But first this message:
It is a common misconception among novice pool players that closing one eye while executing a shot results in greater accuracy. The opposite is, in fact, true. Having two eyes as apposed to one provides depth perception, an attribute of vision easily deemed necessary to excelling at billiards.
During my two years at Nicholls State University, located in the deep
south of Louisiana, I developed into a decent pool player. The dorm
building I lived in, Zeringue Hall (I hadn't been there a month before I
swiped the 3-dimensional aluminum "Z" from the front of the building.),
had a free table in the lobby, which was rarely not in use. The
table's surface was warped 6 different ways. It was generally not
decided until during a given game whether
a forceful, straight-on shot
that rebounded directly back on to the felt after bouncing off the worn
away, exposed hardwood of the couple pockets missing their rubber
backing counted. Only one or two of the half-dozen sticks available,
none of which were perfectly straight, were equipped with an actual
pool-cue tip. If you were playing doubles, which was common due to the
popularity of the table, there was a good chance you'd end up shooting
with a cue that had nothing at the tip but the flat, hard-edged,
circular surface of the closed end of a little white plastic cylinder
that once served as a mount for a long-forgotten proper cue-tip.
Applying chalk wasn't an option. Instead, one would occasionally
utilize the coarse mortar between the exposed bricks of the walls in the
room to scuff the plastic tip. There were two ways to do it: either hold the stick perpendicular to the wall, press it firmly and directly into the crevice, and twist a few times, or starting at one end of the wall, press the tip in the crevice while holding the stick on an angle to the wall but parallel to the floor. You then drag and twist it simultaneously while walking to the other end of the wall. I'm not sure exactly how effective it was, but most everyone who played there thought it was worth a try. Personally, I thought the latter option was the better of the two as it seemed to afford more precision.
Division One student-athletes hardly have time or energy for anything other than academics and practice, especially during the season. It is positively befuddling how these kids manage get in such trouble. That pool table was the favorite distraction for many of the basketball and baseball players who lived there. Football players from a couple buildings down showed up regularly, too. The lobby actually connected Zeringue to a twin building, Millet Hall, in which a few baseball players resided, but was otherwise inhabited by non-athletes.
Steve, a Millet (pronounced muh-lay) resident from way down on the Bayou was one of the best, if not the best player who frequented the table. Steve was a slightly slovenly Cajun cat of average height with a red bean and catfish-fed belly that rarely interfered with his game. It was great to watch him play. He never shot with unnecessary force; always smooth; placed the cue ball for his next shot perfectly nearly every time; saw his intended path before he took his first shot, which, after seeing how effective he was, I would guess he rarely deviated from. He ran the table regularly and made it look easy.
Though Steve was quite an influence on my game, I drifted toward a different style. I was having fun and was always competitive--I mean, it was mostly D-1 athletes using the table--but I never really applied myself in regard to placing the cue ball properly after each shot, a prerequisite trait of a truly exceptional player. Instead, I developed a bit of knack for making difficult shots. I was no trick-shot artist by any stretch, though I may have learned one or two along the way. Combination shots tempted me as more perfunctory options sat waiting. Successfully completing a bank shot through congestion and covering more than half the table was positively exhilarating. Razor-thin cuts where always a kick. It got to the point where if I began lining up a cross-side bank, my opponent would sigh and look away. Steve even said once, "He doesn't miss those."
On many a weekend afternoon when most of the student body was home for a crawfish boil and enjoying those great, impromptu high-school-buddy reunions, Steve and I would have the table to ourselves. We got to know each other fairly well, talking about class or sports or the hot beautician at the salon. (Steve gave Annette a glowing review. As I recall, these were his exact words, delivered sluggishly in his gumbo-thick Cajun drawl: "Yeah--go to Annette. She rubs her tits all over ya." (I went to Annette. (Steve was right. (No one else cut my hair for the remainder of my stay at Nicholls. (Why go to anyone else?)))))
In addition to all that, we also talked pool. Though I'm sure we covered a lot of ground regarding the nuances of the game, the one piece of information I gleaned from Steve that stands out is the point about depth perception. Now that I think of it, that little nugget was, in fact, un-Earthed during the conversation in which I finally found out exactly why one of Steve's facial sockets was filled with an awkward-looking prosthesis. Yep, you guessed it--a fishing accident. He even popped the hollow half-sphere out of place to show me both it, with its robotish-looking iris and pupil, and, by using his fingers to spread it open, the soft, pinkish cavity where a real eye was once connected. I nearly puked in it. My roommate and I, being the punks we were, privately referred to him as "Built-in," as in, "He didn't have to concern himself with making an effort to close one eye to aim a shot even if he wanted to--his aiming mechanism was "built in." (We were nineteen! It's not as if we said it to him or to anyone else for that matter. Jeeze!)
I guess the upshot is that there's always an exception to the rule. In his own little way, Steve defied the odds and didn't seem to have a lot of angst regarding his handicap, which he overcame to excel at an activity that usually requires a full compliment of the affected mechanism.
At one point, Steve's regular presence at the table came to an abrupt end. I didn't see him for weeks. When I finally ran in to him in the lobby I asked where he'd been. He said, "Oh, man, I got like two F's last semester and I'm on academic probation, so I had to give it up for a while." What a guy. The table happened to be empty. I challenged him to a game and he agreed to a quick one. He was rusty as hell.
I've since changed my approach to the game somewhat. It's good to plan ahead and put oneself in the best position for the next shot and eventually the winning shot; plant seeds that bear fruit later, etc, etc. After all, you'll still get opportunities to sink a few corkers along the way. (Keep an eye out for Mosconi while you enjoy this delectably cheesy 80's music video:)
Originally, this was going to be nothing but the Lite Beer ad with the title, "And Now a Commercial Message." Then I remembered Steve. It's a cool little story.
I don't recall who it was, but some well-known author--like, Steinbeck/Hemingway well-known--said that it is the details that the reader wants, that makes a story good. That's all this is--a true story; a little ditty. An attempt to take you there with descriptive prose. I am sure that there are at least a few people out there who read this post and don't care for the Annette reference. Too bad. I didn't include it because I endorse such crude talk, as harmless as it is, for guys over the age of, say, 30. Steve actually made the comment, though, and it thus adds to the story. I may have actually gone to Annette once. I embellished in the subsequent parenthetical statements and saw a chance to go 5 deep with them in a way that works. Every parenthetical statement there qualifies as one for the previous statement to which it applies, so, though it's a touch gimmicky, it's technically correct and I think the humor comes through. If you're really offended by the Annette thing, don't read my blog.
Another thing about great books is that they get better as they go. Conrad's Victory doesn't really kick in until the final third of the story when the bad guys arrive in the boat. The writing in that scene is phenomenal, by the way. But the point is, good story-telling is all about creating suspense and wonder early and then offering a relieving payoff later. It's not rocket surgery. I think this one does that pretty well. I doubt that anyone reading this expected Steve to be missing an eye. I'm just not thrilled with the writing in the first half. I guess it just doesn't swagger quite as much as my posts might tend to. There's nothing wrong with a little swagger, right?