(This note is from Johnny D’s, a Boston area restaurant and nightclub owned by the DeLellis family.)

Kenny at Johnny D's

Kenny Branco is a great guy.  He’s been a regular at the club for twenty years.  He’s a real estate agent who does so much business at the bar we should charge him rent.

He sits with a cold Bud Light in one hand and a cell phone in the other.  It’s not unusual to see him with TWO cell phones, one at each ear.  “I want you to make them an offer,” he’ll speak into one phone, “I want that property, but don’t go higher than $450,000.”

”No . . . not you!”  He’ll turn his head to the left and speak into the other phone.  “I want you to SELL!  Yes, the property on Mulberry Street . . . put it on the market!”

Sometimes he looks like a cartoon character, a short Portuguese man with cell phones held at each ear.

We love Kenny, but we also love to bust his balls.  That’s the guy everybody likes best, the one who gets a hard time.  “Oh no . . . look who’s here!” we’ll say when Kenny walks in.

Kenny had a new cell phone, a private listing, and he was determined that none of us would ever have that number.

But we managed to get it when he left the phone on the bar and went to the men’s room.  After a few minutes, one of the bartenders used the back phone to call Kenny’s cell.  He breathed heavily into the phone until Kenny hung up.

Eight or nine times that afternoon Shawn Day rang Kenny’s cell and Kenny sat at the bar yelling for him to knock it off, that this was a business line, and stop calling him.  “I know that’s you, Shawn!” he screamed into the phone.

Shawn kept calling.

His phone rang again, and this time Kenny let loose.  “Listen, you fucking asshole!” Kenny yelled, “Stop calling this fucking number!!!”

Then he abruptly stopped talking, phone still at his ear.

“Oh, No . . . no, I’m sorry Auntie Rosie!” Kenny said.  He was so nervous he was stuttering. “No, Auntie Rosie . . . I wasn’t talking to you!  I’d never use that type of language with you!”

Auntie Rosie, his mother’s 80-year-old sister, must have said something about telling his Mom.  “Oh, no Auntie Rosie! I don’t think that’s necessary.  No, don’t tell Mom!  You see, this bartender kept calling . . . ”.

Kenny was still trying to explain what happened to his aunt as he walked out of the bar.  He couldn’t hear above the laughter.

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(This note is from a recent night when John Bonaccorso and I were closing Johnny D’s.)

John Bonaccorso at Johnny D's

John Bonaccorso is a really, really good-looking guy. Sometimes I wish I could hate him.  He always has a stunning girlfriend, usually blond, and beyond that every woman who comes into the club can’t wait to talk with him. But heavy is the head that wears the crown.

We were closing Johnny D’s that night, having a drink and talking while I restocked the coolers with bottled beer and John recorded the empty liquor bottles. “I think she and I are quits,” he said as we worked, talking about his current girlfriend. He’d been unusually quiet throughout the shift and now I was beginning to understand why. “I think it’s over,” he said.

This woman and John had been dating forever and wound up living together. They were planning for the future, talking about buying a house, and it looked as though John might be ready to settle down.

“But I don’t think I can do it anymore,” he said.  “The relationship, I mean. I don’t think she can do it anymore, either.”

He talked about her being too needy, and him wanting more time to himself, more room to breathe. He talked about the usual ups and downs in a relationship, but he said there didn’t seem to be any magic now, the enthusiasm that had once made any problem between them seem small.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said, as we poured another glass of beer and finished the closing. “If I look back at the way she and I were, and the way we are now, I can’t even figure out how we went from point A to point B . . . I never saw it coming. I just woke up and suddenly I’m the middle of a terrible relationship. She and I, both, are in a terrible relationship.”

“How did this happen?” John was asking himself more than talking to me. “How did things become so bad, with neither of us aware it was happening.”

“There’s an old Italian parable,” he said as we sat down. (I’m half-Italian too, just like John, but my parents split when I was a kid, so I wasn’t raised Italian.) “They say,” John continued, “That if you toss a frog into boiling water, it will jump out so quickly that you’ll never have a chance to slam down the pot lid.”

“But if you put a frog in lukewarm water, and gradually increase the temperature, that frog will stay in the pot until it’s dead.”

“That’s the way I’m feeling now,” he said, as we locked the club door behind us

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(This note is from an afternoon shift at The Lark Tavern.)

The Lark Tavern, Albany NY

There was a big guy sitting at the bar, a “rough-around-the-edges and loud” type, but he was my only customer so I didn’t expect trouble.

He was just one of those guys who likes the sound of his own bark, which can be irritating when you ask a simple question.  I gave him a bottle of Budweiser and asked, “Would you like a glass?”

“Hey, why would I need a glass?” he said, “It already comes in one.”  He pointed to the glass bottle, then laughed at his own joke.  Don’t these people know how many times the bartender has heard that?  Ok . . . so he said it once, but then he continued.  “It already comes in a glass,” he repeated.

Another simple question a few minutes later:  I asked, “Would you like another beer?”

“Another beer?” he said, “Why . . . do I look like I need another beer?  You telling me I have a drinking problem?”

”Fine,” I said, “If you want anything, let me know.”

No matter what I said he was going to come back with something stupid.  Who cares, as long as he didn’t start trouble.  I let him sit for a few minutes until he called me over for a second beer.  After a while I looked down and he was gone.  There was some loose change next to his empty bottle. I wiped the small puddle, and tossed the change into the tip jar.

Ten or fifteen minutes later this same guy was back, sitting on the same stool.

“Where’s my beer?” he asked, clearly irritated.

”I thought you were gone,” I said.

”I’ll tell you when I leave,” he snapped, “Now where’s my beer?”

”I thought you were gone,” I said, “I thought you were gone, and your beer was empty.”

He glared at me.  Maybe he was one of those guys trying to get a free round.  They’ll leave a sip of beer or a couple of ice cubes in what had been a scotch and soda, disappear for ten minutes, then come back and insist that you picked up a full drink.

“The bottle was empty,” I told him again.

“OK, then where’s my money?”

“Look, I thought you were gone and figured the money was a tip . . . sorry,” I said.  I turned to get his change out of the tip jar.

“”When I want to leave you a tip, I’ll tell you,” he raised his voice.

I wasn’t going to argue.

“I told you I was sorry,” I said, and pulled some change from the tip jar.  I set it on the bar, about 90 cents.  I didn’t remember exactly what he’d left, but knew it was only loose change and couldn’t have been more.

“There’s your money,” I said, “Now, would you like a beer?”

“It’s not right,” he said, as I walked by a little later.  He was still talking about his misplaced change.  ”You should never pick up someone’s money unless they tell you it’s a tip.”

“You got your money,” I told him, “Enjoy your beer.”

“It’s not right,” he kept talking, “You should always leave the money on the bar!”

He wasn’t going to let it go.  A few minutes later, he was still lecturing me.  ”You should always leave the money on the bar,” he said loudly, “You should never pick up someone’s money.  You should leave it on the bar until they TELL you it’s a tip!”

“Look . . . ,” I stopped to face him.  “I said I was sorry . . . you got your money back. What more do you want?”

“What do you want?” I asked, “Do you want more money?”

I turned again to the tip jar and scooped up more loose change; a few quarters, a couple of dimes and a nickel, some pennies.  I slapped them on the bar in front of him.  “Is that enough?” I asked.

“Do you want more?” I reached for my back pocket, “Do you want what’s in my wallet?  How much do you want?”

I held the wallet in both hands as though about to take money out.

“You want a couple dollars?  You want five bucks?  How much do you want?”

I was trying to shut him up.  He sat silenced for the moment.  I went into the kitchen to say something to the owner’s daughter, Gail.

He must have sat fuming, because a minute later there was a loud crash.  I looked out from the kitchen, and saw him storm out the front door.  He’d taken his beer bottle and hurled it over the bar at the mirror.  The front door slammed behind him.

On the back bar, a couple of liquor bottles had been knocked off the shelves.  There was shattered glass from the beer bottle and spilt liquor everywhere, but the mirror was intact.  I went to the bay window and he was walking fast down the sidewalk, already half a block away.

“Should I go after him?” I asked Gail.  She hesitated, and I pointed out that the mirror was fine, no harm done.  I really didn’t feel like chasing him down the street.

Later I learned that he was one of the Burke boys, notorious trouble makers in the Washington Park Area. That was Jeremy Burke, one of six brothers – I would run into them several times during those years in Albany.

When I came to work the next afternoon, the daytime bartender Johnny La La had already heard about the guy with the beer bottle.  He took me aside, the life-time barman talking to the new kid.

“Next time, if you want someone to knock it off, just tell them,” Johnny said.  “Let them know that they’re welcome to stay and enjoy their drink, but please give it a rest.  If they won’t, ask them to leave.  But don’t intentionally embarrass them, even if they deserve it.”

Johnny La La was right.  I had made a classic, rookie mistake.  “How much to you want?  Do you want what’s in my wallet?”  I made a guy who’d been drinking feel foolish.

(Ed. Note:  A few months later, it was only because of another incident with Jeremy Burke that I met my girlfriend in Albany.)

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