It is noon and one of the regulars walks into La Belles Night Club off of Tower Avenue in Superior. He is wearing jeans, black tennis shoes, a collared pool-league shirt, and a black vest jacket. He looks around allowing time for his eyes to adjust. He has gray hair with an old-school mullet cut, no facial hair, and a black pair of seeing glasses. Finally, he walks over to the bar.
“I’ll have a shot of Petri Brandy with one and only one ice cube,” he says to the bartender. “And don’t forget my snit of Miller Genuine Draft Beer on the side.”
Kenny “Hookster” Brass is a five-time Superior City Pool Champion and four-time runner-up. Those are relatively remarkable accomplishments from a single player, but the catch is, Brass only has one arm and four fingers on his other hand.
Brass comes down to La Belles around noon everyday to play pool and to drink. Most of the time he is there to see his friends and hangout. “I’m turning the till,” is how he describes it. But during the winter and early spring, he has his game face on as he works on becoming a better player, competing in his pool leagues, and hopefully adding to his already impressive trophy case.
In 1972, Brass was in a car accident. He wrapped his ‘62 Dodge station wagon around a tree. Twenty-two years old at the time, he lost his right arm from the elbow down, the index finger on his left hand, and his remaining three fingers and thumb were mangled.
“After the accident, I was told that the doctors wanted to take all of my limbs,” Brass said. “But no one would sign for it. They said, ‘Let him die.’ My parents knew that there would be hell to pay if they took all my limbs, and I lived. Now look at me. I walk and shoot pool pretty damn good.”
Brass started playing pool at age 16. He got his start in this very pool hall, back when it was called Tommy Byrnes.
“I’ve been coming here since 1955,” Brass said. “My mother and grandmother would bring me in here at age five. They’d sit me down at the end, and give me a shorty of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer to shut me up.”
He was originally a right-handed player, but after the accident he taught himself how to play with just his left arm, and then again with a prosthetic arm once he saved up enough money to buy one.
Brass shoots pool with similar cues to every other player. But his cue has a little bit of a home touch. He had to add a quarter inch thick layer of duct tape around the bottom end so he can hold it with his prosthetic arm. “He is always at the pool tables,” said Brunell Williams, who bought La Belles with his wife in 1985, and have known Brass for 25 years.
“Since I have owned the place, it seems like he is here every day,” Williams said.
After the accident, Brass had to reshape his entire life. He was lucky to get a job with a man named Bob Beckwell. Beckwell owned a cab company called Tip Top Cab. He gave Brass a job as a driver and also gave him the opportunity to learn how to live with his disability.
“Bob was born without one of his arms, and had to learn how to do everything in his life with one hand,” Brass said “He passed his knowledge and skills onto me and allowed me a shot at a decent life.”
So far, Brass has had that decent life.
He has been married to Jeanne for 30 years, has two children Micheal and Milissa, and an adopted child Scott. Even though he doesn’t see his biological children anymore, he will never hesitate to see Scott and shoot a few games of pool.
On any given afternoon. you can walk into La Belles and see Brass shooting pool or telling a story from his past. At first you might think, "Who is that crazy guy that keeps tapping his hook on the bar top?" But once you get to know him, you will quickly realize he is just enjoying life.
Brass grabs his cue from behind the bar. He quickly screws it together and makes his way towards the tables. He looks back.
“If I would have to do my life over again, I would do it the exact same way without a doubt in my mind,” Kenny “Hookster” Brass said.