Dear readers, you no doubt think that since I moved to long island after leaving West83rdStreet this must be about a swimming pool. I’m not sorry to disappoint you, I’m sticking to my mission; some of you will remember Guys & Dolls over Woolworths. I spent many, many hours there, especially after I got my allowance on Fridays.
I was the little Jewish kid, adopted by gang members, taught pool by Tony (with one arm) and three-cushion billiards by Bill (the professor). The place was under the day-to-day care of the Puerto Rican brothers who led a local group of unsavory and dangerous characters.
I was something of a hustler. I was young, underage in fact, when I started playing at Guys & Dolls, and all the players thought I was a pushover. I was a fairly good nine-ball player and played the part of the dumb young White Jewish kid who anybody could beat.
I went just about every Friday immediately following the gift of my 20 dollar allowance because that wouldn’t be enough for the week and the only way to make it grow was to play. Well, I did learn one Friday night that playing was not the only way to grow your cash.
He was, it turned out, a pimp with lots of cash and he loved to play chicago/eight ball or just about anything else. The stakes were a bit higher than typical but not high enough for this guy. He took all the side action offered. And smiling me, 17 or18 by this time was offering. He was playing one of the house’s best.
In a few hours I had 800 dollars in cash and a fear of the losing pimp. My nervousness was clear and one of the guys, Fernando, offered to walk me home for a hundred bucks. Since I had not had so much cash since my Bar Mitzvah he made an easy hundred and I felt safe.
Gambling was not the only past time for me at Guys & Dolls. At the front of the hall there were two tables with no pockets. These are real billiard tables. These are where I met Bill. A Black man taken to wearing a beret who, I learned from him, was a full professor of art at a New Jersey College I have forgotten.
Bill was a teacher at heart. He taught me three-rail billiards and straight rail billiards. These are classy thinking man’s games. I learned to love 3 rail, played with two white balls and a red one, where each player has a cue ball and must hit both of the other balls having hit three rails before the second one. (Confused? It really is hard to describe, but great to play.)
I never gambled at billiards, but Bill did. He was known to leave Guys & Dolls, go down to 50th Street and return with a sizeable wad of cash. I don’t think players thought a Black man would be good at the game.
I played right through college. I don’t know why I stopped but I miss billiards. If any of you play, or would like to try please message me to make a date, remembering I haven’t seriously played since the 1970’s on the West Side.