Cosie

Welcome, pilgrim, to Sam’s Bar and Grill, a dive in Geneva, N.Y., where you’ll find neither a Sam nor a grill, though I vaguely recall being able to buy a prepackaged ham and cheese hero that could be heated in some fashion, probably over a Bunsen burner, and then you’d burn your fingers trying to get it out of its cellophane wrap when Cosie plunked it on the counter.

You could also score a long, soft pretzel, slathered with mustard. And there were two giant, grimy, old gallon jars, one of which was filled with enormous pickles and the other with hard-boiled eggs. But for sure, I never saw anyone so much as dare to dip a hand into either.

Not even Cosie.

Let me tell you about Cosie.

Pull up a barstool, kids, and I’ll tell you a story about the greatest bar on god’s earth and the wonderful man who owned and operated it. Not Sam, whoever he was. I’m here to tell you about Cosie. Here he is behind the bar, where he stood for half a century:

Photo by Doug Reilly

But first, we have to roll back the clock to 1969. And we have to deal with the pronunciation issue.

Cosie’s real name was Cosmo Fospero, and that’s why we pronounce Sam’s Bar and Grill “Cozzie’s,” which is how it was known to one and all. From what I can tell, Cosie was born in 1922, which means he was pushing 50 when I got to know him in 1969.

Cosie’s was off a side street in Geneva, a very long walk or a quick drive from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It was a townie bar, but it was always filled with college students (New York’s drinking age was 18 then) and faculty — and the occasional street drunk.

I should note that there was another, more popular college bar in Geneva called The Oaks, and it was located just down Pulteney Street from the colleges, which meant you could walk there even in the worst weather, and you could stagger home without need of a car. The Oaks, owned and operated by the legendary Dutch Venuti, teemed with jocks and frat guys and gorgeous women. I was none of those.

The Oaks was Ringo. Cosie’s was John. The Oaks was Namath and Unitas. Cosie’s was Marx and Marcuse. The Oaks was Iron Butterfly. Cosie’s was Dylan. The Oaks was a pepperoni pizza, a burger and fries. Cosie’s was an old sandwich in a cellophane wrap.

Dutch kept a shotgun behind his bar; Cosie kept a beat-up old guitar behind his.

Who you were was in some ways defined by where you drank, and I was a Cosie’s kind of guy. I belonged in a place where you could sit in the back with a few dozen cold ones and solve all the problems of the world, one beer at a time.

I was at Cosie’s one night when a political science instructor named Jack Krause leaned across the table, looked me in the eye and told me, in a very serious tone:

“I am your faculty adviser, and I am advising you to have another beer.”

And so I did. Jack always had my best interests in mind.

The walls were tastefully decorated with yellowing clips of Cosie’s patrons that had appeared in the Geneva Times and the Hobart and William Smith Herald. You could walk around and count your pictures on the wall.

There was a large industrial standup fridge at the end of Cosie’s bar that was stocked with beer, and Cosie’s offered a great selection. True, you couldn’t get a Lite, but that was because Lite beer hadn’t been invented yet. Nor could you get a craft beer, for the same reason. And there was no Coors, either, but that was because Coors hadn’t yet found its way east of the Mississippi. Coors in 1969 was sort of like the Sasquatch of beers: We’d heard of it, but only a very few could claim they’d actually seen one.

But there was Schlitz, Miller, Bud, Genessee, Utica Club, Pabst, Schmidt’s, Rheingold, Schaefer, Rolling Rock, Molson’s, Labatt’s and a fancy-schmancy European import called Heineken in that stand-up fridge. And, really, what else did you need?

Well . . . for one thing, you needed to know how to get your hands on one.

Sure, Cosie was behind the bar, but he was way too busy to do something as mundane as get you a cold one. There were pretty young women to be flirted with, jokes to be told, stories to be shared and songs to be sung.

So if you want a beer, pal, go get it. Cosie’s fridge, located just behind the bar, over in the corner, next to the men’s room (where every beer fridge should be) was open to the public. Open the door and grab something cold. There’s a bottle opener under the bar, to your right.

Now, the beer wasn’t free, of course. You owed Cosie 35 cents. Or 45, if you were a rich kid drinking Heineken. But, c’mon  . . . Cosie is way too busy to take your money. Like I said, there were stories to be shared and women to wink at, and that guitar behind the bar was going to come out before long and Cosie would be way too busy strumming it to bother collecting your coin. The night was finite, and Cosie had a lot to accomplish before 2 a.m., when the cops would drive by and flash their lamps to remind everyone to grab their coats and go home.

No . . . Cosie was way too busy for something as mundane as taking  your money.

So here’s how you paid for a beer at Cosie’s:

You walked behind the bar, opened the cash register and put your money in.

If you had a five-dollar bill, you made change. If you had a ten-dollar bill . . . oh come on, who had a ten-dollar bill? If you needed dimes for the bowling machine, you did the same. No problem. Mi cash register es tu cash register at Cosie’s.

This seems as good a time as any to show you some more pictures of Cosie. Here he is doing something he loved, putting a cork with a toothpick jammed into it into a bottle with just a little bit of alcohol at the bottom, and heating it up just right, until that cork would explode out of the top and the toothpick would fly into the ceiling tiles. There were hundreds of toothpicks in that ceiling.

And here he is with the ladies. And if one of them happened to be with you that evening, he’d tell her what a great guy you were, and how she should never let you go. Maybe even go home with you.

Speaking of the ladies, let me tell you about the night Jerry Jeff Walker played at Hobart and William Smith. Jerry Jeff showed up on the Albright Auditorium stage with a guitar and a quart of whiskey and played that baby until the bottle went dry, which was around the time that Fire Commissioner Quigley announced that the concert was over and y’all have to go home now.

But Jerry Jeff was just getting started. I mean, he’d played Mr. Bojangles only four or five times, and that barely met his quota. This was no time to pack up and go home. So Jerry Jeff asked the audience if there was a place where his concert could continue, preferably one with another bottle of whiskey begging to be drained.

We knew just the place.

And so it was that a large group of us found our way to Cosie’s that night, and Jerry Jeff arrived with his guitar and sidled up to the bar, and found a young thang on his right and a young thang on his left, and put an arm around each of them and suddenly realized that he’d run out of arms and his guitar needed tending.

“Here,” Jerry Jeff told me, “take good care of this.”

And so it came to pass that I spent a few hours at a table in the back, playing Jerry Jeff Walker’s guitar till closing time, pausing on occasion only for as long as it took to have another beer. Nineteen years old and I’m playing 12-bar on Jerry Jeff Walker’s guitar. How sweet was that?

I have one more picture of Cosie. This is him with me, at my college reunion in 2007.

Image

I went with my wife, Linda, and our longtime friends, Kenny and Rachel, in search of Cosie’s. We had trouble finding the joint . . . urban renewal has greatly changed the landscape of Geneva. But we finally succeeded in spotting the Sam’s Bar and Grill sign, and we walked inside.

Behind the bar was an 85-year-old man who didn’t look a day over 70. He looked up, grinned widely and said, “Where you been?”

I went to the fridge and pulled out a few Heinekens, because I couldn’t afford the extra dime in 1969 but I’m Heineken rich now.

“They still 45 cents?” I asked.

Cosie laughed heartily and gave me the 2007 price, and I walked over to the cash register and put my money in.

He put a toothpick in a cork, put the cork into a bottle, heated it up and shot the missile into the ceiling. He told some tales. He pulled out his guitar. He flirted with Linda and Rachel.

Turns out that you can go home again.

But not for long. Cosie closed the joint and retired a few months later. When last I heard, he was 91 years old and enjoying retirement in Geneva. Get that man a beer.

And, please, click here to listen to Cosie himself. And thanks to Jeff Hogue for saving Cosie’s song.

Cosie’s, once upon a time. That sign in front says Sam’s Bar and Grill.

And now it’s gone:

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— 30 —

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47 thoughts on “Cosie

  1. It’s where i had my first alcoholic drink…two months before I turned the legal age of 18. I felt like I’d been allowed into a sacred place.

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  2. Really nice piece, Steve. Jim Crenner introduced me to gin and Angostura bitters at Cosie’s. Still not sure if that was a good thing or not.

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  3. Steve, this is a great story! We were just getting you started on Friday . Thanks for telling all of it. Please please write a book…….so fun to read your stuff…Suzanne

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  4. Nice, Steve. A fine tribute to a real mensch. I remember Jerry Jeff Walker’s concert my freshman year – I think admission was a quarter, maybe 50 cents. It was a few days later that I learned about Cosie’s and I resolved to check it out. Glad I did. I also seem to recall that Cosie was an avid tennis player and occasionally he’d be spotted on the courts next to Bristol taking on a student or member of the faculty.

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  5. Steve- I almost teared up reading about our old home away from home. Rachel and I were so happy to have had the opportunity to share stories with Cos one last time. His tale about receiving the honorary sword from Fidel Castro was priceless! You and Jerry jeff put on a hell of a concert that night as well!

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  6. Depending on an ever changing set of rules — you could get thrown out of the place for assorted offences including swearing …. I managed it at least once.

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  7. It took me a while to find (read: be led to) Cosie’s. But once discovered, I’d revisit as often as possible. So much more akin to an English pub, and so unlike the Twin Oaks. I wish I’d written those analogies – spot on as usual. There, most of the formal student – faculty divide seemed to evaporate, at least until the next morning… But some of that barrier remained as breached as some dry rock walls can get up here in NH, especially after a “hard rain…” More education than many of us even suspected at the time “happened” there.

    Thanks, dear friend, for these memories all bundled up so well in a very welcome gift.

    I have only one further thought. How could it be that the guy who sold me his precious Gibson electric after mine had been stolen, never told me the Jerry Jeff Walker story? (Glad it’s here, and I second Suzanne’s motion about a book – please, think about it.)

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  8. What a great remembrance. I’d like to add that our favorite beer at Cosy’s was Matts, which was made by the Utica Club Brewing Company. I played a lot of tennis with Cosy and Joe Aquilano, and he did used to beat his chest and yell “Strong like Bull!” whenever he managed to hit a winner. He was also very competitive at Pitch (high, low, jack and game), and I spent countless hours playing him over the bar. Since he always claimed to be unbeaten, I made him sign a confession one time when I trounced him and then delighted in producing it from my wallet when he made the claim again at our 10th reunion!

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  9. Wow. I’m a townie and I loved your piece on Cozzie’s. I had my first beer at age 14 “around the corner” from Cozzie’s, at The Old Man’s, Gijo Venuti’s place. At 16, I worked at The Oaks for Dutch Venuti and his brother, Gijo, as The Old Man’s had either closed or been shut down. I was the combination pearl-diver/beer-runner/pizza-maker. I clearly remember one night carrying 29 cases of Schlitz up from the basement walk-in cooler at The Oaks, as “the Hobie’s” partied hardy. The only thing that slowed me down in my duties was watching the college girls as they imbibed in the festivities. But I loved Cosie and his place, which we, the townies, just a few select few of us (the “John,” Marx, Dylan, cellophane-sandwich type), sometimes visited toward closing time. And once in a while on a Saturday afternoon, for pretzels and beer. Cosie was truly an original. Thanks for this fantastic memory… complete with pictures. You made my day.

    [There was a “joint” during my college days at SUNY Geneseo called The Idle Hour, where I hung out… instead of the massively popular Inn Between. It was where all the Deadheads hung out and solved the problems of the world over a few hundred beers, etc. It reminded me of Cozzie’s a bit… but without Cosy, of course, it could only go so far. Once a Cozzie’s kind of guy, always a Cozzie’s kind of guy.]

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  10. Many a man is remembered, but Cosie will live on until the the last of his customers have stopped breathing. Then others will have to read the records we left behind.

    Erman

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    • I think I remember that my best friend, Jim Van Houten, and I tipped a few in that marvelous hole in the wall just prior to leaving for a war together. I’ve been lost ever since.

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  11. we played at Cosie’s on Wednesday nights..an impromptu jam session.We all played songs from our glorious past that included material from as far back as the 30’s..but mostly 60’s and 70’s fare.I would say the place was packed 95% of the time we played..some of that was because of us butmost of it was because of Cosie.A great man and friend.

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  12. Listened to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole on juke box. Our wedding song
    “Unforgettable” because of dancing to the juke box at Cosies even though
    We were too young for that era of music.

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  13. I can’t think of anything more difficult than summing up Cosie, his bar and the feeling of being around / apart of it. To not do it right would be heartbreaking. To do it properly, as was done here, is to remind one of magic. I was a hobart student in the 90’s and to walk into that bar was to forever ingrain in you what a bar should be – a place of joy, authenticity, connection, expansion, community. If the world were a bar, it should be Sam’s Bar and Grill.

    If someone still knows Cosie, please buy a six pack, drop by, share it with him and thank him by providing the great conversation and atmosphere he always did.

    All the best to Cosie and the drinkers who enjoyed this great piece of writing.

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  14. The first time I went to Cosie’s was the second week before it closed and shortly after I moved to Geneva and out on my own. I had just enough time to fall in love with it and to “find my place” before it was gone. This was back when I was one of “the pretty girls” and one that drank Manhattans at that; definitely earning me face time with the man himself. I feel blessed to have even briefly experienced such a longstanding Geneva establishment and met such a wonderful man as well as learn how to make a proper Manhattan. Every time I walk or drive down Tillman Street I think and remember that one of those toothpicks was my toothpick, maybe even the last one…..that makes me a little sad but mostly happy to be in Geneva and to be one of the privileged to have sat on one of those barstools.

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  15. Having been a regular for years at Cosie’s and playing “pitch” and tennis and drinking Matts…there is one story I haven’t seen yet about him! He would challenge almost any one to a race “around the block” and he would start out at full speed and continue this pace the whole time…I don’t think he ever lost. Joe Acquilano. ’65

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  16. First bar I went to in Geneva, when I came to town as new faculty in 2002. Wish I’d gone more often — but I have a great photo of the barstools (by Doug Reilly) hanging in my front hall.

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  17. I was so surprised and so grateful to see this post on Facebook this evening. The photos, the audio, everyone’s memories are very special.
    What I remember about Cosie? He remembered everything I ever said to him even if it had been years since I’d been in the bar. He knew my favorite song was Around Midnight on the juke box. Those ice cube trays were classics! Boy did he flirt with me and I’m sure many other woman. You never crossed him or you were out of there. When he started collecting social security the staff at the SS office in Geneva was a bit confused when he and his twin brother made a visit the same day. Tennis! After moving to Ithaca I still made the trip to Geneva once a month throughout the 80’s to get my Cosie fix!

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  18. What a lovely piece about a lovely guy and a wonderful place. My siblings and I all “grew up” there and waaaay before any of us were legal. I’ve passed the link along to them all. Thanks so much for the music link- I have been teary-eyed all afternoon remembering how many times I heard that at 2 AM. Shout out to Jim Crenner, too on the off chance he sees this. Thanks again.Beautiful piece.

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  19. 21st birthday at Cozzies had already been there a dozen times. He told me a story about how he and his brother danced and sang for the mob in Utica and the home pickled hot peppers were so spicey and delicious. The jukebox had the best music, and pool games were only 25cents.

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  20. I grew up in Geneva (1970-1983) and left town as soon as college (Cornell) started. I never made it to Cosie’s, sadly. But my parents did, joining oodles of people from The Station for beers when they weren’t having Beer Blasts at The Pavilion (not a bar, but a picnic area, behind Jordan Hall near the end of West North Street). Would have liked to have been inside once, but too late now. I’m pleased to hear that Cosie is enjoying a retirement from what sounds like a dream job that kept him alive and active for so long. Thanks for sharing the story.

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  21. This brings back many great memories. In addition to the pickles and eggs, another special bar snack at Cosie’s was a chunk of pepperoni served with a slice of stale Italian bread.

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  22. What a wonderfully written piece Mr. Bromberg! I went to Cosie’s for the first time at 17 back in 1973 and always made a point to stop in when I was back in town. My last visit was probably 2007 or 2008, shortly before his family talked him into retirement. You so perfectly covered the essence of Cosie’s that I have no business adding my own meager memories. But nostalgia pushes me onward; the Spanish language songs on the jukebox decades before the Latins had their own Grammies, the fact that the songs on the jukebox NEVER changed, Cosie’s young son Carl running to keep the ice and beer stocked and of course, the bowling machine.

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    • The bowling machine was a must! As was sharing a table with Andy Molodetz, Dave Nittler, Dick Grabman, Tim Sanders. Chunks of pepperoni were a favorite of mine in those days too.

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  23. Have been in bars all over the world. Have never found a better bar nor a better bar man. I loved Cosie’s and the man. It was a little confusing however when one needed to know the correct time.

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  24. Hi! What a great story! I was a Cozzie’s regular for the last few years of the place. I’d love to write a play about it, where everyone tries to conjure the place and the man up, all surrounding an empty red vinyl topped stool, a guitar and a machete.

    Anyway, I took that black and white photograph of Cozzie behind the bar. Can you add my name to it somehow in a caption? Doug Reilly

    Thanks!
    doug

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  25. Another storied Geneva bar keep and good friend of Cosie’s was Alden Tills (Aldie or Tillsy) at the Holiday Inn on Exchange Street. Never saw him take a drink, but he was one of the top two or three bartenders in Geneva. Ran into a guy in Fort Worth, Texas last year, and in talking he asked where was I from. I said a little town in Upstate New York called Geneva. He then asked where did I go to school, and I said Geneva High School. He asked when did I graduate and I said 1960. He said he graduated from there in 1955. He asked my last name and I said Tills. He then asked whether I was related to Tillsy from the Holiday Inn. I said he was my father. He said he used to go there all the time and he and Tillsy would solve the problems of the world. Such a small world!

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  26. I am speechless. You certainly brought me back in the time machine! I took the liberty of sharing your blog on FB with my GHS Class of 73-75 classmates. May I suggest you approach the Finger Lakes Times about printing your piece? It deserves to be shared further.

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  27. I knew Cosie. I consider him a friend.

    I couldn’t count the many nights (and afternoons) I spent sitting and singing, whistling and eating pepper sandwiches with Cosmo. I consider him a friend of mine. When I first moved to Geneva in ’95, my (wife-to-be) Laura introduced us. I’m sure there were more than a few times she regretted that, waiting for me to get home from a song-session at Cosie’s.

    When I opened Jellybeans (a restaurant and music venue in Geneva), Cosie told me he would never go, because he never went anywhere. But he did. It was a great compliment. But the greatest was when he surprised us at my wedding out at my house on Carter Road (Cosie NEVER travelled past the lakeside park). When he showed up in a suit and big mirrored sunglasses, it was a phenomenon. Just about every person at the party dropped what they were doing and gathered around to talk to him. Following him in an entourage as he strolled around my yard. What a fantastic memory!

    Just last night I had a long dream about him. My mom also had a dream about him(she spent a few good evenings at Sam’s bar and Grill with me over the years). I’m not superstitious, but the two spontaneous dreams have me just a little concerned.

    If anyone is in touch with him, please let me know.

    Thanks!

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  28. Today I took a few photo of the place before they demolish it on Monday (1 Dec 2014). It will be sad to see it leveled with all the memories of my youth.I hung with theWed night crowd nearly 43 years there. I’ll never gorgetit or Cosie. The peoplefrom every walkof life, the music, the beer,the pepperoni, hot peppers, always fresh Italian bread. Truly a one of a kind place. It will be tornm dowm, but rightfully so as it is in a terrible state of decompose right now. Should anyone want to see the photos of it just before demolition, send me an email: gerrya@linkny.com.

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  29. Sam was Cosie’s father-n-law; Cosie worked for him, then bought the place from him. He never changed the name on the sign (nor much else, at least until his son Carl took over the place and replaced the men’s toilet and the linoleum floors toward the end).

    My friends and I would spend countless nights in that joint; drinking Guinness Stout and eating reggiano parmesan cheese with hot sauce on Italian bread, and bag after bag of peanuts in the shell. Many games of pool in the back room, listening to “Summer Wind,” “Africa,” “Round Midnight” more times than I can honestly recall… .

    I met my future wife (a William Smith alumna) there. The color photo at the top of this article was taken by my brother, Chris Walters, as a wedding gift to us (I still have the series of framed originals hanging on my wall). If you squint really hard, you can see a newspaper clipping above the bottle of Guinness with a photo of me in a toga (it was a review of a theatre production I was part of – “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”).

    Cosie’s was the place we would all go to hang out after rehearsals and performances. My best friend and I would spend every night there, drinking stout, reading, and writing scripts for our “radio plays” (à la Firesign Theatre). We would later go on to record them (for our own amusement).

    Cosie’s will always be our personal Shangri-la; a wonderful, magical, seemingly mythical place – never to be replaced.

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  30. First entered in 1973….I was lucky enough to snap a photo last year before the building was gone. Served many ice cold beers from my spot at the end of the bar; Cosie did not use a cash register but merely took the cash and piled it up behind his throne situated in the the midbar area….shuffleboard that always had sawdust; lowlite hanging over the pool table; jukebox playing the blues; hot hot peppers , pepperoni and cheese… Be well Cosie….

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  31. Loved the place. Townies drinking scotch and milk. Long tales from Klondike (RIP). In the early sixties–Schaeffer “long necks” for 15 cents. Incredible playlist on the juke box. Cozzie eased us out of our H&WS isolation into the real world. Charlie Updegraph, H’64.

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  32. Some small bubble of recollection drifted from the sediment at the bottom of my mind. I’ve not seen Geneva in over 40 years, but for some reason, I vividly see myself squirting a line of mustard across a stick pretzel. The first time I’d ever heard of, or thought of mustard on a pretzel. As long as conversation, and a reasonable number of long necks kept equal pace, it seemed that I could eat as many as I cared to. Perhaps it was that times equivalent to today’s student diet of ramin noodles. The combination always providing enough warmth for the fridgid walk back to campus. The Oaks was convenient, but always over-crowded, too loud for conversation, too close for “comfort”, and always lacking in oxygen, which Cosie had plenty of.

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