I wrote a couple of days ago about someone who saw her first pool room at 4 years old, and how enamored she was by the event.
I Google the owner of the pool room, Matranga, to see what I could find about the family, and this little gem popped up:
I am going to paste the long story here in case it disappears some day from the URL above, because it's quite a story to read about gambling in 1961:
2-13-12 - Breaking a Fifty Year Old Vow
next to last day of my recent stay in Fort Worth, I broke a vow fifty
years old, a vow never again to gamble. Since that time five decades ago until
the fifth of February this year, I have not wagered any money on a bet, on a flip of a coin, on a
card game, on one of many brief stays at Reno, Tahoe, or Las Vegas, not
bought a lottery ticket. I can remember one member of the poker game at
David Cohen's getting angry at me when I wouldn't join in one
night I'd dropped by to say hello. I have never taken advantage of sure
thing bets or those I know of that are easy ways to make money because
they're counter-intuitive. It's not just because of the vow. I've broken
many vows. It's also because I don't have the urge to bet. I don't like
competitive games. I don't like to lose but I also don't like that much to
win, don't like to get the better of others, would rather not get into
that whole thing. But there's also an experience behind the vow that lead me not to
gamble since back then, not a penny ever - till Super Bowl Sunday this
that vow in Henry Matranga's pool hall on a hot day in the summer of 1961.
I was sixteen and on the way to my grandmother's house mid afternoon.
Since I was going there or by there my mother had given me five dollars to
give to her mother - don't remember why - a donation, dues, debt to a
yardman. On the way, rather out of the
way, I dropped by the pool hall. It was a smoky old place, maybe eight tables all standard, no snooker or billiards,
cold drinks and cigarettes available from machines, bad coffee, a couple of pin ball
machines, bare walls, hanging florescent lights, a few chairs.
Henry sat on a stool when he wasn't up and around, was bespectacled,
looked to be in his seventies, short, welterweight, strict, quiet, but not
unfriendly. I remember his son
Frank knew my aunt Eleanor in high school, maybe even dated. Henry knew my
grandfather to say hello. Maybe that's why he let me and my friends play there even
though we were under eighteen. The other customers were always older.
an Italian name and there was a small Mafia presence in Fort Worth which
at one time I'd heard had earned the nickname Little Chicago - for
gambling and prostitution. Even when I was a teenager I'd hear about such
things going on in town. The only thing I remember organized crime being
involved with in Fort Worth was pinball and vending machines. I didn't
understand why. It was hinted that some people in this pool hall were
involved with the Mafia. Maybe that was all imagined ambiance but I know I
never had to worry about being hassled by toughs there or even near there. I loved
going to Henry's to play eight ball, rotation, and smoke.
"One quick game of rotation," I told him. "Just got a dime."
Henry racked the balls himself, quickly and tightly. A man at the next
table asked if I wanted to play. I said sure.
"How about eight ball?" he said.
Henry heard and re-racked for eight ball.
"Play for a dollar?" the man asked.
I'd seen him play there before. He was a salesman from the neighboring
Montgomery Wards headquarters building. He was better than me. I've never
been very good at pool. "Loser pays," I said.
We played a game of eight ball. He won. I reached into my pocket for
the dime, handed it to Henry.
"Eight ball's fifteen," he reminded me.
"Oh yeah." I reached in some more. Nothing. "Play you for a nickel," I
said to the man who'd just beat me and handed Henry the five dollar bill.
He gave me $4.95 in change.
It was very important that I give this
five dollar bill to my grandmother. I had to win this game. My mother
would not approve of me giving Granny four ones and ninety-five cents in
change. Granny wouldn't like it either. This guy wasn't that much better than me. I'd almost won the game
before. I lost that next game badly though. I gave Henry another fifteen cents.
I calculated. "Play you for a quarter," I said. Loser pays was
understood. Needed that fiver back.
He won again. Darn. Gave Henry another fifteen cents. That
left me with $4.65 and a 30 cent debt. "Play you for 65," I said. He
I almost won that game. "That's ninety-five," he said.
Gave Henry another fifteen cents. Counted my change while he racked.
Darn. If I don't get that five back Mother will kill me I thought. Granny will scold but mother might
get irrational, out of hand. She's really very nice but, little things like this sometimes can ignite
her (back then). Hmm. Got $4.50 and so that's 50 plus 95 equals 145. "Play you for a
He laughed. "OK."
I choked bad on that game. Was ahead and missed a
super easy shot. My hand was shaking. "That's two hundred and forty
pennies my friend," said the salesman. He was enjoying it. Gave Henry
another fifteen cents. I had
$4.35 left and owed $2.40. Sixty-five and 240 is... is 305. "How about three
bucks and a nickel?" We were on.
"Rotation?" I said. Maybe another game
would change my luck. Henry looked up. The salesman nodded.
He broke. He'd broken every game except the first. Winner breaks. I was
sweating. I still had enough to pay up if I lost this game, But then I'd
have to face the consequences at Granny's and then at home. Sounds like no
big deal now. But remember inflation. According to the Inflation
Calculator on DollarTimes.com, five dollars in 1961 was worth $36.77 in
2011. So it's like you gave your kid or friend or whatever forty bucks to
pay a debt and they gambled it away en route. Add that to the uh...
importance of attending to details and the value placed on property and
money in my family, and that sweat on my brow is more understandable. Don't get me
wrong. My mother was generous and not a penny pincher. She just wasn't
cool with wanton waste and household misdemeanors.
Only the fifteen ball remained. I had a shot. Missed. He missed. I had
a better shot. Missed. He had a difficult shot. Banked it in.
"I gotta get back to work," he said as I gave Henry a dime.
The salesman was waiting for his money.
"Three o five," I said.
"No," he said. "Three o five plus
from before." That's five and... forty-five."
Uh oh. Forgot
add that. I counted
my change. Owed $5.45. Only had a quarter and the four bills. No.
Damnit. No. Let's see. Wow. No. I don't have it. What to
do. Mind blank then spinning, grasping at mental straws. Pretend I
think it's in the car then come back in and apologize and
bring it to him tomorrow. Embarrassing. He'll be okay. Dread to do
And then there's still no five
dollar bill for Granny. I paused looking down. Looking for excuses
bring instead of the five dollar bill,
"One more game."
"OK. One more. Then I really gotta go."
Henry," he said.
Henry was already taking the balls from the wall
and placing them in the triangular rack.
"Play you for six twenty."
"Six twenty," he laughed and nodded. "You've sure got some system."
Henry looked at me and shook his head a little. I think he knew what was
These old tables of course weren't the type that swallow balls. In
eight ball we'd leave the balls in the leather netted pockets, moving one
to another pocket if it got too full. With rotation we'd line them up on
the wall on narrow shelves
scooped to match the form of the balls so they wouldn't roll off. His
balls were on the top shelf and mine on the next. Henry had been
looking at these rows of balls for decades and could tell you the sum of
your row in a glance. Naturally in
rotation the player whose balls add up to the highest number wins.
I was not doing well in this game. The salesman had a bunch of balls on his shelf
I hardly had any. There were five balls left on the table, mostly the
highest number balls. I was getting numb all over with fear. Fear of two
women in my family and now fear of the salesman and Henry too. He didn't
like any funny business in his establishment. If I lost this I'd be over
eleven dollars short. A lot of money back then.
I was wishing I could walk back in the room and redo this whole
scenario. If I'd just played rotation instead of eight ball the first
game, I could have paid with my dime and driven off care free but no, now
I'm anything but care free. I'm the polar opposite of care free. More like
polar bear opposite, polar bears that can rip your face off and suck the
marrow out of your bones.
"Your shot," the salesman reminded me looking at his watch.
I looked at the table. Henry
walked by and looked at the balls in the rack. "Which are you?" he asked.
"I'm the lower shelf," I said.
He looked at the table. "You've got to
sink every ball on the table to win," he said and walked off.
I looked at the five
balls on the table. I was stuck on a cliff and they were the rocks below.
I heard the winds of panic rustling. I felt the like crying, like
collapsing. But I didn't. I gathered myself. I
pulled in all my forces. I spoke directly then to the highest on high mind
of mind, and I prayed sincerely.
When most people think of prayer, I
gather they think it's something you do to
some other being somewhere that has power, usually a supreme being that
has all the power and one asks that supreme being for whatever one wants.
Please let me live, I don't want to die, for instance. I had a comparable
feeling, but I wasn't raised on that type of prayer. I was raised on
prayer being rooted in one's oneness
with absolute perfect mind that was the one core truth of life, life beyond
the material universe. So I didn't say, please god, let me win. I just
directed a most sincere request as high, as deep, as subtle, as intimate
as I could, and said silently in my mind, "If I sink all five of these
balls, I will never gamble again."
Without pausing to reflect on the significance of the
moment, I rubbed the green
chalk cube on the round leather cue tip, put my left hand on the
white chalk cone and shook off the excess, placed that hand on
the table with the business
tip of the cue stick slid through the ring created by index finger
thumb resting on middle finger splayed out with the other two,
sighted the ball with the lowest number, and pulled back my right
hand which gripped the butt of the cue. All the fear and trembling
away. Just about everything dropped away except for my ability to
hold the pool cue and shoot.
This recent Super Bowl Sunday a
few friends came over to mother's house in Fort Worth. Carl brought
fajitas he'd made at home. Warren brought a salad and chips. Jackie
brought a raw vegetable assortment with dip. John showed up - I told him
not to bring anything. Jerry dropped by. Mother sat with us. We talked.
Warren was in the kitchen getting the salad tossed and tortilla chips with
cheese heated. Carl got out a piece of paper and drew horizontal and
vertical lines. It was a Super Bowl pool. Each square represented a
meeting place of two different scores. Each square cost a dime. There were
lots of empty squares. To heck with it. I didn't want to be a Super Bowl
pool pooper. I went to my room and got eight dimes, threw them in the hat
and marked eight squares with DC. I lost it all.
It's been a good vow.
I'm still thankful for it.