One of the great things about working in bars and restaurants is the people you work with.
Restaurant employees are just not your typical working Janes and Joes.
Maybe it’s because this business is a little out of the mainstream. Maybe it’s because so many restaurant workers have other jobs, or are just doing this until they reach a larger goal. Musicians, artists, teachers, kids in law school. They keep the place alive.
Today’s post is about two part-timers at Johnny D’s who consistently make work interesting.
Rick and The Stanley Cup
Four weeks ago I posted a story about one of our doorman, Rick Sabbag (real profession, art landscaping; he works for himself). I told you about his over-the-top reaction when after thirty-nine years the Boston Bruins finally won another Stanley Cup.
Checking IDs at the door the night of the final game, Rick’s couldn’t take his eyes off the large screen TV’s. People had to stand and wait if a crucial play was in progress.
It had been a long wait for Rick. He had cheered the Boston Bruins as a young boy, and then for thirty-nine long years afterwards suffered the Stanley Cup drought. He’d gotten married, had three boys (Nick, Tim, and Brandon), and still no Stanley Cup.
When the Bruins finally won Rick went a little nuts. He was bellowing at the top of his lungs, arms raised high, spinning around in circles to high-five complete strangers.
It turns out that was just the beginning of Rick’s celebration.
Two weeks later in his home town of Lincoln MA, there was a Fourth of July parade, and Rick and his buddies cobbled together a Boston Bruins float.
Rick rode through the streets balanced precariously on the front of the flatbed, clapping his two large paws together, yelling, “Go Bruins! . . . Go Bruins! . . . Go Bruins!” Until he was hoarse.
The crowd that lined the streets cheered him wildly which prompted Rick to yell even louder, as if he needed encouragement.
Then somehow — maybe it was because Boston Bruin’s legendary player Cam Neely also lives in Lincoln, or because of some of Rick’s other connections that I won’t mention here — but Rick managed to get his picture taken with the coveted Stanley Cup.
(For a hockey fan, this is like touching The Holy Grail.)
Here’s Rick (on the left) with Cam Neely . . . and the mythic trophy.
Way to celebrate, Rick.
Henry Parker, Renaissance man
Henry Parker (our part-time house photographer) is an interesting guy. He makes a living in custom woodwork, but on the side he films and produces documentaries for the local cable access network. (SCATV just won a national award for Overall Excellence.)
Henry travels more than anyone I know, both for photography and pleasure. He’s covered most of the United States, and he’s also been to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, India and the far east, Senegal, Cambria, Icenya and the Ivory Coast.
When Henry’s in Africa he doesn’t rent a room in ordinary hotels. He stays at the homes of local folks, and sometimes he visits the outlying areas. On his last trip, he stayed with tribes who live in mud-and-grass huts — no running water, no plumbing, no electricity.
But for twenty years before all that, Henry’s background was in the martial arts.
This made for an interesting scene one day, in the park across from Johnny D’s.
Every year in that park, the Somerville Arts Council puts on “Art Beat”, a two-day festival filled with artisan booths.
Last summer a booth had been set up by a local martial arts academy. They were offering free instruction, trying to entice people to join their school.
A black belt from that school was standing in front of the large crowd, demonstrating a variety of self-defense techniques.
For those of you who don’t know a lot about the martial arts, I have to explain one common misconception. When most people hear the term “black belt” — they don’t know the whole story. Certainly it’s a mark of merit, to be taken seriously, but having a black belt is a little like having a college degree. Which school you receive it from is significant.
A degree from Harvard or MIT indicates a different level of competence than one from, say, Littleville Junior College.
I’m sure this black belt was skilled in his own right, but no way was he in Henry’s league.
Henry is a world-class fighter. He studied with Grandmaster Suk Chung, a two-time world champion in Tae Kwon Do. Henry himself has so many trophies he can barely close his closet door without one of them falling out.
“That’s it?” I asked Henry one day in jest, “That’s all the trophies you have?”
“No,” he replied, apparently unaware I was busting his balls, “There’s more behind the couch and the chairs.”
“And I keep the plaques under the couch.”
Anyway, Henry was in the crowd watching as the black belt went through his demonstration. Maybe something about the guy rubbed Henry the wrong way. Maybe this black belt was just too self-assured, a little cocky.
Then the guy asked for a volunteer from the audience. He wanted to demonstrate his techniques.
Henry stepped forward.
“Go ahead,” the black belt told him, dressed in his crisp white uniform as the two stood across from each other, “Go ahead. Try to hit me.”
Henry was in street clothes; the instructor had no idea who he was.
Henry bounced a quick punch off the karate master’s forehead, pulling the punch expertly so the guy knew he’d been hit, but wasn’t harmed.
The guy was a little stunned as the crowd oowed and awwwed, but he recovered.
“Ok,” he told Henry. “OK. Not bad . . . not bad.”
He gathered himself once more into a fighting stance.
“OK,” he told Henry, “Now try that again.”
“Pop!” “Pop!” “Pop!”
Henry tapped him with three more karate strikes.
Now the guy was completely flustered and the crowd had become embarrassingly silent.
Then somehow he managed to switch back to demonstrating the techniques on his own. Without help from the audience.
Later he pulled Henry aside. “You show promise,” the black belt said, “You should join our school.”
“Naw,” Henry told him, “I think I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
He never told the guy the whole story.
Those are two right on stories. I was laughing my ass off about the guy putting that black belt in his place. Funny stuff. Glad you gave me his name and his picture so I don’t rub him the wrong way on the street. I’m still laughing.
You and your sports stories, but I admit this was entertaining. Your photographer seems like an interesting man.
Damn how did your doorman pull that off? I’d give a weeks paycheck for a photo next to the Stanley Cup. It was a great series this year, not just because Boston won. They were all great games. Go Bruins!
Love the story about the karate face-off. We all see situations where we wish someone so much impressed by themselves was taken down a peg or two, and your photographer did it in a smooth way. Would loved to have been watching in the crowd. How funny.
I never tire of reading your stories…well, maybe sometimes like the drink chapter!
Ahh, the bar life. You’ve got some cool stories. Rick is a pisser and looks like noone messes with Henry. it makes for a fun read. Nice blog. I’m coming back.
A wild ride tho crazy environs I’m still reading. Great blog.
I felt like I was there watching when the black belt got his comeupance. You made us feel part of it like we were involved. Thanks for the humorous story. Your friend is a fascinating man.
the universe seems more tolerable with someone like henry in it.
Starbucks8294: Henry is about the most mellow guy you’ll meet … God help you if you start trouble with him, though. He only tapped the black belt a few times to make a point. If it had been a real fight it would have been a very, very short one.
LLylak: OK, OK … I’ll lay off the sports stories for a while (although I didn’t really think of this as a sports story.) Thanks for continuing to read.
DAbertini: I’m not much of a hockey fan, but I from what little I know about the sport I have to agree. That was a great championship series. No score throughout one of the early games, then the Vancouver Canucks sneak in a goal with seconds left to win. Overtime games. That kind of thing. The ups and downs of the series was spellbinding.
Jim Desisto: That day with Henry in the park is one of my favorite stories.
Colleen: Colleen . . . Let it go! So I made you reread ONE chapter three times — a “Drinks” chapter for a forthcoming book. (Ok, maybe there were others.) : )
TTBearGuy: You name refers to TT The Bear’s in Cambridge, just down the street from The Middle East Club? You’re a regular there, or were at one time?
Tom Cap: Thanks for the kind comment!
DarleneD: It was priceless, a true story that couldn’t have been scripted better.
Kate: You and I met a lot of people like that in our time behind the taps at The Lark Tavern. Jackie Rabbit and Maude the Broad, George the Polack, etc. You’re right, they made it all worthwhile. I’m sure you were gritting your teeth in places with this post … when I reread it later I saw some rough spots. (ed. note: Kate is a professional editor and a master of the language. Now if SHE’d only write!)
I knew Henry well and sparred with him many times at suk chunks in Harvard square. Great guy