That Old Hat

That old hat turned up on the bus driver’s head on the same day he slammed his fist into the fat lady’s briefcase.  I’ve seen that hat before, I thought.

One response to “That Old Hat

  1. CHAPTER 1
    That old hat turned up on the bus driver’s head on the same day he slammed his fist into the fat lady’s briefcase. I’ve seen that hat before, I thought.

    I must have been the only Giants fan who lived in San Francisco who didn’t claim to have been at the ballpark in person that August night in 1976, the night that Barry Bonds sent his record-breaking 756th home run over the right field fence of AT&T Park. I guess its like the phenomenon of every hippie and flower child of the day, lying about being at Woodstock, watching Hendrix, Joplin and the rock and roll gods and goddesses of the era, and bragging about how screwed up their heads were and the magic that was that week in 1969.

    You see, I was on my back in a bed in San Francisco General Hospital with a ruptured spleen, IVs crawling up and down my arms like snakes, three broken ribs, and a punctured lung. Sticky pads on my chest monitored my heart. My eye sockets pinched and swollen nearly shut in their own purple haze hiding a detached retina in my right eye. Let’s say my birthday party the night before went astray.

    “A couple pitchers of beer and a couple games of pool,” said my buddy, Juan. “Then we head home, okay?” We were walking home from work together. We both worked streetcar maintenance, day shift.

    “Sure.”

    I was agreeable to an easy night, my birthday night in fact. I turned forty that morning, and the other guys on the crew rode me pretty hard about being an old man. Their taunts and jeers were all in fun, and I took them that way. After all, I had a pair of tickets in my wallet for the Giants-Nationals game the next night. I had bought them from a scalper a day earlier. I told myself I’d figure the financial aspects of my self-indulgence later.

    I ‘d been bunking at Juan’s place for a couple months, sharing space with him and his wife and two kids. He’d been patient while I got my shit together looking for my own pad. His kids loved me. His wife’s tolerance was nearing the thinness of chicken broth. I should have bought her something nice, but the bottom line is, I can have my selfish moments. This was one. I justified their purchase ‘cause one of the tickets was for Juan.

    Harvey’s was an old-school pool hall. Not a yuppie-infected billiard parlor with three-dollar mixed drinks and white wine by the glass. It was tables by the hour. Pool or snooker by the game, and not on tables that a player slipped two quarters into two slots and pushed them in. This was a holdover fifties-dive with rack boys. Tables grayed with cigarette ash. Burn marks around the table rails. And cues that felt like miniature telephone poles.

    There were no beer girls. You want a pitcher, you go to the bar and get it. Cash, no credit cards. You want something stronger, you bring it in. Discretely. Ice, a quarter a class. No mixers. The barman gets tipped a fiver, and you have to buy a pitcher whether you want it or not. I bought the first one.

    We headed toward the back of the room, eyes forward, past the hustlers at the front tables, ignoring their offers: “Lookin’ for a game, boys?” Regulars wanting to stay out of trouble simply smile and reply with a “No thanks.”

    There were two open tables. One with a burned out bulb in the light fixture hanging over the table. We took the other one.

    We poured our beers and took our first sips. The beer was ice-cold, the best way. Not lukewarm like the Brits or the Krauts like it. We took another sip as our eyes adjusted to the dark surroundings. We each looked for a stick. Not too warped and not too worn at the tip. Some nights we had to settle for not too warped. I liked a 21, but settled for a straighter 19. Juan was a first generation American with family from Piedras Negras. He could shoot pool with the hind leg sawed a frozen dog. He picked a 17 and spun it like a baton. He winked at me and said, “Good enough.”

    “Rack!” we yelled in unison. As from nowhere, the rack boy appeared, gathered the balls from the pockets, dumped them in the rack with the 8-ball in the center, swished them across the foot spot, jammed them tight with his fingers, and pulled the rack up and away, and spun it with the flourish of a magician. He gave us a quick look and I nodded our approval. He plucked a quarter from the change we had strung across rail at his end of the table and disappeared.

    I picked up a coin from the rail and said, “Call it.”

    Juan grinned and called tails. I flipped it high, onto the table. It was tails. He broke.

    Balls scattered across the greenish felt. He dropped a stripe and a solid on the break. He called solids. In six more shots he was on the 8-ball. He called, right corner, nodded his head toward the pocket just in case there was any question. With no apparent aiming, the 8-ball fell as called.

    “Rack!”

    The game had taken less than three minutes. I had not yet stroked a shot. I lifted my beer mug and toasted him across the table. He nodded his thanks.

    To be continued. Maybe.

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