By: Christina J. Johns
There were two buildings in downtown Lanier that filled my fantasies when I was growing up in the 1950's - one was the huge three-story frame Patterson's Boarding House. The other was the Last Chance Poolroom.
I was forever asking my mother to tell me about them, but her answers were as colorless as flavorless as Knox gelatin. I wanted stories, scandals, mysteries, low life. But, those were things that my mother, even if she knew about them, would have never talked about. My mother is the hardest person to get dirt out of I've ever known.
So, without my mother's information I was left to fantasize. What kind of person stayed in Patterson's Boarding House? What kind of person didn't have a home? What kind of men walked with their suitcases from the old railroad station, up to Pattersons, stayed for one night and then left again? Where did they go next, and next, and next?
They must have been interesting. They must have known about the night life in other cities. They probably drank whiskey and put their hands on rounded, overweight women with dresses that were too tight. I imagined them, lying up there in those rooms in the morning, the shades drawn, a woman in a slip beside them, her arm hanging off the side of the bed, and an empty bottle on the floor.
I knew better than to ask if I could ever go in Patterson's Boarding House. But I would have given my left arm to have seen inside just one room.
And then, there was the Last Chance Poolroom.
When I could get away with it, I would stand across the street from the Last Chance and just watch. The Last Chance had large glass display windows all along the front, like those at the front of a department store. But, the management of the Last Chance wisely put Venetian blinds all over those windows and the blinds were kept closed ALL THE TIME.
Nobody I knew had ever been inside the Last Chance Poolroom. None of the fathers or older brothers of the children I knew would have been caught dead in there.
But, young men went inside the Last Chance Poolroom. Every once in a while I would see one wearing tight blue jeans and a white tee shirt, one sleeve rolled up and a pack of Marlboro's or Kool's stuck in the folds.
To me, it was like watching James Dean.
I vowed, that I would die if I didn't once, just once, before I left Lanier, go out with a boy who went to the Last Chance Poolroom.
It took me years to pull it off, but I did. His name was Maxie Earl. Maxie Earl fit all the criteria. Not only did he play pool at the Last Chance, he had a beaten up old car he drove with one hand, knew how to smoke a cigarette without touching it, and - carried a knife. He was walking sex.
My parents would have grounded me for at least 10 years had they known I was having anything to do with this swaggering piece of trouble, but this knowledge just made Maxie Earl that much more delicious. I would meet him secretly at dances. And once, he and some of his cronies crashed a party so he could get to me, and he got into a fight. Ah, what more could you ask for?
But that was over thirty years ago. The railroad station stopped operating before I even got to Maxie Earl, and Patterson's Boarding House was eventually condemned when it started to display a noticeable lean to the west. Some years ago, they tore down the entire lot where the Last Chance Poolroom stood. They built a cute little family park with benches and flowers. That almost killed me.
I have no idea what happened to Maxie Earl - probably has a mortgage, a beer gut, and a houseful of kids.
I guess James Dean really is dead, but it seems like a shame. Outside the movies there'll never be another Patterson's Boarding House, or Last Chance Poolroom, and I would have so liked - to have been - for just one day - one of those buxom women in a too-tight dress being slapped on the backside while carrying beer to the pool players.