The ‘Dream Job’

From behind the front desk of the Tulane pool hall/bowling alley/ping-pong facility, I looked out at a vast jungle of green felt. 

Over to the right was the eight-lane bowling alley and behind the pool tables was a screened-off area for ping-pong. 

There were so many good players in this pool hall that you could close your eyes and imagine players like Minnesota Fats, Willie Mosconi, Luther Lassiter, Jimmy “Pretty Boy Floyd” Mataya and Steve Mizerak. Credit the old-time newspaper sportswriters and other pool players for pinning those monikers on them and further publicizing their reputations. 

black and white image of students playing pool in room with pool tables in the 1970s
A scene from Tulane’s past student life: pool tables in the 1970. (Photos courtesy of University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections)

Billy Wells played almost all of those greats and occasionally beat them. Wells was a lifelong New Orleanian who came to Tulane and studied geology. He graduated in 1966 and took a job as a geologist for Texaco. He served his country in the armed forces in Germany. He won the All Army Pool championship while enlisted. He learned how to play the guitar and was good at it, entertaining his friends and family. 

He was never comfortable as a geologist so he resigned, enrolled in Tulane Medical School — now the School of Medicine — in 1977 and was trained in radiology at Charity Hospital. He became a highly respected radiologist, and one of his sons, Adam, followed in his footsteps. 

black and white photo of students bowling in Tulane's bowling alley in 1967
The bowling alley in 1967. (Photos courtesy of University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections)

Across from the pool hall was the Tulane barbershop. This was not your normal barbershop. There was always music going on the radio. The lead barbers were Tom Davis and Bris Jones. Jones also played the clarinet; along with banjo player John Chaffe, they were the leaders of The Last Straws, a very popular traditional jazz band that recorded multiple albums. Other members were Bobby McIntyre, Bob Ice, Walter Chamberlain, Moose Zanco and Nick Gagliardi. They did regular gigs at Bruno’s Tavern on Maple Street and were seemingly always present at parties.

Down the hallway was Der Rathskeller, where delicious German food was served, as were some magical adult elixirs. 

black and white photo of three barbers with customers in chairs in Tulane's barbershop in 1959
An on-campus barbershop in 1959. (Photos courtesy of University Archives, Tulane University Special Collections)

It was very convenient to walk into the barbershop, ask how long of a wait it might be, and then go shoot some pool across the way. The manager of the pool hall was Carroll Comeaux Sr. As assistant manager of the pool hall, he was my boss. The pool hall was my student job — a dream job, I might add — as I turned into a decent pool player, but far from the likes of Billy Wells. 

Wells’ contemporaries, who were all friends, included John “Spike” Wilds, Ray Wollney, Don Stone, Regal Bisso, Steve Bloom, Al Werlein, the mysterious “Fred the Beard,” who would never reveal his real name, and many more. Other pool hall regulars included Quint Davis. Yes, that Quint Davis, the producer of the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Davis played a game called snooker, in which the pockets are smaller and the scoring is different. The game is highly popular in Great Britain.

If Wells ever played snooker, it was for a lark. His game was billiards, pool. He was so good that in 1964 and 1965 he won the National Collegiate Pool Championship, becoming, at the time, the only Tulane athlete in any sport to win two NCAA national championships. And in his first try as a sophomore in 1963, he finished second. Wells was very modest and never bragged about his accomplishments. 

While Wells was at Tulane, his best pal, Don Stone, was at LSU, where he won the campus championship. Tulane tried to promote a Wells-Stone match, but they didn’t want to play each other, so they flipped a coin, Stone won, and there was never a match. 

Wells, who died in 2016, was married to his wife of 46 years, Fontaine Wells. They had five children and many grandchildren. I am proud to say that I was honored to be a great friend of his. He was my fraternity brother at Beta Theta Pi fraternity on Zimple Street, where we also had a pool table.