If you’ve never been in Waco, Texas for an extended period, you cannot grasp the urgent need to flee.
To flee the heat and humidity and cockroaches and bad newspapers and suffocating blanket of failure.
To just get in the car and drive.
And in 1982, that meant we:
1) Put $10 of gas in Capt. Buttface’s Toyota
2) Covertly shovelled free motel ice into a trash bag
3) Added beer
4) Bought Marlboros
5) Shoved Muddy Waters into the tape deck
6) Aimed the car south
7) Drove very fast.
And in 90 minutes?
Ahhhhhhhhhh. We were in Austin, where Bob Wills is still the king.
In addition to having the most beautiful girls and the best TexMex food, Austin had the best bars in Texas; where live music was insanely good and the beer was freezing cold. Where there were pool tables with virgin green felt.
Wonderful places, where a dollar or two could be made, almost legally.
Now, I’ve known men who could look at a room full of women and say, that one right there will be more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Or something like that.
I wasn’t one of those fellers. But I could spot someone who thought he hustled pool like Minnesota Fats, but who really didn’t. Someone who needed to buy me beer and give me his money.
It was a gift.
Along with this “gift” came a certain level of responsibility.
One had to be responsible enough to take the money in a way that would not get one arrested, or have a Lone Star long neck bottle busted across one’s noggin.
Having the 6-4 Capt. Buttface as your wing man was extremely useful, like at that biker bar in Austin.
It wasn’t a dirty, evil, Crack-selling biker bar. Just a big Austin bar, where there were college students and a good many patrons who rode Harleys and probably had been guests of the state, if you catch our drift.
My “gift” had alerted me to a couple of fellers on a nearby pool table. They had won a few $1-a-game racks and were well into believing they were hustling like the Fat Man, hissownself.
These were fellers who badly needed to give Buttface and I their money. And buy us beer.
I put my quarter into the table, racked the balls, agreed to the table stakes, let them break, and then we beat them, but not badly. They put it down to bad luck.
How else could a little guy with one arm beat them?
The fellers bought us beers, paid their debt, cinched up their belts and prepared to kick our butts.
The stakes went up and, as strange as it may sound, their bad luck continued. The Minnesota Fat Men lost again to the Waco escapees. In fact, it happened a time or two. Our opponents with many tattoos were not happy.
And it was about to get worse.
One armed bandit
On small pool tables in bars, it’s especially important to rack the balls as far back as you can. But Minnesota Fats had racked them way too high. Even better, he’d angled the rack slightly to my left.
Back then, when I was hot, I could normally run the table. When given a lovely angled rack, more times than not, I could make the eight ball on the break and win the game.
The secret was to hit the third ball back, not the lead ball. Officially, this was illegal. But in bar pool, it’s totally legal, if you can get away with it.
It’s also when things can get interesting, so I called Capt. Buttface over for a quiet chat.
While he was El Capitan aboard the Moon Cricket sailboat, I was ranking officer on this cruise, and he had no idea the water was about to get choppy.
“I’m going to raise the stakes and then make the eight ball on the break,” I whispered into Buttface’s ear, after he bent way, way down to my height.
“When that happens, I will pick up a long neck, just in case, and turn to leave. You will take their money, grab your long neck, just in case, and follow me outside. We need to be in your car and gone in about 30 seconds, just in case these fellers realize they have been had. You ready?”
Capt. Buttface was born ready. He was the Master of Disaster. He loved the smell of napalm in the morning. But he’d never really hustled pool before. His nostrils flared like a big ol’ race horse waiting for the gates to open. And this was not good.
I encouraged him to relax by surreptiously bouncing the pool cue off the side of his head.
Then I casually mentioned to the Fat Men that, as we had to be gettin’ back to Waco, I wondered whether they’d like to go double-or-nothing and win back what they had lost.
I was just being kind. I’m like that when playing pool in a bar.
Well, some times you get the bear, and some times the bear gets you. On that night, we got the bear.
I hammered the cue ball on the break. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Two solids and a stripe went down.
Slowly, the eight ball wandered toward the left side pocket and fell in. The Fat Men turned an angry red, slammed their cues against the pool table and, in unison, said a very bad word.
I was gone.
Buttface scooped up the money, apologized for all our dumb luck, then he, too, headed to the getaway car.
“I can’t believe we did that! I can’t believe we did that! THAT WAS GREAT!”
Buttface chanted this over and over, bouncing up and down in the driver’s seat, and making the tiny Toyota lurch around Interstate-35.
As for me, I just put on a Stevie Ray Vaughan tape, laid the seat back down, and drifted off to sleep.
All pure and innocent. And somewhat wealthier.
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