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Friday night at Curry’s
By George A. Ricker

Bank shots, like long shots, sometimes happen. Most of mine go drifting.

It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday.

Already the pool hall (billiards parlor, if you prefer the more refined parlance) has begun to take on the aura it will hold through the night.

Smoke-filled, the air in the room is hazy.

Over the click and clack of balls rattling around on money-colored tables and the occasional “thock” as one finds its way solidly into a pocket, the jukebox blares a tune. Hank Williams Jr. is singing about a “country state of mind” or something like that.

On one of the center tables, Al and another guy are shooting nine-ball. There are a lot of “thocks” at that table. Nine-ball doesn't take long for the shooters, and Al definitely qualifies in that category.

When he is playing for money, he is totally focused on the game. Intense. I don’t have to see any green changing hands to know that he and his opponent have a wager going. Such gambling is illegal, of course. They’ll probably settle in the parking lot.

Except for Vicki, the waitress who makes occasional tours of the room to take orders, clean ash-trays and retrieve beer mugs — left drained and deserted on the shelves around the hall, the crowd is mostly male.

Later in the evening, the couples will come in after dinner and a movie, or some other entertainment. The noise level will increase then. They like the music loud. Sometimes you have to scream to make yourself heard above it.

Since my cousins—John, Dave and Don Curry—opened Curry’s Billiards in Palm Bay, I have been spending a lot of time there. Reliving my misspent youth you might say, except that one truth I have learned is that I didn’t misspend enough of it in pool halls.

Time passes. Ira and I have started playing eight-ball. It’s our weekly meeting. We shoot pool at about the same level of incompetence, so the competition is keen. I played Al a few games of nine-ball one Saturday night at Curry’s. No competition there. He smoked me. It was a humbling experience. As a steady diet, I prefer to shoot against someone like Ira. Keep the humiliation in small doses.

Now it’s around 10 p.m.

Al—who had disappeared for a bit—comes by the table on his way to the bathroom.

“How ya doin’?” he asks.

He tells me he made $60 earlier that evening. A nice income supplement.

Ira and I return to our game, commiserating about our lack of skill.

By now the couples have arrived. Most of the 14 tables are busy. The dart lanes are active. The bar is bustling—just beer and wine, no hard stuff. Vicki is making a lot of trips out on the floor now. The smoke in the room has thickened. I light another cigarette, adding my bit to the ambiance.

I guess what attracts me to the game and the place—apart from the family connection, the three cousins are among my favorite people in the world—is that it is totally removed from my normal routine.

Writing is cerebral. Pool is physical—a game of angles and contact. You don’t want to think too much while shooting or you lose the stroke, the touch. It’s a game of geometrical precision, played on a 4 1/2 -by-9-foot table. And the pool hall is totally different than the places I go during the normal work week. It has a different feel. Different people. A subculture all its own.

So it's a break from routine. A complete change of pace. And of course, there is the challenge of the game itself. One that I never have mastered, but always have enjoyed. I don’t kid myself. I’m no shooter. Basically, I rattle the balls around the table until some fall in.

By midnight the smoke is so thick you could cut it. The air is almost purple. Pulsing a rhythm that throbs through the room, the jukebox wails more loudly—a song about roses and thorns and lots of other things. There is a buzz of conversation, laughter, pleasantries exchanged, soft giggles that carry over the noise—flirtations accepted and ignored. Most of the tables are active. Here and there, you see some serious games—the players tight-eyed—but mostly they're friendly.

Hoots of laughter accompany the bad shots.

"Did you see that? I can’t believe I missed that. And scratched too. Good lord."

By 1 a.m. things are quieter. Some of the couples have left. Only half the tables are getting play now. Ira and I have decided to call it a night. We both have understanding wives but don't want to press our luck.

Time to pay for the table and tip Vicki for all of the mugs of Coca-Cola she brought over for me.

Ira and I walk out into the parking lot. We've known each other for quite a while. We met through cousin Dave, as a matter of fact, down in south Florida, before any of us had moved in this direction.

I have no idea who is ahead in the weekly pool sessions. Probably Ira, but we haven't been keeping score.

“So, we’ll play again next week?”


Driving home I think of a cold beer, to be followed quickly by a soft bed. Replay the games in my mind.

If only I’d made that bank shot.

Note: This is a blast from the past. The first version of this essay ran in the Sebastian Sun more than a decade ago. This one is a bit longer and has been changed somewhat. Alas, Curry’s is no more. The combination of a sluggish economy and some poor business decisions led to its demise years ago. Cousin John said, in retrospect, he should have opted for a smaller establishment with lower overhead. I still like to shoot pool, though I’m unable to do so with the frequency I once did. Chronic breathing problems make visits to pool halls a thing of the past. These days, I have no tolerance at all for smoke-filled rooms. But I still recall those Friday nights at Curry’s with relish. So much so, that when I wrote the science fiction story “The Lizard and the Snitch” (There’s a link to it on the “Links” page.), I named the billiard’s parlor in the story “Curry’s.”

Rack em!

© 2007 by George A. Ricker

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