Paul, Jr. and a few pals including one of his best friends, Billy Shacht, and twin brothers, Frank and Thomas, lingered one day after cold drinks outside the window of the town's main poolroom, located in a side alley off their town's main street.
Ironically empty Coke bottles in hand, the boys were fascinated at the goings on they could dimly make out inside. Why by gum, otherwise stuffy town citizens, the local bankers, shopkeepers and businessmen, were cloistered inside, drinking, laughing and smoking, jackets on chairs, shirt sleeves rolled high--and most of all, hitting balls around the tables and generally living life out loud.
The boys had stopped at a propitious moment where the otherwise serious competitors at the front tables had stopped for a few moments to share a few off-color jokes.
Paul Takes The Lead"Let's step inside," cautiously suggested Paul. His eyes burned as did his ambition. His father's advice to act different, to be different and be proud of it, echoed somewhere inside his head.
"I don't think my old man wants me in the pool hall," said Billy, the youngest of the four boys, just having passed the landmark age of 12. "Your old man is inside the pool hall, Billy," laughed Thomas, and pushed Billy forward and through the door.
"Hey, fellas!" greeted Mr. Shacht to the seemingly eager quartet as they shuffled through the main double doors. "Come on back here to me!"
Billy's dad made an introduction to his current playing partner, Fred Greyson. "Fred, this here strapping young kid is my boy, William, and this are his pals, Frank and his brother Thomas, yes, I can tell them apart, and this is--"
"Paul, sir. Paul Arness. Junior, sir."
"Say, I know your father. He's a foreman down at the factory, right?" said Mr. Greyson. "I met him there when I brokered a meeting recently with him and the other foremen and one of my clients from the state capital. Nice to meet you, young man. How about a game of pool?"
"I've never played pool--sir," responded Paul.
"We'll teach you and Billy and his friends," said Billy's father.
"Hey, Paul, we gotta go home," interjected Frank. "Yes, we've got to get home to help get ready for company tonight, sorry, Billy," said Thomas. The twins waved cheerily goodbye then sped for the front door and out to the street. Clearly they had some anxiety about visiting the poolroom besides needing to catch speed home for supper.
A Young Pool Star Is BornThe two men mentored the "young pool boys" in the basics of cue grip and stance before setting up a doubles game of 8-Ball, the men generously sharing their cue sticks with the boys. Paul would later remember little of the details, except that he was commended by both men for having a smooth billiards stroke.
The long, skinny cue, made for an adult pool shooter, somehow didn't seem too long for him--Paul had shot up a few inches over the summer, and his hands were starting to grow nearly as large as his dad's blacksmith hands, ideal for rough factory work.
Mr. Greyson's cue seemed a magic thing, beautifully balanced in Paul's hands, so he clasped the cue lightly and wondered at its movement. "Why grip it hard if it wants to do all the work for me?" thought Paul. He was reluctant to part with the delicate instrument to return it to Mr. Shacht following each of his innings at the table.
By contrast, Billy seemed to want to compensate for his smallness of stature by throttling his grip on his cue stick. He, too, was enjoying the game, but had fallen to the beginner's trap of muscling the balls hard about the table instead of lovingly caressing them into the pockets.
The hair's breadth difference Paul would later employ to fly an object ball down the hatch instead of gliding it to its target was nowhere to be found for Billy, and likely never would be.
Other than the rhythm of the billiards game itself, which young Arness was quickly growing to appreciate, as the men quieted down and became more competitive, came a delirious mix of sights, smells and sounds from about the old hall itself.
1933 was a lousy time to do much of anything in America, unless you were down on Wall Street, taking full advantage of those stocks which continued to rise high, even as their Exchange neighbors shuffled with the rest of the world deeply into depression. But for a 12-year-old boy surrounded by men acting like 12-year-old boys on a hot summer afternoon, life was sweet indeed.
Soon enough, things would get a bit rougher for Paul. But isn't that the way life goes? One day you are sailing across a sheet of glass and the next you are drowning, the boat on top of your head as you struggle to come to the surface of the lake for air.
But for now, God and not the devil was clearly in charge, the hatches were well battened on the ship of life, and pool was a great and thrilling pastime for two young pool players and their mentors on a lazy Saturday afternoon.The Killer And The Mosc, Part I: 13-Rack Ride
The Killer And The Mosc Part II: Roll Two Million Balls
Part III: Pickle Juice Paul
Part IV: Arness Gets A Taste
Part V: Ralph Greenleaf Kicks Willie Mosconi's Tail
Part VI: Mosconi's Madness, The Fire Down Below
Part VII: The Old Man's Three Rules Of Great Pool
Part VIII: The Men In Town To Clash
Part IX: Stand And Fight
Part X: Showdown On Cloth
Part XI: Cue Ball Killing It
Part XII: Willie's Best Bank Shot
Part XIII: Crushed, Snookered, Busted
Part XIV: Rolling Loose
Part XV: Swing And A Miss