"The more crooked the board the better I play. There was one in Gallup, N. Mex. that was ungodly. Felix knew every little crook in that board and he was a boogerbear. He busted me twice. I came back the next day and captured him. C. B. Faulkner, who was once offered a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson, has a damned crooked backside board he plays on in Little Rock. You need a road map to play it."
Boards aren't all that's crooked in shuffleboard. Players have been known to put salt on the end of a board to stop a weight, or use a magnet or spit on the weight or put ear wax on the bottom. Or they'll jack up the legs of the table to change the drift or raise up an end and kick a cigarette butt or beer coaster under a leg.
Billy rarely finds it necessary to assume a false identity to get action on the road, and the few times he's tried it it has backfired. Once, in Memphis, he introduced himself as Wayne Mays in the hope he wouldn't be recognized. "Oh," the fish said, "you're that Wayne Mays that passed through here a few years ago." Another time, in Pasco, Wash., he decided to go under the name of Wayne Nickels, but the next day when someone asked what was his name again, he couldn't remember. "I knew it wasn't Quarter or Penny," Billy recalls thinking, "so I told him, 'Wayne Dimes.' " Since Billy doesn't have to shave more than twice a week he's had no luck growing a beard, but he has been known to put his arm in a sling to go hustling. His ineffectual appearance usually works as well as anything. As a player said the other day: "Look at Billy Mays. He don't look like he can do nothing. He don't look like he can cross the street."
Billy Mays was born in Emory, Texas, was smoking when he was 5, rolling his own when he was 6, was married four times before he was 21 and has gone to jail seven times in one day. When he was 9 one of his five brothers hit him in the right eye with a slingshot and he hasn't seen out of it since. When he was 17, Donnie Fleeman, who later kayoed Ezzard Charles and fought Roy Harris, knocked him cross-eyed by hitting him on the back of the head. When a player recently suggested that Billy even things up by playing without his glasses, Billy said: "I'll tell you what, I'll shoot without them if you shoot with them." Indeed, to get games Billy often has to play with one hand or with a broomstick or backwards or blindfolded. These are what are known as spots. "A spot," says Billy, "is something that sounds like it give you a chance—but don't." As a matter of fact, there is a blind man that plays horse collar, one of the half a dozen shuffleboard games. "I don't know anyone can go up and beat him where he plays," says Billy. "Blind John. Wichita Falls, Texas." There's even a horse that plays in Truth or Consequences, N. Mex. He picks up the weight with his teeth and pushes it with his nose. "I'll play that horse for $50," a hustler told its owner not too long ago. "I imagine I can beat him." "You probably could," the owner said, "but I'll bet you $100 you couldn't find another horse that could."
Before he took up shuffleboarding Billy was a pretty fair boxer. When he was 16 he was middleweight champion of Fort Leonard Wood despite the fact that you have to be 17 and see out of two eyes to be in the Army. Billy still gets in the odd fight. "I walk away from a fight," he says, "but they better not follow me." He doesn't take his glasses off before a fight. "I never have to hit a man more than one time in what you call streetfighting," he explains. Indeed, it was his big punch and not his birthplace that got him his road name—Texas Billy. This came about in the Park Inn Diner in Buena Park, Calif. The way Billy says it happened, a rodeoer who stood 6'10", went 285 and wore a big cowboy hat came into the place, "wiped a big old X in the middle of the shuffleboard and said: 'The game is stopped.' It just so happen two real tough boys are playing. They really love to fight. I jumped up on the bar and put my feet on the stool. One of the boys grabs him a shuffleboard weight and hits Tex in the chest. 'If you don't want to eat that weight...,' Tex says." What with one thing and another the question was posed as to who was or wasn't going to pull Tex's hat down over his ears. It turned out to be Billy, who knocked him down with one punch. "He came in 10 feet tall and went out two," says a player named Eddie Contreras, who was there. "The next day he showed up on TV in the calf-roping contest with a bandage around his head. Tied his calf in pretty good time, too."
"When I was 22 I was the best shuffleboard player in the world," Billy says. "When I was 21 I didn't know what a shuffleboard was." Billy got started playing after breaking his back falling out of a 125-foot oil derrick. Actually, the way Billy tells it, he fell about 25 feet, then grabbed hold of a pipe and, evidently, sort of slid the rest of the way. While he was hanging around Dallas with his back in a brace he got hustled into a game in Sam's Place, drew Granville Humphrey as a partner, won $40, played the rest of the day and lost all of it back. For the next three months Billy opened Sam's at 8 a.m. and didn't leave until they shut the door at midnight. "At the end of three months I was the best player in Dallas," he says.
But Billy didn't make his name until 1962, when he beat Bob Miles out of $22,000 in the Park Inn Diner. "We played for 30 hours," Billy says. " 'Let's play for $100,' Bob Miles said. 'Let's play for $200,' I said. 'Make it $300,' he said. 'Make it $400,' I said. There were 120 people in there betting, and only three were betting on me. I won 18 in a row—19 out of 21. He went busted five times and had to go get money. While he was gone I played $500 freeze-out with Mexican Tommy—he's an interior decorator who has the most beautiful shot in shuffleboard, it's poetry in motion—and K. C. Kid, who's also known as K. C. Chuck. K. C. started betting on me after I busted him. Won $4,800. Another boy won $4,000. Some nights you throw those weights up there, looks like someone stop them with a string."
The most Billy ever played for was $1,000 a game in Pasco, Wash.; he won $10,000. Billy also says he once won $10,000 in Stockton, Calif. "Mostly hot checks," he says. "From a rich man—supposedly. The bar was guaranteeing his checks. But when they turned out to be hot they said they didn't know he was going so strong." Billy claims he has $100,000 in bad checks in his bureau drawer.
"I don't play against paper," Jean says, "I don't like no paper and I don't give no paper. The last one I had was for $400, and I sold it for $50.1 can show you a stack of checks that won't quit."
"They play that last game on nerve," Billy says. "A guts game. They give you a check to keep from fighting you."