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1. Tex Martin walked out of the Tropicana coffee shop after finishing lunch. He just enjoyed the now famous Tropicana burger, which consisted of a large hamburger, French fries, and a salad with dressing of your choice. I can't attest to how healthy these were but they were delicious so for a couple of bucks you were guaranteed a good meal. Tex put a toothpick in his mouth and strolls down the main concourse contemplating his rather meager bankroll.

After a few minutes of looking around the pool hall a local player asks him if he wants to play some pool. Tex considers the offer and answers: "How about some nine ball for $2.00 a pop."

The player reached into his pocket and pulled out a large bankroll. He then looked at Tex and replied: "I think you are trying to run that toothpick of yours into a lumber yard".

The place roared and forever after anyone taking a shot with no money might confide to the closest sweater: "I'm trying to turn a toothpick into a lumber yard."

2. This is an old story of two local players that were regulars at the Trop as told by Tex Martin. Joe the Barber and Don Murrey, the Lakewood Lamb Killer would match up weekdays in the afternoon. Neither of these guys were road players; they each had regular jobs but could play pool and liked to gamble. Each in his own way wanted some sort of edge and was willing to "chirp"* before any given rules were agreed upon. Joe the Barber got his name because he really was a barber. Murrey got his name because he had a reputation of always matching up with the best of it.

The Barber and Murrey played even, and as usual everyone thought that Murrey had the edge. They played golf on one of the two 5 by 10 snooker tables and used the chalk-boards next to the tables to keep score. The usual bet was $5.00 a game and a nickel a hickey. Nether player had to put up anything because each was respectable and with regular jobs they both knew each could win something.

As usual each player kept his own score, but sometimes Murrey would place a chalk mark, indicating his hickey on the side of the board that belonged to Joe the Barber. After a time Joe might comment that the number of hickeys under his name seemed out of line. Don would simply say he had forgotten how many times he fouled and should pay more attention to what was happening.

If Murrey lost the game, he would sometimes put the money in one of the table pockets and if Joe forgot to pick it up Don would put the money back in his pocket.

Now don't assume Joe the Barber was some sort of simpleton. He was not and not many people got his money. Sometimes, however he lost track of the details. Joe is not with us anymore, I remember him as a friendly old guy who just liked to play pool in the afternoon. Don Murrey is alive and well, married to the same lady all these years, and raised a family getting the best of it most of the time.

I talked with him recently at Mr. Luckys in Hawthorne and he is still entertaining with pomp and circumstance. He was one of the many Tropicana regulars with stories and aphorisms enough to make everyone laugh. "I’m telling you Richard; keep your money in your pocket. This guy ran out three times in a row, his game will kill corn knee high."

And Don is still fond of using the word "awful" and smiling in the process. "It was awful, they never won a game." He was talking about the last time he took down all the money.

* Chirping: A time honored tradition and particular way of telling a story which has been developed into an art-form by some players. Usually used to relate a pool or gambling event and created in such a way as to impress, regal, shark, or gain an advantage. Rules: The tale may be true, partly true, or a complete fabrication but in all cases it must be entertaining. Exaggeration is not only allowed it is encouraged.

One of the most outrageous story tellers was, of course, Minnesota Fats (Rudolph Wonderone). Now keep in mind you don't have to be a world class player to enthral an audience. Ronny Allen told me that Fats was the best at complete fiction. Allen relates a common Fatty theme he first heard in the early sixties: "Why I once swam 100 miles underwater to bust a maharajah." "The more outrages he was, the more people wanted" according to Allen.

Money player and pool commentator Danny Diliberto was once asked what he thought of Minnesota Fats. He replied that the pool community and press "got what they deserved" for encouraging such fabled stories. He could not believe people stood in line to hear how Fatty "Never lost a game to any living human."

3. Names are sometimes memorable, especially if the player is famous. But a descriptive moniker is unforgettable, whether they are famous or not. Don Hinzo and I talked about how many pool players initially matched up without a formal of introduction. In the beginning this was probably done to hide illegal activity but in the end many players were given second names which made them bigger than life and easy to remember. This process provided them a kind of immortality, whether they were champions, short-stops, or just liked to gamble and could be remembered for a physical trait. At the Tropicana there were people like The Sweater, Fisco Jack, Bucktooth, Fat Jay, Little Richie, Harry the Horse, Crying Sam, The Bubble, One-Eyed Hank, The Squirrel, Rags, Eight Ball Louie, Little Al, The Tuna, Canadian Don, Las Vegas Tommy, "Mad Dog" Mizerak (No relation to the great Hall of Fame player Steve Mizerak), Careful Lou, Joe the Barber, The Lakewood Lamb Killer, Uncle Joe, Fast Eddie, Clem, Fat Kenny, Buttermilk, and Heavy Duty.

Lyman Moss emailed a few more monikers. Lyman and his brother Lester were early regulars at the Tropicana. Lester was a first rate bowler, loved pot games, and like me could not stay away from Gardena. Lyman was one of the few that had a good job, being a designer he was always employed. He also liked to play cards, was a handsome fellow and met his beautiful wife Sheri at the Trop. They are still married today, living in Washington and have two grown children. Here are a few more players as he remembers their names: Bakersfield Bob, Glendale Johnnie, Charlie the Tuna, Philly Lou, Hollywood Jack, Barney and Japenese Mike.

Now for the real scoop as to who was who among the world's greatest road players you will need Buddy Hall: Rags To Rifleman, Then What? (W.W. Woody) for in Appendix B he list no less than 182 players under Who's Who In Pool, Names and Monikers Of Real People In The Pool World. I have already noted the book is a great read, but this list alone is worth the price of admission. Also consider this link on the One Pocket site: http://www.onepocket.org/Nicknames which is also an amazing effort.

 

4. These two pictures are of Tommy Johannedes, the early one in his Tropicana days, the latter taken before he passed away. Tom was better known to the Tropicana following as Las Vegas Tommy or LVT. He picked up the moniker because when he was broke he would walk up to a dice table in Vegas and ask the dealer for a bet on the come before he purchased chips. In the old days they would let you do this, as a courtesy. This took some timing to make it look right and if you lost security escorted you to the front door so the play was not for the fainthearted. Tom was the first physically challenged person I ever met and was one of the many unforgettable characters that made the Tropicana home. Did his handicap make any difference to the other players at the Trop? Not in the least, as your physical stature, color, heritage, education or lack thereof was not important to anyone. The only thing that mattered was whether you wanted to gamble and how much heart you had. Tom also knew how to win and was intensely interested in busting you before you busted him. Tom did not play pool, but he was down when it came to any sort of card game and he loved Gardena. Back in those days each player dealt the table in proper order. In other words there was no button and house dealer as seen today. Well Tom was not that good at dealing because his hand coordination was not up to speed. "So be it" according to Tommy and he would pass the deal most of the time. But sometimes he sensed the table thought his play was too slow so he would take the deal to make a point. And if anyone said anything his famous answer was never too far away: "F_ _ _ Y _ _, and play poker". Tommy never took any abuse from anyone and yet there was a kind side to him easily seen over a cup of coffee. He lived a great life, had several girl friends and was always ready to bet something, whether or not he had any money.

During our last Tropicana reunion in Vegas I talked with Mike Fagley about Tommy. He corrected my story about Tommy betting in Vegas without a dime in his pocket and I like his version much better:

Hi Jerry

I meant to write earlier, however I have not yet located the Tropicana ash tray I told Richie I would send to him. However Richie wanted me to write about L.V.T. and his exploits as a young man in Las Vegas.

A pool player from the east coast told Tommy he could do very well as a con man in Vegas... Tommy perked right up like it was his calling... Basically Tommy { in the beginning } would walk up to the Crap Table just as the dice were being thrown. He then would hand the crap dealer sixty dollars and say give me the mumble jumble... At that time the dice were on the table let's say the # was six landed, the dealer would ask Tommy what did you say and Tommy would say give me sixty dollars on the six... The dealer had no choice but to pay Tommy off... Tommy would then hang around and make a few five dollar bets and win or lose he would excuse himself and mosey on... Toooooooo the next casino that is, where he would repeat the same action and mosey to the next casino... What he needed to do was keep a base of sixty dollars and it worked so beautifully that he did it every time he went to Vegas for the next three years.

However all good things must come to an end. Tommy got a little lazy and didn't keep the base {sixty dollars} and started approaching the crap table with no money and instead of handing the dealer the money he simply called out his bet {stating give me mumble jumble} which was sixty dollars on the # that fell... This even worked for quite awhile. He made complete asses out of crap dealers and pit bosses for years. I believe Tommy's handicap was the reason so many dealers and bosses let him get away with it because others tried it without near the success that Tommy had. I never had the gutz, but others who observed Tommy's ability to con motivated them. Some were thrown out of the casino, some were simply told we will not pay you and you had better move on. However Tommy continued to pull it off without a problem.

One night while Tommy was desperate for money he approached the crap table just as the dice were being thrown and three pit bosses two floor men and a table full of dealers all said {as the dice were in the air} NO BET...He scurried to the next casino on the strip and received the same treatment...And then the next, and the next, and the next.

It was over. The word was out and all the casino's were in on it. Downtown, north Vegas, the strip, wherever he went he was marked... It lasted a long time and I think Tommy thought it would last forever...

No longer are the dealers allowed to accept money while the dice are in the air...It's a No No and Tommy changed the rules in every casino that has a crap table ... He changed call bets forever. If a dealer does not fully understand the bet called out there is NO BET!!!

It's true Tommy had a distinct handicap, but he had a lot of gutz also, more than me every day of the week.

Las Vegas Tommy

King of the call bets!!

Yours Truly

Mike Fagaly

5. Do you remember the name of the hotel right next to the Tropicana? Originally this two story hotel was modern, clean, and cheap. It's southern side was the first building to the north of the Trop. It was a favorite place to stay for local hustlers and road players because of the price and convenient location. It was called the Starlight Hotel and was available daily, weekly, or by the month. Their preferred method of payment was cash in advance. There were plenty of players that shot pool all night, had breakfast (if they managed a win) in the Trop Coffee Shop and slept the day away, getting ready for the next night's action.

6. Do you remember Hal Johnson? About 5 foot 10 inches, wore glasses, married to a nice lady. Hal was an interesting fellow to all the Trop denizens because he worked for Northrop Aviation and so had a steady income. He liked to play pool, was pretty good at the game, had a great personality, and liked to do crazy stuff. All of this of course made him a healthy target and always welcome to a friendly afternoon game. Most of the time he matched up playing singles, sometimes winning sometimes losing. When he lost he provided commentary that was usually "x" rated but always entertaining. He once lost playing Tex even 9-ball and in the middle of the game stopped playing. He then took down his pants, including the underwear and proceeded to lean over the table. "Go ahead, your doing it to me on the table, you might as well get the real thing". The pool hall roared, and while Tex never availed himself of the offer, we asked him to give Hal something in the hope of avoiding such displays in the future.

On this particular summer day Hal made the tactical mistake of playing partners one pocket with three other players that were down on their luck and subsequent bankroll. The named players were Tex Martin, Don Murrey, and Jake Roberts. Tex had a little gamble in him, but Roberts and Murrey were two of the all time great nut hunters of the age. The partners were Murrey and Tex against Hal and Roberts with coaching allowed. Stakes were $20 a game and Hal had a little over two hundred in his pocket. Pretty fair money in those days and of course a big temptation when players were really hungry (which was usually the case). When the game was over Hal was broke and on his way home to explain to his wife what happened to the cash. At the same time, Tex, Murrey and Roberts met in the bathroom, cut up Hal's money and got a little over $70 each for their effort.

7. Who out there remembers Gorden's Bar, on Western Avenue close to the Normandie Club in Gardena? A great bar with plenty of action and if you did not over cut the rent money the card action was within walking distance. This short tale concerns Tex Martin and the late Kenny Anderson. Tex was a good player but Anderson was better and they joined forces once in awhile looking for an extra buck. But like all things relating to hustling pool everything is not always as it seems. Kenny and Tex walk into Gorden's one evening and before long Kenny was down being the superior player. They had a common bankroll on this outing so Tex watched the game carefully from beginning to end. He also kept track of the money and at $10 a game figured Kenny had won $150.00 after the session was over. Anderson excuses himself and takes a bathroom break. When he comes out he and Tex walk to the car and he hands Tex $40.00. Tex looks at the money and questions the count. According to Tex he kept track of everything and Kenny should have been up $150.00, that makes his half $75.00 not $40.00. Kenny tells Tex he can't count worth a shit and should be a grateful winner not an ass hole. What really happened in the bathroom was that Tex was a victim of the infamous "Rat Hole", common in many splits. At the opportune time the winning player moves a few extra bills into a side pocket, so when the total is counted, and split, the numbers favor the shooter. Most of the time this common move is accomplished without incident, especially if the sessions are long.

8. This from Arizona Dave (fairwinds@cox.net). We exchanged email about 2 year\'s ago. You asked for stories. Finally got around to typin\' one up. Let me know if this is acceptable or if you want it cleaned up and improved. And BTW, I DO remember YOU from those days.

AD

Tropicana Lanes was home base for a time for AD during the 60’s. Those were the days you could find a NY Blackie, Dean Chance, Bo Bolinski, Charlie Straight Arrow (once witnessed him drop 7 balls on a 9-ball break there), Little Al, Ronnie Allen, Little Ritchie, Popcorn, U J Puckett, San Jose Dick, Frisco Jack, Jersey Red, or any of a score of other name players looking for a game on any given night in that hotspot for LA action. It is still a place of found memories of good youthful times were one could play any man in any land for any amount that he could count.

Three of a kind from those days:

A Slow Night on a Dark Street

Was staying in Inglewood in those days as a road player out of Phoenix. Car was laid up in the garage being repaired. Walked down West Boulevard with my Harvey Martin packed in it’s case one night past those dark bars with their usual one or two customers. Came up upon one with many cars parked outside. I walked in and found no one at the bar, they were all in the back room. Musta been 40 folks packed around the walls of that back room with one pool table. Two old guys were playin’ 8-ball and the men lining the walls were bookin’ side action.

I put my quarter on the rail to challenge the game. Just about then the white-haired player looked at me and said, you know, we’re playin’ for $100 a game. I said, that’s OK by me. Perhaps I should note here that I was packing maybe $120.

Well, we played until 2PM when the bar closed. I was up maybe 5 or 6 hundred and didn’t want this old man to escape, so I suggested we go to the big tables at Hanmer’s in Inglewood (a place I was managing, BTW). The old geezer said, OK.

Got to Hanmer’s before the old man. Told Bill Berry (the fellow working the desk) that I was bringing in a sucker. Just about that time the geezer walked in the room with his entourage. Bill Berry turned several shades of white. I asked, what’s wrong, do you know this guy? He just said, "I’m not sayin’ nothing." Well, 5 minutes went by as I queried Bill about who this guy was. Finally Bill told me my geezer, my sucker, the fellow I let escape was ‘Cowboy’ Jimmy Moore, 6 time runner up at the world championships. Needless to say, we didn’t play on that night. BTW, the old gal who owned Hanmer’s told me Ralph Greenleaf managed the room at one time for she and her husband. She relayed many stories about Greenleaf, but that’s for another time.

The Shot

Was lookin’ for action out in the Valley one night. Came upon a place where Jack Cooney (Frisco Jack) was in action. Observed the greatest shot I ever saw. Jack came up to the table with the cue ball frozen to the center of the head rail. The eight ball was frozen to the exact center of the foot rail. Opponent’s object balls were blocking banking the eight to the opposite corner pockets. The eight was Jack’s only ball, he proceeded to back cut the eight into the foot rail corner pocket and you just knew he was going to make it. Try that shot sometime.

Jimmy’s Steak House

Jimmy’s was the spot players went looking for action when the bars closed. They had one 6-foot table with a string of challenging quarters a foot long. One night I went there with Little Al to work the room. I got some guy from a rock band who wanted to play for a grand a game. Got a backer who owned a bar. Well, beat the guy for over $12K and he wanted to pay in traveler’s checks.

Al and I decided to give the check’s to the backer to cash the next morning. Needless to say, the backer stiffed us, lesson learned.

Last updated and corrected May 7, 2007. This page is also a work in progress so check for the latest version by using your refresh button (Hold the control button down on your keyboard and push the refresh key on your browser). Comments or suggestions are always appreciated and thanks for reading. (RSchwary@aol.com)