"From bullets whizzing through the front windows of an Italian restaurant to a tall, mysterious blond who wants to be tied up and spanked — it's life behind the bar, a carnival recorded on cocktail napkins …. "
Happy New Year to everyone! Let’s hope it’s a good one. Now that the champagne bottle is empty and the noise-makers have bleated their last toot, here’s a few thoughts and resolutions that caught my eye–hope you enjoy them as much as I did. (Gotta love the world-wide web. Where credit is due, click on the pic to learn the source. Back with more stories in two weeks.)
“We were still twirling around the tiny parking lot when the neighbors screamed ‘Happy New Year’. Unfortunately we weren’t sober enough to realize that was our cue to call it a night. Josh had a new beer in his hands, Danny was eating the last hot dog and Darren and I were still dancing when the cops showed up.”
— Kaitlin Scott, For Danny
“Kindness, kindness, kindness. I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.” — Susan Sontag
“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” — Mark Twain
“New Year’s Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly . . . provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.”
— James Agate
“Do, or do not. There is no ‘Try’.”
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
– Abraham Lincoln
What a World Series! Great games, controversial calls, weird endings — and Boston won. Perfect.
But what was with all the Eddie Vedder references? Apparently Pearl Jam has a new CD coming out, and during every night’s game they broadcast Pearl Jam music and mentioned the band’s lead singer.
So I guess I’ll tell a Johnny D’s “Eddie Vedder” story from one Monday night a while back.
Shawn Day used to work with me on Monday’s behind the bar; we had a live Salsa band and dancing until midnight. Back then (ten years ago) Shawn was single, and a wild man. He downed shots of Patron tequila, followed by pint after pint of Fat Cat ESB (a great local beer at the time.)
Shawn was living the life, bartending to the hilt. He knew everybody, everyone knew him, and they all loved him. Just to give you an idea of how popular he was, I was genuinely sorry for the guy who replaced him.
When Shawn finally left the bar, he was replaced by Greg — also a great bartender, a good guy, and a funny bastard. But everyone missed Shawn. One night a customer paid Greg a rare compliment. “You’re good,” the customer said after a few hours of slam business at the bar, “You’re good, and you’re not a bad guy.”
The customer paused for a moment, as Greg’s face lit up with a little smile of appreciation. “You’re good,” the customer continued. “ . . . But you’re no Shawn Day!”
Everyone at the bar laughed for a long time, everyone of course, except Greg.
After that, customer after customer began repeating the same thing time and again. It became something of an insider’s joke among regulars, and then even some of the staff started using the line.
Greg would be cruising, making all the customers laugh. (He did have a great sense of humor; he had talked everyone into called him “G Money,” just because he thought it sounded cool. He was a riot behind the bar.) But after doing absolutely everything that a bartender could possibly do, at some point when he least expected it, someone else would drop the line. “Nice job, Greg,” someone would say, “ . . . But you’re no Shawn Day!” Followed by raucous laughter from everyone.
Anyway, at the time of this story Shawn was still bartending at the club, and we were working the early part of a Monday night when a non-descript sort of guy sat at the end of the bar. Shawn turned to get to him, but then he stopped after a step or two. He stood there for a moment looking at the guy, then he turned back to me.
“Jesus,” Shawn said, “Isn’t that Eddie Vedder?”
Shawn was a big Pearl Jam fan. I knew of the band, although I wouldn’t have recognized its lead singer from Adam. But when Shawn went down to the guy he blurted out, “Eddie Vedder! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe I’ve got the chance to serve you!”
Great Woods, Mansfield MA
Eddie was in town for a concert with Pearl Jam at Great Woods (now known as the Comcast Center), in Mansfield MA. Shawn put Eddie’s first beer on the house, then took money for the next beers out of our tip jar. “Go ahead,” I told him, “Might as well make him feel welcome.”
Shawn got Eddie to sign a series of autographs on cocktail napkins — one for himself, I think one for his girlfriend, one for a nephew who was also a Pearl Jam fan.
Basically I tended bar while Shawn shot the breeze with Eddie Vedder. Shawn told him about the other places in the area he might want to hit; an Irish bar called The Burren for a pint of Guinness. A small place in Porter Square called Toad, wherelocal musician Tim Gearan played every Monday.
When Eddie left, he was shaking hands with Shawn as though they were best friends.
Shawn got out early, as always on Monday’s, and when he walked into Toad he was telling everyone that he’d met Eddie Vedder! He’d served Edder Vedder!
“Naw, no way you met him,” Mike Byrne said, “You’re just busting my balls.”
In those days, Mike Byrne was a weekend doorman at Johnny D’s. He just happened to be drinking at Toad that night. Byrnsie was around 5’ 11”, and easily 300 lbs. He had arms thicker than most people’s thighs. His chest was the size of a wooden barrel, and he had no neck. Once I told him that he was a living reincarnation of Archie Bunker, from “All in the Family,” and Byrnsie took it as a compliment.
“No way you met Eddie Vedder!” Byrnsie kept saying, “No way! You’re bullshiting me!”
This went on and on . . . until Eddie Vedder walked into Toad, apparently done with his Guinness pints at The Burren.
Eddie stood inside the front door, and was looking around the bar just as Byrnsie finished ragging on Shawn one more time.
“Shawn!” Eddie shouted as soon as he spotted him. The way he said it, you would have thought these guys were old college roommates or something. Everyone in the bar turned to look at Eddie standing at the front door. “Shawn,” he called out, “Let me buy YOU a beer for a change!”
Byrnsie just sat there with his mouth open, for a long time.
When Toad closed, Eddie went back with a small group to Tim Gearan’s apartment.
Tim’s wife, Paula, who had been a waitress at Johnny D’s, brought out snacks and cold beers for everyone. After a while, Tim picked up a guitar and began singing, “Ain’t no sunshine (when she’s gone.)” He played the song real slow and soulful, until Eddie grabbed a second guitar, and began playing and singing along with him. The two of them sat in Tim’s living room, creating the most beautiful music.
“It was unbelievable,” Shawn told me the next day, “I mean, I had tears in my eyes from the way these two were playing.”
The next night, at the Pearl Jam concert, Eddie stopped to announce to the 20,000 fans in attendance that he had felt so welcomed on this trip to Boston. He told about meeting a bartender, and the night at Toad, and about how he ended up playing with a local musician in an apartment after hours.
“This song goes out to all those people who made me feel so at home here,” Eddie said, “They know who they are.” And then he started in on that slow version of “Ain’t no Sunshine.”
It’s always nice when a rock star stops at your bar, and turns out to be just a regular guy. I was stuck working the night of the concert, but Shawn and a few others used the free tickets Eddie got for them . . . and they all said it was a blast.
(You can hear Tim Gearan Friday nights at Atwood’s Tavern. If you do stop in, make sure to say hello to Randi, the rocking, multi-talented booking agent at Atwood’s.Bill Withers singing his hit, “Ain’t no Sunshine,” is below.)
It’s never good to leave a bartender working alone on a slow night. There’s too much opportunity to think.
You keep glancing at the clock, again and again. You might listen to one of your customers, or try to focus on the closing side work ahead — but let your attention waver for one second, and you’re back to thinking.
The news on the TV is all bad, again. Politicians, like the puppets they really are, once more screw us over with their political ambitions and aloof positions. And while all of America loses an estimated 24 billion dollars and the world economy is threatening to blow up–these political hacks are still getting a paycheck, even as they remain asleep at the wheel.
Fucked-Up-Beyond-All-Recognition. FUBAR reigns, and seemingly always will.
I believe the term first originated in the military. Soldiers with their lives on the line had to put up with the gross incompetence of their superiors–poor planning, low ammunition, and suicidal missions. Book after book, movie after movie tells the same story. In Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, some poor lieutenant is sent off to die with his men because his commanding general is having problems with his wife, who’s tired of his impotence.
And it’s certainly no different in the restaurant business–although the stakes, clearly, are so much higher in the military. But even behind the bar or out on the floor, in a very small but eerily similar manner, the maddening clusterfuck rolls on.
Thursday, 10/17/13, 3:00 P.M.
Then this afternoon, I’m checking through the latest news, and come across this . . .
It seems a Boston-area waiter was slogging through his night when there was a quiet personal crisis at one of his tables. Two women (possibly a mother and adult daughter) had received a cell call during their meal, and afterward they both started crying.
“I had no idea what happened,” the waiter posted on Reddit, “Until a single guy at the next table handed me this note with his bill.”
Huffington Post later contacted the waiter, who further clarified the story:
“The single guy who had been sitting next to them had been friendly to me all evening, making jokes and such. When he was finished I gave him his check, and inside the billfold was his credit card and the note that I took a picture of. I combined the 2 checks, and he paid for both. I waited until after he had left to tell them their check had been taken care of. The mother was overwhelmed with gratitude, as was I. It was a great evening.”
Some people will insist this is just another internet hoax, and skeptic that I am, I was curious why the note was crumbled. (The man who wrote the note wouldn’t have crumbled it–he would have put it flat with his credit card. Was a hoaxster simply trying to make everything look authentic?) But then maybe the waiter initially tossed the note into a wastebasket . . . later retrieving it for the photo.
In any event, it was a good story after this gloomy week.
(For the past month, I’ve haven’t done much beside work on that book I’ve been talking about for years. Thanks for your patience . . . I think I’ve turned a corner, and hope to be back here posting regularly in a week or two.)
Everyone knows there’s a lot of sex in the restaurant business. It’s a promise that lures big crowds to the pick-up joints. Even in a quieter place, anytime there’s drinking involved you’ll usually find at least some sexual undertones.
And everybody knows that restaurant and bar staffs are quick to cash in on the fun. I can’t think of another legitimate business (except of course the movie industry) where sex is so much a part of the workplace.
These next two stories might not come as a surprise then, but I still think they deserve posting here . . . .
Sex and Sales People
Several years ago, on a break from bartending, I worked as a restaurant consultant. I helped owners decide which cash register systems fit their operations, and then worked with them on implementing new inventory and analysis reports.
I’d always give each client a number of options, but I remember this one owner asking about a particular electronic brand that I never recommended. “What about the Iron-Clad registers?” he asked, “I know someone who really likes them!”
Of course “Iron-Clad” wasn’t their real name, but in my opinion these registers meant too many headaches and problems — and they cost more than some of the much better brands. I explained this to him, but he kept insisting that he wanted to meet with an Iron-Clad representative.
The saleswoman who came in was drop-dead gorgeous. She was a fox. Blond hair, a body to die for, and such a pretty, sexy smile.
And she was an outrageous flirt.
While pointing to the color brochures with one hand, with her other hand she was always touching the owner’s shoulder, or the back of his hand . . . and one point she even laid her hand on his leg as they sat next to each other in the booth.
She had such “touchy-feely” hands that if she’d been in a bar, you’d immediately have identified her as out of control. She batted her eyelashes, and dropped thinly-veiled sexual innuendoes.
I remember she was wearing a wedding band on her left hand, although that might have been for public relations purposes. In any case she made it quite clear that she was “attracted” to this owner, my client. After the meeting, as I left the two of them, they were ordering another round of drinks. They seemed ready to make a night of it.
It apparently worked. That owner went with Iron-Clad, and he paid for it many, many times with register lock-ups, confusing reports, and things that just weren’t programmed right.
I’d run into “Iron-Clad” sales reps several times after that, and they were all the same — hot, flirtatious young women. A few years later, “Iron-Clad” went out of business. Maybe they should have put some money into refining their system, rather than simply hiring “hooker-type” sales ladies.
It was by far the worst computer register system I’d seen . . . but I guess that owner had a really good time while being sold.
A Waitress who knows her way around . . . .
Sales people aren’t the only ones plying sex to get what they want. I’ve watched a few workers use the same sexual signals to manipulate their bosses. Most of the time they don’t even have to follow through . . . just dangling the possibility was enough.
I remember this one restaurant where I was tending bar — there was a particular waitresses who probably shouldn’t have even had a job there. Sure, she was smart, she had experience, and she certainly could have been proficient at handling her tables. She could have given her customers great service, followed the rules, but she just didn’t feel like it . . . that would have required some effort. And at this unnamed restaurant she’d figured a way to get around all that.
I have to admit, she was quite good-looking. She had a stylish haircut, and a figure even those crappy uniforms couldn’t hide. But beyond that, her most important asset was that she absolutely exuded sexuality when she was trying to get away with something.
It’s hard to describe . . . I’ve only met a few women who could manage what she did. It was like heat from a car radiator, something you could actually feel. It rolled over you when she had her motor running. When she looked into your eyes, and flashed that smile, you could almost hear her thinking: “You’re a man. I’m a woman . . . do you know all the fun things we could do to make each other feel good?”
I’m serious, all of that was in her smile when she wanted something.
She order her drinks without ringing anything in, and then try to get away with it when you asked where the slip was. “Oh, I must have forgotten,” she’d turn on that smile, “Can you make them anyway. I’ll get to it later.”
The first time, I did give in, and then I was chasing her for half an hour trying to get the un-rung slip. At the end she was looking through all the dupes on the spindle, claiming that she’d rung them all in, but the chit must have been lost.
On more than one night, she somehow lost entire rounds of drinks — or so she’d say. She’d claim the drinks tipped over while she was carrying them to the tables. The manager would just house them all, without checking anything, and then tell me to make them again. I don’t think he was even getting anything from her. Just the tantalizing sense that someday he might get lucky was apparently enough.
I remember the last night I worked there; she’d been really out of control during that shift, and I was a little pissed. I was cleaning the bar when she walked up.
“Well, we’ll all miss you,” she said with a big smile.
The night was over, it was my last night, so I didn’t say anything negative. It’s funny, maybe you consider someone your worst enemy at a certain job, but when you meet on the street after the two of you are no longer working together, it’s as though nothing ever happened. Like the two of you had been best friends.
But on this last night it was more than that. As this waitress and I talked for a minute, I felt such a warm, sexual vib coming from her. She just smiled that smile, and with that look of promise in her eyes . . . I was surprised to find myself genuinely wishing her well.
In wine, truth? Well then, there are some people who probably shouldn’t drink — or at least they should learn when to drink, and when to stay sober.
Let me be clear, I know how it feels at the end of the night when you want to unwind. The cold ones go down so easily after a long, hard-fought victory, or when you’re just out with friends and want to bust loose. I have nothing against drinking in general, even when people get a little carried away . . . done that personally, more than a few times.
And I listen sympathetically when a customer has a few and wants to bend my ear; that’s part of the job, and I’m happy to do it.
But if someone has the world on their shoulders, or when things in their life are royally screwed-up . . . well, maybe they should refrain from drinking too much, at least in public. It’s just too easy for the alcohol to loosen their stressed-out tongues, and turn them into slobbering fools. Why not stay at home and drink alone, or drink with close friends; isn’t that what friends are for?
Which brings us to today’s story. Normally I wouldn’t post something like this, but it was quite a few years ago, and the “customer/fool” statue of limitations has run out.
“I really liked this girl,” one customer was saying in the Harvard Square bar where I worked at the time. (Girlfriend troubles — I knew the feeling, and didn’t mind listening.) “It looked like it was going somewhere,” he went on.
It seems he and a woman he’d been talking with a few weeks before had started a thing, and for a while it was apparently working out, although I thought I’d seen a couple of red warning flags. When the two of them were together, he had all her attention, but as soon as he left for a minute, she immediately turned to any man sitting nearby.
When Greg (we’ll call him) was gone, she seemed to come to life. She was more vivacious, and chatty, with that unmistakable “come-hither” smile. It was as though she wasn’t really happy with Greg, and was just spending time with him until she found someone else, anyone else.
Once, with Greg in the men’s room, she started hitting on me. “This isn’t good,” I thought, as I deflected her advances out of respect for Greg. She leaned forward over the bar so that her cleavage showed, and I could feel her heat. “This isn’t good at all,” I thought.
There had been warning signs, and now Greg was crying in his beer about it to me. At this point I was still on his side, still properly sympathetic. Then he said, “There was really nothing wrong with the relationship . . . she told me that. The relationship was great, even she said so.”
This sounded a bit odd, but I didn’t think too much about it. I’d probably served him too much — I knew he didn’t drive, and the cab stand he always used didn’t require crossing the street. They were virtually parked right outside the bar.
“She said the relationship was fine,” Greg repeated, “Everything was good.”
“OK,” I thought, “You already said that . . . why not just stop now?”
“Everything was great, you know,” Greg continued, “I mean the sex was great, for both of us.”
“Uh-oh,” I thought, “Please don’t go there.”
“We had great sex, really great sex,” Greg continued.
Why do people need to repeat themselves when drinking? Do they think by repeating things it sounds more true than if just said once?
“It wasn’t the sex,” Greg continued, “It really wasn’t the sex, even she said that . . . even she said she was totally satisfied.”
“You’re telling me more than you want to!” I thought.
“The sex was really great,” he kept on; he wouldn’t stop. “Really good for both of us.”
“God, please stop!” I thought.
The more he went on, the more convinced I became that thishad been the problem, at least in his mind. He hadn’t felt quite up to the task. Maybe he needed Viagra, or whatever . . . if sober he would have realized how all this sounded, and immediately shut up.
“We were both happy with the sex,” he said again.
Finally, I had to put an end to it. It just was too embarrassing to listen anymore.
“I think you might want to call it a night, Greg,” I told him. At this point, I wondered if I’d ever be able to look at him in the same way. That had been just too much information, too much dirty laundry unintentionally aired.
He left, but half and hour later there was a call on the bar phone. It was Greg.
“Sorry to bend your ear,” he said over the phone. “But I was just so upset about the break-up.”
“S-OK,” I told him, “Don’t worry about it.”
“It was just that there was nothing wrong with the relationship,” he started in again, “If you know what I mean . . . the sex was . . . .”
“Greg,” I interrupted, “I really think you should let it go for tonight.” He was home now, but calling his bartender at work. “Tomorrow’s another day, Greg,” I told him.
Bad enough when you have to shut someone off, and try to make sure that they get home OK. Tucking them into bed is a little beyond the call, I think.
Everyone has done it – you’re in a bar, looking for a scrap of paper to write a woman's name and phone number on, or just want to make a note to yourself so you don’t forget something. You grab a cocktail napkin.
(In the TV series The West Wing, a political consultant decides that Jed Bartlet – played by Martin Sheen – should run for President. He takes a cocktail napkin and writes down the slogan, “Bartlet for America.”)
I work in bars. Over the years, I’ve accumulated enough of my own cocktail-napkin notes to fill six liquor bottle boxes.
Here are the people and stories that wound up in those notes -- real-life characters like Jackie Rabbit and Maude the Broad, the narcotics cops Paul and Sonny, mafia guys, some shameless tramps and one suicidal young man. You'll meet an old-time boxer who wants to take me into the gym to teach me his trade, and a woman who thinks God is on the stool next to her, urging her to have one more whiskey and ginger. It's life behind the taps.