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.
Best of Fels
"All right, all right, stop whining," she said. "Here, I'll even toss you another roll in the hay." And that is how the game of pool came to grant me a run of 115 balls - a lifetime personal best - roughly two weeks after my publishing a column in which I declared my shifting allegiance to caroms.
"Well, that was quite a roll," I admitted. "I'll give you that."
"Do you mind if I ask why?" I said. "Or, for that matter, how? I hadn't run a hundred in five years; I hadn't been past 66 in a year. I'm closer to my 70th birthday than my 69th. Nobody peaks at this age! Nobody!"
"Lots of guys run balls at your age," she said dismissively. "At your age, Mosconi ran 588, opened the balls up with number 589, and quit to go to dinner. Hell, Jimmy Moore was 'running his age' well into his 80s."
"That's my point. Players who run balls when they're old were all great when they were young. As a player, I've been a ham-'n'-egger all my life. How could this happen?"
"You might have something there," she allowed. "I'm not sure I ever heard of a guy peaking nearly 55 years after he started playing either. But why don't you just accept it and move on? Maybe you'll have more good runs yet."
"Yeah, sure. In those 55 years I've run a hundred exactly six times. So now I'm gonna go out and do it daily for years? You're gonna turn an ancient geezer into John Schmidt?"
"Don't pin me down," she said calmly. "Can't promise you a thing."
"And how come you can't? I haven't loved you enough? My last two years of high school, and all four years of college, I sent my grades down the toilet for you. When I was in the Army, I risked being sent to the stockade so I could sneak off and play you. I screwed up any number of jobs, and damn near lost my marriage, because I kept putting you first. And you can't let me be a real player, for the time I have left?"
"If love were all that counted," she replied, "you'd be in line with about half a million players."
"And I'd be first in that line!" I declared as assertively as I dared. I didn't want to give offense; like God, pool is a strikingly beautiful woman. And I've always liked smart black women to begin with. "How can anybody possibly love you more than I do?"
"Others have given their lives over to me," she said. "You never did that. You finished school; you had a bona fide career; you were, in the final analysis, an ecstatically happy married family man. What kind of love for me is that?"
"The sensible kind. And don't change the subject. If you need proof, you can leaf through nearly 30 years' worth of magazines in which I published columns on you. I don't even compete anymore, except for league, and I'm still with you four, five times a week. It wouldn't kill you to let me run some more balls."
"I let you win that league two sessions back," she said smugly, as though playing a trump card of some sort.
"And I've been playing like Stevie Wonder ever since. You don't have to convince me you're fickle; I've had all those years to see for myself. Enough already, with the plaid pleated skirt and blazer. Let me run some more balls."
"Plaid pleats and a blazer?" she gasped. "What makes you think I'm Catholic?"
"You're certainly strict enough."
"That strictness is non-denominational. And you're supposed to know that. Some writer you are."
"That's the job you seemed to have for me, these last thirty years-plus."
"Yes, and I basically like what you've done with it. A bit smartass, perhaps, but all in all, quite sound."
"Why are you so intent on driving me toward the b-word?" I asked as plaintively as I could. "Or the word that begins with the letter that comes shortly thereafter?"
"It's in my nature," she said. "As you no doubt know, I've been called far worse."
"Let me have some more good runs, lady," I pleaded, with the renewed focus of the truly desperate. "I've earned it. You mean so much to me that I've broken cues in practice, for Lord's sake. Just practicing, I work myself into a state that guys who play for $20,000 don't reach. I endure all those giggles, when the room sees me going ballistic over my practice. I regularly revisit the most evil demons from my personal black hole over you. I spend New Year's Eve alone with you. What more can I do?"
"You're being greedy," she said. "Have you forgotten Freddy the Beard and Jack Gunne? Those were the two best friendships of your life. And you wouldn't have had either one without me."
"And I give you your props on a daily basis for each of them. But I still want to run more hundreds."
"Here's what's going to happen," she explained, as patiently as though she were teaching me the alphabet for the first time. "There will be no plaids or blazers. I shall permanently be wearing pink pleated skirts, as I know those are two prominent weaknesses of yours. Complementing the ensemble, I shall be donning the darkest possible chocolate stockings - that's stockings, Bub, not pantyhose - and the reddest possible lipstick. I will grant you long runs as I see fit, and if you don't stop challenging me like this, I will personally see to it that you're in your shooting stance for the entire time you play. Even in-between shots."
"So at the end of the day, it's the t-word," I said. "After all this time, after all this love, the commitment, the devotion, the reduction of my social life to just you and a little beagle, it's the t-word."
"Hey," she grinned, crossing her legs, flashing expertly, and sounding more and more like a suddenly stable Britney Spears, "It's what girls do."