While a copyboy with the Virginia Pilot Newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia, I would sometimes grab a hotdog at St. Elmo’s billiard parlor. St. Elmo’s was a classic, early twentieth century pool room, located on a second floor above Granby Street. One day at lunch the place was empty save for the proprietor, Carolina, and dozens of pool tables. I sat in one of the folding chairs along the wall.
As I ate, I very distinguished looking gentleman came up the stairs, chatted a moment with Carolina, then proceeded to the table in front of me. Several things caught my attention; he had his own impressive pool cue, his own box of pool balls, and after emptying the box on the table, racked the balls with a quick maneuver of his wrists and embows. I had yet to take another bite of my lunch.
He then began to play. He was practicing straight pool, a game where you try to make fourteen of the fifteen balls, while leaving a final ball as a “break ball.” You then shoot the ball in a pocket while the cue ball hopefully disrupts the next rack to free other balls so you can continue shooting. The game requires strategy and meticulous positioning of the cue ball for your next shot. I watched in awe as without missing he made the first fourteen balls, positioned on his break ball, broke the rack, and ran the next rack of fourteen. The playing continued in this manner for five racks (over 70 balls) when he finally missed. He then mumbled something like “that’s enough”, put away his pool cue and pool balls, carried them to the proprietor, headed down the steps and out the door.
Getting up from my chair, I went straight to Carolina and asked who the man was. “Why that was Wimpy Lassiter, the World Champion,” he said with a grin.
As I recall that day, I don’t believe Carolina was the only one grinning about a young man’s amazement, and it was odd that of dozens of tables Wimpy chose the one right in front of me to practice. So that’s why I painted him with the grin.