When I was about 13 in the middle of my miss-spent youth I hung out at a pool hall. I was in junior high at the time when The Eastgate Coliseum was in its full glory. The huge entertainment complex housed a large bowling alley, a fantastic game room and a huge pool hall. It was a hop, skip and jump away from our school so some of us made it there every day after classes. Some of the kids played games and some hung out in the pool hall. I was more of a pool hall kinda kid.
The hall had a minimum age limit to enter which we were way under but they hardly ever enforced the rule so we got in and saw things that kids were probably better off not seeing. I saw lots of gambling, drinking, swearing, personal frustration and some fist fights. I watched older guys, street pros I guess you’d call them, have big matches where huge crowds would gather and watch some fantastic players duel for hours and hours. I also saw anger and frustration when people would lose games and lose huge sums of wager money. I remember one of the best older players, Frank Zumo, would regularly break his cue sticks by slamming it on the edge of the pool table while swearing at the top of his lungs when he screwed up.
I learned to play pool and got pretty good but never like the elite guys. I choked when the pressure was high. Which in retrospect, was a good thing as spending more of my life in those surroundings would have been a bad thing. When a kid spends time without good adult supervision in a place like a pool hall of yesteryear, bad things can occur. And one Saturday afternoon some of that bad stuff came to fruition.
I got into an argument with a peer, Kurt Krueger. Kurt was a neighborhood tough guy and our verbal argument went from shoving to a full blown-out fight. Once it started, adults in the hall started egging us on. We fought for a long 15 minutes inside the hall grappling on top of pool tables and knocking chairs and sticks all over the place! Finally, the hall manager hollered for us to take it outside. We were in the midst of fighting so we couldn’t think for ourselves but one of the adults thought for us. He broke us apart and told us to continue the fight outside! Not stop it mind you, but the adult in the room said to to keep it going in the parking lot! And that’s just what we did. For another 15 minutes!
Finally, some responsible adults saw the fight and started making a stink so the pool hall instigator broke us up and said, “Okay guys, stop! You guys did good, it’s over! Go home and keep it to yourselves.” And we did. We didn’t dwell on the fight or hate each other and we didn’t have the urge to “finish” anything. I guess we developed a respect for each other that two people can get when battling.
Those who know about fighting will tell you that if a fight lasts 30 minutes the fighters are real bad or real good. We were in the real bad category! After about 30 minutes, no serious injuries to speak of either!
Kurt went on to be involved with a more hard core crowd than I was involved with and our paths only crossed sporadically. But when it did, we always had respect for each other and always had nice talks. No pretenses, just conversation. Maybe we still had that developed respect. As the years went by, many people were scared of him and thought he was a heartless tough guy. I guess I did too but our conversations didn’t really bear that out.
Many years later, Mike, a friend who had Asperger Syndrome told me that as kids, Kurt had stuck up for him and was always a gentleman towards him. No disrespect, no bullying. As time went by they became good friends. I wonder. Did that fight we had develop a deep respect for others in Kurt? A respect for those who simply try their best to survive in life, like Mike? I’m probably jumping at a wrong conclusion about Kurt but there was another side to Kurt that many others had no clue about.
Kurt had a tough childhood and was struggling to survive and to live life in its splendor. But the chips were stacked against him and he never made it. He died tragically at a young age. But in retrospect, I believe he was a kid just like me. Trying to make it. Just like kids everywhere. Kids have a clean slate when born but bad parenting or bad life experiences get in the way and sometimes, in fact, oftentimes, the flower that wants to be nice, that wants to enjoy life; twists and dies. Never to be what it could have been.
Kurt died at a young age and didn’t have the time that I’ve have had to learn from others about life’s beauty and potential. I wasn’t better than Kurt in any way. Consequently, it is hard for me to forget the Kurt’s of the world. People who have as much ability and as much right to prosper in life as I do but who are faltering, suffocating and ready to die off. I find it hard to forget that given breaks and given help, people, all people, no matter what color or ethnicity can be just as fortunate as me. And I find it hard to forget that those who know these truths should help others who are desperately yearning to live.