Put Your Quarters Down


I can’t say that I remember the exact moment it happened, I mean it’s not like your older brother just suddenly likes you after years of teasing and tricking. For some, sibling love develops very slowly. I do remember the night I noticed something had changed, and my hero, my older brother Pat, saw me as something other than another annoying little sister.

It was 1978. I had recently turned 18, and I could drink legally. I was dressed for the occasion: hip hugger jeans, tight T, big hoop earrings, wedged heels, a pack of Newports in my back pocket. I went up to the long wooden bar at Duffy’s, ordered my drink, tipped the tender, and with my mug of beer in hand, my long blonde hair swinging, I walked straight back to the felted field of green, and I put my quarters down!

“Whoa hoa,” he said, as my brother Pat always does. “If it isn’t my little sister Anne.”

It might have been my first Mack attack. That smile, and that Mackler ‘hmph’–it’s a cross between a giggle and a cough that we Macklers do–and I was glowing. My big brother was proud of me. And, of course, not the least bit challenged: he taught me how to play after all.

Duffy’s was an old Detroit pub, traditional, the dark wood, noisy pinball machines, a foosball table, the smell of beer, smoke, and for me, maturity. It was on the corner of Grand River and Montrose. I don’t think it’s there anymore, but it was where many of us young Catholic kids from St. Mary’s experienced a rite of passage, or two.

When my brother Pat saw me, for perhaps the first time, he did not see the squirrely kid sister who he had considered mostly a nuisance for the past 18 years. An annoyance. Competition. Another kid to have to fight for the television. For dessert. The last swig of Faygo Red. He always won, he was bigger, louder and meaner. I was a short female human who was in the way. “Brat.”

And here I was. Standing beside him. At Duffy’s. I was no pool shark, but I had grown up in a house with a pool table in the basement, and four brothers,  I knew my way around the yards of felt. And he was glad to see me there, I knew it. He was confident I could probably hold my own, or would go down with the rest of the suckers whose butts he had kicked. I’d been there before, so no worries.

Even with all the tussling and teasing and squabbling and wrestling that goes on between siblings, and we had lots of them, Pat and I were kindred spirits. As a kid, a brat, I was a writer, a poet, a thinker. Scribbling in journals and reading and re-reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull, memorizing the lyrics of Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

He was a writer, too. A poet and a thinker. He always had a lined spiral notebook on his nightstand or dresser stock full of his musings and poems. (How do I know? Really? I was the bratty little sister….Duh!)

One year we both published a poem in the same high school anthology. Abacus. I was a freshman. He was a senior. Both poems, looking back, were pretty perfect for really bad teen aged poems. Nonetheless, even in the midst of  all the noise from televisions and radios and news and yet another baby distracting us, we had this in common. Not like we sat around and shared our metaphors and rhymes. That wouldn’t have been cool. We just knew.

To this day, it is a rare and wonderful thing when he sends me the occasional poem by mail or email. This connection, as quiet and kind as it is, has tied us like kite string for many years. Me being up in the sky. Well, out west anyway. Him? Grounded, a Detroit boy, born and raised.

I flew the coop not long after our relationship shifted from sibling rivals to friends and pool partners. Off to the West, and never looking back. It was, in part, his stories of Arizona, the Grand Canyon, the freedom of the road and the big sky that inspired me. He had returned to Detroit after his journey, and I never did.

Now, living miles apart, both without the spouses we once had, me divorced, him a widower, we raised and love our kids with love for two. And we never complain. Our infrequent visits are sweet, and I get to see him, as in the picture above from his daughter Molly, on Facebook. It’s not a lot, but it’ll do for now. I try to get him out here. Maybe one day.

I haven’t played pool with him, or anyone, in years, but I hold the memories dear. But that night, at Duffy’s, well, we were pocket poets. And I am so glad he’s still out there kickin’ ass at the pool table. That’s my brother Pat.

Oh, and the poems from  Abacus? Forthcoming.



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