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  • November 26th, 2017

THE FORGOTTEN CORNER

By Joel M. Vance

“Let’s get it while the gittin’ is good!”
Those words of wisdom from the Midnighters summed up why we took a gravel road several miles South of Cramer Hall, to hang out at what had been a local watering hole for area farmers, until a couple of redheaded rowdies from Keytesville, Missouri, bought the place and turned it into the world equivalent of Studio 54, although with far fewer celebrities, and only a University of Missouri fullback as bouncer.
Where once the drinker’s uniform was Big Smith overalls and run over boots, coated liberally with cow shit, the new uniform was a blue Oxford cloth button down shirt, covered with a V-neck sweater, and trousers called cords, a kind of seersucker fabric, succeeded in the colder months by blue jeans. The footwear of choice very likely would be blue suede shoes, in keeping with the Carl Perkins anthem of the day. The grimy old farmers who had depended on Andy’s grumpily departed for some other rural beer joints where they could nurse their Griesedieck Brothers or Country Club beers in peace, without the clamor of “Work With Me Annie” blaring on a jukebox.
It was called Andy’s Corner, and no one knew who Andy was because the two owners were CR and Billy Dale Foster, dispensers of Griesedieck Brothers lager, and other sadly lamented low-cost brews of the late and equally lamented 1950s. Both were graduates of Keytesville high school as was I. CR had spent time in the Navy, and both were enrolled as students at the University of Missouri. Both were legendary chick magnets at KHS and had carried that romantic prowess over to the University, which possibly accounted for the popularity of Andy’s with some coeds, although probably not so much with their testosterone infused dates.
Cramer Hall was one of four dormitories on what used to be the south end of the University of Missouri campus, grouped like a quartet of medium security prison compounds, or possibly like the four corners of an old West military post, positioned for maximum security against Indian attack. Cramer and Stafford both had been built in 1946, an upgrade from the first postwar dormitories, which were no more than Quonset huts adapted to civilian use. Those were called TDs—temporary dorms— with all the charm of a US army barracks. All I remember about the TDs was that I was enormously glad I didn’t live in one. A student committed suicide in one of them, possibly because of having to live there.
By contrast with the Spartan temporary dorms, Cramer and Stafford along with the other two dorms—Defoe, which was the first of the four, and Graham were luxurious. Each room, shared with a roommate, featured a bed which was every bit as comfortable as sleeping on a 2 x 12 pine plank, a desk and a closet. Spartans had better digs. In later years there would be window air conditioners, but such modern innovations were beyond the imagination of those who built and furnished Cramer Hall. Also in later years, the dorms would become coed, a concept as unthinkable in the 1950s as if the Pope had been spotted at Andy’s Corner sharing a beer with Nikita Khrushchev.
Excitement was sparse in Cramer Hall. A housemother prowled the halls like a KGB operative sniffing out illicit beer or any whiff of corruption. Each floor had a resident student/monitor who was, however pleasant to fellow inmates, a member of the establishment and thus to be regarded with deep suspicion.
A basic problem with drinking beer is that inevitably it works its way through the internal plumbing and demands release. Andy’s Corner had not evolved enough to feature indoor plumbing, which was not a problem for guys, for whom the outdoors is a urinal and any spot is appropriate for release as long as someone’s foot is not in the way. But the distaff side had no recourse other than to hold it and pray that willpower would last until safe delivery back to civilization. There was an outhouse, a unisex structure so disgusting that no one dared go inside, no matter how imperative the need.
Guys, being pack animals, sometimes would exit the Corner and head for the outhouse, not to go inside but instead to stand in an informal semi circle and engage in athletic competition not, so far anyway, sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee. The idea was to see how high on the outside wall of the outhouse one could pee. Honored was he who could arc the stream higher than his head.
There were no trophies or gold medals awarded to those with firehose capability, but there was satisfaction in the knowing and in peer appreciation. Meanwhile, inside the Corner, dates patiently waited for the return of their incontinent warriors, listening to “Work With Me Annie” and possibly wishing either that they had not drunk so much beer or that they had never agreed to this nightmarish date.
Andy’s Corner was not just sunshine and shadow and peeing contests. There was one unmemorable night highlighted by thunder, lightning, and the threat of University retribution, which in those days at least was Draconian. It happened this way: my date was Marty Leist, an increasingly serious relationship which would result in, so far, 61 years of marriage. Marty had to be back in her dorm by 10 PM or the hell of University retribution would fall heavily upon her delectable form.
I had borrowed a car for the evening from a dorm mate, whom I didn’t know all that well, with his admonition to “take care of my car or you’re a dead man” echoing in my ears. But the prospect of an evening night clubbing at Andy’s with Marty overwhelmed any trepidation I might have felt about risking death at the hands of a fellow Cramer Hall inmate.
We were sitting in a booth at Andy’s and a mid-Missouri storm brewed up outside. The beer was good, intimacy of the moment overwhelming. But the dreaded 10 PM curfew drew ever closer and finally we dashed into a driving rain and jumped into the borrowed car. But the damn car wouldn’t start! After grinding futilely on the starter until I was afraid the battery would die, I raced back inside and, almost on the verge of tears, explain my plight to Billy Dale. There were few customers and he turned the bar over to somebody (probably someone under age) and we got Marty home to Johnson Hall with a few minutes to spare.
As I said, Cramer Hall ultimately would become coed. Girls were sequestered in Johnson Hall, a monolithic building, operated much like a woman’s prison. In the 1950s a girl so much as one minute late was subject to what they called late hours, and enough accrued late minutes would result in a reduction of credit hours. Guys could stay out all night if they wanted to, but let a girl be a moment tardy at home base and she risked losing credit hours, for which she had paid good money. Nevermind that she was a straight-A student or a pillar of campus society—in the rigid minds of the administration she was a potential fallen woman. It’s a wonder they didn’t have stocks erected at Johnson Hall and an ever-heated branding iron with the fateful letters L.H., meaning late hours, to be burned on the errant girl’s forehead.
Billy Dale left me at Cramer Hall, sodden and sullen because I didn’t even get a good night kiss from Marty, and with the unwelcome chore of explaining to the car’s owner the next morning why it was still at Andy’s corner while I was at Cramer Hall. I never asked to borrow his car again. I think it was a De Soto and there is good reason why that car company no longer exists–the damn things won’t start in the rain.
In the succeeding years since Andy’s Corner was in full flower, the area South of Columbia has suffered the blight of urban sprawl and now practically is a new city. There is a new paved highway replacing the old gravel road and there is no Andy’s Corner with attendant outhouse. A jazz pub named Murry’s claims to be on the spot where Andy’s once stood but I have my doubts, because the location does not jibe with my memories. Guys wouldn’t dare go outside now to pee without risking arrest for indecent exposure and the girls have their own indoor restroom. The music often is live and does not feature the Midnighters or songs like “Work With Me Annie”. Beer costs more than a dime a glass or a quarter a bottle. Griesedieck Brothers and Country Club folded their tents long ago and so have at least some of the habitués of the old Andy’s Corner. Cramer and Stafford Hall died a tumultuous death in 2010, when the University demolished them to make way for an expansion of the ever sprawling medical complex.
Back when I was much younger and prone to fantasizing I had a recurring fantasy about how to ensure world peace. It was a time when the US and the Soviet Union were at missile point to each other and every day brought the threat of nuclear destruction. I would fantasize that if we could get Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower together for an afternoon at Andy’s Corner, armed only with enough money for as much Griesedieck Brothers beer as they could hold and a pocket full of nickels for the jukebox, which would have only one recording on it, that of the Midnighters singing “Work With Me Annie”. When they would walk out into the crisp 1956 autumn sunshine, perhaps headed for the rickety outhouse for a peeing contest, to see which one could hose higher on the stained siding of that venerable edifice, the world would be at peace, without threat.
In those long ago days, we had Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the United Nations to no discernible rock ‘n roll rhythm, Richard Nixon later would record his own melody of treachery on tape in the White House. Possibly we could get Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump together for an afternoon of tippling at Murry’s, but somehow I don’t think that would solve the problems that we face in today’s tumultuous times.
I remember one beery afternoon at Andy’s when the beer was free. I don’t remember the brand but it was awful stuff. The jukebox blared and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. “How do you like the beer?” asked a stranger and I replied, “Tastes like horse piss but it’s free.”
“Glad you like it,” he said. “I’m the one that’s buying it. A promotional thing.”
And the Midnighters sang, “Work with me, Annie/Let’s get it while the gittin is good!”

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