While Milo recuperates, we’re running one of his classics…
It was Mark Twain who claimed: A proficiency at billiards is a sign of a misspent youth.
If that’s the case, then my formative years were a colossal waste of time. Between the ages of 15 and 18, if I wasn’t in school or at home, I could be found in a poolroom called The Club on 5th Avenue near Broadway in Gary.
At the time I didn’t consider playing pool a frivolous activity. In my neck of the woods, learning to shoot pool, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and acquit yourself honorably in a street fight were hallmarks of a well rounded education.
I never did become a good street fighter (something about a yellow streak), but I did excel at smoking and drinking, a skill set that has served me well to this very day.
I also became a pretty good pool player, not great, but good enough to hustle a few bucks now and then. I played all the games, 9-ball, 8-ball, straight pool, rotation, one-pocket, and pea pool but my money game was snooker. At the tender age of 17 I won $52 in a marathon snooker contest against an old man we called The Admiral, because he always wore one of those cheesy yachting caps favored by Elvis and Count Basie.
I lost interest in playing pool around my 18th birthday. There were three reasons I gave up the game:
I got seriously interested in girls. It’s tough enough to get laid under any circumstances, but it’s almost impossible when you hang around a poolroom all day.
I had gotten as good as I was ever going to get. I had hit the proverbial wall and rather than trying to break through it or go around it, I decided to avoid it altogether.
I came to the realization that being a “pretty good” pool player would have absolutely no effect on my future. Why waste any more time with such a silly game.
Boy, was I wrong about reason number three.
About 12 years later I was living in Chicago, scuffling to make a living as an editor, proofreader, and freelance writer and failing miserably at all three. Desperate for work, I answered a blind ad in the Chicago Tribune looking for an editor for a sporting magazine. To my astonishment, I got called in for an interview.
Let’s call the person who interviewed me Bob. He was the owner and publisher of a group of poorly written, cheaply printed magazines that dealt with fringe sports like archery, table tennis, pinball, and, lo and behold, billiards. The position I was interviewing for was managing editor of Billiards Gazette.
Bob was an odd little man – twitchy, shifty eyed, and affected. The walls of his office were covered with autographed photos of celebrities, like Sinatra, John Wayne, and Raquel Welch but I noticed that all the autographs seemed to be signed by the same hand.
He considered himself a titan of the publishing industry, a first cousin to Bennett Cerf. In reality he was a low-rent hustler. His publications were mainly vehicles for attracting advertising revenue. I doubt if circulation of any of the rags was more than 2,500 and those went mainly to the specific industry. I don’t recall ever seeing any of them on a newsstand or gracing someone’s coffee table.
Still, I desperately needed a job, and running a shlock magazine seemed to be as good a gig as any.
After a few moments of idle chatter, Bob asked, “Do you know anything about playing pool?”
“As a matter of fact I do.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why would I lie?”
“To get this job,” Bob smirked.
“You’ll just have to take my word for it.”
“No I don’t,” Bob said. “I’d rather see for myself. You have to know the game to run my magazine. Let’s play a game of 8-ball.”
It turned out that Bob had a pool table in his warehouse, a Brunswick that was in pretty good shape. He also had all of the accessories: chalk, hand powder, a bridge, and a rack of cues hanging on a wall. Now by that time, I played pool only four or five times a year, usually on tavern tables and usually when I was drunk. I was still a decent player but nowhere near the cocky young pool shark that I was at 17. I assumed Bob had to be good.
Nervous, I was relieved that Bob won the lag and went first. He broke, ran a few solids but missed a bank shot on the 4-ball and it was my turn. I suspected that he missed on purpose. It wasn’t that hard of a bank shot and he seemed to be a better player than that. But the purpose of the game was to see if I could play, not to show off Bob’s skills.
“Let’s see what you’ve got, “he said, stepping away from the table.
I took a deep breath, stepped up to the table and played the game of my life. Like Toni Kucoc used to say, I vas in da zone. I didn’t miss a shot and some of them were tough. I made long cuts, bank shots, and a combination. I felt like a kid again, on my way to beating some chump out of a few bucks. When I leaned over the table to line up my final shot, Bob reached over and picked up the 8-ball. He looked at me, nodded his head in approval and said, “When can you start?”
I ran the magazine for nearly a year. It was one of the more interesting periods of my life. I met a lot of pool hustlers, earned a decent buck and heard some great stories. My favorite story concerned Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman.
Gleason was a genuine pool shark. He learned to play as a kid on the mean streets of Brooklyn. As he used to tell it, his skill at pool helped him survive some very tough times. Paul Newman learned to play pool during the filming of “The Hustler,” one of my all-time favorite movies. The director had hired Willie Mosconi, arguably the greatest player ever, to coach Newman. Newman actually became a pretty good player under Mosconi’s tutelage. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as good as he thought he was.
Shortly after Gleason’s death, Newman was interviewed by a reporter who wanted to discuss the film and Newman’s memories of Gleason. The interviewer asked if he and Gleason had ever played pool for money.
“Yes, we did,” Newman replied. “And I beat him two out of three games. I won the first two games for fifty bucks each and Jackie won the third game for five hundred.”
A classic hustle, if you ask me.
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As we all know, Milo–my partner in the TTC blogging empire–is a fine writer, prodigious partier and one of the world’s great spellers.
To that trio of talents, let’s add a fourth: The fucker’s got a hard head!
This is my way of getting around to explaining why you haven’t seen one of his Facebook postings since he wrote: “Man, I’m like totally embarrassed. I thought Naked Gardening Day was today.”
That line has nothing to do with this story, but it’s so funny I had to repeat it. Anyway…
On May 7, Milo fainted.
Not sure why–he just did.
He got up and said he was feeling fine.
But a few hours later, Petra, his youngest daughter, found him damn near passed out on the couch.
She hustled him over to the hospital. Not long thereafter, he was having brain surgery.
Specifically, the doctors performed a craniotomy–a word only Milo can spell.
They broke open his skull. Drained the blood. And inserted a piece of titanium to cover up the hole.
I probably made a bunch of errors in this explanation–being the guy who flunked nearly every science class I ever took. But I think it’s close enough.
He’s now battling–oh, god, here comes another hard word–expressive aphasia.
That means he’s sort of learning how to speak again.
I went to visit him the other day fully intending to take advantage of his feeble state by having him sign a power of attorney statement turning over TTC–with all of its millions–to me, Rolando and Randolph.
But I chickened out when I noticed Petra was packing a pistol. You know what they say about the apple and the tree.
In all seriousness, I’m happy to report that Milo’s on the mend. And he still spells better than I do–even with that titanium in his head.
So thank you, Petra, for being so quick on your feet and getting your old man over to that hospital.
And thank you Nadia and the lovely Mrs. Milo and everyone else in the Samardzija family for taking such good care of my old friend.
Also, thanks to the doctors and nurses at the V.A. hospital. Trust me when I tell you–this guy was well worth saving.
I plan to visit him again really soon so we can dine in fine style at the V.A. cafeteria. Milo tells me its fried chicken is second to none.
In the meantime, to all his Facebook fans and friends, I know Milo would appreciate a few of your best wishes and wisecracks.
-You call the body snatchers?
-Yeah, I called them.
-We get a name on this kid?
-Medics didn’t have anything on him.
-Check his shit.
-Kid’s 18. Rodney Jones. Oh shit…There’s a “Big Booty Hoes” dvd in his back pocket.
-Poor fucker was probably on his way home to rub one out and got it.
-That’s got to be fucked up. Booty on your mind then getting popped.
-It was on his mind until it wasn’t, judging by this head shot, it was the last thing on his mind.
-Shit, when I was 18, that’s all I had on my mind.
-Mother fucker you’re 33 and shit hasn’t changed.
-Don’t act like you’re any different.
-I’ll tell ya, “Big Booty Hoes” ain’t going to do it for me, though.
-You got the bag? Let’s get this shit over with. I wanna go eat.
-Yeah I got the bag. What’d you bring for lunch?
-Grabbed a sandwich on the way in.
-Not much of a lunch.
-Make sure you get all his shit in the bag.
-It’s all in. Where’s the DVD, though?
-Not sure. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere…
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While Jon’s off fishing, we’ll run some of his greatest hits from church…
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On a freezing cold night, my younger daughter and I head over to the local Chinese joint for dinner and order ourselves a big bowl of steaming-hot chicken soup.
We start talking about this and that, and somehow I launch into a recollection of how I met her mother…
It’s November, 1980. I’m 24. Just back from a job in Connecticut. Dead broke. Living at home with my parents. Kevin calls.
He’s a friend of an old girlfriend. Actually, not really my friend–more of an acquaintance. I’m surprised he even has my number.
He says he has an extra ticket for a Springsteen concert–want to go?
I’m like–are you kidding? Of course, I want to go.
I can’t believe invited me, of people.
But back then, I was sort of known, in our little circle, as the guy who loves Springsteen.
So I drive to Kevin’s house, an apartment in Lakeview. In my `73 Celica, coolest car I’ve ever owned.
Turns out he’s a drug dealer. Has his drugs out in the open–hashish, weed, cocaine.
Plus, he’s got a phone in every room, even the bathroom. Don’t know what that’s all about–some kind of drug-dealer thing.
People keep dropping by to snort, smoke and buy. I never tried cocaine. And by then I’d given up on weed. So I sit on the couch and watch.
Then your mom walks in. She’s wearing this pink leather jacket. I’m thinking–this girl is hot…
“You’re so weird…”
I snap out of my trance. I forgot I was talking to my daughter.
“The concert was in Rosemont,” I continue. “Kevin drove…”
“In one car?”
“We’re you sitting on laps?”
“No, we’re squeezed three in the front and three in the back. I was in the back with mom and my ex-girlfriend. That was weird. Mom was Kevin’s date. At the concert, they sat up front in the good seats. The rest of us we’re way in the back. I’m not complaining. I was happy to be there. It was just after Springsteen released The River. The crowd sang along with Hungry Heart–everyone knew the words…”
“How’s your soup?”
It’s the waitress.
“Good,” I say.
“Are you done?” she says to my daughter.
The waitress looks at my daughter’s soup dish, like she’s disappointed, and says: “You didn’t eat the chicken…”
My daughter smiles and shrugs. The waitress clears the plates.
I return to my story.
“After the concert, Kevin drove us back to his place. I think Kevin expected mom to stay at his place, cause, you know, he got her the tickets and all. But mom wasn’t playing that game and she asked if I would drive her home. On the way home, we start talking and later I call her for a date and one thing leads to another. But it all started with that drive home. Thank God for the Celica…”
“Well, she wasn’t going to sleep with that loser…”
I take a sip of water. “You know, he died…”
“I think it was a drug overdose, but I’m not sure. After that concert I never saw him again. But, you know, I wouldn’t be so hard on him. If not for him, mom and I probably wouldn’t have met. You wouldn’t be here. Life is weird–isn’t it?”
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I mentioned in my last post that I did a cleanse, and now you get to hear all about it!!
It all began last Tuesday. I spent Monday night making deliciously bland and grainy quinoa with fruit for breakfast. It took me until the last two days of the cleanse that my quinoa to fruit ratio was way off. In the beginning I was eating a lot of bland quinoa crap with a little bit of berries, but by the end I was eating berries with only a little bit of quinoa crap. Ate a lot of soup for lunch and dinner. Sometimes I ate salads. But mostly I ate avocados and raw nuts.
The second worst thing about being on the cleanse was trying to snack in a pre-K classroom. It’s literally the land of snacks. A different kid brings snacks from home everyday, and a lot of them bring either cookies or cheese based products. As you might imagine, neither of these things are on a cleanse.
Cleanse appropriate snacks are:
-Celery with “detox pesto”. Detox pesto is made with cilantro and , as one pre-k student put it, “smells like garbage”. That snack was not brought again.
-Raw nuts, which one child said was “for doggies”.
-Fruit, which thankfully one parent brought for snack. I ate at least 10 pears over the course of five days.
-Cucumber with salt and a little bit of cayenne pepper. I one day I brought this snack I had managed to put far too much cayenne pepper on the cucumber and spent the second half of my day trying to keep my mouth from forming second degree burns. That snack was also not brought again.
The first worst thing about the cleanse was no booze.
When I started the whole thing, I was like five days? I can go five days without booze. I’m a semi responsible human being who loves beer and wine, and basically any cocktail in my vicinity. But five days? I can totally make it five days.
By the third day I was reminded of two things: 1) I have will power (sometimes) and 2) I fucking love booze.
On the following Saturday, my cleanse ended and I decided to ease my back into my favorite past time with a bloody mary. And then another bloody mary. Then I took a break so I could see how my body reacted to this jump back into the boozey deep end. When my insides didn’t melt out of my body, I took it as a sign that my body was ok with me having booze back in my bloodstream.
I also took this to mean that my body would be ok with my eating a lot of mac and cheese while horizontal on my couch.
I’m back, baby.
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