Tony Soprano once admonished his friend Paulie Walnuts, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.”
It is probably unwise — and perhaps unsafe — to ignore Mr. Soprano’s advice, but “The Villages Daily Sun” carries so many stories about billiards that I can’t help reflecting about my misspent youth in pool halls.
Back in the day, it was a rite of passage for teenage boys to hang out in poolrooms after school and on weekends. Three types of people occupied a typical poolroom in the South — teenage boys, winos and derelicts.
We didn’t have any fancy schmancy “billiards hall” in our little town. The name of our hangout was simple, straightforward and descriptive, “Brown’s Pool Room.”
There were six pool tables at Brown’s. One of them was covered with lush green felt and was kept in immaculate condition. It was reserved for serious pool players – meaning no teenagers. The other five tables had faded felt and an occasional tear here and there. We were restricted to using the beat-up tables when we played, at 10 cents a pop, our games of eight-ball or rotation (which, for some unknown reason, we called “French Pool”). Whenever a game ended, somebody would yell, “Rack ‘em up, Jocko!” Although to my knowledge, there never was anybody there named “Jocko.”
A long, wooden bench ran the length of Brown’s Pool Room. There were three tables on each side of the bench. Anyone not playing pool would sit on the bench and kibitz about the games. While sitting on the bench, the teenagers would swap lies about their sexual exploits. The winos and derelicts would belch, make other repulsive noises and spit tobacco juice in the general vicinity of several disgusting brass spittoons.
Brown’s Pool Room was resplendent with characters — although it’s a pretty safe bet that the word “resplendent” was never uttered there.
Foremost among the characters was the proprietor himself. Brown was a short man with an enormous paunch that spilled over his suspender-supported trousers. Nobody could understand anything Brown said because he talked like his mouth was full of marshmallows or perhaps an eight ball. The problem wasn’t a speech impediment; it was the monstrous wad of tobacco Brown always had in his mouth.
Brown, by the way, was his first name, not his last name. Brown got very testy when people referred to him as “Mr. Brown.” Whenever a newbie walked into the pool room and said, “Hello, Mr. Brown.” The teenage boys, winos and derelicts would all giggle and watch Brown turn beet red and bellow at the newbie, “Mfsdnmtzryzbrwn, #$%&$#” while spraying him with tobacco spittle.
There were some pretty good pool players in Brown’s Pool Room. Probably the best was a scrawny, old geezer named Earl. At the most, Earl weighed 87 pounds. He looked like he was, wore a ratty tan fedora and bore an amazing resemblance to Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons.” But, OMG, could Earl shoot pool. He’d lean over the table, squint at the balls and hit the cue ball very, very gently. There was a tiny “ping” when the cue hit the eight ball — which in turn began creeping oh-so-slowly across the table. You could go to the bathroom and, when you got back, the eight ball would still be moving like a glacier across the table. Finally, it would plop into the pocket. Earl would grin and enjoy a celebratory spit of tobacco juice. He even hit the spittoon.
My favorite character in the poolroom was Jeff Chandler. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember there was a movie star named Jeff Chandler in those days. Hollywood Jeff Chandler had rugged good looks, dazzling white teeth and prematurely gray hair that gave him a distinguished appearance. Poolroom Jeff Chandler was on the puny side, had no hair, three teeth and unquestionably was never described as looking “distinguished.”
Jeff was renowned in Brown’s Pool Room as a pre-eminent slop shot artist. If you’ve never frequented a pool room, a slop shot occurs when the shooter slams the cue ball into the numbered balls, with no real result in mind other than luck causing one or more of them to fall into a pocket. Jeff would summon all his strength and savagely send the cue ball flying into a cluster of balls while yelling, “Watch them sonuvabitches glide!” It amazed us how Jeff could turn a four-word oath into one word while totally disregarding all the basic rules of English grammar. Jeff had more luck sinking balls with slop shots than he did with hitting the spittoon.
There were characters among the teenagers who hung out in Brown’s Pool Room, too. Take my buddy Roger. Roger was a pretty typical teenager but he did have some eccentricities. For example, he smoked. Sure, everybody smoked then but Roger smoked a pipe. It was a bit weird to see an 18-year-old puffing on a briar pipe. Roger’s drinking habits also were a bit off the wall. At the time, teenagers drank Pepsi during the daytime and Pabst Blue Ribbon at night. Roger drank wine — not a fancy chardonnay or pinot noir, but stuff that was so cheap you could clean bricks with it. Roger also never turned down a free drink. One day, he was in the back room at Brown’s. Coal was stored there for the poolroom’s pop-bellied stove, and it also was a convenient place where a wino or derelict could take a gulp from his bag-covered bottle or have a quick nap.
Roger saw an unattended wine bottle that was half full of a clear liquid. He took a big gulp, then gagged and spit out what he hadn’t swallowed. “Jeez,” Roger yelled. “That wine tastes like gasoline!” The second wino from the left looked up and slowly drawled, “Nope, not gasoline. Turpentine.”