Playing With Bawles
We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ‘till broad daylight,
We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight.
When it’s Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven too,

     Harold broke in with his own fatuous chorus: "I’ll be gruntin’ strong and MAKE SOME POOH!"

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight,
We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ‘till broad daylight,
We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight.[1]

     It had been that type of trip for Harold, ever since he had left his hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan; around 4:36 in the morning. Nothing but a long, dark, monotonous stretch of road lay ahead of him. Unlike most of the travelers on this deserted pre-dawn freeway, Harold occupied his lonely time by whistling and mumbling a few of the tunes that he half-remembered from his Aunt Penny's oldies-but-goodies-out-of-print-top-50's radio records. He was never bothered by his own misunderstood sounds, however. In fact, he considered himself rather blessed with an original gift, so he continued to sing and mumble to his self; although his friends had always thought of it as being absolutely queer. Adjusting his posture on the old plastic seat cover, Harold squinted one eye closed, then thought out loud, "I wonder if I should start this journey at my hang-out spot back home, instead of nine miles outside of Colon, Michigan? Welp...why not?!? Besides, who'd want to read about some God-forsaken town named after some farmer's ass?"

     Harold peered down the long, slightly-bowed cue stick, fixing his aim on the dull-white marked-up billiard ball. Slowly, he oscillated the stick backwards and forward until he felt comfortable with the right degree of impact. Softly whistling in tune with the Robert Johnson song in the background, he quickly speared the front of the splintery wooden rod between his thumb and index finger, striking the unsuspecting cue ball at an accelerated rate. A tremendous pop ensued, echoed in the pool hall's chamber like a giant baboon slapping two coconuts together. In a brilliant display of colliding colors, Harold sank six of the fifteen balls running around the slightly skewed pool table. To his opponent's chagrin, Harold had only one more ball to sink, besides the eight-ball, before he won the game.

     "Damn you, Harry! If I lose any more quarters, I'm gonna have to start barkin' like a dog and beggin' for scraps down at the old folks home,” Flake spewed.
     "Okay, Flakie," Harold motioned, "go ahead and make your run. I don't want to take all the fun out of the game."
      Flakie was a gangly kid, with the sides of his head shaved to a military-style sandpaper finish and the top of his head sporting a flat-top. He was wearing a fashionable red and green plaid shirt with worn blue-denim high-waters and turned-up cuffs. Flakie pondered his chances against an opponent that had beaten him in a game of pool since he was five years old. Rubbing his chin profoundly, he bent down to scrutinize the worn felt fabric of the old pool table.

     Harold started to laugh under his breath, reminiscing about the old electric football game the boys use to play a few years ago at Flake's house during the Christmas holidays. Flakie would get so damn mad from losing all of the time. One day he finally snapped, grabbed his Cub Scout CampMaster Canteen and poured the stale, uncarbonated contents of the container onto the electric gridiron. In a dazzling display of thermonuclear fission, the plastic football players turned into miniature hissing and flaming piles of smoldering rancid gooh. That rusted piece of scrap-metal is still sitting somewhere inside Flakie's parents’ attic.
      Harold motioned to his friends, while snapping his finger, then pointed to the bar, "Hey, numb-nuts...I'm going to go fetch some brews from Wes. I'll be right back! And no funny stuff..."
     Flake wiggled his left foot in comprehension of Harold's request, "Yeah! Yeah...we never do...and make mine a Boilermaker, Hershey's squirt!" He slowly cocked his head back towards his other buddies sitting around the pool table, smiling impishly. Knobby nodded in approval of Flake's intention to defraud the current game. As Harold approached the bar, where his dad's friend had worked for the last thirty years, Flake hit one of the balls with his own cue stick, then quickly ran around the table and subsequently placed all but one of the striped balls inside of the pool table pockets.
      Goodie, another one of their neighborhood clique, shouted with bogus glee, "REMARKABLE, Flakie! I can't believe it! But, there you go...I SAW IT WITH MY OWN EYES!"
      Knobby soon chimed in, "MAN-oh-MAN! Harry's gonna have a pile of shlammo dumped in his drawers when HE SEES THIS!"
      Flakie jumped into the foray, "WOW'ZERS! Lookie, there...I REALLY DID IT!"
      The three hooligans started giggling amongst themselves. Flakie started walking boastfully around to where his friends were sitting, then winked at them and replied intentionally, "Looks like the pupil's finally taking the teacher back to school!" They started smirking again, whispering nonsense to each other.
     As the Muddy Waters song "Hoochie Coochie Man" started playing on the juke box, Wes Key, the bartender and co-owner of the joint, smiled wryly back at Harold approaching and quipped, "They use to do the same thing to your father back in his day, Harry. You know," he mentioned as he was cleaning a shot glass with a small white bar rag, "he was as good with his hands then as he is with them now."

     Harold looked down and slightly shook his head, then gazed back at Wes when he reached the bar, "I dad told me all about it during a Honeymooner's episode on the T.V. That's why I always came down here with Pops and watched your partner shoot the tables. All those quarters..." Harold reflected, "is that how Bill got half this place? Or get a new juke box?"
     "Yeah, helped him quite a bit. Did you know that old man Bill's been working on a book? In a few weeks, he's going to get it published."
     "Yep! You know what...I'll hold a copy for you. How 'bout that?"
     "Cool! Thank you, sir," Harold proudly smiled. "You know...I probably won't actually need it...but, I appreciate the offer.  By the way…sir…ummm, Wes…can you pour me four brews? I’ll pay you after the game…if that’s cool?”
     "I gotcha covered, Harry.  Don't forget, " Wes said as he pointed the rag at Harold, "you are never too old to learn somethin' new.”
     Harold nodded, "I guess so."
     Wes turned around to face the wall mirror, with a collection of antique liquor bottles sitting on the shelves, "You see that eight ball sitting in that little Japanese-made bird nest, Harry?"
     "Yes sir."
     Wes retrieved four mugs from underneath the bar counter, working on Harold’s order, "Your dad raised you inside this joint since you were a toddler. The number eight on that damn ball is almost gone because he gave it to you for a pacifier! You learned your trade watching a bunch of these other punks hustling games or getting porked themselves."
     Harold fidgeted a little, then glanced back at his friends, "Well...thanks for the Headers, mister Key! It's time to finish off the loots!” He turned back around and returned to the ill-gotten game. Carefully carrying the brew the bartender had sneaked to the twelve-year-olds, Harold noticed only four billiard balls resting on the table. He placed the drinks down on top of one of the scratched adjacent consoles, studied the situation perceptively, then gingerly picked out a different warped cue stick. The shot that Harold had to make to be successful at advancing his position to win the game is one that Minnesota Fats, Fast Eddie Seltzer, or even Baltimore Bonerubber would fart in apprehension to. Harold quickly glanced out of the corner of his eye, then peeped, "Nice shot, Flakie...but, can you beat THIS?!?"
     With a magical pop, the cue ball traveled one-sixteenth of an inch to the table bank, ricocheted over the striped 14-ball that Flake had put in front of it, careened forcefully to the opposite side of the pool table, struck Harold's 3-ball, which quickly sank into the side pocket, then rolled diminishingly back in front of the black 8-ball, exactly at the point where all Harold had to do was shut his eyes and state so matter-of-factly, "Eight-ball...corner pocket!" One careful poke later, the game was over. The smell of burning flatulence could be detected within the cigar smoke-filled room. Harold grabbed the two quarters resting on top of the tattered-leather table bank and laid his cue stick on top of the console, next to the nearly-tepid brews. He pranced over to the juke box, shoved one of the quarters into the coin slot, pressed a few of the song numbers that he had memorized and started to sing in a spastic manner, "Nuncka-uncka-chuncka-phooosh-nuncka-uncka-chuncka-phooosh-nuncka-uncka-chuncka-phooosh-uncka-pee'luncka...KA'CHING!"
     Following this quick little recital of Harold's aria, the boys gathered together around the rusty Roy Rogers Pinball machine with drinks in hand and started to celebrate by toasting the victor.
     Goodie started, " sure know how to play with your balls!"
     "Yeah! I guess the teacher schooled the jerk-offs, again...right, Flakie?" Knobby chirped.
     Flake looked kind of stolid, "Good game, Harry. Damn..."
     Harold raised his mug of Happy Time Root Beer and started singing an advertisement jingle off of the local television station, "...and away go your troubles down the drain...Roto-Pooter."
     Normally, his acquaintances always stared back in utter disbelief. Harold got accustomed to their distorted personal opinions, knowing full well that they didn't realize he possessed such an incredible amount of talent. Each afternoon after school at 'Wes Key and Bill Yard's Rack-It Club' loitering around the old juke box, Harold would remind Flakie, Goodie and Knobby by uttering loudly an inane myriad of unintelligible noises that seem to conjure up unwanted poltergeists of warped scratched vinyl 45's on the machine.
     Harold reverted back to an old tune by Carl Perkins that was currently playing on the music box, "Don' STEP on me brew sprayed shoes...wop-z'dang-n'goo-goo-ka-choo..." This little exhibition often continued until he finally drifted out of the premises or nodded off to sleep in his twin bed.

     Harold turned the lever to open the vent window, but it remained stationary. Resolutely pressing harder on the aluminum strip, it remained stuck in its' stubborn state. Soon, he felt the vibration of the lane dividers and quickly steered the car back into the center of the road. He thought about his old Uncle Froogle, who had sold him the 1957 Chevy sedan for $219.58. The car still had a misalignment and a brand new set of home-made brakes.
     Harold sat motionless, staring down the dark straightaway, hoping to see a dim halo appear over the next hill where a small farming town might be located. These so-called mini-metropolises had become the highlights of the trip very early on, such as the one about to emerge after he crested the next slope of the road. He would notice the occasional road marker pass by, or a rectangular distance sign, and start to feel a sense of urgency. Places where he would have to find something remotely interesting to force himself to stay awake. Suddenly, out from the early morning sky, a shooting star streaked across the top of the '57's dirty windshield and quickly dimmed out through the same broken driver's vent window. He commenced to nightdream about where that little flaming piece of space debris might land, especially if it was as big as a Winnebago.  Harold smiled as the car riveted on the lane dividers, again.

     "Star light, star blight,
      First star I see this...ugh...morning.
      I wish I may,
      I wish I might...see a U.F.O. go crashing and burning!"
Copyright © 2013-2015 by Frank McDaniel, Jr. and Rob Corin. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Bill Haley and The Comets, “Rock Around The Clock” (Max Freedman and Jimmy DeKnigh)
Song: Intro-1
Song: Intro-2
Song: Intro-3
Song: Intro-4
End: Intro-5