Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bumper Pool in the Board Room

Bumper pool enjoyed status as a craze in this country for a year or two around 1970. I had become proficient at it in Germany in the early 1960s, and so had a head start on other patrons of the Board Room. Some would challenge me to play for a dollar, occasionally five dollars. It worked for me.

One night one of the regulars came in with a business colleague, a stranger to the rest of us. I was playing bumper pool. They stood at the bar and watched. Pretending to ignore them, I nevertheless listened as they talked about me. Eventually, the stranger said, "He's good but he's not that good. The regular, Charlie, said "I'll bet him against anyone you bring in."

They talked a little more, then Charlie walked over to me and told me what I already knew from eavesdropping: "My friend wants to bring a guy from Jamaica Plain over here next Friday to play some bumper pool with you. Are you up for that?"

"Sure. What stakes?"

"Whatever the two of you work out."


Now I'm going to assume that you know how to play bumper pool. If not, have someone explain it to you, or just go with the story.

The following Friday I had one drink to relax a little, and about the time I finished it Charlie, his colleague, and the player - roughly my age (I was thirtyish), walked in. I was introduced to the colleague and to the player, Willie. I offered to buy Willie a drink, he accepted, I bought his and a second for me.

The two of us chatted for a couple of minutes, then picked up a couple of cues for our match.

A small crowd, perhaps half a dozen people, gathered at the bar to watch us. He said, "How about a dollar a game, let me get used to the table?"

That was fine. We played a couple of games, which I won. He then proposed two dollars a game and I agreed. At that time, I heard Charlie ask his colleague, "Double the bet?" and it was agreed. I beat Willie three or four more games, and he said, "How about five dollars?"

I countered, "How about twenty?" By this point I knew that he was going to win very few games and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life taking five dollars at a time from him until he gave up. He agreed, and I heard Charlie say, "Double it again?" and it was agreed again.

The first twenty dollar game was the critical point. We both made our first ball. We both made our second ball. We both made our third ball. I made my fourth ball and Willie missed, leaving his ball with an easy bumper shot. Now I had choices - knock his ball away and put mine on his side of the table, or just go for the fifth ball and try to keep him from shooting again. I ignored his ball, shot, and made my fifth ball, winning the game. There was a little whoop from the partisan crowd.

We played three or four more games and I won them all. He'd been shut out for the night. "I'm tapped."

I asked him how he was going to get home and he didn't know. I gave him back twenty dollars and told him I'd see him some other time. He thanked me and said he'd send it via a friend. I said it had been a rough night for him, but it was my table and maybe things would be different on his table. He said yeah, it might, and we should play in Jamaica Plain sometime. I agreed, but we both knew I owned him and that the table he could beat me on hadn't been made.

At some point I went to the men's room, and as I was washing my hands Charlie came in. He held out several hundred dollars and said, "Take this."

"What's that?"

"A cut for you."

"Naw, Charlie, I didn't have any action with you."

"Donnie, if I told you how much money you made me tonight you wouldn't believe me."

No reason to be ungracious, so I took it and thanked him. When I left the men's room both Charlie's colleague and Willie were gone.

Willie did send the twenty back, but no rematch was ever requested.


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