We had just been herded inside from the patio and out of the crisp Toronto air. We crowded into the bar and lounge area, all of us forced to carry our conversations, spoken in half a dozen different languages, inside where a billiard table stood, taking up valuable standing and drinking room.
I was in a frenzy at this point, spinning in two different directions like a planet on two axes. Beers were only $4. They were delicious, but therein lied the problem: too many of them were sitting around unattended. There is a rule about alcohol within my circle of friends – it should never be wasted. I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself to be too old to finish off empties and actually approach the job with a point of pride – I feel like I’m the best at it.
After I had palmed two Canadian pints I hadn’t myself paid for, Kelly asked who was going to play pool with her. Deep down I knew it was me who would play her, as if the dice had already been cast and my number had come up. It was quite evident to me that no one else wanted to play, but she would be insatiable. Sometimes those things are just apparent.
Plus I knew it was time to lose again.
Just the week before I had handed my ID in at the bar to gain the cue ball from behind the bar in Goldsboro. I paid the manager to loose the balls from their perch and broke. Some women I play seem to insist its the gentlemanly thing to do so I oblige, but it’s only because what I lack in basic billiards skill I make up for in my ability to strike the cue ball incredibly hard, even if it’s path is difficult to predict.
This woman in Goldsboro was a familiar one, although this was our first true interaction between the two of us. She joked about how horrible she was at pool, which I’ve learned to fear even more than women who claim to be experts.
I had been beaten in pool several times before, by friends, strangers and girlfriends, so I had no fear. In my head I decided I would feel her out during the first game. Just have fun. If I won, great. If I lost, then I would aim to win the next two games to take the series two games out of three. It’s a way to maximize my interaction with a member of the opposite sex…a good move. Any other variation on the series would be fine, so long as I don’t scratch on the 8-ball.
I scratched on the 8-ball. She beat me twice in a row. No need for a third match, but let’s leave our ID at the bar just in case. Others can use the cue ball. Why do you need your ID now anyway? Tomorrow’s Saint Patrick’s Day but no big deal.
She returned to the billiard room with a cue stick and balls, but quickly pointed out how concerned she was with the cue.
“It has a plastic tip. They said they’re getting new ones and they’ll be in tomorrow.”
I had her figured immediately: She was going to kick my ass.
Besides her concern with the plastic tip, she eyed the three- inch gash in the felt on one end. To her, it was an obstacle. I thought it gave the table character. Like if there was ivy spilling out from Wrigley Field’s centerfield wall leading to second base – a hedge for the centerfielder to hop over while chasing down fly balls.
The game started the same way it always does when I prepare to lose to a female: I broke and the balls decided together to stay away from the pockets.
She cleaned up a few balls, complaining about the tip the entire time. I knocked in one of hers along with my own, but she continued to pull ahead.
I became completely engrossed in the game, helped on by the beers belonging to me and others that I had downed and my opponent’s roll. She refused to embrace the unpredictability of the plastic tip while I decided that the game was a wholly new one. Not billiards. Just a game of striking balls with a stick and hoping they would ricochet in. Truthfully, that’s how I play the game even when the sticks and felt are immaculate. I just can’t take games played in bars seriously.
Somewhere during this game, she decided she wanted to lead an expedition to SkyDome. It’s not called that anymore, now that Rogers Communications purchased it and named it “Rogers Centre,” the same way Delaware Ave’ in Philadelphia is now known as Christopher Columbus Avenue.
When I was there years ago, a Philadelphia native who despised Rocky Balboa’s fake statue near the “Rocky Steps” wondered aloud with us what the fuck Columbus had to do with the road running alongside the Delaware River.
It seemed Kelly, without even noting the Rogers connection, was cut from that same cloth.
She was recruiting her crew, which would include Jessica and I before departure, and had handed the cue stick off to a foreign fellow in a black leather jacket.
He was a diminuitive, almost French-looking creature in the jacket, which was all at once too big and too small for his frame. I didn’t even realize he was playing for her until I saw him scatter the balls on the table.
I asked, rhetorically, if I was playing him now and he huffed a response of some sort as I took the stick from him and lined up a shot.
Clack! Donk! I put it away but failed on my next attempt.
He took the stick and methodically angled his next shot, but misfired. I mentioned to him the plastic tip on the cue stick – apparently this is something good pool players notice, I decided – and he mumbled something back and handed the stick back to me rather forcefully.
By now, Jessica, who had made it very clear that she had no intention of playing, had noticed what was going on and began laughing at the situation. She’s very perceptive, even when she’s had a few, and I was too focused on the table to mind very much what the overall theme of this game was. It’s clear now, though, that Mr. Leather thought I was toying with him.
Standing at the far end, I shot the cue ball to the other side of the table where it reflected back at just the right angle to put a solid into the corner pocket to my right. As it was happening I realized it was the nicest shot I had ever sunk in the history of this silly sport.
Marcus, one of the friends we would join en route to Skydome, complimented me.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant to do,” I said sarcastically, admitting without admitting that I hadn’t been aiming to do what I had just done so perfectly.
He laughed it off, as did I. We had only been talking for a few hours, but it seemed he knew I rarely took anything seriously. It also seemed that my leather-clad opponent did not know this: He thought I was talking shit.
Jessica had been laughing at my shot and my antics following, on top of laughing at the situation wherein a man in a leather jacket mistakenly thought I was hustling him on the pool table, so by now she could scarcely contain herself. When I missed next, he took the stick back with some words spoken under his breath.
He spoke perfect English, I know, but for whatever reason he didn’t care enough to share it with me. I never truly understood a word he mumbled during our 15-minute encounter.
We traded shots a couple more times before it happened.
He missed a shot and freaked out, palming the 8-ball and slinging it into the corner pocket. Wow.
He then hunched over with his left arm and swiped at two other balls, sending both of them rolling into corner pockets. Double wow.
Jessica exclaimed each time a ball went in. Outside of him having a mental breakdown, it was either an amazing display of skill or a stroke of luck so heavy that it deserved to be noted.
He dropped the stick onto the table and marched off, turning back to mouth more words while saying nothing to me.
I had hustled Fonzie without even winning.
For another bar sport I’m not good at, see here.
For more on how much I suck at pool, see here.