Leaving Babe Kelly’s

Leaving Babe Kelly’s

 

Some years earlier Babe Kelly’s bar was a neat kind of place in a neat kind of city neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood where there were houses, not just row homes. Babe’s was easy to see, but hard to get to. Just as you leave the toll booths on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, in the far right lane, on the way to Philly not Babe’s, if you looked very closely down into the clutter of buildings you could just make out the little front window with the red and blue Pabst beer neon sign in it.

 

It was 1967. The little neighborhood had become an island of what used to be, surrounded by what it became.

 

Hick Wright, Lenny Craig, Norm Craig, Gordon Nelson, Bob Scarduzio, Ted Rzepski., J. Lassman, W. Kingsmore, and Larry Walker were the players on Babe’s team that year and they were winning everything in site. Even won the league championship.

 

My Team, Riverside Inn, played Babes team at Babe’s place. Needless to say, this being one of my early years in the “Big League” I was pumped that night. Just to be around those guys was exciting. Hick and Lenny were already legends in our dart world. The way our league was set up our team only played another team once per half season. That’s twice per season. And that made these matches a big deal event.

 

Hick was born old, I think. At least he was old when I met and played against him. Must have been in his sixties?! He is also memorable for me because I had managed a 64 point game, which was the highest in league history to that date, and that old man shot a 67 to beat me. And I had to watch. The other time someone did something like that to me it was a team mate of mine, Harold, Ducky, Dillon. I had a three game score of 172, again the highest of the league, and I watched Ducky shoot a staggering 183. Never before and never again did that happen. 

 

Hick wore an old cardigan sweater that had holes in the elbows. It was an ugly old thing all stretched and dangling. He kept a clump of masonry line chalk in the stretched out, frayed, right pocket of the thing and all around that pocket the sweater was covered with line chalk. I don’t think he ever had it cleaned. I think it was his lucky sweater like some athletes have sox or underwear or hat. Imposing stature and demeanor, a craggy lined face, piercing eyes all added to the field of intimidation that surrounded him, for a newbie like me.

 

That night was a tense thing for me. I got to shoot a couple of games even though I was a rookie on the team, but not without an attitude, mind you. I was respectful of these giants of the game and I wanted to shoot against Hick after the match but, the poor old thing had to leave before the match ended so he could get to bed. The match ran late and it was after midnight when it was finally over. Strangely there was no money games played. 

 

When Babe closed up, he really closed up. Bars on the windows, and inside the doors. He was a tough old codger, I’ll say. A bar owner all his life and saw many a hard situation. Someone asked him if he worried about being robbed what with being practically under the bridge and no street lights; and certainly no cops patrolled the area. He said his place could only be robbed over his dead body. A few years later I learned his place had been robbed. Just way he said it would have to be.

 

What with Babe closing, it being late, and me being excited about the whole match thing I didn’t realize I should have hit the men’s room before I started home. I’d hardly got started when I realized I was nearly in an emergency situation. This realization coincided with another realization. I was surrounded by neighborhoods where I would stand out very much were I to get out of my car. There were a lot of very angry people at that time and there were some of them who wouldn’t take kindly to me being in “their” neighborhood. Especially considering what I was in need of doing. A light in a window! Dim, and bluish, yea, and it indicated that the kind of facilities of which I was in need would be in that place with that neon sign. 

 

And a parking spot right in front of the place? This had to be divine intervention. Locked the car, mounted the two steps, opened the door and stepped inside. Really dingy in there. And smoke filled. It took a couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust and when they did, I found there were multiple sets of eye boring into me. Quick like a bunny I found the men’s room sign and headed for it, feeling the eyes following me. Once inside, with the relief I so desperately needed occurring, my attention shifted to sounds coming from through the walls. Thump, thump, thump. There was something very familiar about those sounds. Darts!!! That was the sound of darts hitting a dartboard. Now, you can draw what ever conclusion from what I did next but, in retrospect, I’ve decided I had no common or any other kind of sense at that time. The siren’s call was too much for me.

 

I left the men’s room and walked along the bar, it was an oblong affair, passing turning heads and glaring eyes. The wall of the men’s room on one short end of the bar. My eyes were adjusted enough to see that the place was about half full of people who didn’t seem to be all that pleased I was in there. I walked along the long side on the men’s room side, rounded the corner to the other short side of the bar then walked the along the short side to the next corner and, against every bit of safety sense, walked past the door I should have been nearly running out, to where the darts were being shot at the other end of the bar. I’d walked all the way around the bar in this place which could be described, without exaggeration as dangerous!

 

The bar had drinks on it indicating the dart players took up the four seats so I stopped at the next one in line. The bar tender came to where I was. It was then I noticed he’d been following me in my trip around the bar. Not a word did he say. He seemed to be trying to figure out if I was insane or some real bad ass. Draught was all I said as I laid a buck on the bar and lit a Chesterfield. I turned my attention to the dart players. There were four of them playing partners and my intrusion didn’t seem to be alarming to them. I watched a few games without incident, but I did notice the bartender seemed to stay close to where I was.

 

Sizing up the dart situation took my attention completely off my environment. I was next to a dart board, with people playing who didn’t look as though they were all that good and they were playing for a dollar a team. I could use a couple of dollars I reasoned, so I went into lets get into this game mode. These kinds of things usually break up at about the time of night it was so I looked for the signal that my timing was right. It was. I’d just ordered a second beer when one of the players said he’d had enough and was heading out. Here was my opportunity. I’ll take his place if you want to keep playing, I say.

 

The guy who was leaving shot a glance at me, picked up his change, finished his drink in one gulp and walked out. The guy without a partner seemed confused about what to do. Not until later did it dawn on me that having a partner like me would be against all this guy’s instincts. Too much to handle. He explained that he’d better get on home and left. The player I’d identified as the “Big Fish” of the four seemed to weighing something. The guy who had been his partner made up his mind by saying it would be OK if Big Fish wanted to play heads up.

 

“We’ve been playing for money here,” came from Big Fish. I can play for a little, I say. “Half a buck a game,” Big Fish virtually demanded. OK, I say. We settled on three inning games and shot the cork. I was in good form. Win one, lose one, win two, lose one, win two and lose one and so on. We’d played for close to half an hour and things were working right along. I wasn’t leaving money on the bar since I didn’t want anyone to notice how it was going. The guy I was playing just seemed like any other dart player. We didn’t talk all that much but what there was seemed cordial enough. Along with sizing up how much money there was to get and considering raising the stakes if I could, I noticed that he wasn’t drinking much. I’d had three beers; they were little 5oz draughts, once the flow begins with that stuff it comes out as fast as it goes in so off to the men’s room I go. Again I was feeling all the eyes in the place following me but who cares, I’m winning some bucks. Once inside, as I leaned against the wall, the sounds from the bar came right through as though the wall wasn’t even there. A voice I hadn’t heard before asked, “How’re you doin’ with that boy?” Then the voice of the guy I’m playing answers. “I’m down some. That boy can play a bit.” Then the strange voice again. “Don’t you worry, he won’t get out of here with anything.”

 

Sense rushed in all at once. Where I was crashed in and something close to panic struck. When I walked back around the bar I was as calm as I had been when I made the trip the other way, as far as anyone could tell. We took up playing again only this time I was winning one and losing two. Without anyone noticing I took cigarettes from the pack and put them in my pocket. It took about fifteen minutes for everything to be right and the current game ended with me winning. I’ve got to run out to my car and get some cigarettes, I say. Half full glass of beer, money, and a crushed, empty, cigarette pack on the bar, out I went.

 

Flew is a way to explain how I drove from that place. Eyes in the mirror, foot on the floor. There must be a Dart God.

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