POOL IS SOMA

Sal in the backroom at Smitty's in Sausalito. Taken in June 1997 while in California for the Celebration of Captain Bob's Life.

Part 1: Pool is Soma:
When referencing a more than good pool player, there is usually some mention made of a misspent youth. In my case, I was a pretty good player, but it was more a misspent adulthood. For reasons that Freud could analyze better than I, I ran away from home at thirty, when I was a wife and mother of a daughter, age eight, and a son, age two. At one point my children both

came to live with me when I began working for a court reporting firm in Washington, DC. But I was not in control of my world. I was living with Jiggs, who was an alcoholic, of the Jekyll/Hyde variety. Eventually my children went back to live in Michigan, first my son, and later after we moved to California, my daughter went back as well. My world seemed to be going to hell, and I knew they would be far better off living with their father, but more importantly, being near their retired kindergarten teacher grandmother. A pool table had already become my escape from reality. It began when I rented an apartment in a high rise near Washington, DC. My love for the game, and my Zen-like attachment to it had begun there. Jiggs and I, along with one of his sons and my daughter, were living there. Rather than a dining room, we had a bar-size pool table that intruded slightly into our living room area. Our apartment on the 22nd floor of the 26 story high rise faced an identical building, with a huge swimming pool in between and the ground floor connector with a doorman stationed at the entrance. Jiggs was selling cars, and I was working as a court reporter. Often I would be at home during the day transcribing hearings I had taken. It was usually Superior Court Grand Jury transcripts. I would take breaks and shoot pool. I played nine ball and six ball, because it forced me to learn bank shots, combination shots and to use English to make the cue ball end up where I needed it for the next shot, and because I could play it by myself. In anticipation of an insurance settlement I would be receiving for a ruptured disk, Jiggs was spending money we didn't have to buy cars for a rental car business he planned on starting. I believe my name was on about six cars, one of which I actually drove, and several which I never saw. It included a Cadillac coupe which Jiggs pointed out to me when we drove by a gas station. The car was sitting on blocks (no wheels), and I got it for a steal at only $500.00. I never took delivery. When I couldn't pay my rent, my landlord took me to court and I was ordered to vacate my apartment or I would be evicted. By the time I was hauled into court, I had received my $26,000.00 settlement. I offered to pay the back three months rent and pay three months ahead, but very wisely the owners turned down my offer.

So we bought a used 25' travel trailer, put several of “my” cars in storage, except a Chrysler Imperial which we used to pull the trailer, and Jiggs, Jeff, Liz and I packed up and headed for California. After we arrived in California, we moved into a house in Sausalito. Jiggs went back to DC to drive one of our other vehicles, a 68 Cadillac limousine, back to California. I took the opportunity to send Liz back to Michigan. Things were never going to get better, and could still get a lot worse, and I didn’t want Liz to be a part of whatever that might be. So now my world was crumbling around me. I had given up both of my children and was close to losing my soul. Jiggs got back with the limo and was very unhappy with my decision to send Liz away. Jeff moved out as soon as he could, and eventually Jiggs went off, temporarily, to Mississippi with his best friend and several acquaintances to buy and bring back antiques. Whatever the truth of their trip to Mississippi was of no interest to me except that Jiggs was gone even if temporarily. I stayed behind working two jobs, my first job was in a working man's hardware store.

Waterstreet Hardware on Caledonia Street in Sausalito

My favorite customer at Waterstreet Hardware was Sterling Hayden. In case you just said, “Who?”, Sterling Hayden was by this time a character actor. He played the bad cop that Michael Corleone killed in the Godfather. When I waited on him, he was wearing a very old pair of khakis, which were held up by a piece of rope tied in a knot, a very tattered t-shirt and a fisherman's hat. He came in to replace his cane tip. I carried his old one around with me for years, but it's gone now. He was living on his 70 or 80 foot schooner. Story has it that the first thing he did when he bought it was to sail it about twenty miles outside the Golden Gate where he dropped the engine. He didn't believe sailboats should have motors. In his case it was true. He had no trouble sailing it into Sausalito and “parking” it on a dime. He had the same booming voice as he did on screen and obviously was a very eccentric character.

My second job was working in a greasy spoon called the Lighthouse Cafe, which was around the corner and down the street from the hardware store.

It was on Bridge Street, which was the main street along the waterfront in Sausalito. The Lighthouse Cafe was only open for breakfast and lunch. Bob, the owner, didn't hire me to be a waitress. I was hired on in the entry level position of dishwasher, floor mopper and replenisher of egg butter used for the cooking of anything and everything on the grill. I grew to hate egg butter. It left a layer of grease on everything in the place. Because of that grease, I washed the windows in the joint almost every day. That's how I learned about amonia and newspaper. Apparently the ink in newspaper is great for cutting through grease and making the windows sparkle; that is until the grill cranked up for the day. When the owner Bob said, “More egg butter.”, that was my cue. I gave him more egg butter, for more greasy cooking. It was a nasty form of job security. While I waited anxiously to give him more egg butter, I did the greasy dishes and mopped the greasy floors. It was one of my most memorable jobs in a negative sort of way. In between my two employment locations was Smitty's bar.; down Caledonia Street from the hardware store; and around the corner and up half a block to the back entrance if I was coming from the cafe.

Somehow pool became my soma. I could retreat from the outside world, and spend all of my energy in a mathematical game against an opponent I didn’t care to know. I spent most of my evenings shooting pool at Smitty's. Smitty’s was a working class bar, on Caledonia Street, in the banana belt of Sausalito, with two pool tables, one in the back room, and one in the front. You signed up on a chalk board to play the winner. I was one of a couple dozen regulars who shot pool there most nights. I had my own cue, a 21 ounce, with a leather wrapped handle. I bought it at an old second story pool hall in San Francisco. Shooting pool at Smitty’s was how I passed my time. I would order a diet Coke, put my name on the sign-up board, and sit by the front window, clutching my quarter and waiting for my game. It was almost always singles play. A good night would be holding the table for a couple of hours while all the serious shooters tried to knock you off. There was no gender separation in bar pool. If you could shoot and you could win, you kept the table. Challenger racked. If you were on your game, you could hold the table all evening. I usually played for a drink, rarely for money. Without realizing it at the time, pool would become the savior of my sanity in the year ahead when my inability to take control of my life would take me to Mississippi and Jiggs.

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