Pool Hustling in Austin With Capt. Buttface

If you’ve never been in Waco, Texas for an extended period, you can’t grasp the urgent need to flee.

To flee the heat and humidity and cockroaches and bad newspapers and suffocating blanket of failure.

To just get in the car and drive.

And when I was a police reporter there from 1980-1982, that meant Capt. Buttface and I:

1) Put $10 of gas in his Toyota
2) Shovelled free motel ice into a trash bag
3) Added cheap beer
4) Bought Marlboros
5) Shoved Muddy Waters into the tape deck
6) And drove south as fast as that little car would go.

And in 90 minutes we were in Austin, where Bob Wills is still the king.

Austin had the most beautiful girls, best TexMex food, and bars that were the closest thing you will find to heaven on earth — great live music, beer so cold it would make your teeth pop, and pool tables with virgin green felt, where an entrepreneur could make a few dollars.

Capt. Buttface was one of those men who could look at a room full of women and say, that one right there would be more fun than a barrel of monkeys. But he was in a bit of a girl drought.

I had no skills with women. But I could spot fellers, from way across the bar, who thought they could hustle pool like Minnesota Fats. But who were very wrong.

With this gift came a certain level of responsibility. You had to be responsible enough to take their money in a way that wouldn’t get you smacked upside the head with a pool cue.

Having the 6-4 Capt. Buttface as your wing man was extremely useful, especially when you were a good foot shorter, and you were in an Austin bar packed with huge frat boys and fat old Harley riders with tattoos.

On this night, I was watching a couple of fellers on a nearby pool table. They had won a few $1-a-game racks and were well into believing they played better’n Minnesota Fats, hissownself.

I could see they needed to give Buttface and me their money and buy our beer.

I put my quarter into the table, racked the balls, agreed to the table stakes, let them break, and then Buttface and I partnered up to beat them. Just barely. They put it down to bad luck. And paid us.

Well, as these things go, the stakes went up and their bad luck continued.

On small pool tables in bars, it’s especially important to rack the balls as far back as you can. But after a few losses, ol’ Minnesota Fats had racked them way too high. Even better, he’d angled the rack slightly to my left.

Now, way back then, I could often run the table.  But even better, more times than not, I could make the eight ball on the break with a rack like that and win the game.

The secret was to hit the third ball back, not the lead ball. Officially, this was illegal. But in bar pool, it’s legal if you can get away with it.

It’s also when things can get interesting when you are hustling, so I called Capt. Buttface over for a quiet chat.

“I’m going to raise the stakes and then make the eight ball on the break,” I whispered into Buttface’s ear, after he bent way, way down to my height.

“When that happens, I will pick up a long neck bottle, just in case. You will take their money, keep aholt of your cue stick, and follow me outside. We need to be gone before the Fat Boys can find their Harleys. You ready?”

In the newsroom, Capt. Buttface was known as the Master of Disaster. He loved the smell of napalm in the morning. So I knew he was ready. His eyes and nostrils were flaring like a racehorse.

I told the Harley boys that I honestly felt bad about all our lucky wins, and that I wondered whether they’d like to go double-or-nothing and win back their money. They thought this was a splendid idea, and downed another beer.

I hammered the cue ball on the break. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Two solids and a stripe went down. Slowly, the eight ball wandered toward the left side pocket and fell in.  The Harley Boys turned an angry red, slammed their cues against the pool table and said a very bad word.

Like an apparition, I had already disappeared.

Buttface scooped up the money, apologized again for our dumb luck, and headed for the getaway car.  As he was quickly striding out, a girl that looked very much like Farrah Fawcett pinched him right on the butt. When your luck is running…

“I can’t believe we did that! I can’t believe we did that! THAT WAS GREAT!” Capt. Buttface chanted over and over, bouncing up and down in the driver’s seat, and making his tiny Toyota lurch around Interstate-35.

For one night, we had been free men in Austin. Now there was nothing left to do but head north, listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan and replay the hustle.


AHOY: More on Capt. Buttface here and here.


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8 Responses to “Pool Hustling in Austin With Capt. Buttface”

  1. Waco sounds kind of scary…

  2. malm says:

    And I can witness to Mr. Billy’s “gift.” Not only could he eye a potential victim, he played a brutal game of pool. Dude showed no mercy.


  3. malm says:

    There was a dive in Austin called the Poodle Dog Lounge that Lane and I used to shoot pool in. The felt was burnt frickin’ orange but the tables were cheap to play on and the beer was oh so cold. It was never anything but pure competition between siblings. I miss those days.


    • hams says:

      Wait. You are admitting to being a customer of the “Poodle Dog Lounge”? And to think I golfed with you and never suspected a thing. Well maybe a few times. But I didn’t ask. And you didn’t tell. Not that there is anything wrong with poodles.

  4. Kris says:

    Happy sighs.

    I love when you sit down and tell a story.

    You are very very good at it, babe.

    A gift.

    • hams says:

      Thanks. Would you like to go double or nothing on that? And competing with someone as large and hairy as your brother is probably a poor decision in the extreme.

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