Rumored to be a hotbed of drug trafficking, free love, communist pamphleteering and witchcraft was Monmouth’s own mid-1970’s precursor to the video arcade: “The Green Gorilla.”
Back in the day, such establishments were called “rec rooms.” For a brief, bizarre moment, that den of iniquity and bumper pool existed on the corner to the west of the Italian Village. My parents warned me to stay away from it — they were convinced it was the fetid lair of Monmouth’s most subversive hop-heads. I once asked Dad if I could go in there and he immediately launched into a blood-curdling account of men in pony tails, a floor littered with used syringes and children going in but never, ever coming out.
Dad started off coherent enough, but as he got more worked up, his cautionary tale eventually morphed into a musical number that was strikingly similar to Professor Harold Hill singing “Ya Got Trouble,” (but which was completely in compliance with the Parody and Fair Use exception of the Copyright Act, section 107). He donned a straw boatman hat and, with a wink, he tilted it at a jaunty angle. Then he grabbed a bamboo cane, and invited me to “sit down and give a listen.” And it went a little somethin’ like this:
“That Green Gorilla is crawling with hop-heads, Jimmy!
Wild-eyed, rabid, godless hop-heads!
Don’t go in there!
They’ll put ‘something’ in your drink!
Next thing you know, you’re jumping out a window like Art Linkletter’s daughter!
Dopers! Oh, we got Dopers!
Right here in Maple City!
That’s ‘Dopers’ with a capital ‘D’
And that rhymes with ‘G’
And that stands for ‘Green Gorilla!'”
Not long after the Green Gorilla was shut down by a task force led by Carrie Nation, Elliot Ness and a young Janet Reno, I remember Dad driving me in his red Impala station wagon to the aftermath of a great blaze. It was just off the square in the 100 block of South Main. We idled there, shamelessly rubbernecking at all that was left of “Newsland.” Was it arson? A lightning strike? Spontaneous bookstore combustion? I don’t recall. But I do know that the fire department, like a tattoo proofreader, arrived too late to do anything. As he choked back tears, I heard Dad utter, “Now where will I get next month’s Jet Magazine? Where will my next issue of “True Detective Stories” come from?”
But then, bidden by an unseen presence, we looked upward in search of hope, and gasped in unison at what we saw. Amidst the smoldering ruins of the once thriving bookstore, on what remained of the second story, the charred blackness gave way to a single, gleaming object. Miraculously unscarred by the inferno, it stood out from the ashes like a beacon — a brilliant white toilet had defied the flames. It seemed to hover over the sooty rubble, a triumphant and transcendent symbol of the irrepressible spirit of Monmouth! Awe is too small a word for what we felt at that moment.
Today, we are a nation at war. We stand on the precipice of economic disaster. Our once great country is led by a man who learned politics in Chicago. Oh Newsland toilet, at this moment of fearful uncertainty in our republic, it is to your courageous example that we now turn for inspiration. It could have been you that Winston Churchill spoke of when he said, “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense and, of course, really awesome commodes.”
Epilogue: The bookstore reopened a few months later in the 100 block of South First Street. Newsland enjoyed a brisk trade for many years after, in no small part, I’m sure, because of its eclectic inventory: It was the only place in town where one could buy both a copy of Hustler and a Book of Mormon. One-stop shopping!
Incidentally, not once did I dare enter the Green Gorilla. My friend Mikey did, however.
I never saw him again.