This is an unpublished piece Obe originally wrote for Toronto Life Men’s Fashion in fall 1986. Toronto Life cut the supplement before the piece could make it to print. Freelance writer David Hayes read the piece at Obe’s wake.
By Don Obe
I’m looking sharp. I got my new stride pants on—24 inches at the knee and pegged so tight at the cuff I can hardly get my feet through. The waistband ends somewhere around my ribcage. I got on a pair of square-toed shoes called duckbills and a go-to-hell black shirt with the collar up and a pack of Export plain in the breast pocket. I’m wearing a duck’s-ass haircut it took me half an hour to tongue and groove. It’s 1952. I’m fourteen years old and about to shoot me some pool.
Where I’m playing is a second-floor dustbin on the side of town my mother wants me to stay away from. The sign outside says College Billiards, but nobody calls it that; everybody calls it Dirty Ernie’s after the proprietor, Dirty Ernie from Pismo Beach. Why I’m playing there is I can’t get anywhere else. Dirty Ernie is not too fussy about age limits.
In his once-white yachting cap, Ernie looks like Walter Brennan in To Have and Have Not, if anything more dissipated. But to me he looks like Willie Mosconi in a dress suit, the best pool player I’ve ever seen. And he’s coming my way.
I’m shooting great; in fact, way over my head, then or ever. I’ve just run twenty-five points (I don’t usually total twenty-five points) and I’m still going, lining up the next shot. Ernie is at the table now, watching. A long ash drops from the cigarette in his mouth, falls on his shirt and disappears. Under his eyes, I make a bank in the side and blush. “The kid,” Dirty Ernie says to the whole room, “is gonna be good someday.”
Other cloud nines have come and gone in all the years since, but somehow nothing quite beats Dirty Ernie’s benediction—even though he said that to all the guys.