King's Food Host

As much as I consider Shakespeare the most observant poet ever, his analysis in the "Seven Ages of Man" (from As You Like It, my favorite play) fails completely to capture my experience:
Then the whining School-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
For me, high school days were a perpetual delight. I awoke each and every morning eagerly anticipating the countless shenanigans awaiting. There was none of that dread old Will alluded to; my existence then was optimism incarnate and crossing foils with Beetface fulfilled every need. To this day I can still see (and hear) myself quickly rushing through my ablutions, listening on the battery-operated ivory colored plastic radio purchased from the Holiday Station with trading stamps blaring Hitchin' a Ride by Vanity Fare while shaving, smiling at my foamy reflection in the mirror and thinking what a lucky stiff I am.

Kind of a goofy song, but it really expressed my upbeat feelings on those pleasant golden-leaved autumn mornings. Tonight is the first time I'd heard it since all those years ago, yet every detail of the tune remains perfectly etched in memory. I even feel the same ebullience, if you can believe that. No, I'm not living in the past, but am certainly pleased with the past I was handed. I'd like to post it here, but there are apparently some copyright problems. Go to YouTube to find it.

Retrieving the pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco hidden in the furnace across from the basement shower stall, I secreted it in the right rear pocket of my satin-striped hippie bell-bottoms and hopped on my Honda 300cc motorcycle. It was branded Dream by the manufacturer, but since a touring model, was sort of clunky, with all manner of wrap-around fenders, heavy-duty shocks, big mufflers and the like. It soon attained the nickname Wet Dream from onlookers, but I didn't care. It maybe wasn't the sleekest bike in the world, but it sure was comfy, and every time I straddled it, Born to Be Wild rang in my ears. Again, just for the hell of it while writing this, I looked it up on the Web, and the memories came flooding back.

Zooming to class (I was once ticketed for going 90 mph in a school zone, and even though the Daily Tribune printed my name in the court report, I managed to keep my parents in the dark) it was time for the fun to begin!

But that's really just the prologue. Yes, there was no end of hilarity in school five days a week (and I even learned a thing or two in class, too, surprisingly). But it's the Friday and Saturday nights I want to describe in this entry. Strangely, countless long-forgotten episodes have been bubbling to the surface this year, and this is just one of many.

My favorite haunt for weekend nights was King's Food Host. This was the premier teen hangout in the sixties. Sporting a huge neon lit crown on top of the building as a logo, each table inside had a telephone on which you would place your order. Naturally, the decor throughout was done up with vinyl and linoleum accoutrements so common in those days--lots of yellows and oranges as I recall. Outside, there was a phalanx of a dozen drive-in stalls should you not want to leave your car on a given night. I imagine they gave the waitresses handling the outdoor duties hazard pay, given how frequently fish guts, flattened skunks and even more odious rejectamenta appeared on the serving trays at the conclusion of a meal.

Have you seen Hollywood Nights? The ambience I'm trying to get across was identical in all respects to Tubby's Drive-In, right down to the requisite hoodlums.

But let's head back inside. King's Food Host was enormous, sporting perhaps thirty booths, each with its own telephone, as mentioned. Oh-oh...just as I was writing that, all of a sudden a whole raft of long forgotten pranks came to mind which we used to pull on the ordering phones. The main thrust of the telephone gimmick was to make it more efficient for the cooks and waitresses to get the grub from the kitchen to the tables, but it had the exact reverse effect whenever The Gang dropped by. But I'll save that tale for another entry... and also the time I ordered the "Sheepherder's Special"...or when Sheel-Teat demonstrated his remarkable marksmanship with the mustard squirt-container...or the warm welcome we received from the Nazi-like manager wearing Coke bottle spectacles, whose home phone number and address we eventually tracked down by means of some serious detective work...

On a typical Friday night, King's was bursting at the brim with teens. The biggest number would be the jocks and their buxom but frigid cheerleader dates (you can look, but never touch), with a few of the rough-and-tumble recent younger Central graduates attending, hoping to pick a fistfight with someone. And then there was The Gang.

One night Sheel-Teat and I were lounging about, to the chagrin of the always sour manager. We basically occupied a table for three hours and consumed twenty cents worth of soda. By ten o'clock, the movies had let out downtown at the Collegian theater, and a large crowd filled the place up. Grandly coming in for a milkshake nightcap were Eric and Anna. This was their first date together, as will become clear in just a moment. In any event, I knew it must be a first time since they previously had moved in very different circles.

Eric was part of the la-de-da set from West Junior High. The scion of a highfalutin doctor well-known in town, he was basically fed by silver spoon from an early age. With fancy duds, fancy car, choosing his friends very carefully (no doubt vetted by his parents consulting some sort of Americanized version of Debrett's), he also was part of that inexplicable crowd which thought there was something useful to be gotten from Sunday School and church. (Or perhaps he just considered it politic to put on the dog--who knows?) I seem to recall he was also President of the Student Council in junior high days. You get the idea. In college, he would have eagerly joined the Omega House.

But what of Anna? She came from a Central background, hence was a little more (ahem) worldly than Eric. Her family was also wealthy, but it must have been nouveau-riche, for her behavior, glint in the eyes and wicked smiles always belied someone who would easily run away to join the circus. And that glorious mane of jet black hair--whoa! I could easily consume my allotted Internet bandwidth on that topic alone, but 'nuff said.

As noted, this was their first date, and Eric courteously escorted her to the booth, handling all the details in a fashion to make Emily Post proud. His fatal error was choosing the booth next to Sheel-Teat and me.

As we nursed our sodas, we listened in on their tête-à-tête with great amusement. Eric was trying his best to pull out all the stops and show just how cosmopolitan, gentlemanly and aristocratic he was.

At some point, Anna broke off Eric mid-stream and queried, "You're not just after me for my body, are you?"

Eric was horrified and started to sputter at once. "No, um, no, that's not the type of person I am, um, no, it was your mind I found so fascinating, ah..."

At which point, I poked my head around the booth and smiled broadly at Anna, Eric glaring at me (he was a shrimp by the way and certainly not going to start anything, especially with Sheel-Teat close at hand), and said with a wink, "Anna, if he's not interested in your body, I surely am!"

Her eyes lit up for the first time that night. They truly flashed.

This was Eric's exceedingly brief walk on the wild side, the millisecond in which he found something very scary in females, something he had been unprepared for. At age sixteen, Eric had become an old man. He and Anna never went out again. I recall he reverted to safer Presbyterian girls from the West set, girls for whom falsies represented the acme of sexual depravity. Anna was clearly way too dangerous for the likes of him. Anyway, had they pursued a romance, I'm certain it would have been Thérèse Raquin all over again. Zola didn't just make up that shit, you know.

The pair dribbled out of King's.

All of a sudden I saw the storm-trooper manager dash from the lobby and head to the main door, legs treading as fast as they would take him, literally four feet covered with every stride. As Sheel-Teat and I looked out the enormous plate glass windows to see what the to-do was all about (the whole dining area was glassed-in for a marvelous view of the Grand Avenue underpass, Lincoln Way and the parking lot), his bangs were flying, and yes, his coiffure really was redolent of Adolph Hitler's.

So as I say, Sheel-Teat and I craned our necks to see what had attracted the guy's attention so violently. In the parking lot was a bright yellow 1957 Chevy going round and round, cutting insane cookies in the asphalt, so rapidly that one side almost lifted up completely, tires burning like you wouldn't believe, blue smoke billowing. Just as the manager made it outside, the Chevy downshifted, the front end lifted a foot off the ground in a roar as the powertrain really kicked in, zipping out of the lot, leaving the hapless bespectacled guy cursing as he watched the car exit in a plume.

When the manager came back in, he was visibly red in the face and hot under the collar. He returned to his station at the cash register, while Sheel-Teat and I continued to nurse our Pepsi-Colas, knowing full-well that the night had just begun. Indeed, the yellow Chevy returned and proceeded to spin around even more perilously. It really did look like the Indianapolis 500 out there! And, of course, the Nazi manager again raced to the parking lot, to no avail.

This little cat-and-mouse went on several more times, amidst much mirth. Because of all the activity, quite a few patrons left without paying that night. After all, there was no one running the till, the manager being way too busy chasing--you guessed it--Tommy.

Damn how I miss that guy; cf., Cacoethes Indeed and My Favorite Pyromaniac. He'll return a final time in a rather important installment.

What I've described is just the tip of the iceberg, little more than another high school Friday night at King's Food Host, one of our favorite haunts.

It was a perpetual party. And had I been the manager, I would have requested an unlisted home phone number.

Next installment: The Round Robin

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