I’ll just call her when I get back East.”

That was it.  After planning the entire trip to look her up, . . . I didn’t go through with it.

Crossing back over the Rockies, we got snowed in.  It was the middle of August, but the mountain elevation outside the small town of Buena Vista was something like 12,000 feet, and there was a blizzard going on up there.  Eighteen-wheel tractor trailers were spinning off the road.

So we turned around and went back to Buena Vista.  We spent the night at the Green Parrot Hotel, where Harpo and I almost got into a fight with some townies in the hotel bar.  That would have been a mistake.  Some of those guys had loaded rifles hanging on the gun racks of their pick-up trucks parked out front.

By the time we made it back to the east coast, Harpo had decided that Hawaii would be his next stop.  I was headed for Boston . . . but ended up in Albany (it’s a long story; see Down the Rabbit Hole.)

In Albany I began working at The Lark Tavern, and week after week, month after month, I kept putting off that call to Joey  . . . until I’d pretty much forgotten about the idea.

Then, after eight or nine months in Albany, I came home from work one night to find this letter in my mailbox.  The letter was meant for me . .  but it had originally been sent “in care of” to my sister in Syracuse, NY.

The sender didn’t even have Cindy’s right address.  It was her name, but some other address much further down the road.  That person recognized Cindy‘s name, drove it up to her, and then Cindy forwarded it to me.

The letter was from Joey.

She was asking about a piece of jewelry.

She explained in a second letter.

“I had a dream a while back,” she told me, “It was sometime around last August.”

Joey told me that in the dream someone was holding out a piece of jewelry to her.  She couldn’t see the person’s face, but she knew the jewelry was somehow very important.

“It was a native Indian-type silver cross set with turquoise stones,” she said.  “It was such a vivid dream I haven’t been able to forget it.  I began thinking it might have something to do with you . . . that’s why I wrote.”

What are the odds . . . Joey having that dream around the same time I was in her area? Coincidence?  A dream in which I hold up a silver cross that matches the one I bought for her in Mexico . . . and that I was holding in my hand as I debated dropping in on her?

The whole thing is just weird.

“Where is Joey now,” Colleen asked when I finished telling the story.

“I don’t know,“ I said, “We exchanged those letters, talked on the phone.  I saw her once when she came back to upstate New York to visit her parents . . . . but over the years we’ve lost touch again.”

“I can’t believe it,” Colleen said, “What’s wrong with you?”

“You know, you really have to look her up,” she said.  “I’ll help.  We’ll search the web.”

“You really do need to look up this woman again.”

I think Colleen is right.

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