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Cooling Center Offers A Break From Heat

Facility In Hartford's North End Also A Place To Play Pool And Cards

By Susan Campbell

July 13, 2011

Outside, women in sundresses move down Coventry Street in slow motion. An old man sits fanning himself in the shade. A young mother pushes a stroller and a crying child through bus exhaust.

If Connecticut was sticky-hot on Tuesday, it felt worse in the city. The thermometer said 90s, and the heat index said worse. But inside Northend Senior Center a battle is raging, and Robert F. Edwards is winning.

Over the sound of "The Price Is Right," and the chatter of mostly women gathered to escape the sticky heat, competition is fierce at the center's corner pool table. While the women sit playing cards, the men congregate in the back, around the cool green of the pool table.

Edwards' opponent, a former boxer, pushes the pool cue fast, like the tongue of a snake, and upon contact with the ball, he stands and sways and swoops and shows the physical man he used to be.

Is there money on the game?

"I ain't no gambler," the boxer says. He's no pool player, either, but everyone's too polite to say so. Pointing that out would be the job of another man named yes Robert Edwards, who also frequents this table. He trash-talks more than a liquor barrel, says this Edwards, who is quietly consistent. Even when his opponent tries to break his concentration, Edwards keeps his eye on the green table. He's a machinist. He says that helps him be able to see the angles on the table.

"That's a bank shot," his opponent says. "Bank it. Bank it. Bank it." Edwards, cap pulled low, smiles and sinks the ball in the pocket straight on.

Edwards started playing pool some four decades ago, in the Army. He'd have started earlier, but his mother told him bad men hang out at pool halls and he didn't want to disappoint her. He now owns his own cue, which he will dismantle and place in a carrying case when he's finished today.

Don't tell mom, a white-haired man says, laughing. We're wasting our lives at the pool hall.

What's left of our lives, another says.

Edwards drops a striped ball in the side pocket. His opponent muffs an easy corner shot. Edwards answers with a banked shot that seems to surprise even him.

Some days are good days, some days are bad, his opponent says. I've got a pool table at home, says another. I should be better, but I don't concentrate on the game.

Not like Edwards, who sinks another. And another. And a small crowd of kitchen help and the occasional passerby gather.

Edwards has an amazing string and the game is over quickly. His opponent sticks out his hand.

Brother, the opponent says, you're good. Edwards ducks his head and unscrews his cue. He has to take his car to get an oil change. He dreads the heat but he'll be back soon, racking up points. And if this is wasting his life at a pool table, it's a pretty good waste.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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