Chapter 12 Kismet


The first time I saw Johnny Donahue was when I walked into my new job at the Black Garter. I was there to start as a new cocktail waitress. It was a cheesy neighborhood bar with peanut shells on the floor. That was a big thing back in the 70s. Johnny was behind the bar having a drink, Dewar’s on the rocks. He was the skinniest, whitest Irish guy I had ever seen. He had a crooked smile and straight brown hair. But the charm, the Irish charm just oozed out of his body. Right from the beginning I knew I was in trouble. He wasn't handsome but there was a roguish attractiveness to his face.  A vulnerability in his eyes and a rakish smile. He was very charming and very funny. He flirted with me from the second we met. The Black Garter was very accepting of drug culture.  I was smoking pot on a regular basis as most of my friends and acquaintances were doing. I had a dealer named Kevin.  I don't know if he's still alive, so I won't use his last name. I distinctly remember his full name because of writing him a check every week for $20.00 for an ounce of marijuana. I just think that's amusing on several levels. First, that I wrote a check. I don't know what the prices are today, but $20.00 for an ounce of Columbian Gold was probably cheap. Back in the day we rolled our joints by hand. We bought papers and there was an art to rolling the perfect joint. I had very small hands so I was very good at it. It was just understood that when you had a break at the bar you could go outside to the back parking lot and have a couple puffs on a joint. Then go back to work. One night it's very busy. On my break, I went out back with some people. We shared a joint. Johnny decided to play a joke on me that night. There was a bottle of beer in the cooler that had formed some ice on the bottom. When I went to pick up my tray of drinks for a table, he had put the drinks and that bottle of beer with the ice on my tray. Of course, the beer bottle was tilted. I didn't see the ice on the bottom. I just saw the tilted bottle. I started to get paranoid, anxious. My first thought was maybe the pot had been laced with LSD. I began to ask Johnny and people around me, “is that bottle tilted or am I seeing things? “ They were all in in on the joke. Everyone said, I don't know what you're talking about. Finally, after getting me sufficiently worked up they all started to laugh. Johnny picked up the bottle and showed me the little bit of ice on the bottom. That was the environment that I was working in, which I have to say I liked very much. Fun and games. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. The Seventies! Whenever business was slow Johnny would teach me how to make cocktails. The clink of the ice, the free pour of liquor, the shaker, it was an art form. The caveat was if I made it, then I had to drink it. I only tried to learn one or two drinks a shift. I remember so well his knowledge and skill. Then people drank very classic drinks. Yes, there were shot and beer drinkers. Yes, there were people that had scotch on the rocks or a glass of wine. However, there were also people that liked Sidecars, Old Fashioneds, Manhattan’s and Martinis. I learned every one of those classic drinks from Johnny. I continued to work there a few months. Even though I was a waitress, it was like going to night school learning to be a mixologist. Johnny and I had been sleeping together. Naturally, he had the sexual prowess to match his charm. He also had this aura of a tragic hero. I always felt that he had some heartbreak buried deep in his soul. On the outside he had the banter and the sense of humor. However, it was evident that his innermost being was fiercely guarded. He was also a rogue. I knew he was but I loved him anyway. I was spellbound. ​I believe we each have a major pattern to resolve in our lifetime. A major portion of my life was spent uncovering, forgiving, resolving that pattern. I still had decades to live before I would recognize my pattern. One day we heard there was an opening at the Hotel Casey. This iconic hotel had opened in 1911. At the time it was the largest hotel in Northeastern Pennsylvania with eleven stories and 250 rooms. Johnny and I both applied for the day bartending job. It was considered a landmark of the city of Scranton and one of the top hotels in the Northeastern United States. I did not tell Johnny that I was going to apply for the bartender job. I was in the middle of my interview when Johnny walked in. He was there to interview for the same job. The look on his face was priceless. Three days later the Hotel Casey called me and told me I had the job. It was a day job so that was good. But it was also boring because during the day it was slow. The Hotel Casey bar sat on the corner of Adams and Lackawanna Avenues. There were three entrances to the bar. You could come in from a door on Adams Avenue or you could come in from Lackawanna Avenue or you could come in through the lobby. The bar was a beautiful mahogany oval shaped masterpiece. The logistics of the design meant if I was at one end of the bar and someone came in the other end of the bar, I would not see them. The result being I had to walk around the bar constantly. Round and Round, in fear that I wouldn’t see a customer come in. At one point they offered me night shift. The night shift would be busier therefore my tip income would be much larger. I met a lot of very important people. Very well-known people, famous people, odd people. I also made phenomenal tips. To sweeten the deal, they gave me a hotel room to live in. When I got off work at one or two in the morning, I could just go up in the elevator to my room. The Hotel Casey was comparable to The Plaza Hotel in New York City. Marble staircase, Chandeliers everywhere. They had a coffee shop, a barber, a fancy restaurant. The Gold Room and Mei King Restaurant were built in the French Renaissance style. Originally it was just the Gold Room. The Chinese restaurant was added to attract more diners. There was a bell hop named Marshall. Everyone else called him Peewee but I called him by his given name. A woman named Gina worked in the coffee shop. She became an unconventional mother figure for me. She was Vito Santoro’s girlfriend. Vito was Benny and Jimmy Santoro’s father. Since the early 1900’s the Hotel was known as the unofficial Democratic Headquarters. Many politicians and famous people have stayed there. Just to name a few, Orson Welles, President Nixon, Nat King Cole, Robert F. Kennedy, Jerry Lewis, and Joe DiMaggio. About 1962 the hotel started to go downhill. In 1969 three doctors from Dunmore bought it, Frangelli, Scrimalli and Petrillo. Dr. Petrillo was Pete’s Uncle. Pete Petrillo was quite a character. Downtown Scranton was a little rough back then. I felt safe with all my male friends and living in the hotel. I was making a lot of money working there. I would make $50-$100 a night in tips. Almost all aspects of American society in the 1970s was marked by restlessness. My enjoyment of freedom for the first time in my life also led me to some bad habits. Drinking too much, overspending and a devil-may-care attitude about life in general. Addiction often goes together with avoidance. The opposite of that avoidance would have been self-reflection. I was not ready for that. Instead, I spent too much money on status symbols like clothes, jewelry, and weed. At 23 years of age, I had no inkling that not only was a recession coming, but my income would also take a nose dive.

“It often occurs to me that we love most what makes us miserable. In my opinion the damned are damned because they enjoy being damned.” Patrick Kavanagh

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