Bobby Blair commentary

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2008

Guest Column by Bobby Blair

Pinball and pool halls bring fond memories to aficionado

Funny thing, pinball machines. I don’t know of anyone who was addicted to the “bingo-style” machines, and I spent a lot of time where they were. I know a couple who are finishing up four decades of wedded bliss who, maybe, can attribute their marriage to those damnable pinball machines.

It was no secret who wanted the pinball machines removed. The funny part is that one of their current “elders” was one of those folks who utilized the services of the pinball machines. Do folks change or was the uproar over nothing?

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I grew up in a home where the worst possible sin was to drink beer as in, “He drinks BEER!” Second to that was to go inside what was referred to in the same dismissive tone, the “POOL Hall!!”

Imagine my surprise when a fellow college student convinced me to step off the straight and narrow and go into the pool hall on the Square.

It was in the “POOL Hall!!” that I met a Who’s Who of Batesville. Over in one area were tables of farmers who, during the winter months, would play dominos. The sound of clicking tiles, whoops and hollers, and more tiles being slammed on the table. Over on the snooker tables city leaders would carefully keep score to see who would win a quarter.

The crowning moment in my young life was being invited to play a game of dominoes with my uncle and his buddies. They convinced me that I needed to find another game because dominos certainly wasn’t my strong suit.

Shooting pool, maybe? There were folks in there who were some of the best shooters I ever met. There were some who shouldn’t have been allowed to pick up a pool cue.

The first kid that I played for money (he wanted some of mine so he could go out with his girlfriend that night) left his buck and a half in my pocket and went home — alone. I heard he is a preacher.

Unfortunately, future preachers who I could beat playing 8-ball weren’t that plentiful so I had to find another activity in the pool hall.

My last option was the pinball machines. Between the “bingo” machine and the “flipper” machine, I learned that my best game was using the “flipper” machine. I majored in pinball for the better part of a year and a half while “studying” at Northwest — I really honed my flipper skills during one long semester at Ole Miss.

Ready for the confession: An adult could play the “bingo” pinball machine and, if he got the requisite balls in the right holes then he would “win” a few games on the pinball machine. When the lucky gamester was ready to leave, it was possible to “sell” his unused games for a nickel per game.

Win 100 games and “sell” ‘em for $5. But that was barely enough for two tickets to the Eureka Theater. Win 400 games and that was worth $20. Lord knows what you could do in Batesville, in the mid- to late-‘60s with a cute girlfriend and $20.

For those who so readily condemned the “POOL Hall!!!” but never sat foot inside, here is a little truth that might hurt your feelings. I never saw a fight. Paul wouldn’t allow aggressive behavior. It was all about spending time with your friends, playing a few games of dominoes, shooting a game of snooker or spending time on those pinball machines. (Well, that’s what it was until midnight on Saturday.)

After midnight on Saturday, I learned who among our town leaders, church elders, and, dare I say it, police department liked to drink too much and play pool for exorbitant amounts of money that they couldn’t afford to lose. Nobody was going to “bust” that game because too many civic leaders and law enforcement officers were playing.

But during the rest of the week I felt as safe in there as I did at the Frostop, Burns’ or Jelly’s Drive-Ins.

What about the guy and gal I mentioned earlier who’ve been married for such a long time that they have grandchildren approaching high school age? Well, you see, he was in love but never had enough money. He was also too young to be paid — uh.excuse me — sell his games if he won on the pinball machine, but he had an older brother who believed in “young love.”  Besides, if he was with his girlfriend then he wouldn’t be hanging out with the older brother.

Little Brother would play the pinball machine and win a couple of hundred games.  Then Older Brother would play that 5th ball and, not caring where the ball landed because Little Brother already had a nice number of games he could sell, he would play that 5th ball and then “sell” the games. Split the money with Little Brother, and Little Brother was loose in Batesville on a Saturday night with that cute little girl who wore culottes.

Wonder if their grandchildren have any idea how their old uncle helped Grandma and Grandpa see a lot of movies?