BLUE MOON DINER, and hitting on Big Sam’s girlfriend

(This isn't the Blue Moon Diner, but in Upstate, NY they all looked the same inside -- photo by Brian Beachum.)

(This isn’t the Blue Moon Diner, but in Upstate NY they all looked the same — photo by Brian Beachum.)

Before becoming a bartender, I took time off from my college years to travel as the road manager of a local rock band.  The band was called “Wool” — Neil Diamond was our producer.  Here’s a story from those days . . .

This was supposed to be an easy gig.

We were playing that night in Watertown, NY — where the band’s leader, Ed Wool, and his lead singer Claudia both lived.

The job was so close it was almost like taking the night off . . . we knew we’d be home early, right after the show.

As it turned out, I was lucky to make it back in one piece.

Once the sound check was over, I didn’t have much to do while the band performed.  I wandered around the nightclub, still checking the sound but mostly just drinking and having a good time along with the crowd.

There were two really hot girls at the club that caught my eye.  Some of the band’s popularity extended down to me, and to be frank, in those days I took advantage of it.

I was having a great time, talking and dancing with one of the girls . . . but when she went to the ladies room, one of the guys from the crowd came up to me.

“You know that’s Sam MacDonough’s girl?” he asked pointedly.

It was weird.  The guy seemed nervous to even be telling me this.  It was as though he was worried about just talking to someone on the wrong side of Sam.

“You’d better hope he doesn’t find out,” the guy continued,  “ . . . He’ll fucking kill you.”

Watertown is a small town, and this sounded like something you’d hear in a small town.  How could I respond to such a warning out of the blue?  I laughed out loud, of course.  You know young men . . . they never want to show fear.

“I don’t think so,” I said boldly.

“I’m taking karate,” I said.

Now that was true . . . I was studying karate, and I was training under a hard-core sensei.

(Masataka is now a 9th Dan, and Vice-Director of the International Goju-Ryu Association.)

(Masataka is now a 9th Dan, and Vice-Director of the International Goju-Ryu Association.)

Masataka Muramatsu taught old-school Goju-Ryu.  We were breaking boards and smashing bricks in his class.  At the end of my Kata, Tensho, Masataka would break a wooden pine board over my forehead, just to demonstrate how tough we were.

In the middle of winter, as we finished each class dripping in sweat, we would run barefoot through the snow outside, wearing only our open karate uniforms.

Those uniforms were often splattered with blood.  We were tough.

“I’m really not worried,” I told the guy, even though I’d actually only been studying with Masataka for about a year.

The fact is, as everyone in martial arts knows — until all the moves become absolutely engrained — you’re not going to fight as well at the beginning as when you knew nothing!

At the beginning, instead of reacting instinctively, you’ll probably fight stiffly . . . thinking about what you’re doing, rather than just fighting.  It’s a basic rule — don’t go looking for trouble just because you think you know karate, especially when starting out.  Don’t test this stuff in the real world until you’ve actually mastered it.

But I didn’t let any of this good advice stop me.

“He’ll have his hands full,” I said boldly to the guy, “This Sam . . . whatever his name is.”

But as the night went on, I saw other people looking at me a little funny.  It seemed like a lot of people in the crowd were thinking the same thing as the one who warned me.  They were probably asking themselves:  “Who is this fool hustling Sam MacDonough’s girl?”

“Exactly who is Sam MacDonough?” I asked the bartender after a while.

The bartender shook his head before answering.

“I don’t know what you’ve got in mind,” the bartender said, “But I’d wouldn’t be hitting on that girl, if I were you.”

According to the bartender, Sam MacDonough was a local tough guy who had killed two men in a bar fight.

Copy of crowbarApparently the two men tried to ambush Sam one night as he walked out of another club.  One of the men hit Sam over the head from behind with a crowbar . . . but that was just the beginning of the fight.

Sam shook his head a bit — took the crowbar away from them, and then he killed them both.  He later escaped any charges because it was self-defense.

I walked away from the bar with my head spinning a little.  The barman’s words put a whole new light on things.

“You’re not afraid of Sam, are you?” the girl asked when I wanted to know if she was in fact his girlfriend.  “He can’t tell me what to do!” she said, “ . . . Come on, let’s dance!”

Now I was dancing while looking over both shoulders . . . but I was too proud to back down.

Beside, Sam wasn’t even there.

I drove this girl home in the band van, and she invited me upstairs.  She was one hot, foxy babe, and her hands were all over me as we tongue-kissed at her front door.

I looked over my shoulder once more, and went upstairs with her.

I will tell you, if you’re going to die, this was almost worth it.

This girl loved to ball.  And it seemed there wasn’t anything she wasn’t ready, willing, and able to do.  When I say she got down . . . I mean all the way.

Anyway, it was time for me to head home, and with the fun part over I began thinking about her boyfriend again.  I was thinking that she and I caused such a buzz at the club, word must have gotten back to him.

I was thinking that maybe he knew I’d gone home with her.  Maybe he’d followed me.  Maybe he was waiting somewhere for a chance to beat the living shit of me.

Maybe he wanted to kill me.

I pictured myself being run off the road on the deserted stretch of Route 81 that I had to take home.  (In that image, I saw Sam driving an old pick-up truck.)

I decided to stop at the Blue Moon Diner on the outskirts of Watertown just to calm my nerves, and think things over.  It was probably something like five o-clock in the morning.

I stuck my head in the door first, and looked around.  The diner was mostly empty.  Someone had given me a rough description of Sam MacDonough . . . and it didn’t look like he was here.

But I was sitting at the counter eating scrabbled eggs and ham when two new guys walked into the place.

One of them fit Sam’s description perfectly — he was a thick-necked, barrel-chested guy with a military-style haircut, a crew cut on top and shaved close on the sides.  He was wearing a T-shirt.

The two of them gave me a vicious look as they slide into a booth at the end of the diner.

They kept glaring at me as I finished my breakfast.  They were leaned over opposite sides of the table, and they were talking in low voices as they watched me.  “That’s Sam MacDonough,” the counter man said, as though to warn a perfect stranger about nearby danger.

“I’m screwed here,” I thought, “I’m totally fucked!”

I figured I’d be better off if they came after me in the diner.  At least there’d be witnesses, and maybe someone would step up to help me.

The men’s room was right opposite the booth where they were sitting, so I walked down towards it, trying to show no fear.  I figured they’d have to get out of the booth just to stand up, and that would give me an extra split-second to react.

But they just sat there glaring, watching me ominously and whispering to each other as I stepped inside.

Now I figured they might jump me when I came out.  I had a plan to kick the men’s room door open when leaving, but to hold back on stepping out, hoping to get them to jump too early . . . maybe throw them off a little.  My mind was racing.

Still inside the men’s room, I tried to get myself ready to fight.  I threw punches and kicks in the air.  I grabbed hold of the sink and pulled on it as hard as I could, trying to get my muscles ready to respond.

(This is something like what that towel dispenser must have looked like ... before someone took a baseball bat to it.)

(This is what that towel dispenser may have looked like … before someone gave it a serious beating.)

There was one of those old linen towel dispensers in the men’s room . . . the kind that has a big roll of linen inside, and you turn the crank to roll out the fresh part.

It looked as though someone had worked over the towel dispenser with a baseball bat.

The metal on the front and both sides was badly dented, almost caved in . . . and the entire dispenser had been knocked so hard that the long bolts attaching its back to the wall were now fully exposed as it hung there at an angle.  The whole dispenser looked shaky.

“Not my problem,” I thought, and I reached up to grab the dispenser with both hands.  I was going to pull on it hard, just like I had on the sink.

But pulling on it just finished off what someone else had started.  The whole dispenser gave way . . . it went crashing to the floor . . . and those long securing bolts pulled out a good chunk of the plaster wall with it.

The whole thing hit the floor with this huge crashing noise.

“I’ve got other problems,” I told myself, and I turned to the men’s room door, leaving the dispenser and part of the wall on the floor.  Sam MacDonough and his buddy were waiting for me.

I kicked the door open as planned, holding back before sticking my head out.

They were both still sitting in the booth.

I walked back to my seat trying not to visibly shake.  I saw the one guy go into the men’s room, and when he came out he and Sam immediately began talking again in low voices, still watching me.

I paid the bill and walked out of the diner expecting to be jumped at any moment.

All the way home on Route 81, I was driving with one eye on the rear-view mirror.  There had been a pick-up truck in the diner’s parking lot, and I knew it had to be Sam’s.

It wasn’t until I was almost home that it hit me . . .

The two of them had a different look on their face when I came out of the men’s room.  The one guy had immediately gone into the bathroom and when he came out they both looked a little concerned about something.

I finally had to laugh out loud . . . finally relieved . . . suddenly understanding what must have happened.

Someone probably told them that I knew Karate — and they had no idea that the towel dispenser had been previously worked over with a club, or something.

When that guy went in, what he saw was a smashed metal dispenser with the living fuck beaten out of it, and a gaping hole in the wall where the bolts had pulled everything down along with it.

They must have thought that I’d done it . . . maybe with with a spinning karate kick.

(I had glared at them when I walked out of the men’s room, but it was only a return glare out of instinct . . . at the time I was scared shitless.)

But the destruction on the men’s room floor and the round hole in the wall must have made them think twice about jumping me . . .

By the time I thought of this I was almost home, but I was still laughing as I got out of the van.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 3 Comments

IN THE WEEDS (with fresh-squeezed OJ)

Christopher's, Cambridge MA

(Christopher’s, Cambridge MA)

Bartending should be fun — and it is fun, especially when there’s music in the background, a lively crowd, and those dollar bills keep piling up in in the tip jar.

It can also be hard work, a daunting challenge . . . and that’s just part of the fun.  

It’s like playing in the big game.  You want things to be busy, you want to be out on the field . . . you relish the battle.  You get to play hard, and win.

But sometimes, as the old saying goes . . .“Sometimes the bear gets you.”

Today’s post is about one of those times . . . a shift where I got my ass kicked.

Pride . . .

“Can you work for me this Sunday Brunch?” Sarah asked.

I hated the idea of getting up early Sunday morning after closing Christopher’s Saturday night, but Sarah was a sweetheart.  And she never asked for a day off.

“My mom is coming in from New York,” she said.

How could I say no?

“Sure,” I said without hesitating, “No problem.”

And honestly, I really believed it would be no problem.

Sarah was a good bartender, but she didn’t have the experience yet to work anything like a busy weekend night.  Once, when she did have to fill in . . . she struggled even in the slowest station.  So she worked two of the quieter nights during the week, and then was alone on the downstairs bar for Saturday and Sunday brunch.

“If Sarah works the brunch,” I thought, “How difficult can it be?”

You have to understand I was younger then, and perhaps a little cocky.  I’d been at Christopher’s for less than three months, but before that I tended bar in really busy places.

Once, at Cafferty’s in Brockton MA, the customers at the bar had risen to their feet —  not once, but three times to give me a standing ovation during an especially busy shift.

Cafferty’s had three bars, live bands, a capacity of 1000 customers — and I worked alone on the third, smaller bar called “The Pit.”  The work station in The Pit was a perfect three-foot-spin . . . everything you needed was only a half step away, and you could just stand in the middle, spin and turn with both arms and hands flailing away non-stop as you slung out the drinks.

I remember when those people at the bar stood up to applaud, and cheer, and laugh . . . I thought, “Damn, I AM good, aren’t I?”

What do they say about “PRIDE going before . . .


“The Fall . . . ”

“Sure,” I told Sarah back at Christopher’s, “Sure, I’ll cover the shift . . . no problem.”

I was right about one thing; it wasn’t easy getting up that Sunday morning.  I was tired, hung-over, and my ass was dragging but I made it back to Christopher’s on time.

As I worked on the set-up, my feet were back underneath me, and now I was feeling in complete control.  Christopher’s might be packed on weekend nights, standing room only —  but I knew the brunch was at a much slower pace.

The doors were about to open when the first inkling of trouble appeared.  Someone from the kitchen set a large box full of oranges on the bar top.

“There you go,” he said.  And he walked away.

The box was about the size of a beer case.  It was overflowing with oranges.

“The juicer is in the back closet,” one of the waitresses said as she walked by.

A box of oranges?  The juicer?

Now it came back to me . . . when Sarah asked me to work the shift, she’d said something like:  “The fresh-squeezed orange juice can be a pain-in-the-ass . . . but other than that, it’s kind of slow at the bar.”

The only thing I’d heard was, “It’s kind of slow at the bar.”  The pain-in-the-ass part had gone in one ear, and out the other.  I’d been too cocky to really listen.  I’d been too confident to ask any questions.  And now I was about to pay, big time.

A box full of oranges?  A juicer?  Are you kidding me?

(I’m sure with their brunch as busy as it is now, Christopher’s uses jugs of fresh-squeezed juice from Odwalla, or some other fine “fresh-squeezed” company.  But this was when Christopher’s brunch was just starting out . . . and yes, the bartender was expected to hand-prepare each glass of juice.

Sarah must have made up a quart, maybe two quarts, maybe a gallon of juice ahead of time . . . just to get a jump on things.  But I hadn’t asked, she hadn’t said anything, and now the doors were opening!)

“Two fresh-squeezed OJ!” one of the waitresses shouted immediately . . . and the nightmare began.

(Do you know how long it takes to hold half an orange down on a spinning juicer — one after the other — until you have just one glass of fresh-squeezed OJ?)

“Two more fresh-squeezed juice!” another waitresses yelled as she approached the bar.

The box of oranges was sitting on the beer cooler, the cutting board and knife were beside it.  I stood with a sliced half-orange in one hand, holding it down . . . and with the other hand I was cutting the next orange.  I felt like Lucy in the chocolate factory (see the video at the end of this post.)   I couldn’t keep up.  I was falling behind!

“Four fresh-squeezed!” a waitress shouted.  I was getting buried!!  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to dig myself out.

Copy of orangesMy hands were smeared with fresh juice and pulp. I felt my shirt sticking to my back.

“Two more fresh OJ!” another waitress called out.

I was bent over the juicer, unable to get to my customers at the bar.  I was all alone on the deck a sinking ship, and the water continued to rise.  I was going down!!!

“Five fresh-squeeze juice!” another waitresses shouted, and this time I didn’t even bother to look up.  I just kept my head down, trying to make more of that freaking fresh OJ.

So much for being a hot-shit bartender.

Needless to say there were no standing ovations for the bartender that brunch.  Some customers watched with a look of pity as they saw their barman completely in the weeds.

It’s a lesson that’s not easy to forget.  Being fast behind the bar isn’t just about raw speed.  It isn’t only about multi-tasking, knowing the next step, or economy of motion.

It’s also being aware what to expect . . . and setting up properly.

When the brunch was over, one of the waitresses came up to the bar to give me her tip-out.

As she handed me the folded bills, she casually said:  “Sarah will be back next week, right?”

I’m sure it wasn’t done on purpose, but her words were like salt thrown on a fresh wound.

“She’d better be,” I said.  My hands were still sticky, but I gave my best attempt at a good-natured smile.  “ . . . For everyone’s sake, I sure hope so.”

(Click the image below to see Lucille Ball “In the weeds.”)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 17 Comments

AN IRISH SHOT (and two other notes)

Last week’s video showed how to use a traditional “four count” to pour an exact shot.  Apparently in Ireland, they have their own count.  This just in from our good friend and fellow barman on the emerald island, Diarmaid D:

(original humor by Dairmaid)

(original humor by Diarmaid)


1 (gulp) – 2 (gulp) – 3 (gulp) – 4 = an Irish shot.

(And of course, it’s not my counting method . . . Johnny La La taught me how to free-pour at The Lark Tavern many years ago.  I’m sure he would have approved of this variation.)

Diarmaid (pronouced “deer-mid” — a traditional Irish name) was a member of Johnny D’s staff back in the mid-nineties.  He and his lovely lady, Sarah, will be flying in from Ireland to Boston for a return visit next week.  We can’t wait to tip a pint of Guinness with him.  It’s been too long.  (If you’re ever anywhere near Donegal, Ireland be sure to visit Doms Pier 1, where Diarmaid pours the best pint around.)


Cleveland neighborhoods . . .

The spotlight was on Cleveland last week, and not in a good way.  Headline after headline told of the young girls who had been kidnapped and held hostage.

People who lived nearby were horrified and shocked that this had happened in their community.

“It’s really hard to imagine it happening here,” Ruben Hernandez told me.  Ruben is our Heartland Payroll supervisor, and he grew up in that neighborhood.  He still lives only a few block away.

“This is so unlike the neighborhood,” Ruben said.  “It’s really a close community where people look out for one another.”

Ruben recalled a childhood incident where there had been a fire at one of his neighbors homes . . . aside from the damage to the building, the family’s Christmas presents had been destroyed.

(Ruben celebrating his 25 birthday last October)

(Ruben celebrating his 25 birthday last October)

“I remember being nine or ten years old,” Ruben said, “And me and my friends were all out shoveling sidewalks and driveways to help raise money for that family.  Everyone chipped in, and those kids had new presents in time for Christmas.”

Ruben also told the story about when his father had a stroke, and his mom was trying to care for him after he left the hospital.

Apparently one family after another would bring food over to the Hernandez home.  Someone’s family would bring the prepared meals one morning, and then the next day someone else would send something more.

“All the families were leaving meals for us,” Ruben recalled, “Usually it was the daughters that brought it to our house.”

Copy of Gabby“They would drop it off on the porch in the morning” he said, “And it was like it never crossed their minds that they were doing something unusual, or special.  It was just the way everyone in the neighborhood took care of each another.”

We have to send out a special congratulations to Ruben — he’s about to start his own family.  He and the beautiful Gabby (pictured on the left) are expecting their first child this coming November.  (So you finally got around to it, Ruben . . . good for you.)


“Chombo’s” great idea . . .

After the Boston Marathon bombings, the One Fund Boston was set up to accept donations for the victims.

Our weekend bar back, Craig “Chombo” McK, came up with a unique way to gather more support for the fund.

Craig is a trucker by day (delivers wine for an area distributor), and he’s also a musician, performing frequently on the Boston scene with Julian Hammond, Dave Hodgman, and Tim Mitchell.

Their band, the Fantastic Liars, had a gig scheduled at the popular night spot, Radio . . . and Craig thought — “Hey, why not play music, have fun, and raise money at the same time?”

By the time other people had picked up on the idea, something like twenty bands had joined Craig for that night’s performance, and they raised over $7000.  (Click below to hear Fantastic Liars — that’s Craig on the right, on saxophone.)

We may be adding more specific details when I talk with Craig again over the weekend . . . but way to go, Chombo!

(Original pencil drawing by Nate Boucher.)

(Original pencil drawing by Nate Boucher.)

(Here’s an original tongue-in-cheek drawing of Craig — done on a cocktail napkin of course.  This was drawn at the bar by former Johnny D’s staffer Nate Boucher, who was also an art student.  Craig’s reaction to the drawing — “Hey guys, it’s not a caricature, it’s a portrait,   . . . and a fine one at that!”)

(Back next week with more bar stories.)



Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 3 Comments

How to “Free Pour” like a Pro in 10 minutes (or less)

Copy of Pour LiquorEver wonder how professional bartenders easily free pour so accurately — one ounce, one and a half, or two ounces — all without using a shot glass or jigger?  How long does it take to master this skill?  Check out our video below and you’ll see it takes far less time than you’d think.

At Johnny D’s, Oscar is a kick-ass bartender . . . but because the club uses a measured pour, he never perfected doing it free-hand.

A couple of weeks ago I laid down a challenge.  I told Oscar that he could quickly develop this skill in less than ten minutes . . . and learn it so well that he’d immediately be able to train someone else.

Last week we actually tried it, and at the end of this introduction you can watch the video we made of our project.

You’ll see Oscar now free-pouring like a champ, and also training Brittany, a waitress at the club with no prior bartending experience.

(You’ll also learn how to do this on your own . . . in only a few minutes.)

Quick background on the “four count” . . .

Most bartenders use a standard “four count” to free-pour — a count of  . . . 1 – 2 – 3 – 4.  The “four count” is preferred because it breaks down so easily —  “1” equals a quarter shot, “2” equals a half shot, on up to a full “4” count — which is the house pour, or one full shot.

The most common mistake when teaching this count is to put the “horse before the cart.”

I’ve seen bartenders make the trainee start pouring blind immediately.  The trainee pours blind into a tin cup, then empties it into a measuring glass to see how they did . . . short pour one time, then too much the next.

Then they try again.

And again.

And again.

It’s much faster to simply pour into a long row of shot glasses, over and over.  Just keep pouring into a shot glass while counting — until you have the exact count down like a musical beat.  Then measure how you do with a blind pour, using that learned count  . . .


Do bartenders spend their life counting . . . ?

While it’s useful to count at the beginning, just to establish the rhythm — once you have your exact count and you’ve been using it for a while — you won’t actually be counting at all.

To start, when practice is over and you’re actually working behind the bar, you’ll use a “silent count” — (as Brittany does at the 5 minute mark in the video.)  Very quickly that “silent count” will become a “muscle memory.”  Your wrist and arm will know the exact four-count just by the “feel” of the time your arm is raised.


The video . . .

First, I have to say that I’m not a great camera-man.

I also want to remind you (once more) that Oscar is teaching this lesson less than ten minutes after he’d learned the method himself.  (This is the way we planned it . . . we wanted to demonstrate how easily the skill can be both learned, and taught.)

I guess I’m pointing this out because there sure are some rough spots in the video.  There are things that we would have changed if we’d done it a second time.  (For example, towards the end of the video, Oscar is interrupted by a woman wanting to purchase a Johnny D’s T-shirt.)

And if we’d done it more than once, maybe we would have cut down on the beginning of the lesson, where Brittany is just learning the feel of the bottle.

But we had already decided . . . no editing, no corrections, just one chance.  So once the camera started rolling we were committed to “keep on trucking,” just to prove that learning how to “free-pour” is a ten-minute task.

(Actually, in this case, an 8 minute and 29 second effort.)

So here it is . . . if you follow the method in this video, you’ll be free-pouring like a pro in no time at all.  (One suggestion:  Enlarge the video to “full screen” and you can better see how accurate Brittany becomes at pouring exact shots.)

Thanks to Johnny D’s and owner Carla DeLellis for the use of her facilities and staff.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 21 Comments


Screen shot from "Donnie Brasco." (My choice for the most realistic dialogue of any Mafia film.)

(Screen shot from “Donnie Brasco” — my choice for most realistic dialogue in any Mafia film.)


I’ve been lucky in this business.  I’ve always liked the places I worked . . . always thought highly of the regulars, the staff and the owners.

In part, that was simply good fortune — lucking out in getting into the right joints.  But also in part, I do take some credit.  If I didn’t like where I was working . . . I left.

There’s a few jobs not listed in “Places I’ve worked” — because I left so quickly I don’t count them.

This post is about one of those places . . . looking back, I was happy just to get out of there alive.  I mean that literally.

I should have known . . .

Seriously, I really should have known.  I’d met this North End restaurant owner while I was still working at The Cantina Italiana.  Tino was a regular at The Cantina’s bar and I’d often talk with him.

One night he was telling me about a guy who had slipped on the wet tiles in the men’s room at his place, and then decided to sue him.

“That fucking c*ck-sucker was trying to ruin me,” Tino was saying, “I couldn’t believe the balls on this guy!”

Tino went on about how their lawyers had exchanged angry letters, and about a trial date that had been set for several years down the road.  Then Tino stopped talking.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The guy did me a favor,” Tino said, “ . . . He died.”

The guy did him a favor?  He died?

At the time I didn’t think too much about it . . . I was busy tending bar and Tino wasn’t the only customer.  I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention.

But as I continued to work in the North End, I began to catch onto the lingo.  It was slick, colorful, packed with nuance.  “He did me a favor and died,” . . . that was Tino’s way of saying he got rid of the guy.

All those guys really did act and talk like in the movies, but it was the movies that copied them.

Everyone in the North End was using the phrase “Fuhgeddaboutit” fifteen years before it showed up in the film, Donnie Brasco.  (Apparently the film’s director spent weeks in NYC’s Little Italy hanging out with the wise-guys in restaurants and coffee shops, trying to get their expressions and behavior down pat.)

Remember that gory scene in the movie, “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” — where a guy dies slowly in the dumpster after being shot up the ass?  That was art imitating life.

A regular at the bar described that gangland-style punishment to me years before the movie was made.

When he saw the expression on my face, he quickly said something like:  “The guy will live, but he’ll walk around with a bag [colostomy bag] for the rest of his life.”

I know enough now to realize that the victim probably won’t live.  That regular– a connected guy — was just trying to make his lifestyle more palatable with the easily-shocked bartender from the outside world.

It’s like when they say, “I never hurt anybody who didn’t deserve it.”  These men live in the neighborhood, they have families, and kids who go to the local schools.  It’s somehow better (if anyone knows what they do), that what they do is almost a civic contribution . . . as in the guy deserved it.  A problem for the community has been eliminated.

It took me a while to catch onto these things . . . I almost didn’t smarten up soon enough.


Anyway, now I was working in Tino’s place . . .

One night Joey Cigars (who I also knew from The Cantina) was at Tino’s bar.  He and Tino were both drinking pretty heavily.

They continued to drink after I’d given last call, and the two of them sat there drinking after I locked the front door and began cashing out the register.

They started arguing about something and then Tino just waved his hand in the air, turned and started walking toward the back of the restaurant.  “You don’t walk out on me!” Joey said.  The words snapped like a whip.

But Tino just kept walking toward the kitchen.

Joey got up and followed him.

By the time I passed through the kitchen on the way to the office with the night’s cash drawer — they were in a major argument.  It had something to do with Tino not showing Joey Cigars enough respect.

“I’m just as big as you are now!” Tino was yelling directly in Joey’s face.

(That was the alcohol talking . . . because no way this was true, even I knew that.  Joey had served fifteen years in prison for his alleged involvement in the killings during the Mafia wars in Boston.  He might less active now, but Joey was a made guy . . . all the other wise-guys treated him with the up-most respect.)

“You . . . you’re fuckin’ nothing!!!” Joey yelled back at Tino.

By now they were both screaming drunk and red in the face.  Tino’s fists were clenched like he might take a swing at Joey.  They were moving, circling each other as they continued to shout at the top of their lungs.

“You’re making a fuckin’ mistake!” Joey shouted.  Joey had one hand in his pocket.  His hand kept moving slightly in that pocket.

They both looked half-crazy as they screamed at each other.  “I’ll fucking kill you,” Tino screamed.  Joey glared back, hand still in his pocket.  “Fuck you!” Joey yelled, “FUCK YOU . . . you’re DONE!  YOU’RE THOUGH!!”

I’d just walked from the quiet of the closed restaurant into a god-damn combat zone — they were both about ready to explode into violence.

Joey started to move that hand out of his pocket.

“Jesus Christ!” I thought, “He’d going to shoot him!”

Everything flashed though my mind in a split-second . . . an entire movie clip of what was about to happen.  If Joey shot Tino . . . I was a dead man.  No way he was going to leave a witness.

Joey liked me, or at least he didn’t dislike me . . . which was pretty close to a “like” for Joey.  There had been an incident at The Cantina where I’d butted heads with some people maybe I shouldn’t have . . . but in his own way, Joey respected that.  He’d taken care of what might have been serious fall-out.

After that, Joey and I always got along . . . but no way he’d leave a witness if he shot Tino now.

“Joey . . . It’s not worth it, Joey!!” I shouted.  I stepped almost between them, just on the side, facing Joey.  “Joey . . . calm down, it’s not worth it!” I yelled.  I was yelling for my life.

“Tino . . . what are the fuck you doing?” I yelled as I turned back to him, “Are you out of your mind?”

“You’re done!” Joey kept yelling at Tino, “You’re done!  You’re done!”

“Fuck you!” Tino shouted back, “Fuck you! . . . Try me!

I was panicked.  They were still circling and shouting at each other, and I was just to one side, circling with them as they moved.

Either way, . . . if something happened, I was dead.

If Joey shot Tino I was dead.  If Tino killed Joey, the wise-guys would probably kill both of us just because I was there.

“Knock it off!” I yelled at them.  I was desperate.  “You guys are friends . . . What the fuck is going on . . . what the fuck is going on?  It’s not worth it!!”

I put a hand on Joey’s shoulder for a second, not really pushing him back but just trying to keep some distance between the two of them.  He glared at me as though he might shoot me first.  He was mad beyond all reason.

Joey,” I yelled, “Listen to me . . . Please listen . . . let it slide!  It’s not worth it, Joey . . . It’s not worth it!!”

Looking back now, what I really should have done was just tackle Tino and take him down to the kitchen floor . . . and hope that Joey didn’t just start shooting at us both.

But I wasn’t thinking clearly . . . everything had just exploded into this yelling and circling, and there was a killer instinct from both of them you could actually smell.

Somehow my screaming at them (like the panicked bystander I was) began to slow things down.  They were still yelling back and forth, but now they didn’t seem to mean it so much.  Now they were merely holding their own ground, unwilling to budge, but no longer on the verge of killing each other.

Joey still had his hand in that pocket, but his arm wasn’t as tensed, as though he were about to bring out a weapon.

“Jesus Christ,” I yelled, “This isn’t worth it . . . Jesus Christ, let it go . . . you’ve both been drinking . . . you can talk tomorrow!”

Joey turned and started to storm out of the kitchen, but then he stopped and spun back.
“You’re dead!” he glared at Tino, “You hear me?  You’re dead . . . DEAD!”

As Joey left, I saw fear cross Tino’s face for the first time . . . although he continued to bluster.

“I’m as big as he is . . . ,” Tino said to me as Joey stormed out.  But you could tell he was really worried about what he’d just done.

My shirt was sticking to my back.  Now that it was over I could feel the acid rush of adrenaline screaming through my body.

Tino continued to talk trash as we locked up the restaurant, but he couldn’t hide the worry on his face.

On the way to the subway station, I stopped at The Bell in Hand Tavern for a shot and a beer, and ended up staying until they closed.

Joey and Tino apparently sat down with the bosses the next day.  Joey was still furious, but the bosses wanted a peaceful resolution.

They told Tino that he had to leave Boston . . . he wasn’t supposed to come back for a year.  That was his punishment for disrespecting Joey.  Tino owned a restaurant, and his family was in Boston (he was single, but all his immediate relatives were here) . . . and now he had to leave, for at least a year.  That was their decision.

I heard all this from a few people at the bar.  Quite a while later I heard that Tino would sneak back on weekends sometimes to visit his parents.  The bosses all knew about it, I was told . . . but they let it slide.  They’d made their point.  Tino spent the following year living in rural Maine.

The day after that alleged sit-down meeting, Tino’s brother took over the running of the restaurant.

“Sure, . . . I understand,” Tino’s brother said when I gave my notice a week later.

I’d only been working there a couple of months, but with Tino’s blind temper and his exact-copy brother now running the place, that already felt like a couple of months too long.

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