BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING (Overwhelming response from Boston and beyond)

(Photo by John Tlumack, Boston Globe/Getty)

As medical help arrives, a passing stranger comforts a young victim.  (Photo by John Tlumack, Boston Globe/Getty)













“We just heard from Oscar,” Stefanie told me, “He and his crew are all fine.”

The news about the terrorist bombing in Boston had just broken, and Stef was working the bar.  We were all calling the club to see who had checked in because most of the staff was at the race.

“What about Joe?” I asked Stef about her boyfriend, Joe McCain. “Is he working today?  Is he downtown?”  (Joe is an officer with the Somerville Police.)

“I think right now he’s on the border between Somerville and Boston,” she said, “They’re trying to make sure no one slips over the line undetected . . . I don’t want to say too much about what they’re doing.”

“What about John B.?” I asked.

“No . . . haven’t heard from John yet,” she continued, “But your mom called from Maine.  I told her I spoke with you earlier.”

OK, so my mom knew I was alright . . . I’d call her later.  I thought of Taylor, the blues jam drummer.  His daughter, Elyce, ran in the Marathon last year.  Were they all waiting for her at the finish line?

“No, she’s fine . . . we’re all OK,” Taylor answered over the phone, “Elyce decided not to run this year.  Lucky for us, I guess . . . we would have been standing right where the first bomb went off.”

I called Stef again, and by now they’d heard from John.  He was the last one.  Everyone was accounted for and OK.

Bombing victim Nicole Gross wasn’t in the direct line of the blast, but she still suffered two breaks in her left leg, a right ankle fracture, and a severed Achilles’ tendon. (Boston Globe photo, reprinted in The Telegraph, UK.)

Bombing victim Nicole Gross wasn’t in the direct line of the blast, but she still suffered a left leg broken in two places, a right ankle fracture, and a severed Achilles’ tendon. (Boston Globe photo, reprinted in The Telegraph, UK.)











“My sister and my niece were working in the medical tent at the finish line,” John said when I finally got hold of him, “They volunteer every year.”

John was in a bar further down the race course when the news broke on the TV.  Suddenly a joint filled with almost 200 loud, raucous patrons celebrating the marathon went completely silent.  “You could have heard a pin drop,” John said, “The only sound in the place was the voice on TV.”

He immediately ran outside to get better reception and began calling his sister . . . but like everyone else, his cell phone wasn’t working.

I told him the cell service had been turned off in that area to prevent anyone from using a cell phone to detonate more bombs.  I’d seen that report on the national news.

“Doubt that was it,” John said, “Probably just the towers simply being overwhelmed.  All that sudden traffic . . . with everyone calling at once to check on people they knew.”

Turns out John was right . . . there was no shutdown of service, just an unprecedented user overload.

He told me that when he finally did manage to contact his sister by text message, she replied with a description of the horrific injuries coming into the medical tent.  “People have lost limbs, an arm or a leg,” his sister’s words said.  “Some are missing a foot, a hand, or fingers . . . it’s so awful . . . sometimes there’s nothing left but the bone.”

“Any way I can help?” John texted her again, “I can be there in five minutes.”

“NO!” his sister texted back immediately, “Do not come down here!!!!”

“They’re trying to get everyone out of the area … there’s nothing you can do here … it’s better you get out of Boston as fast as you can.”

Over one hundred seventy people suffered horrible traumatic injuries from the bombing attack, and three of the victims lost their lives . . . including an eight-year-old boy from Dorchester, MA.

Three young lives tragically cut short. (CNN photo)






A year earlier, Martin Richard had held up a sign calling for no more people in the world to be needlessly hurt.  “It’s unreal,” one of the boy’s neighbors said, “It’s unreal that this little boy will never come home again.”

(Photo New York Daily News)

(Photo New York Daily News)

Most of us are over-saturated with the horror of the attack, but today I’d like to look at a different side of the tragedy.  Here’s a very small sample of the stories and pictures of selfless heroism and solidarity that have been circulating on the web.

Dr. Vivek Shah was just 25 yards away from the finish line when the first bomb exploded — he was immediately called on to apply his medical skills.  “It’s nothing that you can ever describe,” he said. “In all of my medical training, I’ve never seen anything like the amount of trauma I saw yesterday on the sidewalk there.”  (Source: CNN News)

Carlos Arredondo was waiting at the finish line for a group of runners racing on behalf of fallen American soldiers.  His son had died in Iraq.  When the first bomb went off across the street, Carlos rushed to help the survivors, including a man whose leg had been blown off.  “I kept talking to him. I kept saying, ‘Stay with me, stay with me,’ ” Arredondo told Maine’s Portland Press Herald.

Carlos Arredondo had applied pressure to a man's leg wounds before medical help arrived.  (Photo by Charles Krupa/AP)

Carlos Arredondo (in cowboy hat) had applied pressure to a man’s leg wounds before medical help arrived. (This photo by Charles Krupa/AP was edited by the publishers to conceal the graphic extent of the man’s wounds. )











Bruce Mendelsohn, a former Army medic, was attending a Marathon party in a nearby building.  He immediately ran outside to assist the wounded.

(AP photo)

Comfort and relief for a worried wife. (AP photo)

Freelance photographer Andrea Catalano saw spectators run into their homes and come back with blankets and water for the victims.  One woman was sitting on the sidewalk uncontrollably sobbing because she was unable to contact her husband who was at the finish line.  Someone found her a working phone.  (Source CNN News.)

An injured woman in the hospital was looking for the ex-marine who had saved her life.   Known to her only by his self-identification as “Sgt Tyler,” and by the noticeable scar on his left arm, the man had told her:  “You’re going to have a scar, but you’re going to be OK.  It’ll be like my scar.”  (He’s now been identified as Sgt. Tyler Dodd, an Afghan war veteran.  Source New York Daily News.)

Some Boston Marathon runners finished the 26.2 mile grueling run . . . and then immediately after the attack ran another two miles to the nearest hospital to donate blood.  Are you kidding me?

At a Boylston Street establishment, The Forum, patrons said that many of the staff rushed out onto the street carrying towels to assist the wounded.  Others from the staff directed all the guests to safety.  (The day had begun at The Forum with a fundraiser for former New England Patriot player Joe Andruzzi’s non-profit charity which raises money for cancer victims.)

Speaking of Joe Andruzzi . . .

In a newscast from WHDH TV (Boston), we initially see a young girl struggling to help one bombing attack victim to a medical tent by dragging her over her shoulders.  (Click the picture to see the story.)


At that point, Joe rushed up and quickly carried the woman to medical personnel.  (As a side note, Andurzzi’s three brother were among the first fire-fighters on the scene in NYC on 9/11.)

(Photo by Bill Greene, Boston Globe/Getty)

Joe Andruzzi can get her to medical care faster. (Photo by Bill Greene, Boston Globe/Getty)












And it wasn’t only the first-responders and medical personnel in downtown Boston who rushed to help.  As word of the terrorist tragedy spread, people from all over the Boston area began offering aid to anyone who needed shelter, food or drink.  They began offering  places to stay in their homes and apartments.

With tens of thousands of visitors in Boston from foreign countries, some now found themselves shut out of their hotels, which were quickly locked down for security reasons.  These runners had no place to go, and were left without any resources in an unfamiliar city.

Ali Hatfield, a Kansas City, Missouri resident who had just finished the race, quickly discovered that with her hotel now locked down she was left out on the street.  Hatfield said she was overwhelmed until — “A sweet woman opened her home to us and gave us food, shelter and beer!”  (Source:  CNN News)

“We figure this is the least we can do,” said Heather Carey, who was offering a couch in the Boston University-area apartment she shares with her roommates.  “I saw a website with many others offering their spaces like we did,” she said,  “It is awesome to see so many people helping.”  (Source:  CNN News)

Sandeep Karnik pledged his one-bedroom condo near Fenway Park, offering any needing stranger his bed for the night.  “I can sleep on the couch,” said the 37-year-old Karnik, “This is unfathomable, terrible. If there is somebody in need, I can take them in.”  (Source:  WQAD8, Illinois)

There were hundreds and hundreds of offers of shelter, food and drink posted on Facebook pages.

A Back Bay restaurant tweeted the following offer:

Copy of BostonBombingTweet






Steven Colbert, in his always spot-on mix of humor and thinly-disguised serious note, quipped that the people responsible for this horrific act didn’t know who they were messing with . . . see his hilarious, yet strangely heart-rending comments by clicking the video below.  (Thanks to John B. for steering me to this clip)


In Brooklyn, NY light projections were used to display a sign of support on the side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  (The quote is from Boston son Martin Luther King.)

(From Yahoo! News)

(Yahoo! News photo)











And the Boston Red Sox’s centuries-old rival, the New York Yankees had this response to the attack on their sworn baseball antagonists — a banner of solidarity, “United We Stand” — on the front of Yankee Stadium.  (During their game against Arizona Monday night, the Yankees also played Boston’s famous eighth-inning Neil Diamond song “Sweet Caroline” following a moment of silence between innings.)

(Photo Huffington Post/Sprots)

(Photo Huffington Post/Sports)


It was an emotional moment on the ice Wednesday night as the Boston Bruins played the first professional sports contest in Boston after the attack.  Fourteen seconds into the scheduled singer’s rendition of the national anthem, the crowd took over. (Click the picture below to to watch and listen.)

One last story . . .

A couple who had planned to get married right after running the Boston Marathon decided to complete their vows despite the terrorism.  “We were hesitant.  We wanted to be cautious.  We didn’t want anything to destroy the plans that we had made,” the groom told ABC News.  After thinking it over, they decided they wouldn’t let the fanatics stop them.

After the race, just before the attack.

After crossing the finish line, just before the bombing.








Just a few hours later, refusing to be intimidated.

A few hours later, refusing to be intimidated.












Monday’s bombing was a senseless, disgraceful, cowardly attack on innocent people . . . but the quality of everyone’s response? . . . words fail.

 – – – – –

(Update: 4/19, 8:00 AM.)  At 6:30 this morning everyone in the neighborhood got a recorded emergency phone message from the City of Cambridge, which said in part:  “Due to the ongoing police investigation in Watertown (MA) and surrounding area, police are advising that all residents shelter in place.  MBTA service is suspended including the Red Line, Green Line and all bus routes.  Please stay vigilant and call 911 immediately if you have had any suspicious activity in your area.”

I know just before I went to bed (5:30 AM), there was breaking news that one of the bombing suspects had been killed in a Watertown shootout with the police that involved not only the two suspects’ gunfire, but bombs that they threw.  The other suspect is still at large in the area. 

I’m quite safe here . . . wish I could say the same about Joe McCain and other police personnel who have been up all night looking for this guy.  An MIT security officer was killed in an earlier shootout with the suspects in Cambridge, and a MBTA officer was wounded in separate incident with the suspects, but is expected to survive.  As much as I’d like to see both of these bastards dead, I hope they capture the remaining suspect alive . . . so he is forced to face his victims.

(Update: 4/19, 1:00 PM.)  Some controlled explosions are to take place soon at the suspect’s home in Cambridge, MA.  They’ve discovered something in our neighborhood they want to dispose of . . . and the lock-down continues in the Boston area.

Thanks to David Hayden from The Hospitality Formula Network and Best Restaurant Blogs for his offer of support and assistance to the Boston restaurant worker community.  David has substantial contacts and connections nationwide.  (I’m referring David to Patrick Maguire at Server not Servant . . . this is much more his area . . . he’s championed many good causes for Boston’s restaurant workers in the past.)

(Update: 4/19, 11:30 PM.)  It’s been a long day … a police standoff in Watertown, and a lock-down of the Boston area since this early this morning … but they finally captured the second suspect.  And at this point he’s alive, although injured.  Three young lives were lost far too early … the maimed and injured from a senseless attack continue their struggle … but at least they got the guys who did this …

Flags and wild cheering on the streets of Watertown, MA where a suspect from the Boston Marathon bombing had been hiding in their midst. With a massive law enforcement presence, the entire town had been locked down all day, and people had been confined to their homes while police searched door to door. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS)


Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 11 Comments

VIVIAN (an old-school barmaid)

Copy of playland

The Playland Cafe in Boston’s Combat Zone (closed now, but formerly just known as “Playland.”)

This post will be a quiet one . . . no bells and whistles, no big bang at the end.

Today we’ll look at a simple, thoughtful moment — and the lasting image of a veteran bartender doing something beyond what her job called for . . .

(I heard this story about The Playland Cafe second-hand from our good friend, Carrie.)

Carrie was in Johnny D’s last weekend and she was telling a group of us about an experience she’d had just after her college days.

We’ve known Carrie and her husband Joel for 15 years or more, back when they were both at MIT and first dating.  Carrie and Joel would show up at the club several times a week and the two of them were among our absolute favorite customers.

Joel helped me with my fraternity alumni website (Beta Phi Epsilon) ten years ago, and he helped me set up this blog.

They’re married now with two children, but neither of them has really changed.  (Except for Carrie’s fantastic new hair style — it rocks, Carrie!)

Anyway, Carrie was talking about when she used to bop around, looking for new things to do, new places to experience life.  One of her favorite choices was to head with her friends to an old piano bar in Boston’s Combat Zone (a two-block area where all the strip clubs were located.)

The Playland Cafe had a really seedy bar downstairs, but on the street level there was a somewhat-less-seedy lounge that was popular with local workers — bartenders, wait staff, dancers, and hookers taking a break from their street trade.  (Carrie described the upstairs as “overly fabulous” . . . but just to give you some idea, the joint was decorated with year-round Christmas lights.)

“Playland was turning into a transvestite hang-out,” Carrie explained, “Of course there was the gay bar below . . . but they had this wonderful piano bar upstairs and everyone would sing along.”

Apparently the old man tinkling the keys upstairs played every show tune in the book.  His music inspired loud, off-key sing-along chorusing and occasionally even drew a quiet tear from the motley crew huddled at the bar.

“You would look down the bar and most of the customers were old, kind of broken-down transvestites,” Carrie said.  “Tons of make-up, lots of gaudy jewelry and ill-fitting dresses that sparkled.”

“More than one of them would have their heads on the bar as the night went on.”

Carrie told about the night she took Joel to Playland with her, and how he embarrassed her by singing louder than anyone.  “I couldn’t get him to leave,” she laughed now, “We were there for over three hours, and Joel knew the words to every single song.”

One particular night, Carrie had stopped at Playland with some of her girl friends.

“Vivian was the bartender,” Carrie recalled, “I don’t think I was ever at that bar when Vivian wasn’t working.”

“She was an older woman, and so prim and proper looking.  Her hair was pulled back and her make-up was always perfect.  Her clothes were maybe a little out of date, but they were always pressed without the slightlest wrinkle . . . and she’d always wear these white blouses with a high white collar behind her neck.”

(Photo by Roswell Angier, Boston Pheonix.)

(Photo of the Combat Zone by Roswell Angier, Boston Phoenix.)

That particular night, Carrie’s friends happened to leave one by one until she found herself sitting at the bar alone.  Now she was surrounded by transvestites, tired-looking hookers and strippers, and a seedy collection of Combat Zone clientele.

“Vivian made sure I didn’t feel alone,” Carrie continued.  “She came over and talked with me every chance she got.  She was so charming and friendly in a polite sort of way . . . and then she became more open and confiding, like we’d known each other for years.  It was as though it was just her and I, and all the others around us were outsiders.”

(As Carrie continued with the story, I was liking Vivian more and more . . . it might be old-school, but as a bartender she had unfailing instincts.)

When Carrie was leaving, Vivian cautioned her to be careful on the street.  The Combat Zone was a tough area.  Aside from the hookers and drug dealers there were these shady, sometimes foul-smelling men lurking in every doorway and alley.

Copy of Copy of CombatZoneStreet

(A typical Combat Zone street at night.)

“You be careful,” Vivian told her.

Carrie drinks mostly club soda, so she wasn’t the least bit buzzed, but  it had to be intimidating to step out outside.

It was a dark street with unswept sidewalks and pools of water.  There were small clumps of debris that you carefully walked around.

And those dark figures lurked in the shadows.

Carrie tried to walk at a normal pace, not wanting to draw attention to herself . . . but as a young, college-aged girl she was clearly out of her element.

She heard a noise behind her!

At first she didn’t want to turn around.  What was that?

A few more steps, and she did turn around to see what might have just happened behind her back.  It sounded like the loud creaking of a door.

Carrie looked over her shoulder . . .  looked back down the street to the entrance of Playland . . . and she saw Vivian.

Vivian was standing there, leaning her head and shoulders around the half-open door.

She was just standing there, leaning around the side of the door, looking down to where Carrie now stood looking back at her.

She’d come out to watch Carrie walk down the street . . . to make sure that she made it safely to the end of the Combat Zone.

I had this wonderful image . . . the old woman bartender, with her unchanging prim look, that white collar . . . eyes darting protectively as her young customer navigated the short, dangerous walk away from her bar.

Carrie looked at her for a moment, and then gave a short wave, as if saying both, “See you next time,” and “Thanks for watching out for me.”

The Combat Zone is long gone now, and Playland along with it.  But as Carrie told this story I was thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d known Vivian.”  They really don’t make them like her anymore . . . and it’s a shame.

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 30 Comments

OF MICE AND MEN (Summer vacations and going semi-anonymous)

Copy of bartender“You should know you can’t keep secrets in this business for long,” said one of the bartenders at the club.

It wasn’t really a secret.  It’s just the way we’ve always done things.  If you want time off, you need someone ready to fill in the shifts before you ask the owner to get out of them.

I’m planning to take an extended summer break this year — the-mother-of-all-vacations.  Two, maybe even three months off from the club.  But I wanted a tentative bar schedule in hand when approaching Carla, Johnny D’s owner.

Apparently she overheard someone talking about it before I could speak with her.

Oh well, I’ll just tell her first-hand when she gets back from a family trip.  Not the way I planned it, but I’m still hoping my vacation will start in June.

I think I deserve the time off.  (Which I’ll spend working on the book I was supposed to finish in 2012.)  It feels like I’ve been working at Johnny D’s forever . . . for at least ten years my schedule was as the closing bartender six nights a week.  Another bartender closed the seventh night, and when the club needed her to become the floor manager . . . I closed seven nights a week for three straight months.

That’s not a casual or estimated figure . . . for over three months, for one quarter of the calendar year, I was the last person to leave.  And when I finally had one night off after that long run, I immediately started in again six nights a week for the next five years.

Yeah, it’s time for a good, long summer vacation.

I’ll probably still have to do the club’s weekly payroll, and I may not be able to fill one shift in particular (no one wants to work Sundays during the summer.)  But I’ll take what I can — I do really need to finish that book.

Going semi-anonymous . . .

Part of this summer vacation plan was to go underground once I came back.

When starting this blog almost three years ago, I was determined to put everything upfront . . . who I was and where I worked.  I wanted readers to understand that everything I was writing about actually happened and that all the characters were real.

Most other bloggers remain anonymous, and I understand the justification . . . no one wants to be caught bad-mouthing their boss, and it doesn’t make sense to criticize customers who are currently tipping you.

But being anonymous has also tempted some bloggers to just make stuff up.  (Certainly no one on my blogroll, but I can name a few.)

Let me give one example . . .

A couple of years ago I was reading a very well-known server blog.  There was one story in particular that caught my eye . . . it seemed so familiar.  As the post continued I realized that I had seen it before.

What this server was describing as a “personal experience” had appeared in print back in the mid-eighties in a national magazine.  It was told as a humorous anecdote that just happened to occur in a restaurant.

Every detail was exact.

The foreign customers were the same (they could have been French, Italian, Russian, Latin American . . . but no, they were the exact nationality of the original story.)

The situation was the same, how it all unfolded, and the dialogue was copied verbatim right down to the last words.

That punch line . . . the wonderful line that made me remember the story . . . the punch line was exactly the same.  (When I first read the line years ago, I remember thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d said that!”)

Apparently this server felt the same way, and couldn’t resist pretending it had all happened to him.

(I can see it unfolding . . . this old story must have become something of a restaurant urban legend.  The server was probably out drinking with other restaurant workers — someone told the old story as though it had happened to them — and the blogger must have thought, “Hey, why don’t I just say that was me!”)

Of course his “personal experience” was simply a rehash of an old restaurant tale.

Shame, shame.

In this business, if your eyes are open, you don’t need to make up anything.  It’s entirely too crazy, too unbelievable . . . but it’s all real.  There’s no reason to blow smoke.  Truth is stranger than fiction, especially in a bar.

That being said, I’ve definitely missed the advantages of being anonymous . . .

There are so many good stories that have been put on the shelf simply because I didn’t want to offend anyone.  I was trying to stay politically correct . . . not wanting to crap where I eat, so to speak.

But what if something really bizarre happens on the job?  Something embarrassing that might not reflect well on the establishment, or those involved — good people who just happened to do something dumb.  Could I really tell you about that now?

Everything will change when my vacation is over.  I’ll still have stories about Johnny D’s (as well as The Lark Tavern, The Cantina Italiana, or other places already mentioned in this blog.)  I’ll still have a work history . . . but now I won’t necessarily be writing from Johnny D’s.  I’m not going to say where I am.  I’m going undercover.

I’ll start easing into it beginning next week.  From now on I’ll assume the underground work anonymity of most bar/restaurant blogs.  I’ll be a bartender at large.

It may not be perfect . . . and my vacation might not turn out as lengthy as planned, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I can’t wait.

See you next week with more bar stories.

(Ed. note:  Thanks to Best Restaurant Blogs for citing our post “Danny” as one of their top picks.  Check out their webpage if you haven’t already . . . it’s great resource for those in business, and those who enjoy hearing about it.)

Posted in Life on a Cocktail Napkin | 14 Comments


Copy of Copy of ManHidingTwo waitresses from a nearby restaurant were in the club the other night talking their jobs, and they asked what I thought about life in this business.  When I responded, one of them said, “Well, you’ve always had a positive outlook.”

Yes, I have . . . and that’s not going to change, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have my gripes. Here’s one of them.

Years ago I worked in a place that had a large potted plant at the end of the bar.  It wasn’t real . . . made of plastic or something, and it sat on the floor like a Hawaiian-type tree, with large broad leaves.

For some reason it was stuck in a corner at the end of the bar, with a small space behind it between the bar and a side wall.  I only mention this space because it was Sam’s favorite place to hide.

Sam used to come in and try to sneak to a spot where the bartender had just left.  It was a long bar and he liked to complain that he couldn’t get quick service while the bartender was at the other end, busy with the waitstaff.  He really got off on this.

One day I spotted him standing behind the plant.  The plant was taller and bushier than the one pictured above, but that’s basically how Sam looked to me, standing behind it.  He was waiting for a chance to sneak onto a bar stool unnoticed.

I leaned around the corner.

“Hey, Sam . . . didn’t see you there.  Would you like a drink?”

He was clearly disappointed I’d seen him hiding, but quickly recovered.

“Well yea,” he said, “Wadda ya think I’m here for?”

“What are you here for?” I wanted to say, “Looks like you’re here to play hide and seek, Sam.”  But instead I just smiled, and left to get him his usual cocktail.

Sam played this little game every time he came into the place.  I mean ever single freaking time.  He’d make himself scarce until your back was turned or you were at the other end of the bar . . . then quickly snag a seat, and bitch to the person next to him about having to wait.

‘Why would he do that?” Colleen asked when I told her about Sam.  (This was late last night as we talked on the phone — I try to run all these stories by Colleen first.)

Why?  That’s a good question . . . I’m really not sure.  I think he must have worked in a restaurant at some point, because this was just an old manager’s trick.

I’ve seen managers duck behind the cash register whenever the bartender comes by, only to pop out when that bartender walks away.  Then they’ll sometimes wave their hand as though they really need something . . . but they always wait until the bartender is walking away, back turned to them.

I’ve seen managers talk with a group of people, turning their side to the bartender so that he/she has no opportunity to ask if they want anything.  They’ll talk and talk and talk, until the bartender finally gives up and walks away.  Then they’ll complain at the next meeting that the bartender wasn’t being attentive.

I’m not kidding.  I’ve seen it more than once.

“That seems childish,” Colleen said.

Yes it does, doesn’t it?

This this job is tough enough . . . staying on top of things in a busy bar.  We certainly don’t need someone trying to make it more difficult . . . with artificially created problems.

But it’s a game I’ve seen many times.

Anyway that’s my guess . . . Sam must have been a restaurant manager at some point, and not a very good one.

Sam was so well know for his childish tactic that we began referring to him as “Disappearing Sam.”

I remember one night I spotted him walking in the front door, and decided to play the game along with him.  I kept my eye on him no matter where he went.  I could see him stealing quick glances back at me, waiting for a chance to sneak up to the bar unobserved.

Finally I had to turn my back for something, but when done I immediately scanned the bar to see where he might have gone.  He was just settling onto a stool at the far end, so I rushed down to him.

“Hey, Sam,” I said cheerfully, “How are you?  Would you like anything?”

There was disappointment all over his face.  He hadn’t been able to sneak to a spot I didn’t see.

“Well, can you at least give me a minute to get settled?” he snapped.

“Sure, Sam,” I continued to smile, “You let me know when you’re ready.”

And I left him stewing there, clearly miffed that his little effort had failed.

Let me tell you . . . that’s one guy I really don’t miss.

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Copy of kitten(The first part of this story appeared here in early 2011.  Today’s post will start with a recap before revealing the rest!)

Honest, I’m not kidding.  She liked to be tied up . . .

One of the waitresses had brought a cute little kitten into the The Cantina Italiana, trying to find a home for her.  The kitten was so small I could hold her on the palm of my hand.  While we waited for someone to adopt her, we kept her in the office.

She was so frightened, she’d hide under the office desk until everyone was gone, and then edge out cautiously and crawl up onto my knee while I put together the next day’s banks. At least she had a name now . . . we called her “Tina” . . . after the restaurant.

I ended up taking Tina home with me, after it was decided she couldn’t stay in The Cantina anymore.  (See the whole story about burglar alarms, the cops, and a gun-toting owner at the end of this post.)

I’d had a cat before.  A former girlfriend and I owned a cat when we lived together in Tealle Square, so I thought I knew what to expect.  But back then my girl worked days and I worked nights, so our cat was rarely alone.

Now living by myself, and working as GM at The Cantina, I kept late hours.  I’d leave in the afternoon and by the time I came home early the next morning, Tina would be bouncing off the walls.  Frantic, and with eyes as wide as saucers she’d be jumping all over me before I got my coat off.

“Cats need company,” a date told me one night when we’d come back to my apartment.  “You have to do something to help her burn off the energy.”

“Just trail a piece of string in front of her,” my date suggested, demonstrating on the living room floor.  She dragged the long string across the floor, up onto the couch, back across the floor and up onto the chair on the other side . . . back and forth in a figure eight.

“Just drag the string around until she gets tired chasing it . . . then she’ll be exhausted, and back to normal.”

It worked.

After that, every night when I came home from work, I’d run the string across the floor, back and forth in a figure eight until Tina just gave up.  She’d lie on her back, panting.

Sometimes I’d tease her.  As she lay on her back, I’d dangle the string above her paws and she’d take exhausted swipes at it.

One night as she lay there, swiping with all four little paws  . . . I don’t know why, but I quickly looped the string around her legs.  Like a cowboy tying up a steer.

With her paws now bound together, I began to rock her back and forth.  I was just teasing her a little.

Tina struggled for a second and then a look came over her face . . . if a look can actually come over a kitten’s face.  She began to purr loudly.  With her mouth open and her eyes half-closed, she lay on her back purring like crazy.

(She liked being tied up . . . she was purring like I’d never heard!)

From that night on, it became our little routine.  I’d drag the string, and Tina would chase it.  Then at some point . . .  as if saying, “Enough of the foreplay!” . . . she’d lie down on her back in the middle of the living room, with all four paws up in the air, bunched together.  She was trying to make it easy for me.

She’d just lie there on her back, legs patiently raised, waiting for me to tie her up again.

Once I did . . . and I began to rock her back and forth, she’d just purr, and purr, and purr.


Why I wound up taking Tina home; why she had to leave the restaurant . . .

The reason I originally took Tina home with me — it was decided she could no long stay at The Cantina.  At first, we thought we’d adopt her as the restaurant’s house cat.  We’d put out a bowl of milk and a plate of dry cat food, and at the end of the night we’d lock her in the office.

Fiore Colella, owner of Cantina Italiana and Ristorante Fiore, both on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End.

One night the owner, Fiore Colella, got a call from the alarm company.  (Whenever a restaurant alarm goes off, the company dispatcher immediately calls the owner, and the police.)

It was four o’clock in the morning and Fiore lived in Medford about twenty minutes away, but now he got up — got dressed — and headed into Boston.

He took two handguns with him.

Outside the restaurant, Fiore could hear the alarm continue to ring.  He’d driven all the way from Medford, but the police still hadn’t shown up, even with the central Boston Police station only a couple of blocks away.

Fiore waited in his car as the alarm kept clanging.

Finally he decided to go inside by himself.

I have to tell you a little about Fiore — he isn’t afraid of anything.  Once he and some friends were hunting wild boar on a game preserve when a squat, 250 lb. animal came charging out of the bushes at them.

The other guys were running away, climbing up trees to escape . . . but Fiore just stood there as the raging boar charged.  He raised his 45 cal. revolver, and fired twice — BAM!  BAM! — the boar fell dead at his feet.

Another night, Fiore was giving his nephew (who worked as a bus boy) a ride home.  It was two o’clock in the morning and they were on Causeway Street, just before the Tobin Bridge.

They were stopped at the traffic light when suddenly a large, looming man appeared on the dark, deserted street.  He was approaching them fast, now only 10-12 feet away, and then he whipped out a meat cleaver from behind his back. As he raced toward them, he raised the cleaver high as though preparing to smash the driver’s side car window.  A wild man with a meat cleaver only a few feet away!

Fiore calmly lowered the car window.  He stuck a semi-automatic handgun out window and told the guy, Get the fuck outta here or I’ll blow your fucking head off!

The guy dropped the cleaver, and ran away like a madman.

When the bus boy told us about it the next day, his eyes became wide with fright again, as though it was happening once more.

Born and raised in Avellino, a tough provincial town in southern Italy, Fiore has ice water in his veins.

Anyway, the police still hadn’t arrived and the alarm kept ringing, so Fiore got out of his car and walked toward the restaurant. He had a gun in each hand.

Inside, he discovered it was only Tina. No wild charging boar, no maniac with a meat cleaver.  Fiore stood face to face with a frightened little kitten.

She’d managed to get out of the basement office by working her way up through the crawl space . . . and once upstairs she set off the motion detectors.

Copy of cantinaFiore locked her up again (this time in the liquor room.)  He called the alarm company, relocked the front door and headed back to his car, ready to go home.

Outside the restaurant, it had been an hour and a half since the alarm first went off, but still no sign of the police.

Now Fiore noticed a police cruiser parked behind his car on the street.  “About time!” he must have thought as he approached the cruiser.

“What took you so long?” he demanded as he walked up to the police officer.  It was a woman officer, and she turned toward him.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“What took you so long to get here . . . they called the station at the same time they called me!”

“Oh, that’s a different department,” the uniformed woman replied calmly.  “I’m with traffic . . . you’re parked in a handicapped zone.”

In his haste, Fiore had parked in a $75 handicapped spot . . . and the officer was writing him a ticket.  As they argued, the police still hadn’t arrived to check on the alarm.

“I have to send something to the Herald about this,” I told Fiore the next day.  Howie Carr had a column in the Boston Herald back then, and I was sure he’d be interested in the ticket story.

“Naw, don’t want to ruffle any feathers,” Fiore said.

But that’s the story of why Tina had to leave The Cantina, and why I took her home with me . . . the kitten who liked to be tied up.

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