A friend of mine was in town and she called me at work and said we should get together for a drink and catch up on each other’s lives. I had no plans, so I agreed to meet her after work. We went for an early dinner at a local bar and restaurant. We had a pizza, talked, and watch a couple guys shoot pool. No big deal.
Watching those guys shoot pool made me think of my obsession with the 8-ball.
At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I was in a bar near closing time. I put my money in the pool table coin slot, pressed the lever in, and waited for the 15 pool balls to release from the machine. Unfortunately, only 14 balls were dispensed. I went over to the bartender asking for a refund. He informed me that there was no refunds on the pool table. Besides he informed me it was closing time. I was a little agitated, but nothing to get worked up about.
Since I was a little tipsy, and wasn’t used to being taken advantage of, I was determined to get my money’s worth. On my way out of the bar, I picked the 8-ball from the tray, put it in my pocket, and left the bar. Little did I know that, over the next three and a half years, I would acquire many more of these.
I’m not sure what possessed me to take it. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was just the thrill of taking something that didn’t belong to me, or maybe it was just because I always did the right things.
From that night forward, before exiting a bar, I would palm the 8-ball from the pool table. I would just slip it in the big pocket on the front of my hooded sweatshirt and walk out. I never took any other pool ball, only the 8-ball.
To me, I thought it was just a harmless prank. But, the bars didn’t. They would post nasty messages about someone stealing the black pool ball. Some bars started asking for a $10 deposit. Eventually, I noticed that bars were spray painting the cue ball or a different numbered ball because there was an 8-ball shortage in town.
There was only one bar that I never stole the 8-ball from.
My roommate and I would go into this gay bar on Friday mornings to play pool. It was the only place that pool was still a quarter. I used to joke that the only things straight in that bar were the two of us and the pool cues.
Every other bar in town that I went into, I took the 8-ball.
A month into my crime spree, there was an article in the town’s newspaper about the recent thefts of the 8-balls at the bars. The police were under the impression that these pool balls were being stolen from the bars and sold as stick shift tops for hot rods. They had no explanation for why only the 8-ball was being stolen from pool tables, though.
I think after I acquired 25 of them, my college roommate caught on. He saw them sitting in my closet. I’m not sure he ever told anyone and we never discussed it. I can still see that “cat that swallowed the canary smile.”
First, it was a couple of 8-balls in my drawer at school. Then it became a shoe box. Eventually, I would take them home every so often and stack them neatly in one of my ski boots boxes. The ski boot box could easily hold approximately 147 of these. In less than six months, that box was filled up. When one box filled up, I just got a bigger box.
When I would go on road trips, I would continue to grab the 8-balls off of tables.
Where did this all end? I can tell you that during those 3-1/2 years, I stole the 8-ball from bars as far west as San Francisco, California. As far south as Houston, Texas. As far east as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As far north as Superior, Wisconsin.
In all that time, I never even came close to getting caught. The last 8-ball I ever stole was in Beaver Creek, Colorado in February, 1983.
When all was said and done, I could fill a clothes washer box with 8-balls. I would estimate there were at least 1,000 8-balls pilfered. It took me four trips to the dump in my truck to get rid of these. I was so paranoid that I watched the dump to find out when and where they picked up the garbage and buried it. I marked the boxes by writing “Do not open dead animals enclosed” or something equally disgusting written on the outside of the boxes. Again, I was lucky that No one ever looked inside.
The really crazy thing is I know why I stole the first pool ball. After that first one, I haven’t a clue why I kept taking them. I never had an inclination to take another pool ball, since.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
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