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  #31  
Old 12-31-2016, 12:05 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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Last edited by vapros; 02-01-2017 at 08:50 PM.
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  #32  
Old 01-03-2017, 07:55 PM
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Default 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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  #33  
Old 01-05-2017, 12:58 AM
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Default 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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  #34  
Old 01-07-2017, 06:15 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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  #35  
Old 01-09-2017, 06:50 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Thumbs up 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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  #36  
Old 01-10-2017, 07:32 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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  #37  
Old 01-14-2017, 10:00 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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Last edited by vapros; 01-15-2017 at 03:10 AM.
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  #38  
Old 01-18-2017, 01:01 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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  #39  
Old 01-22-2017, 02:17 AM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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Old 01-24-2017, 09:42 PM
vapros vapros is offline
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Default 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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