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Tips & shafts
By George Fels
Consulting Editor George Fels has been writing for Billiards Digest since 1980, and his "Tips & Shafts" column is usually our readers' first stop when they crack open the magazine. For better or worse, pool has been his only mistress for 40-plus years.

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Best of Fels
July: Joe and Edgar
July 2017

By George Fels
[Reprinted from Decemeber 1988]

If there’s a poolroom in existence that doesn’t have a pair like Joe and Edgar, that poolroom is probably not worthy of the designation. What are their names in your room, the stubborn old coots who swear off playing with each other as often as they play, which might be five times a week? See how well you know Joe and Edgar already? The real magic in Joe and Edgar was that they played out their roles of Hatfield and McCoy against the splendid backdrop of the old Bensinger’s in downtown Chicago, where once there was one floor for pool and another for billiards, ivory balls everywhere, table maids and porters to serve food and drink and even rule off the billiards tables for balkline if the gentlemen so desired. Bensinger’s was one mighty fancy dame. Joe’s last name was Raggio, but only the insiders knew that; strangely, no one knew Edgar’s surname, and I may be the last mortal who even remembers him at all. Joe Raggio was simply Joe the Hunchback around the room, indeed a misshapen little thing with an encyclopedia’s worth of sharking techniques who loved to play straight pool for $2 or $3, maybe $5 if he or the other party was stuck bad enough. Edgar had both size and loudness on Joe. His hair pristinely parted in the center like a mountain ram, he was just about as hardheaded. Edgar always wore suspenders rather than belts, and while playing he rolled his pants up three or four turns, too, a technique I’m still not sure I understand. As opposed to the cretinous Joe, who crept around the table with a mischievous smile as though planning to surprise the balls, Edgar’s body language was all assertiveness. He marched proudly into position for his next shot without waiting for the first one to drop, wearing out three or four cubes of brand new chalk each game, bellowing happily when he was winning and bitching mightily when he wasn’t, even if he did limit himself to expletives like “gosh” and “golly.” Edgar actually played pretty, circular patterns and he rounded the table as mechanically as though there were a wind-up key in his back under the suspenders, fat little pants-cuffs flapping in the breeze like dwarfed hula-hoops.

The standard bet between the two men was 100 points of straight pool for $2, but if you beheld all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, you’d have sworn the outcome would top the GNP one way or the other. Their caliber of play was not bad — occasionally one or the other might flirt with a third rack — but neither man had a family, nor much of anything else in life expect their meetings with the other. As a result, the competitive fires burning inside the two men were bright enough to make those of better players, clear up to Mosconi and Greenleaf, seem like gefilte fish by comparison.

“Oooooo! So damn lucky!” Joe would bleat, as Edgar’s run would mount to four with the aid of a favor from the old butter-lips pockets. And if ball five was to be shot anywhere near Joe’s direction, you could bet even money Joe’s hands would suddenly become palsied and drop the cue just as Edgar delivered his stroke. Or he might become suddenly seized with the heat of the room, and wave a wretched old hanky daintily like a Southern debutante at cotillion. Or the pressure of the $2 match would require many glasses of water, and these Joe would lovingly sacrifice to the floor in the background of Edgar’s last practice stroke. Edgar was not moved to thoughts of romance by the tiny waterfalls cascading in clear view of his missed shot; instead he would turn red clear down to his lovely exposed shins and, of course, would declare that this was the last game for all eternity. Not the Armageddon, the apocalypse, nor the letting go of the San Andreas fault could lure Edgar back to the table with Joe again. Until game ball was sunk, that is, and the two men muttered their respective ways through the next lag-for-break. “Go bleep yourself,” Joe would snarl at bad moments, and Edgar, smug in his certainty, would calmly retort, “Nope. Can’t do that.” And if for some strange reason all the pool and all the fabulous characters bore you, you could still stroll to the very front of the room and peel heavy window curtains back a few inches to look down Randolph Street. Three full-time movie houses, fun arcades that sold dribble glasses and whoopee cushions to the enlightened, jazz spots all boasted their wares in brazen neon. Even Bensinger’s had an electric marquee, with a talented little man who alternately bowled nothing but strikes and single-stroked a full rack of pool balls into hell-and-gone. It was an exciting time and place to be a teenager, beholding a magic place where pool balls were falling, or billiards scoring, on nearly every table as you scanned the room.

And Joe and Edgar were part of the attraction, no doubt about that. Edgar would finally roll his tortured trousers down and storm out, to return, say, 20 hours later for another identical session. Though Edgar was the better player, Joe won more of the games, usually through shenanigans in tandem with a long run of 12 or so. They played the same part of the room, often on the same table, and drew the exact same crowd each time.

Then one night Edgar blew in like a Gestapo trooper and demanded Joe’s company at once. “Little rapscallion beat me 100-99 last time,” Edgar roared. “And not a bit of it with honest pool! Lies! Tricks! Chicanery! I’ll never play him again. Where is he? I want to play!” “Edgar,” somebody said, “Joe died the other day.”

Less than a month later, Edgar died too.