Regular post tomorrow, . . . today a sad announcement

We’ll be back for our regular post tomorrow night, but for those of you who knew Mike Daley, either in person or from here, I have some sad news.  Mike has lost his long battle with cancer.  He was a good man, . . . a great customer, friend, and sometimes also a bartender as he traveled from Boston to Hawaii, finally finding a home in Key West, Fla.

His soul mate Sonnia Rice tells us that throughout the battle Mike never lost that remarkable sense of humor, and dignity.  No one was surprised.  (You can read her letter in the comment section.)

Mike would never have allowed me to become sentimental, so I’ll keep this short, adding only my favorite Zen Koan.  Like the man portrayed below, each of us will someday face the end of the run, . . . it’s what we take with us from the journey that counts.

Koan: The Strawberry

A man walking across a field encounters a tiger.  He flees, the tiger chases after him.  Coming to a cliff, he grabs the root of a wild vine and swings himself over the edge.

Hanging on with the tiger growling above him, the man looks down to see another tiger waiting to eat him directly below.  Only the vine sustains him.

Two mice, one white and one black, start to gnaw on the vine.  Then the man spots a wild strawberry growing just within reach.  Holding on with one hand, he plucks the strawberry.  How sweet it tastes!

Rest in peace, Mike.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 3 Comments

ANOTHER DAY (behind the bar)

The day started out shaky and quickly got worse.  This past Friday morning, with only four hours sleep, I found myself at the computer working on The Book.  (At least I’m putting the time in now after all these years.)

By noon I remembered that there was a big show at the club later.  The Motels would be playing — they had a couple of top-ten hits back in the eighties.  The dinner reservations were full and the advance tickets had sold out.

“That’s OK,” I told myself, “There’s still time to write, then I’ll catch a quick nap.”

Soon it was 3:30, and any nap would have to be half an hour or less.  “That’s OK,” I thought, “At least I’ll be able to lie down and close my eyes for a minute.”

The phone rang.  It was John Bonoccorso from the club.  I’ve worked with John for fifteen years behind the taps; he’s now the GM at Johnny D’s.  Any call before work is never good.

“The phones are ringing off the hook here,” John told me, “Any way you can come in an hour early?”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll be in at 5:00.  No problem.”

No problem?  What was I saying?  I barely had time for a quick shower.

I put on my work shoes and rushed to the club.  At Johnny D’s, the day continued to go straight downhill.

Friday is pay day, when the employees get their checks.  (I do some office work aside from tending bar; I handle the payroll– go over the time sheets, call in the hours, then double-check the results when the payroll arrives.)

Something was different about this week’s checks.  On closer look, I saw that they were all printed to be drawn on our old bank account — an account we’d closed months ago.  With their new software system, the payroll company had sent us checks that weren’t any good.  If anyone tried to cash them, they’d bounce.

“Print me another batch of checks!” I yelled over the phone when finally connected to a payroll supervisor, “The ones you sent us are all screwed up . . . they have the wrong account number!”

I’ll spare you the details except to say it was a nightmare . . . but in the end everything was straightened out, and I still had half an hour to look over some food bills.  It was only 6:00.  With two bartenders already working upstairs, I wouldn’t be needed until it really got busy.

The intercom rang.  “Better get up here,” John said, “The bar’s getting slammed!”

The ice bins at the middle station of Johnny D’s, when in working condition.

When I stepped behind the bar, Julian was frantically melting down the ice in his left side bin.  Someone had broken a glass.

If you’re not in the business you might not know that anytime glass breaks anywhere near the ice, you have to melt it all down.  When glass shatters, tiny pieces fly just about everywhere, and you can’t see broken glass in the ice.  You have to make sure no small shards end up in someone’s drink.

“It’ll be fine,” I thought, “The waitstaff can come to my side.  I still have ice.”

I reached to grab a bottle behind me, and heard a waitress yell, “Oh, . . . FUCK!!!”

I turned back just in time to see the container of martini olives teetering over the edge of my service station.  Suddenly everything was in slow motion . . . my hands reached out in slow motion, trying to grab the container in slow motion, my mouth was open . . . “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”

I reached the container just in time to receive a bath of olive juice as the remaining half of the juice, and approximately 40-50 olives splashed onto the ice in the right bin.

Cleaning up, the waitress had knocked the container over the edge.  Accidents happen, what can you do?

But now both 30-gallon ice bins at the middle station were temporarily out of commission.  Customers waved their hands, six waitstaff frantically shouted for their drinks, we were being slammed . . . and we had no usable ice.

Then behind me, Jeremy and Julian somehow smashed their heads together as they tried to scoot by in the narrow bar aisle.  Julian was standing with both hands holding his nose, and Jeremy kept asking, “Are you alright?  Are you alright?”

“This is not going well,” I finally admitted to myself.  The way things were going, next the roof would cave in.

Steve Morse

By the time the ice bins were operational, Steve Morse had come into the club.  Steve has been coming to Johnny D’s just about since it opened.  (He was the Boston Globe’s senior pop music critic for 30 years, leaving a while ago to work independently — click here to watch his interview with Joan Baez.)

Things had slowed down, I needed a break from the madness, so I stopped for a minute to talk with Steve.  He was telling me about The Motels, then branched off into other bands, . . . and somehow he began telling a story about a band that had once opened for The Eagles.

It seems he was in Springfield MA, covering The Eagles, and at a hotel bar he happened to run into the guys who were the opening act.  They started talking and drinking, and since they were in the same business and knew a lot of the same people, they ended up spending most of the night in that hotel bar, talking and recalling music tales.

Who was this opening act?  Jimmy Buffett’s band, before they became really big.

After that the only Boston area critic who got interviews with Jimmy Buffett was Steve Morse, of The Boston Globe.  It became so bad that after more than 20 years Buffett’s manager finally called Steve almost apologetically, asking if the band could do an interview — just one — with someone else, the Boston Herald.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” the manager told him, “But they keep calling every year . . . I really should give them an interview.  Is that OK?”

Steve said it was,  . . . but that he hoped it wouldn’t become a habit.  (You have to hear Steve tell the story to appreciate his dry humor.)

Gotta love those bar connections.  Anyway, talking with Steve put me in a better mood.  I do love a good bar story.

Back to work, and a woman came up to the bar.  “Can I help you?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said, looking at the beer list, “I just had a Lagunitas IPA, but now I think I want something a little darker.”

Feeling revived, I ran down to grab at taste of the Clown Shoes Brown Angel for her.  “Try this,” I said, “It’s made by a company in Lexington, MA . . . just up the road.”

Her eyes lit up with the first sip, then her whole face practically turned into one big grin.  “Oh . . . that is good,” she said.  She was beaming.  “That is really good . . . I’ll have one of those.”

Chef Rudy Garcia, out of uniform.

“Thanks for the sample,” she said with a genuine smile of appreciation.  I was beginning to see some light at the end of this day’s long, dark tunnel.

Rudy Garcia walked in.  He’s a chef with The Elephant Walk in Cambridge, MA . . . just a few blocks away.  We love Rudy.  He’s a great guy, and a great chef.  Usually when he leaves he’ll say something like, “Are you working tomorrow night . . . I’ll bring you something from the restaurant.”

It might be three or four more visits before he actually remembers, but when he does, it’s always worth the wait.

Leehea, with Cris Holt and Joe Shea.

Leehae (pronounced LeeHay) Choee walked into the club, just off her shift as a manager at The Blue Shirt Café.  She’s smart, cute as a button, and such a pleasant person.  She was the capper . . . the person who finally finished turning this entire evening around, 180 degrees.  I challenge anyone to stay in a sour mood with the lovely Leehae sitting at their bar.  She is such a sweetheart.  Damn, I was feeling good now.

Then The Motels broke into their top-ten tune, “Only the Lonely” — and everything else in the club stopped.  No drinks were served, no one was moving, no one talked.  People were spellbound listening to the song.

When it was finished, everyone in the place seemed a little high.

At the end of the night, the waitstaff happily tossed down their shift drinks.  And while us bartenders counted tips and enjoyed cold pints of Clown Shoes Brown Angel, I thought, “All in all,  . . . this been a fine day.”

(As I’m writing, I can still hear The Motels performing “Only the Lonely.”  Click the image below to listen.)



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A lone fireman struggles in the aftermath of the 9/11 Pentagon attacks. (Photo by Mike Garcia.)

It’s always gratifying to hear from readers, but in mid-July someone named S. Dickens left a curious comment on one post:

“Came across the article after doing a search on 9/11.  How can I get a hold of the individuals you talked about in ‘Men with Brass Balls chasing Ghosts’ (Bob Guzzo Sr., Mike Garcia, and Charlie Kerrigan).  Would like to talk to them about a possible speaking opportunity.  Please contact me via email for more info.  Thanks.”

An exchange of email revealed that “S. Dickens” is Captain Samantha Dickens with the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado.  She wanted the men to speak at the Academy during a three-day conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — they are on route as this is being typed.  (For pics and bios of all the speakers, click here.)

Bob and Charlie are my fraternity brothers from Beta Phi Epsilon in Cortland, NY.  As a former Captain of the Rockville Centre Fire Department, with experience in “confined space and high angle” rescue, Charlie was called to Ground Zero on the day of 9/11.  Bob was at the Pentagon during the attacks.  He and fellow anti-terrorism officer Mike Garcia immediately rushed outside to help secure the area and assist with casualties.

Even now, listening to them talk about that day leaves me a little awed . . . so I hope you’ll forgive me for reposting the original article below.  Written a few days after Osama bin Laden’s death, I think it’s also appropriate here as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches.

(If you’ve already read it, I’d suggest browsing stories from the archives on the right, . . . or check out some of my favorite fellow bloggers:  David Hayden, The Hospitality Formula Network — Patrick Maguire, Server not Servant — Nick, Sock Puppet Army — Scribbler50, Behind the Stick — Joe Sixtop, These American Servers.)  Back on schedule next week.

********    ********

MEN with BRASS BALLS chasing GHOSTS (reposted from May 11, 2011.)

Fenway Park (Photo by John Bonaccorso)

The day after Osama bin Laden was killed, John Bonaccorso (The Drowning Frog, The Chocolate Starfish) was at a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  Just before game time the announcer asked everyone to rise for a moment of silence.

34,000 fans in the stadium stood and watched as a giant American flag was lowered over the famous Green Monster wall in left field.  “During that moment of silence,” John said, “You could have heard a pin drop.”

This has been a week for reflection . . . and a temporary, collective sigh of relief.  It’s been a week to talk with friends near and far about about the events and emotions that have shaped us since 9/11.

Like most Americans I watched from the sidelines as 9/11 and its aftermath unfolded.   Over the next ten years I followed the news stories about the rise of Al-Qaeda and the search for Osama bin Laden.

But some of the friends I talked with on the phone this week did more than observe.

When I knew these friends in college they were just regular guys.  Many of them worked with me at the first bar I managed, The Mug in Cortland NY.  The bartenders and doormen were all from my fraternity — even the cleaning guy was a Beta buddy.  Jim “Cowboy” Van Wormer was a starting defensive end on the football team; he mopped the place up early each morning before heading to classes.

But when they left college, a lot of these buddies took jobs that led them directly into the tidal wave of events that followed 9/11.  Talking with them this week was like that first chill from the headlines — all over again.

At the time of 9/11 attacks, Mike Galvin was Commander of a SWAT Unit in Florida while other fraternity brothers were with the FBI, or were State troopers and police officers — and all of their jobs took on a new and heightened dimension following the attacks.  Matt Quinn was with one of the largest banks in America, and the department he headed quickly switched it’s focus from tracking potential money laundering by organized crime to tracking the finances of terrorist groups.

Ground Zero NYC on 9/11. (Photo by Charlie “Buff” Kerrigan)

Charlie Kerrigan was at Ground Zero on 9/11.  Highly trained in “confined space and high angle” rescue, Charlie and his men from the Rockville Centre Fire Department on Long Island were called to the World Trade Center immediately after the attacks.

Charlie’s nickname is “Buff”, short for “Buffalo.”  At 6’5″, 250 lbs., he was an offensive lineman for the Cortland State football team, big number “75”.  He was blocking the opposition as Billy Shear kicked his historic field goal during the homecoming game against Hobart College.  (Shear’s 61-yard field goal was the first ever “over-sixty” kick recorded in football at any level — high school, college, or professional.  The first “60-yarder” in the NFL wouldn’t come until four years later, in 1970.)

For as long as I’ve known him, Charlie has been the big/quiet type.  His emails are short, typically only a sentence or two, sometimes only one word.  (Like”OK”, or “No.”)  But I’ll never forget the email he sent us after being thrust into the carnage at the WTC towers.  He wrote about thinking that he was on another planet, in a different world.  He said that the devastation was the most horrible scene he’d ever witnessed, and that he prayed he would never see anything like that again.

Bob Guzzo became US Navy SEAL after leaving Cortland State, and it was speaking with Bob this week that for me really put a human face on all of this — all the work and sacrifice it took to bring to justice the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden.

In his 25 years as a SEAL commando, Bob served in places like Croatia and El Salvador.  “I‘ve been all over the world,” he said, “There aren’t many countries I haven’t been to.”

Bob was assigned to the Navy SEAL’s “Red Cell” Team which conducted terrorist attack scenarios as well as vulnerability assessments for the Department of Defense on a world-wide basis.  (As we talked, he explained the difference between “anti-terrorism” which is working to prevent a terrorist attack, and “counter-terrorism” which is responding to such attacks.)

Late in his active career Bob was seriously injured and had to have both hips replaced.  “I figured it was time to give up the night missions,“ he told me, “Time to give up jumping out of helicopters and being a gunslinger.”

Bob’s new assignment was to the Pentagon as an Anti-terrorism Officer.  He and his team secured office space and were setting up the necessary equipment — they didn’t even have the computers installed yet.

Some of Bob’s team members were still checking in when the Pentagon was struck during the 9/11 attacks.

One hundred eighty-four people were killed at the Pentagon that day.  As Bob rushed out to help secure the area and assist with casualties, he was joined by friend and fellow Anti-terrorism Officer Mike Garcia, who took this photo of the devastation.  (“Mike probably took 60% of the photos you see from the Pentagon that day,“ Bob told me, “Some of his photographs are in the Smithsonian.”)

Bob was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism for his efforts on 9/11.

For the next year Bob worked for the newly-established Pentagon Force Protection Agency, then spent a year at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency before being promoted to Deputy Chief of the Anti-terrorism and Force Protection Branch of the Security and Counterintelligence Directorate.

“We were running around like crazy after 9/11,” Bob recalls of his counterintelligence work in those days, “It was like chasing ghosts.”

When the 9/11 attacks occurred, Bob’s son Rob Jr. was in college at his dad’s alma mater, Cortland State.  Rob had also joined his father’s fraternity, Beta Phi Epsilon.

“On the night of 9/11 Rob called me called me from the (Beta) house,” Bob Sr. said.  “He told me he wanted to join the Navy SEALS after graduation.  He wanted to go after these guys.”

“He’s my son,” Bob said, “And I was concerned about him getting involved . . . there’s no guarantee when you go in that you’ll come out alive.  But I supported his decision.”

Rob Guzzo Jr. during the Iraq War.

Rob Jr. was in BUD/S class 251, and became a member of Navy SEAL Team 5.  Upon graduation he was awarded his dad’s old SEAL Trident, the first medal the commandos receive when they complete their training.

Rob Jr. went into battle at 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.)

Picturing Charlie K at Ground Zero on 9/11, and talking with Bob Guzzo and Rob Jr. who were actively engaged in combat in this war on terrorism, I thought their lives have been so different . . . it’s a little scary.

I’ve never thought of myself as living a quiet life.  During my years behind the bar, I’ve had my share of confrontations and scuffles, and I’ve had a few heart-pounding moments.

One night at The Mug, a guy walked up to the bar and pulled a gun on me. He cocked the hammer back and put the end of the barrel against my forehead.  I remember weighing my options sort of calmly and analytically — then I took the gun away from him and knocked him down with a blow to the side of the head.  I wasn’t scared until after it was over.

“But that was simply reacting to something I couldn’t avoid,” I told Bob.  “I don‘t think I’d have the balls to do what those Navy SEALS did . . . to willingly jump into the shit when I could just as easily choose not to get involved.”

This wasn’t a movie or a video game.  Those Navy SEALS flew in under the radar, unannounced in a foreign country.  Two dozen of them repelled from their helicopters into darkness; they lowered themselves inside the enemy compound of the world’s most feared terrorist.

They knew they’d be facing enemy fire, but didn’t know when or where it might come from.  They had to get in – win a life-or-death gun battle – and then get out without being shot down on the return flight by Pakistani fighter planes.

“They were just doing their job,” Bob said, “They were doing what they’d been trained to do.”

“On a mission,” he explained, “You’re not thinking about whether or not you’re going to make it back home.”

“You train and train,” he told me, “It’s unbelievable how difficult and tortuous the training is . . . but when the time comes, your body reacts.  You simply do what you have to in order to complete the mission.”

“An hour later, maybe two days later, you might think, “Holy Shit!” . . . but at the time you’re completely focused on the mission.”

That makes sense.  I can understand how it works . . . but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t know if I’d have guts to do it.  These guys are different; they’re flat-out heroes.

I can’t remember recent conversations that I’ve enjoyed more than talking with Bob Sr. on the phone this past week.  There were times as we talked that I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Bob Guzzo Sr. and Rob Jr. at their daughter/sister Danielle’s wedding.

And throughout our conversations I heard the same thing time and again. I heard Bob’s great pride in America and his willingness to put his life on the line for his country if he had to.

During one conversation he stopped and said, “I am very proud to be an American, a Navy Seal and a Beta man.” His son Rob said the same thing in a follow-up email.

I guess it’s out of fashion nowadays to talk about your college frat — but I am proud to be a member of Beta Phi Epsilon and I’m proud to know these men.

Our fraternity is best known for its long string of All-American athletes, Olympic medalists and National Hall of Fame coaches.  It’s known for it’s high school and college teachers and administrators, and for outstanding contributions in many fields.  (I exchanged more emails this week with Beta alumnus and long-time friend Joe McInerney.  He spent two decades teaching and writing books on human genetics before becoming executive director of NCHPEG – the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics.  He helped educate state and federal judges about genetic evidence and the law after the O. J. Simpson trial.)

But being jocks at heart, many from our fraternity went into the military, law enforcement, and served as firemen — and that got them directly involved in the dedication and sacrifice that led to the events of this past week.

Today my hat is off to this group especially . . . these guys just have balls made of brass.

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“NEITHER SNOW, NOR RAIN . . . ” (The Hurricane Irene Pub Crawl)

Monday afternoon in Davis Square, after Hurricane Irene. (Here's the fallen tree I stepped over on the way to work Sunday night.)

By the time of its arrival in the Boston area, Hurricane Irene had diminished in strength.  For us, the worst was over by noon on Sunday.  Inside Johnny D’s, a trimmed-down crew of two waitstaff and two bartenders served just over two hundred brunch patrons, down from the usual six hundred.

That’s still a decent number for a limited staff, and when I arrived for my shift the brunch bartenders were ready for shots and beers.

It’s always interesting to watch the veterans after the crunch is over.  The newbies remain frazzled, but the veterans assume the quiet air of someone who has faced wave after wave coming over the top at them . . . and still the fort survived.  Or maybe it was just the shots and the cold beer that now gave them a calm, satisfied look.

I was on my own in the front of the house after the floor manager, Marie, left.  The bands had been cancelled; the club was in storm mode — one bartender, a neighborhood bar kind of thing.  At least the kitchen was open and we were serving food.

It’s been years since I’ve waited on tables.  There are two six-tops, two four-tops, and four deuces in the front bar area (aside from the bar itself), and at one point just about all of the tables were seated for dinner — but it was a chance to try out some things I’d read in David Hayden’s new book on profitable service.  I tried his “Don’t be The Server approach and actually had a lot of fun at the tables.

Then the pub crawl walked in.

I had heard them planning this crawl back on Friday, when it looked as though Irene might remain a Category Four storm.  These folks will party at a drop of the hat, but they usually don’t plan . . . they just go out and do it.  This was different.  As they talked about a Hurricane Crawl, there was something defiant in their tone.

Big storm, the environment threatens — to hell with that, they were going to party even harder.  Yup, the ones I knew in this group were exactly the type to thumb their noses at catastrophic weather, as though they’d been personally challenged and wouldn’t back down.

By the time the crawl crew hit Johnny D’s Sunday night, they were already on their second pass through the club.  They’d been here earlier for brunch, then had gone down the line to seven or eight other bars, and were now working their way back.  They didn’t look any worse for the wear.  These were experience partygoers; they knew how to pace themselves.

The (hard) core leaders of the Hurricane Pub Crawl. (From left to right; Lily, Brooke, and Brendan with Johnny D’s staffers Jeremy Newcomer, and Craig McKoene.)

Once they had their pitchers of beer (only a couple of mixed drinks), I was able to step back and enjoy the scene.  Most of them were wearing some type of Hurricane Crawl gear.  Jeremy wore a scuba snorkel, and when he came in, Craig was wearing a thick yellow slicker that made him look like the guy from Gorton Fish Sticks.  Someone carried a beach ball, which was immediately tossed up and down the bar.

I felt like the old dog, watching with nostalgia and affection as the young pups frolicked.

I remembered a blizzard in Albany, NY that “forced” us to stay overnight at The Lark Tavern.  There was another debilitating blizzard when I worked at The Sunflower Café in Harvard Square.  For three days there were snow drifts that sometimes reached up to the telephone wires, and many people had no electricity.  Half of the staff from The Sunflower Café spent their nights on my living room floor because I lived only a five minute walk away.  The Sunflower remained open, and that’s still one of my favorite restaurant memories.  Nice to take something positive from catastrophic conditions.

People’s attitude and behavior change when a storm hits.  As the wind howls and even walking is treacherous, people who might otherwise never say a word to each other now exchange a — we’re-all-in-this-together — type greeting as their paths cross.

I remember walking to The Sunflower during the continuing storm, and there were two or three passers-by helping someone push a car out of a snow bank.  I joined them.  When we finally freed the car, everyone was in an especially congenial mood.  Afterward we all shook hands and talked about the storm, all of us strangers.  One of the guys helping out was wearing a business suit under his winter trench coat.

There’s a human instinct triggered by the threat of nature that snaps us out of our usual self-centeredness.  It returns us to the strength of the group, whatever that group might be . . . close friends, neighbors, or simply other human beings.  Jack London called it the “community of survival.”

Maybe I’m becoming too philosophical here, but I swear that someday scientists will identify a “community” gene.  A gene which triggers our instinct to form these survival groups.  I swear that we all have that gene in us, and it may have been the single most important factor in the evolution of our fragile species.  Still today, we feel good when we follow it, perhaps even better than if the outside treats weren’t there . . . now if we could just follow that instinct in everyday life.

Anyway, as the crew from the Hurricane Crawl nursed their beers, Johnny D’s bartender-off-duty Jeremy Newcomer ordered two large plates of fries — one of French fries, and one of sweet potato fries.  He shared with everyone.

Another guy from our bar staff order a burger with fries, and I saw several in the group help themselves from Craig’s plate. You might think that would be risky; Craig’s nickname is “Chombo” . . . but he’s a mellow guy despite his size.

(Original drawing by Nate Boucher)

Nate Boucher, a weekend bar back at the club, penciled this tongue-in-cheek impression of Craig on a cocktail napkin.  (Nate is an art student.)  Craig’s reaction to the drawing:  “Hey guys, it’s a not a caricature, it’s a portrait . . . and a fine one at that.”

The Hurricane Crawl had started in the early afternoon, and by now they’d hit every bar in Davis Square at least once, some of them twice.  It was still raining hard, the wind was knocking the sign boards around out front, and a passerby came in to tell us that some of Johnny D’s lights had been blown loose and were flapping against the building.  (Alone behind the bar I couldn’t leave so our chef, Luis Alvarado, went outside to secure them.)

All of these folk had to get up early for their Monday morning jobs, even Craig who’s only at Johnny D’s on the weekends.  (During the week he delivers for Boston Wine Company.)

They all had to get up early  . . . everyone except Jeremy.  As a bartender, he wouldn’t go in for his shift until late Monday afternoon.

Tony takes a dry run in his gear just before the storm.

But the elements and early alarm clocks couldn’t deter their odyssey.  On to Orleans, where Tony Auivalasit was working.  (Tony got his start as a bartender at Johnny D’s, and although he works up the street now he and Jeremy got the crawl started.  Tony left early to go to work, but the rest of the crew would stop at Orleans three times over the 12-hour marathon.)

As everyone headed for Orleans, I expressed admiration for their efforts and wished them well in their journey.  “Neither snow, nor rain,” I thought as they left, “ . . . Nor heat, nor gloom of night will keep these guys from their duly appointed rounds.”

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At Johnny D’s, a young woman leaned over the bar, almost grabbed my arm as I walked past.

“Hey!” she said, “What’s the matter . . . you won’t say hi?

For a second I thought she must be someone I should know, possibly a customer from years back that I couldn’t place now.

“Hey, there,” I said, just in case.

On closer look, I knew I wouldn’t have forgotten her.  With such a pretty face, her auburn hair fell over one shoulder.  She was wearing a loose white shirt, and while she spoke she moved just slightly beneath it, as though listening to some internal music.

“I’m sorry,” I smiled, “Do I know you?”

“Not yet,” she laughed, and looked into my eyes.

We talked for a minute about nothing much.

When I finished a waitstaff round, she was still looking at me so I went back.  Maybe she didn’t feel like sitting alone — bartenders are usually good for quick companionship, easy conversation.

A few minutes later, a businessman sat beside her and she immediately started talking with him.  She laughed and touched his hand repeatedly as he quickly warmed up.

Then two young men sat down on the other side.  She turned and started talking with both of them.

A hunch was beginning to take shape.

She turned back and forth between the three of them, and when a second businessman joined the first she somehow managed to juggle all four.  I kept an eye on them; this could turn into trouble.  Guys can be territorial about someone like her.

Everyone seemed to be having a good time.  The men vied for her attention.  They seemed surprised that this young woman in her mid-twenties had come on to them.

Johnny D’s isn’t a pick-up joint.  Lots of people end up meeting, but we’re known more as a music club.  People come in to dance and listen to the bands.  Her behavior stood out in our crowd.  She was a knock-out, . . . she was bright, funny, so full of life that she was bursting at the seams.  She could have gotten anyone’s attention just sitting there.  Why did these guys get so lucky?

Because she didn’t want to wait.  She wanted all of their attention, right now.

I’ve seen a few former dancers in the bars.  Usually there are small signs that give them away.  I’ve seen them talk with guys you couldn’t imagine they were remotely interested in.

I remember one very attractive woman years ago — she was such a pleasant person at the bar — but she was determined to engage any man within reach.  I once watched her turn and talk with the guy on the left, while at the same time reaching back to put her hand on the knee of the man on the right.  She’d just been talking with him.  She didn’t want to lose either one of them.

Maybe the attention made her feel good about herself . . . but no, it was more than that.  It was as though if she couldn’t keep the attention of a man — every man  — then she didn’t exist.  One night she got little buzzed and confessed that she’d been a nude dancer at a club in Providence, and suddenly it all made sense.

Back at Johnny D’s, the young woman in the white blouse was even more relaxed and I watched her continue.  As I walked by I overheard her talking to the two young guys.  “Two can be done,” she said, “ . . . one in the pink, and one in the stink.”

Where did that come from?  This innocent-looking woman — how did she come up with a line like that?

The guys almost choked, but then began to laugh.  I figured it wasn’t a monetary proposition.  She was just flirting, and by now she really had them going.

I was amazed with her ability to work these men.  She immediately discovered the key to each guy’s interest and exploited it to the hilt.  Did he hope to get laid?  Did he want to brag about his job?  Through raw instinct or cunning calculation she kept each of them leaning toward her.

One of the group left, and she was visibly disappointed.

I watched her gather herself, then immediately double her efforts to keep the rest involved.  She was like a hostess at a party after an important guest leaves, now determined that those remaining don’t get the same idea.

I once dated a dancer over a summer break during my college years.  I remember when she first told me she was a dancer, it sounded like she was saying, “I’m a stripper . . . You want to date me, don’t you?”

We did go out, and one night I went to see her work.  When I was at the bar, watching the other dancers while she was backstage, the bartender came over to me.  “Everyone thinks they’re jet-setters, high-rollers, because of the way they look,” he told me, “But most of them lead pretty sparse lives.”

“Some of them just manage to get by, living in run-down rooms. They’re just ordinary girls.”

I figured the one I was with must have told him we were dating.  In his own way, he was trying to put in a good word for her.

She was wild, this summer dancer.  She was a lot of fun when she had a few drinks and definitely uninhibited in the sack, but in the mornings, she’d be crippled by sadness.  Sometimes she’d talk about her childhood, her ex-husband, her life, and she’d just start crying.  I’d hold her in my arms, and rock her back and forth.

I’m sure it’s not the same for every dancer, or ex-dancer, but it’s true enough about many of them.  When you’re young and you learn that the foxy lady at your bar was once a stripper, your ears perk up.  Your first thought, “Maybe tonight’s my night!

As you get older you’re more likely to think “Do I really want to get involved?”

Now the young woman at Johnny D’s was too relaxed.  She’d had three drinks in two hours, but she was definitely buzzed.  Maybe she was taking pills, or was on medication.  She was becoming a little loopy.

When she asked for another drink, I leaned forward to talk with her discretely.  “I think I‘m going to hold off on that,” I said, “For tonight anyway.”

“You‘re shutting me off?”  She seemed surprised, but perhaps not entirely.

“I thought you liked me,” she said, “I thought we were friends.  I can’t believe you’re shutting me off.”

“I want to make sure you get home OK,” I told her, “I don’t want you to wake up tomorrow with any regrets.”

As I stood across from her, I was wishing I could help her in some way.

I stood there wondering if there was something I could say or do that would make this better, at least for tonight.

But this wasn’t the time or place, and I doubted I was the person anyway.  Best thing for her right now was exactly what I was doing.

“I do like you,“ I said, “But I think it’s time to stop while we’re all still ahead.”

“Really?” she asked softly, as though she couldn’t quite believe it.  She seemed so disappointed, still looking in my eyes.  “You’re sure?”

“Yea, I’m sure.” I said.  I gave her a light pat on the back of her hand.  “Want me to call you a cab?”

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