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    Wednesday, June 22, 2005

    Remembrance Of Things Past

    Yesterday's post prompted me to reflect on other things that are gone, specifically places in Iowa City that are no more that I wish were still around. Here's a top ten list of those. This is a long post that I should have broken up into two, but didn't. Tough. Note: Midget sex stories ahead.

    BJ’s Records – The closet thing Iowa City has ever had to the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, the best record store in the world. A great selection, decent prices, and always good music playing. I bought the first copy of Springsteen’s The River sold in Iowa City at BJ's.

    Breadline – The best Iowa City restaurant no one ever went to, though not for lack of trying on my part. I took dates there, took friends there, went to eat there by myself. Still, even on a Friday night there was never more than a handful of people. Maybe that’s what happens when your theme is the Great Depression. The tables didn’t match each other, the chairs didn’t match the tables, and the tableware didn’t match. (The idea being that because it was the Depression, it cost too much to have coordinated d├ęcor and plates and such.) The food was great, the service tolerable (way slow, though always pleasant to look at). Just didn’t last.

    Burger Palace – If you lived in the area while the Palace was open, you know the song.

    “Everybody loves Burger Palace
    Appetizing Burger Palace
    Everything you’re looking for
    Hamburgers and so much more
    Your good taste will recall
    Burger Palace has it all
    Come on in and have a ball
    Listen to your good taste call for
    Burger Palace!”

    Or, as I used to sing while working there:

    “At the Palace
    The Burger Palace
    The hottest spot north of Dallas
    At the Palace
    The Burger Palace
    Burgers and French fries were always the best buys at
    The Palace!”

    The food was good (if you ever saw a reference to Snack Packs in Bloom County, that was us – Breathed used to come in all the time), the service eccentric (who can forget Doug the foot fetishist running the register), and the clientele, uhm, bizarre.

    One of my favorite things to do was sweep and mop the dining room floor after lunch rush. Seriously. You got to hear the best conversations. One time as I was mopping, Quasar (how many of you hear that and know who I am talking about – probably none) was standing in the middle, waving his hands. Quasar always waved his hands, talking to the air. Always. Everywhere he went, he was animatedly carrying on a conversation with no one. (Rumor had it that he was riding in a car, carrying on a conversation with a friend, when the car hit a truck and the friend was decapitated. I’m sure rumor was untrue.) Anyway, on this occasion, I noticed something different. Quasar had quit moving his hands. Instead, he held his (constant companion) cigarette at arm’s length, staring at it. Suddenly he whispered “Fuck You!” to the cigarette, threw it to the floor, and turned and started walking away. But no sooner had he done that then he turned back around again, picked the cigarette up, apologized to it, and walked out waving his arms talking to the air. Or the cigarette.

    But that’s not my favorite mopping the floor story. On another occasion, as I neared a booth where a man and a woman were sitting, I saw him place a small box on the table. She opened it, revealing an engagement ring as he asked her to marry him. This struck me as pretty cool, as something they would always remember, as – wait. She’s frowning. I kept mopping, and heard the following:

    “Uhm Steve, we’ve only been going out for two weeks.”

    “Yes, but I feel like I know you so well.”

    “Uhm Steve, we only went out twice.”

    “Yes, but they were such great dates, and I know they meant as much to you as to me, because why else would you ask to meet me here today?”

    “Uhm Steve, I asked to meet you here because I thought it best to tell you in person that I didn’t want to go out with you anymore.”

    Silence. Dead silence.

    “But I, but”

    “Steve, I didn’t have fun the first time we went out. In spite of that, I agreed to go out a second time in case the first was a fluke. It wasn’t. I’m not wasting my time with a third date, but I wanted to tell you that in person. I figured that was the decent thing to do.”

    “I need to go.”

    And he left, and I admired her class and composure.

    Charlie’s – Yeah, a Charlie’s is still with us. But not THE Charlie’s. Charlie’s first place, a little hole-in-the-wall place, had a great jukebox, didn’t feel like a sports bar, and was a wonderful place to hang out. I’m glad Charlie has been successful enough to open her nice huge place, and it is good she always does great business. But I still miss the old place.

    Coralville Country Kitchen – Another place I worked, but that’s not the reason. First off, the counter. Dining counters rule. Second, the breakfast menu – skillet scramble with wheat toast, over easy farm skillet with wheat toast, sausage biscuit skillet with poached. Mmmm.

    Fieldhouse – Not the bar, the place where they used to play winter sports. Yeah, the seats were crappy, the view often obstructed, and it was falling down. But it was a hellishly intimidating place for opposing teams, much more so than Carver-Hawkeye has ever been.

    Green Pepper Pizza – On the strip where Randy’s is now, the Green Pepper had the best pizza in town. They put sauce in the crust way, way before Pizza Hut ever came up with the idea, and every pizza had a slice of green pepper on it. At the time Iowa City pizza choices primarily consisted of Pagliai’s, Happy Joe’s, and the Green Pepper, and Green Pepper was the best.

    Magoo’s – WARNING: Midget sex talk ahead. For those who don’t know where it was, Magoo’s occupied that space between Rentertainment and Taste of China. Can’t remember what is there now – the Chill And Grill was there for awhile. Magoo’s was a neighborhood bar with a great jukebox. We would always go there on Wednesday’s during law school. Sure, we’d start out at the Airliner with every other law student, but after a few hours we would walk to Magoo’s.

    But I was a Magoo’s regular long before that. I used to live a block away, and would always go there when in need of a beer. Hooked up quite a few times out of Magoo’s, the geekiest being a time a friend I was with saw other friends of his. I struck up a conversation with one of the females, and it turned out she was also a big comics fan. A DC fan. At the time I was pure Marvel, so we had a huge DC-Marvel debate the whole evening until she invited me to her place to see some of her favorite DC comics. Geeks in lust.

    Still Magoo’s didn’t turn into the place I loved and missed until later, when I was working at Country Kitchen in Coralville. I was working second shift, getting home around 11:30. Every work night, unless a bunch of folks were going out from work, I would get home, shower, then take the block trip to Magoo’s. After a few weeks of this, it got to the point that, whenever I walked in the door, no matter who was working (unless they were brand new), the bartender would say “Hi Dweeze”, draw my beer, grab a bag of pretzels, and set it down at an open space at the bar. I didn’t drink a lot – normally only a beer or two – and then say good night and head home.

    But one time the bartender on duty did much more than that for me. For some reason, I was drinking hard. Hard. And when the cute girl I was talking to asked if I wanted to sit at a table with her, I said sure. As she scampered down off the bar stool, I realized that she wasn’t just short, she was a midget. Undeterred, we went to a table, where I was soon locking lips with her. We made plans to go to her place. She excused herself to go to the bathroom, and that’s when the bartender stepped in.

    “Dweeze” he said, “normally we enjoy watching patrons make fools of themselves. But you’re one of the few regulars we tolerate, and as much as seeing a drunk make out with a midget usually sends us laughing, we would prefer that it be someone other than you.”

    “But she’s cute!” I protested.

    “No she’s not. Trust me, she’s not. She’s not nice either. Now, I will cover for you – tell her you had a phone call and had to leave. But you better go fast.”

    And I did. Later, when I saw her again, I realized he was right. She asked where I had gone to, I said my girlfriend had called looking for me, and she let it drop.


    Why my fear of midget sex? My sophomore year in college I ended up rooming first semester with an alcoholic freshman and a born-again hair-lipped nursing student. Yeah, you heard me right. It was in Daum, where the floors alternated men and women. Up on one of the women’s floors lived a midget, though not the same one I would later encounter. So one Friday evening, or more accurately, early Saturday morning, I awoke to the sounds of a fight from the bunk underneath mine. A male voice was pleading with a female voice to stay, that this had never happened to him before, and the tiny female voice replied “You’re too drunk to even get it up Jim!” And with that I heard her leave the bed, walk to the door, open it, and saw a very small shadow get cast into the room. Later, when I asked him about it, he said “I got drunk and thought ‘When am I going to have the chance to nail a midget again?’,” and while that is certainly a fine philosophy, you also don’t want the whole midget community discussing your inability to perform under pressure. So discretion, as always, is the better part of valor.

    Pearson’s Drug – Even if the lunch counter is still at That’s Rentertainment (and I thought I read that they were taking it out), it wasn’t the same as going to the counter when it was Pearson’s. Where else could you get an egg salad on whole wheat toast, a malt, a cup of soup, and have change for a $5? Special props because Pearson’s was where I always got comics before the first comic shop opened in Iowa City.

    Red Stallion – I can’t believe the Iowa City area doesn’t have a live-music country bar. The Stallion was great, and not just because I scored there a few times. (Most movie-like pickup: One night during law school, a few of us were out there. I asked a woman to dance, and as we were on the floor slow-dancing, she asked what I did. I said “I go to law school.” She said “Like a cop? You going to be a cop? I love cops!” Me, pausing, then “Yes. I’m going to be a cop.”) I also spent several months in the mid-80s as the Twist Champion, finally losing the title when I didn’t show up for the monthly contest. Good times. Goooood times.

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