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Over 60...and Getting Younger: June 4, 2010

Pop’s Pool Room

At the crossroads of the two major avenues of the East Bronx was a magical, idyllic spot known as Pop’s Pool Room. It was the place where I spent most of my spare time between the ages of 16 and 24, subtracting the two years that Pop banned me from his establishment.

I don’t recall (honestly) why I was exiled, but I did get excellent grades at CCNY those years, which probably lifted my grade point average and allowed me to go to dental school. Pop had given me the sobriquet or nickname “The Millionaire Kid” because my parents owned a successful dry-goods store on 174th street.

At that time the garment and needle trades as well as the fur industry employed most of my friends’ parents.

The time was the 1950s and 1960s. It was the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, before the nation became embroiled in the shenanigans of the late ’60s.

Damon Runyon, the famous newspaper columnist, would have had a field day with the characters in the pool hall. Pop himself was a crusty old character with “Coca Cola glasses” who could still shoot a good game of Chicago. He had a son named Georgie who could play pool with one hand and beat most guys shooting with two hands.

The rest of the cast of characters was remarkable.

-Zing was a hunchback with the largest fingers I have ever seen on so short a person. He was the best shooter in the house and was always chosen to play any strangers who came to challenge at Pop’s.

-Gismo was a Turkish Jew who was perennially involved in illegal schemes to make a “fortune.”

-Acker was completely hairless (eyebrows included)

-Marty Druckman was a superior player who, with his father, would sporadically sell a truckload of bananas under the 174th I.R.T.

-The Refugees had just arrived from the European Holocaust and found consolation in the gambling atmosphere of Pop’s. They too soon became excellent players and regulars. They came for the American Dream, and they found Pop’s Pool Room.

You could run up the 20 steps and dawdle away hours of time. One a.m. in the evening was the closing time. My mother used to ask me “Where are you staying out, every night, to one a.m.?”

“I went to a party,” was my standard answer.

“What kind of a party do you go to in dungarees looking like a bum?”

I had no answer for that question!

Pop’s Pool Room, an era that has come and gone.