Straight Pool

“It is easy, Rick. You see them and go up to them and make any kind of conversation and then ask them if they would like to have a coffee or something like that depending on where you are. A lot of times they let you know right away they are not interested. So, you go on to the next one.”

I understood this to be a formula for success but the key is you “go on to the next one” after the last one has just rejected you. This takes a remarkable bounce-back ability most men don’t have. If they did they would be as successful as “the Waz.” It made no difference to him how many rejections he got.

Straight Pool by Ricker Winsor / image copyright Gary Soup“They can only say no, Rick. What’s the big deal? I guarantee you if you approach fifty in a nice way twenty are going to go for it and you get better at it with practice so your percentage will go up.” This kind of confidence I found inspiring, but what was natural for him is not something he could confer. It was his gift.

Anyway he introduced me to his friends, the quarterback on the team, Biff, and Tony the wide receiver, and a bunch of other guys all of whom were super friendly and big and strong. The point of all this is that not long after I got beat up in the pool hall, I happened to get a call from the Waz about something or another and I told him what happened.

“That’s a real shitty thing, Rick” he said. “Let me tell Biff and the other guys and we’ll come out.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” I said.”

“Sure it is Rick. We need to teach’em a lesson.”

“Let me think about it Waz”, I said.” “I gotta figure out how to do this.”

A couple of weeks later Kenny and I were in a booth at the Thruway Diner having breakfast, Kenny just eating some mashed potatoes for his ulcer. I saw an older Italian guy I knew from the pool hall come in and I waved to him. His name was John. He and I were pretty close in skill and we often played together, the stakes being time on the table. That’s how they charge you, on your time. Mostly he won but they were good games and John was a real gentleman, quiet, just interested in pool. He came over and I gestured for him to sit down and he did.
He started, “I heard what happened and I’m sorry. Those punks spoil things.”

“I never saw them before” I said.

“Oh, they come in every Saturday, late afternoon for a couple of hours. They meet up there before goin’ out and raisin hell. That kid who started the fight has been arrested before, vandalizing or stealing a car, something like that. He’s a loser.”

“Not as bad as that fat prick who was about to hit me with a 2 x 4 he picked up out of the trash barrel,” I said. “That guy is a real coward.”

“True enough”, said John. “Those are the dangerous ones.”
We chit chatted about this and that over breakfast and he finished with some encouragement.

“Don’t worry about those guys. They’re only around once a week on Saturdays. Don’t let it spoil your fun.”

“Thanks John. See you around.”

”Kenny said, a little anxiously, “What are you goin to do, Rick?”

“Well, now we know when that gang goes to the pool hall,” I said. “I think I’ll talk it over with the Beth Page gang and see if they’re up for it.”
I knew they would be and I was right. Young guys are always trying to prove themselves. The old Indian chiefs had a big problem with the young bucks riding out into the night to raid some enemy tribe and mess up the peace. These big strong guys were happy for some action, some well-deserved violence in the cause of justice. We arranged to meet up the following Saturday afternoon.

Saturday came and they showed up at my house, a car full of football players. There were five of them including Waz. I had convinced Kenny he also had to go along to make this work. He didn’t want to but understood the situation. We took two cars and made the trip up the post road, US 1, to New Rochelle. I had Biff and Kenny with me. We stopped on the corner of Division and I pointed out the entrance to the pool hall to Biff.

“Biff, you take two guys with you and get started playing. Tell Waz to take the other guys up about 15 minutes later. Kenny and I will go up twenty minutes after that. This way Arnie and his guys won’t know anything is up.”

“Ok Rick, that sounds ok. What happens then?”

“Who the hell knows,” I said. “I don’t want a lot of trouble but he should apologize. He might want to do that when he sees you guys on my side.”

“Let’s hope so,” said Biff, who was beginning to wonder what he had gotten himself in for. And so was I, to be truthful, but it was too late now.

They followed the plan and after waiting nervously for the allotted time, Kenny and I headed up the marble stairs with the wrought iron railings, climbing up the five flights, my stick in its case in two pieces, up the stairs and through the big double doors to the pool hall. Harry looked real nervous when he saw us.

“Sorry about the other night, Rick. I wish I could a’ stopped it sooner. Let’s not have any more trouble.”

“It’s ok Harry. Those things happen sometimes. We just want to play pool.”

“Good. Glad you see it that way. Stay away from Arnie though. He’s a trouble maker.”

Honestly, I think of myself as a man of peace, somebody who does not want trouble or any kind of violence. At the same time I was a hunter and a fisherman from an early age. I didn’t just stay home and bake pies. And life puts stuff on you, stuff that is hard to avoid. And if you are a big strong kid like I was, well, sometimes you have to fight. There wasn’t much choice in those days. In those situations I am not real good just waiting in suspended animation. My internal character and psychology push me into action. Moreover, I get quiet around it, like time slows down as I focus on the job at hand.

I didn’t have a game plan past getting my men in place. Part of me hoped the Arnie gang would not even be there that Saturday afternoon. But they were.

I saw Arnie playing at one of the front tables, playing with the fat kid who tried to clobber me with the 2 x 4. They had seen us come in and had stopped playing, just looking at us, waiting. I started walking to a table in the back and I had to walk right past Arnie. In New York we know that if there is going to be a fight ‘throw the first punch.” That is your best chance and it is, of course, what Arnie had done the last time around. And now he tried to do it again. As I walked right up to him he turned his stick around and swung it hard at my head. My stick was in its case in two pieces, strong pieces. I raised it with both hands just in time to block the shot. I swung around three hundred and sixty degrees with the force of his blow pushing me and smashed my stick right across the side of his jaw. He flew backwards across the pool table and lay there dazed, holding his jaw. Blood oozed out of his mouth. Meanwhile the fat kid had tried to hit me with his stick while I was dealing with Arnie but Waz had grabbed him from behind and stopped that action cold. I went over to him and punched him as hard as I could in the nose and flattened it across his face. He started crying. “Let him go Waz”, I said. “We did what we came for.” There were other guys there too in the Arnie gang but they saw who was with me and kept back which was a smart move for them and prevented things from getting worse. Harry had already called the cops so we had to move. The whole thing only took a few minutes.

“Let’s get out of here”, I said and we flew down the five flights, into the cars, and back to Pelham. “Jesus Rick” the Waz said. The other guys looked pale and Kenny was catatonic. I was ok, calm but not happy because, as I said, I never want to hurt anyone and I was a little concerned about Arnie. He took quite a shot to the jaw. I was glad I didn’t hit him in the temple or the neck. Once we got back to my house the Beth Page gang was eager to get back home and who could blame them. I thanked them for backing me up and we all shook hands but I never remember seeing them again and I guess I can understand why. As I mentioned, I did see the Waz years later but we never talked about the pool hall. We wanted to forget it.

Ricker Winsor
Trinidad and Tobago Sept 30, 2012

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