There is nothing gladder in the whole world, says Luther (Wimpy) Lassiter on page 50, than running a pool table—that is, sinking every ball, stepping around all light and easy and full of your own music inside. Many times the world champion, Wimpy has been a pool-shooter, man and boy. Now more and more Americans are coming to appreciate the joys of this traditional American game. The current boom has been building in spite of two handicaps: 1) pool has a sort of awful/wonderful background of hazy halls and hustlers, and 2) a lot of people are insisting that the game be called pocket billiards. Long gone anyway in most areas, pool's spittoon period is fast being forgotten, and as for the name—well, we wish everybody would leave it alone, because pool has a fine, clear ring to it, thank you.
Today more than 25 million citizens are shooters of one stripe or another, and sales of home pool tables grew from $8 million in 1958 to $94 million last year. There are about 650,000 tables in homes across the country; an estimated 75,000 are produced each year (one manufacturer has doubled production each year for five years) and, since women discovered they have a natural touch for the game, whole families are getting into the act. Home tables range from $80 fold-up models to the pecan fruitwood dandies costing $2,500 (with real black leather rails)—or even more, depending on how much mother-of-pearl you want.
A pool player's census of 1960 would have turned up roughly 10,000,000 shooters and 7,000 parlors. Now there are 13,500 establishments with 100,000 tables, and everybody is a shooter. Pool hall proprietors have attracted fresh crowds to the sport by redecorating, carpeting and lighting up their places, and many have moved out to suburbia, adding such lures as soft music, pastel-colored tables and free instruction, in some cases by attractive hostesses.
Pool-shooting purists still prefer the regulation 4½-by-9-foot table, but people are playing the game on anything down to 3½ by 7 feet or even round tables. Wimpy, after years of practicing in the dusty, blue-smoke atmosphere of St. Elmo's Billiard Parlor in Norfolk, Va., is finally building a special place in his backyard big enough to hold a table. Whether you have one in your own home and use it every night or haven't touched a cue in years, you will enjoy Wimpy's description of how he plays the game and how you should, too. And you're going to learn a few things. Consider Cameraman Richard Meek, who photographed the essay and got a cram course in pool at the same time. Meek installed a table in a Manhattan studio, booby-trapped it with a ring of bright strobe lights firing 20 times a second—then climbed all over the rafters with cameras. He made Wimpy shoot in eerie dimness so the flickering lights would freeze the action. Finally, after three days of this psychological shaking-up, he figured Wimpy was ready. He climbed down and sidled over to the table.
October 15, 1967
"Wanta play me now?" Meek asked.