The pool table is held up from the floor with volumes of old phone books. The mutts bring out a carpenter’s level before anybody starts playing for money. Then the bulldogs lift the table up, and one of them moves to the highest corner and tears a few pages out of the top yellow book, and the carpenter’s level is situated on top of the table again. This goes on until all hands betting on the 8 ball are satisfied.
I look down and ask no one in particular, “Have we hit rock bottom yet?”
No one answers.
There’s an old man in the corner eating someone’s left over French fries. He’s a regular who is only tolerated by the management because he always buys beer. More accurately he always buys a single beer that he nurses all night. He holds each sip in his mouth tasting it on his tongue for as long as he can resist the natural action of his throat muscles.
They only thing that helps me actually recognize him from among any of the other tattered septuagenarian hard luck cases loitering throughout this town, the only thing aside from his particular tasting methods, is his cubs ball cap with throwing darts woven through the cheap plastic mesh like fishing lures. Tonight, he decides for some reason that we are best pals and keeps trying to finger me over to his corner. After four or five refusals, I finally acquiesce. Just so that I can stop dreading his beckoning ever time I pan and scan the room.
I get within a yard of him and stop there. He has enough sense to tell that I don’t want to get within hugging distance. He flashes me the OK sign, and only finally looks down at the pockets his fishing in once he’s convinced I won’t walk away if he doesn’t hold my gaze. He pulls out a wrinkly folded up piece of newsprint. It is an advertisement from women’s braziers. He indicated that he wants me to take it. I make sure I can see both his hands and then patently refuse. I start to back away. He is desperate to make his point, and takes tiny shuffling steps towards me. He holds the advertisement up at eye level pointing at the scantly clad gal.
-Can’t you see it?
-It’s Elizabeth Taylor
He sees my free fist clench, and begins shuffling backwards, back to his cold half eaten French fires shrugging an apology.
The bartender smirks knowingly.
-Was that a Valentine he tried to give ya?
But the beer-man don’t want to skip it.
-He want a kiss?
There is some pushing and shoving over at the pool table. Nobody wants to break it up, but it settles itself in a minute.
-What’s on the docket tonight?
-They got matches tonight?
-So, that aint stopping you from making a buck.