Saturday, April 11, 2015

Off-Season Post: Put Your Balls on the Table

Hello, Readers.  Welcome to my first off-season post after a couple of weeks away.  I trust the onslaught of speculation being spoon fed to us via grocery store periodicals since the big Bachelor finale has been enough to tide you over.  Some Guy, as always, has been engaged in the tug-o-war called law practice and, if I’m completely honest, it’s been a struggle to keep the flag on my side of the mud pit lately.  Let’s escape for a bit, shall we? 

It’s been a while since I shared one of my many folly of youth stories.  This one is one of my favorites.  It takes place in a bar located at the corner of 12th Street and Lamar Blvd. in Austin called The Tavern.  I used to frequent it in my college days.  It holds the distinction of being the first air-conditioned place in Austin.  It was also once a house of ill repute and it’s alleged that a prostitute who was murdered there still haunts the upper floors to this day.  

You're Never Too Far from 12th and Lamar

Sadly, today it’s been turned into a shell of its former self.  Giant flat screen televisions have replaced neon beer signs and fancy, top shelf vodkas and craft beers have edged out the stuff they used to sell for a dollar a pitcher.  I’ll do my best to paint it the way I remember it.

For those of you who have been reading me for a while, you’ll recall that Some Guy has a twin, a best friend we call “Ted”, and a college roommate we call “Lenny.”  On the idiot scale between the four of us, it’s a dead heat.  To refresh your collective memory, you’ll recall me writing about the time Ted and I talked our friend into emptying his bowels into the neighborhood pool so Ted could get a day off his life guarding job to drive us to the beach.  

You’ll also recall the story about Lenny, dressed as Batman and with a full keg of beer seat belted into the back seat of his convertible, told an Austin Police officer with a straight face that he did, in fact, blow through a blinking red light but it was fine because the light was “between blinks.” 

The list goes on. 

Every Monday (yes, Monday) night at The Tavern was “industry night.”   That meant that if you worked in the restaurant industry you got cheap drinks.  It was also a good place to partake in a pastime Ted and I developed into a bit of an art:  shooting pool for pitchers of beer against cocky frat boys whose dads were paying the bill anyway.  My brother and Lenny weren’t much for pool but usually came along for the buzz-inducing conversation and the cheap beer. 

At that time, the upstairs nook in The Tavern where the two pool tables resided side by side was a tight fit.  In fact, it was impossible for two people on opposite tables to simultaneously shoot. The area was surrounded by folks milling around or sitting anxiously in the corner watching their stack of quarters placed in sequence on the table signifying “next” when one team emerged victorious.  Bets (always 1 pitcher of beer) were immediately paid upon a loss and it was not uncommon to sit out a game in order to ingest excess winnings in the midst of a mean win streak.  An etiquette, a certain tact, was a requirement for those of us who played there regularly and it was easy to spot a rookie who didn’t know (or respect) the rules.

On this particular night, we arrived early.  As a result, Ted and I had our pick of a table and my brother and Lenny got prime bench seating real estate in the nook rather than being relegated to a far away table on the opposite side of the jukebox.  The real estate was prime but it also came with the rare exception that a guy was not required to stand and give up his seat to any girl who showed up.  Those were competition seats and the girls knew the drill. 

That may sound foolish, but that’s the way it works here.  My friend recently returned from a two week business trip to Minnesota and smiled ear to ear at the sight of 3 men standing like she was a judge entering the courtroom when she approached our table at a local bar.  “It’s so nice to be back in Austin,” she observed.  Of course, the definition of a real gentleman is a man who gets out of the shower to pee.  Indeed. 

Back to our story. 

Ted and I started out playing each other but were quickly interrupted by a couple of guys anxious to take our money.  A crowd also gathered around the other table as a game started there as well.  Handshakes were exchanged, the standard wager was agreed upon, and the ever-important stick selection commenced.  We were there first so they paid for the game, racked the balls, and we got first break. 

The other table began almost simultaneously.  Two fraternity guys—easily recognizable by the standard issue jeans, Red Wing Boots, Polo shirt, and backward ball cap that every single guy in the Greek community was required to wear—perish the thought of not conforming—in order to enter the filthy confines of his frat house, matched up against a couple of geeky looking engineering student types.  

SGIA’s brother and Lenny took their spot on the bench.  After dispatching the competition in the first game with a solid combination of teamwork and then a quick win on a scratched 8 ball on the double or nothing bet, Ted and I found each other with three full pitchers of beer and a red hot winning streak to pick between.   As the room started to fill, Ted and I kept playing as SGIA’s brother and Lenny spent time enjoying the fruits of our labor. 

After the 4th or 5th win, the cocktail table was replete with 4 empty pitchers and two full ones.  Ted and I were focused on the pool game and failed to recognize the most obvious truth in the bar:  Lenny and my brother were hammered. 

This is where it gets good.

A few shots into the next game it was clear that our competition was getting tired of losing.  Now before you accuse me of bragging, I’ll submit to you that there was a method to our madness.  Ted, my brother, and I grew up together playing pool on Ted’s parent’s game room pool table from the age of 9.  Couple that with the fact that the “competition” at The Tavern was non-existent, and you get the picture.  We went there to win beer and we inevitably did.  

Spoiled frat boys eventually get tired of losing their dad’s money and it was not uncommon for things to get a tad heated.  However, remember that unspoken etiquette I mentioned earlier?  It was that etiquette that kept the place free from cheaters, sore losers, and brawls.  It sucks to lose, but most folks got over it right away. 

After the third shot, Ted missed and one of the frat boys stepped up to shoot.  He was immediately bumped by the guy at the next table and became agitated.  The other guy apologized and stepped back to let him shoot.  He called the pocket, hit the cue ball, and proceeded, yet again, to scratch the 8 ball.  Frustrated, he slapped his stick onto the table.  Simultaneously, Ted began laughing and said, “now go get us another pitcher.” 

As if in slow motion, I looked from the opposite side of the table as the guy picked up the pool cue and made a b-line for Ted.  Before I could get over to help, the other guy grabbed me by the collar, forcing me to deal with him.  He threw a drunken punch, which I dodged before grabbing him by the arm and pulling him off-balance in my direction.   “Be cool.  This isn’t between us,” I said as we made eye contact.  He seemed to agree as we nodded and turned to see what his buddy was doing with Ted.

As we looked, I saw Ted purposely take the swinging pool cue to the ribs, fold his right arm over it trapping it in his underarm, and then pull it away from him while simultaneously taking two steps back in Lenny and my brother’s direction.  “That’s that,” I said to myself.  Ted and I had been in this situation before and it was what we’d characterize as a “flare up.” 

What WOULD have happened next is that both guys would have seen our refusal to fight but would have known that we weren’t going to back down.  Ted and I would have graciously shaken their hands and let them off the hook for the pitcher they owed us.  That would have warranted an apology and a gentlemen’s refusal to welch on a bet.  We would have ended up laughing and splitting pitchers with them the rest of the night.  Like I said, etiquette. 

Here’s what DID happen. 

As Ted disarmed the angry frat boy and we all started to relax, a drunken Lenny lurched off the bench, pushed past Ted, and grabbed the frat boy in a bear hug around the waist.  Lenny, from the Midwest, was an all-state wrestler in high school.  He lifted the guy up, threw him on the pool table, and got him in his famous submission hold—the dreaded Minnesota Face Lock.  That, of course, is the next most painful submission hold next to the Purple Hooter, but that’s a different blog post altogether.     

His friend, rather than coming to his rescue, threw another punch at me, forcing me, yet again, to deal with him.  As we wrestled in the close confines of the room, I could hear screams, scuffling, and glasses breaking.  I pictured 18 guys in the same outfit with the same Greek letters on their hats coming to the aid of their brothers.  I looked over and Lenny still had the other guy on the pool table in the face lock.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a large streak pass by and as I was being pushed into a video game I saw someone jump on Lenny’s back and begin swinging. 

Trying to get loose so I could help him, I threw my opponent into the pool table and reluctantly took a swing, connecting with his right eye.  As he let go, I saw my heretofore absent brother, who had been sitting on the bench like a wooden Indian watching the carnage, stand and calmly stagger over in a drunken haze to help Lenny.

Now, I’ll let you know that my brother and I are both what our high school basketball coach used to refer to as “wiry.”  Tall and thin, we were both deceptively strong; however, my brother was exceptionally so.  At 6’3” and about 190 pounds, to this day, while I now opt for running and biking as opposed to weights, he still bench presses well over 300 pounds. In our early 20’s when this story takes place, my brother was especially fit.  Again, I tell you this not to brag, but because of what was about to happen. 

As glasses were breaking and girls were screaming around us, my brother took one big step, put his left hand on the pool table and pushed himself up into the air.  He simultaneously cocked his right hand and proceeded to come down with his fist into the kidney of Lenny’s attacker with such force that a loud “THUMP” could be heard over all of the noise.  That “THUMP” was quickly followed by the overwhelming sound of all of the air in the lungs of the victim spontaneously emptying over tight vocal chords.  That was followed by a second thump when that person hit the floor. 

Surprised by the sound of what sounded like a dying animal grunting and then hitting the floor, the entire bar became silent as if the record needle scratched over the record.  We all stopped fighting and looked over at the sight of my brother standing there like Ali over Liston except the punch he had delivered had been far from a phantom punch. 

As Lenny released the face lock and his prisoner stood up, I walked around the pool table to survey the damage.  We all looked down at the crumpled mess on the floor at his feet.  Victorious, we were prepared to mock the fraternity brother who made the mistake of attacking our friend.  As my eyes began to process what I was seeing, the guy who started the whole mess looked incredulously at my drunken, swaying brother and said, “Dude, you hit my sister.” 

Upon closer inspection, lying at my brother’s feet wincing pain, was, in fact, a girl.  It was a large girl, but a girl nonetheless.  She had apparently been brave enough to attempt what none of the guy’s friends were brave enough to attempt:  jump into the fracas in a desperate effort to free her brother from the Minnesota Face Lock.  She paid the price. 

To this day, we still laugh at that story, but the part we laugh at is not just the punch.  The funniest part (to me anyway) came several seconds after we realized what had happened.  After realizing he’d hit a woman with the biggest kidney punch in the history of kidney punches, my brother reached down, helped her to her feet and then offered her his coveted bench seat.  He then walked to the bar, got an empty beer glass from the bartender, and proceeded to pour her a glass of the beer that Ted and I won off her brother in the first place.  Oddly enough, we all shook hands and apologized to each other. 

“Who’s up next?” asked Ted as he picked up the pool cue and began to chalk the end of it.  “We are,” said a voice from the corner as another set of frat boys stepped forward. 

As we stepped out of the bar that night on our way back to our cars, Lenny looked over at my brother and said sarcastically, “thanks for the help with that guy’s big sister.”  Without skipping a beat, my brother responded, “you’re welcome.  She’ll be peeing blood for a week.” 

Well, there it is.  Another one of my folly of youth stories.   To this day, I cannot drive by the intersection of 12th and Lamar in Austin, Texas without thinking about that punch and smiling from ear to ear.  I hope you did the same when you read this.  Enjoy the rest of the off-season and check in for a post every now and then.  Take care of yourselves.  In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be shooting pool for beer.