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Tips & shafts
By George Fels
Consulting Editor George Fels has been writing for Billiards Digest since 1980, and his "Tips & Shafts" column is usually our readers' first stop when they crack open the magazine. For better or worse, pool has been his only mistress for 40-plus years.


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August: You've Got It Bad
August 2015
[Ed. Note: George was nine months ahead on his Tips & Shafts column at the time of his death. Billiards Digest wouldn't deny his faithful readers the joy of seeing those columns in their rightful place on the last page.]

[Reprinted from April 1994]

When you find yourself forming an unorthodox tripod bridge around your pen or, much worse, your dinner fork. The latter drove my parents to distraction, which may have actually encouraged me to do it, at one level of consciousness or another. when you find yourself cutting classes to play. Easier to rationalize at my college than at others, because most of my classes were held in a lecture hall at the top of a huge hill. So, it became not so much a matter of, "I'd rather play pool," as much as, "I'd rather not climb that hill. Or so I told myself.

when you find yourself risking court-martial to play. Not as easily done as cutting classes; after all, the sergeant you were ducking had only to look in the Day Room to find and demote you. To make things easier for me in this arena, the base on which I served (Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., or, as it was often called, Ft. Lost-In-The-Woods, Misery) had a free-standing poolroom.

when you find yourself risking being fired to play. I think I'm past that now, if for no other reason than there is no billiard room anywhere near where I work. But in the early '70s, there was a room within easy walking distance of Chicago's ad agencies, a nasty temptation for life to put before me. (I actually was fired for that once; 3:45 is a cavalier hour to return from lunch. But I won $60, so what the hell. Quid pro quo.)

when you find yourself chronicling the major fiction authors who have included the cue games somehow. Whether or not the late Walter Tevis legitimately qualifies as "major", that still leaves John O'Hara, James Jones, Ernest Hemingway, Erskine Caldwell, Budd Schulberg (the novel on which the great film "On the Waterfront" was based made a pool player of mob boss Johnny Friendly, although a billiards table showed up in the movie), Irving Shulman (the notorious The Amboy Dukes and its sequel, Cry Tough), Willard Motely (Knock On Any Door), William Goldman (scenarist of "Butch Cassidy" and author of Marathon Man; his novel, Boys and Girls Together, includes a very well-done straight pool scene), the Pacific Northwest's Don Carpenter and many others.

Ditto the movies. "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money", of course, but also "A Shot in the Dark" (who can forget Peter Sellers' rainbow-shaped cue?), "A Place in the Sun" and "From Here to Eternity" (coupled, because the late Montgomery Clift, who starred in each, appeared to be genuinely talented at the game), "The Baltimore Bullet" (yuck!), "The Odd Couple", "Take the Money and Run", "Sleuth", "Cinderella Liberty" (star James Caan is said to be an authentic pool freak), a number of W.C. Fields shorts and, undoubtedly, many others. Ditto great art. Of course, the list is short, unless you count pool-playing bullfrogs or bulldogs, and Billiards Digest's peerless Michael Shamos has chronicled this better than I or anybody else could: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Daumier, Degas, Man Ray, George Bellows, Jacob Lawrence, Claes Oldenburg and others, plus two limited-edition lithographs by Leroy Neiman. Ditto advertising. Steve Mizerak's great work for Lite Beer ushered in an onslaught of pool-oriented commercials and/or print ads for too many other beer brands to mention in entirety. The first was probably the popular East Coast brand, Schaefer's, which featured Willie Mosconi way back in the mid-'60s. Ditto popular music. The late Jim Croce's "Don't Mess Around With Jim" is at the forefront, naturally, but pool or poolrooms or pool-playing are also in the lyrics of Oscar Brown Jr., Johnny Cash, Tom Waites, Rickie Lee Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Bob Seger. (But, except for Gilbert and Sullivan's reference to what must be English billiards in "The Mikado", no lyricist has yet to address billiards. Go Figure.)

when you find yourself daydreaming of table layouts in the midst of reading, movie-watching, TV-viewing, art-beholding, ad-browsing, music-listening, business-meeting or actual work.

when you find yourself charting layouts of major U.S. cities you know by where the poolrooms are.

when you find yourself wondering, upon first view of skylines of the cities you don't know, where and who and how good are the pool players?

when you find yourself to be reasonably good company for yourself in an otherwise empty poolroom.

when you find yourself looking at fine wood-veneered furniture but thinking about cues. when you find that those five-steel-balls executive pacifiers remind you of combination shots. when you find yourself regarding any truly great figure along the lines of, "Yeah, but he/she probably can't even draw the cue ball."

when you find yourself at your table in your underwear at 4 a.m., still courting dead stroke and that perfect run of however many balls, happy to settle for temporary mastery of the unmasterable, thinking, "How much more can life possible have to offer me than moments like this?"

when you find yourself at no loss whatsoever for various items to fill a column such as this.



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