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The Natural (no not that one)

The Natural (no not that one)

It’s “hump day,” (the regular league night) and there are six teams of 5 darts player each and eight regular non-darts players in the place. Nearly all seats are taken.

The teams have settled into playing, all three dart boards are busy and have been for over an hour.

Several people are having sandwiches and other snack type food. There’s a customer in the carry-out store being waited on by Mike-the-bartender.

Conversations are battling to be heard over the juke box and no one’s glass is empty.

Laughter and whoops of excitement erupt with some regularity as hits and misses of note occur on the dart boards and some patron asks Mike-The-Bartender to adjust the several TV screens to watch the Phillies’s game.

It’s another dart league night in the Mt. Royal Inn, in Mt. Royal NJ, which has been the case since the early sixties. The place is frequented by some local and national darts notables, such as George Silberzahn (a darts author who began playing darts there in 1965) and Joe Baltadonis (Former national Champion who owns the place and gets to be there almost all the time). The regulars are used to having well known personalities such as these two around so are not impressed.

“Hey Mike, you’re up” is called out. And “Be right there” comes back from Mike-the -bartender as he places money in the cash register after getting someone a refill of something. He’s a fill-in player for when a team member doesn’t show up to play.

The Mt. Royal Inn is this area’s “Cheers where everyone knows your name” kind of place and Mike blends right in. He knows everyone by name and has known them since the first time that person walked into the Inn. He also knows everyone’s choice of beverage, be it mixture, soft, tap or straight. He’ll mention “Been a while since you’ve been in,” if that’s the case, and when pressed he’ll just about know how long. It’s a rare occasion when a person needs to ask Mike-the-bartender for a refill.

You may have heard of Mike-the-bartender before only not by that name (because I just made it up). In case you don’t recognize it here’s where you may have heard of him. It’s an excerpt from a Flight School technique.

“I was in a place called the Mt. Royal Inn playing against a guy named Joe Baltadonis (he owned the place). Joe was my partner, team mate and friend in those early years on the “circuit” and he was the US Open champion, among a bunch of other wins, including one against a world champion in England.

I dropped a line about how I had to carry him every time we played (not true) and how I only got five cents worth of help when he thought he was worth a dollar. Well, after some ‘discussion’ of the type we had at the time, we got to playing for a nickel a game (chuckle)!

We’d been swapping nickels for a while, when I used my last two to buy a beer, they were 10 cents at the time (no smart aleck remarks about 10 cents? How old is this guy?).

I won the next game and Joe only had a dime and a quarter on the bar. He pushed the dime over and said, “OK, I owe you one, shoot the cork.” My response “No way, I want my nickel. You lost, give me my nickel.” His face flushed a little and his jaw tightened but he turned to Mike, the bartender, with “give me a couple of nickels for this dime so I can pay this poug.”

I found out just last year what exactly a poug is, it’s a term from WWII, I think, that described a guy that avoided being closest to the enemy as much as possible and left that dirty work to others. It was a very derogatory term for anyone that is not good. Anyway, Mike, instigator that he was, responded with a glint in his eye, “You want change for that quarter too?” Joe said: “No, I won’t need it, he isn’t going to win any more” and we played some hellashus games from there on.”

Mike’s jocular demeanor is one of the ways he helps to make the atmosphere at the Inn what it is. He’s always with a quip, a joke, maybe something more of an adult nature on his phone, or the latest on a sport team, or NASCAR, or his golf game. Mike-The-Bartender has been at the Mt. Royal Inn for thirty three years he says.

In this place, where people with notable achievements in darts, or other local activities, go pretty much un-noticed, Mike-The-Bartender also goes pretty much taken for granted. And that’s because he’s born to his profession, the consummate bartender.  He’d be a national Champion if there were such a thing. With his golf visor and shorts and smile beaming at you, always paying close attention to you so don’t have to ask for anything- you just get it style. it’s easy to miss just how good he is at what he is doing.

So- here’s to my choice for’ National Champion Bartender’ – Mike Ginipro AKA “Mike-The-Bartender” and all- round good guy.

Next time you’re at the Inn, tell him you’d vote for him too, along with a good tip.

Enjoying losing???

I joined a conversation concerning the lack of interest in playing pickup games of darts. The conversation turned to why people do not work to improve their chances for winning and the question – “Why play at all.” My contribution is below.

 

“I’m looking at your unhappiness with people who don’t work at improving while sitting on a different perch.

I’ve gone through a long career in darts – from near obsession to present during which I’ve struggled with how to enjoy the game without winning at it. This has always been a contradiction to me – like how can you enjoy losing?? This, I think, comes close to your view of why do it at all?
Here’s my update: I quit playing altogether for the last four years because I kept getting my a– handed to me and couldn’t take it. Not playing with absolute confidence that I could beat anyone I came up against made engaging in competitions something I came to dread rather than look forward to doing.
Last night I played in league, back in my old stomping grounds, for the first time in ten years and I played as well as I thought I would – lousy – worse than lousy. But I discovered what I hadn’t really been able to understand all those years. I was enjoying the shared inability of all of us on the team. (I’m back to playing in a lower division). We tried but just don’t have it, and the good part is that since we know we don’t have the ability, it’s OK. We could enjoy the effort and complement each other on that rather than the accomplishment.
And, best of all, my team mates were enjoying my companionship rather than how well I can play the game. I’ve been so afraid of embarrassing myself, and worrying that people would think less of me because of my accomplishments and reputation that I’ve completely missed this part of participation.

I know the exhilaration of competing at the highest level and each person feeding off the excellent play of the other – fantastic stuff.

I’ve known all along about recreational players but never really related to that frame of mind.
Maybe my revelation is why so many people don’t have the fire in their belly to compete? Maybe I’ve been right all along about the 80% of people who do not compete at darts, but rather play at it? Maybe I didn’t have the correct understanding of their motive?

The history of the dart in America

As part of my interest in the history of darts in America I’ve dug into how and where the dart itself came to be. At least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Way back, before even I began playing, and before there even was a United States of America, there was a game played called darts, although is wasn’t called darts. Like a lot of famous items and systems and things, there were people in different places who came up with the same idea around the same time in history. The places involved here were actually three, although which of the three was the actual place which gave birth is not able to be confirmed. There were people in what is now Massachusetts, in Penn’s Woods (now Pennsylvania) and in de la War (now Delaware) who all began playing the game at the same general time in history.

 

There is no written history of this development of the game of darts and this information is gleaned from word of mouth but the story does begin shortly after the people from Europe arrived in Massachusetts.

 

The game of darts its self started as a game played with rocks being tossed into a ring drawn around camp and cooking fires. At dusk, after eating and before retiring was when the work of the day was completed and there was time for telling stories, playing with children and other idle time activities.

 

Those involved in telling stories of the day would absently toss a rock into the fire as they did so. This grew into who could do that with the most accuracy. As more and more activity moved in doors due to weather and development of civilization, the pass time took to using smaller, rounded stones being tossed into the fire place, then as fire brands and ashes became an annoyance the end of one a log waiting to be put into the fire became the target of the stones. Who tossed the stone most accurately became a bone of contention and the need for being able to determine that grew.

 

The rounded stone became a pointed kindling stick and that grew to be a stick with a small point fitted to the end. As the competition became more contentious the more competitive people modified their sticks. The log was eventually moved away from the fire place and changed into a slice of wood which was raised off the floor so to get it out of the reach of the children. It became necessary for the sticks to actually stay in the log long enough to determine the accuracy.

 

The idle pass time turned into a wagering event with pints of grog being the wager and this brought out the competitiveness of the participants. The better of these competitors would search out the finer twigs of wood and whittle them into smooth rounded bits with points made by blacksmiths. One person, a farmer who had a silver tooth is the only information available and whose name has been lost to history, adapted the feature by Indians of fletching feathers to their arrows to increase the accuracy of the arrows, to the twigs he was using.

Over time the distance the twigs needed to be thrown turned into a rule and the better twig whittlers began selling what they made. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for a twig were at a disadvantage so began competing amongst themselves with their twigs and the others competed with their specially whittled twigs. A person could compete with a twig or a whittled twig. The term for the whittled twig eventually became colloquialized into witties, then widdies.

Eventually the people who were whittling the twigs started a business named the Widdy dart company in eastern Pennsylvania.

       

I’m still working on how the game came to be known as darts. If anyone has any information about this please forward that to me for history’s sake.

  

The Academy is wrong

Where did I go wrong? Did I set my sights to high? I’m crushed; feel cheated; violated.

 

I’ve worked so hard at getting everything exactly right, and I included in my work everything that would be of interest to others. How could that work not be recognized?

I’d even checked flight times to, and hotel availability in, Copenhagen in anticipation for the trip I just knew I was going to take.

 

Then, this morning, I find out that someone named Herta Mueller won the Nobel Prize for literature. The Swedish Academy had passed over my book: “DARTS Beginning to End” in favor of hers? And she didn’t even mention darts in her work!!

 

It’s obvious the people at the Swedish Academy know nothing about darts or the importance of the game/sport to the well being of the world. What a travesty of justice!!

I want to explain something

I’m contacted by many who have been at the game/sport of darts for a long time and are not happy with how well they play. They wish to rise to the next level, what ever they view as the next level to be for themselves. In fact, the dart game/sport is mostly populated by people who do not believe reading about darts is required. My guess is that 95% of those who have darts as part of their lives do not take it seriously enough to consider studying as part of the game. I do not mean study in the sense of formal education courses, far from it, after all I’m talking about a pass time game here. At least that is the case for many who have darts as part of their lives. There is nothing wrong with this mind set until and unless the person begins to think about getting better at it. When they begin to think about becoming a competitor, a dart shooter, is when they run into problems.

 

Flight School has been constructed to help dart nuts get the kinks out of their game and some of the kinks are above the shoulders. As many have pointed out, and wonder about, mind set and attitude has a lot to do with how well a person plays this game so those things are important for someone who wishes to perfect their game beyond being a league player.

Many miss the point of practice. They think spending a lot of time in front of a dart board will make them better at the game. This is true, to an extent, but as I point out in my book, with the results of a psychological study to support my view, once a person gets past the neophyte stage it gets more involved and the specific type of “practice” becomes very important. No less enjoyable, but critical to improvement. Missing this development element is what allows so many to stagnate at a certain level of play which no amount of dedication seems to help. They never get any better.

 

Some become impressed with how much they’ve improved, so fast, without doing anything but playing a lot and this is what leads to stagnation at a certain level. They play well enough to win against most players and even some shooters and so become complacent about not needing to learn any more about practice, or how to practice. They just believe they need to do more of it.

With FS I try to instill a mind set about practice and short cutting to just a couple of drills seems to by pass that, which means an important part of FS is missed, so it is less likely to provide full effect.

FS is not just a couple of “games” to play. It is a whole progress program which helps with mind set and preparation for stiffer competition. As I say, repeatedly, there are no short cuts, no easy ways, and no silver bullets to perfecting the way you do it.

 

The Margin of Victory

The Margin of Victory

 

The most satisfying and clarifying part of a winning effort comes after the actual event -and sometimes long after. It shows up uninvited and unexpectedly.

 

Nothing particular on my mind and out of nowhere a recollection pops up, which becomes a review of an event. The review of the event revolves around a singular accomplishment within the moment. It becomes a ‘thing.’ And the fact that the ‘thing’ happened at all is more vivid than the event. My revelations occur during these recollections. It’s when I’m permitted to wonder at the ‘how’ of the ‘thing’ without concern for arrogance or pompousness. It’s when real appreciation of the ‘thing’ is realized.

 

When in competition, in a single elimination situation, there are moments when your ability to perform is sorely tested. There are as many of these winning effort moments as there are games played. But out of all the moments in the entire day or life time there is that one event, with that one moment, which becomes of particular note. It’s the moment when all the work which has been done in all three kinds of practices is drawn upon. It’s when you have one chance to make the shot at hand.

 

Here’s one of many recollections I’ve had. It’s one of those moments when I literally felt the crowd of spectators hold their collective breath for the less than half a second it took for the ‘thing’ to happen.  I don’t remember the where, or the who, or the when; only the ‘thing’. And the ‘thing’ wasn’t really all that unusual, but rather, ordinary. But it has crystallized for me the margin of victory between competitors at the game of darts.

 

I was involved in a very tight singles match in a later round of eliminations at a large, well attended, national tournament. You know how some of the best matches are played in the earlier rounds and there aren’t many spectators because everyone is still a competitor? Well, this one occurred after a whole bunch of competitors had become spectators but before those spectators had become customers at the restaurant. We were down to the deciding game, we were both banging away with good scores (we were on our game) and the preceding games had come down to who had the first dart at a double for the win – neither of us was in a missing mode. Need it – hit it, was what it what was. My competitor had just put himself on a double and was set to win on his next turn. My turn with forty to go (double twenty) – stuck the first dart just inside the wire of the double twenty – twenty left; switch focus to the double ten – find the hole – drive the dart into it, stuck the dart just inside the wire of the double ten (click) – ten left; switch focus up to the double five, find the hole, and ……… feel the spectators hold their breath!? Sense the tension the crowd was feeling? One dart left, just missed two in a row?

 

For that brief instant, tension literally filled the air but I was not involved in it. I was more an observer than participant. My competitor had that second in which he averted his eyes, suppressed the hope I would miss so he wouldn’t jinx the situation, but allowed just a glimmer to rise of the prospect he could get a shot at the win. It was that interminable moment through which dart shooters suffer, and it goes on for what seems like minutes, while you are awaiting the outcome of the ‘thing.’

 

The realization that ‘thing’ brought me is that out of all the games contested during a tournament there will be one which will be different. There will be one which meets the “test” level. There will be your “test” shot.

 

There were times when I knew the dart in my hand would be the last one I’d shoot in that round of that event in that tournament. I’d either continue in the competition or I’d be out of it. After all that had gone before it, there was that one dart which would decide the outcome of the entire effort.

 

The appreciation of what it takes to do the ‘thing’ and achieve the accomplishment prompts me to wonder at it. It’s not just the difficulty of the ‘thing,’ it’s the ‘thing’ in the moment, under those circumstances, in that situation.

 

I was able to pass the test. I was able to put the dart in the hole, when everything rode on the performance in that instant, that puts a smile on my face in the quiet of my den, over my snifter of twenty year old port, where there is only me.

 

That’s the margin of victory in darts.

 

 

I’ll take that kid

I’ll take that kid

 

I joined a team in Philly in 1973, through Bob Thiede. It was the Manor Bar.

Bob Thiede; Lenny Craig, Dick Yost, Norm Finley, Bud McDonald, John Sheridan, Lenny Macy, Charles Ochichnowski, Bob Miller, Bill Samuels, Mac Namara were on the roster. This was a pretty good bunch of players.

 

I’d seen a few Philly players at tournaments and some in a couple of bars where I’d been “visiting.” I had some luck finding people to play against in a couple of places so I thought I’d try going over to Philly again. There were so many bars and dart players over there in Philly that I figured this could be a pretty good pond in which to fish. Not so many people knew me so I might have some fun.

 

Here’s something you should know about me augmenting my income through darts. It was sort of like fresh water fishing as opposed to salt water fishing. In fresh water you can pretty much narrow down which kind of fish you are likely to hook if you pay attention to some things. If trout is your kind of fish you start looking in trout streams, for bass you look in lakes, for catfish you look in slow moving mucky water and so forth. In salt water if you stay “inside:” that’s inlets, sounds and marshes, you can pretty much limit the kinds of fish you might hook, but if you go outside you are limited to bottom fishing or trolling to try for specific types of fish. In salt water, out side, you never know what will jump on your hook. OK, you get my drift. So – there is a certain level of dart player I liked to find when fishing for darts players. The intention was not to pump up my ego or work on my emotional practice, it was to pick up a few bucks and I wanted to do it at as little risk as possible. I needed to select the pond carefully since each pond has a big fish in it and that fish was my target but I didn’t want a shark in the way. Plus, in smaller towns, the word got around pretty fast and return trips to the pond might be spoiled. I didn’t figure Philly as one big pond, but as a bunch of smaller ones, neighborhood ponds, where I might be able to go fishing for a very long time.

 

Getting the fish to nibble at my bait was an art. The life of a darts fisher is limited in any case, because as soon as you are recognizable the game is up; the word gets around very fast. Winning at prestigious tournaments didn’t help with keeping under the radar and I had been doing that, but they were all out of town and Philly darts people knew very little outside of what happened in their neighborhood if it didn’t have anything to do with someone known in the neighborhood, so I had been able to skate out of sight. Just another guy that showed up and got lucky then disappeared again. No one knows where he’s from, no body cares.

 

Self preservation required me to be adept at not making those who lost to me angry at me, which is a skill all to itself. I say this because I liked the game and the people in it and wished to be involved in league and social play on an ongoing basis if I couldn’t “fish” anymore. Sort of having my cake and eating too.

 

I certainly wanted to avoid playing against the best people at the game. That would have been counter to my goal and put winning at risk unnecessarily.

 

Knowing all the above, it’s Saturday, I’m heading for Philly to see what I can drum up so I figure I’ll stop in the Manor Bar to check it out.

 

Hard to find a parking place; they must be giving away beer in this place. (I found out later there was some kind of tournament being played) It looks promising, I’m thinking. In I walk. Nice place, pretty clean and lots of people at the bar and dart cases all over the bar too. These are dart people!! A couple of dart boards but no one playing. This is looking better all time. I take a seat and look around. A few stools down is some guy named Ray Fischer I’ve met at a couple of tournaments. I figured that meant the end for my fishing trip since this guy was one of the best in the country. As I looked around I noticed there were a number of guys in that place that were highly ranked country wide. At that time the center of dart expertise in America was the Delaware Valley (Philly and its suburbs, which included Southern Jersey). The guys in Philly thought it only included Philly. I was going to get a coke and then quietly head for some other place. I nodded in recognition to Ray.

 

Ray was the butt of some good natured ribbing going on. A group of guys wanted to play for some money, partners, and as they were picking who would be partners they kept at Ray to pick somebody. Afraid to lose; worried the moths will get out of your wallet; no body wants to be your partner? These kinds of things were being tossed around amid raucous rounds of laughter. After a couple of minutes it didn’t look as though Ray was enjoying it all that much. We caught eyes and Ray mouthed, “Want to play?” A quick glance told me no one saw the exchange. Here was Ray Fischer, one of the best, asking me if I wanted to be his partner against this collection of high powered shooters. How could a guy not jump at that chance? I nodded. Ray waited a few minutes and then he said, in a nice strong voice, “OK, I’ll take that kid,” and he nodded in my direction.

 

You’re probably ahead of me on this, but. My name was never mentioned. The others there didn’t recognize me. They didn’t think of me as anyone to be particularly concerned about. After all, I wasn’t from Philly, and they didn’t know me, so how good could I be?

 

We played, and as with a lot of neighborhood bars, especially one owned by a dart player, (this one was owned by Charlie Young, one of the better players) people would borrow money from the owner and put an IOU in the cash register to be paid later. As teams would either run out of money, or run up enough IOUs, they dropped out. We were playing heads up, teams, winner kept the board, loser got back in line to challenge.

 

It got late; it was nearly time for Charlie to close, although if dart activity was hot and heavy he’d just lock the door and the play would continue. Someone asked Charlie for some more cash to get into the next game and Charlie says, “I gotta close.” This was out of the ordinary. Charlie explained: “There isn’t any more cash in the register, only IOUs, and looked over at Ray and I. No mystery where all the money was. It was there with the two guys with the big grins on their faces.

 

Two things ended when Charlie had to close on time: the dart matches that night, and my ability to wander around in N.E. Philly unnoticed on fishing trips. That part of Philly was really a big little town. 

 

 

 

 

Befriending Jim White

Befriending Jim White

 

Camden New Jersey is a city which has changed a lot and like all the other cities, neighborhoods are bounded by streets. Most of the time they are four or five blocks in size, sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, depending upon the city. As with about all neighborhoods, the demographics changed from one neighborhood to the next but in the sixties there weren’t all that many mixed neighborhoods. One is Italian, next might be Polish or Irish or Chinese or African American or some other ethnicity. And there were different kinds of bars within each neighborhood.

 

There were lots of places where a guy would go with a date or his wife or look for some female to meet. Nice places, clean places, places with dart teams and pool teams and shuffle board teams and like that. And there were Bars and Saloons, which also had the same types of games in them, but a guy would never think of taking a “nice” girl or wife into such a place. These were rough and tumble joints, mostly. They were rough and tumble mainly because of one element of society which frequents these places. The street wise types, the muscle beer types and the motor cycle gang types and the just plain gang types. One thing about the kinds of people who hung out in those places: they were gamblers. Not to suggest that there wasn’t gambling in all the other bars and taverns but these folks would bet on anything, anytime, and they had no sense about money. That was the distinguishing feature most of them shared. They would collect their weekly pay from what ever they were doing, mostly payday was Friday but sometimes Saturday, depending on if they worked Saturday, because if it were any other day a number of them wouldn’t show up for work the following day.  In they come with their cash or check and first things first would pay off their bar bill. The owners of the bars knew their clientele and that was a condition of letting a person run a bar bill. By the time they left the bar on payday a goodly percentage of them would have little or no money left. They’d spend it on over drinking and buying others drinks and betting on about every game that was in the bar or on sports pools. If they couldn’t play the game they’d start betting on those who were, if it were a decent match.

 

So, given this information, what’s a simple guy who loves to play the game of darts for fun, and sometimes use money as a way to keep score of who won the most games, to do? Not a lot of the upper level darts guys frequented these rough and tumble places so the poor things in these places were left to pass their money around to each other. Someone had to help with this situation and being the Good Samaritan that I was I accepted that responsibility.

 

So it came to be that I walked into a bar in the Kramer Hill section of Camden New Jersey in 1970. I don’t remember the place’s name. There were two doors, one from the back parking lot and one from the street, on opposite sides of the building. From the back door entrance, as you entered, there was a dart board on the wall to the left, and a bar along the wall on the right. There were rest room entrances at the far end of the bar, booths along a wall that was half the length of the bar and one wall of the restrooms, with not much room between the bar stools and the booths. A pool table was directly ahead just off another wall, which was this side of the rest rooms.

 

Two guys at the bar, one on a stool the other standing and talking to the one seated. The one standing had that look of a wiry, quick and strong guy. His shoulders sloped and his arms were well tuned. He had that demeanor about him that shouted “Street Wise.”

 

Belly up to the bar, draught Bud, I say. This was no place to order a coke if you didn’t want to get noticed. I lit a Chesterfield, leaned on one elbow and turned my attention to the dart set up behind me.

 

“You play,” came from the guy standing? Yea, I like the game, you? “I’m on a team, in the league. I’m not as good as I used to be, I’ve been away from the game for a while.” Wanna play, I say? “Yea, I’m Jim,” he says. George, I say. Something about Jim that strikes me the right way. I like the guy. We play one game of everything counts for six innings and I win by a few points. “Want to play for something, Jim says” Sure, I say. A beer, I ask? “Yea,” Jim says. We play, I win and I see Jim is not very good at this. His stroke is short, his body lunges just a touch and he can’t group his darts worth a hill of beans. Since I’m such a nice guy, and I like this guy, I decide to put my fishing pole away. I back off enough to have the games go back and forth. “You’re good at darts, huh, Jim says?” Since I’m being nice, Yea, I am, I say. Some how, Jim sized the situation up, an instinct from the street I guess. “Looking for a money game, huh?” I nod, not so’s anybody should know, I say and smile. We connected.

 

Anybody come in here that plays for a few bucks that I should know about, I say? “Some, Jim says. Maybe somebody will show up.” We talk about the league, and Len Craig and other people for a while.” Jim looks past my shoulder and says “Here come a couple of guys who play a lot in here.” I cast a casual glimpse and we continue talking while the two guys get into a dart game. Jim tells me he knows them by sight but hasn’t played them. Jim says, “Wanna try ‘em?” Partners, I say.

 

Jim gets us into the game. We play a couple of games for drinks and it looks like we need to call games which favor having one strong partner so I suggest that to Jim, quietly. After a few more games which go back and forth I quietly ask Jim which one will go for a few games single O. Jim tells me. We’re partners all night, right, I say? And we both know how we want this to work. I’ll get to the right guy eventually and we’ll split the winnings.   “How about we play for a buck a game, Jim asks?”

 

I’ve been playing a reserved game, winning when I had to, letting Jim win the game for us when he could, just pacing and sizing things up. Like, which innings does this guy prefer and which games does he rather play. I’m nibbling on my beer, back turned to the board, when I hear voices rise. Jim and the two guys have a disagreement over a shot which was made, or not, and eyes became locked over the exchange. Now I didn’t want to lose a chance at a few bucks and this set up was too good to lose. I could beat this guy without even breaking a sweat so I had to resolve this quickly. Jim had the darts in his hand and I saw him put them down while looking at one of the guys. I knew what was coming. Both those guys were bristled. Not a good thing.

 

I step about half way toward the other team. I got this Jim, don’t worry about it, I say. I turned to the two guys and Jim stalked off to the bar far enough to be out of reach but close enough to where he could get right back if needed. I learned what the disagreement was, understood I could handle the situation and let them have their way. I took my turn, made the shot, a difficult one it was, and that ended the game.

 

We played only a couple of more games before the other’s quit playing and left the bar. Jim and I split the few bucks we had, got a couple of more beers and then I left, saying I had a few more stops to make before I called it a night.

 

Not being one to shirk my responsibilities I returned to that bar again the next week. Jim was there. He greeted me like some long lost brother. There were maybe a dozen people in the place and he told everyone; “this is George and he’s my friend,” he guided me to one of the booths. He instructed the barmaid: “George doesn’t pay for anything tonight.” Wow, because we won a few dollars? This is strange. Great, but strange.

 

We sat and began talking, well, me mostly listening. Jim unloaded. He was the King of Kramer Hill he told me. He owned this place, he said in a matter of fact tone. One of the women at the bar got up and headed toward the rest rooms. The distance from the booth table to the bar was only a couple of feet, and as she got even with us Jim planted his foot against the bar, blocking her way. “You want a girl tonight, he asked me?” I didn’t know what to say. Jim didn’t wait; “How ‘bout her. She looks good, huh?” This woman was with some dude at the bar so I knew this was going to get real bad, real fast. I looked up at the woman. She was standing stark still her hands just above Jim’s leg, but not touching. She had a frightened look on her face. Here comes the guy, and trouble. The guy walked the few feet down the bar, in our direction, but just as he got close to where we were Jim stopped him. And me. All Jim did was look at the guy and say; “Sit your ass back down.” The guy backed to his stool and sat. The woman stood without a movement.

 

In a flash I understood what he’d said. He owned this place – which had nothing to do proprietorship of this bar or Kramer Hill. Jim was a genuine bad ass. And I was his friend. Therefore what ever I wanted to do had his blessing. Oh, my God, how do I get out of this?

 

Thanks Jim, I appreciate this but I’m really not in the mood for it right now. I’m looking for some dart action. His reaction was something else. “Sure. That’s cool.” He dropped his foot, the woman forgot about going to the rest room, turned and walked straight out the back door with her guy right behind her. As if nothing happened Jim took up talking again. We’re low on beer here, he said and two showed up right quick. We visited in Jim’s “place” for an hour or so and I learned what he meant by what he’d said the first time we met. He had been away from darts for a while. Yea, in the slammer for murder was why he’d been away. He’d beaten some poor sap to death. Some how his conviction had been over turned and he was now out. It had been his second conviction. He told me some about his history and wasn’t bragging about it. He showed me his hands as he talked about why he couldn’t play darts all that well. The knuckles were all lumpy and a bit crooked. Got that way from punchin’ guys out, he explained. Seems he picked up money by helping collect over due “loans” once in a while, among other odd jobs kinds of things. He was telling me things which could have been true, but I knew for certain he was the genuine article.

 

As I sat listening I was wondering what had happened that put me on such a high scale with him. A dart game? Doesn’t seem likely. Then it struck me. I had told Jim I’d take care of a problem for him. Not in those exact words, of course, and certainly not with the intent that Jim attached to it. I’d been talking about handling the dart game situation and Jim thought I meant I would handle the two guys for him. I was protecting the King of Kramer Hill? What kind of bad ass did he think I was? And more importantly, how could I get out of there without him finding out what a mistake he’d made?

 

This was one time when being able to hustle really did come in handy. The ability to let someone believe what they wanted to believe, even without facts to support them, can be a blessing. I’ve not been back there.

 

Jim played one game for Apollo, the team which won the championship that year. Team members Bob Thiede, Joe Dick, and Jack Fletcher all averaged over 50 and Len Craig only averaged 49.91. Jim, in his game, shot 40, and nobody died.

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.

Meeting Wes Keys

Meeting Wes Keys

 

Deep sea fishing takes patience. First you have to find a spot in the ocean that looks as though there are fish in it. Then you cast your lure and pull it through the spot, being careful not to frighten the fish away, always alert for a strike.

 

The usual spots where I went looking for fish had been pretty much empty for a couple of weeks and it was Sunday, the day that fish were hardly ever around, even during good times.  I’d heard of a couple of spots which were new to me, up along route 70, around Marlton, So I figured maybe I’d try there some time even though it was outside my usual area for trolling.

 

Something about South Jersey you should know. This area I’m talking about is due east of Philly, just across the Delaware River. First places you come to on the Jersey side are Gloucester or Camden or Pennsauken or Burlington, depending which bridge you cross. My home town, Gibbstown N.J., is about 20 miles or so south of Philly, and it had about 2500 people in it, (only three towns smaller anywhere around) one traffic light and three bars: Billy Burts, Cheeseman’s and Kenny’s. Gibbstown was on the southern most end of an area that ran about 50 miles north by 30 miles east where there are towns and towns and towns and more towns, and south or east from Gibbstown it was farms and orchards with ponds and lakes scattered about. As you drive in the area you cross from one town to another and there is hardly ever a sign that tells you which town you are in. This will give you some understanding of the density of people in the area. Traveling 10 miles was a long way through towns. And every town was a unique place but most of them seemed hooked together, there were no dividing spaces where there were no buildings. Some were tough kinds of places, like Gloucester & Camden, and others were a bit upper class, like Haddonfield & Audubon. This area is packed with people and bars. The time period I’m talking about was through the 1960s and the only dart game played in South Jersey was the American type of game. It wasn’t necessary to travel very far to find a bar and crowd that you’d never seen before.

 

So – it’s Sunday – I hadn’t found a game outside of league night for a while – what the hell – off I go looking for the places I’d      recently been told about. The town was named Marlton and was about 25 miles away. I drive up route 130 through Woodbury and to Ellisburg traffic circle in Belmawr and then on to rt. 70, and through Collingswood and Haddonfield to Marlton. Drive slowly; look for the places on both the left and right since I didn’t know where, exactly, they were. I know the names of the places but not what they look like or their addresses. I spot one. It’s on the right and I’m in the left lane and can’t get across the traffic in the right lane, of course, so I look for a place to do a U turn. As I go I spot one of the other places and it’s on the other side of the street, right where I’d be turning to. I make my U turn and come to the other place first. Since I’m here why not check this place out? 

 

Not very many cars in the lot and that’s not a good sign. It looks kind of dumpy but let’s see what we have here. Dirt parking lot, door in front on the street side, Schlitz beer neon sign in the window. Inside its sort of dingy, TV behind the bar, one person sitting at the bar, talks with the barmaid. It is early afternoon which is not really the best time for fishing. The dart board is on the other side of the bar where the rest rooms are. Yea, hi, just a coke I think, thanks: to the frumpy looking bar maid. She’s seen her better days. I light a Chesterfield; half the ash trays still have butts and ashes in them. The place smells like stale smoke and beer taps that need cleaning. It’s sort of like the joint is getting over a hang over from the night before. Like this is a night time place not used to daylight and doesn’t like it.

 

Nothing to do but drink, look at the TV, or talk to the barmaid or other guy. The guy at the bar has the appearance that most bar flies have at that time of day: rumpled clothes, needs a shave and probably a bath. Shot glass in front of him, half full, and a glass of beer, also half full. Looks like it might be a lively place on the right night what with tables over by the wall where the rest rooms are and a bumper pool table over there too. Shuffle board behind me along the wall on the street side. It’s a hang out kind of place.

 

I take my coke around to the dart board side of the bar. Search around for the light switch on the dart board. I’m told the bar maid will turn it on. Thanks, I give her. I shoot a handful and discover it really is early afternoon – my arm hardly works. I’d better throw some to get some kind of stroke. I could pretty much tell this place was not going to pay off. I killed twenty minutes and two cokes, and then headed for my car. There was another place just up the street, between where I was headed in the first place and this joint I was just leaving. I pulled in the lot, three cars, not looking good but who knows? Same act. Just a coke I think, thanks, to the bartender. There’s a dart league schedule on the wall by the dart board. Hope brightens. I recognized the names of a couple of the bars on the schedule, looks as though Thursday night is the night in this place. I could turn the dart board light on myself. Three guys at the bar, watching TV, one has a bottle of beer and the other two have shot glasses with what looks like water back. Heavy boozers in the afternoon are not dart shooters. The beer guy could be, so let’s go into the act. Walk to the dart board, turn on the light, shoot a few. Well, they feel better than they did in the other place. Coke is gone, order another one? No, maybe a small draught beer this time. Can’t drink coke all day, that stuff will get you so wired you can’t sleep. That’s supposed to be from the cocaine in it I think. After about another twenty minutes beer guy leaves. OK, that’s long enough here, lets go see if there is anything at the place I started for in the first place. Some body with too much money for the talent they have will probably walk in just after I leave: wouldn’t be the first time. I’m already thinking about a couple of other places I know of but it is just too early in the day for them, even considering the travel time to cover the miles and towns to get to where they are.

 

Let’s see what this place has to offer. Bigger, paved parking lot, and steps to climb to the door. Hey, the place looks kind of clean. Hi, no, I think I’ll just have a coke, thanks. Four guys are on the far side of the U shaped bar, dart board is on this side of bar. Two guys sitting at a table in front of the window about even with the u part of the bar. This looks like it might be one of those days, maybe I’ll just call it quits. But not just yet, maybe someone will come in.

 

Over to the dart board, find the light switch, shoot a couple of hands full and go back to my seat, which is at the bar about six or eight feet behind the oche. Nibble at the coke, wander back up to the board, putz with the darts, keep and eye on the guys on the other side of the bar because they’ve noticed what I’m doing. Back to my seat and look at the TV for a few minutes. Nibble some more at the coke and head back to the board. “Pardon me,” comes from the shorter guy at the table by the window. “Want to play a few games?” Sure, nothing much else to do, I say. You want to warm up? “Nah, I’m not very good so it won’t make much difference. “ Oh? OK. Want to shoot the cork to see who calls the game? “Huh? Yea, sure.” He is not as bad at this game as he seems to want me to believe. It shows, in the way he is so comfortable. I’ll give you one I say and I’m thinking: come close to the cork but don’t hit it. He misses outside my shot. Every thing counts for six innings, I ask? “Yea, sure.” I’ll go second, I say. “OK.” He shoots, two doubles, scores four, with one dart outside the scoring area, I shoot and hit four too, but one triple and one single with one dart outside the scoring area. He can group two, I can’t.  We take turns for the six innings, both hitting fours and fives; I have one dart missing most of the time. No sign of being able to group three darts from me, or him.  I never win by more than three points.

 

How about we skip the cork and just play loser first, I ask. “Alright with me, he says. You want to play for something, he asks?” Oh, I don’t know about that, I say. He shrugs, “makes it better to play for something.” Yea, I guess. How about a drink, I say? “I’m full of drinks, he says. Why not play for the price of a drink or a quarter a game?”

 

I like how this is going. It’s not so boring now. Well, I guess that would be better. I can only drink so many my self. I guess a quarter would be alright, I say. We play the same game again. This time he wins by two. “I got ya on that one,” he says with a big smile. I give him a quarter. You made a couple of good shots, I say. OK, same game, I ask? “How about three innings instead of six, he says?” Why not, I say. I shoot first and this game I win and again it’s by three. Gimme my quarter back, I say, and he smiles. “Same game” he says as he shoots first. I’m sizing him up for an increase to $.50 a game. We play for about fifteen minutes and then other guy at the table says, “Why don’t I get in the game too, no sense just sitting here?” The situation changes, big time.

 

Hmm, I think. I’m caught between the two of them. I’ve seen this before. I need to watch how this goes. I need to be very careful here. This could go a couple of different ways.

 

“OK,” says the blond haired guy (he’s the short one who got up first). Did I mention the blond haired guy spoke with an accent? Sounded like Swedish or something. “Shoot the cork, He says?” Sure, I say. No body introduces them self and nobody seems to mind that we don’t know each other’s name. I’m liking this more all the time.

 

We play a few games. The dark haired guy seems very comfortable around the board and his stroke is much smoother than the blonde’s. I’m about one quarter up when the dark haired guy says “Let’s make it fifty cents. No body’s getting hurt here.” Blondie says “OK with me.” I guess that would be alright, I say.

 

I’m still working on what’s happening here. And we play a few more games. I’m now about a dollar up. Blondie says “I got to go to men’s room,” and darky says “C’mon we don’t have to wait for him to come back.” Yea, I guess, I say.

 

We play two games he gets one I get one. Blondie comes back. “I’m tired of playing, I’m going to sit down and have a drink.”

 

It is now me and Darky playing three inning games for fifty cents a game. Ah so, this is the way this is going, I think. I win the next game and the next then lose the third. Darky is now hitting fives and sixes pretty steadily. “You play pretty well, huh, he asks?” I don’t do bad, I say, with just a bit of attitude. Darky hears what he wants. We play a few more games. “What do you say we make it a buck, he says?” I’ve seen seed money lost early before. I glance at the money on the bar by my coke. Sure, I say.

 

Now Darky has heard and seen exactly what he wants to hear and see. Darky walks to his table, sips from his drink and says something to Blondie softly enough that I can’t hear, while he looks out the window for a few seconds. We play a few more games and Darky is now hitting sixes and sevens and my coke now has more company, in the form of money. And now it’s the kind of money that doesn’t make noise when you drop it.

 

Darky walks over to Blondie, speaks to him softly enough that I can’t hear, while he looks out the window and takes a sip from his drink. He decides now is the time. I’m ready to be hauled in, hook firmly in my mouth. “You’re doing very good. How about two?” I take a drink from my coke and move the money on the bar around a bit with one finger, I can go for that, I say.

 

Darky is now getting down to it. He is hitting sixes, sevens, and eights in tight little groups of darts and my coke is getting more dollars for more company. He is winning games, and often. The ones he is losing are being lost by one, two or three points. He is just barely out of the money and only needs to improve on that one dart. He also knows I can’t keep this up and he just needs one more point to change the direction of the flow of money before he tries to raise the stakes.

 

Darky walks over to his shill, Blondie, sips his drink, looks out the window and speaks softly to Blondie. Blondie says something to him. Darky comes back to the board and makes a proposition. “You’re getting into me pretty good there, and we’re waiting for our dates to show up so how about giving me a chance to get my money back?” I touch the money around my coke. I can go for that, I say. “Two innings for five bucks?” Sure, I say. I have now been set up for the kill.

 

We get to playing; the only words exchanged are used to call the game. We’re playing winner calls the game and loser first. We play for maybe half an hour. Darky walks over to the table, takes a sip of his drink, looks out the window and speaks softly to Blondie. Blondie says something. Darky says “I’d like to stay here and clean you out but we have to go get our dates for dinner. You’re lucky you caught me at a bad time.” There’s nastiness to his tone.

 

As I toy a finger around in the money by my coke – It’s really too bad you have to go, I say.

 

You’re lucky I got to go, comes from Darky, with a bite to it.

 

I look him dead in the eyes – The only thing you got to do is remember that in order to hustle some body you have to be better than they are, I say.

 

Blondie and darky left. As I pulled out of the parking lot I was thinking about how really effective losing one and winning two is. On another day I learned from some people in Philly that Wes Keys and his money backer traveled all over Philly hustling and his big mouth got him in a lot of trouble. And hurt a bit.

 

Too bad they had dates that were supposed to show but then they had to leave to pick them up before I could find out just how much faith Blondie had in Darky.

 

Fishing on Sunday can be fun. Especially when you get to meet a Wes Keys.