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houstondan
01-26-2004, 11:04 AM
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HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Houston Lifestyle & Features

Jan. 26, 2004, 11:10AM


Passionate about pool
Author draws upon his love of the game for new book
By BARBARA KARKABI
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Even on a Sunday afternoon, there's a smell of stale cigarettes and old cigars at the Cue and Cushion on Shepherd Drive.

There's nothing about the "new" Houston at this old pool hall, once the home of Jersey Red, one of the last of the great pool hustlers. It's filled with mostly middle-aged guys who carry their own pool cues in leather cases and play near an old photo of Red. Enclosed is a weathered copy of his business card that says: Jack Breit: Jersey Red's My Name/Pool's My Game.

In a corner, R.A. "Jake" Dyer, author of Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America's Great Age of Pool (The Lyons Press, $22.95), sets up a shot and furrows his brow in concentration. Pool is his passion and has been since he was a kid watching his Uncle Rob play the game. He became immersed in the sport when he worked in Costa Rica and later made a film on that country's pool players.

Most days Dyer, a former Houston Chronicle reporter, would come to work with his personal cue packed in a leather case and spend his lunchtime shooting pool. He began research for his new book five years ago, while working at the Chronicle. He is now a state Capitol reporter in Austin for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Dyer was in town recently for a showing of The Hustler, the 1961 movie starring the young Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason.

Q: Can you explain the importance of The Hustler to the world of pool?

A: Much of the book follows the lives of Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter and Jersey Red and zeros into this period in the 1960s that experienced a renaissance of the sport. It became very popular then, in a very large part due to the film.

Q: Because of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason or the culture of pool?

A: During the 1950's, pool had sort of fallen off the map. Part of that was the march of suburbia. It was post-World War II, people were at home, making babies, living in tract homes, and they were suddenly responsible. This movie was a rejection of all that. I mean, who doesn't get sick of having to work for a living?

Q: What do you think makes it interesting for people who aren't into pool?

A: There is something very romantic about being able to say -- the hell with it, I'm going to go play pool. I don't want to pay my cable bill, my car insurance or a mortgage. I want to be able to go anywhere I want and behave badly 24 hours a day. I also think everyone likes the idea of getting money for nothing. These guys were, to a certain extent, con men. There was always an element of danger to their lives, they were making money, throwing it back and forth on the pool table and living the life.

Q: Is pool a learned game or one that comes naturally?

A: Pool is a very difficult game to master at that level. It involves a great degree of athleticism. I could practice all my life and play and play and I could never come close to being as good as Jersey Red. It's not just because he spent more time playing, but because he was an athlete and had certain abilities that others didn't have.

Q: Like what? Stamina?

A: These guys would play for 48 and 62 hours or more and still maintain their focus There's hand-eye coordination, depth perception and muscle memory. When people think of sports they think of `how hard I can throw a ball' or `how fast I can run.' But there's another kind of athletics. You have to be able to know precisely the amount of speed you want to put on the pool ball. That's not something you learn in a book.

Q: Is it hard to cheat or hustle at pool?

A: You can't cheat at pool. If you do, you get your hands broken. The most common sort of hustle -- these guys have names for everything -- is called "playing on the lemon."

Q: What's that?

A: They would play beneath their ability. When Jersey Red first came to Houston in the '60s, he started playing the worst guys in the room. They would play him and think they could beat him, he seemed very beatable. But they would eventually lose. He would go up the ladder until he got to the top guys.


Q: Are there any characters, like the men you wrote about, left?

A: Earl Strickland -- "Earl the Pearl" -- is one of the finest players in the country, but he is very hot tempered, a little like the John McEnroe of pool. There is another guy called Efrain "The Magician" Reyes, my personal favorite, from the Philippines. He loves chicken and rice, and his fans like to bring it to him.

Q: Would you like to have been a hustler?

A: Yes. I'm quite sad about that, actually. I'm really awful at the game. The only hustle I have managed is to let my wife beat me at pool and keep her from knowing. I can play and sometimes I can beat people. I have come in to a pool hall with $15 in my pocket and had all my drinks paid for and a good dinner. There is no finer feeling.

Q: Would you let your son be a hustler or play pool?

A: Oh, that would be the proudest day of my life. If only he would. He plays a little pool, and we all want to live out our dreams through our children. If only my son or my daughter, Sophia, could have some skill. It would be a happy day for me.



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Wally_in_Cincy
01-26-2004, 12:00 PM
[ QUOTE ]
Q: Would you let your son be a hustler or play pool?

A: Oh, that would be the proudest day of my life. <hr /></blockquote>

LOL

thanx dan

Popcorn
01-26-2004, 12:31 PM
Another stereotypical article about pool by a reporter.

quote
"Q: What do you think makes it interesting for people who aren't into pool?

A: There is something very romantic about being able to say -- the hell with it, I'm going to go play pool. I don't want to pay my cable bill, my car insurance or a mortgage. I want to be able to go anywhere I want and behave badly 24 hours a day. I also think everyone likes the idea of getting money for nothing. These guys were, to a certain extent, con men. There was always an element of danger to their lives, they were making money, throwing it back and forth on the pool table and living the life."

I have talked to reporters and you are almost always sorry later. I am sure he had a lot more positive things to say about the sport but, that is the kind of thing the reporter will zero in on. He wants his son to be a hustler?

UTAddb
01-26-2004, 01:21 PM
There was also an article about Hustler Days in the Austin American Statesman. I'm pretty sure Jake writes or wrote for the newspaper.

#### leonard
01-26-2004, 01:43 PM
HoustonDan my favorite pool write up was by fellow Trojan Steve Wulf, who was a reporter for the Miami Herald, covering the Willie Mosconi vs Rex Williams match at Jackie Gleasons Inverrary Golf Club. Steve went on to be the editor of Sports Illustrated. It went like this.

I remember the feeling I got when I climbed the three flights of stairs to Whiteys Poolroom, in Troy,Ny, and turned to see a poolroom in a majestic old ballroom with a balcony overlooking the pooltables. The beautiful metal ceilings with the lights dangling from it and 20 or so old pooltables.

I am sorry that somehow I managed to lose that article that was sent to me by a local friend who was an FBI agent station in Florida. ####

houstondan
01-26-2004, 04:41 PM
dr. leonard. good to see you're still strokin. hope all is well. i still fall back to the advice you gave about hanging the cue from the back fingets when the stroke is getting too "wristy". it works like a charm.

jake put some really good stuff from sports illustrated in the book. seems they really covered it the way it was back then. may have been written by your friend wulf.

if you read the book, jake keeps making the point that these guys were pretty much bums and you wouldn't want them at the christmas table but they did what they damn-well wanted to do. they gave up a whole lot but what they got was freedom. the way that kristoferson said it "freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose".

dan