In the quiet retirement community of Pelican Point in Boca Raton, the residents enjoyed lavish facilities and an active lifestyle. The clubhouse had an Olympic-size, heated swimming pool, a resistance pool for walking, two heated spas, a Swedish sauna and a steam room. There were three restaurants, offering everything from breakfast omelets and French toast to the finest steaks, chops and salads. Friday night seafood extravaganzas, Saturday night brisket and stuffed kishka specials, and Sunday morning bagel, lox and chopped liver jamborees kept the residents satiated and satisfied. Physical activity was strongly encouraged, and the community had adequate court space to accommodate shuffleboard, pickle ball, tennis and ping-pong. There was a warmly decorated card room with heavy mahogany tables and richly upholstered leather chairs where many old-timers enjoyed poker, canasta and even pinochle. But for a highly specialized cadre of men with a certain skill, the pool room was their domain.
The men who hung out in the pool room at Pelican Point were mostly very devoted and accomplished players. They hailed primarily from Brooklyn, New York, where pool was a serious undertaking and often involved wagering for substantial sums. Some of the men could have easily run a table even while under the pressure of a large bet. Discussions in the pool room invariably circled back to some of the greats of the game, such as Willie Mosconi, Rudolf Wanderone (also affectionately known as Minnesota Fats), and Steve Mizerak. Betting was not officially sanctioned but was part of the scene nonetheless. There were six pool tables arranged two rows of three, about four feet from each other.
So, then, into this intense milieu walked Sam Schwartz. And he thought, “Today is going to be great! And nothing can ruin it."
Sam Schwartz in his younger years was a true sportsman. He played high school baseball and tennis, and boxed during his three-year stint in the Army, victorious in most of his bouts. He became quite an excellent pool player as a young man. All of these physical endeavors were set aside when Sam began his university education. But now, after retirement, and despite his advanced age of 92, the pool room beckoned.
Sam introduced himself confidently to the men in the pool room and immediately chose his weapon: a solid hardwood Canadian maple cue stick. This particular cue stick had a ribbed handle wrapped with heavy black tape, a polished, smooth shaft and a firm tip that allowed for good ball control. His first opponent, 89-year-old Sheldon Koontz, chose a natural ash cue stick with mother of pearl accents. Since Sam was the newcomer, he was given the privilege of breaking. The game was straight eight-ball.
The initial break was solid, and the balls scattered nicely, the #2 ball sinking into the far left corner pocket. Sam ambled around the table, carefully evaluating his position and lining up his next shot. Once he had decided on his move, he lowered himself to bring his gaze even with his cue. He produced a nice bridge with his left hand, and gently rocked his stick backward, preparing to take his stroke.
Immediately behind Sam at the neighboring table was Morris Birnbaum, a 94-year-old from Staten Island. Morris had been quite the character in his young years. Never one to back down from a confrontation, Morris had been in his share of altercations, usually on the winning end. Of course, that was more than 75 years ago. After entering college, he became a serious student and industrious young man.
As fate would have it, Sam and Morris simultaneously approached their respective shots, facing in opposite directions. As Morris bent over to line up his stroke, Sam drew his cue stick back, the handle oscillating directly between Morris’s legs from behind, tapping rhythmically against his “jewels.” Morris instantly spun around and bellowed, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”
Sam responded, “I’m playing pool. What’s your problem, you fat slob?”
Morris then said, “Oh, I see. You’re a real wise guy, huh? How would you like me to make you swallow that eight ball?”
Sam, not missing a step, retorted, “You and who else?”
With that, the two men dropped their cue sticks and squared off. Morris took a swing, a left hook, missing Sam by at least two feet, lurching into a vertiginous stagger. In response, Sam attempted a straight right, the momentum carrying him forward into the corner of the pool table. Jackknifing over the corner, Sam landed hard, breaking a hip, while Morris spiraled downward like a sack of potatoes, slamming his head on a chair on the way down.
Paramedics arrived quickly, and within a few minutes both men were admitted to the hospital emergency room, brought in on gurneys. The emergency room doctor and a nurse practitioner promptly attended to the two injured belligerents, performing complete histories and physicals, and then met to discuss the two cases.
The nurse practitioner reported to the ER physician and described her findings.
“Pete, I saw the 92-year-old Sam Schwartz. He’s basically OK but he does have a mildly displaced right hip fracture that’s going to require orthopedic surgery. I already put in a consult for the ortho doc on call, and he scheduled the patient for the operating room tomorrow morning. You know what’s kind of funny about this patient? He’s a retired psychiatrist who worked with prison populations most of his career. He’s a specialist in the psychology of violence. He even wrote a book about it.”
The ER doctor shook his head and laughed softly. “Elena, you’re not going to believe this. I saw the 94-year-old, Mr. Birnbaum. He just required a few sutures for a gash on his scalp. But he’s a retired psychologist who was a specialist in conflict resolution. He worked with violent adolescents most of his professional life. He wrote a book about it, also.”
The two medical practitioners looked at each other and shared a smile. Dr. Pete chuckled again and said, “Well, I guess boys will be boys.”
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Very descriptive and well written. The fight scene surprised me. Very good.
Thanks, Jeanine! Remember, boys will be boys!
Enjoyed story. Bet you've shot a few games. Would love to have seen the fight. Next time, maybe Joe Rogan could do the play by play.
Hi, Charles. Actually, I really haven't made pool my game. But if you ever want to see a pool room scene that beats them all, check out the original Honeymooners episode, The Brooklyn Bomber. You'll die laughing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVB7pLXxcdE&t=627s
Great story Bruce. I could just see these two squaring up. Obviously, age is no barrier to intense rivalry. No sign of mellowing there. You ably demonstrated the passions of “older people.” As an aside, the food at Pelican Point sounded most appealing. A fun read.
Thanks so much, Helen. I had a good time writing this one.
Very funny! Great story and the characters, given their professions, spot on!
The unexpected double-twist had me chuckling, Bruce - what characters! I can just imagine it. :) Your story has a very folksy element in the retelling/crafting of the setting that is genuinely appealing. This is an excellent voice for your stories, and you've mastered it completely - I was drawn in and would have read much more of any of the treks you wanted to take the reader down. :)
As usual, thank you so much. I took two weeks off from writing, but now I'm back in the groove.