Unpaid Bill

vapros

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Dad and me

Dad and me

My dad was okay, I guess. During the depression he got a job in Federal civil service and raised a family of five. I was born in a grand three-story plantation house called Woodlawn that he was renting for fifteen dollars a month. It was in the middle of a sugar cane field by that time, and on a dirt road. In wet weather the old car sometimes bogged down in the mud, and a black guy named Brock would come with a mule and pull it out.

Did Dad and I bond? Maybe so, after a fashion. I remember we did some stuff together. Looking back, all of my memories of growing up are colored by the fact that I am/was schizoid. Schizoid personality disorder, Google knows all about it. I didn't know about it until I was more than eighty years old, but I have no doubt that it began sometime when I was a kid. I don't really do relationships, even in family. Terrible, but there it is.

I left home when I was eighteen years old, to join the military, and that was just about the end of whatever tied Dad and I together. He worked in Cuba and Honduras and finally retired to Florida. Wherever he was, I visited once or twice a year. I finally realized he had no common sense at all. I don't know if he ever made any serious money in his life, but it didn't matter. Whatever he had, people took from him - and made him like it.

He was obstinate and cantankerous as hell as he got older, and never admitted to being wrong about anything. In one of his more serious fender-benders, he explained to the cop that he was making a left turn, and the other guy was just coming too fast to stop. My sister and I finally went to the local police and persuaded them to lift his driver's license. Thank goodness he never knew we had done it, or he would never have spoken to us again. The state of Florida had just renewed it for three or four years, by mail, and he was more than ninety at the time. Old people are big business in Florida.

Somewhere along the way, the telephone thieves got to him, but good. They got all he had. When my mother died he cashed an insurance policy for thirty-five thousand, and they got all of that. He took out another mortgage on his little house, and they got that. They called him and talked to him in the afternoons and blew smoke up his ass, telling him they were his only real friends now and that his son just came to see him by way of a vacation. I couldn't make him see what was going on. Several times, face to face, he would nod and tell me they had warned him what I was going to say, and here I was doing it, just as they had said.

They made him think he had won a Cadillac in a drawing, and it would be delivered after he sent them some necessary expense money. He always had to send his money by UPS, not by USPS, and they had a reason for that. Damn right they did. I tried to show him what they were doing, No dice. At one point he explained that he had quit dealing with the bunch in Vegas, as they just wanted to rob him. The current callers lived in Illinois and they were from the midwest, and therefore a better sort of people, and could be trusted. They sold him a home entertainment center, for $800. It was a plastic radio in a box; maybe ten bucks at WalMart. They sold him exotic medicines with magic qualities that he could sell to his neighbors and make a huge markup. But all his neighbors were trying to sell the same pills. He ordered all manner of promotional trash with his name on it. Drink coasters cut out of thin Naugahyde, with 'Courtesy of Eaton Summers' printed on them. Five dollars each, and he bought a lot of them. For many thousands of dollars he got maybe $200 dollars in useless trash. Nobody is as blind as a guy who refuses to see. Finally they quit calling him. Dad was flat broke, and they knew it. He died flat broke at ninety-nine, about eight years too late. I never want to be as old as he was.

The space between us grew as he went down hill. My younger sister had to look after the old goat for a long time, going to his house after work every day. Bless her. I don't think I would have done it. In his old age, my Dad was not a very lovable character. I see signs that I might be a lot like him if I live long enough - or too long, to be honest. Scary thought.
 
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vapros

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Groovin'

Groovin'

on a Sunday afternoon. Good day to watch NFL football, and I did. Steelers were in Buffalo, playing in the snow. When I tuned in, the field was covered in snow, except that all the lines were bare and visible. How do they do that; a guy with a broom, maybe? More likely a machine, but I didn't get to see it. Maybe there's a pipe with hot water, buried under the line. One of the officials, Carl Johnson, could be seen behind the players' bench during the breaks, getting down in front of a big torpedo heater. I'm pretty sure he was wishing he was back in Thibodaux, LA for the afternoon.

* * * I watched the Saints taking the gas again - pretty sad. One of the commentators said it was only the third time in NFL history that a game had gone to halftime with a 13-8 score. They keep stats on everything, and maybe they go farther than what is needed. As we all know, 62% of all stats are made up on the spot, anyway. I think the final was 16-11. Their stat machine might throw a rod and go to smoking on that one. Likely a first. Saints lost it.

* * * Got a kick out of Jeff's post today in his journal. He tells a story about going AWOL and doing some time in the military pokey. Imagine that - an ex-con, right here on our site! Come to think of it, I don't think he is the only one, either. You know, with this many pool players. . . Good tale, Jeff, and that's what the readers here like. Don't stop now. We can live vicariously; look it up on Google.

* * * I can't go to Office Depot without trying all the desk chairs. Yesterday I was there for a small item, but I discovered a chair. It was one of the very cheapest ones they had, mesh back, etc., but behind the mesh it had a couple of curved metal supports that hit me right in my aching back. Love at first sight, and of course I bought it. Brought it home and unpacked all the parts and built the chair. My sore shoulder (surgery, 10-12-16) is badly irritated and sore today, from tightening up all those bolts with that little hex wrench, but my old back feels great. Best $109 I've spent in a while.

* * * The Christmas rush is upon us; has been since Black Friday. I just never can get into it. Traffic is awful. Time to get ready. Sometime this week I will get a haircut and lay in enough stuff from the grocery store to get me to the end of the month. After that, I will venture out only to go to the pool room. Let's hear it for the pool rooms and the pool players and the game of one-pocket. Count your blessings. Remember the Dark Ages, when you were playing nine ball. Over and out.
 

vapros

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Ho, Ho, Ho!

Ho, Ho, Ho!

There's one thing that makes Christmas special for me; that makes it different from other people's. I normally get about the same kind of gifts that others get - maybe a motorcycle or a small cabin cruiser or a Patek watch with a platinum band, stuff like that. But every year, in the mail, I get a fruitcake from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas, and for me it don't get no better than that. A good friend sends me one each year and lemme tell you, greater love hath hardly anybody I can think of. If you've never had one of those fruitcakes, it's high time. You could still get it by Christmas. It's one of those things one can buy, whether one deserves it or not.

It's the number one fruitcake outfit in the world, I believe. They send out many thousands every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and have a huge list of repeat customers. And don't go thinking it's some kind of mom and pop operation. Just recently, a controller at the bakery got sent off to the Texas pokey for stealing sixteen million dollars. Quite a story there. Over the very few years he was tapping the till, the guy bought thirty-eight automobiles. Must be he just wanted to go to jail.

Had to buy a new GoPhone today. The old one went tits up a few days ago. This fifty dollar gadget does everything I need it to do, but it will still take me four days to learn how to operate it. I don't know what to say about today's cell phones. Guys pay hundreds of dollars and I know of at least three people in the pool room who talk to their phones, and the phones answer back. I'm not lying. Has it been so long ago that a conversation on the phone required two people and two instruments? Not any more. All that is needed is a lonesome pool player and a cell phone. Pretty spooky.

Glad to see that Jeff's journal is beginning to draw a crowd. He has tales of pool and gambling, and the members here can't get enough of that stuff. No doubt we have other members on the site with good stories to tell, but Jeff is the only one speaking up. Go 'head on, young man!
 

vapros

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My Baking Stone

My Baking Stone

Not every cook has a baking stone, but I am advised that all the best ones do. In case you regard yourself as a good cook, but have no baking stone, this is not the time or place to confess. The others don't need to know. I have my own personal baking stone, if that proves anything. It was given to me by a friend who guaranteed it would help make me a better cook. In all fairness, it has not made me any worse. Last nite it helped me bake six biscuits that I discovered in my freezer.

Without going into detail, when done the biscuits were softer than the baking stone, but not a whole lot softer. Not nearly soft enough to eat, anyway. I fished the bag from the trash can and discovered that the 'use by' date was early in 2015. That hit me pretty hard, and I began to wonder if anything in the freezer was still fit to eat.

My daughters bring me food items, worrying that I eat too many sandwiches and too much cereal. In the freezer there are packets of fish filets, drippy beef for sandwiches, gumbo, taco soup and several things on which the printing has faded away. They have all been stashed there for me to prepare and eat at my leisure. I suspect my leisure has come and gone. I will hate to lie to my girls.

The TV is chock-a-block with ads for medicines I never heard of; stuff with weird names I can't pronounce. Ask your doctor if this is right for you, we are urged, but watch out for all these terrible things that might happen to you. I suppose the government requires them to do it, but you know they must hate it. First the pitch and then the warning.

Medicine attracts lawyers, like cow pies attract flies. We want to talk with you, they tell us, if you took any of that stuff and it made you sick. No fees unless we win the case. Who didn't know that?

Jeff Sparks continues to tell us pool and gambling stories in his journal, and even Androd of Few Words has chimed in with a tale of his own - good one, too. I think he is just writing because he doesn't feel well enough to play one-pocket. I write because I don't shoot straight enough to play one-pocket. The difference is that Rod will get better. I probably won't.

I feel certain both Jeff and Rod will tell only true stories, but I will send up a balloon if I see anything fishy.
 

vapros

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I went to the pharmacy to pick up some pills today. I thanked the girl at the counter and she responded, 'no problem'. I went to therapy and a young guy in green scrubs stuck the buzzers on my shoulder and covered it with a heat pack and set the timer. I said thanks and the young guy in the green scrubs said, 'no problem, man'. I went to a coffee shop and thanked the girl at the counter for my tall cafe' au lait. 'No problem' said the girl at the counter. What the hell has happened to 'you're welcome'? Seems as though it went out about the time everybody started saying 'like' in every sentence. I'm pretty damn' tired of hearing no problem instead of you're welcome. It always occurs to me that this would be the ideal spot for a smartass comeback, but I have not been able to come up with a good one yet. However, not everyone has picked up that terrible habit. I bought a sandwich from a little guy the other day and thanked him and he responded 'nuttin' to it'. Not much better, but different.

I have a walking cane that I use if I'm traveling more than a few steps – not so unusual for people in my age bracket. It gives me a third connection to the ground and helps prevent small disasters when I trip over the crack in the sidewalk. I have had the thing for a couple years now, and I have left it nearly every place I put it down, especially the buggies at the grocery stores. Many times I have missed it and gone back to retrieve it before anyone noticed. So you see that I can walk okay without it.

Saturday nite I left it in a buggy at Albertson's, and today I went back to see if it might have been turned in to the management. I didn't have much hope of ever seeing it again. When I asked about my cane at Customer Service, I was referred to a portly young man in a large apron. He indicated that I should follow him and he led me to the closet where the mops and buckets were kept. In the closet was a barrel with maybe a dozen canes standing in it, including mine. I picked it out gratefully, and he spread the others out and asked if I wanted any more canes, so I picked up another one, a much nicer model than mine. He said I could have more if I wanted, but I just took the two I had in my hands. I gave the young man a little salute and thanked him. 'No problem' said the portly young man.

Inevitably, I will leave my cane someplace and won't find it again. That's okay – I have a nice spare.
 

vapros

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The Shortest Day

The Shortest Day

Today is the shortest day of the year and that's good, because it wasn't much of a day. No doubt the sun rose and set as usual, but we didn't get to see it in this town. The sky was gray and gloomy all day, and the breeze was chilly. Chilly around here means below fifty degrees. They say that such weather is bad for business; that buyers are unmotivated on days like today, but not when it's this close to Christmas. They are on the street and spending and creating traffic jams and hating one another. Took me forever to get back home from the poolroom.

In one of the threads on this site today, Hendy was reflecting on the great number of pool rooms near him, in the past, where a young guy could play and gamble. Presumably, a lot of them are gone now, and we are left to wonder why. What factors determined whether your poolroom made it or failed? Were the action guys, players and stake horses, good for business or did all that money go 'round and 'round and then leave the building with the same people who brought it in?

I know the bowling proprietors learned long ago not to cater to the stars with the big hooks and big averages. They didn't put enough money in the till. Proprietors made their nut on Joe Blow, who joined a couple of leagues and appeared at 8:30 every Monday and Thursday and spent twenty bucks quietly and went home. I don't travel around much, but I have the impression that the pool leagues today are making the nut for the successful rooms. Coin tables, eight ball and beer – that's where it's at now. As a one pocket player, of sorts, I find myself regarding the league players with a bit of disdain, but I know I should not because they are keeping the room open so that I can stumble in and play one pocket on the daytime special.

I'm a nosher. I keep snack food in my desk. Lately I have been buying the little packs of bread sticks and cheese from Walmart. The pack has eight little bread sticks in one end, and the other end has a little pot of soft cheese so you can dip the bread sticks. It's labor-intensive, for what I get to eat. It is all covered by a plastic sheet that is stuck on very tightly, and must be removed with great care, or your bread sticks jump out and onto the floor.

I'm reminded of a monkey I saw on a youtube video recently. He was given a task; a problem to solve. There was a prize inside the thing, and he knew it, but he had to jump through some hoops to get it. If he did it all correctly, he was rewarded with a small bite of food. That's pretty much how it is with me and the cheese and the bread sticks.
 

vapros

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Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

Just two more days, forty-eight more hours, and then my clan will assemble for Christmas. As we often do, we will get together at my ex-wife's place. She and her second husband live in a funny little house directly across Bayou Lafourche from the Administration Building at Nicholls State U in Thibodaux. Right on the bayou bank. There's a little pier over the water, and the guy buys old bread, sixty loaves at a time, from a bakery outlet. When he goes out on the pier and thumps on the floor he draws a crowd of ducks and geese and turtles and catfish and an occasional 'gator. Poor guy, he's been sucking oxygen for more than twenty years, but he is still there. I have asked if I can have the house if I can outlive the both of them.

This will be a major league pig-out, with a ridiculous amount of good food, and football on the TV. The younger folks will show up bearing twenty dollar gifts, and they will spend an hour passing them around and conniving for the best ones and arguing and changing the rules of the game as they go. Sort of like Congress. I would not get involved in that violence for a permit to dig in Androd's yard. It will not be easy to find a safe place until it is over.

My contribution to this event, or my assignment, is to buy the Chinet plates for the diners. The thing is, that house is a comfortable place for maybe six people, but I am instructed to bring at least thirty Chinet plates! Look, like Santa Claus I have made me a list and checked it twice and there is not near that many people in my family, and this is cause for alarm. Who the hell is coming? I hate to be a Grinch (I don't, really), but it is what it is and I am what I am. I'll be glad when it is over and everybody goes home. Ho, ho, ho.

I'm only going because the people I love will be there. Personally, I would schedule this meeting on maybe April 5 or October 16, or some day like that, and not tell any outsiders about it. And we would not need any thirty damn' Chinet plates, either.

Being serious, I wish the best of the holiday season to all of you. Spend Christmas with the important people.
 

vapros

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Patsy

Patsy

My favorite coffee shop is the one at Airline and Bluebonnet. Heavy traffic on both those streets, and the coffee shop is almost like an oasis on that corner. They have tables and chairs outside in the front, and umbrellas. That's where I take my coffee and cookie, and often I have the porch to myself, and I like it that way. If I play one pocket on the daytime special, I just have time to get there by about 4:30, ahead of the worst of the rush.

When I parked in their lot last Friday there was a lady and a baby sitting in the next car. Not too unusual to see singles in public lots, waiting for someone, but most of them don't bring the baby. I got my coffee and sat down outside, and directly an old van came in and parked next to the woman, and she got out of her car and began to get the baby out of the car seat. A couple of guys and a kid got out of the van and the men stood talking to the woman and taking turns holding the baby. The kid didn't seem to be part of their group, and he strolled around, looking at nothing. Strange looking kid, looked like he might be ten or eleven years old. His baseball cap was too big, his old silk shorts were too long and floppy and he wore black and red socks with his blue sneakers.

Finally the kid wandered over toward me, and walked past and then turned and came back, and then did it again. He stopped near me and looked up at the sky, which was rapidly turning dark. Without looking at me he said, 'Nice evening' and I agreed that it was, and suddenly I realized that this kid was a small woman. It made her outfit seem even stranger. She was in the driveway and didn't climb up on the pad where the tables were. I was almost speechless. There were three more chairs at my table, and I never thought to offer her one. She wanted to talk, and she did it standing in the driveway. She looked like her name was probably Patsy, if you know what I mean. She never said and I never asked, but I thought of her as Patsy for some reason. The more she talked to me, the more she seemed like a kid, but she said she was thirty-four years old.

The rest of the group walked over and went into the coffee shop, but Patsy stayed and talked with me. She commented that they were all in recovery, and would be going to an AA meeting in a few minutes.

***** This is long enough for one post, but I want to tell you about the conversation I had with Patsy. I will write about her once or twice more, when Christmas is over. ****
 
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vapros

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Patsy, too

Patsy, too

I mentioned that Patsy and I had a conversation, but that's not really what it was. It was more like a monologue in a sort of interview format. She never smiled and seldom looked at me, but in few words she related her story in disjointed installments. She answered my few questions as if they had been prepared for her use. Two little studs thru her lower lip looked almost like warts, but I didn't ask the questions that came to me about them.

I have been curious about AA meetings for a long time. Pretty much a teetotaler, I have never attended one. I don't care much for the stuff, beyond an occasional cold beer, and have always been too tight-assed to risk crossing my own lines. But I asked Patsy about such events and she explained it all to me. She commented that she liked Baton Rouge because you could always find a meeting near you. There seems to be published guides for meetings, in addition to a hot line. Either AA or NA, she noted. No excuse to skip a meeting if you needed one. She was proud of her five years of sobriety, and said so. I still don't know what happens at an AA meeting.

Patsy confessed to having 'a past', but offered few details beyond recalling the wrong people she had hung out with for many years in many parts of the country. In answer to my question she acknowledged having been to jail, but always for misdemeanor things like public drunkenness. No felonies. With a small motion of her hand she declined to say whose jails she had seen. Unimportant detail.

Friday was her day off, from both her jobs. She works at a Walgreen's and also at one of the fast food outlets. Got her own place now, and I had the impression that might have been a landmark in her history. She is laying low and saving her money to make another move, as she has a sister in Newport News, Virginia, who is watching for a suitable job for her. That could be the place where she will dig in and stay.

At last she has found a guy who will stay with her and look after her; something she always knew she needed – a real special guy, and because of him she is happy about her future. When I asked about her special guy, she told me I had misunderstood her. Not a guy, at all, she explained. Patsy was talking about God.


**** I will write about Patsy just once more. Maybe tomorrow. ***
 

vapros

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Patsy and God

Patsy and God

Patsy finally made the six inch step up from the driveway to the level where the tables were, and it put her just about even with me, as I sat with my coffee. And for the last few minutes of this encounter she made eye contact now and then. She stood with her hands in the pockets of those terrible silk shorts and spoke as if she were telling me secrets.

I've heard people tell me of finding God, and I think that's what the old tent revival meetings were all about. Patsy did not see it like that. She said God had found her; that he could not go to the places where she was going, but that he was right there when she finally came out. They had made some sort of bargain on that first day and had been together ever since. He promised her that she would never have to look for him again, because he would always be there, and he was. Her guy.

She went on to explain all the ways by which God led her and looked after her and kept her out of trouble. There was no doubt in her mind that this part of her life was now taken care of, permanently. It was obvious to me that she had approached my table because she had wanted to tell her story to someone, and it was equally obvious that there was no one else. Two days before Christmas and she had no one, but she was not complaining. Patsy was full of God, just as surely as she had once been full of other things.

I am not a devout man – I just don't have the required blind faith – but more and more I find that I envy those who do. I don't quite understand them, but I envy them. They have something very real and they take great comfort from it, and it is obviously a good thing. But without the faith you can't get it; not from the internet, not from the library or from a preacher. Patsy didn't have much, but she had that. Good on you, Patsy.

When she finally ran down she asked me for the time, and I told her. 'Whoa,' said Patsy, 'I better go jack 'em up!'. And she hurried off to find the others.
 

vapros

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Morning plane

Morning plane

The flight was at 6:30 am and it didn't have a number. It was just the morning plane out of Havana. I had come down from Miami the day before. After checking into an old hotel downtown, I had some arroz con pollo, took a nap and went to the Tropicana to see Christine Jorgensen's act. Christine was the 1953 version of Bruce Jenner. A doctor named Christian Hamburger, over in Denmark, had used his knife to make a female entertainer out of an ex-soldier named George, from the Bronx. Everything considered, I thought she looked pretty good, at least from fifty feet away.

Had to get up about five o'clock to make the flight, but I wasn't the only one on the street at that hour, not by a long shot. Havana was open to visitors. Fulgencio Batista was still the dictator, and the American combination still told him what to do and let him keep some of the money. And they kept the peace – the streets were fairly safe. I flagged a cab for the ride to the airport, and no doubt it must have been a pre-war American car. Traffic in Havana was exciting. The few stop signs meant little, and at intersections the first driver who blew his horn claimed what little right-of-way there was. Cab drivers were exuberant and fearless.

The plane was a DC-3, and as far as I know Cubana Airlines didn't have anything else. It was mostly full of locals, who used the airline like a bus system. The US Army had been using them since about 1937, and called them C-47s, and they were dependable as hell, no matter how badly you treated them. I believe there are still one or two flying today. The flight attendant was a sharp senorita who would serve you any of several kinds of fruit juice. The pilot knew his business, and this trip eastward down the island kept him pretty busy with his work. Seemed like most of the time we were either taking off or coming down to land. In addition to Santa Clara, Bayamo and Santiago, we landed in a number of pastures or soccer fields to accommodate passengers. Looking out the window was not a comforting
pastime.

Just before taking off in Santiago, our plane was ordered back to the terminal, and we all had to go inside to wait for ??. Finally, a military jet landed and two pilots climbed down and strolled into the building, where they bought sodas from the machine before flying away again. Those two might have been Batista's air force. All of it.

I was finally home, at Preston – a town that does not even appear on current maps of Cuba. The terminal at Preston was maybe twice as roomy as my uncle Avery's two holer, and was opened only when a plane was expected. Preston had one of only a few hard-surface runways on the island. However, the builders had started the paving at opposite ends, and had never managed to complete the job. One section was just barely long enough for a DC-3 to land and take off, and I never heard of a Cubana pilot failing to make it.

I was the only passenger getting off there, and the plane did not even cut the engines, but wheeled around and taxied back to the end of the runway in preparation for taking off. Suddenly I realized that they were about to fly away with my suitcase, and I charged after the plane, waving my arms. As they turned again and began to make their takeoff run, the side door opened, and the senorita flung my suitcase out onto the runway as they went by, where it bounced once and then blew up like a pinata, scattering my clothes all over hell.

I made four such visits to Cuba while I was in the military, taking my thirty days leave all at once every year. The journeys were all pretty much alike and never boring. The Cubans were cool. They didn't worry and they didn't hurry. They ate well and drank coffee that would float a peso coin, and didn't miss many siestas, and they knew how to run an airline. That was a long time ago. I hope they haven't changed too much.
 
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vapros

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The Story of St. Elmo

The Story of St. Elmo

I am in need of a four-letter word for 16 down and the clue is St. Elmo's ---- and I don't have the foggiest, so I ask Uncle Avery, who is out of sight behind a Racing Form. This is a great surprise to me. If there is anyone else around; a Jehova's Witness, a lady selling Girl Scout Cookies or even a house burglar, I would ask them before Uncle Avery. 'Fire' says Uncle Avery, and it fits like a glove. You never know.

I ask him how he comes to know this answer, and he tells me it is because he once bet every banana he has on a horse named St. Elmo's Fire at a track called Tanforan. I want to know if the horse comes in for him, but alas, he says the horse comes in so late that it takes off its horseshoes and tiptoes in. Uncle Avery says he can tell he is in trouble when the jockey goes to the post carrying a ham po-boy and a Nehi Cola. He can tell the boy does not expect to be back in anything like a minute and forty-two seconds.

Some people, me for example, just don't know when to quit. I ask him why he empties out on such a dog of a horse, and he says it is because the young lady he is with is engaged to a sailor, and she is sure that St. Elmo's Fire will be a lucky pick, as St. Elmo is the patron saint of all the sailors. I inquire why he is traveling with somebody else's fiancee, and he explains that such betrothals are held in abeyance while the sailor is at sea, in case he should fall over the side or get hit by a torpedo or such as that. Uncle Avery goes on to say that after the race his companion goes to the lady's room and never comes back. Who didn't know that?

He sinks out of sight again, behind the Racing Form, but promises he will tell me just how Elmo happens to be the patron saint of the sailors. Tomorrow, says Uncle Avery, or the day after for sure.
 

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Elmo becomes a saint

Elmo becomes a saint

Many, many years ago – Uncle Avery does not know just how many – Pope Morris the First gets himself into a trap. He promises the sailors a saint of their own. After all, the grave diggers have a saint, and the money lenders and the pastry cooks and the chicken pluckers, but the sailors have none. Custom indicates that if possible the nominee should be a man of similar background, but he knows very few sailors and does not figure to meet very many if he keeps hanging around in the churches. He is hoping for a famous deceased sailor with a reasonably good resume, and not having any luck. The sailors of that time are a much scruffier lot than the gentle swabbies of today.

Then, out of the blue he picks up on a third-hand rumor that a very popular sailor named Elmo has gone down on the Messina Ferry during some stormy weather one dark night in March. Morris is certain that Elmo has been sent to him from above, and without fooling around any he takes the necessary steps to anoint him the patron saint of all sailors and the good news is posted outside the Pope House on a large piece of papyrus.

The sailors are very happy, and they take up a collection and go to a famous sculptor and arrange for a large statue of St. Elmo, fronting him a bunch of lira for the job. Nobody knows what St. Elmo looks like, but they are promised that he will be very handsome, indeed, when the statue is finished.

But Morris is not comfortable with what he has done in haste, so he sends an Assistant Pope down the coast to round up a bit more information on Elmo. When the report comes back, maybe a fortnight later, it does little to brighten up the Pope's day. First, the Messina Ferry is not a naval vessel by any stretch of the imagination, and second, Elmo is not dead after all, but very much alive and still going down several nights a week in all kinds of weather, as he has done for some years now.

To his credit, he notifies the sailors about his goof, and to their credit they give him a pass, thanking him for a sincere effort. At least, and at last, they have their own patron saint. But they decide that the great sculpture is no longer indicated and they go back to the chiseler to tell him the deal is off. He admits that he already spends the money they paid him, and they respond that they hope he had a good time with it, and he should forget that it ever happened. This is many years before 'no problem'. Over and out, paisano.

But being a conscientious artist, the guy calculates that they have paid him enough for a large pair of feet, and he sculpts them and sets them on the pedestal that he already puts in place at the edge of the water in Palermo. However, being also somewhat of a gonif, he makes the feet of common mud instead of fine Italian marble and a bit of the mud is worn away by each high tide until nothing is left but the pedestal, which can still be seen on a clear day.

The moral here, of course, is that those with feet of clay are not true saints after all, but that is a story for another day, says Uncle Avery.
 

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Timbalier

Timbalier

It's 3:30 in the morning, and it's 29 degrees outside. For Baton Rouge that's pretty serious. Schools were closed Friday. Rain, heavy and light but continuous, and there's two inches of water in the driveway, and I wouldn't go out today for Francisco Bustamante's stroke. Well, maybe in my rubber boots.

I am recalling (I do a lot of that) the summer of 1946. The great war has ended, and gas rationing is over and I am fourteen years old. Along with four other guys my age and a couple of dads, we journeyed down Little Caillou Route to Cocodrie. That's the end of the road, and at Cocodrie you are already in the salt marsh. It's Friday afternoon and we board the Evest. Jr., a Lafitte skiff style shrimper, maybe forty feet long. Not by coincidence, the captain is Evest Voisin, Jr. That's 'Waz'zan. We will be on the water until Sunday.

Taking the tail end of Bayou Petit Caillou out past Pointe Meshe and Bay Sainte Elaine, and then eastward into the protection of Timbalier Island, at an easy cruising speed. We could have turned west to Isle Dernier (Last Island) where a terrible hurricane in August of 1856 destroyed a two story resort hotel and about a hundred summer houses and killed about two hundred people. Nothing left of it today, except a few sandbars.

Captain Voisin cooked a huge pot of rice on a butane stove in the cabin, and we ate rice until Sunday, always with various and delicious seafood dishes. He caught shrimp in the try net and crabs on a string with a chicken neck attached and a dip net, and picked up a few oysters from a bed belonging to his cousin. On deck, we watched him open the shells with a hammer and a knife. Under the big tarp overhead and anchored far enough offshore to be out of the reach of mosquitos, we were all in shorts and shirtless. The captain said we could go bare-ass if we wanted, but no one did. Not in 1946.

For two days we ate like kings, threw each other overboard or dived in for a swim, and flopped down on the deck to sleep. We could climb the mast and see across the island to where the surf was breaking between tide changes. This was, and is, the Shangri-La for saltwater sport fishermen. There were some fishing poles on the boat, but in the shallow water behind the island we caught mostly hardhead catfish.

By mid-day on Sunday, it was time to head back to Cocodrie and then home. Exhausted and sunburned, all the guys slept the whole way. We were too young in 1946 to recognize that we had created the memories that old men would be recalling seventy years later.
 

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The Ballad of Vapros

The Ballad of Vapros

Some of you have seen this, but it's a favorite of mine, so . . .

Vapros was just a poor old dub who joined the downtown billiard club
and he cursed the other guys and called 'em trash.
His money seemed like it had wings, with scratches, fouls and all them things -
each night he would distribute all his cash.

Well, he said I'll play 'em tight tonite, no three rail banks will make me bite
and I'll leave the rock in places you can't reach.
So he played real close for a little while, but just like always he lost his pile,
then he looked around and he made a little speech.

All you guys think you're mighty hot, but no one wants to give a spot,
so I'm gonna make you a game you can't outrun.
With a hand as quick as a NASA rocket he reached into his backside pocket
and he come up waving a pretty good-sized gun.

Now my stake horse here has got just one barrel, like a three-inch cue without no ferrule
and Mr. Barker wants to jack the bet.
So look him right in his beady eye and you will see exactly why
I may be broke, but I ain't quite busted yet.

You must all line up at that snooker table and empty out while you're still able
and don't do nothing to make me think you're shy.
Vapros grabbed everything in his range (he took the bills, but he left the change)
Then he tipped his hat and he bid 'em all goodbye.

He will tell you now if you ask real nice for some good, sound billiardly advice.
It's a waste of time to sharpen up your stroke.
The secret is to match up right, like I did in town the other nite,
and you won't never have to go home broke.

There's a moral here, if you can find it, about that gun and the man behind it.
If you ever see it you better watch it close.
And when you can look right down the hole, it's time to think about your soul,
'cause your ass belongs to the man they call Vapros!

* * * * * * *
I'm indebted to the late Phil Harris and his recording of 'The Darktown Poker Club'.
 

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Rien du tout

Rien du tout

Don't worry – 'rien du tout' is French for nothing at all – I think. That's about all the French I know, except for Maison Blanche and Chevrolet Coupe. I just didn't want to put 'nothing' as the title of my post.

I think that Clemson did something last nite that needed doing. It was high time, and yesterday was a fine day, to end Alabama's 26 game win streak. I am a fan of the SEC, and Nick Saban was our guy at LSU for five years, but I was rooting for Clemson. Saban is not such a likable guy. He's humorless, hard driving, one-way and very successful. That must be why he is certainly one of the all-time best. That must be why the nation wanted to see Clemson get it done, and they did, barely. So, who loves the Crimson Tide today, and Nick Saban? Not very many, except the Alabama fans.

Why all the uproar over the Russians hacking into our presidential election process? Let's have a bit of reality about it. First, if the Russians and the Chinese can do it, then a lot more countries will be capable before long. There are expert geeks all around us. Second, it figures that some countries will have a preference about who wins our elections. And third, did we think there was some sort of gentlemen's agreement among nations that would make them all mind their own business and butt out until the elections are over? Let's get real. The ether has been contaminated for some time now, and it will only get worse. As soon as you log on you become fair game, and maybe sooner than that.

I am thirteen weeks, now, past my shoulder surgery, and it seems to me I should be making more progress than I am. Still going to rehab two days a week, and doing my exercises, but I think I was better a month ago. I had taken the cover off my table and was making just twenty or thirty strokes at a time. I went to the pool room once or twice and tried to play a little, and had to call it off. They tell me my range of motion is very good and my strength is pretty good, but it's still painful. And lately when I pick up the cue it feels heavy as hell. I had to have the surgery, as the shoulder was very painful, but I wish I were sure it would get better before long. Maybe if I were younger . . .

Bought those little dryer sheets today, for my laundry. Blooming Jasmine is the fragrance. My snuggies are gonna smell lovely. One never knows.
 

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Billy Jack and Marvin

Billy Jack and Marvin

Four days now since I posted in my journal, and that's long enough. We have good pool room stories coming in now, from people who know. I am not likely to tell any pool stories, but now and then I can bring up something from somewhere else.

Bowling lanes had to be resurfaced periodically – depending on the level of play in the house. A year to two years was the most common interval. And after resurfacing, the local ABC secretary came around to pass judgment on the job. In 1967, the American Bowling Congress ran the game, and with an iron hand. Today's lanes have a synthetic surface of some kind;an overlay with a photograph of a wooden lane surface built in. Pretty sure they never sand it.

Resurfacing crews roamed the country like gypsies. With a little trailer full of their gear, they came to the front door at closing time and went to work. At a house of eighteen lanes, or even a few more, the two-man team came in and stayed until they were done; generally two days and a night, sometimes a night and a day longer. The proprietor was anxious to reopen his doors, and always looking over their shoulders. Down time is money.

A bowling lane is sanded with a belt sander. It covers the whole forty-two inches and travels with a wheel in each gutter, sanding across the boards. It goes down the lane and reverses itself and sands its way back to the foul line. Usually one such pass was enough, but not always. The sanding belt sanded under a milled plate designed to dish the lane, perhaps three thousandths of an inch. You must not be able to slide a dime under a level, at any point. That would be 'way out of compliance.

I was running a little twelve-lane house in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and at resurfacing time I always contacted Billy Jack McGuffin and his partner, who might have been named Marvin. This was around fifty years ago. The sawdust they created was explosive, containing a mix of the lane finish, the wood below and the oil, which was applied daily. The city forbid me to put the sawdust into their trucks, and I always had to go down to the end of the parking lot and dig a big hole to bury it. The machines inhaled it as they went, and the bags had to be emptied.

I recall sitting at a table in the concourse with a beer in my hand, watching Marvin sand the approaches, which did not have to meet the same specs as the lanes. He had a regular floor sander, with a belt around his waist and a silken bag collecting the sawdust. I was looking right at him when his sander hit something and made a spark and then sucked the spark into the bag. There was a big light and a loud whoosh and a great round ball of fire, five or six feet wide, that jiggled like jello. The sawdust bag disappeared forever, Marvin was burned and the fireball floated up to the ceiling, where it blackened a large area and set off several sprinkler heads. It was all over in three or four seconds.

Marvin jumped for his fire extinguisher, which was never more than eight feet from where he was sanding, but the fire was out. The sprinklers shut off and Billy Jack went to the trailer and brought back some sort of grease to rub on Marvin's burns. They had a replacement for the sawdust bag and they returned to work and finished up ten or twelve hours later, and packed the trailer. I wrote the check and Billy Jack put it in his shirt pocket. Marvin glowed a bright pink, shiny from the grease, but I doubt they went for medical treatment. Instead, they checked into a motel and slept. Another resurfacing gig was waiting, up in Tennessee. They laughed and joked and insulted one another the whole time they worked. They rarely conferred. Both knew what to do. Such lane resurfacing work must be about gone by now, and the same for Billy Jack and Marvin. A very specialized team, indeed.
 
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Lockport

Lockport

For my duty assignment for the last year of my enlistment, having finished a year of special training, I was given a choice of two locations in the state of New York. I could go to Montauk Point, out on the tip of Long Island, or to Lockport, near Niagara Falls and the Canadian border. The president told me I was to keep the Russians out, and I did exactly that. They never showed up, which may or may not have been due to my presence there. We'll never know for sure.

It was an easy choice for me. Allie Brandt lived in Lockport. Every bowler knew of Allie Brandt, who had set a record for a three game series one night shortly before 1940. His games were 297, 289 and 300, for an 886 total. I went to Lockport, hoping I might get to meet him. Even better, after a few weeks of action there in Lockport, he recruited me for his team and I went to Buffalo with him three nights a week for the entire season. He also owned a small poolroom, where I played or occasionally worked the counter for him. I often wonder what I might have found on Montauk Point.

Lockport was an interesting town on the old Erie Canal. (Burl Ives, 'We were forty miles from Albany, forget it I never shall. What a terrible storm we had that night, on the Eer-i-ee Canal.') I remember a huge intersection, paved a hundred years or more ago, with a million wooden blocks, stood on end, and covered many times since with tar. Being from Louisiana – a long way from Louisiana – I was fascinated that all the softball fields were down below street level, and were flooded in the winter for skating. One can ice-skate only when it is too cold to go outside, as I saw it. And the girls skated in very short skirts. Go figure.

I was discharged in February of 1955, but with bowling competition and road trips scheduled all the way to June, I had to find a way to make a little money in the interim. The snack bar in the local bowling alley was operated by a guy named Joe Pusateri, and Joe offered to sell it to me. Sounded good, so I gave him about $400, as I recall, for the inventory, and Joe walked out and I walked in. I ran it for the needed period, and patched in a bit of help to work the counter on bowling nights and tournament travels. Not such a bad gig. I kept no records, and at closing time every night I prepared the change bank for the following day and put anything left over (never very much) in my pocket.

So, in the first week of June, a couple of guys from the city came in and wandered around my place, saying 'aaah' and 'hmmm' now and then. They pointed out that all the permits had expired a couple of years earlier. Not my fault, I explained. They were already expired when I got here. See Mr. Pusateri about that. Dirty looks. Then they wanted a look at my books, to see how much sales tax I had already failed to remit. I told them my books were not there at the snack bar. That was true. Well, said the two guys from the city, we will come back on Monday to see the books and calculate what you owe us, including interest and penalties. They said I should bring money.

The same afternoon, I called Al Frisbee, knowing he wanted to buy the little snack bar, and we worked out a price. About $400 for the inventory, as I recall, the same as I had paid Joe Pusateri. I walked out and Al walked in. I went to my rented room and packed my duffel bag, and caught a flight to Cuba the next day and never looked back. Al's first Monday on the job might have been pretty exciting. Maybe a week later, playing golf in Cuba, I discovered that all the keys to the business were still in my pocket. I guess I could have mailed them back, but I couldn't see much point, so I just chunked them into a water hazard. Life seemed so much simpler in 1955.
 

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The Stake Horses

The Stake Horses

Since the twenty-first century began, there has been a positive change in pool. It's not a major change, to be sure, but a change. A group of championship-level players have succeeded in making a living playing pool. In some other countries, top players are earning a comfortable living, or even better than just comfortable in some cases. Here in the United States, how many? I'm talking about money from tournaments, sponsorships, appearances, and endorsements. I am in no position to guess, but it cannot be very many.

Hustling is about over. The internet has assured that if you are a player, they will know you almost anywhere you go. Harder than ever to sneak up on anyone. The world described by Alfie Taylor in his book 'The Other Side of the Road' is now folklore. Most of the players who lived that life have become old men, and when they die, many old hustlers must be subsidized in their final event.

When did the stake horses appear, and to what extent do they finance today's players? Pool is unique in the matter of playing for other people's money. I am fascinated by those gamblers who front expenses, travel and entry fees for players, and who lay odds of two to one on supposed even matches by splitting winnings with the player. Tournaments with very little in the prize funds attract players and stake horses, only because other players and other stake horses will be there. And money.

The Derby City Classic, just getting under way, offers good money, by pool standards – nothing like the golfers and tennis players see every week – but good for pool events. Even so, many good players will sabotage their chances in tournament matches for a chance to stay up late and play for stake horse money. Let's note that in that venue will be some players carrying large amounts of their own cash with which to gamble, but that's a topic for another day.

So who are these deep-pocket financiers of the pool rooms, who might offer to bet they can cover a table with C notes? A love of action is not so hard to understand, and we hear of gambling men who carry enough money to buy the biggest Mack Truck, but is it correct to call these guys gamblers? They are spenders, indulging their own hobbies and habits, being part of the action in a game they don't play and can't win. Correct me if I am wrong here, but surely none can show a profit at the end of the year. The unknown is how much they will lose, but it's known that they will love it. Some will lose it all, some never seem to run out.

Now, here is a sobering thought – are they, in fact, the present game of pool itself? What would happen if they all disappeared, taking their money with them? How many players, traveling tournament regulars, could continue without them? The golfers have the PGA tour, and the pool players have the stake horses, from whom many of the blessings flow, in the long run.

Anyway, today there are some players making it in pool. That has to be a good sign.
 

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Tincup goes off

Tincup goes off

It was an hour until closing time on a slow Saturday night at Tincup Billiards. Which is to say it was 1:00 on Sunday morning. Misty was counting out her bank and closing her register. Tincup, himself, had a rack of balls on table eight and was practicing bank shots when the two kids came in the front door. One of them had a cue case. At the counter, they got their own rack and paid Misty for the one hour she allowed them. This screwed up her counting and checkout and she had to start over.

Tincup, looking only out of the corner of his eye with his head turned away, could see that one of the strangers could play just a little bit, and the other one not at all. He made a move and then made a game with the one named Marvin, but Marvin said “I seen you hitting them pretty good down there. I cain't play you even. I got to have at least the seven ball.” Tincup squealed like a pig, which is why his name is Tincup, but he figured that the seven ball would not help Marvin very much, so they played twenty dollar nine ball with the seven.

The other one said his name was Lee, and he bought a beer and sat at the counter, looking down the front of Mistly's shirt while she counted change. No big deal – everyone was encouraged to look down the front of her shirt, and she had a couple of items in there that were worth seeing. Tits for tips, said Misty, who had worked a few counters before. The game went on behind them, and by closing time Tincup was down five games and squealing again, and demanding that Marvin give up the seven ball. “Cain't do it,” said Marvin.” We'll just call it off until next time. We got to drive back to Houston.” Tincup could see he had a bad bet, but at least he was gambling, and that was something, so the game continued.

At 2:00 am Misty locked up and took her tits and went home, or somewhere, leaving Lee inside with the rest of us. Tincup Billiards was closed, but Tincup's nose was open. By 3:30 he was within a couple of games of being even, but by 6:00 the sun was coming up and he was stuck thirteen bets and sliding. His misery was fast approaching $400. “Two more games,” he said, “and I'm out. My clean-up guy will be in, and you two thieves can go back to Houston and I can go home, like I should have done a long time ago.”

Marvin gave Lee twenty dollars and told him to drive down to the Winn Dixie and get some toaster waffles and butter and syrup. “I'm buying this morning, big winner.” Tincup glared at him. “And get a Sunday paper, too. I've got a pocket full of lottery tickets and this might be my lucky day.” Lee let himself out and drove away. Tincup and Marvin each won one of the last two games.

Lee wasn't gone very long, and we loaded up Tincup's two four-slice toasters and pigged out on toaster waffles with butter and syrup. The winning lottery numbers for the Saturday night drawing were featured on page one of the Morning Advocate in big red letters, and Marvin had all his tickets spread out on the counter as he searched for lucky numbers.

Finally, Tincup said, “Well, did you bust the lottery, too, or just me?”

“Naw”, said Marvin, “not quite, but I did hit five out of six on one ticket. Does that pay anything?” Tincup scowled at him and said, “Lemme see that ticket!”
 
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