Sunday, June 20, 2010

Captain John Grant..Part 1

Captain John can be intimidating to men and those who do not know him. He towers above most people, and I would estimate him to be over six feet tall. He is a very large and round man that must weigh over 250 pounds. He often reminds me of the Gorton’s fisherman with his white hair and full white beard. Captain John’s eyes glow with happiness and the effects of the drink. His large round face and bulbous nose are rough and red from years of exposure to the sun. That redness comes alive with a certain flushed appearance as he begins to get more intoxicated.
When I first met Captain John, he was the magical age of 63 like so many other daytime patrons of The Abbey Bar. Captain John stood apart from the others his age because of his more spry and youthful appearance. His thick Maine accent made it difficult to understand his slurring words when he had been at The Abbey most of the day. He had been a tugboat captain for many, many years. His bellowing voice often echoed through the bar as if he were hollering into the fierce winds of the ocean.
He had spent enough hard time on the water to earn a place in the world of tugboat captains. First of all, everyone called him “Captain John Grant”, or some variation of that such as “Captain John”. Sometimes we would refer to him as “The Captain”, but he was never called just “John.” He would go to work for three weeks at a time, and then he would have at least two weeks off. Three weeks or more he would be tugging boats between Louisiana and the Caribbean, and two weeks or more he would be in the French Quarter spending a lot of the money he made. And he made really good money. Every few weeks Captain John went back to work broke and quite hung over.
He was known for living it up when he was not working. He was at The Abbey every day, buying beers for people, drinking as much liquor as he could hold, and trying to get in the pants of some pretty, young girl. He enjoyed dinners out at some of the best restaurants in the Quarter, taking up company from all walks of life. He once took Liam and me to dinner at Lola on Esplanade with a writer friend of his named Colleen. He wanted me to meet her, in hopes of getting me some connections in the journalism world.
Lola did not have a liquor license, but you could bring your own. We stopped at Whole Foods across the street where the Captain purchased four bottles of wine. We all met up for preliminary shots at The Abbey, yet no one questioned Captain John’s excesses. We all knew this man was often drenched in excess; it was just his way. We had to wait outside for a table, and the Captain obliged asking for four wine glasses. In his thirst and impatience, he jammed the cork down into one of the bottles where it floated on the top of the warm, red liquid stopping a good pour from making that glug, glug sound. He just tipped up the bottle and chugged. As he brought the twenty dollar bottle down from his lips, he wiped them with the back of his hand spreading the remnants of the crushed alcoholic fruit all over. Wine clung to the thick and burly white hairs of his hands and face. He handed the bottle to me, and I took his lead tipping it up and passing it on after I took several huge chugging sips. The four of us finished that bottle in about fifteen minutes.
The dinner experience was excellent that night from what I remember. The wine flowed freely, and the Captain even darted across the street for another bottle. I could not tell you what kind of wine it was except that it was not cheap and we were all swamped with its effects by the time we took a cab back to The Abbey to finish off a perfect evening with more shots of Jameson.
I will never forget the meal that I ate that night…and it is the exact same meal I get every time I return to Lola. For my appetizer, I had this excellent piece of grilled calamari. It looked more like a “steak” because they had taken a whole tube spitting it down the middle and opened it up onto the grill. Crosshatched grill marks covered the delectable squid, and it was spotted with a chili powder aioli. For my main course, I had the most delicious lamb stew that I have ever tasted. It was a huge bowl of succulent, dark stew with big pieces of lamb so tender they fell apart in my mouth, completed with soft, flavorful carrots, speckled with stewed tomatoes, and inundated with potatoes that had absorbed all the juices from that poor little lamb. It was fucking exquisite. Robust, full, and homey yet somehow it was also elegant and refined. I still dream about Lola’s lamb stew. It was a wonderful evening and a wonderful meal I will not ever forget.
Captain John Grant is surrounded by myth and mystery. I have heard that he killed a man in Maine, possibly with his bare hands. The word on the street is that he can never go back to Maine because of whatever happened. This mythical man somehow avoided a jail sentence in favor of being kicked out of the state of Maine. He must have been as well loved in Maine as he was in New Orleans.
Captain John was often the life of The Abbey Bar with his crazy antics. One evening he had been there most of the day when Genevieve came into work the bar. A random preppy type guy entered The Abbey, which is strange because a preppy guy is often uncomfortable and out of place here. Captain John, of course, begins talking shit and challenging him in every way short of asking him outright to step outside and fight. The young man in his collared shirt is looking up at this enormity of a man with trepidation. The Captain keeps getting closer and closer to this kid, puffing out his massively round chest. His voice loudly echoes his life’s exploits throughout the dark interior of the seedy bar. Apparently, the Captain is not quite large enough and he steps onto the first rung of the barstool. Staring down at Collared Shirt with disgust and bravado, Captain John says…

“I am seven feet tall and bullet proof.”

The young man does not respond, but looks up at this giant man with a leery look in his eyes. The Captain was searching for some kind of response, so he pushes a little harder. He steps up onto the second rung of the bar stool and bellows…

“I am eight feet tall and bullet proof.”

Still no response, as preppy attempts to ignore him casually taking another sip of his drink. I can see from my barstool that his eyes are wide. Captain John is partly blinded by alcohol and masculinity at this point. He is just begging for a response.
The Captain puts one hand on the bar to steady his whole self and he carefully lifts his giant legs onto the seat of the barstool. Now, imagine this enormous, round, grey man as he attempts in his drunkenness to climb unsteadily onto a tiny barstool. Genevieve is yelling at him to sit his ass down. But, the Captain does not listen to anyone when his mind is made up.
With his hand still on the bar, he has both feet on the tiny seat of the barstool. The barstool is way too small to accommodate his feet, much less his entire structure. But yet he stands up, surprisingly steady at first. We are all staring in disbelief.

“I am ten feet tall…”

He hollers as his arms begin to flail rhythmically back and forth in attempts to maintain his balance. Mouths are open in horror as we all watch speechless as he tumbles backwards falling off the barstool and onto the dirty concrete floor on his butt. Before anyone can even gasp, he leaps onto his feet making the old cowboy shooting a gun motion with his hands directed at the preppy stranger as he yells…


The guy in the collared shirt just walked right out of the bar without looking back. The next day, Captain John did admit he was a little sore. Maybe, just maybe he is not as young as he thinks sometimes.
Captain John would sometimes insist upon dancing with the women of The Abbey in the early hours of the evening. By this time, Gracie was often no longer behind the bar and most of the daytime regulars were rather drunk. They Captain would player older and slower music like Nancy Sinatra or Louie Primo, holding his hand out to a giggly young girl as he asked her to dance with him. Often, he would twirl her around and around the bar until they nearly collapsed with dizziness and alcohol. Although, they never did. The Captain with all his brute strength would twirl the girls around like a ragdoll in his playful arms.
One day he asked Misty to dance. She was sitting at the end of the bar by the door when he held out his hand like Rhett Butler asking Scarlet O’Hara to dance.



  1. Keen to read more about this - it sounds like the start of a great story.

  2. Captain John is my friend! Great read!

  3. "The Captain" is doing fine, recently retired himself to that old-folks tower near The Spotted Cat. He'd love a visit by friends from the past, he hangs out with Grace who's now at Tiki's (old Hide-Out). Here's a cool clip I made of him slam-dancing to the Richie's Pallbearer's at Checkpoints a few months back:

    1. I haven't seen Captain John for many years...often wondered how to get in touch....
      if anyone has his email or phone number, catch me at

  4. Captain John! One of Maine's myths and legends! Stay well, my friend....