Swirl, Smack and Spit

We're curious about Bill Roberti's intentions, Brent Feeney's exodus and Joe Edwards' alibi; plus, Missouri will taste damn good in a waffle cone

Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.

John Harrison knows a lot about ice cream. More, really, than any reasonable person should. Every morning Harrison, the official taster for Edy's Ice Cream, spends up to five hours testing 30 gallons of the stuff. His tongue is insured for $1 million.

Unreal caught up with Harrison and his tongue as they prepared for an August 15 visit to Dierbergs (10-11 a.m. in the store at Olive Boulevard and Craig Road), part of a promotional campaign to develop a Missouri-themed ice cream flavor.

Unreal: How about this for a Missouri-themed ice cream flavor: Methamphetamine.

Harrison: It could be Mississippi Mud, or Apple Orchard or something. I don't know.

Your tongue is insured for a million dollars, right?

That's right, 1 million. Let me give you an anatomy lesson. Do you know how many taste buds there are on the tongue?

No.

Nine thousand.

So, what's your technique?

It's simple: Swirl, smack and spit. I swirl it around in my mouth and then -- [the telephone emits a godawful smacking sound] -- I smack to bring up the top note. I know within four or five seconds whether the product is right or wrong, and what's wrong.

So it's a lot like wine tasting?

It's very similar. I have a 55-gallon trash barrel with wheels that follows me when I do a test. I start with vanilla, the white wine of ice cream, and work my way up to the heavy Bordeaux like black walnut and chocolate chip.

Do you have to push the trash can around yourself?

No, sir. I walk away from it. That's a messy job, isn't it? You're the first person in the sixteen years I've been doing this to ask me about that.

Exit Interview

On July 23, St. Clair County Suburban Journals copy editor and Granite City native Brent Feeney was driving his brother to work when some kid dropped a rock off the Sidney Street overpass onto his windshield as he tooled down Interstate 55. No one was injured, but Feeney, who will celebrate his 43rd birthday on September 11 (of all dates), was plenty rattled. Mere weeks later, Feeney, an active member of the St. Louis booster group Metropolis, announced his intention to leave town to take a job at a small daily in Charleston, Illinois, home of Eastern Illinois University, his alma mater (Class of '88).

Unreal conducted an exit interview, in which Feeney shared his St. Louis peeves and loves, and revealed a penchant for listening to talk radio and an attraction to WB11 anchors Kathryn Jamboretz and Melanie Moon, who, Feeney confesses, "get my blood going."

Unreal: Having just had a rock dropped on your car on I-55, do you feel as though the city of St. Louis is intrinsically cursed?

I don't think so. A lot of that stuff is a lot of hype. I know I just had a rock dropped on me, but that could have happened anywhere.

Do you think it would be boon to downtown St. Louis' "renaissance" if Union Station were replaced by a dirt auto-racing track, à la Tri-City Speedway in Granite City?

I don't know about that. Put all the racing fans over in Granite.

What will you miss most about St. Louis?

Going to the ballpark and Savvis, seeing the Blues and Cards. I'm going to miss walking with Metropolis and discovering a lot of hidden gems. I'm going to miss going to Krehbiel's in Carondelet. Great deli sandwiches there.

What will you miss least about St. Louis?

I won't miss [KTRS-AM radio host] Frank O. Pinion. I just think he's an idiot.

What do you think is wrong with the city?

Too much racism. It's not just the obvious suspects. When you have people like [WGNU-AM talk-show hosts] Lizz Brown and Onion Horton spewing off, I consider them as racist as anybody. I remember working at Famous-Barr downtown [in men's furnishings, before getting the Suburban Journals gig], I had a couple black kids who called me a cracker. It really upset me. Black racism against whites is just as strong as white racism against blacks. Listen to some of the callers on WGNU. It's definitely not vanilla talk radio, which I'm glad for, but it does get kind of tiresome sometimes.

Will you ever move back?

I plan on it. I will be back. This is just temporary. My biggest regret is not being able to go out with Katy Jamboretz or Melanie Moon.

Bowling for Conspiracy Theories

He doesn't have an alibi. He's opening a bowling alley in the same general vicinity. He admits that he may be interested in acquiring at least one relic from the salvage operation.

Could Joe Edwards have torched Arcade Lanes, which burned to the ground in a six-alarm blaze last month?

Edwards, who plans to open an eight-lane house in November, sounded mighty vague when we asked his whereabouts between 5 and 7 p.m. on the night in question. "July 17?" he mused, as if completely innocent. "Uh, gosh. I have no idea. Let me think. That's a Thursday. I don't know. You know, I don't remember where I was. I remember talking to people after the fire. I said, 'Gee, that's the last thing I would ever want to have happen.'"

Sure. But let's stick to the facts.

Edwards insists his yet-to-open Pinup Bowl on Delmar Boulevard won't profit from Arcade's demise, but he does admit that he's intrigued by the vintage bowling-pin sign that hung outside the doomed alley and survived intact, in part because it was mounted, coincidentally or not, on the opposite side of the building from where the fire started. He has gone so far as to ask for a photograph of the sign as well as its dimensions from a person -- an accomplice, perhaps? -- whose name he conveniently could not recall.

"If it's possible, that would be great," he says. "I'm definitely open to the thought. I would love to do it if I could."

Case closed.

School's In

What with the biblical proportions of Rochell Moore's curse on the mayor and the weekly weeping and gnashing of teeth at meetings of the St. Louis Board of Education, it's tough to find critical news coverage or insightful analysis of the ongoing passion play in the city schools. Still, that information can be found in some surprising places, including mainstream morning talk on KMOX radio, the newsletter for the Landmarks Association and through e-mail updates from Peter Downs via his fledgling publication, "St. Louis Schools Watch."

Downs, who ran for the school board in April and lost, has been consistently ahead of the St. Louis Post-Dispatchin his coverage and has been virtually alone in his questioning of the voodoo economics practiced by Alvarez & Marsal, the corporate turnaround firm hired to rejuvenate city schools. On the morning after the August 4 meeting, Downs sent out a dispatch that detailed the cutback in health benefits to teachers and noted how interim superintendent Bill Roberti had failed to explain these cutbacks in a meeting with teachers earlier in the day. No comparable description was available in the Post. If you want in on Downs' update, write pdowns@swbell.net.

On KMOX, school board president Darnetta Clinkscale admitted to talk show host Charles Brennan that she had never visited any of the sixteen schools scheduled for closure.

The Landmarks newsletter (http://stlouis.missouri.org/501c/landmarks), meanwhile, calls attention to the architecturally significant buildings among the sixteen doomed schools. Eleven of the schools were built by noted architects; several date from the turn of the last century. Some benefited from the recent capital-improvement program, including the Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School at 5415 Page Boulevard. Emerson was built in 1901, when, in the newsletter's words, "St. Louis schools became the national model of economy and operational efficiency."

That was 102 years ago.

Correction published 8/20/03:
In the original version of "Exit Interview," we inadvertently took a year off soon-to-be-expat Brent Feeney's life. Feeney turns 43 on September 11, not 44. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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