In Geary, Oklahoma, a town of twelve hundred souls, we had more than our share of entertainment businesses, including a theater with a balcony (previously designated for segregating black folk), which during my time, became a teenage “make-out” section. We had a hall, a meeting place, used for Friday night dances for the young and several beer “joints” only for the more disreputable crowd – or so we were taught from the pulpit on Sunday.
Another considerable “den of iniquity” in town was the old pool hall on main street. Like many other teens, I was forbidden to go within. It was in a large, very old building with twelve-foot ceilings dotted with a number of dark ceiling fans, smelling of stale tobacco smoke. The old wood floors were stained and grooved, as such tend to do when trod on for decades without buff or polish.
I have no idea who originally established the business, but I will say he had vision. Back when it first opened, it would have been a feast for the eyes. Through the front etched glass double doors, you would have looked upon fifty feet of new gaming tables. The snooker table in the front was a unique feature in any billiard room. Few people, even those that play pool regularly, are familiar with the game. The American version is ten feet long with narrow pockets and is played with 23 total balls on the table. Past that was three regulation pool tables, a full eight feet each, not the shorter six-foot coin-operated versions found in bars and recreation rooms.
In the back section were six felt-covered card tables, always populated by half a dozen or so older men playing dominoes. Over the decades, columns of smoke had drifted up to decorative metal ceiling tiles, staining them from white to tan, then brown.
Looking left, you would have seen rows of racks holding dozens of pool cues with trays of chalk underneath. Below the racks were rows of seating for those waiting for their turn to play. Finally, in the rear was the counter with the triangular racks of balls and a single snooker cue ball awaiting customers who’d paid the fee for the table.
At a bar in the back, they sold sodas and snacks but no alcohol. My favorite snack was Mason’s Root Beer with pickled eggs. Weird combination, I know, but then I was a teenager. Yes, I played pool in beer joints in some of the local towns. Some of them even allowed teenagers to drink beer without checking IDs, especially in the German communities.
How had I come to know the details of this wonderful establishment? After all, I left home at eighteen to “join the Navy and see the world.” As a teen, I snuck in with my friends as often as I could. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I walked through that door. It was a combination of the comforting, exciting, and intoxicating feeling of stepping into a different world that had been held over from times past, with an air of excitement and possibilities about it.
Geary Pool Hall was the place I felt drawn to again and again. To this day, when I see a billiard hall, it still brings back that same feeling of tasting forbidden fruit.