Of course I was occasionally drunk in them, that’s true; but not all that often. I worked in them, mostly. It’s a different animal, working in bars. People imagine that show business is the same, only better, if you’re on a stage. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Anyway, you had to find a way to pass the time in a bar, without getting loaded, if you were working in there but idle for a time. I learned to play darts. I got pretty good at it. It never hurt that I was six-two with long arms; to the short fellows I appeared to just be leaning over and inserting them in the bulls-eye. I was so very much built to do it that the tip of my nose is exactly the height of the bulls-eye from the floor. When I worked constructing nightclubs, we used to hang dartboards using me for a ruler. Darts were a fun way to pass the time.
My son found my darts, in a little velcro pouch, and was fascinated by them. They have the appearance of weapons to a grade schooler, which they always find compelling. Dad, what do you do with these?
It’s been 15 years since I played at all. I used to like to play a game called Cricket, which has lots of strategery possibilities because you can rack up penalty points that your opponent has to overcome. Any game that allows you to simply win, or crush your opponent to taste, is the game for me. There’s almost always hope in such a game, as there is always a way to change tactics to suit the situation.
The real players don’t play that, they play 501. In 501, you have to simply throw the darts into the little slivers of the board marked with the numbers 1 through 20, with the thin outer ring counting double, the thin ring toward the center triple, and the bulls-eye rings counting 25 or 50 for the very center. You subtract the total of your throws from 501. To finish, you have to end on a double; so, for instance, you could subtract the sum of your throws down to 40, then hit the double 20 at the very top of the board to win. It seems counterintuitive to most onlookers, but the center bullseye is worth less than a triple 20. In 501 you essentially ignore it.
I was good at this game, but I found it boring. It’s the reason you see a list of arithmetic posted next to dart boards, outlining various combinations of throws that will lead to an “out” based on your remaining score. It’s too much like work.
My son wanted to see what playing darts was like. YouTube to the rescue. Here’s a World Championship in 1974. Look at the size of the crowd.
Well before my time, of course. But I tell you, with God as my witness, I would have murdered either one of these guys. I was shocked at how bad they were, even taking into account their rather old-school darts. How could they be competing at such a level?
Like many things, as soon as there’s enough interest — and some money– that which is casual becomes very, very serious. And so, thirty years later, look at how good you have to be to win: