the pool hall

Friday, I dropped by Rufty-Holmes Senior Center — as I do every Friday — to deliver our little weekly paper, Coffee News.

I almost always see people I know there.  For some reason, lately, I run into more and more people my age.

There’s always a group of guys shooting pool — and they’re pretty good players.  I’m always in a hurry, but I know enough about pool etiquette to stop at the door and watch the shot before crossing the room.

Last week, one of the guys looked up and said:  “I know you.  You’re a Post.”

I confirmed that and said my name.

“You’ve got a brother,” he said.

“Two,” I said.

“One of them used to come up to the pool hall with you.”

“Jonny,” I said.

Then he told me about Larry Lowe, who ran the The Friendly Cue with his father L.B., and was having some serious health problems.

Believe me, I love theatre as much as I love anything in this world, and I appreciate the remarkable transformation of Fisher Street in recent years.  I look forward to seeing shows in The Norvell.  But I had to admit what I really felt.

“It’s a theatre now,” I said.  “I liked it better when it was a pool hall.”

Moans of agreement.

“You got that right,” one guy said.

There was something special about that place.  The big, sturdy tables.  The selection of heavy, straight sticks that L.B. made himself.  You could look up to the mezzanine and watch him work at the lathe.

The smell of tobacco.  The multitude of large ceiling fans that made it a cool place on the hottest of summer days.

The separation of pool and alcohol.  The mix of people.  The communal haze of naughtiness in the air.  The temptation to gamble.

When you lost a game, there was a poetic justice :  if guy is really good at pool, then he spends too much time at it.  He’s a little suspect as a person.

And of course there was the impeccable service — the thrill of winning a game and getting to yell “Rack!”

I don’t know if it’s true because I wasn’t born yet, but family legend has it that my grandfather, Sam Zimmerman, spent a little too much time there himself.

One of the guys who racked balls there in the 80’s remembered him, probably from the 30’s and 40’s, when the pool hall was across the street in the Las Palmas/Brick Street Tavern building.

My grandparents had a store three blocks away on North Main Street and lived upstairs, above the store.  My grandmother would send somebody (one of her children, perhaps?) down to the pool hall to tell him to come home.

In my mind, which is strictly imaginary, he wasn’t shooting pool.  He was sitting in one of the high wooden chairs along the wall, talking and reading the newspaper.

There are other stories of people having to go get other people and bring them home from various locations downtown.

My grandfather also gathered with other men at Purcell’s drug store (now Spanky’s), where they pulled all nighters gathered around a radio listening to news of the war.

Story has it that women in their nightgowns would walk in and order their husbands home.

When I go out at night, I drink a beer.  They supposedly drank coffee while they listened to the news — and they probably really did.  These days, we enjoy fancy coffee, but we drink it mostly in the morning.  Back then, Americans actually drank more coffee.  It was common at every meal, and in the evenings.

My Mom once told me that on Pearl Harbor Day she was watching a movie at the Capitol Theatre.  The Capitol was located just behind the store they lived in, through the alley, on the first block of West Innes Street, where the Salisbury Post parking lot is now.

Back then, as long as you stayed in the theater, you could watch the movie over and over.  I used to do that myself in the same theater when I was a kid.

Pearl Harbor happened on a Sunday, of course, before the days of television, and Mom was watching the movie for the second time when Leon, her brother, came to get her.

“The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” he said.  “Daddy’s real mad about it and said for you to come home now!”

I guess I’m pretty lucky.  I’m basically a homebody.  When I do go out, I’m easy to reach (by phone), but not that easy to find.  I’m not just down the block, a few hundred yards away — in a pool hall, or drug store, or theater.

And nobody has ever really tried to get me to come home.  My parents didn’t much care, and neither does my wife.  I wonder why.