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The first time I shot a pool ball was in 1955. I was five years old and it was in a bar in west side of Dayton, Ohio that was owned by brothers Sonny and Dick. They were good buddies of my father and the establishment they owned was the Hudson Supper Club. Yes, I shot pool in a saloon when I was five, and that sort of set the stage for the rest of my life.
My recollection of my pool game is a little blurry for the next four or five years or so as I was really focused on my education. First grade, as I recall, was a breeze for the most part, but second and third grades really demanded all of my attention – outside of playing tag and kickball out in the alley. So I laid the cue stick down so to speak, (since the closest thing to a cue stick I had was my five-cent pea shooter), and hit the books because my mother told me that if I weren’t careful, I’d grow up to be nothing but a pool shooting gangster. Now I look back and wonder if she was psychic or something.
OK then, flash forward 5 years – it’s the summer of 1960 and I was cruising into fifth grade that fall – I was on top of my game! I had managed to keep my pool jones under control – that is until my older brother waved a bag of hand talc under my nose and it was the Hudson Supper Club all over again – I was back in 1955 and I was looking for the chalk. He took me to East Third Street Billiards, a local pool hall right next to the Old Hickory Barbeque. Well, the cat was out of the bag, now.
Hello Dr. Cue, gimme a dime bag of nine-ball. My mother’s words were truly prophetic – my name is Joe, and I will mow lawns for pool. It was all over ‘cept the hollerin’ – as we used to say in east Dayton.
After taking me there a few times, my brother knew I was hooked – and he was off the hook to take me there. He introduced me to the owner, Valley Street Red – I was Red’s problem now. To a ten year-old, Red was a mountain of a man with a shock of red hair that would stick out in all directions (and this was long before hair gel started being used…know what I mean?). Also, and I’m trying not to exaggerate, he wore the same shirt for the next 11 years.
Anyway, at that time you had to be 18 years old to even be in a pool hall. So, cute as I was, I was a problem for Red – since he was my new mentor and babysitter. Not wanting to lose the revenue I represented – he was getting a penny a minute from me – Red let me play on the last table, at the back of the hall. One of the nicer things about the back of the pool hall was the fact there was a huge wooden grate in the floor that hot air just blasted out of on the coldest days. It was warmer than my own house. For 30 cents, I could work on my bank shot and get the feeling back in my fingers and toes – what a deal.
Before I go any further, I have to tell you two things: One: Meucci pool cues play a part in this rambling, but not as much as the title suggests, and Two: everything I have and will say in this brief brain dump is pretty close to the truth of what really happened. I’m sure there’s a book here, but it would probably only be interesting to one or two people – if you count me.
Anyway…Red taught me all I needed to know about pool for that point in my life – imparting a lot of invaluable Wild Turkey wisdom – but two things still come to mind today. First: if the wall phone rings and he bellows at me to “get out NOW,” I had to be out the back door before I took my next breath and not come back until the next day. And secondly, although the player is the most important element in the game, the cue stick is a close second.
For casual play, Red would just take a pool cue off the wall rack, but when the money-games rolled into town he would breakout the “good wood.” When he got that pool cue out, I would always take one of the old, red, fold-down vinyl seats that ran along the wall by the big table up front – ’cause there was going to be a shootin’ match goin’ on.
I loved that feeling back then of a money game getting ready to start. And, I still kind of feel it sometimes when I open my case now and get my Meucci Sneaky Pete pool cue ready for action. I have several Meucci cues, but the one that I always seem to rely on is that sneaky Pete. It certainly isn’t a flashy cue with all the inlays and dice and poker cards, just understated elegance and performance – a cue Old Red would have used – if it was a money game…
Anyway, I am running out of your patience, so I better end this now. Maybe, if there is any interest, I’ll pick this story up about the goings on for the next 11 years at Valley Street Red’s East Third Street Billiards.
Keep your tip chalked…
write by james