Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mike Zoss Pharmacy

I finally got a chance to see the much-heralded No Country for Old Men yesterday. Expertly crafted, it had just a bit too much home-spun meandering for my tastes, probably because Texan is a foreign language to me. But in the theater I immediately perked up when a scene took place in front of a drugstore (supposedly deep in Texas) with the sign "Mike Zoss Pharmacy." For those of us who grew up in a certain part of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, Mike Zoss Drugs was an amazing drugstore, situated just down a strip mall called Texa-Tonka Shopping Center, and not far from Penny's Grocery Store where my mom shopped (The picture shows the ethnic restaurant that now is situated where Mike Zoss Drugs once stood). Zoss Drugs was nothing like the chain drugstores of our modern times. Can you imagine today buying plastic model airplanes and battleships (and all the requisite paints, thinners, and brushes) at a CVS?

Those Coen brothers are always dropping little things into their movies from St. Louis Park. And now they are slated to make a new movie, their first full-scale return to Minnesota since Fargo (1996), currently entitled "A Serious Man," to be set in Jewish St. Louis Park in the summer of 1967 -- no frigid snow swept long shots in this movie. The movie is set to shoot beginning April, 2008. Reports the Minneapolis StarTribune: "Their film concerns a university professor in midlife crisis seeking answers from a succession of rabbis. 'He's going through problems with his kids, his wife and his marital relations' as a sunbathing neighbor attracts his eye,' Joel said. 'The character and the story are completely made up, but it's drawn directly from experience' from the local Hebrew school the brothers attended as kids to the mid-century office buildings and neighborhoods along Hwy. 12."

I'd love to tell the Coen brothers a story or two from the summer of 1967. My Bar Mitzvah was June 10, 1967, and it was the practice of my Rabbi to insist that Bar Mitzvah boys would attend morning services the week preceding their grand event in order to learn how to properly put on tefillin. So on the morning of June 5, I awoke early to the local CBS radio affiliate, the powerhouse WCCO, to listen to the price of hog belly futures at the St. Paul Stockyards interspersed with garbled reports of distant Israeli attacks in the Sinai's Mitla Pass. At the time, I had no idea how important those far-away mispronounced Middle Eastern geographical terms would become in my life, but I will never forget the bizarre juxtaposition of farm reports and battle descriptions. It changed my life. My subsequent obsession with all things Minnesotan and all things Israeli (which has been represented throughout my blog) was probably unconsciously fixed that week in June 1967.

So here it is: an open offer --

Dear Joel and Ethan,
Joel, I'm the same age as you. We went to school together. I went to the Talmud Torah, just like you. I hung out at Zoss Drugs, and Texa-Tonka Lanes, just like you. And before the grocery store at Texa-Tonka Shopping Center became a Red Owl, it was a Penny's. My Bar Mitzvah occurred in the summer of 1967. I'm now a professor of Jewish Studies, specializing in Kabbalah. (I hear you already have a scene involving a dybbuk -- I worked briefly with Tony Kushner as technical advisor to the Hartford premiere of his re-working of Ansky's The Dybbuk). I've got the summer free. I've got funny stories to tell, including stories galore about the local rabbis. Do you need a technical advisor? I'm available.


  1. Dear Coen heads, I was fifteen during the summer of 1967 and was starting to smoke the first reefer available to white people in Minneapolis. Got chased down the hallowed halls of SLP High School by jocks for wearing bell bottoms. My cousin turned me on to Jimi Hendrix (Axis: Bold as Love). I turned him on to the herb. We both were trouble for our parents.

    Hell's Angels parties at Dania Hall; the Diggers on Cedar Avenue. Waiting for the revolution, man!

    Manis Friedman, as a young rabbi, and before becoming a Lubavitcher super-star, tried to convince our clique of wise-ass suburban Jewish kids of the Truth. It didn't work.

    For real cultural color, don't forget to include Nasser jokes.

  2. There was a mechanical pony for little kids outside of Mike Zoss Pharmacy. To the right of the front door. Dad put a coin in, and it gently bobbed up and down, to and fro.

    Penny's check out boys would take your groceries out to the car.

  3. To the Cohen Brothers,

    I graduated much later, in 1984 but my neighborhood was Colorada Avenue and 28th. The old "Don's Park Market" has since gone as has the hardware store across the street, but the "Beek's" Pizza is still there.
    Anyone remember old Mr. Fox with the limp who used to manage the old St. Louis Park theater where "Star Wars" played sold out for months as viewers lined up outside for an enormously long
    que ?

    It was a time of long hot summers,
    Gold Medal pop, looking for the Indian on the sucker wrappers and
    sledding down the hill at Dakota Park.

    As a builder Im hoping to get back into the film business and work on the movie this year. It will really
    be a blast from the past.

    Garrett Fulton

  4. Bingo Prof,

    I am Jewish pharmacist from Boston, but now live in Midland, Texas. While watching "No Country For Old Men" tonight, I caught sight of the name "Mike Zoss Pharmacy" and decided to search the name to see if it was a real drug store in Texas. I then learned the whole story of the Zoss family and also found this blog.

    "NCFOM" is a Texas gem! I laugh a the dialogue, because it is so genuine. Funny but it was filmed in New Mexico.

    I have a question for you. My family, Trusten, came from Ukraine in 1910. We have no relatives in Nebraska or Minnesota, yet there are families with the same surname, same spelling, living in both states. Do you know any? In any case, please say hello to me at .


    Paul Trusten

    My Ba