by Miles Rost
Legends are made, never born.
In the realm of pool halls, there have been major names that have been mentioned and legends that go with their names. New York Fats, “Machine Gun Lou” Butera, and even Karin “China Rose” Cheung all graced the legendary status notorious with pool halls, hustling and sharking, and incredible sport.
It is this status by which a legend was born in a musty pool hall in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
On a Friday night, the Uptown Pool Hall was packed with young players and some veterans. It was a place for the college set from the many colleges in the Twin Cities to visit. You’d see Gophers from the U of M, Scots from across the river at Macalester, and sometimes even some Tommies from St. Thomas’s Minneapolis campus. They would mingle, get the news, and hustle each other for money while drinking cheap beer and smoking clove cigs.
A clear winter’s night brought a lot of students in for this particular night, and the crowds were having a good time. The sound of talking filled the air, while the jukebox next to the door stood lit but silent. No one except the bartender even noticed when the front door of the pool hall opened up. The bartender of the hall looked up at the newest arrival, and immediately his face bore a look of surprise.
A man around six feet tall stood, peering his eyes around the entire hall. He wore a brown leather bomber jacket, dark blue denim jeans, and wore a black homburg hat with a black band around it. His glasses shined in the front lights of the hall, contrasting the darkness of the rest of the hall.
He reached over to the bartender and dropped a note and a $20 on the bar. The bartender read the note, and started to mix. The man looked around the hall again, and his eyes fell on a table near the middle of the hall. Table #8, surrounded by almost all of the other tables, had a group of college boys that were largely joking around while playing. He smirked, as he waited for his drink.
“One Boston Breaker. Your $20 will cover 3 more,” the bartender said, as he put down the pint glass full of what looked like a liquid boston creme pie.
“Tell me,” the man said, looking at the crowd of students, “Which one of these is the best of the lot?”
“This motley crew of fools? Hell, Table 8 is about as good as yer gonna get. Red sweatshirt, goes by the name ‘Chill’. If you’re looking for a challenge, wait for Wednesday nights. That’s when the old veterans do their sharkin’.”
The man tipped his hat to the bartender, and walked over to the jukebox. Hitting a couple of buttons, he put on two songs. The first was Dire Straits’s “So Far Away”. As the song played in the background, he walked over to the rack of pool cues and took a look. After a minute of admiring the cues, he took one down and studied it for another minute. He blinked, then walked over to Table 8 and looked over the table a few times. One of the boys at the table looked up at him.
“Admiring the view?”
“Not really much to see, unless you’re a player.”
The one known as “Chill” removed his butt from the side of the table and walked over to the man. He had a pair of 80s style sunglasses and a red Wisconsin sweatshirt on.
“I’m a player. Wanna go?”
Chill’s eyes widened, then sharpened into a glare, with a dripping smile appearing on his face.
The man stood stony, and stared into Chill’s eyes through his own shiny glasses.
“Agreed. Rack ’em.”
Chill nodded, and he started to bring the 9 balls back up onto the table. The man chalked up the end of his cue and looked back over at Chill, who had everything set and ready.
“Shall we start?” Chill asked the man.
“One moment,” the man replied, pulling a coin out of his jeans.
He turned around and flicked the coin hard towards the jukebox. The coin whapped into the jukebox and careened into a corner. The sound of Dire Straits suddenly was interrupted. The sound died down in the entire pool hall. It got so silent for a second that you could hear a pin drop. Suddenly, after a moment, his second desired song started to course from the speakers in the hall.
Everyone knew that something big was about to happen, and the action now focused on Table 8.
The man walked to the stage of Table 8, and positioned his cue. The smell of the felt, the mustiness of the hall, and the dusty chalk combined in the air around the man’s nostrils. He took in a breath as he drew the cue back. At the first crack of the snare on the song, his cue bolted forward. The cueball smacked hard into the 9 balls in the middle of the table, spreading them out to all different parts. A good break, with none going in the pockets.
The man nodded to Chill, and he moved out of the way.
Chill walked to one of the corners of the table.
“I’m gonna put you away with this one,” he said smugly, as he positioned his cue in a higher stage.
After a few seconds, he hit the cue towards the #1 ball in the corner. The yellow ball took the strike from the cueball like a runner and sprinted into the corner pocket. The smugness oozed from Chill’s entire being, as he moved himself around for a second strike, aiming for the blue #2 ball. He readied himself and hit the cueball. The cue missed the 2 by a hair and ended up in a corner, nearly surrounded by other balls.
“I’d like to see you get out of that one,” Chill said, chuckling to himself.
As David Coverdale started into the second verse of the song, the man whipped off his leather jacket. He walked over to the corner where the cue ball was and positioned his cue almost vertical. He took aim and fired the cue. The cueball flew straight up in the air and landed right next to the 2, sinking it into the side pocket.
Chill’s mouth dropped open. The other boys in the hall were starting to wonder.
As the song continued, the man dispatched with balls 3 through 7. As the guitar bridge of the song started to blare through the speakers, he surveyed the table. The 8 and the 9 were at opposite ends, but nowhere near holes. He studied for a moment, and positioned himself in a spot that seemed to contradict his needed goals. As he was able to fire the cueball, Chill sneered.
This guy ain’t gonna make it.
The man fired the cueball, where it zigzagged quickly across the table.
Thump, thump, crack!
The 8 ball was smacked and went into the corner pocket, like was expected. However, the ball started to swirl around like a tornado, heading back down the table.
Chill’s face went from smug to shock, seeing the ball swirling down towards the opposite end of the table. The swirling ball continued to jump it’s way down until it hit the 9. The nine slowly bounced off one rail, off another, and slowly sank into the corner pocket as the song proceeded to fade out.
“That’s $180. Pay up.”
Chill, mouth still open, forked over the cash quickly. He then bolted out of the pool hall, his friends in tow.
After that night, the man would continue to show up on Friday nights, taking the earnings of many a college student, and showing them that humility breeds the potential for greatness.
After a year or so, he left the Uptown. His legend, born on a cold January night, bore out in the renaming of his favorite drink and the legendary nickname bestowed upon him by those who got to know him.
That night, the legend of “The Whitesnake” was born.