As a kid growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, there were places I was supposed to be found and a couple of places I wasn’t.
One of the places I was never supposed to be found was in the pool hall.
I still have no idea what the name of the town’s pool hall was (maybe it didn’t have one on purpose), but one thing it did have was interesting people.
Guys. Interesting guys, to be exact. I never saw a woman in the pool hall.
Now, you may be wondering how a young man who’d been forbidden to go into the local pool hall knew that its patrons were interesting, and guys. Well, that’s a valid question. And one that will be answered using the same sidestepping verbal gymnastics that got me in there in the first place.
I discovered that one of the reasons your family doesn’t want you frequenting a specific location (one that’s alleged to be a haven for illicit activities and moral failings) is because you likely will run into another one of your family members, city officials, or other pillars of the community.
So, how do you go to the pool hall without getting caught? You tell your parents you’re going with one of your buddies to visit and help his uncle.
Now, this is technically true. It’s just that your visit to see your buddy’s uncle requires that you go to the pool hall. Because that’s where he is.
Also, when you tell your parents that you’re going to visit your buddy’s uncle, and you say that you’re going to spend the day helping him, that’s also true. You’re just going to help him by either wracking the pool balls at the beginning of each game, or you’re going to run errands for him and his pool hall friends.
Those errands included a bike ride to the Piggly Wiggly or Shur-Way to pick up snuff, Camels with no filters, or a pack of Bugler and some rolling papers.
If you were lucky, the uncle or whoever else sent you to pick up their tobacco products would let you keep the change. If you made enough in tips to add up to a quarter, you could play your own game of pool with one of the other patrons. If you had two quarters, you also could bet on the game.
Days at the pool hall were all about learning something new.
Now, you might think that a kid in a pool hall, wagering with a bunch of old chain-smoking, snuff-dipping men (who may or may not have had a bottle in the back) might be a bad influence.
But when my parents built a house in 1974, they included a game room for my sister and me. Inside this game room we had shag carpet, an RCA console stereo (complete with a record player and 8-track), and a pool table.
My buddies and I spent a lot of time in that game room. When you’re not old enough to have a steady job, date, or be a contributing member of society, you do what any honest, growing kid does. You learn to shoot pool.
And that we did. And we got good at it.
Back to the pool hall.
Most pool hall patrons don’t look at kids as anything other than kids. So after a day of running errands to get smokes and snuff, you’ve somewhat endeared yourself to pool shooters.
Especially the ones who liken themselves to Minnesota Fats, and do even more so as the day progresses with frequent back room visits to that bottle.
To clarify, Ashdown, Arkansas was dry. No liquor was sold inside the city limits. Consuming liquor inside the city limits was also prohibited.
If you got caught.
Now, these fellas may have been taking a nip for medicinal reasons, muck like Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies had her rheumatism elixir. I never asked.
I just knew that my uncle liked to take a sip or two in the back of the pool hall. That’s where the big domino game was always going on. He loved his dominoes, his sip, and his buddies there.
His buddies liked dominoes, but they also liked a game of pool. With a wager.
If you wanted to play the winner of a game of pool, you’d put your quarter on the edge of the table. If you wanted to wager that you could beat them, you’d place another quarter next to it.
When a kid did that, it brought looks and laughs.
Suffice it to say, after a couple of games, our mothers didn’t have to worry about us going back to the pool hall. Our pool skills had been underestimated, and we were uninvited by the patrons.
A question was raised as to whether my uncle would rat us out for being in the pool hall. But there was little worry about that. No self-respecting uncle would want anyone in the family thinking he ever went to a pool hall.
©2023 John Moore
John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.