Archive for Thursday, September 8, 2005

Snookering sexism in Hope

September 8, 2005

I remember when feminism was introduced to Hope, Kan.

Hook's got its name from its owner. It had pinball machines and pitch tables but it was the snooker table that made it unique. The table occupied the leg of the pool hall that led to the rear of the building. Spectators could watch the action from a row of wooden theater chairs aligned on a raised platform. Later a coin-operated small pool table shared that space, but during my high school years, the snooker table was the only game in town.

Even the youngest school boys were welcome at the snooker table, as long as they knew the rules that demanded the table be treated with respect and that they surrendered their sticks when serious, older players wanted to play.

Obey the rules, and Hook was tolerant. Games at a quarter a shot could go on and on as novice players chased the red common balls and number scoring balls around the large table with smaller holes.

Customers could walk from Hook's to an adjoining storefront in which his wife ran a cafe. For us boys, it was a two-way door. That wasn't the case for the girls who hung out on game and dance nights at the cafe.

Throughout my high school years, Hook's was an entirely male preserve. Although junior high boys could come in for a pop and game of pinball, it was understood women stayed away. No one brought his date to Hook's, and no wife ever shared a beer with her husband at his bar.

But the late 60s were radical times, and a couple returning co-eds were ready to challenge Hope's established order. Pretty, popular and smart the two girls -- one was in my high school class and one a year older -- both left Hope for Kansas University. When KU shut down early during the troubled spring of 1970, they came home to address a high school assembly on the anti-war movement and developments in Lawrence.

During the Christmas break of that year, I remember riding in a car with the girl my age. She announced, "I'm going into Hook's. Why can't I?"

I didn't have an answer for her, strange as the thought seemed. She might as well have said, "I'm going to burn down the Dickinson County draft board."

She didn't go in at that time, but one night later I was sitting in the theater chairs overlooking the snooker table when the two girls walked through the front door. They went to the bar and ordered beers from Hook.

There were probably 20 or 30 men in the suddenly silent bar, all watching to see how Hook would respond. Leaning forward with his arms on the bar, Hook simply took their order with a shrug and filled it. Their provocative action was surely the topic around Hope's breakfast tables the next morning and a good number of regulars grumbled that night, but to Hook they were customers.

Sitting on bar stools, they drank their beers, quietly talking among themselves. I wonder now, how many times, sitting in the cafe next door and grousing over their segregation, they had envisioned that moment.

Their action broke the gender barrier at Hook's. Although always outnumbered by boys in letterjackets and regulars in overalls, young women started coming in with dates.

In the final sign that times had changed, they even started taking their turn at the snooker table.

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