Snooker’s Winter: The Legend Grows

Published in The North Woods Call, 1975

Speaketh a glib crony: time flies when you’re having fun. If so ,why has this winter been so long? Maybe because The Snooker has been incognito (not to mention on the road)? That makes it time for a spring update on the man — a fast scan of the winter past and the antics of the pigeon-toed tiger from Texas.

But first a longer flashback. Maybe 40 years.

The scene: a castle, big mutha, granite hacienda near Houston. Stormin’ like all git-out, Lightning bolts cutting the sky like yellow smears on a Picasso. High up in the castle a madman and his rumpled mini-assistant are hard at work — creating life itself! So they think.

Big picnic bench serves as an operating table. (They were in a recession then too.) There’s an object on the table: covered with an O.D. green U.S. Army dropcloth: protruding from the bottom of the sheet, two red, white and blue cowboy boots. A very strange scene to be sure.

Storm intensifies. Doctor smiles with antiicpation. He signals to his sidekick, Igor (sometimes called Ron ), who is standing next to a large switch mounted on the wall. The switch looks very much like a large rat trap. Igor acknowledges his master’s signal, but shows little emotion. He is not an emotional creature (there being considerable doubt as to his being human period, much less emotional or otherwise.)

Igor (aka Ron) passes the time by snatching airborne mosquitoes from the laboratory traffic pattern. No mean trick. He uses his tongue, which he has thoughtfully coated with a loop or two of Scotch tape –sticky side out. (His mama didn’t raise no dummies.)

Lightning flashes again: Thunder sends large chunks of granite tumbling from rickety castle parapets to the moat below — the moat filled with Garorade and little toy dolls that  cloud the liquid with algae as they gleefully and obediently perform their programmed faux biologic functions (God bless our twisted toy engineers).

Igor understands. It is time, THE time. He slams the switch home. Zap! A zillion volts thwack the inert form under the dropcloth. The body leaps off the picnic table, sheds its green tarpaulin and squints into the laboratory lights.

“What in hail’s goin own hyear, fellers?”

More questions follow, never-ending banter, one-sided, the potential for futher research is ruined. The creation is too noisy, too nosey, too pushy. The sawbones and Ron flee from the castle lab and run down the hill carrying only their personal belongings, race through the town warning of the approach of the diabolical talking monster in cowboy boots. The doctor passes right through town lickety split; But Ron kind of hung back, having discovered a swampy spot on the outskirts full of fat buzzing mosquitoes. He stood there snatching little fly-bugs out of the middle of their trying to complete Immelmans and split-esses. Ron feared not, and ate well.

The rain stopped and there was good tracking mud (unusual in Texas in some places in some years) and Ron knew he could follow the doctor. Besides, the monster didn’t seem at all like a monster and was, in fact, kinda friendly. He’d even called Igor “Podnah” and “good old boy.”

Soon the monster, not accustomed to being alone, nor liking it, followed the pair into town. It’s pure speculation about what happened next. Word-of-mouth tells of the arrival of a stranger in a wide-brimmed hat he called a stepson,and whose stange language was filled with “dangs” and “dang-nabs,” and incessant talk of “hawgs,” which disturbed some  of the townies, since they were smack in the middle of sheep country.

Thus I sometimes fantasize the birth of The Snooker. And why not? He often appears bigger than life. Seems like such a birth would be appropriate and fitting, easily supportable by the things that seem to happen to him all the time.

Take this past winter: Snooker on the road, all the time: Texas, Mexico, London, Brussels, Connecticut, all over the place. He wore out five pairs of cowboy boots and every week it seemed, I got telephone calls from various places, not from Snooker, but from others reporting on his passing through.

For example. It is a saturday morning, Fat Boy Hockey League day for me. M.J.Lee and the Finnish Sharpshooters. Phone rings, M.J.on the other end.

“You hear about Snooker?”

“Most of my waking life.”

“I mean the latest.”

“Nope. Fire when ready.”

“Jim Herta from Rogers was in the store last night. Just drove down from Flint. [NOTE: Jim is a tackle rep, a good friend of The Snooker’s.] “Jim was up there calling on an account and the customer invited him back to the store’s Fisherman’s Corner for a cup of coffee. The corner’s a little place the dude fixed up in the store for the local bass club. They all got club coffee cups hung up on a peg board, you know, cups with their names on them. Any rate, ole Herta sees this one cup. His eyeballs pop out. It says, “Snooker.”

“You know The Snooker?” Herta asks his host.

“Sure, “the man says. “That’s his cup up there.”

“The Snooker from Kalamazoo?”

“No,” the man says with surprise. “From Flint.”

“Baloney,” Jim says.

“You want to call him?”

“You bet.”

So the man dials the number and hands the phone to Jim. “This The Snooker?”

“Speaking,” a pleasant voice says.

THE Snooker?”

“Nope, I’m just plain old Snooker. See I read about the real Snooker in the Call. He sounded just like the kinda guy I’d like to be, so I took his name.”

M.J. is in hysterics on the other end of the line. “Can you believe that?”

“Hell yes I can believe it.” Once you become the Snooker’s blood brother — and see him in action a few times, you can believe just about anything about the man. He’s a magnet for people. Good people. He brings out the best in everyone, has  natural chemistry and affinity for fellow human beings. Fellow in Flint made a good choice. Damn good one.

LIke I said, a magnet. Perhaps another vignette will demonstrate what I mean.

Saturday in February, snowing like blazes. Snooker’s wife Lu is waiting at the Kalamazoo Airport for Snooker’s return on the Blue Goose, two hours late (which with the common fudge factor for that airline, put it pretty much right  on time). It lands, spits him out. A quick kiss for the lovebirds, into the Buick, west on I-94 and north on US-131, not toward home but to Grand Rapids on an all-ice interstate.

Finally reaching their destination, a giant fishing show in downtown GR, maybe five thousand souls meandering the booths and displays, and a bunch of folks waiting for the Snookers: Bobby Elkins, some Grand Rapidians,maybe others. Whole group grinning, almost leering at the late arrivals.

“Why’s ev-buddy showin’ they pearlies lahk they’s got gas from bad tamales?” Snooker asks.

“We volunteered you for a demonstration,” Elkins says, playing it coy .

Snooker grabs a lunker rod, whips it around like Cyrano de Bergerac’s rapier, spits on the palm of his hands, slicks back his blond hair, and tells the assembly he’s,  “R-E-A-D-Y.”

“Not  a fishing demonstration,” Elkins says.

“Thin what?”

“Wrestling.”

“Rasslin? Rasslin who?”

“Not who. What. It’s a bear.”

“A bare what?”

“A bear bear, ursus, four legs, long snout,thick black fur?”

At this point in the proceedings ,wife Lu reports,Snooker swallowed, “real hard.”

“W’all , where’n heck is this critter?”

Snooker sheds his shirt, steps into the ring. The trainer has the bear on a leash (or vice versa). Bear goes maye four, four-fifty max. Muscles ripple when it moves. The crowd cheer enthusiastially. (Think Roman Coliseum some years ago). Snooker and the bear circle the ring, size each other up, play to the crowd. Finally they meet in the middle. The trainer leans close to Snooker and whispers. “Don’t be no damn hero, fella. This here is a show for the folks out there. Just do what I tell you. This bear’s harmless.”

The man is speaking Snooker’s language: no danger, crowd, show, good time, fair enough. Give the folks their money’s worth.

“Fake left, go right,” the trainer tells Snooker, who does as instructed. The bear, with virtually no effort,kicks Snookers legs out from under him and falls on top of him, pinning him. First fall to the big guy in the black fur coat.

They break, circle, eye to eye again.

“Grab his paws, pull him off balance,” the trainer whispers.

Again Snooker follows orders. The bear doesn’t. he spins Snooker across the ring like a top.

Back to the middle they go, circling. Snooker breathing hard, still dizzy from spinning, hip hurting from where the animal fell on him.

“Tackle him,” the handler orders.

This is right down Snooker’s alley. Whoa-boy, the old gridiorn warrior from Lamar University puts his head up, squares his shoulders and drives forward hard, knees up, crashing into the bear knee-high, or where knees should have been, only they’re not there now and the bear flops on top of Snooker again. Pinned. Two for two for the anmal. Bruin two, Snooker zip. Damn!

“Get him from behind,” the trainer whispers. Snooker makes his move. The bear grabs him, brings him over the top with a  snap. Snooker hits the canvas and rolls free, gasping to get his breath back, his mind kinda fuzzy-like. Not goin’ right, he thinks. Ev-time the dang handler says one thang, the goll-durn bear does another. Say what? Damn, boy. Eureka. The light comes on. Dang guy’s  got thet ole bear a-keyin’ off’n what he’s a-tellin’ me. Too much thinking. Bear grabs at him and licks Snooker in the face with a tongue as long as a Coney dog. The crowd is cheering and imploring Snooker to do something.

Handler then tells Snooker to roll right. Snooker goes left, pivots, ducks behind the bear, which looks confused and dumbfounded. Where’d that weird looking human go? The crowd noise goes up. They sense a shift. Snook taps the bear on its shoulder. “Scuse me sir, but did you drop your bandanna?”

The bear turns and Snooker plants a kiss right on the animal’s long snout. The crowd goes full bananas,psychological overdrive, overrunthe ring, pound Snooker’s back, OOOreeet! Even the bear seems chummy.

There you have it. The stories keep rolling in. Bear story, Snooker cup in Flint, both true.

Opening part is what Snooker calls a Joe-fantasy. Seems true  enough for me.

Fantasy? Once we were caught in a thunderstorm on Sherman Lake and Snooker stood right up in the rented rowboat in the middle of all that lightning and said, “Ah feel so gud ah feel lahk ah jes got borned.”

Okay, probably a fantasy or my off key thought of things gone awry, But all these stories keep rolling in. I just related a couple. Had to leave out plenty.

Like Snooker is in Mexico at Christmas time and gets mixed up with the Mexican national sky-diving team down on the Yucatan Penisula and they all get to drinking tequila and such and red wine thick as maple syrup and next thing we know, Snooker is a full-fledged member of he team and all set to jump with them in international competition.

But, that’s another story. There’s heaps of them. All kinds. Fantasy? Don’t you belive it where the Snooker is concerned.

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