Posted by: johnhourihan | July 29, 2012

Stop listening to political spin: Think for yourself

When it comes to the politics of a presidential election, I just love confusing young people.
It makes them think, which is what they have to do instead of just listening to every bumper-sticker platitude spit out by campaign spin-doctors. Did you know there are people who still believe Barrack Obama is not an American citizen and Mormons still have multiple wives?
At a family get together one weekend, young relatives were talking politics, and one first-time voter asked if I liked Romney or Obama.
It was tempting to tell them how foolish I think it would be to vote for Mitt Romney since he has adamantly supported both sides of most major issues depending on what position he was vying for, but instead I told them about Moonie Valenti and Barry Babu
They were prominent men back in my hometown’s Runyonesque past. Each owned one of our two pool halls.
At about 12 years old, shortly after returning to New England from the Wild West, I realized that indecision over which place to frequent was retarding my social progress. My friends were spouting new vocabulary that included masse, poon, lagging for the break, and respecting the Irish.
I had no idea what they were talking about and realized I had to make a choice — the first choice I would make all by myself.
Moonie was a friend of my old man and lived in our neighborhood, so I figured his would be the place.
But Barry Babu (No one called him just Barry. It was Barry Babu or nothing.) had a cheaper rack.
Moonie was fifty cents, and Barry Babu was two bits. My spending money would be what I could “scrounge,” so cheap was good.
I tried Moonie’s first.
Billy B. and I walked down Central Street on a Friday night.
We fought the adrenaline turning our knees to water as we left the brightness of Main Street and inched shaking into the darkness of broken streetlights.
Lured by the distant iridescent blue of the neon sign, we shuffled down into the coolness of the river breeze and the echo of barking dogs.
“Moonie’s” it flashed. And “Pool.”
I pushed hard on the heavy door and it opened with a whoosh of stale air, and an incandescent reddened world of grey smoke floated under green hooded table lights.
The air clicked and plunked, and the tap of a cue on the table “Six, cross-side” was followed by the boys of the street calling on their mothers when someone missed or worse, scratched. We leaned against the wall and watched. There were four tables on the lower floor and more up a few steps past the “war room” where the horse boards were behind closed doors.
Grown men played on the upper level.
One poured whiskey from a bottle into his coffee between shots.
On our floor was most of Renda’s gang and Moonie sitting at a table at the foot of the double stairs.
“Hey, You playing or watching, Moonie demanded.
“Playing,” I said.
“Five table.”
I hung my thumbs onto my pockets and looked around trying to find the table without looking like a novice, which is difficult for a 12-year-old.
Then a kid named Lopes, a few years ahead of me in school, motioned to me from a table near the corner.
“This is five,” he said, as I arrived followed closely by Billy B.
We might as well have been sucking our thumbs. People chuckled as we pushed by one table and again as I checked the house cues stacked at the side.
Lopes racked, broke, ran the table, and tapped with his cue on the edge as he waited.
I put up the cue and turned to go.
“Five bucks” he said.
“It’s the five table you @#$%&*@”
I didn’t like what I had been called, but it sure wasn’t the time or place to stand up.
Moonie interceded.
“Hey, face brute, c’mere you.”
He opened a thick cloth-bound book and said, “I’ll carry you. What’s you name?”
I told him.
“You Jack’s kid?”
I was. He covered my bet, but now I owed him.
The next afternoon we went to Barry Babu’s, smoked Luckys, and played a quarter-a-game nine-ball.
Where Valenti was a moon-faced, robust Southern Italian with ham hands and a lasagna paunch; Barry Babu was a bony, harried, crypt-keeper-like specter with a raspy voice and was too white to be human.
He sat in the dark in the corner chain-smoking camels and drinking from a red-plaid thermos.
We would go to him before the rack and his chicken-claw hand would reach out for his quarter. He plunked it into a steel box he kept on his lap and then we’d play.
Harry’s place cost less and was simpler, but I just got the feeling that every day would be just like the last one.
Moonie however was beyond my understanding. He was complicated and frightening.
“You have to decide with your own heart,” I told my young relatives, “Pick the one you are more comfortable with. But don’t go by what I say. I couldn’t choose between Moonie Valenti and Barry Babu.”
I just love confusing young people. It makes them think for themselves.



  1. I’ll have to think about this one.

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