Old Administration building at SUNY Cortland (Cortland State, NY)

I showed a lot of promise as a college freshman. With the exception of a “B-” in a mandatory swimming course, I had straight “A’s.” My grade-point average was 3.95 out of a possible 4.0 . . . I finishing second in a school-wide speaking contest, wrestled on SUNY Cortland’s freshman team, and was nominated as one of the college’s outstanding freshman.

So how is it that with all this promise–I ended up changing my major three times, dropping out of school twice, and accumulating some 128 certified credit hours, without ever graduating?

Looking back, I have to blame my freshman roommate, Kyle Richenock.

OK, maybe some small, small responsibly might be my own, but mostly it was Kyle’s fault.

I remember when I first stepped into the room we would share at our freshman dorm, Hendrick’s Hall. Kyle had already moved in and he was lying with his feet on his bed, his hands behind his head, watching me. He was sizing up his new roommate.

I knew I wasn’t a typical freshman. I had worked for a year after high school graduation. I met a girl and fell in love the summer after high school; she was my first real girlfriend, and it was my first sex.

I fell head over heels for her. When we went together to the New York State Fair, which is held in Syracuse NY, we spent most of our time in the model home displays, looking at living room arrangements and talking about the day we’d settle down and raise a family.

So went I finally did go to college, my motivation was different than all these stoned-out dudes. I remember an all-dorm meeting with the Senior Resident, and he was asking if anyone had any questions. A guy in the back shouted out, “Hey, since we can’t have girls in our rooms, where does one go to get laid?”

See what I mean? That thought had never crossed my mind. The only thing I was worried about was how to make it to the weekends, when I could drive back to Syracuse and see my girl.

In the dorm room that first day, Kyle was still watching me as I began to unpack my stuff. The first thing I did was take out the 8” x 10” framed photo of my girlfriend; I set it on top of the dresser. Then I took out her high school tassel and draped it over one corner of the picture. My high school tassel was draped over the other corner.

Copy of figurineI took out a few knickknacks and figurines that my girlfriend had given me–a little plastic football player with a black eye, two little bears cuddling, that type of thing. I put them around the picture.

As I worked, I’d step back now and then to look at the dresser top, and take it all in.

“Oh, Jesus,” Kyle said, his hands still behind his head. “You’ve created a shrine.”

Like I said, I wasn’t a typical college freshman.

I called my girlfriend that night, and in fact I called her every single night from Hendrick’s Hall. And each night after we talked, she’d write me a letter so that every single day that freshman year, I got a letter from her. I mailed one to her every day, too.

The weeks went by, and while all the other freshman males were downtown drinking in the college bars, I stayed in my room and studied. I wanted to graduate and be a good provider. (Now you know the truth about my high grades–I cheated, by actually studying.)

I had talked the college administrators into letting me bring a car on campus, something that most freshman back then couldn’t do. I might have told them that I had a sick grandmother who I had to visit. There was no shame in making sure my girlfriend and I at least had sex on weekends. I drove the thirty minutes back to Syracuse every Friday night, until wrestling season started.

While wrestling I still maintained a focused lifestyle, resisting the efforts of Kyle and his friends to get me downtown, where the bars were. Kyle had a lot of friends. He was a big man on campus. He played football and lacrosse for the Cortland freshman teams; he was a big, smart guy with a great sense of humor.

And he had this ridiculously infectious laugh. When Kyle laughed, everyone within hearing distance laughed along with him. He could be telling you that your mom just got run over by a truck, and if he laughed as he said it, you’d laugh, too.

Kyle like to hit on all the cute coeds. Somehow, even though he was a freshman, he ended up on the grill at an all-school barbeque. Kyle was flipping hamburgers when this stunning coed, Barbara Stilton, walked up. She was Playmate gorgeous, with the body of a gymnast. She had blond, pixie-cut hair, and she wore this incredibly sexy frosted lipstick.

Kyle started to chat her up, leaning forward. He kept smiling and laughing, and holding her attention. Then the sizzling smoke started to rise up between his fingers. He had leaned forward on the grill, with his palms down as he entertained her–and now he yelled and lifted his red palms up–but he was laughing. And of course, everyone laughed with along him.

Copy of cortland footballOne of Kyle’s best buddies was a guy named Dominick DeNapoli. Dominick was a lineman on Cortland’s freshman football team. He was a big Italian kid from a tough section of Binghamton NY, who despite his size was a math major, obsessed with thinking out everything logically. His favorite character on Star Trek was Spock.

One day Dominick was called in to talk with the college administration. (An irritating young freshman on the third floor might have been intimidated, lifted in the air, when he gave Dominick some lip.) Now someone in the Dean’s office was going to straighten Dominick out, in an intellectual, administrative way.

“Where do you see yourself in fours years,“ the college official intoned. “What do you see yourself doing?”

“I’m not sure, Dominick responded, “but whatever I’m doing . . . I want to be boss!”

His words alone don’t really describe his whole answer. As he spoke, Dominic had put his hands on the end of the chair’s arms, and now he pushed his body back into the chair–and the force of it broke something in the chair. The legs of the chair separated and Dominick had to jump up quickly to avoid falling to the floor with the clattering chair parts.

“What the Christ! Dominick shouted, now standing tall and close to the administrator’s desk. “What the Christ!”

The administrator said they could talk another time.

These were the guys who kept trying to get me down to the bars to raise hell with them. They were always having a blast. They had all these friends. Me . . . after months at the college and in the dorm, spending all my spare time studying . . . I hardly knew anyone. “This is my roommate,” Kyle would introduce me, and that’s how I was known. Now and then I’d hear some guy tell another kid, “Oh, that’s Kyle’s roommate.”

As soon as wrestling season ended, I began to weaken. “One beer,” Kyle kept saying. “One freaking beer isn’t going to kill you!”

You know how this goes . . . the first time, it was just one beer. And then it was a couple of beers, and gradually I began to learn what a wonderful new world it was, hanging out in the bars. I didn’t drink in high school; I was only interested in sports. Now this was amazing–the carnival atmosphere of the bars, the camaraderie, the cute coeds. There was a spirit of adventure. Compared with studying in the dorm, this was like being on the high seas.

To make a long story short . . . remember that scene with the dresser top “shrine” on the first day with Kyle as a roommate?  Well, here’s another, contrasting scene that happened after a year of rooming with Kyle. I remember most of the details . . .

Scene from The Tavern

Scene from The Tavern

I would finish my last spring final before Kyle finished his, so I told him I’d meet him at a joint called “The Tavern.” At this popular college bar, they were having an end-of-finals special–a pitcher of beer and a bucket of steamers for some ridiculously cheap price, maybe five dollars. Steamers and pitchers of beer, after a long freshman year. What could be more perfect?

I ordered another round.

I kept drinking and drinking, and by now I was pretty trashed. For some reason, when an old Bob Dylan song began playing on the jukebox, I got up and stood on the booth table. Balancing precariously, I was singing at the top of my lungs along with the jukebox: “Everybody must get stoned!

Now someone else stood up on their booth table too, and then another, until all of us were singing. Feeling that I was being out-escalated as everyone sang along –“Everybody must get stoned!”–for some reason, I decide to drop my pants. They were down by my ankles as we all sang out the lyrics. “Everybody must get stoned!”

I was singing on the table top, gyrating my hips, pants around my ankles.

The bouncer, named Jumbo, came out of nowhere. He picked me up and carried me in the air toward the door . . . and the next thing I knew I was sprawled in the gutter in front of The Tavern.

The Tavern, 139 Main Street, Cortland NY.

The Tavern, 139 Main Street, Cortland NY.

Lying in the gutter, my bare ass was cold, so I inched my pants back up most of the way, with a series of pulling-humping motions. Exhausted now I just lay there, unable to move.

There’s a famous quote from Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are gazing at the stars.” Well, I wasn’t on my back looking up. I was face down in the gutter and perfectly content at the moment to stay that way. I listened to the voices of students, the opening of the door as they went into The Tavern.

At one point, I thought I heard a familiar voice, and then that unmistakable laugh, and everyone as always laughing along. They seemed to stop. I heard footsteps gathering not far away.

“Kyle, look at that guy!” I heard one of this group say. ‘Look at that guy in the gutter!”

“Oh Jesus,” I heard Kyle reply. “That’s my roommate.”

And then I heard The Tavern door open, and they went inside.

The next year when Kyle, Dominick, and I got an off-campus apartment, the madness didn’t stop. I ended up changing majors several times, dropping out of school twice, and after the second time–now totally enamored with the bar life–I became a bartender.

Kyle, I know you’re out there. Someday lift a pint for me . . . as you look back on your successful career in sports broadcasting, working as you do for that well-known network. And just remember, Kyle . . . you ruined my life. (Only kidding, of course. Great to talk with you the other day, buddy!)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | Leave a comment

THE ENVELOPE (joking around, then serious gangster style)

Copy of tip envelopeLast week I was working my usual Sunday night when one of brunch bartenders walked through the door.

We always have three bartenders for the Sunday brunch and as it slows down–first one is cut, then another–until by the time I come on at night there’s only one bartender working. The remaining guy counts the afternoon’s tips, and then leaves envelopes for the other two who left early.

I figured that’s why this brunch bartender was here–to pick up his tips from the previous shift. “You want your envelope?” I asked as he came up to the bar.

He didn’t say a word, just nodded. I reached into the drawer for his envelope, and handed it to him.

Three customers were sitting at the bar watching, and they all had a strange look on their faces. They were curious, but it was as though they didn’t want to watch too closely . . . because maybe something a little shady was going on. “You’re here for your money?”

The bartender reaching for his envelope was thick-necked, broad-shouldered Irish guy. During the week he’s a probation officer, but I suppose if you watch at lot of movies you might have thought this was some kind of payoff–especially given the history of the neighborhood, which back in the 1970’s and 80’s was gangster hangout for the Irish mob.

“He comes in every week like clockwork,“ I said under my breath to the customers, unable to resist stringing them along.

“He never says a word,” I continued. “I just hand him the envelope and then he walks out.” Meanwhile the probation-officer/bartender was standing there with a smirk on his face, shaking his head because I was feeding them this line.

“It’s better this way,” I explained to the customers. “No one wants any trouble.”

The customers looked at me; they looked at the guy with the envelope. They had to know I was just kidding . . . right? But their eyes were a little wider than normal, and their heads were set back a bit on their necks. They weren’t really sure whether I was serious or not.

I explained the “tips in an envelope” thing as the brunch bartender was leaving–he still hadn’t said a word, just the little smirk because I’d been busting balls. They all got a chuckle out of it.

Anyway, that reminds me of another envelope story . . . and this one wasn’t simply clowning around.

Years earlier I was working in the North End, Boston’s Italian section. We had a group of connected guys who hung out at the bar, but they always treated the place with respect. And they treated me well, once they were comfortable I wasn’t some kind of undercover cop–this was not too long after the Donnie Brasco thing in New York City.

One night one of the wise guys, a friend of Joey Cigars, walked into the restaurant and came up to the bar. “You know Dan Shoes,” the guy said. It was more of a statement than a question.

“He’ll be coming in here later,” the guy continued. “Give him this.” And he pulled out an envelope from inside his coat. He held the envelope toward me.

“Just give it to him,” the guy said.

As I took the envelope I realized it was full of cash. It was at least two or three inches thick, and these guys only dealt with one-hundred-dollar bills.

New Copy of money twoWhen you’ve been tending bar for a while, you have a feel for the size of a wad of money. You know how thick a pack of banded bills feels–like a stack of one hundred banded one-dollar bills. If these were all one-hundred-dollar bills, there was at least $20,000 in that envelope.

“Just give it to him,” the guy said looking right at me. “Any problems with that?”

I didn’t know what to do. “No, no problem,” I said, and the guy walked out.

I started to get paranoid. Why had he handed the money to me? What if some of the money ended up missing? Maybe the guy was supposed to leave Dan Shoes $20,000 but there was only $15,000 in there. Would I be held accountable?

What if Dan Shoes decided to skim off a few thousand for himself, and then later told everyone that’s all that was there?

I put the envelope in the drawer under the cash register. The envelope was only loosely sealed so I pried up one corner. Yup, all one-hundred-dollar bills.

What the fuck! I was nervous as hell. How did I get stuck in this position? There was never a thought in my mind of taking even one of those bills, but I was worried about now being responsible for this envelope. What if someone else knew I was holding the money, and decided to come in and take it before Dan Shoes showed up?

We kept a loaded gun, a .45 magnum revolver in that drawer. Holding it low in the drawer, I now flipped the chamber open and spun it once to assure myself it was still fully loaded.

Endless possibilities ran through my mind for the next half hour, all of them bad. Then Dan Shoes walked in.

“Somebody leave somethin’ for me?” he asked when he came up to the bar. I handed him the envelope, and he walked out without another word.

And that was it–I never heard anything more about it.

But the next time Joey Cigars came into the place, he seemed friendlier than usual, and I wondered if I’d passed some kind of test. More likely, it had just been convenient for them to do it this way, and after all I was the bartender at the place where they hung out . . . so why not?

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 8 Comments


Copy of Harvard Square ClockFaceAt first, we thought he was just a little weird, one of the many off-beat characters in Harvard Square. He wasn’t a bad guy; sometimes he was even funny, doing or saying something that made everyone laugh. And when they did laugh, Howie would stand there with that lopsided grin, snorting short little laughs of his own.

This was my first job in the Boston area, at a place called Jake’s. Later the joint would become The Sunflower Café, which in turn would eventually be bought out by Pizzeria Uno, an operation still there today on 22 JFK Street, in the heart of the square.

But back then it was Jake’s, and it was a popular local watering hole with a small pub in the basement, and a full restaurant upstairs at street level. Having just moved to Boston, it felt great to be working in a bar again, and as the new bartender I’m sure I let a lot of things slide–trying to figure out and deal with all these new, sometimes strange people. Howie was only one of them.

Howie could definitely be a pain in the ass. He was one of those guys you had to constantly keep an eye on–where he went, who he was talking with, and especially how other customers were reacting to him.

He wasn’t loud, or rude, not really offensive in any way. He was just weird, and sometimes that could make people uncomfortable. A lot of college students frequented Jake’s, and along with the occasional professor they set the tone for the place–Harvard University was right across the street. The place wasn’t snobby, but definitely upscale and perhaps with an intellectual air you wouldn’t find in downtown Boston bars.

Howie didn’t fit in; he acted goofy, and was goofy-looking. The clothes he had on were definitely a little weird, as though he were intentionally dressing out of style. He’d wear these oversized, tan-colored Bermuda shorts, with the pants legs coming down below his knees. He usually had on a brightly-colored Hawaiian-type shirt, and he kept his sunglasses on even inside the bar.

“Why don’t you take the sunglasses off, Howie,” I said to him one day, after I’d gotten to know him a little better. He just looked at me, leaning forward a bit as if trying to see through the dark lenses. “You should lose the shades, Howie,” I continued, “unless your goal is to make people stare.”

After that when Howie came down the pub steps, he usually would put the sunglasses in his shirt pocket.

Copy of Hawaiian ShirtBut it wasn’t only what he wore. Howie’s behavior was a little weird. He’d kind of lean in toward people when he talked with them, as though he really wanted to connect with them, these complete strangers–apparently not realizing he might actually be making them uncomfortable.

And he’d speak slowly, very carefully, sometimes hanging onto a word or two longer than necessary. Like when he told people his name. He’d hang onto his name as he spoke it, dragging it out. “I’m Hooow-ie,” he’d say. “My name is “Hooow-ie!”

After a few months, we learned that he was a disabled Vietnam veteran. We heard that he was living off monthly checks for unspecified injuries suffered during the war. Whoever told us wasn’t sure of all the details, but we figured it had to involve PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For those of us working the bar, this news had a weird, contradictory effect. On the one hand, any of the staff who had bitched and moaned about Howie now seemed more sympathetic toward him. But at the same time, even those of us who sort of liked Howie were now a little more cautious.

Back then you’d hear stories, true or not, about veterans who had suddenly snapped in a bar–doing something crazy, maybe even violent. “I don’t think you have to worry about Howie,” one of the local cops told me, when hanging out at the bar one night.

“It’s a shame,” I said. “A lot of guys got really fucked-up over there.”

“Hey, he was always a little off, even before Vietnam,” the cop replied. “I’ve known Howie since he was a kid in the streets,  . . . he was never exactly normal. Too shy, too quiet, almost helpless.”

“They never should have drafted him,” the cop said. “They never should have sent a kid like that to war.”

“But I don’t think he’ll ever give you any trouble,” the cop ordered another beer. “He’s OK, just weird, an outsider.”

Soon everyone who worked at Jake’s knew about Howie’s story. A few of the customers did, too–and definitely the management had heard all about it.

Up to this point, they were always telling us to just deal with Howie, that he was a paying customer, and this was our job. But now the managers were the first ones to  question everything he did. Jake’s was owned by a New York City restaurant group, and everything was always corporate down the line. Maybe they were worried about a lawsuit if Howie should lose it some day and go after another customer, or something worse.

Now it was the staff defending Howie. “He never really bothers anyone,” we explained to one of the managers, “and this is Harvard Square. What are we going to do . . . kick out everyone who doesn’t fit the mold? We’ll have no customers.”

Just like before, the bartenders were all keeping an eye on Howie, but now we were watching him because we sort of wanted to take care of him, I guess. We didn’t want him to do anything that would get him kicked out of the place.

For Howie, this bar had become a kind of home. It was hard to see him getting along in any of the other bars in the square. At least the staff here liked him and put up with him.

Most of the customers didn’t seem to mind Howie being there, and if we thought he was making someone uncomfortable, we’d quickly go over. “Howie,” we’d say, “come here for a minute. I want to talk with you.”

We’d  take him to the other end of the bar. “Stay here for a few minutes, Howie,” we’d say. “I think you’re better off down here for a while.”

He’d put a finger to his lips, as though silently saying, “Shhhush.” He’d have that goofy, lopsided grin, and say something like, “I’d better stay down here for a while. I’m better off down here.” As though it had all been his idea, to get him away from the nervous customer.

One night Howie did get into a confrontation with one of the customers–but I have to say it was the other guy who was being a jerk. Howie was actually the reasonable one of the two.

Something had happened, and this wannabe tough guy started mouthing off to Howie. The guy stood up in Howie‘s face. Their voices were raised for a minute, but then Howie just stepped back. He said something about not being interested in a fight, and then he walked away.

When word of this got back to Jake’s management, I guess it was the excuse they’d wanted. Back then, from time to time, we’d have actual brawls in Jake’s–bartenders jumping over the bar to break it up, and doormen carrying guys up the stairs to the front door.

This had only been a few quick, loud words and Howie had been the better man, walking away from it. Afterward he even tried to see what we were thinking about the incident. “How aaarrre you?” he asked with that grin. “How are we  . . . is everything OK here?” And the bartenders were fine with it, but now the management decided that Howie should be permanently barred

We felt bad about the decision–the bartenders and staff, and a good number of customers. For the next couple of days, everyone working behind the bar dreaded the idea that they would be the one to have to tell him. Tell him that he couldn’t come here anymore. I was glad it wasn’t me.

Later we heard that Howie actually tried to make several appointments with the management, to talk it over, to discuss things–but it was a done deal. Howie was out, permanently, they said.

We never saw Howie in Jake’s after he’d been told. We figured he found someplace else to hang out.

Copy of Harvard Square Clock

Harvard Square Public Clock

I ran into him one more time in Harvard Square, late one afternoon on my way to work. I was about to cross the street on the way to Jake’s, when I saw Howie standing by that antique-style, public clock in Harvard Square–right across from the subway station.

Howie was leaned against the pole of the clock, beneath its round face with the roman numerals. He had his sunglasses on, wearing those Bermuda shorts, and a loose, crazily-colored shirt. There was a large gauze bandage wrapped around the bottom of his left leg. The bandage was wrapped entirely around his leg, covering an area from just below his knee down to his ankle.

“How’s it going, Howie,” I asked when I stopped for a second. “What happened to your leg?”

Howie then told me that he’d been drinking at another bar in the square–I won’t mention the name, but back then it was a tough place, certainly rougher than Jake’s.

Howie said that he’d probably had too much to drink, and he must have dozed off, eyes closed, sitting there hunched over at the bar. Someone at the bar must have splashed some lighter fluid on the pair of pants he was wearing, and then they lit a match.

“I woke up,” Howie said, “and my pant’s leg was on fire!”

“I was jumping around, trying to put the flames out,” he said, “and everyone was lauuuughing!

“They were laaughing,” he said, as he stood beneath the old clock. “They were all laaauuughing.”

“Jesus . . . I’m sorry, Howie,” I said. I really didn’t know what to say. I stood there for a second. What was I supposed to say?

“You need anything, Howie?” I asked, “you need a couple of bucks for some beers or anything?”

“Naaaawww,” he said, “I’m OK.”

I still didn’t know what I should do. Nothing was going to make this better. “I wish things had worked out at Jake’s,” I said. “We all liked you, Howie . . . you know that.”

Then the light changed, and I had to get across the street. I was already a couple of minutes late for work. “Got to run, Howie,” I said, “you take care of yourself, OK?”

“You take care of yourself,” I said again, then I turned to leave and that was the last time I saw him.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 8 Comments


Copy of NewBeginningsNewEndingsHappy 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.)



Copy of NewBeginningsNewEndingsKaitlinScottPic“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





Copy of susan_sontag_01“Kindness, kindness, kindness.  I want to make a New Year’s prayer, not a resolution. I’m praying for courage.” — Susan Sontag








Copy of Mark-Twain-006“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



Copy of yoda“Do, or do not. There is no ‘Try’.”
—  Yoda








Copy of Abraham Lincoln“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
–  Abraham Lincoln








Copy of NewBeginningsNewEndingsTwo









Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 1 Comment


Copy of EddieVedder

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder

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

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, where local 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.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 5 Comments