The Norman Transcript

October 23, 2012

Pool hall education not easily forgotten

By Keith Kappes
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The classic 1961 movie, “The Hustler,” is about two pool sharks portrayed by Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason.

Watching that movie always brings back memories of my misspent youth and the many hours I hung out in the pool hall in my hometown.

Mom didn’t approve and dad worked out of town.

Kids really weren’t allowed but the owner would let us make a few bucks in tips by running for cigarettes, Tums, and bottles in brown paper bags.

Those “supplies” were needed by the shooters who gambled day and night.

One of the first lessons you learn in racking pool balls is to keep your fingers out of the way when you remove the rack. Knuckles are no match for a speeding cue ball driven by a grown man trying to sink all of the balls on the break.

And you better make sure you rack the balls tightly together so they break apart in all directions. A “loose” rack could get you rapped on the head with a cue stick instead of a 50-cent tip.

Never let the players run out of chalk for the tips of the cue sticks and always keep the powder ready for those with sweaty hands.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a would-be “hustler” walk into that pool hall with a custom-made, take-apart cue stick in a leather case.

That was before the movie came out but we’d heard stories of big city pool rooms with their professional pool sharks — gamblers who could run the table and empty your wallet with smile.

But we had some local guys who knew every bump and seam on those tables, exactly which cue stick to take off the wall and who to have rack the balls.

By the time that dude staggered out of our pool hall that night, he left behind about $300 in cash, his fancy cue stick and case, and his daddy’s pocket watch.

At the time, I was proud of the “good ole boys” from home who wouldn’t or couldn’t hold a regular job but seemed to live off their gambling winnings.

Sadly, I now can recall arguments, fights, broken friendships, thefts, divorces and even a shooting death tied to things said and done in that pool hall.

I came to realize that gambling and booze don’t mix and that a country pool hall is exactly the wrong place to be when a fight breaks out.

Keith Kappas is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at kkappes@cnhi.com.

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