A Man With a Good Name
You have to think, or at least hope, that the state coroner’s office had no idea how unfortunate it would look when it gave the dreaded John Doe designation to a man found dead of natural causes last month in the bed of his Quincy apartment.
Everyone knew it was Nikos Tsoukalas. It was his apartment, his bedroom, his clothes. The problem was, his body had begun decomposing, and when the medical examiner asked for dental records, his boss told them point blank, “Nikos? He never went to any dentist.”
So “Unknown” it was, which seemed insulting for a long list of reasons, not least because Nikos Tsoukalas, 64, worked until his dying day, for well over 40 years, at a place called the No Name Restaurant on Boston’s Fish Pier. A man who spent most of his adult life cooking in a restaurant that offered no name wasn’t given the dignity of his own name in death. It all felt woefully wrong.
His body languished in the morgue, languished as Tsoukalas’ siblings called the states from their homes in Greece, Australia, and Canada, languished as the No Name managers pleaded to give their cook a proper funeral and burial even without a positive ID.
You can’t blame the state for following rules that are undoubtedly meant to protect the honor of the dead. But you can’t blame Nikos Tsoukalas’ family and friends for taking offense. They knew things that no state bureaucrat ever could.
They knew that Tsoukalas pined for the colors of the sky and the sea in his native Greece. They knew that he often talked philosophy while relaxing in the upstairs dining room at the end of his shift.
He loved the lottery scratch tickets he believed would someday make him rich. He craved all sweets, but especially baklava. He sent money back to his native Greece. He cooked a lamb every Easter for the staff, and learned to speak Spanish so he could banter with the Hispanic help.
Late Monday night, as a few stragglers came into the No Name from the wind-whipped pier, Tsoukalas’ colleagues shared these thoughts and more about a man who was anything but unknown.
“I’d ask for coffee, and he’d always say, ‘For you, a fresh pot,’ ” said Zoi Katikakis, beaming as she talked. “He treated me like a sister.”
“He was like a brother to me,” added Maxine Klidaras, who would often bring Tsoukalas Greek food from her home.
He never married and had no children and, over and again, the workers at the No Name described the restaurant as family. You take community wherever you can find it, and Tsoukalas found his here. “People who work here, they stay a long time,” said Demetrios Klidaras, the manager.
Which speaks to the No Name itself. An entirely new neighborhood, a fashionable section of this city, is sprouting all around it. From the front door, a visitor can see the signs for Del Frisco’s steakhouse and the palace that is Legal Harborside, the glassy exteriors sparkling in the neon lights.