Monday, August 17, 2015

The Patio Tables, Part 2

This is part 2 of two posts about a pair of patio tables my parents bought in the 1960s or early ’70s: Repainting them was one of my summertime projects this year! Click here for part 1, the history of these little tables.

So here we are in 2015, and the tables are renewed. This is at least the sixth redo! I wanted them to scintillate again, to have something “groovy” on them.

Preparing the surfaces is always a bear—scraping, sanding, and scouring off the rust and flaking paint is never fun, but it gives you time to think, and to visualize.

Since I’ve been enjoying the Bhagavad Gita in recent years, I thought the symbol for Om would be kinda neat. I visualized it as being so large that it kind of dripped off the edges.

Sue scanned the quarter-inch-high Om character that appears as a decorative type dingbat at the end of each chapter in my book, then enlarged it to table-size with her amazing computer graphics skills. She printed it out for me, tiling it on four sheets of typing paper, making me a pattern.

From the moment I hatched the plan, I envisioned the character as dark or forest green on a lilac background . . . but as I kept thinking about it, I decided I wanted it to be more energetic, less restful. I wanted it to scintillate!

Why the Om? I like the idea that sound, vibration, music underlies or permeates all of creation. This sound, this music, is not only creation itself but also the name of God, the true nature of reality, and Om is a sound we can produce that connects us to all of the above. And I don’t see it as a counterculture or anti-Christian symbol at all. I see it as one of many human efforts to express and celebrate the vast, majestic, all-encompassing oneness of God, the All That Is.

Plus, it’s an elegant symbol, appealing on a purely visual level. (Especially when it scintillates!)

The second table was much more challenging to paint, with all its persnickety straight lines and perfect corners. At its center is a pan-Asian, Greek, European, African, and Native American symbol for good luck, eternity, and other sacred and auspicious ideas. Before Hitler appropriated that symbol and gave it evil connotations, it was a commonly used decorative element worldwide, with nothing but positive connotations. (Gee, thanks, Hitler, ya asshole. You also ruined a perfectly good mustache style, as well as the once-fine name of Adolph.)

As you can see, my table includes a much more elaborate design than just “that symbol” (long called a gammadion, from the Greek)—and hopefully by making the positive and negative spaces somewhat ambiguous I’ve downplayed anything startling, and emphasized the symbol’s original meaning. Visually, you kind of have to follow a maze before you can see the “eternity” symbol in the center. Hopefully, by then, the act of looking at the entire design has gotten my intended meaning across intuitively.

What do you think? Pretty cool, eh?

. . . Anyway, I’m happy with ’em!

And yes, we’ll be bringing them inside when we’re not actively using them outdoors. I think I want to keep them nice for a while!

Bonus fun! I made a wonderful discovery soon after I’d finished painting the first table: If I stare steadily at the center of these designs for about 20 or 30 seconds, then close my eyes or look at a blank paper or wall, the image remains as a retinal negative-colored afterimage—the red parts of the designs appear as blue, which fades gradually into turquoise and green. What a cool surprise! Try it with the images above! (Remember, you can click on any image on my blog to see it larger.)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Patio Tables, Part 1

This is part 1 of two posts about a pair of patio tables my parents bought in the 1960s or early ’70s: Repainting them was one of my summertime projects this year! So first, a little walk down memory lane. As far as I can tell, this is at least their sixth refurbishment since about 1970.

I’ve found some pictures of them in my parents’ photo albums, so you can have glimpses of their former incarnations.

I love these tables, though maybe they’re not the best design for lawn furniture. There’s a small lip along the edge, so they tend to collect water. They’re slightly top-heavy on their tripod legs, so in strong winds they tend to tip over, banging the edges on whatever concrete or patio bricks they’re on. And they’re steel, so they rust.

But I like them. First, they’re not plastic! Woo-hoo! Second, they’re the perfect size for holding a cold beverage plus a book, or a hardcopy printout of that chapter or bibliography you have to edit. That’s how my dad used them on the patio beneath our back porch.

Third, at this point, they’re “vintage,” thus cool. Dialing back, I think their first paint job was white—flat white. Or maybe that was their second paint job. I wonder how they came from the factory? Soon after, Mom dressed ’em up by putting Peanuts (Charlie Brown, Snoopy, et al.) decals on them. See?

As a kid, I loved those Peanuts decals! Mom’s putting them on the tables was a brilliant idea! We all loved Peanuts! (And I liked to paint with watercolors beneath the shade of a lawn chair! Hard to imagine I was ever that small . . .)

By the time I was well into elementary school, Mom had stripped off the decals, sanded off the rust that had accumulated, and given them a nice coating of hot orange-red Rust-Oleum. (Remember, it was the seventies.) At some point, she (or maybe we kids) added a bunch of stickers to decorate them.

The tables were starting to acquire rust again by the time I was in junior high and high school, and by then I’d discovered the fun of enamel paints. (My folks gave me some “beautification projects” to do.) So I’d had a little practice using Rust-Oleum in a creative way.

In ninth grade geometry class, Miss Avery had provided us (for fun) a dittoed handout showing a variety of super-cool geometric designs. I think she was trying to remind us that there were actual creative applications to mathematics, that it wasn’t all just proofs, apothems, and other headaches. (Hooray for teachers who keep in mind that some students are simply more interested in other subjects, and who make an effort to connect their subject to other fields!)

So my parents invited me to do a new paint job on the tables. Being a smarty-pants overachiever (or an obsessive little nerd, I don’t know which), I looked through the designs from Miss Avery (which I had saved—okay, more evidence for the “nerd” category) and selected one that seemed easy enough, though it was intricate. It was really just a series of concentric circles expanding by equal radial increments, overlain with a series of parallel lines intersecting them. Alternate boxes are in contrasting colors, like a chessboard. (It’s been called a “circular chessboard.”) I painted it in Rust-Oleum paints: a bright blue (almost a cyan), and a bright red. It scintillated!

I put a lot of work into it, using the fine paintbrushes I used on my model cars (oops, more evidence of nerdiness!) and even toothpicks to nudge the paint into the narrow, pointy corners, and to touch up the many, many places where paint blurped over my penciled outlines. (The lines had to be absolutely precise in that design, or it wasn’t gonna work.) It took a lot of patience!

It was a masterpiece when it was done! Fortunately, my parents let me keep it in my room as part of my indoor furniture, or that paint job wouldn’t have lasted the ca. 15 years that it did. The one picture I could find of it shows it in my bedroom in 1982 or 1983, in front of my aquarium, with Katie perched on it in order to view the fishes better. (Awww, Katie, what a sweet little girl!)

Then a lot of time passed. I was at college, then went to Arizona for graduate school, then to Montana for my first publishing job. By the time I was back in Missouri and Sue and I had moved to Jeff City, my folks had let us have the tables. We’d been using that table and its twin outdoors again, and they’d received some dings and gotten rusty and needed a new paint job.

So most recently, I just sprayed it: All red. (Yawn!) We painted its twin with a yellow center in a gradient to red edges. Still pretty boring. I’m kind of glad we kept them outside, where they collected rain, acquired some blackish mildew, got dinged, and developed rust spots . . . and finally needed another new paint job!

. . . And my next post will show pictures of their new incarnations!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Remembering King’s Food Host, Columbia, Missouri

My purpose in this post is not to give the official history of this chain of family diners that operated in at least 17 states and in Canada in the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s. Let’s get the background info over with quickly. Indeed, if you want to learn more than I’ve already just said, I recommend the following:

—Randy Hoffman, “What Ever Happened to King’s Food Host?” at, Dec. 14, 2009.

—Jan Whitaker, “Frenchies, Oui, Oui,” at Restaurant-ing through History, May 4, 2011.

There’s also a commemorative Facebook page, with loads of photos of King’s restaurants and King’s-belia: Kings Food Host—Home of the Cheese Frenchee.

From those websites, I gather that King’s focused on putting franchises in college towns (so our King’s in Columbia, Missouri, fit that pattern . . . though its location on Business Loop 70 made it a little far from campus, in the days when few students owned cars or lived off-campus).

I also read that cigarette machines (so ubiquitous in those days) were not allowed in King’s restaurants, because the owner didn’t want them there. Apparently he wanted to have a less smoky atmosphere in his family restaurant. (He was truly ahead of his time!)

Perhaps, with the college-town focus, he was thinking not so much of college students, but of smart young faculty members, like my father, juggling teaching, grading, research, and working toward tenure, and their families, who liked to go out to dinner occasionally, and who all would have preferred a nonsmoking restaurant.

Dining out was much less common then.

I was born in 1965, so nationwide, King’s was pretty much gone by the time I was ten. I vaguely remember when they closed in Columbia, driving past with my parents, staring out the window at the empty building, wondering what would become of it. Later, I saw it converted into a variety of other businesses. (Businesses I’ve never stepped foot in.)

The one in Columbia was ultimately torn down, but the concrete foundation is still there. A local bus/shuttle service has taken over the land and they park their big tour buses on the concrete pad where the restaurant once stood.

The metal roof for the drive-in portion remains. The shuttle company parks its vans and minibuses under it.

Anyway . . . see these links for photos of King’s restaurants during their heyday: one in Manhattan, Kansas, the other from Ames, Iowa. They’re both pretty close to what our Columbia King’s looked like—the textured horizontal roof treatment, the big yellow crown-shaped sign, the huge wall of windows across the front end of the building.

Personal Memories

My personal memories of King’s are rather fuzzy, but in many ways, they are especially nostalgic.

There was apparently a telephone at each booth for placing orders, which I don’t remember because my parents wouldn’t have let me do the ordering, and annoy a busy food-service worker with my soft, uncertain, hesitating delivery.

There was a similar ordering system in the drive-in parking behind the restaurant. The drive-in was a long, metal-roofed structure extending straight back from the restaurant, with parking spaces on either side. (Gosh! Remember how cars in the ’50s and ’60s had circular depressions on the inner surface of the glove compartment door, which always opened flat into a miniature table surface? The circles were designed as a place to set your Pepsi or milkshake while you ate in your car at the drive-in!)

We went to the King’s drive-in occasionally—I recall going there for lunch with Paul and my Mom.

But we went to King’s more often, I think, as the whole family, in the evenings, and we sat in the dining area. Interestingly, when I asked my parents recently about what they recalled of King’s on the Business Loop, they both drew a blank. I guess it made a far bigger impression on me!

Remember the crown logo and the gold, brown, and orange diamond motif? I recall the seats being orange—but that might be a false memory (specifically, mental pollution from listening to the snarky 1987 Uncle Bonsai song “Family Restaurant,” which recalls “rolling hills of orange Naugahyde”).

I remember walking in the door, which was on the east side of the building. The restaurant was fairly brightly lit with florescent ceiling fixtures. To me as a little kid, the place seemed huge, and kind of magical.

Yes: that big, open dining area, with large plate-glass windows facing Business Loop 70. At that time, the Business Loop was full of family-friendly food places, such as Columbia’s Zesto, a Dog ’n’ Suds, and the city’s first McDonald’s. . . . Was all the seating at King’s at booths? I think it must have been, since the telephone was key for ordering. But maybe they had a row of stools along a counter, however.

Here’s a picture of the inside of a King’s in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I remember it being a fairly quiet restaurant, though since I was a child that memory could also be skewed. Let’s put it this way: I’m sure it was a great place for parents to bring young kids who were still learning to behave like little ladies and gentlemen when dining in public.

I’m sure I must have requested other foods at times—chili dogs, for example, and little chocolate sundaes, and, when I was really little, I must have had the “Kiddie Platter”—but what sticks in my mind, as my very favorite, is the “Cheeseburger Platter.”

I still can’t say “Cheeseburger Platter” without feeling a huge, silly grin blooming inside me. On the King’s memorial Facebook page, someone posted a menu revealing that the Cheeseburger Platter came “with cole slaw, golden French fries, and onion rings.” . . . Yep, yep! That’s what I remember. That menu, from who knows when (the early ’70s, I’ll bet), gives the cost of the Cheeseburger Platter as $1.10. Oh, and I remember having an orange drink with it. (Ha! An “orange drink”! Remember that stuff? And those gigantic clear, cubical drink dispensers every restaurant used to have, with the lemonade or “orange drink” sloshing around inside? So tempting! And hey, I was, like, seven.)

I also recall the food being served on actual cafeteria-style china dishware.

The button I photographed at the top of this post was undoubtedly given to me (and Paul must’ve gotten one, too) by a server, to reward me for “cleaning my plate,” which was something all kids were strongly encouraged to do back then. (As with about every other paragraph in this post, please join me in a resounding: “Boy, times have sure changed!”)

Regarding the Famous “Cheese Frenchee” Sandwich

Many people fondly remember King’s “Cheese Frenchee” sandwiches, but I don’t recall them. Because I was pretty young, I suspect my parents, thinking of my health, had guided me away from them. The Cheese Frenchee, a King’s signature dish, was a midcentury, midwestern, family-restaurant version of the famous French croque-monsieur. There are lots of recipes approximating this popular King’s menu item; here are some:

—At, there is a cheese frenchee recipe purportedly from a former employee at King’s.

—Pam Patterson, “Recipe: Cheese Frenchees,” at

—R_Mess, “Cheese Frenchee” at

Interestingly, there are still some King’s restaurants that remain as restaurants, operating under different names, but in many ways similar, including, with some, the tableside telephones for ordering; one is The Wood House Restaurant, in Bismarck, North Dakota; another is the Pantry Family Restaurant, in Boise, Idaho.

. . . Hmm. Suddenly, I’m thinkin’: ROAD TRIP!