In a dry town, things are sometimes meaner than in places where they go ahead and admit the frailty of mankind and let 'em try to drown it in liquor if that's what it takes.
One discarded housewife shot her ex-husband in the chest six times (in a pattern that would make a dartist proud) with a revolver as he stood at the screen door, asking if he could come in and see the kids and maybe get some of his belongings. It was 5:00 on a sunny afternoon in the summer in the Heart of Dixie. She told the jury it was dark and she couldn't see who it was. Said she thought it was a burglar. She walked out of the courtroom scott free. Rumor around town was that her ex-old man had a drinking problem. That's what wound up killing him, with no remorse from a dry jury.
Funny how such a tight-assed dry town could have not just one honest-to-god pool hall, but three of 'em. They were ranked by the clientele; not the equipment. All the equipment was pristine. The regularly replaced green felt on the Brunswick tables, the crossed leather pockets, and the balls without a scratch on them. The tables had mother-of-pearl diamond shaped rail sights. They were made from exotic Brazilian curubixa and finished in mahogany. The legs might have the Ball and Claw, Spoon, or maybe the Ram’s Head anchoring them to that filthy floor. They came in styles with names such as The Orleans, The Mansfield, and The Manchester. Those expensive gaming boards sat in dingy smoke-filled rooms with concrete and tile floors, two lamps hanging low above each table, and wooden folding chairs racked together with steel rails underneath placed along the walls .
The equipment was always first rate in all three halls, even if the halls themselves reeked of buildings lost in a high-ceiling dream of the Depression. The only real difference in them was the folks who came in the door. In the one where we'd hang out, they came in with names like Squeaky, Slim, and Rag.
I hadn't learned to lust after liquor yet, but I was craving the clink of those balls against each other. Rusty had taught me how to shoot, and he was a young Fast Eddie. I learned that the primary weapon one had at the pool table was mental will. Whenever you're hovering over a pool shot, there are two wills at work. If you feel as if you can't miss the shot and the guy who will soon be paying you hard-earned money feels as if you're probably going to make the shot, there is no way the shot won't go. It's impossible in this physical realm. When he's shooting, if he's doubting whether he can make the shot and you're fairly sure he can't make the shot, no amount of hoodoo would make that shot fall. The interesting moments are when wills clash. You know you can make the shot but you can feel the confident vibes coming from him, standing there with the butt of his cue on the ground, smiling at you, thinking, "You're a born loser, kid." Or, the other three permutations you can imagine in this vein.
We spent most every afternoon in that warehouse of wagering, and all day on Saturday. I learned to speculate on every game of pool known to man. Rusty and I would warm up back on one of the tables in the rear before moving our way up the line to the venture capital tables. The middle tables were usually full of eight ball or nine ball action. This could provide spending change.
There was a line of a dozen tables, and the very first two, up front where some sunshine could crawl through those tobacco smoke-soaked windows, were where the big guys threw down large bills before and after each game. The second table was reserved for what they called "Double Check," or "Pill Pool." Seven folks could play this game because each player got two pills out of a felt bag. Your two balls get pocketed, you win the pool of cash on that game. You had to start at the 1, 8 or 15 and work your way up or down, so it had some luck involved. But a good player could use combinations from those balls to win without another hapless soul getting into a horizontal position with cue.
The front table was an actual billiards table, sans pockets, reserved for those who played for houses and cars. Since we had neither, we did naught but watch what went on there.
No, our fun was small change, but we fancied ourselves the cosa nostra of chalk.
I learned a lot in that dim room. I learned to use light cue sticks, 14 or 15 oz., in order to keep the arms fresh for long days over felt. I learned how to know when I was playing someone I could not beat, and how to keep the bets increasing when I was playing someone I could. I learned how to leave the cue ball for me when I was going to make a shot, and how to leave it for him when I wasn't. And I learned how to add enough top english on a break to make the cue ball fly off the rack and hit the old bastard right in the balls just as he pulled the rack away.
This was the guy who had just charged you a quarter to rack up each new game. Can you imagine that? This fellow earned his living by charging each table a quarter for a new rack. And he was one cranky old bastard. He looked like Ichabod Crane, but with some sort of head. Not really a human head, but close enough. He hated us kids coming in there and employing him to serve us. Especially when he saw we were winning more in an hour than he'd make in a week.
And I learned what it was those guys up at the front table were drinking out of those little silver things they kept in their back pockets. I learned what dry town meant, and how to execute that jump shot without scratching.