It ain’t tennis, or golf, or a chess match, but it isn’t a gin mill either – it’s a pool room and, as such, there are times when excessively working your mouth is inappropriate. Like when a big money game is going on. Back when I was a kid and literally hung out in the pool room, you could tell the moment you walked through the door that a money game was in progress. Except for the random clicking of balls, the place was immersed in thick, tense silence. Onlookers, staking out all the reasonable vantage points from which they could view the action, watched, hardly breathing. There were no signs on the walls, no announcements had been made, it was the natural way to behave.
Of course, the big money game was an exception rather than the rule. Most often players were involved in what nowadays are called “cheap sets.” Still, even for those games, there were accepted rules of decorum. For one thing, you would never charge up to the table and start shooting the shit with one of the players. Most often, you would approach someone on the periphery and ask if they were playing for something. “Playing for something” was how we referred to gambling. If guys were gambling, that meant they weren’t just screwing around – they were serious. If, for some reason, you did say something to someone who was gambling, as soon as he said “We’re playing for something” you knew enough to make yourself scarce. Like I said, none of this was written down, it was just the way things were, common sense.
I was playing a guy, let’s call him Lenny, some cheap sets up at Capone’s the other day when an acquaintance of his comes sashaying up to the table with a drink in hand, plops his ass down on a stool next to him, and starts up a conversation. I, at the table, just froze. Lenny saw my reaction and told his friend that I didn’t want him hanging around while I was playing and, after rephrasing that a couple times, the guy finally took the hint. I really didn’t like the idea of Lenny making me the heavy. The way I see it, all he had to say to the guy is “We’re playing for something,” then the guy should’ve known enough to get lost. Instead, he made it appear I was unreasonable and that if it was up to him the guy could have stayed around for a good oldfashioned gabfest. WTF.
Lenny’s another guy who claims he once hung out in a pool room, in
Brooklyn no less. I have a hard time believing that folks in Brooklyn would put up with that kind of shit while they were playing, but what do I know, I was 40 miles west in suburban New Jersey.
Speaking of Lenny, a couple months ago we were playing when, jacked up between a cluster of balls at the foot of the table, I tried to make an extremely thin cut. Well, I missed the shot and almost missed the object ball completely. In fact, it barely moved, then settled back where it had been. I told Lenny the ball moved and I guess he didn’t believe me because just last week we’re talking and he brings up something he refers to as “The Phantom Hit.”
Now, you might think he could have taken my word that the ball had moved and been done with it. After all, I was right there with my eyes glued to the balls while he was at the far end of the table engaged in smoking, farting and belching as he normally is. Beside that, during the time we’ve been playing each other, I’ve frequently called fouls on myself that he wouldn’t otherwise have known about. Just a couple weeks ago we were hill-hill and I called a foul on myself for a double hit on the cue ball. He had no idea I had fouled, but I did, so I called it. I doubt seriously that he would ever stop for a foul I had not noticed. At least, he never has. Just saying.
Anyway, you think he could give me the benefit of a doubt and take my word for it that the hit was good? No, two months later he brings up the “phantom hit.” And I wouldn’t doubt that he’s been telling his fellow nits the sad tale every chance he gets. Needless to say, he and I won’t be playing any more. I hate whiners. Maybe he can hook up with his nitwit buddy and they can shoot the shit till the cows come home.