Hanging Out At The Pool Hall Dec 28, 2015 • By daniel miltz • Right around the corner where I grew up in my town, there was a pool hall called George's Billiards. It's a place where I used to hang out and try to 'look tough.'' Started going there when I was around 16 years old. I knew a lot of friends from school who were inhabitating the joint. Even though you had to be 18 years old to go into a pool hall, Georgie let us in. If the cops happen to come around, we would just bolt out the back door into the alley. GEORGE WAS A STAND UP GUY! I shot a fair stick, good enough to shoot against selected opponents. They let me chip quarters and half-dollars. Pool halls were perfectly sleazy in my day. The guys were often downright unpleasant, and a lot of them were such creeps you wouldn't introduce them to Don King, let alone Mom. George's was a seedy pool hall on the corner of 14th & Eureka Ave.("...it was diagonally across the street from my 'flim-flam' uncle's chop shop...''). It had two large windows, that were covered halfway up with a patina of puke green paint; so nobody could look in. Lots of pool tables... and good chill time. Inside this immense shabby cathedral of a pool hall, in which the pool tables are covered with oil-cloth slip-covers and most of the time are used as pews for the curious spectator; the room is lit by round dim lamps hanging over the center of the pool tables.. Amongst the lays are overturned ashtrays and yesterday's abandoned cue sticks. 'Ray Ray the Midget,' was the main guy that was the overseer. He was a drunk and wasn't very friendly but, he was super accommodating. I'm pretty sure he was the manager. He was the much older brother of a friend of mine named Johnny! ...Johnny, a small tough kid, was a car thief at an early age (started around 13 or 14) was eventually shipped off to reform school where he was shanked a few times and left him with a slight limp when he was finally let out. For us 'young toughs,' the informal association of males gather on street corners and in pool halls, candy stores, become a prominent means of socializing. Hey, just-- ''a bunch of boys hanging out on a corner, waiting for 'something doing. that.'' Being a tough kid, achieves and articulates our male identity and blazes our own path into the public spectrum. Dilly-dallying on the corner or in a pool hall could include as few as four or five individuals hanging together, who, in most cases suffer severe cases of being social de·vi·ates. (And) very few of us in later life never overcome our abnormal ec·cen·tric·i·ty. My favorite pool hall guy that came in on a regular basis was the town's toughest guy --Joey Gusek. Everyone called him 'Goose. He lived on the other side of the town tracks, not far from the smelly ass shit factory, off of Pennsylvania Road. He lifted weights and worked at Great Lakes Steel Mill in the foundry. I often went to his house and lifted weights with him in his garage. He later moved to Detroit on Plum St., (about a half mile from where I went to school) where he found more action. Matter of fact, he told me to go get a real job, in which, I eventually did, years later. I would ride my motorcycle down there, now and then, to go visit him. He in due course became a 'Hipster.' Goose's pal, Junior, once invited me to help him sell a pallet of stolen batteries from a nearby corner gas station. I declined, not because of honesty, but because Junior was a truly stupid thief. I figured, he stole the batteries and didn't know what the hell he was doing. He went to (DeHoCo), the County Correctional Facility. He was a good pool hustler; if he'd only had some money. Junior, had a brother named Jimmy who did wield a pretty good stick and who spent most of his time hustling wannabe grifters that would come into our hidey-hole. Now and then, big shot Tony TaTa (a.ka. Tats) from the Rouge, with some fast cash, would come around flashing his brim fedora hat with a feather in it, decked out with an expensive, tailored overcoat, with a carnation in its lapel and two silk handkerchiefs peeking up from its breast pocket. He would always move like some sovereign czar through the room, past Ray Ray, and over to the coat rack, where the midget respectfully takes his coat and hat. His hawk-like eyes gazing around the tables to catch any action. Observing, Tats usually withdraws a cigarette from his silver case, then casually strolls toward a table with some potential action and quietly observes sharp, precise movements of his prospective adversaries. When he is satisfied with who he wants, he then uses glaring eye movements that are used to intimidate, and finally, it is realized that the big moment has arrived. Precisely at that second he beckons to the midget for his private leather cue case. Immediately, the pool room peons withdraw the cover off the main green felt top table and the racker (whoever Tats wants?....) begins to bang the balls into the wooden racking triangle. Now, there is little noise other than the clicking of pool balls. Players drag their chairs across the floor and position them around the main table. The dupe would then grope through his pockets and come up with the betting cash that would be handed over to a trusted crony. THEN THE ACTION WOULD BEGIN AND PLAY OUT FOR HOURS ON END. For some time, when us tough guys were hanging out, we were allowed to work the poolroom, spending some of our time racking balls and cleaning the tables with two big soft brushes. I personally, would come out of there with some spending cash, enough, where I would ask Ray to buy me a bottle of cheap wine. He'd run across the street to the Party Pantry store and get it for me, but He would have to take a gulp or two from the bottle for his run. WHAT A CHEAP DRUNK! Pool tables in those days didn't look like they were made by a toy company. Ours had a monumental solidity; they were made solemn and sturdy. They had heavy slate beds, straight and true, covered with fine billiard cloth. When you turned on the lights above one of the tables, it was like lifting the curtain at some Broadway show. Even the sleaziest guy was bathed in romantic glamour as he shot. No one ever had more dramatic lighting than a guy leaning in out of the dark, poised over his cue stick, braced and balanced, and as intent on making his shot as a Marine sniper on Pork Chop Hill. The best stick on our tables belonged to an old guy who was a model of dissipation and misspent youth. He had frail white arms, a doughy white face, a dapper white mustache and a high white pompadour. Oddly enough, I can't remember his name. Once in a while he'd come back to the pool hall to rack balls, and if somebody wanted a game, he'd shoot. Mostly straight pool. He couldn't get action in any other games because everybody was afraid to play him. Even our local champ wasn't good enough when he'd shot against this old geezer. Open games went on all day and night on the front table. It was a nonstop exhibition of the best shooting in town. Strangers often showed up at George's like hot young gunmen arriving in Dodge City. After the first shot, after the first rack, everybody knew how good you were when you were playing in an open game. Any-ball, a local variation of straight pool, was the game on the open table; high score won, low paid and dropped out. And if you ran the rack from the break, everybody noticed. I watched, and played on the back tables. Never had the nerve to shoot in an open game. I always thought of myself as a good pool player. Pool halls in those days were considered to be 'DENS OF INIQUITY.'