I promised a friend, Ron Kirk, a few years ago I would try to write a story about Pool and especially about our Pool Hall hang out place in Glens Falls New York known by several names, Charlie’s, Jake’s or its legal name, The Empire Billiard Lounge.
Now before I start the story I feel I must write on why I have been hesitant. I lack a proper education. Yes, I have two years college in Glens Falls and two more in Florida but I never graduated High School and cheated on Sheep Skins that I have. No ones fault but my own. If you’re looking to read this and frown on bad grammar and spelling you might consider stopping right now, this is just an Ole Guy telling a story, no more, no less.
The year the story starts is right at 1964-65. My late dad had closed his Pool Hall “The Chalk & Cue” and I was looking for a home for me and my Cue. I was 14-15 years old at that time. I heard about this place on South Street that players went to. At that time in my life just the words South Street were scary. I never knew directly of anything bad happening on it but as a kid you hear things. To clarify the difference 50 years make, South Street is a Hot Spot for young and older alike, you go to Glens Falls now chances are you will go to some place on South Street.
I was told Charlie’s was right near the Bus station. I looked around for about an hour and could not find a sign that said Charlie’s Pool Hall. I walked around and around for about an hour and was about to give up when I found myself in an Alley and a man was in the middle of it, saw I had a Cue Case and kind of snickered and asked “Are you looking for Charlie’s?” I nodded kind of sheepishly and the man put out his hand and said “I’m Charlie Kaufus, the owner”. I didn’t know it then but I just shook the hand of the greatest influence in my life except for my parents.
Charlie unlocked the door and flicked on a light outside. The bulb was red and I learned if that light was on, Charlie’s was open for business. We walked down the stairs as his place was in a basement. He asked my name and I said “Tom Hay”. He looked right back at me and asked “Freddy Hays son?”
We entered the room and my jaw almost dropped to the floor. I saw 6 tables, 3 per side of room and an odd looking table way in the back. Every table was covered but I could see old Pool Art hanging from the wall, a big clock with a Pendulum on it. A safe underneath, an old Coca Cola Soda Cooler just to name a few things. I thought I had found the ultimate candy store and the biggest thing I noticed was not there was a Juke Box.
Charlie started his morning ritual, uncovering the tables. I asked if I could help and he simply asked if I knew how. I had done it hundreds of times at my Dad’s old place and I guess Charlie was satisfied as he let me continue and can’t count how many times after I did it. This was very strange as I was taking the covers off. The rails were wood, the legs carved and the pockets had leather around them and you could actually see the balls in them.
Charlie went to sweeping the tables, I was in awe because I would have asked to help, almost rude of me. I noticed on one side of the room the cloth was in near perfect condition. On the other side the tables cloth was pretty worn. I asked “Are you getting ready to re cloth the tables over there?” Charlie laughed and said “No, that side is for Straight Pool the other side is for 9 ball, 8 ball and starter players.”
Now Charlie was done with his chores and we started to talk. He did not speak to me like I was a Kid, he spoke to me like I was a young adult. Now to Charlie himself. Charlie was about my age when we met. He stood maybe 5’7″. He was bald in the middle with hair on the sides. Charlie wore glasses and had a pencil up in the ear glasses area which he used to mark down table time from the clock with the Pendulum on it. Always a pressed white shirt and sleeveless sweater (button vest style) with two pockets on the sweater. The Pockets were for change. If you played 9 ball Charlie racked and pulled change from the front of the table as payment per game. On the Straight Pool Tables he used his pencil to mark down when you started and when you stopped. Time was a penny a minute. Charlie’s pants were —– how can I say it, old man pant’s, don’t think we had another word for them back then.
I looked at a picture on Charlie’s desk/work desk. It was of him refereeing a Boys Club Match. I rudely said to him “I bet you wish you still had that energy in you.”. He simply laughed and told me to step aside which I did. The ceilings in Charlie’s were full of metal girders. Charlie reached up with on arm and did 10 one handed pull ups. I was VERY impressed then but not as much as I am now that I am his age.
We got talking and he asked about The Chalk & Cue. Well this isn’t a story about that so I asked him about his place. His Father had opened it up new in the late 1800’s, all Brunswick. If I told you how many of his house cues were Titlest (like Hoppe) we would all just sit here and cry. You talk about every picture tells a story? Charlie brought me around to all the hung pictures in his Pool Room and told me the story behind them. Had I paid as much attention in school, I would have gotten educated.
You learned some good things, and some funny things if you wanted to be allowed to play in Charlie’s. One, no swearing or not loud enough for people to hear. You swore and Charlie would spin around, point and yell “by the number” meaning each swear word had a number. Cue ball flying off the table? Like it was today I can still hear Charlie every time, “Hit them high watch them fly hit them low watch them go. Lastly, for now on this, no sharking. You remained seated and if a guy made a good shot you simply tapped your cue on the floor.
That was Charley “The Gentleman”. Any one that went in his place he tried to make you see more in yourself than what you thought you had there. The younger ones? A few, such as myself crossed that gray line over to the black, I mean you can’t save them all but Charley saved more than probably know it. I know in the end it was what I learned from my parents and Charlie that hopefully saved me, the bad, I learned on my own.
Now stories???????? They would be endless. No Internet or phone texting to say who is who. Charlie’s was where a lot of what today people refer to as Road Players made a stop to get practiced up to hit the road. Yes, there were some who tried to skate by but in the 60’s in N.Y .a more local guy could be called from the pay phone and let’s face it, anyone can be beat.
Well Charlie or “Jake” as the younger ones later nicknamed, you have been gone a long time but between all the younger you helped in life there is not a day that your name does not come up in honor and that’s all a man can ask when the story is over.
Sponsored by POV Pool and McDermott Cues
Author: Tom Hay
Photo Provided by Author
Editor: Shaylyn Troop