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Robert A. Mills

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EVERYTHING I KNOW I LEARNED FROM SAM SPILLIOPOLIS AT THE PASTIME POOL ROOM
8/7/2009 6:40:08 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]


As a small boy, a toddler actually, my greatest joy was visits with my Uncle Rollin to the Pastime Pool Room on lower Main Street in Coshocton. Just inside the front door was a counter where you signed up for a table (we never did; my grandfather had no interest in pool, and besides, it cost ten cents for a foursome to play a game of 8-Ball, or a nickel for two people to play 9-Ball.) Having only a dime to spend (this was 1935,) my uncle would splurge for two vanilla ice cream cones while we watched a man write baseball scores on a large blackboard, the scores coming in over a clacking ticker tape machine at his feet, near a radio tuned to an American League game, probably the New York Yankees.

Although the ice cream was a treat of supreme grandeur, I was fascinated by two other phenomena: the stream of data emanating from under the glass dome of the ticker tape, and the hulking mass of a tobacco-chewing, mustachioed professorial eruditist I came to know as Sam Spilliopolis.

Sam, the proprietor of Sam’s Pastime Shoe Shynes in the pool hall lobby, was probably about thirty then, but in my view he was as old as my ancient uncle (who was not yet seventeen.) The odor of wet tobacco lingering in his whisk-broom of a mustache, mixed with his muscular torso covered by one of his two not-so-white dress shirts, the sleeves rolled above the elbows and revealing huge biceps (worn, I’m sure, three days before changing—a regimen in concert with shaving and other hygienic efforts) gave Sam an aroma and appearance of masculinity I have never forgotten.

“Booby,” he said, his thick Greek accent spewing fresh effervescence of moist Beech-Nut Original as I climbed up on his lap, “lemma show you sumptin.”

He pointed to framed and badly crinkled, sepia-toned photograph of himself hanging above his three "shine chairs". In the photo he was a teenage boy , smartly dressed in the pleated foystanella (skirt), embroidered poykamisa (blouse and vest), elastic knee-bands with tassels, tsaroyhia (shoes with upturned toes), and the ceremonial fez of a Greek warrior from World War One. “Iss me,” he boasted, “da day before I kill two hunert tousund Jerman Zerbs! I got a medal from da King Alexanner!”

I was awestruck. “You got a medal for killing Germans?”

“No!” He shook his head and his beard scraped across my cheek like a wire brush. “No! Dey gimme a medal for being da smartest kid inna Greek Army!”

As I licked my dripping ice cream cone, he went on to explain he was some kind of genius; he knew the answers to Life’s Most Critical Questions:

1. Vat iss da the one sport in which nobody--neither them watchinf or them playing know da score or who leads till da game ends over? He went on to ask:
2. What famous North American landmark is constantly moving backwards?
3. Of all vegetables, only two can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All others must be re-planted every year. What are the only two perennial vegetables?
4. What fruit has its seeds on the outside?
5. In many liquor stores you can buy a pear bandy with a real pear inside the bottle. The pear is whole and ripe, the bottle is genuine, uncut in any way. How did the pear get inside the bottle?
6. Only three words in the English language begin with the letters “dw” and they are all common words. Name two of them.
7. There are 14 punctuation marks in English grammar. Name half of them.
8. Name the only vegetable or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form except fresh.
9. Name 6 or more things you can wear on your feet beginning with the letter “S”.

I, of course, at the age of four or five knew the answers to none of these, and Sam Spilliopolis, laughing robustly and rudely, would tell me nothing. “Go figure all out!” he commanded. “Come back with answers I give you a medal!”

I never did. But when Sam died in 1979 I went back to Ohio for the funeral. A woman who claimed to be his daughter—Tamesis Spilliopolis—handed me an envelope in which Sam had left my inheritance: the answers to all nine questions. I’m glad he did, because I needed confirmation of the answers I had spent a lifetime trying to figure out (actually I got only five of the nine correct.)

There was a brief note inside, which said in a neat scrawl, “I only got four right, two more than Alexander.” Also in the envelope was his Konstaninos medal from the war. I still have it, and once or twice I pinned it on my lapel on November 11. I have no idea what became of the crinkled, sepia-toned photo.


PS: the answers (if you don’t already know them) will appear in a subsequent Blog. Rm


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More Blogs by Robert A. Mills
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Simply From My Heart by Sherri Smith

Poetry dedicated to my dad John E. Sheppard...  
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