Photo: West Kentucky Journal of Politics & Issues
The Beast sleeps; its work of ripping and tearing at the lifeless bricks no longer a playful sport.
Giant ribbed feet bear down on the mountain of debris as the Beast positions itself for yet another day of tasting mortar and bricks in its oversize metal bucket mouth.
For now, the Beast slumbers.
I stand twenty feet away from it, trying to make sense of the emotions I feel. My boots rest atop the dust and broken bricks of what had been a special place of my youth. In this moment of fading light, of day casting long shadows over my vision, the night rose up to claim its domain over the Beast’s handiwork. I feel like a time traveler, stranded between the years.
As I close my eyes, I could almost hear the sounds of a hot summer night in 1964, when Pop Johnson would call out, “Cheeseburger’s ready.” Gilbert “Pop” Johnson owned the Clinton Pool Hall here in far western Kentucky. During this time, it was the center of Clinton’s night life.
Friday night was the best — cruising with friends from Clinton to Arlington and back to Clinton and then on to Fulton and back again to Clinton. With four to six guys in an old 1957 Chevy or 1956 Ford, we were looking for girls and the girls were out cruising, looking for boys.
Nothing wrong with a pool hall.
Photo: Cory Blundon
On these nights, dinner was often at the Pool Hall. Sizzling hamburgers spitting hot grease up against the walls provided us with background noise, as we watched the action on the pool tables.
Pop’s hamburgers hit the spot for our hunger. They were magic with their special blends of coleslaw or chili toppings, mixed with small portions of very fine cut onions. If you wanted Pop’s special cheeseburgers, you were treated to a fine display of the art of He-Man cooking.
Smoking a cigarette as he stood over the large grease-covered grill, he worked best with us watching. In lightning speed, he would throw down a slice of cheese on a well done burger and cover it with a scoop of hot grease, to melt the cheese.
Pool tables, dim lights filtered through cigarette smoke, and the sounds of Pop’s radio blaring out the University of Kentucky basketball game, provided the background to eating our burgers. In those days, no girls or women were allowed in Pop’s Pool Hall.
Generations of boys have passed through the doors of Pop’s Pool Hall on their journey to becoming men. The young men of the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s made the Pool Hall a part of their night life and understanding of manly code of ethics.
Now, I open my eyes and all that is left of those memories are several hundred bricks from a burned out shell of a building. Since the night of the fire, Friday, November 17, 2007, to today, over 20,000 bricks from Pop’s have been recovered and sold.
The light fades further into the waiting night, as I turn my back on the work of the Beast and my memories. Walking across the open lot and toward the Kountry Cafe, a thought strikes me.
What if, somehow, each brick held the memories of someone like me and my friends, who had passed away evenings of our youth, playing pool, drinking root beer and cokes, eating cheeseburgers, as we talked about girls. The bricks were encased with grease, smoke and other physical DNA. Was it possible that they could also carry a little of our spirit with them?
What if each of the 20,000 bricks sold were now on their way to new homes, buildings, and offices for a new century? Yes, I like the thought that the bricks could hold a little piece of soul from Pop’s Pool Hall as they became part of new buildings.
I think, even in his rough ways, Pop would like that.
Ivan C. Potter is the publisher of the West Kentucky Journal of Politics & Issues in Clinton, Kentucky.