Sorry for the delay on the new post . . . it’s in progress, I’m still gathering info.  It’s related to the events of this past week and it will be an interesting one, I assure you.  (Probably coming this Monday or Tuesday.)

In the meantime, maybe you’d like a little music.

If you’ve read the post below on Tina DeLellis (Mrs. Johnny D), you know that a whole lot of people thought the world of her.  About a week after her funeral I got a call at the club from Grant Kelly, a guitar player and one of the regular crew at Johnny D’sSunday blues jam.

Grant had written an instrumental solo in tribute to Tina; I invited him down to play the new recording on our house sound system.  I was working a day shift and there was no one in the club by the time Grant got there.

With just the two of us at the bar, and the music echoing through a really good system, I thought his tribute was perfect — a beautiful, moving piece.  If you’d care to listen to it, click here.

Be back Monday or Tuesday with that new post . . . and trust me, you don’t want to miss it.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 5 Comments


Most restaurant workers don’t like their bosses.  Talk five minutes with anyone in food service and you’ll probably hear plenty about the egotistic son-of-a-bitch who makes their life hell.

John and Tina DeLellis (Mr. and Mrs. Johnny D) in the late 1960s.

I’ve been lucky.  I’ve worked for some great owners and today I’d like to share a few stories about Tina DeLellis, who for almost twenty years was my boss at Johnny D’s.  When she passed away on April 8, 2008, Tina was one of the last of the old-school proprietors.

Here was a strikingly attractive and gracious lady, but with that first handshake you knew Tina was also a tough, no-bullshit woman.  She had to be.

Somerville, MA — one of the hub cities that make up Greater Boston — was a gangster enclave in 1969 when Tina and John DeLellis opened Johnny D’s.  Old timers still talk about the gun battle at a bar called The Rail Side, across the street from Johnny D’s.  Gunmen fired round after round out the back door up at another gangster shooting down from the third floor window of the adjacent apartment building.

Somerville was so tough that Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “Someone should put a fence around Somerville and give everyone fifteen years.”

John DeLellis was a Somerville Police officer for 13 years and he still commanded respect both by his former position and his reputation with police-issue firearms.  With his wife at his side John made sure their club was safe, and when he wasn’t there it was up to Tina to keep things under control.

“Sometimes I’d be shaking inside,“ she told me one night, referring to the time when she had to deal with gangster customers, “My heart pounded so fast I thought it would jump out of my chest, but I would never let them see me afraid.”

As Somerville changed The Rail Side was torn down and the gangsters were gone, but Johnny D’s was still a nightclub — and we’d have the occasional trouble-maker.

One night this huge guy started throwing his weight around.  He began to swear at people for simply walking past him.  “Fuck you! What are you going to do about it, ASSHOLE!”  He was aching for a fight.

Tina approached the guy, and the doormen and bartenders quickly spread out nearby.  (We were supposed to look like we were watching TV, or talking with customers a few feet away, only stepping in if the situation got dangerous — Tina always insisted that she be the first one to deal with things.)

As Tina walked up to the guy, he reached out — but  Tina avoided his grasp and took that huge paw in one of her hands, gently patting the back of it with her other hand.

“My buddy, . . . my buddy,“ she said, patting the back of his hand.  This guy was at least 6‘5“, probably weighing three hundred pounds.  He dwarfed Tina.  “My buddy, my buddy” Tina said, standing calmly in his shadow, “What seems to be the problem.“

The guy was taken aback, and Tina continued.

She explained that she thought of this club as her home, and as her guest she wanted to know what was going on with him, what she could do to make him more at ease.

“Why would you want to act like this?” she asked, “If I invited you into my home is this how you’d behave?”

The guy was no match for Tina’s savvy charm.  As he continued to listen he began to nod his head thoughtfully, his hand still in hers.  By the time she was leading him to the door, her hand was now between his two hands — two huge paws holding that one small hand of hers — and he was thanking her.

“Thank you,” he said, as she walked him to the door.  She was throwing him out and he was thanking her. “Thank you,” he said again. “Thank you.”

Tina was the master at this . . . I’ve never seen anyone better.

David, Tina and Carla (front page photo from the LIVING/ARTS section of The Boston Globe, August 9.1991)

With John DeLellis’ early death from a heart attack in 1984, Tina’s kids Carla and David had come back to help her run the place. They talked Tina into adding a full restaurant to the nightclub, and Carla began to book national acts.  It was an expensive, risky gamble.

Now Tina was worried about just staying afloat while the new business developed.  She watched every penny.

I remember she walked into the kitchen one day and a prep cook had just finished scraping ketchup into the line dispenser from a plastic gallon jar.  He tossed the empty jar into the trash.

Tina picked up the container and looked at it.  There was a least half a cup of ketchup still remaining along the edges of the bottom.  She called the prep cook on it, saying something like, “What is this?  Why are you throwing this away?”

He looked at her like she was crazy.  How much could it  be worth, that ketchup at the bottom?  I could imagine him thinking, “Why is she bothering me about a few pennies worth of ketchup?”

“I have to make a phone call,” Tina told him, changing the subject, “Do you have a quarter?”

He fished a quarter out of his pocket, and gave it to her.  Tina took his quarter and threw it into the trash barrel.

“How did that feel?” she asked.  “I know it’s only a quarter, but how did it feel?

“That’s how I feel,” she said.  “It might not seem like much . . . but now you know how I feel when you throw my quarters away.”

She reached into the trash and retrieved the coin.  “Wash it off,” she said, “And it will be as good as new.”

All this attention to the pennies made more sense when you knew a little about Tina’s background.

Tina (Chiarolanza) was born in Naples, Italy and she was nine years old when WWII ended.  Her earliest memories of post-war Italy were of her family just trying to find enough to eat.  Every day she and her older sister Rose were sent out to neighboring towns to steal bread so that the family could survive.  “In all my life,” Tina once told us, “That’s the one thing I’m most ashamed of.”

Tina and her sister were sent because they were young enough that if they were caught, they wouldn’t be shot.  Tina’s sister Rose did get caught once, and the police shaved her head.  That’s what they did to the kids to shame and humiliate them.

This youthful experience remained with Tina throughout her life.  She was determined not to fail.  She was determined that none of her children would go through that.

Things went well following the renovations.  There were hundreds of articles written about Johnny D’s in the Boston Globe and other local media.  Year after year the club won awards in one category or another — Boston’s Best Music Club, Best Neighborhood Bar, Best Sunday Brunch

Tina continued to fine-tune.  Anyone throwing away her quarters or just slacking off was sure to hear about it in no uncertain terms.  But if someone was making an effort and simply fell behind she was the first to help out.

I walked into the kitchen one day and she had the sleeves of her white blouse rolled up.  She standing in front of the sink, up to her elbows in dirty plates and bowls, helping a dishwasher who’d gotten slammed.  When she saw me watching, her expression said, “What are you looking at?“

If someone on her staff found themselves short on funds at the end of the month, Tina might loan them money.  I know of more than one instance that she never got it back.  She shrugged it off as part of her responsibility as an owner.

Tina developed a reputation in the community for the way she ran Johnny D’s.  I remember one afternoon when Somerville Mayor Mike Capuano (he’s now a U. S. Congressman) walked into Johnny D’s.

He was here to see if Tina would hire his sons part-time at her establishment.  His boys were still in school, but he thought they should learn what it was like to work for a living and he didn’t want them to begin anywhere else.  “I know you run a good place,“ he told her, “I want my boys to start learning here.”

Tina tried to hide it, but she sat there just about bursting with pride.

Tina with her son David

In 1998 Tina’s son David died of a rapidly-spreading cancer that seemed to come from nowhere.  He was only 37.  When Tina lost her husband she had worn black for a year — her clothing was always tasteful and attractive, but it always something black.  Now her son was gone.

I don’t think Tina ever completely recovered from David’s death.  Parents don’t expect to outlive any of their children.

But she was still at the club five nights a week, usually talking with long-time regular Kenny Branco who faithfully took the seat next to Tina’s every night.  She was still the consummate host.

I remember the last night her friend Luca came in.  Luca was a semi-pro hockey player from Canada and his team played in the Boston area once a year.  After meeting Tina at Johnny D’s several years ago, he now brought his entire hockey team to the club each time they came to town.

Luca loved Tina.

He was probably twenty years younger than she was, and movie-star good looking.  When he was at the club he’d spend the entire evening talking and flirting with Tina.

I think they danced one dance that Saturday night because we had a swing band playing and Tina loved to dance.  As always, at the end of the night Luca tried to take Tina out for a cup of coffee at one of the late-night espresso shops in the North End.  As always, Tina politely said no.

“You should have gone,” I told her when Luca left. “You might have had a good time.”

“Oh,” she said, “If I was ten years younger, maybe . . . if I was ten years younger, who knows.”  I still remember that small smile on her face.

Tina had a great time that night.  That’s something the other bartenders and I like to think about because it was the last time we saw her.  It was Tina’s last night at Johnny D’s.

Tina passed away the following Tuesday night, April 8, 2008.  She’d been at the hospital earlier that day to complain of chest pains.  They told her to come back for further tests and sent her home.

At her funeral, by request of the family, the bartenders were Tina’s pallbearers.  A woman came up afterwards and told bartender John Bonaccorso that it seemed fitting to have us as the pallbearers.  We had always been so protective of her, worked so hard for her, the woman said.

“It’s more fitting than you know,“ John told her.

He explained that we had always looked out for Tina, and one thing we didn’t like was for her to leave the club alone at the end of the night.  We insisted on walking her to her car. At first Tina protested. “Who’s going to bother me?” she’d say, putting up a tough front.

After a while she accepted it and walking Tina to her car became a kind of tradition with the bartenders.

“Today,“ John told the woman, “We walked her home for the last time.”

Tina was gracious and charming lady, but at the same time a tough, savvy business woman.  She didn’t graduate from high school but she was as sharp as a country lawyer.  She never forgot what it was like to be down-and-out, and that helped her relate honestly to just about anyone.  She was one of the most amazing people I’ve known, in this business or out of it.

Rest in peace, Tina.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 17 Comments


On Sundays, I’m behind the bar for the Blues Jam at Johnny D’s — it’s not much money, but there’s always good music and good people.

This past Sunday, regulars John (drummer) and Grant (guitar) played some rocking sets. Dan (also a drummer) stopped in, as did another Dan (harmonica) with his lovely lady, Ashley.

Then Mike Daley walked in.

I hadn’t seen Mike in almost a year.

He looked horrible. He looked like hell.

He must have lost twenty pounds. He looked tired and worn down.  His face was a little distorted and swollen along the jaw line.

“It’s cancer,” Mike told me. “I gave up smoking last year,” he said, “After 40 years I finally quit, and now I’ve got cancer.”

“My lungs are fine,” he said, “It’s in my mouth and throat.”

Before I go further, let me say this isn’t a sob story. Sometimes a customer will talk about his or her illness, and sometimes no matter how much you might sympathize, it’s difficult to listen as they go on and on. You still have to deal with other customers and everything that’s happening behind the bar.

Mike was different. “They had me down on the floor twice,“ he said, using bar-fight imagery to describe the sudden onset of the cancer, and then the chemo and radiation treatment that followed.  “They had me down twice but they couldn’t keep me down. I got up, and I’m still here.”

There was no self-pity in his voice. He was just filling me in on the details, which I wanted to know.

Mike Daley (Mike’s friend in Florida was busting his balls about having to spend the winter in New England, wearing long johns and staring Death in the face — so Mike sent him back this photo.)

He told me that his girl friend in Florida (where he’s been living) took a leave of absence from her job to stay with him while he got treatment in Boston. He talked about the side effects of radiation therapy. He said that he now had a tube inserted into his stomach that comes out through the intestinal walls and his skin. The tube ends with an IV connection on the outside so he can attach cans of liquid nutriment. It’s the only nourishment he can take, although he’s just now beginning to chew soft foods.

I was thinking that listening to this while working behind the bar wasn’t as awkward as it might have been — Mike kept cracking jokes about his treatment, about his doctors and himself. He still had his non-stop sense of humor. His cancer was something that happened, and now he was fighting back.

I was the only bartender while we talked. One of the waitresses came up to order drinks just as Mike was telling me about the tube, and I had to break away for a minute. Two customers at the other end of the bar wanted menus. Each time, I’d go back and talk more with Mike.

Then the conversation turned to the old days, and we rehashed some of the stories from when Mike was living in Boston.

Back then Mike worked at  MIT’s Draper Lab. He was a CAD (Computer Aided Design) Supervisor working on the Trident and Peacekeeper missile systems.

Mike had separated from his wife, although he still doted on his two young daughters, so we began to see him more and more at Johnny D’s.

He’d come in with his buddy, Jack, who also worked at MIT. Mike was a CAD specialist involved with top USA military projects, and Jack — well, Jack jokingly described himself as a custodial engineer. He was a janitor at Draper Lab.

Somehow the two of them became friends. Jack had wit and humor that easily matched Mike’s own. Mike was a member of the Faculty Club at MIT, and even though Jack could never be a member he’d always go there as Mike’s guest.

Edward Scissorhands (Image from

Jack had been born with only three fingers on each hand. His paws had a kind of Edward Scissorhands look. But he was so sharp and funny that he disarmed everyone immediately. After the first few minutes you didn’t notice his hands, or how difficult it was for him to just pick up his drink.

Let me give you an example, something so typically Jack. One afternoon he was talking with his next-door neighbor who had recently purchased a large attack dog. The guy who sold the dog had stopped by to see how things were going. I guess the guy made a six-month check up on all his customers.

Jack just happened to be standing there in the backyard when the guy asked the neighbor if there had been any problems. After the neighbor said no, everything was fine, the guy turned to Jack and asked if there had been any problems for him, living next door. Had the dog caused any difficulty?

Jack slowly lifted his scissor-like hands, with three fingers on each, and said, “Well, no . . . not after that first day.”

The guy’s face turned ash white before Jack told him that he was just kidding.

That’s what Mike and Jack did; they were always joking, always busting balls.

I’ve told a few stories about busting balls in this blog — Auntie Rosie, The Cute Blonde Nurse and After-hours at Cindy’s. One night, Mike broke my chops as much as they’ve ever been busted behind the bar.

That night Jack left early, and as he exited the front door Mike suddenly became serious.

“I’m worried about Jack,” he said.

It was a fairly busy night and I had to spin away to make someone’s drinks.

When I got back, I asked Mike what he meant.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Mike told me.

For the next hour, Mike gradually filled me in each time I rushed back from making drinks. The information he gave me came one piece at a time.

Jack was in danger of losing his job. “There’s a big shake-up going on,” Mike told me, “I think they’re going to let Jack go.”

This went on for an hour, piece by piece. Mike told me about a new woman who had recently been hired, a woman named Mary. “Sure, Mary comes in exactly at eight AM., but what does she accomplish after that?”

“I know Jack isn’t the type to go by the clock,” Mike said, “He’s always late. But when he gets there, no one does more.”

Mike told me that he was worried about Jack. This job was important to him, not only for the benefits and a weekly pay check — but the job was a big part of Jack’s self-esteem. Jack loved that fact that he was employed by MIT. Mike was worried what would happen if Jack lost that.

“He’s said something once about suicide,” Mike told me.

I was feeling sick about all this as I continued to work the bar, dashing back to Mike whenever I had a free moment. Jack was a great guy. Mike said Jack might kill himself.

I began thinking of taking up a collection for Jack. I wondered about finding work for him at the club, maybe checking ID’s. I was desperate.

“I’m sure it’s not an easy decision for the big shots at MIT,” Mike went on. At this point I should have smelled something fishy, but I had swallowed it all, hook-line-and-sinker.

I never saw it coming.

“I don’t know,” Mike continued, “I mean what would you do if it was your decision?”

“Tell me,” Mike asked, “What would you do if you had to lay one of them off.”

“Who would you let go?” Mike asked.

“What would you do?” he asked, “Would you lay Mary, or Jack off?”

It took a minute for this to sink in, what he’d done to me.

“Would you lay Mary, . . . . or Jack-off?” Mike had tormented me for an hour, he had me worried sick about Jack . . . he had created a fictional Mary and phony lay-offs just to pull that punch line on me.

He’d probably heard this as a joke somewhere, and thought that Jack’s name was too perfect not to pull it while I worked.

To this day, that’s the worst anyone has gotten me behind the bar.

Anyway, it was great to see Mike again. He’s in a fight for his life now, but it was good to see that underneath he’s the same old Mike. He looks different; he’s thinner, worn down, but the same tough, funny bastard continues to shine through.

I got an email from Mike on Monday, and he sent me the picture of him and the red-suited mannequin shown earlier. He’s improving every day.

I’m sure he’ll stop in again before he heads back to Florida, if for nothing else than just to bust my chops.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 14 Comments

SUGAR PACKETS (More bits and pieces)

Most of the notes I’ve saved over the years are simply about what happened behind the bar — an interesting character I met, or a weird event that happened during the shift.

Some of the notes tell a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Others are just bits and pieces (see The Chocolate Starfish). Here are two more of those . . .


(This note is from my early years as a bartender at The Lark Tavern in Albany, NY.)

A quiet guy walked in into The Lark one afternoon, and ordered a short Utica Club draft.  He was a medium-built guy with thinning hair.  I’d never seen him in here before.

I set down his beer and said, “That will be fifty cents.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out two white sugar packets, the kind you see in a cafeteria or diner.

He set them on the bar, side by side.

“That’ll be 50 cents, please,” I said again.

He seemed surprised, and pulled out a handful of sugar packets.

He placed a third packet next to the first two. He watched me expectantly and then laid down another, and another, looking up at me each time. He stood there waiting for me to pick the packets up.

Then I saw the hospital band on his wrist.

The Capitol District Psychiatric Center was a couple of blocks from The Lark, on New Scotland Ave.

Maybe the patients used sugar packets in some sort of barter system, or as chips when playing cards. He’d probably broken into a pantry and taken as many handfuls as he could manage. He’d snuck off the grounds with his pockets full of sugar packets, ready for a night on the town. He was still waiting for me, more sugar in hand.

“I think you’d better call the hospital,” I told him.

The expression on his face said, “How did you know about the hospital?”

I watched him walk to the pay phone. His back was toward me and he was hunched over as he spoke quietly with someone on the phone. Then he turned and headed directly for the door.  He didn’t look left or right, not even a fraction of an inch to either side, as though he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I felt sorry for him afterwards. If I’d just given him that beer on the house, he probably would have had his best afternoon in long time.



(This note is from The Cantina Italiana, in Boston’s North End — see Joey Cigars and Ghosts of Christmas Past.)

One of the waitresses at The Cantina gave us a cat. We named the kitten, “Tina.”

She was so small, about the size of my hand, that we never let her outside.

Tina would hide somewhere in the basement until everyone was gone. Then she’d cautiously peek her head out as I sat at the desk making up the next day’s banks. She’d hop up on my knee and start purring like crazy, kneading her tiny paws into my pant’s leg.

I’d lock her in the basement when I left, but she always seemed to find her way upstairs. She kept setting off the restaurant’s motion detectors.

I was attached to her at this point, so I took Tina home with me.

At the time I was general manager at The Cantina, and worked long hours. Since I lived alone, when I finally got home Tina would be bouncing off the walls. She’d be jumping all over me, with her eyes frantic and as wide as saucers.

“Cats need company,” my date one night explained when I told her about this problem, “You have to do something to help her burn off all the energy.”

“Just trail a string in front of her,” my date suggested, demonstrating what she meant. “Run the string across the floor, up onto the couch, back across the floor and up onto the chair . . . back and forth in a figure eight. Just drag the string until she gets tired chasing it, then she’ll be back to normal.”

It worked.

Now every night when I came home, I’d run that string across the floor, back and forth in a figure eight until Tina just gave up. She’d lie on her back, panting.

Sometimes I’d tease her. I’d dangle the string above her paws and as she lay there she’d take exhausted swipes at it.

One night as she lay on her back swiping with all four paws, I quickly looped the string around her legs . . . like a cowboy tying up a steer.

Her paws now bound together, I began to rock her back and forth.

Tina struggled for a second, then she began to purr loudly. With her mouth open and her eyes half-closed, she lay on her back purring liked I’d never heard her purr.

It became a routine after that.

I’d let her chase the string until she lay down in the middle of the floor. Now when she laid down, it didn‘t seem like she was exhausted, just ready for the next part.  She’d roll onto her back and put her four paws together to make it easy.

I’d rock her back and forth with that string wrapped around her feet, and she’d just purr and purr and purr.

Someone in my apartment building must have ratted me out. My landlord came down one day and reminded me that the lease specifically said no pets.

I took Tina back to The Cantina. She was old enough now to be let out overnight.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 13 Comments


(Image from

(Ed. note:  We found “Cindy!”  We’d lost touch with the young woman in this story — real name Wendy LaHaye — when she left Fidelity Investments and moved to California.  Now she’s back in the Boston area with a company she co-founded, n2N Commerce. And she called us this week.  Woopee!!

A new post is coming tomorrow so I’ll leave this unchanged, but the story now has a different ending!)

On Thursday (March 17th), a good portion of Americans will be out celebrating with friends old and new, singing Irish songs at the tops of their lungs and having a blast.

Not me. I’ll be working.

That’s OK . . . for a bartender, any night off is a potential St. Paddy’s day.  Even on a work night when we finish last call, we usually raise hell afterwards.

This post is about a unique celebration that always took place whenever the band Beatlejuice played at Johnny D’s . . . the after-hours parties at Cindy’s.

First, let me tell you a little about Cindy. She was in her late twenties, a short girl, medium-built with curly brown-hair. She was one of our favorite customers a few years back.

We loved Cindy. (That’s not her real name and I won’t tell you exactly what she did for a living. I’ll only show you a retouched photo of her, for reasons that will become clear shortly.)

Cindy was simply the best regular any bar could have. When she stopped in to see a show, she was always upbeat, funny, a genuine delight to have at your bar.

She was also a great tipper . . . she’d been a bartender herself while working her way through college.

Cindy was an executive at a top-rated, internationally-known finance company. She probably had a larger annual salary than all of us bartenders combined.

But when she was at the club, she was just one of the guys, joining in the brouhaha like she’d just gotten out of prison.

Of course the person everyone likes best is the one the bartenders always give a hard time.

Cindy couldn’t come in for a quiet dinner or spend a weekend night at the club without the bartenders trying to think of new ways to bust her chops.

We’d do something that would draw attention to her as she tried to blend with the crowd. We’d embarrass her in a friendly way with all the other customers watching.

Let me give you an example:

One night Cindy went to the ladies room, and bartender John Bonaccorso (he’s Johnny D’s general manager now) began frantically writing on a small white sign. He posted the sign high on the ceiling above where Cindy had been sitting.

When Cindy came back, John kept her busy with endless chatter so she wouldn’t notice it, and we let her sit there with the handwritten sign directly over her head, visible to everyone in the club but her.


The sign said, “SLUT,” with an arrow pointing down.

It was hard not to laugh out loud when the first customers came from the dance area and walked slowly by the bar . . . they’d stop, look up at the sign . . . then keep on walking with their heads still turned.

More and more of the customers did the same thing. Cindy couldn’t figure out why they were staring at her. One guy kept coming back, walking more slowly each time, glancing surreptitiously in her direction.

He eventually came over to her, and was then joined by another guy who was also curious to find out what the hell was going on.

When we finally told her, Cindy swore at us and hopped up onto the bar to rip the sign down, but she was laughing as she did it.

“You assholes!” she shouted, “You’re all ASSHOLES! I don’t know why I keep coming back here!”

But she was laughing the whole time along with everyone else.

This friendly busting of chops wasn’t confined to the club. We expanded our efforts.

I managed to get her email address at the high-powered investment firm where she worked. I sent her porn ten times a day.

(Photo from

(It was mostly soft core stuff, although I did send eventually some explicit pictures — until her company put up a new firewall that kept salacious email from getting through.)

Sure, I knew this was childish — but I felt my status as a bartender gave me diplomatic immunity.  Why always behave like an adult?

We didn’t spend all our time busting Cindy’s chops. We did nice things for her, too.

One year we surprised her on her birthday. We convinced her friend Linda to bring her to the club, making her promise not to tell Cindy what would happen.

We had a large cake made for her with a huge, realistic penis mounded on top in flesh colored frosting. We gave her present after present, each one wrapped with so much paper it was difficult to open. We gave her the largest battery-powered dildo we could find. It came with four AA-size batteries. Not realizing what was in the package, she unwrapped it with everyone at the bar watching.

We had nice presents for her also, an expensive silk scarf and a beautiful pen and pencil set that we thought suited her corporate position.

We took a lot of time thinking about what to get her that night. We spent what was for us a considerable amount of money. Cindy couldn’t hide her delight as everyone in the bar watched her unwrap each one, trying to figure out who was this person to get all this attention, and wondering what was in the next package.

During one Christmas holiday, we gave her a mound of gifts which we presented at the bar.

The next Christmas we did the same thing, but this time Cindy had a nice present for everyone on the bar staff. One by one she had discretely asked the other staff what each of us might like for a gift.

It became a Christmas tradition at Johnny D’s.

But the biggest thing everyone remembers about Cindy is the after-hours parties we had at her apartment.

It started innocently enough when John and I gave her a ride home one night after a Beatlejuice show. (Brad Delp, the lead singer for the band Boston, had formed a Beatles cover group with some of the best musicians in town.) The next time Beatlejuice played three or four of us went back to Cindy’s place, and with each show the size of this new after-hours tradition grew until sometimes there were fifteen or twenty people.

Cindy had an apartment large enough for half a dozen people to live in easily. Her job kept her moving back and forth across the country, so she had never bought a home, just always rented a really nice place.

Cindy kept a well-stocked bar, and when that bar began bursting at the seams, we all chipped in and bought her a larger one. It was a really nice wooden bar with plenty of under-the-counter cabinets and an ice bin with a drain.

Cindy filled that new bar with top-shelf liquors, sometimes with three and four back-ups of the things we drank most.

She had Patron tequila; Anejo, Reposado, and Silver. She had two types of single malt scotch, Macallen 14 yr. and Laphroaig for those who liked a more peaty taste. Ketel One Vodka, Caribbean rums, Knob Creek or Maker’s Mark for those who preferred bourbon.

(Photo from

Cindy would never let us help restock her bar, but we always brought at least one gift bottle with us. Once we gave her a couple Magnums of Dom Perignon, but at next party she opened them and they were gone in minutes.

Just off work, we often had the munchies so someone would stop at the 24-hour Shaws on their way to Cindy’s and pick up bagfuls of snacks, or stuff to warm up or cook. I remember the night when one of the waitresses said something about wanting an omelet later, so Felick picked up cartoons of eggs, crabmeat and cream cheese. Felick was a bartender but he was also a great cook. He stood at Cindy’s stove, working two pans at a time until everyone had a crabmeat and cream cheese omelet to go with their frozen margaritas.

We would party until dawn, although Cindy usually headed for her bedroom around four or five in the morning while the rest of us continued.

Those were great parties.

But no matter how great the parties were and no matter how much we loved Cindy, we were mindful to play some prank on her before we left.

It became another tradition — to leave Cindy something besides a trashed apartment to remember us by.

We wanted to show how much we liked her.

It began one night with a can of Pringles. We were half-in-the-bag and someone came up with the idea that we should take some of the Pringles out, put something inside and then replace the remaining Pringles, putting the can back on the shelf.

Felick volunteered his underwear.

He took off his underpants and after putting his jeans back on, stuffed the wadded underwear into the narrow can, replacing a good amount of chips back on top.

We pictured Cindy after a long day at work, sitting in her living room watching TV. She’d take out one chip after another from that can, until she hit the cotton surprise. We delighted in imagining her shock.

What can I say?  We were drunk and couldn’t come up with anything better.

After another all-night party, we spent an hour stretching overlapping layers of masking tape from one side of the outside frame of her bedroom door across to the other side. We taped the outside of her bedroom door from top to bottom with masking tape so thick that the only way for her to get out in the morning would be to find something to cut a narrow passage to slide through.

Another time John and I snuck into her bedroom after she was sound asleep and carefully moved her large, six drawer dresser against the inside face of her door. We stacked other furniture and anything we could find on top of the dresser and all around it. That dresser was so heavy Cindy could never have moved it on her own.

We left through her bedroom window and imagined Cindy getting up in the morning, and wanting to head for the bathroom — but she’d have to crawl out the bedroom window like we did. Of course, she’d be doing this in broad daylight, dressed in her nightgown.

Cindy never complained. She kept coming to the club with a smile on her face, and after each Beatlejuice show she seemed to bring more and more people back to her apartment.

So we kept it up.

There’s no one quite like John to bust chops. One night he decided to take Cindy’s toilet seat as we left.

He unscrewed the bolts underneath and lifted it off, leaving her with nothing but the porcelain bowl. We imagined (hoped) that the next morning Cindy would sit down without looking.

Now John had her toilet seat, but he wasn’t done yet.

Cindy had told us that she had a high-powered meeting that Saturday morning after the party.

John put the toilet seat in a box, wrapped it in professional brown paper and had it delivered Federal Express to her office.

He called her secretary to say that an important package would be arriving — and that Cindy expected it, so be sure to give to her immediately.

Sitting at the head of her conference table, Cindy accepted the package and began unwrapping it. All of her underlings were seated at the table watching. She only opened the package enough to discover what was inside.

“Now then,” she later told us she said calmly to everyone there. She quickly rewrapped the package and set it down by her chair. “Now, let’s get back to the Dreyfus Fund project.”

But things change.

Brad Delp’s tragic death in 2007 left a hole in the Beatlejuice performances for a while. Joel and Carrie, two from that group who were dating at the time, got married and had kids. Other people moved. Those who remained showed up less often as their lives became more complicated (some would say more adult).

Cindy still came in, but less and less each year.

Then, — and I don’t want to pass the buck, but someone had her phone number — we lost track of Cindy.

The person who had her number left the club. We had a black phone book at the bar which had Cindy’s number, but one of the new bartenders recopied most of the numbers into a new book, not realizing that hers was important.

It’s the kind of small tragedy that probably happens in a lot of bars.

We tried calling some of the other regulars she hung around with, but a lot of them had disappeared too. And none of the numbers we’ve gotten from the people we have been able to talk with turned out to be Cindy‘s.

Cindy, if you’re reading now . . . why did this happen? How did we lose touch?

Please give us a call, Cindy. Just to say hello. We really miss you.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 6 Comments