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A man could end up on the Bowery for love of a two-piece billiard cue

Manufacturers of two-piece billiard cues," reads a sign on the wall of Isidore Rutzisky's little store at 198 Bowery on New York's ramshackle Lower East Side. The shop is hardly more than a stall, dusty and dimly lit. Rutzisky calls it the Bowery Billiard Tables & Supply Company, but not a billiard table is to be seen. "We don't sell them anymore," says Rutzisky. "They are too much trouble to order now that the game is popular." The shop is strewn with the tools and debris of a wood-turning craftsman: the lathes, saws, wood chips and sawdust from the lathing and polishing of countless billiard cues. "We specialize in making two-piece billiard cues for private people," says Rutzisky. For the hustler, the game's professional, and the discriminating amateur, a two-piece cue is invaluable. It is easy to carry, and certainly no one doubts that a 2½-foot carrying case is more discreet than one 5 feet long, the length of a normal cue.

"Fifty-four years I'm on the Bowery," Rutzisky says with pride, "first at No. 332 and now at No. 198, but always in the billiard business."

If Rutzisky cannot satisfy a customer with one of two dozen models on his display rack, he will make a cue to order for the same price, carefully noting a customer's particular specifications of weight, diameter and decoration and finish it within a week. The weight of a cue is important to a player, and it must be accurate to the ounce (most weigh between 14 and 22 ounces). Brazilian rosewood, easily lathed or shaved to the correct weight, is used for the butt of the cue. The shafts are made of smooth domestic hard-rock maple, easily turned to a desired diameter (10-13 millimeters) to fit a customer's grip. The tip of the shaft usually is made of hard East Indian buckhorn, although a synthetic may sometimes be substituted. The tip is then capped with French leather. A custom cue by Rutzisky costs from $16 to $40, depending upon a player's taste in decorative inlays. Rutzisky supplies a carrying case for his two-piece billiard cues. Depending upon the type of material, the cases cost from $3 to $12.

Wood is not the only material Rutzisky uses. He also converts blocks of Zanzibar elephant ivory into billiard balls. Depending upon the grade of ivory, a set of three—red, white and spotted—costs up to $75. If he has the seasoned ivory in his safe, it takes Rutzisky about a week to turn, polish and color them. (Ivory must be seasoned for at least a year, much like wood, before it can be made into billiard balls.)