Darkness. Eighty miles from Albuquerque, and the 3 a.m. air is clear and still outside the tavern save for a chorus of singing tires fading down the highway. Shapes jumble together in the parking lot: Cadillacs, pickup trucks, even a police cruiser, all squatting near a faded frame building whose rusty sign urges consumption of a local beer. A visitor knocks on the front door, mumbles a greeting and is ushered inside and down a long hallway. Another door opens, and for an instant the heart quickens and pupils contract at the sudden glare, the smell of money and the hint of violence.
The room is stale and blue with cigarette smoke but it has a kinetic feel to it, and Danny DiLiberto, Danny D, is the center of attention as he stalks the rich, green-felt billiard table. Men in chairs with paper bags of money between their legs, men perched languidly on tables, men leaning at odd angles in a corner, all stare at Danny D as he considers his next shot. After 30-odd hours, two nights and a day, against a variety of changing partners, at times no longer caring about winning or losing but shooting on instinct, his mind filling with the combinations and possibilities, Danny D now has the shot to end it. His opponent is shirtless and slouching, looking bored and insolent, a young, redheaded boy of about 20, an amateur boxer with teeth too big for his freckled face. Danny D is playing him one pocket, the champagne game to some pool hustlers, spotting the kid two balls. Now he needs one more to win the game and go "five ahead," meaning five games ahead in the series, which means victory in the match.
He can play safe, or try a difficult cut shot on the 9 ball. If successful, he and his partner Sugar Shack collect $1,000. If Danny D misses, the kid surely won't. This is what pool is all about: action. The ball either goes in or it stays out.
"Nine ball," calls Danny D as Sugar Shack straightens up in his chair. There is a soft click and the yellow and white ball slips through an opening, edges up to the pocket and falls with a soft plop. Almost simultaneously a pool stick slams down on the table—thwack—and splinters into pieces. "Don't worry," says the kid with a crooked grin, holding the jagged stub of the shattered cue in one hand. "I'm just mad at myself."
August 7, 1977
It might have been a typical incident in Danny D's life. Who knows? Pool shooters have many stories to tell, some of them true, some of them perhaps shaded a bit. Danny DiLiberto, runner-up in the 1972 U.S. Open and one of the five best straight-pool players in the world, is a man who bought the dream, then found out that not only was it not worth the price, but worse—all sales are final. Now he slumps back and says with closed eyes, "How'd we do?"
"We've got about $2,800," says Sugar Shack. "Whaddaya think?"
"I think just keep right on goin' to Albuquerque because we've worn out our welcome and I don't think the sheriff is the only one with a gun in here."
That was a couple of years ago. Danny D is still figuring the score and looking for an edge in a world of perfidy, affecting disguises, playing dumb and shooting smart, a chameleon fitting into the background with a makeup kit filled with jars of deceit and trickery. His greatest satisfaction is that he is not a "square," or a "sucker," the pool shooter's demeaning terms for those who work for a living and curse their W-2 forms, or a "googan," which is a square pool shooter. But he is 42 years old and does not know if he will be a winner or a loser tomorrow—and he realizes that he must go on making his way in the shadows, as unobtrusively as possible, never really showing himself. On the rare occasions when he does, Danny D is a kitchen insect caught in sudden light, skittering away, hoping that a pool stick will not split his skull—thwack. "Every pool player in a local joint looks at Danny and wishes he could live his life," says Sugar Shack, a huge man with a thickening waist and an unsweetened look about him (the fierce countenance and allusions to Sugar Shack's arsenal of guns are what Danny calls "my deterrent to the violence"). "They have no idea. It's sad, but he can't let go of it because the saddest thing of all is a pool player without a game."
The British philosopher Herbert Spencer is credited with saying, "To play billiards well is a sign of a misspent youth." Danny's youth was spent in Buffalo, where he idolized his older brother, envied his ability to turn the 9 ball into a $5 bill—and ignored his admonition to stay out of the pool hall. On Sundays Danny would send someone to church with his collection envelope while he practiced. Eventually he was the city champion, what pool players call "a shortstop," the best of local talent. He moved on and for 25 years has existed mostly by his wits and temerity.
Now he lives in Hollywood, Fla., working on his second marriage and his first million, a short, trimly built man with a mustache and strands of gray woven in his hair, a nasal, singsong manner of speech, bad posture and a rocking sort of gait. If he ever had a time clock inside of him, it long ago rusted, although for a spell he did try working, talking his way into a job as a draftsman, then doing the unfamiliar work at home by copying from library books. He also was a manager of door-to-door kitchenware salesmen and made a good living from that, but found the paychecks could not buy what he needed—which is mostly time. Every top player requires daily practice to keep the indecision out of his stroke, and selling pots and pans kept DiLiberto away from the gently rolling balls. "I missed pool," says Danny with a shrug. "I missed not being in dead stroke, even though I'm not so sure that pool isn't a rejection of life. It's like trying to build a pile of toothpicks into a lumber pile. You hope to be good enough to catch lightning."
Every so often Hollywood will present a romanticized version of a pool player's life, put a Paul Newman in the lead and call it something like The Hustler. In such movies there is always a lot of money involved and the good guy, the good player, always seems to win by the time the closing credits roll. In actual life, it might be better to be lucky than good, although it does help if you can run the rack. Danny D says that the most money he ever saw in a game was in Detroit—$247,000 in the room when the police broke down the door. But mostly it is a life of nickels and dimes, trying to scuffle enough to pay the bills and mollify your backers while dodging the police, the losers and lopsided luck. It's not easy. A few years ago at a self-proclaimed "hustlers' tournament" in Johnson City, Ill., lawmen swooped down, padlocked the doors and confiscated a bunch of cash and several Eldorados.
P. T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute," but the fact is not many of them play pool, and the ones that do are chary and suspicious. The real hustle is this: the hustlers usually hustle one another. The rich squares are reserved for country-club gin rummy games. "The trouble with millionaires is that it's not a fluke that they're rich," says Danny. "The googans and the squares call us hustlers, but we don't like their tone when they say it. Every once in a while we dress up like penguins and perform on television, but they don't tell you about the hotels that padlock a player's room until he pays his bill.
"It seems like we open one door, and right behind it is another, and another and another.
"It isn't our fault that we have to fake, lie in the weeds and try to hustle someone. We're athletes and we can't get a game. We're honorable people. Everybody is a hustler to some extent, a stockbroker, a salesman, the mayor of a city. Did you see that movie where the sailor and the rich woman get tossed up on an island? Then they were equal. If I were shipwrecked on an island, I wouldn't want to be with the president of Standard Oil. I'd want to be with Cornbread Red.
"Pool players ought to work for the FBI. Talk about The Sting. I've grown a beard, smeared grease on my face, driven up to a place that is nowhere, limped in the door and the first thing a guy says to me is, 'Aren't you Danny DiLiberto?' I've had a gun aimed at me, and I've had to fight my way out of spots. I beat a guy once 26 games of eight ball. He won one and he quit. He said, T just wanted to win one.'
"It's impossible to figure. You have to figure out suckers, then you have to worry about what will make them quit. You have to worry about the 'knockers,' the 'eyeballers' and the 'sweaters.' Those are the guys that just watch. They sit there and whisper to a guy that he can't beat you and the guy quits."
As a man grows older and more proficient at his work, his opportunities for advancement normally increase, but the opposite is true for a pool player. It is rare that you find a pool player who ever accumulates anything other than empty dreams and promises, because when pool players reach their peak and become famous, they find that no one will play them. The saddest thing is not having a game, so they accept bad games and take chances. One of the early world champions, Emmet Blankenship, wound up as a sodden, one-armed hobo. The legend has it that he was bitten on the hand in a fight and drank away the pain. Infection and amputation followed; one might say that he lost his arm to drink, but he lost his soul to pool. Ralph Greenleaf, 14 times a world champion and a man who could make his cue stick talk, finished broken and a heavy drinker, dead at 50. Willie Mosconi once made 526 straight balls and he led Greenleaf in world titles, but he had a stroke in 1957 and retired to the exhibition circuit. Even Danny D finds himself relegated to the exhibition song and dance occasionally, and one of the best players in the world, Steve Mizerak, teaches school in New Jersey. Probably the only one who makes a good living from the game is Rudolf Walter Wanderone Jr., Minnesota Fats. Wanderone used to be called New York Fats, but he changed his first name after The Hustler came out, and he became a celebrity.
Some species of animals have the disconcerting habit of eating their young, and pool players can be carnivorous toward their own, also. They seem bent on mutual destruction. "Everybody's a knocker," says Danny D. "Somebody gets something going, and right away the other guys are knocking. We don't have any organization. Every time we try, everybody knocks it."
Danny D can hustle at other things besides pool. Bowling alleys once had pool tables the way most country clubs boast tennis courts. Danny D is an excellent bowler who once rolled a 300 game in the afternoon, then ran off 200 balls on the pool table that evening. He also played a fair game of baseball around Buffalo as a strong-armed outfielder who had tryouts with two major league teams. He does tricks with a golf ball. He can throw one 125 yards, can sail it through a man's upraised arms for a field goal from 110 yards away and can roll it dead against a wall from 90 feet. He knows a player who can bank a billiard ball into a pocket using his nose for a cue, and another who can spit the cue ball from his mouth and run the table. He knows a fellow in North Carolina nicknamed "Mountain" who butts walls with his head. "I've got a guy I'm going to take up there to butt heads with him," says Danny. "My man once dented a car bumper with his head."
Frustration hangs around a pool hustler as surely as chalk slides on the end of a cue. Bobby Riggs is lionized for his shrewd hustles; pitchers like Whitey Ford are considered cunning for being able to outwit umpires with doctored baseballs; golfer Lee Trevino brings chuckles when he reminisces about his hustling days with a Dr Pepper bottle. In general, athletes are praised for their guile if they can circumvent the rules, but there is something about a pool shark that people will not forgive. Danny D is a hit on the college exhibition circuit with his array of trick shots. "All the kids love me," he says wistfully, "but 10 years later, after they've got the business suit, they don't want to talk to you."
Reality to a pool player is this: if the bet is even he has a 50% chance of losing. A pool player always wants "the nuts," meaning the best of the wager, ideally a cinch bet. Danny D carries tattered scraps of paper with him that list "spots" around the country, places where a hustler can walk in, tell a few stories and get a game that will reward him for the trouble he has taken to get there. "A player will tell another about a spot," says Danny D. "He will talk about the short-stop, how he will be dressed, how much money he will have on a certain day, what his best game is and where he will be sitting in the room."
Thus, on a chilly night in late November, DiLiberto is huddled down in the front seat of his car outside a pool hall in a small Florida town, sweating out what he hopes will be a big score that will provide Christmas presents for his family. Inside, Mike Sigel, a New Yorker in his early 20s and Danny D's protégé, so to speak, is playing one pocket with the proprietor, a dour, slovenly man with a cigarette in one corner of his mouth, a sneer on the other. He thinks Sigel is from Ohio, a punk kid to be hustled, and is certain he has "the nuts." After all, the older man is an accomplished player shooting on his own table and playing his favorite game, one pocket, which hustlers think demands more skill than any other. Instead, he is facing a "lemon player," someone disguising his ability. The proprietor, in fact, is the unsuspecting googan.
On the trip up from Miami, Danny D patiently coached Sigel as to his approach: how to wander into the pool hall 30 minutes before closing, where the owner would be and what he would be wearing, what to say and what the man would answer, how to feign inexperience so the sham would go undetected. Sigel does not have DiLiberto's skill at such ploys; he is too young. But his natural ingenuousness, plus the fact that the parlor owner believes he knows the name and face of every top player in the country, are his credibility. Danny D tells Sigel, a slim, pasty-faced youth with a stark, lean silhouette, "You're going to have it rough when the word goes out on you because no one fits your physical description."
Nothing is more certain in pool than that nothing is as it seems. Danny D once dressed up as a pizza delivery boy, arrived at someone's house with a carton of pies and then joined in the pool game in progress in the den. He has seen enough "business" always to be wary. Business is when a game is crooked, when one of the players is using his "dump stroke" much in the manner of a jockey holding back a horse. Danny D has had friends dump games when he bet on them to win. Afterward they would tell him, "Danny, it's business." He understood. He remembers one game involving a top hustler who had worked out some business with a player who was several speeds below him in ability. After four hours the men were dead even, and the hustler's nerves were all but jumping out of his skin because he thought the rest of the house was catching on. So he quit, and told his opponent, "You don't play good enough to look like you're beatin' me, and it's stinkin' up the joint."
Inside the Florida pool hall, Mike Sigel was pale and swallowing hard while his opponent shambled around the table, goading him with remarks. Part of a hustler's repertoire is his Don Rickles act. The insults serve a dual purpose, upsetting the opponent but at the same time making him sore enough to want to continue playing, and even to want to return for revenge. Minnesota Fats once won all of a player's money, then won his car. When the crestfallen victim walked out the door, Fats crowed after him: "You came in here a motorist, but I made a pedestrian out of you." Maybe he'd come back. Sigel's instinct was to dispatch this disagreeable creature with perfect shotmaking, because nothing is as grating as a fool who does not know he is a fool. But Sigel was pulling hard on the reins, hoping to get the ante raised from $50 a game. He knew it would be a long, slow night as he began to trade games, winning two, dropping a couple, not showing too much too soon.
The young player had $1,000 on him, 20 barrels' worth. A barrel is one betting unit, and an air barrel is when you are broke and you bet with nothing but air; this is also called shooting with the air rifle or being barreled out. "When you're out of ammo, you got to give up the machine gun," says Danny D. Actually, DiLiberto would prefer to give up the gun, to settle down, but now it is too late. The fringe benefits are too good to give up. Danny D, working on the downside of middle age, is accustomed to getting up mornings when he feels like it, accustomed to never feeling a yoke around his neck or having a memo pad on his desk, accustomed to not being accustomed to anything.
Yet Danny D must sometimes feel like a non-person, not the superb athlete he is. He says that he cannot get a credit card, which is about as anonymous as you can be in this country. The Washington Touchdown Club never calls him and asks if he will be a guest speaker. The people from Mr. Coffee are not on the line inquiring about endorsements, and there probably are not too many pool players being recruited by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Once it looked like a glamorous life, but here he sits in a car outside a pool hall in this little Florida town, three hours into his vigil, waiting for Sigel and telling hustling stories. Like the one about the guy who had two legs severed in an accident. He received a huge insurance settlement and spent most of his time gambling in pool halls, stretching for shots from his wheelchair. The hustlers descended like vultures around carrion. "The most heartless thing I ever saw was when a guy would not let him sit on the table to shoot a shot he couldn't reach," says Danny, wiping the steam from inside the driver's window. "The guy said he had to keep one wheel on the floor."
That week Danny D had visited Angelo Dundee in his Miami Beach office. Dundee is Muhammad Ali's trainer, but he also tutored Danny during his days as a boxer on the Florida professional circuit. Danny's story is that he fought under the pseudonym Danny Torriani because his older brother had been a fighter and the family had been dead set against it. Danny made his debut in Tampa against an experienced, heavier foe. In the first round, the seasoned boxer bombed Danny D with blows, but with eight seconds left, the reeling novice uncorked a wild uppercut that might have been stolen from Rocky. The punch caught his adversary flush on the jaw and dropped him, although the bell saved him from being counted out. In the second round, Danny D took advantage of his opponent's dazed condition and dropped him three straight times, the last time for the 10-count. Danny Torriani was undefeated in 14 fights, with 12 knockouts, a draw and a decision. Unfortunately, he kept breaking his hands, four times to be exact, and a fighter without hands is like a farmer without soil. Just as there are technical knockouts, his was a technical retirement. "You were good, Danny," Dundee told him, "but you weren't lucky."
Once again the question comes up. Is it better to be good, or lucky? For Danny D, too often his payoff comes in memories. He has scrapbooks filled with accounts of his exploits as a baseball player, a fighter, a bowler, a pool player, along with wrinkled pictures of himself posing with Fred Astaire, Peter Falk, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Mosconi. As he pores over the yellowed clips, recalling incidents associated with each item, the lines in his face seem to deepen with each turn of the page.
Inside the Florida pool room, DiLiberto's luck once again has taken a dive. After five torturous hours, Sigel was able to get the ante raised to $100 a game, which was good, but then his stroke ran off and hid, which was bad. No matter how much he narrowed his eyes in concentration, no matter how much he went to the whip, he could do no better than trade games with the pool room owner, who shuffled around the table in a trail of cigarette ashes. Even more vexing, the older man was sinking "harrigans," shots that appeared beyond his ability, and was becoming a chicken bone caught in Sigel's throat. Finally, exasperated, Sigel called it quits when he was $100 ahead, making a lame excuse that he would return the following evening. "You're smart, kid," sneered his opponent. "You know when to quit. Come back tomorrow night when you're ready to play some pool, if you have the guts." Sigel walked out, gritting his teeth.
On the return trip to Miami, the atmosphere in the car was leaden as Sigel tried to explain the situation, talked of seeking revenge and cursed his dark luck. Danny D was magnanimous. To him, it was obvious that Sigel's inexperience had cost them. Pool players go to extreme lengths to disrupt their opponents. The great Onofrio Lauri used to sit in his foe's sight line and polish his bald pate with a towel. It is said that Lauri could shine his dome at an opposing player like a searchlight. Sigel had fallen prey to his opponent's gambit much in the way "Fast Eddie," the Paul Newman character from The Hustler, did. Newman wound up with his thumbs broken. Sigel was able to get away with $100, but it had been a costly evening. A good spot had been lost, and it was a dwindling market. "Fighting was easier than this," said Danny D, wincing at a morning sun that was three hours into daylight.
Several days later the pool players are in Dayton for a professional tournament. These events offer only a smidgen of prize money. The big attraction is the chance for some serious playing among the top talent. In the main room are what Danny terms "the gambling degenerates." The room has a squalid air, with a bank of pinball machines blinking on one side, tables covered with empty bottles and coffee cups, a dirty carpet littered with cigarette butts, gum and peanut wrappers and other refuse. As the lower Mississippi piles high with silt, so also does this confluence of hustling tributaries. The room is crowded with people, most of them unkempt and slack-eyed, some standing, others sprawled in chairs or dozing at tables, holding their chins in their hands. Whenever a stranger with shined shoes sits down, the slovenly straighten up and, after a few judicious pauses, inquire gently if the newcomer would "like to play some gin?"
On one wall is a NO GAMBLING sign, ubiquitous in pool rooms. Below the sign sits a woman trying to be happy through too much makeup and a hedge of false eyelashes, her attention riveted to a stack of money that keeps growing in front of her as her boyfriend, a dapper fellow in a blue safari suit who is backing a hot player in the game, keeps handing her more. The woman quickly gathers it into a neat pile. "This makes me feel just flat super," she says a little too loudly, drawing out the last syllable. "All we do in eastern Kentucky is shoot pool, and make home brew, moonshine and babies. Honey, I've never seen this much money in one place. Look at this!"
"Money to a pool player is like a glass of water," says Joe Burns, a tall, thin man who is the tournament sponsor. "It doesn't mean anything to him unless he doesn't have it. And he needs it every day." Watching the players shoot "payball" at $50 a ball. Burns compares them to lions in a cage. "If you feed them they'll stay under control, partially. But you need someone in there with them or they'll devour each other."
Standing to the side is a man who makes customized cue sticks. The best ones sell for up to $1,000. The cuemaker was once a hustler, but he got tired of trying to use excitement for collateral. Now, watching the players shoot, he has a wry smile on his face. "They don't have anything to do," he says. "They're just burning up their lives." When one of the flamboyant hustlers begins making droll comments, trying to disguise his embarrassment after flubbing a shot, Danny D says, "He'll put on a show, but he won't win. He burns up $100,000 a year of his backers' money."
The players are shooting on a snooker table, an oversized surface with small pockets. One hustler, young Jimmy Reid, is shooting barefoot. He pulls a wad of crumpled money from his jeans and asks a bystander to hold it. Danny D is on the sidelines, his eye out for a backer. Rumor has it that one of the Dayton players was recently staked to a $100,000 score. "The guy's not a good player, but he's a super lemon player," says Danny D with admiration. "He keeps winning, and players still think they can beat him." At the moment, however, all but one of the players are working a dry well. Denny Searcy, from the San Francisco Bay area, is making the most of his first trip East, a packrat emptying the other communicants' pockets and leaving groans behind. Minnesota Fats once said, "Dressing a pool player in a tuxedo is like putting whipped cream on a hot dog." There are no cummerbunds in this pool room. Searcy, a chunky fellow with the beginnings of a mezzanine under his chin, wears old blue corduroys and a T shirt with a bulging pocket into which he pauses to stuff more bills every time he pockets a payball. Between shots he slouches off to the side, looking uninterested. Joe Burns whispers that as of last night Searcy had $20,000 from the 70 or so players who had passed through the game. He knew the figure because he had counted the money and locked it in his safe.
Before television shrank the world and skepticism succeeded gullibility, pool players were fancied. In the early years of the century there were 400,000 tables in this country alone. Sir W. S. Gilbert, librettist of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, was a billiards player who made reference to his avocation in his works. In the song from The Mikado, "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime," he sentences a culprit to play a game "On a cloth untrue, / With a twisted cue / And elliptical billiard balls!" Shakespeare mentioned the game in Antony and Cleopatra, and decades ago American newspapers were fascinated by such characters as Tony the Weasel, a Broadway figure who reportedly ran headlong into walls when he lost a match and once became impaled in plaster and lath and had to be extricated by the fire department. There is a story that Ralph Greenleaf's wife. Princess Nai Tai Ta, hit him on the forehead with an ashtray and then he sued for divorce, all of which caused the sensitive Greenleaf to arrive in less than satisfactory condition at a 1933 world championship. Slowly, however, the public lost interest in the game, and five-time world champion Irving Crane remarked a few years ago. "Pool is the poorest sport in the world." Today the public gets its excitement from police SWAT teams that do battle every evening at 9 p.m. In Dayton the best pool players in the country went all but unnoticed by the square public.
Now the money is changing hands quickly. A shooter collects double if he sinks all the eligible payballs, and even these professionals are feeling the pressure. Detroit Whitey, once one of the finest shotmakers in the game, eyes an elementary straight-in shot that counts double, and takes aim much longer than usual. When he finally strokes the ball, Whitey jerks spasmodically; his bridge hand flies off the table and his cue stick makes a sickening sound as it scrapes off the ball. The room falls silent. Detroit Whitey gazes up numbly. There are a few muffled laughs, and everyone is thinking the same thing. After a few minutes, Detroit Whitey all but runs from the room, followed by silent reproach.
In Joe Burns' office, Denny Searcy has a beer and a sandwich, enjoying a respite from the game. He has given another player $400 to shoot his stick while he rests, and with a shrug he estimates that during the surrogate's fill-in he could lose $4,000 in potential winnings. "I never figured I'd get tired of shooting pay-ball," he says wearily, "but I am. The table is mine and those guys are mine. It's my game. It's not like I worked for it. It's like free money. Maybe if I worked for it, I wouldn't go out and shoot pool with it. But I don't know. I've never worked. Sometimes I think about it, what it would be like, going to work every day, getting some security. But I don't know. How could someone like me open up a business? What do I know about running a business?"
For the most part, Danny D stays away from the snooker table, figuring rightly that it is no use playing someone like Searcy at his own game. He leaves Dayton with a few hundred dollars in prize money.
Danny D is back in Miami Beach, riding down Collins Avenue in an automobile with Jimmy Rempe, another top player, and Mike Sigel. DiLiberto is asked if he would ever allow his son to become a pool player.
"It would never come to that," he says firmly. "When the time came for him to make that decision, he would have the facts and know it was out of the question. It's not a game to shoot at like being a ballplayer. The only ones who do that are the sick, dumb ones.
"Only a handful of players are making a living at it. I can't complain. Maybe a construction worker makes the same amount of money I do, but he works a lot harder. But I'm not getting rich. A ballplayer makes $400,000, and he don't have the talent I have. I've had a lot of self-satisfaction and applause, but nothing in relation to other sports. It's just a perversion. It's like bettin' $100 on a horse and he don't run good at all. Then he runs again and you think you have to bet him again. You just keep putting good money after bad like a lot of horseplayers do. But I put so much into the game, it's hard to get out of it. You wind up doing it out of passion."
As the car passes the luxurious yachts moored in the canal off Collins Avenue, the three players become children with their noses pressed against a candy-store window, looking but never touching. The mood becomes even more melancholy. "Well, what do we care?" Danny D says airily. "What do we care about yachts and all that? We live like millionaires anyway."
"Yeah," agrees Rempe spiritlessly. "But always under the pressure. I mean, that's the way we live. Always under the pressure...."
A couple of days later the three are sitting hunched up on a jetty of rocks jutting out into Biscayne Bay. Danny D's boat had broken down the day before and had to be towed to shore by the Coast Guard and then, on the way to the repair shop, the boat trailer had a flat tire. The mid-December air is chilly. Off to one side they can make out the Palm Bay Club, where golfer Ray Floyd, the 1976 Masters champion, has a sumptuous apartment. Nearby they can see the Jockey Club, where millionaires and sports celebrities litter the tennis courts. The three are forlorn as they throw their lines out into the water and sit patiently waiting for a nibble. It seems as if they always are waiting for nibbles, and from small fish.
Danny tries to change the mood by talking about going on the college exhibition circuit. And there is the newly formed World Nine-Ball Association, of which all three players are members. There is hope for a new West Coast tournament that will offer some real prize money, and a possible television series. It wasn't Palm Bay Club stuff, but at least it could be a start. In addition, Danny D had been working a bar for over a year, setting up the patrons for a $1,000 bet that he could not throw a golf ball over a nearby canal. He cashed in on that one. And there is a spot just ripe to be taken up in Georgia. As Danny D talks of his tinsel, a man walks out of a house nearby, carrying a box of outdoor Christmas decorations that he begins to set up. He is a square, and it is his day off from work. Neither side gives the other a glance.