Three generations of North End Italians have hung out in Mazza's Pool Room. Friday nights after the Hub Lanes down on Hanover Street close there isn't any place else to go. Besides, it's only ten cents a rack (a line of candlepins will cost 35 cents) and Uncle, who took over Mazza's from a relative five months ago, sees to it that no one gets badly hustled.
Perhaps twenty kids, aged 16 to 20, are regulars. They stand, smoking, laughing, now beginning a game of Kelly or eight ball, now leaving one of the four tables, game unfinished, to join a circle that has appeared suddenly in a corner. All but two or three are dressed rat: pointy, black pants, dark jacket, overcoat with sharp lapels and a shiny finish.
A blue varsity jacket has been left on the only bench. The boy who dropped it there is dressed colleege,loafers, white socks, blue jeans. Some of the others work, most are unemployed; he is the only one attending college.
Vic is quiet. No one tells him to screw off. His coat is never brushed with a chalked cue. He moves slowly, says little, and says it in a deep voice that thuds on "d's" and rises at the end of a sentence to an interrogative grunt.
Vic, he's a Big Man. There is nothing mocking about the word as it is used in the North End. The King of Watermelon, who wholesales the melons to all New England, is also a big man. Saints are bigger men.
When, as sometimes happens, a stranger comes to Uncle's, the boys will try and hustle him. The technique is to surround him, give him a cue (if he's not careful he plays a ball without noticing there is no tip on the stick), and then bully, beg, and flatter him into playing for half dollars. The kids are not particularly good at hustling or pool. Many of the old men in overcoats who lounge all day along Hanover Street or Salem Street could run the table on the best of them. As for hustling, hustling is a subtle game of just misses and sincerest attempts. At Uncle's they laugh when you miss an easy shot and say tough luck when you call the striped ball and the solid blue goes in.
Still, there is no walking away from the circle of slightly sweated faces. "Come on, come on, your two dollars to my ten, and I'll spot you four balls. Hey?" The answer here and elsewhere in the North End is, no, thanks, because you are a bigger man. You can get a favor done, you don't need his double sawbuck. May-be he needs your two? No, he doesn't need your two, forget it.
VIC does not stir for the stranger. He has enough to treat his friends and, more important, one doesn't go scuttling all over the room every time the door opens. After a time he is by the stranger's side, not questioning, waiting to be informed. He is informed, and whatever the stranger proclaims himself to be will be magnified in the retelling, for even Vic gains by association with important men.
Vic walks away to play a rack and the circulation of people resumes. Uncle constantly circumnavigates the hall. He is a small, squat man who appears to be literally easier to flatten than knock over. He advances like a boxer, stopping before the more loud-mouthed, hence less important, kids to draw back his fist and flex his forearm. Violence diffuses through the room like the smoke, and it is easy to forget that the friendly shoves are shoves. Then maybe a drunk comes in. Vic says to the stranger, "Go now. That kid in blue is drunk. He's crazy when he's drunk." The drunk manages to get in one good punch before the stranger can duck or the rest of the kids stop him. Who hasn't been punched by a drunk?
Coveys of girls pass outside the pool room window. A few of the girls are going to a local dance. Their mothers will call the chaperon to make sure they have arrived, call again at 10 o'clock to make sure that the dance has concluded and the girls are coming home. Other groups will walk together for hours, transistor radios swinging close to the sidewalk. They go by younger friends with a nod and older, rat, boys with a toss of the head. Perhaps they will meet next week at a dance. No one but a colleege boy does much dating, and he dates girls from outside the North End.
Five years ago Dom hung out at Uncle's. Now he is married and has a three-month-old child. It is two years since he took over his step-father's barber shop. Skutchy (drawS-