A dart board hung on the wall in my bedroom. My bedroom was located in the basement of our house. It wasn’t really our house, but you know that’s just how people talk, you say that it’s yours but it’s not, it belongs to the bank.
It was only a matter of time before we lost it. I would have been able to swing the mortgage but not with the re-mortgages and the other mounting debts. That was a whole other conversation that no one wanted to have. When I say no one I mean my father. There are people in this world like my father who find life more difficult than others, they withdraw from the situations that life hands them instead of tackling whatever the problems were head on. I hoped to some pagan god, whom I couldn’t name a single one, that I wasn’t like that or I wouldn’t become like that.
My father was gifted a used dart board from an old friend, which he told me to hang in the basement. My father always wanted to hang things in the basement. The dart board was from someone he no longer bothered with, not Mr. Craven but another friend he disassociated himself from. It wasn’t that anything bad happened between him and his friends, my father simply chose not to speak or see anyone, and the more his heart hurt over the years the more reclusive he was.
The dartboard was black and yellow and hung before my father was completely dead on the inside. The board was made of cork and was machine gun sprayed with holes. It had the insignia of a once prominent brand of beer that was no longer in production. My father had never thrown one dart at the board but drank an ocean of the swill in his day. I respected the drinker. I understood the drinker.
“When did you get that?” Kenny asked
“The fucking dart board, ye minge.”
“It’s been there forever.”
“Has it? Fuck me,” said Kenny.
Kenny went out the very next day and bought a decent set of darts, they were Goldie Locks, not too heavy and not too light. They were nice 26 gram tungsten darts with black flights and a comfortable gripping pattern. Kenny opened the package and went forth with teaching me how to play darts. He tried to prepare me for all those nights I would waste away at the bar. He started with the basics. We approximated the proper distance to shoot from was the back of the couch. The actual distance it should have been was seven feet, give or take. The couch was close enough. I spent more nights sleeping on the couch than I did my actual bed, which was on the other side of the basement, another thing my father and I had in common. The basement was partially finished with no end in sight. Finished sheetrock here and exposed insulation there. A section of carpet here and a half century of stained tile there. I accepted whatever I got. I liked that the rafters were exposed.
“I’m going to teach you how to play Cricket,” Kenny said, looking at the imaginary line on the floor next to the couch. “There’s a load of shite names for this game but It’s fucking Cricket, not no Horse and Carriage or Beds and Bulls. The name is Cricket, not Pointy Throwies.”
“Pointy Throwies? Sounds like graff termanology.” I said.
“Keep it there,” Kenny said. “The object is to close out the numbers and to do so you have to hit each number a total of three times. The Cricket numbers are fifteen to twenty. Each turn you get three shots to close something out. If you hit it here it’s a single, these are double and triple rings. If you shoot and only hit one number, put a slash on the corresponding number on the scoreboard. If you shoot and get two singles or hit one double, put an X. If you shoot three singles, or a double and a single or hit a triple, throw a circle on there to close out the number. Now the bull’s eye is a single for the outer ring and the inner ring is counted as a double. The bull’s eye is the most fun. I’m all about it. You can close out the numbers in any order you fancy. For whatever reason I like to shoot clockwise, so I attack the twenty, the eighteen, the fifteen, the seventeen, the nineteen, the sixteen and then close up with the bulls’ eye to win with some dramatic fucking flair.”
“Ok. sounds easy enough. I’ll get the hang of it better if we just play.”
“It’s cake. When you got it down, we’ll play for points.”
After I got the hang of throwing darts I liked to bounce around the board. I’d randomly select a number and test my skills. I fancied myself a gunslinger. I wanted to evaluate my accuracy. It didn’t matter how you went about closing the numbers as long they got closed. I wanted to show off a little, not too much, just enough to be playful without being a complete cunt.
We started our match and Kenny shot his three darts, closing twenty and nailing a double eighteen.
“I twist darts from the heart,” Kenny said, pulling out the darts, marking his score and holding them out to me.
I asked Kenny, who said that, as I took the darts from him. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it right then.
“Cappadonna,” Kenny said, standing there quoting Wu, wearing a Bathory long sleeve shirt, Fire Death Blood. I went to one of our crates and pulled out that album and removed it from the jacket and placed the record in position and guided the needle down. Our collection had grown since Kenny gave me the Creeping Death record, all the records Kenny purchased, and he bought them religiously, they stayed here at our house. He never took them back to Ireland with him. I bought records when I could if I had the coin for it, it wasn’t until I started working and then I could afford to buy them more regularly. I was also going to more shows. I took treks to the city to hit Generation Records and Bleecker Bob’s, and the only place in the area for us was Breakdown Records, which had a large selection of items that were mostly unappealing to me. There was a gem here and there but you had to search, they did have some decent bootlegged concerts on VHS. I grabbed a quality copy of Slayer crushing Irving Plaza, and another one of the Deftones, which had footage from a few different shows early in their career, with a set where they opened for Kiss and took being booed by the audience in stride. I liked going to Slipped Disc Records but we rarely made our way out to Valley Stream. The selection was cool and had less pretentious employees.
I shot and got one seventeen, with one dart falling out of the board. Kenny closed eighteen, then hit triple fifteen and seventeen.
“These darts are fucking poisonous, mate.” Kenny pulled the darts out of the board and handed them to me.
I shot and missed with each dart. Kenny had four numbers closed, I had one seventeen. The four circles on the scoreboard pulsed and mocked me, but it was still fun. I was inexperienced but I would practice and get better at it over time. Admittedly, I was happy just to be hitting the board. I stood there, and I must have done something wrong because Kenny rubbed his head as if he had a migraine, thumb and middle finger soothing his temples. He called me to the board.
What’s up I asked. I was lost, sometimes I could be absent minded. If I had made an error it was an honest mistake.
“What are you forgetting young Colm? It’s integral to the game.”
“I’m not following. I didn’t hit anything. Did I throw them wrong or something? What is it?”
“You shot fine. This is a pet peeve for many. You shoot your darts. They stick into the board. Don’t leave them there. In a timely fashion remove them, mark your score and hand them over to your opponent. In this case you hand them to me. It’s simple. It’s basic manners. It’s dart etiquette. Show them you have a bit of class. Learn this now, Colm. Respecting each other could save humanity a lot of tears. And nothing pisses people off more than being polite when you’re beating the brakes off them. Be a fucking gentleman.”
Kenny Ryan was a believer in not being an asshole just because other people were assholes, but of course, in this world there were exceptions to the rules. No absolutes. Kenny’s stance on what he called dart etiquette rang true as a similar age old idiom, and that was quid pro quo. A latin phrase translated to this for that, and could also be understood as a kind of one hand washes the other, it was a matter of cooperation, a sign of respect, or something that needed to be repaid or fulfilled. An eye for an eye was fundamentally dart etiquette.
“You don’t have to apologize. Don’t do it again. Learn. Don’t be someone who doesn’t learn from their mistakes.”
“I won’t be.” I didn’t want to be someone who didn’t learn from their mistakes. I didn’t want to be a lot of things, I didn’t want to be me.
“Want a beer?”
“I can have a beer?”
“Why can’t you? Go the fuck upstairs and grab us beers. We’re parched. Aren’t we?” Kenny laughed, and I went to fetch the beers from the fridge upstairs, Bud cans. It had not occurred to me that I could do that in the house, but who was going to stop me, no one.
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