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Remembrance of Ignominious Things Past
by Ace Toscano
It's funny how some things stick in your mind, even things that never happened.
Like the time big Ed McGooley came to town. McGooley was pretty notorious in the poolrooms up north. Not that he was a bad guy, mind you, just a schemer whose main purpose in life was to increase his bankroll at the expense of unsophisticated poolroom suckers. I myself was immune to his contrivances, operating under one simple assumption - if Ed McGooley, or anyone like him, suggested a game to you, chances were pretty good that he'd come out on the winning end.
But the folks down here in Hudson, Florida didn't know McGooley from Adam. So, when he dropped by Michelangelo's Pool Hall one evening, he must have figured that he had walked into sucker heaven.
The drama began with the unveiling of his cue, a vintage Palmer, that he had picked up from the unfortunate widow of a deceased road player named Tommy Knight. The poor widow had no idea what the stick was worth until McGooley paid her the $500 that rescued her from poverty. In actuality, I'm betting he gave her ten dollars, tops. After enchanting everyone with this preposterous tale and allowing them to hold the cue and examine the fine detail work which included Tommy's beautifully calligraphed name on the butt plate, he started banging the balls around. I say "banging" but that's just an expression for "playing," because it wasn't McGooley's style to bang anything. In fact, he was more of a tapper, no, a caresser. When he hit the balls you could practically count their revolutions; it seemed that his every shot would not make it to the pocket, though they inevitably did. While he played, he stopped frequently and talked incessantly, informing his audience that this player had died, that one was recuperating from bypass surgery, and so on.
Then came Act II. He casually set the cue ball on top of the end rail, right in the center where the cushion meets the wood. He placed the eight-ball up against the center of the far cushion and introduced the topic of wagering, saying, "I bet I can cut that ball into the corner one-handed for twenty dollars."
I wasn't a shill, exactly, but I knew this part of the process, so I took the bet myself and after McGooley's miscue was twenty dollars richer. The bet increased to fifty and I dropped out of the action. No problem. Now, there were plenty of eager takers willing to give Ed a dozen chances. First time, as I recall, it took him eight chances to make the shot. Next time, he managed to cut it in on his third try. Like that, he was $80 to the good.
Moving right along, McGooley glanced at the onlookers and casually asked, "Anybody play straight pool?"
That's when Mario spoke up. "I do. I like straight pool."
A few words about Mario… First, his name isn't Mario. One of his bar buddies, Bobby Pachetti, had christened him that because of his resemblance to a character in a kid's video game. I don't have kids and I don't know anything about video games, so I'll have to take Bobby's word on that. His actual name, which I'm having a hard time recalling, is Roger Thistledork or something like that. Somewhere along the line, he developed a preference for "Mario," probably because it sounds Italian, and he no longer responds to his actual name, at least not in pool circles.
Secondly, Mario is not a gambler. Oh, he'll play for money, all right, but only when the odds are heavily in his favor. He's best known for touring the local 8-ball bar tournaments and stealing the prize money from the regulars who, as a rule, can't play worth a crap.
Anyway, he was first to reply to McGooley's query. "I've got a game for you," said McGooley. "I bet fifty dollars you can't run fifty balls with ball-in-hand after every shot."
Come to find out, it wasn't exactly ball-in-hand after every shot McGooley was offering. First rack, Mario would start off with a wide open break. Then he would have ball-in-hand for the first thirteen balls. Starting with the thirteenth ball, he would have to play position on the fourteenth ball and the break shot. After making the break shot, the next rack would proceed the same way with him playing position for the last two balls. It must have sounded pretty easy to Mario because he took the bet.
I myself, as a lad, had taken this same bet and won several times without raising a sweat. The secret was to choose the last three balls of the rack, preferably three stop shots, well in advance and being careful not to disturb them.
But, Mario didn't know the secrets and hadn't really had time to develop a strategy. He ran the first rack and even managed to make his break shot, but only broke out a couple balls. He pocketed them without contacting the pack and after seventeen balls he was done.
"That game sucks," he said with disdain. "I'm not paying."
"Hey, pal," said McGooley. "You lost, fair and square."
The discussion proceeded like that for a time with Mario crying and McGooley reiterating that he had won, even while a second player took up the challenge and lost. McGooley, who would have given Mario a left jab and a body slam in his younger days, was now in his mid-sixties, a veteran of triple bypass surgery, and less willing to continue the discussion outside, so to speak. Yet, he didn't hesitate to let Mario know exactly what he thought of excrement like him and where he fit in the grand scheme of things.
There's a philosophy that suggests we should perform our every act as though that act is the one for which we will forever be remembered. I guess Mario very much regrets his lapse in this regard because, when I ran into him recently at a local bar room tournament and tried to remind him of the time he stiffed McGooley, he denied that his crime against humanity had ever happened. When I insisted that it had, he took offense and got nasty saying "What's the matter old man, you off your medication?" and "You're hallucinating." I made it a point to stop at the poolroom on the way home and found more than a few people who remembered the night and events in question. I'm sure Mario remembers, too - he just doesn't want to be remembered forever as a lowlife who welshes on his bets. But, there's no way to dance around the issue - a welsher he is and to me, to McGooley, to all who were there that night, and to all who read this story, a welsher he'll always be.
© 2004-2008 by Ace Toscano
(All characters and events depicted in this story are fictitious.)
Copyright © 2004- by Ace Toscano. All rights reserved.