You know the experience. You walk through a door and you think, “Am I in the right place?” That’s how I felt when Mike and I strolled into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, Oregon one afternoon on our “Great 2018 Pool Hall Road Tour.”.It looked like a pool hall as we stood in the doorway; there were players at the tables. But about a third of the way alongside the left wall was large opening and through the opening we could see from a sideways glance that some kind of furniture piled on top of each other. At first I thought I was in a pool hall slash furniture warehouse, but when we walked through the opening we could see that the large pieces of “furniture” were pool tables. You just don’t get to see that many legs in the air at one time unless you’re in the front row of the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall, and I still couldn’t figure out why these tables were there. Mike must have realized right away because he left me standing there dumbfounded while he was already walking into the next room where other pool tables were doing what they’re supposed to do, standing up right with no other table on top of them.
A Room That Displays Things Is A ….
It wasn’t long before the owner, Jimmy came in. I think he was wondering what I was up to. Even I was wondering what we were up to! I guess I was trying to figure out what exactly this place,”The Cue Ball,” was. Was it a museum, a furniture warehouse, an assisted living program for old pool tables? No. On closer look, the tables stacked in front of my eyes (there must have been 8 to 12 in that room) were all brand new, all different woods, different makes and different models.
This was a showroom! I was standing in the middle of a pool table showroom! “People come in and pick out a model of table for their home,” Jimmy explained slowly so it would somehow sink through my head. “They can order their choice of pockets and special cloth. They can order a 7, 8, or 9 ft table dependent on their room size.”
When you think about it, stacking up the tables on top of each other is the best solution for a pool table showroom. You can fit more models into your space and still get a pretty good idea of what the table beneath it looks like, so I was getting the picture.
Statues, Murals, and Memories
Jimmy probably figured out from the moment we walked in that we hadn’t come to buy a pool table, but I now felt compelled to explain exactly what we were doing at his pool hall/showroom. I had no idea what Mike was doing. He’s pretty much a Lone Ranger when it comes to pool halls. So Jimmy, being a kind and easy-going guy who has a lot of history burning a hole in his pocket, was quite willing to answer my questions as he showed me around.
I would have needed to have remembered my Shorthand class in high school much better to write down everything Jimmy explained to me about this unassuming space and the history of the objects in it. Jimmy has been in the business for fifty-five years, so he has met with some of the great pool players of our time and has some artifacts from historic places around Oregon. One or two of the murals on the back wall of “Cue Ball” is from an auction of articles from a famous hotel on the Columbia River in Portland. (Perhaps Jimmy said “The Red Line: or “The Red Lion,” I’m not sure.) The life-size stature of the pool players are from a billiard club that went out of business. I don’t think those guys are ever leaving “The Cue Ball.” If you stop into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, be sure to check out the wall on the right. There’ll you’ll find an old poster of “Cowboy” Jimmy Moore who put on a demonstration at “The Cue Ball” back in the day. Any one who has been around pool players has heard the name Mosconi and apparently Jimmy Moore had beaten Mosconi at one point, and, Minnesota Fats.
But The Best…
But while you’re looking at the right wall, you’ll see a space saved for the memory of a special friend of Jimmy’s, Don Malarkey. There’s a painting signed by Don Malarkey who was a member of “the band of brothers,” one of the groups of paratroopers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 1944. If I had had my wits about me, I would have told Jimmy about my former father-in-law, who had told me stories about that day – being pulled down into the sea because of the equipment they landed with – not finding their unit for days afterward. However, American historian Stephen E Ambrose, compiled the story of that campaign from extensive interviews with veterans of the “Easy Company.” the Airborne’s 506th Regiment.J, and Don Malarkey was one of them. Spielberg’s movie with Tom Hanks was made following that book and the HBO series, Band of Brothers, is from that era. Jimmy was proud of the large impressive slate carving of a pool hall on the wall which he told me, was a gift from his long-time friend, Don.
Time had slipped away from us that afternoon at “The Cue Ball,” but before we had to leave, it occurred to me that there must be a reason that Jimmy Lebold has kept this pool hall/pool table/pool equipment shop running all these 55 years. I could guess what that reason might be, but I thought I’d ask to find out. His answer was not what I expected. I thought he might have said because he loves the game of billiards or that it’s been a nice living. But he didn’t. He didn’t have to stop long to answer either. “The reason I keep doing this?” he reiterated. And then he said, as if it was obvious, “That’s easy. It’s brought me hundreds of friends!”