Copy of RollingRock_BottleI have to change the names and the exact location in this next post.  Let’s just say it happened in a very busy bar, in a small town where I was living at the time.  I worked at a pub right up the street from this bar, and it was always packed.

The owner (we’ll call him Norm) was down-home guy in his early fifties — a great guy, but something of a country rube.  All night he’d stand at the end of the bar, drinking bottle after bottle of Rolling Rock.  (Back then the Latrobe PA beer was pretty decent, before being bought out and watered-down by one of the corporate giants.)

Anyway, if I had a night off I’d usually end up at Norm’s Pub.  Lots of ice-cold beer, people elbow to elbow, and plenty of attractive women.  This joint was always a blast.

It looked as though Norm had himself a gold mine.  He was probably making a small fortune.  He’d built the place up from nothing, and now he’d just stand at the end of the bar enjoying the spoils.

After a year or two of success, however, Norm began slacking off a little.

The men’s room began to look (and smell) as though it hadn’t been cleaned in days.  One of the booths had a broken back.  Every now and then that back would give way, and suddenly the seat would drop out from under the occupants, and they’d spill their beers.  Most of them just laughed, sitting on a booth cushion that was now flat on the floor, but I thought. “Why doesn’t Norm fix it, for cryin-out-loud?”

Then the rug on the floor became worn in one particular spot.  What started as a tear quickly became good-sized circular hole — with the cement floor showing underneath, and the frayed, brown edges of the hole calling further attention to it.

And Norm stopped serving those great roast beef sandwiches that the bartenders use to make on a spanking-clean cutting board, using the silver metal slicing machine at the end.

The place was falling apart.

Business at Norm’s Pub began to seriously drop off.  It was no longer packed every night of the week.  There were no more advertisements for the place in the local newspaper.  But through this all, Norm continued to stand at the end of the bar, night after night, as though nothing was wrong.  It was like he was turning a blind eye to everything.

“Norm,” I said to him one afternoon, “That booth has been broken for five months.”

“I don’t want to be out of line,” I said, “But this place is getting pretty shabby.  And the crowd doesn’t seem to be coming in like it used to . . . . ”

“I’m a little surprised,” I said, “This was the best spot in town.  I’m a little surprised you’re not paying more attention to things.”

Norm had been drinking with me as he stood behind the bar; it was early afternoon and there was no one else in the place.  Now his bottle of beer paused half-way to his mouth, and he stood there looking at me.  He was thinking over what I’d just said.  I wondered if he was pissed that I’d brought it up.

Turns out he was simply deciding what he should, or shouldn’t say.

“When I started here,” he told me now, “I didn’t have enough money to open the place myself.”

“So I took on a partner from out of town . . . he put up the cash, I provided the expertise, all the work.”

“I built this place up from nothing,” Norm continued, “And I did it by myself.  He never worked one day in here.”

“How do you think that makes me feel?”

“Well, maybe now it’s time for a change,” he said as he set two more bottles of beer down in front of us.  “I can make this business rise, or fall.”

“Let’s say I want to buy my partner out,” he said, looking right at me.  ‘Why would I want the joint to be booming?  I could buy him out for a song . . . if we were losing money.”

Less than a year later, Norm was the sole owner of that bar.  And everything about the place — the daily advertisements in the newspaper, the rest rooms, the booths and the rug, and especially the overflowing cash register — it was all back to the way it was before.

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Copy of Airport-securityJohnny D’s has its share of outstanding alumni — people who have worked at the club, and then moved on.  One of our doormen worked weekend nights while attending law school.   He graduated and is now a Massachusetts State Trooper.  (Look for him to be Attorney General of MA one day.)  A bartender named Fan-Su also became a lawyer.

Bartender Anthony Michetti recently started his first “professional” job after earning his Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering.  Michelle Cofrod was an accountant with a prestigious Boston firm while working here as a part-time waitress.  During the last presidential election, she was called to Colorado to help a major fund-raising group straighten out their books.

These are only a few of the many staffers at Johnny D’s who have moved on to such things as owning and running their own restaurants, or to high-level research in microbiology, or to careers in show business.

But I’m thinking today of another employee who left Johnny D’s for something different — and this employee’s new job was a bit of a surprise, considering that he’d been fired for stealing.

That’s right, he was fired for stealing.

This employee (we’ll call him Ben) wasn’t much of a worker anyway — by any stretch of the imagination.  He rarely showed up on time.  He never did much once he got here.  He was lazy.  He might have been the worst prep cook/expeditor we’ve ever had.

And he couldn’t be trusted.

The last straw came when the chef asked Ben to open his knack sack as he was trying to sneak out the kitchen door unnoticed.  Inside the bag, Ben had stashed two large plastic freezer bags filled with uncooked steak tips.  They were beneath a pile of his wrinkled T-shirts and socks.

So I was surprised to hear a couple of months later that Ben had found a new job rather quickly.  (Here it comes . . . . )

Ben is now an employee at Boston’s Logan International Airport.  He’s working for the TSA . . . the Transportation Security Agency.

Yup, Ben is now one of those uniformed security agents who check your bags before you’re allowed to board a flight.

Ben will search through your belongings for weapons, bombs, or illegal contraband.  Ben is keeping our country safe from terrorists, drug smugglers, and common criminals . . . any one of whom might slip a weak security agent some cash so they can slide by undetected.  Would Ben ever take such a bribe?

You can bet the farm on it.

Did the TSA do any background check at all???

Maybe this is why a recent review of the TSA found that incidents of agent misconduct were up more than 25% over the previous three years.

I’ve flown out of Logan airport twice since Ben began working for the TSA.  I didn’t happen to see him either time, but maybe one of these days I will.  And it will be tough not to say something like:  “I have no knives, guns, explosives or steak tips in my bags, Sir.”

TSA! . . . TSA! . . . TSA!

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Copy of HandonTableHere’s something that might amuse those of us who work in restaurants and bars — although it will probably offend just about everyone else.  It’s a real-life story about dodging a complaint bullet, and getting away with something when you’ve been caught dead to rights.  (This comes from a friend who works as the GM in a popular restaurant in the Boston area.)

It seems last weekend this GM’s regular floor manager took Friday night off, and the restaurant’s head waitress was filling in for for him.  As you might expect everything that could go wrong did, and she was struggling from the get-go.

One of the food-runners didn’t show up, a waitress called in sick, and of course it was even busier than usual.  This fill-in floor manager was running around simply trying to keep her head above water.

Then in the middle of the rush, a man came out of the rest rooms so angry he just about had smoke coming out of his ears.  His arms were waving.

“I’m never coming to this restaurant again!” he shouted as he approached the host desk, “I’ve been coming here for years, but this is the last time you’ll see me!”

“What seems to be the problem, sir?” the temp floor manager asked politely.  She managed to steer the complaining gentleman off to one side.  “Tell me all about it,” she said.

The gentleman said that he’d been in the men’s room, and he’d seen one of the restaurant’s kitchen staff walk out of a stall . . . and then this worker left the bathroom without washing his hands!  Apparently the guy didn’t even look at the sink as he ran out, zipping up his fly.

“I couldn’t believe it,” the gentleman said now, “Is this the type of establishment you’re running?  All these years I’ve been coming here . . . all the times I’ve eaten here . . . and this is what’s been going on?”

The customer went on to describe the employee, and the poor hostess/head waitress immediately recognized which kitchen worker he was complaining about . . . she knew exactly who it was from the man’s description.

Her mind was racing.  She was looking for a way out of this.

“What do you have to say for yourself . . . what do you have to say for the place you’re supposed to be managing!” the gentleman demanded.

She had only a split-second to respond.  I can picture her standing there with the smoking wheels spinning in her head.

“No, I don’t think I know the person you described,” she now answered slowly and calmly.  “No, . . . that really doesn’t resemble anyone who works here.”

“No, wait,” she went on, as though thinking it over.  “Wait, . . . it must have been one of the construction crew.  They’re putting in a new floor downstairs.”  (Of course, there were no construction workers downstairs, no new floor being installed.)

“One of the construction crew?” the gentleman snapped back in disbelief, “He was wearing one of your restaurant’s shirts!”

“Oh, anyone can buy those shirts,” the floor manager smiled warmly.  “We encourage people to buy them, we encourage people to wear them.”  (Having committed herself to a bold-faced lie — the construction-guy bit — she was determined to make it work.)

“You can even buy one,” she continued smiling, “What size do you wear?  Would you like me to bring it to your table?”

Within a minute or two, the floor manager had completely convinced the gentleman that it wasn’t one of her employees.

“I’m so sorry,” he was profusely apologizing, “I’m so sorry.  I was just so upset . . . I didn’t know.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she told the man, “I want to thank you for being concerned.”

“But I assure you,” she continued, “No one from our staff would ever be so negligent.”

“I want to thank you again for your concern,” she said as she lead the gentleman back to his table, “And when you folks are ready for dessert, please let me know.  It will be on the house.”

Then the temp floor manager went into the kitchen where she took the cook aside, and reamed him a new _____ (one).  “Don’t you dare go back out into the dining room again . . . for any reason!” she told him, “You stay in this kitchen until I tell you it’s OK to come out!”

(In fairness to the employee, there are three hand-sinks in their kitchen installed exclusively for that purpose, but that didn’t matter.  The floor manager definitely didn’t want the customer to see this cook again.)

Later, she went back to the gentleman’s table, and asked if they had decided which desserts they’d like.

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Copy of wormHere’s two stories about my least favorite industry type — the low-living (slimy) restaurant worm.  I won’t say where the following incidents took place, but they both happened a long time ago, and definitely not where I work now . . .

A great crowd, good food, a decent boss . . . this should have been an aces job.

Tips were more than adequate, and there were plenty of nice employee benefits — like free shift meals, free after-work drinks, and half-price on food and drink if you stopped by on a day off.  But then a restaurant worm wiggled his way onto the staff, and things began to change.

What exactly is a “restaurant worm?”  I’m not sure there’s a set, standard definition but to me it’s someone who really works at complaining, someone who finds trouble even if essentially nothing is wrong.  And they’re not satisfied until they have everyone else on the staff complaining right along with them.

We all bitch and moan — sometimes to relieve tension, other times because things really are screwed up.  But this person will complain when the sun rises in the East, simply because it’s their nature to piss and moan.

The “restaurant worm” may only be one in several hundred — or even one in a thousand — but you know what they say about just one rotten apple in the barrel.

Anyway, this new guy had been hired to work the bar, and at first he didn’t seem like a bad sort.  He was a graduate student at one of the local, prestigious universities — tall, good-looking, with a sense of humor and athletic background.

But it wasn’t long before it became clear nothing was ever going to be quite right for this guy.  Even rules and procedures that made sense, that made the place work . . . they just rubbed him the wrong way.   

Suddenly all those great employee benefits weren’t good enough for the new bartender.  It really bothered “Mark” (I’ll call him) that his girlfriend, and her friends, didn’t get the employee discount when they came to see him.

Why couldn’t he have the steak or shrimp for his employee meal?  Why did the free shift drinks have to end when the closing manager was ready to lock up?  Didn’t the owner realize that they were just getting started?

It was amazing to watch how easily the staff let Mark get under their skin.  “Psst . . . Pssssst! . . . Psssssst!”  He just kept working on them.

I felt like saying:  “Mark, if you’re going to behave like a little girl, where’s your little skirt?”  But at that point, I was just trying to keep my nose out of things, all of it.

It was sickening to watch, though, as Mark buttered-up the owner, and then once he left trashed him simply for being nice.

“He should be called Ferddie the Wimp!” Mark would say, commenting on how the owner (Ferddie) sometimes let things slide rather than be the bad guy.  “All Hail Ferdinand the Wimp!” Mark would laugh.  I supposed it was meant in negative contrast with someone like “Ferdinand the Great.”

It didn’t take long for the less-experienced staff to develop the same attitude.  Soon they were all just as bitter Mark — and suddenly everything about this job was wrong.  The rules were the same, the customers were the same, the tips were still great . . . but under Mark’s influence, some of the staff began to openly complain about how much this place sucked!

It spread like a cancer, like gangrene.  From one person to the next, until some of the staff had worked themselves up into a frenzy.  A few of them quit.  Content before, now they could no longer stand working here.

Some of the staff got fired because their attitudes had spun so seriously out of control.  (They weren’t as slick, or as good as Mark at being two-faced about it.)

I eventually left, too . . . tired of the downward spiral in everyone’s mood.  It was time to move on anyway.

But it was a shame to watch one restaurant worm so easily, and so single-handily start a lemming-like rush to the sea.  It had been a decent place to work, and as you know there aren’t a lot of those places out there.

(I later heard through the grapevine that the owner eventually fired Mark.  He caught Mark giving away entire trays of drinks to a cute waitress.  They were trying to steal enough money so that they could support their coke habits — they wanted to party together all night after work.  Mark was now cheating on his girlfriend.
I have to say that when I heard he’d been fired, I felt pretty good about it, even though the place no longer personally concerned me.)


“Worming” your way to the top . . .

I suppose another type of “restaurant worm” is the person who tries to get ahead not by being productive, or doing a good job . . . but by being a total kiss-ass.  By scheming, lying, and stabbing fellow employees in the back.

Copy of restaurant busserI was the bar manager at a restaurant when a new guy got hired to fill in here and there on the floor.  I actually helped him get the job . . . I put in a good word for him.   He was a customer who’d been unemployed for a while, and I thought he could handle the low-level stuff he’d be doing.  Busing tables, running food, stuff like that.

My mistake.  I guess I didn’t know him well enough.

Now all puffed-up because he finally had a job again, apparently this guy (I’ll call him Bob) wanted more.  There was a rumor circulating of a possible opening a little higher up in the restaurant.  Nothing was definite, but if this position did open up, Bob saw himself as someone in the running.

Since Bob would be in competition with two other employees, I thought it a little curious that suddenly he wanted to talk with the owner — he wanted to inform the owner of all the complaints he’d been hearing about one of his potential job-rivals.

During a meeting with managers and the owner, Bob proceeded to trash this other guy.

According to Bob, this other staff member had pissed off a lot of customers, and the place was losing a lot of business because of him.  But I’d seen this staff member loan Bob money when he was out of work.  At the bar, I’d watched him buy Bob drinks when he was broke, and even buy him meals.

And now Bob was throwing him under the bus.

What made it worse, as I listened, was that nothing Bob was saying seemed to be true.  I felt he was just making the stuff up.  It was total bullshit.

“Jeez,” I interrupted for a moment, “I’m on the bar those nights every week, and I never saw anything like that.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t,” Bob replied, “He always stops just before you come in.”

(In a twisted sort of excuse for him, I think it’s fair to say Bob probably had quite a few drinks before he showed up at the meeting.  He wasn’t as good a liar that night as he normally would have been.)

“Why haven’t I at least heard about it?” I asked, “Has anyone else noticed?  Who else has seen this?”

“Oh, everybody’s seen it,” Bob assured us, “But they probably won’t tell you.  They’re all afraid to talk.”


Everyone has noticed, but Bob is the only one not afraid to say something?  And we shouldn’t ask anyone else because they probably won’t want talk want to about it?

Later that same meeting, Bob also tried to bury his other competitor.

“It’s funny you should bring him up,” the owner said to Bob when he mentioned this second potential rival.  (By now the owner knew what was going on.)  “It’s strange because we were considering him for a new position.”

“Well, to be honest,” Bob said thoughtfully, as though just thinking of it, “I don’t believe you really want to use him.  He has all these hidden issues.”

And then he started in full-steam on the second rival.

I’ve never seen anything like this before.  I know it happens all the time, but typically it happens behind people’s backs, on the sly, and I’d never been in a position to see it first hand.  Rightfully unsure of his own limited merits, Bob was trying to worm his way up the restaurant ladder.

How can you sling bullshit and trash someone who has helped you when you were down and out?

Surprisingly, I believe Bob still works at the place.  He was still there when I left, although he’d been demoted, relegated to working one bussing shift a week (on the slowest night.)  I still can’t understand why the owner didn’t fire him.  Maybe it was out of pity.  Anyway, it was the first time I’d seen anything of that kind, and I remember thinking after the meeting that I hoped it would be the last.

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“BOOM-BOOM” (Pauline; Part II)

(Click here to read Part I)

(Not Pauline, but it gives an idea of how good she looked that Halloween.  Image by Sofia Sicilia.)

(Not Pauline, but it gives you an idea of how hot she looked that Halloween.  Image by Sofia Sicilia.)

Pauline and I continued to get together in our irregular way–once a week, then maybe not again for a month.  Then back to once a week, or at least every couple of weeks.

Once she called to say she was having a Halloween party next weekend, and she really hoped I could make it.  (It was very unusual for her to call.  Even when she was upset with her life, or simply wanted to see me, she’d just show at my apartment, or stop by where I was bartending.  A phone call meant this was important.)

I went dressed as a tourist, with sunglasses, a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, and a tourist’s map of Boston stuffed in my pocket.  I was totally out-done by everyone else.

When I arrived at her place late, it seemed they’d all put in more effort.  One guy came as this giant dildo, encased in a full-body, flesh-colored tube complete with flashing lights.  (It must have cost him a fortune.)

I really didn’t care.  I had arrived late on purpose; I was only there to make an appearance.  These were all her friends, and I only knew one or two of the people, other than Pauline.

Maybe because I arrived late . . . or as an outsider to the group, maybe I was “the new guy in town” . . . but for whatever reason Pauline was acting a little different.  In public we were always just having fun and clowning around, like we were good friends.  Now she was acting like I was her boyfriend.

As soon as I walked in the door, she gave me an overly-affectionate hug, and kissed me for a long time.  She looked absolutely gorgeous.

(There’s something about women when they get all dolled-up for Halloween–every one of them looks fantastic with their elaborate make-up and in costume, and the ones that look great normally now seem like movie stars.)

(Guess I use the "tourist) costume a lot -- this is about ten years afterwards.)

(Guess I use the “tourist” bit a lot — this is from Halloween around ten years after Pauline’s party.)

Within half an hour of my showing up, Pauline wanted to go straight to the bedroom.  She practically dragged me there.  And we stayed in her bedroom for the rest of the night; all night, even as the party was going on.

“What about your guests?” I asked at one point.

“It’s my party, my apartment,” she laughed, “I’ll do what I want . . . things were winding down anyway.”

When we were taking a break, she got up to get us more drinks.  Through the bedroom door I heard her talking with some of the guests as she made her way back.

“It’s only round two in there!” she told them laughing, and she went to say they were fine without her, and that I wasn’t through with her yet.

Truth of it was, she wasn’t yet done with me.

So Pauline’s and my relationship continued at the same pace.  But then came a month that for whatever reason we hadn’t gotten together at all.  It stretched into two months . . . but because of the haphazard way we were, it took me that long to notice something was different.

Now I was beginning to wonder what was going on with her.  I missed her, and I was thinking maybe I should call, if only to make sure she was OK.

Before I got to it, one night she was ringing my apartment buzzer.

“God, I’m so glad you’re home . . . !”  She hugged me close.

In my apartment, I was thinking she must have been doing a lot of coke again during our little break.  She was definitely wound up.  She tossed her jacket aside, and she didn’t actually pace the floor, but it seemed like she was frantically pacing around inside of herself.

She’d lost some weight since I’d last seen her . . . not too much, she was still a knock-out, but her face looked a little thinner now.

“I don’t want to have sex tonight,” she said, as she sat on the couch.  She had just finished one cigarette, and now she immediately lit another.  “I just want to chill out for a bit.”

“Is that OK?” she asked.

That was fine with me . . . I really did like her, and was happy to be just her friend for the night, if that’s what she needed.

She talked a little about how screwed up her life had become lately, and that she felt everything in her head was spinning in circles . . . but she didn’t offer any specifics.

After a couple of beers, she wanted to go into the bedroom and just lie down, and that’s what we did.  I held her until she finally drifted to sleep.

In the morning, the hormones took over for both of us, but this time the sex was different.  It was much quieter, and more openly affectionate.  And even though we were having sex, it was as though this time it was only another way for her to be held.

Then once more, after that night, I didn’t see her for a month or so.  She surprised me with a phone call three or four weeks later.

“Can you meet me today . . . this afternoon?” she asked, “I really need to see you.”  Her voice seemed shaky.

(Government Center, Boston MA.)

(Government Center, Boston MA.)

We met at Government Center, and walked around for a while, then sat on one of the low brick walls that circle the small groups of trees decorating the area.

“I’m so stressed-out,” she said, “I thought I’d be able to handle this better.”

She sighed with both hands in her lap, looking up at the skyline.  Her eyes were filling with tears.  She was barely short of crying.

Her voice broke as she started to say something more, and she seemed to slump a little.  I put my arm around her shoulder.

Then she told me that she’d somehow gotten pregnant, and she’d just had an abortion.

We were sitting side by side.  She was sobbing quietly with my arm around her shoulder.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she said, “It’s all that Catholic guilt.”

Now she reached into her purse and pulled out a card, sealed in an envelope.  “Don’t read this until you get home,” she said.  She looked at me with the saddest eyes.

Later, when I opened the card at home . . . she had written on both inside pages of the card and then over onto the back.  I could tell by the shaky handwriting that she was seriously upset when she wrote it–it was a lost, rambling, stream of consciousness note.

She wrote about her life and how she had been living it, and how she felt so hopelessly lost and was making so many mistakes.  And now what she’d just done . . . the abortion, or if she hadn’t done it . . . either way both had seemed such terrible, irreversible choices, but she’d been forced to choose one or the other.  And now she felt she was about to melt into a sobbing pool.

On the card she thanked me for being her friend, and said it should have been different for us, our timing . . . our ages should have been different.

She wrote that she knew none of this was making any sense, but she felt she had to write it anyway.

At the bottom, she’d drawn a picture of her face, with a tear dropping from one eye.

As we sat together at Government Center, I didn’t know what was on the card yet . . . but I knew right now she simply needed someone who cared about her.

“I didn’t think I could handle having a child at this point,” she said.  She couldn’t stop quietly sobbing.  “I didn’t think I could handle it . . . it wouldn’t be right to raise a child that way.  My life is so screwed up.  I’m such a mess . . . I know that.”

I had no idea what to say, or do.  I had one arm around her shoulder, and with the other hand, I was holding onto to her hand, squeezing it tightly.

“You’ll be OK, Pauline,” I told her, “You’re a strong woman.”

She continued to cry, and I tried to keep talking.

“You’re a really good person, Pauline,” I continued, “I know this has to be unbelievably tough . . . I know it’s hard . . . terribly difficult.”

“But you’re one of the strongest people I know, Pauline . . . and you’re going to be all right.

“Give it some time,” I said.  “You’re wounded, and you’re so very hurt . . . but you have to realize all this pain will wash away.”

“You’re going to be OK,” I said, “This too will pass . . . you know that.”

Side by side, I pulled her even closer against me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I just so needed to see you today.  I guess I need to be alone for while . . . but I really wanted to see you first.”

“Thank you,“ she said, trying to smile as she looked at me.  “Thank you.”

A long time later, when she said she’d better be going, we both stood.

“Pauline, are you OK?” I asked.  Now we were standing face-to-face, holding onto each other.  I had my arms around her.

“It wasn’t yours,” she said very quietly into my shoulder.  “I don’t know what I would have . . . .”  Her voice caught again, and she pulled me closer.

“You’ll be OK, Pauline,” I told her, “You’re a really good person, and a strong woman.”

“I’ll be home all night,” I told her.  “You can call me anytime you want . . . you know that.  Call me later if you want.”

“Or just stop over, like you always do . . . .”

She smiled and gave me a quick kiss.  As we turned to go our separate ways, we were still holding onto each others hand.  And we kept holding on until both our arms were stretched to their full length . . . and then we let go.

[Pauline ended up moving back to the mid-West not long after that.  We kept in touch by snail-mail, and an occasional phone call.  She eventually settled down, got married and started a family.  She opened a business in real estate, and did exceptionally well.  (Of course she did . . . in something like that, her energy, her personality must have totally floored them.)  

The last Christmas card I got from her was one of those with a family picture on the front.  There was Pauline, and her husband (she had told me that he knew everything about her time in Boston, and still absolutely adored her).  They were in the living room with their three young children, two girls and a boy.  That photo might be the favorite one I have of her . . . and I feel a little foolish for saying this, but that photo still warms my heart.  They all look so very happy.]

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