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Mathews Pool Hall and Barber Shop was like a magnet to young boys. The brass rails on the floor along the bar with a spittoon at each end. The cigars and pickled gizzards on the back bar. The smell of the place almost formed a wall of it's own as you entered this wonderful pool parlor. The odor was a combination of cigar and cigarette smoke, along with stale beer that over the years had become a permanent part of the structure. This was not the youth center our parents had in mind for us, but it was almost like we laid out the blueprint for a boys club.

Bob Mathews was the combination Barkeep and Barber. He always wore suspenders and a dingy gray shirt that used to be white. It was only fitting that he smelled like a saloon because he was so much a part of the place. He was a bald man and he cut hair like he was mad at the people who had hair. If Mathews cut your hair everyone smiled at you and said, "Been to Mathews huh?" Oh well, it will grow out." It took that long just for the bay rum hair oil to wear off.

It cost a dime to shoot a game of pool. The tables had net pockets to catch the balls. Overhead was a wire with wood slides to keep score. Mathews used matchbooks to level the tables, but he didn't always get around to it and the old timers who knew the tables had the advantage.

The man everyone called "Arkie" hung out at Mathews and he smelled just like the place. He lived in a shack by the railroad tracks and had no visible means of support. All the young kids in town were afraid of Arkie because he had been convicted and did time in prison for manslaughter. I was surprised one day when he said to me, "Morrie, let me give you a couple of tips on shooting pool." He said, "Lay your hand flat then raise it a little to build a bridge for the cue stick, get eye level with the table and keep both feet flat on the floor, don't use English unless you have to, and think at least one shot ahead for position. Remember, anyone can be beat." Then he said, "Morrie, tell the young kids not to be afraid of old Arkie. I'm not a bad man, and they don't know my life." I started to win more games after my pool lesson.

I know it's said good people don't hang out in saloons and pool halls, but I'm not so damn sure about that.