"I'm a Downtown Man"

Jimmy is a big man in a small, strange world.

"So he parks the car. Well, it's a hot night, and me and Jimmy want to listen to the Cardinals, so we're sitting in the car, listening to the game, and all of a sudden I smell this son of a bitch. I says, 'Hey, what'd you do? Did you shit in here?' 'No,' he says. 'I got a new holster -- you're smelling the new leather.' And sure enough, when he got out of the car, the seat was all wet. 'C'mon,' I says, 'We're going into KMOX. We got to clean you up.' So when me and him are going in, Schoemehl's coming out. I'm holding the midget by his hand, and Schoemehl asks, 'What happened?' 'Oh,' I says, 'the midget shit.' And he started laughing, until I says, 'He shit in your car.'"

"I've heard the story," concedes the former mayor. "I can't confirm or deny it."

The incident, if it did take place, was about 15 years ago. Unhappily for Jimmy, the story is broadcast every year on the occasion of the Breakfast Club's anniversary, in May. "If I don't," says J.C. Corcoran, who is carrying on the newest incarnation of the Breakfast Club on KLOU-FM (103.3 FM), "I get 37,000 e-mails from listeners demanding that I play it."

Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."
Jennifer Silverberg
Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."
Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."
Jennifer Silverberg
Gus Torregrossa has been Jimmy's boss for nearly 30 years, except for the times he's fired him. "Anything he wants, he gets from Gus," Torregrossa says of Jimmy. "He's like my son -- I raised him."

Jimmy summarily denies the whole incident: "It was none of my doing. Any person in their right mind don't do stuff like that. As far as I'm concerned, that situation is unknown to me."


Jimmy is working up to the ritual of ordering supper at the Missouri Bar & Grill. The place has two sides: a bar with a TV and pictures, mostly of sports figures, all over the walls, and the Grill which is open until 2:30 A.M. The gyro is very popular, but Jimmy is a burger man. "That boy can eat," says Trifon. "He'll order a triple cheeseburger with bacon. You can hardly get your mouth around a triple cheeseburger."

As he does Gus, Jimmy considers Trifon family. And, like Gus, Trifon is about 4 inches taller than Jimmy. The bar is a refuge from a long day at Gus's, where, Jimmy admits, "Sometimes the bullshit gets a little too thick." Gus drops in occasionally, but he's not there every night like Jimmy. In fact, both the Missouri Bar and Gus's are open 365 days a year, a fact that prompts Trifon to joke that he keeps the bar open every day just for Jimmy's benefit. Trifon likes telling stories about Jimmy, and one of them involves a man who came into the bar one day: "He's about 7-foot-2, a monster, and he sees Jimmy and asks him, 'Are you the owner?' And Jimmy looks way up at him and says, 'No, I'm not the owner. The owner is a little bitty guy.'"

Sportswriter Schildroth sometimes gets to the bar near midnight, after his evening shift at the P-D is over." When I get back to work the next day, someone'll say, 'Hey, Chopper, how was the Grill? Was the midget there?' That's the first thing, usually: 'Was the midget there?' And I'll say, 'Yeah, he was singing,' or 'Yeah, he was passed out face-down in his fries and double cheeseburger, with ketchup on his eyebrows.'"

Passed out, or exhausted from being on his feet for nine hours? "I get off work, I go to the bar," says Jimmy. "I drink my beer. If I want to be alone, I go to the restaurant side. I drink, smoke, think my thoughts, maybe close my eyes, take a nap. It's like family there -- they don't care."


"I have to get a few beers in me to get up there," says Jimmy, standing at his chosen spot, the bar's service station, where he is all but obscured by a partition as tall as himself. Fifteen feet away, on the grill side, the Mighty Big Band is in the middle of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," with Eric Foreman on vocals. It's midnight on Easter Sunday, and the band has been playing Motown and R&B selections for an hour now. The lights are low, and the lone waitress hustles with drink orders from thirsty customers while the cook brings out plates of food. Jimmy seems restless, every so often leaving his spot to walk over near the band and then back again. After the break, some time into the second set, Jimmy has threatened to sing. It is a performance Sunday-night regulars anticipate.

The bar is now more crowded, and the band is playing its second set to a near-full house. After the third song, guitarist Steve Martin announces, "We have a special guest tonight, and he's going to do a song for us. How about it for Jimmy Vitale?" Whoops and hollers from the audience. Jimmy, who has been standing off in the wings, strolls up, turns his cap backward and pulls the mike up to his pale mug. "Let me bring this down in the tradition of the late, great Elmore James," he announces, "a number called 'Dust My Broom.'" Cigarette in hand, he launches into it: "I'm gonna get up in the morning, I believe I'll dust my broom/I'm gonna write me a letter, send it to every downtown man I know/If I don't find that woman, she's in Michigan I know ..."

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