Jan

9

 Vic,

I hope all is well with you and the family. I took an online course on writing autobiographies and thought you might enjoy the attached.

Happy new year.

Love,

Howie

"Never give a sucker an even break," uttered by W.C. Fields in the 1941 movie so entitled could well be the credo of the pool hustler. What does this have to do with me? Fleecing the less proficient at what is termed pocket billiards in some circles was a significant source of income for me from age 15 through college. It accorded me a much needed supplement to my meager allowance and/or the part time jobs that I held as a student.

At Brighton 5'th Street at the same level as the elevated subway train that runs along Brighton Beach Avenue, there existed a 2400 square foot den of iniquity that housed about a dozen pool tables. This sea of slate covered by green felt was not a billiard emporium by any means. In the mid 1950s, it was frequented by many of the neighborhood's young toughs and assorted characters like Mutt, Teddy the Twitch, Pittsburgh, the Guzzer, Sonny, Sam the Communist, Blackie, and Miguel. Sonny was a big muscular homosexual whom nobody messed with. Silver haired Sam was the best shooter in the pool room. Blackie a middle aged man was a close second as he ran rack after rack in straight pool, never taking off his hat. Miguel, a bookie who ran a cut poker game and was later shot to death after balking at sharing profits with the mafia was about as good as Blackie. Added to the mix were me and some of my school friends including Harvey Keitel, who later became a well known actor and Mark Reiner, a basketball star.

The pool room was a hustler's haven where we hung out after school until 1:00 A.M. closing when we weren't playing ball. Substituting time there for homework, our formal education may have been diminished but the street smarts we acquired were more than ample compensation. The proprietors were two diminutive men in their sixties, Izzie and Charlie, a pro boxer of some renown in the '20s. Despite their age and small stature they ruled their roost with an iron will. Roost was more than a figure of speech in this instance as there was a creaky stairway that led to the roof that housed Charlie's pigeon coop. He had preceded Mike Tyson in pugilistic affinity for our fine feathered friends by 4 decades.

The absolute power that Izzie and Charlie had over all of us was the specter of being barred from entry into this hallowed ground and being relegated to hanging out in less exalted venues. After learning the rudiments of the game, I gradually acquired a modicum of skill by observation, shared tips, and practice. Making a stable "bridge" with the non-shooting hand; keeping one's head down; and a smooth stroke were basic requisites. Learning where the object ball must be hit by the Q-ball to direct it into a pocket is essential. Although the ability to make difficult shots comes in handy, getting the Q-ball into position for an easy shot after making the preceding one is what distinguishes the more accomplished practitioners of the game.

"Position" is achieved using various methods. "Drawback" to make the Q-ball go back in the direction from whence it came after striking the object ball is accomplished by striking it low and snapping the wrist imparting back spin. "Follow-up" to make the Q-ball go forward is effected by striking the upper portion. Either of those techniques can be applied in conjunction with "English" to make the Q-ball go left or right after hitting a rail by striking it on the left or right side respectively. How hard the Q-ball is struck determines the distance it will traverse and its ultimate position..

Most games were played for money with the stakes ranging from "time", the 50 cent per hour charge for use of the table to many dollars. There were various handicaps given to supposedly level the playing field but after blowing my allowance a few times, I realized that you never play better players. They are not only better, they are more knowledgeable and better able to figure the "spot" that will still give them the edge.

Accomplished hustlers rarely play better than needed to win and frequently let the "fish" win for small amounts and reel him in when the stakes are raised. Another gambling precept was always put the money up with someone who can be trusted to pay off (the "house": Izzie or Charlie in most cases). This was especially important for me at 6' 1" and 150 pounds against many of my more burly adversaries.

I never became a great pool shooter but the level of proficiency was not nearly as important as applying these principles. The goal was always to have a "lockup" - a game where there is virtually no chance to lose. Another way of putting this is, "Never give a sucker an even break". As mentioned, hustling was a significant source of income for me during my school days. In actuality, outsmarting and outplaying my opponents was more important to me than the extra cash in my pocket. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was years later when I ran into a guy that I had known casually and he said, "I remember you. You used to make your living in the pool room".

P.S. In retrospect this sounds pretty crass but I didn't cheat anybody. Everybody was trying to get the edge. I was just more successful at it than most.


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