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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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Best of Fels
June: When Pool Enters
June 2018

By George Fels
[Reprinted from December 1995]

None of us comes into this life intent on playing pool, although it seems a few among us were born to play it, the bastards.

Accordingly, when we insert pool into our lives, at whatever level, we usually have to move something emotionally to make room for it. These sorts of beneath-the-surface moves carry the risk of great upheaval; witness the San Andreas fault and other disasters.

Here, in no certain order, are common aspects of our lives that get spurned, and sometimes altogether trashed, in favor of pool:

Romance: God, yes. Pool’s historic macho stance has much to do with its being played where men deliberately went to avoid being around women. Musty old “Ladies Welcome” signs could be seen, if barely, behind the crusty grime of billiard parlor windows as far back as the ’20s, but the sentiment was about as sincere as a politician’s wink. In that early heyday of the game, one of the factors making poolrooms as popular as they are was unquestionably the rebirth of the Roman Empire’s “emporiums”; places for meetings between males, and only males.

In my own case, I vividly remember the last time I faced down the “You can have me or you can have pool” challenge, with an unhesitating and proud, “I choose pool”; the woman dissolved in tears and never ultimatumized me again. She is still with me 26 years later, no doubt wondering why she didn’t take me up on my decision.

Education: Like some kind of parasitic infection, Herbert Spencer’s “…wasted youth” philosophy and the whole mentality surrounding it refuse to die. While it is certainly true that shortsighted, lazy and often dumb young men quit school to play pool, it is overlooked but equally true that those young men are shortsighted, lazy and dumb enough to drop out for whatever reason tickles their fancy; pool simply happens to be handy. And in that case, rejoice that they chose pool, for they shall at least have a roof over their heads and a profession.

But in my era and culture, leaving school early was virtually unheard of, and besides there wasn’t enough pool action back then to convince anyone with an IQ in excess of the tens that he could survive doing it. Six to 12 dollars was a damn fine score; but who sits around a poolroom waiting to score $6 or $12? For that matter, why sit around at all, when you know exactly where all your prospects are? The local poolroom was cavernous until at least 4 p.m. Since there was nothing on the pool front until that time, you might as well bide your time in school.

In college, however, I took a more enlightened view, especially considering there was no action available at any level or time. People actually turned pale if you asked them to play for stakes. The only poolroom in town closed on the first weekend of my freshman year, thus the last tables in town were at the student union, and the fact that that place closed at 10 p.m. was probably all that kept me in school. The campus was laid out on a huge hill, and many were the times that pool was more attractive than the hill. Would I have found some other excuse to cut class had pool not been available? Possibly, but how much lower can one sink than interminable social or solo pool?

The Arts: They take too much time away from the game; there’s the omnipresent fear that those dark theaters will affect your shot making; and even if your aesthetic tastes stay the course through those first two obstacles, you run into a tendency to assess the performer on your own terms. Maybe you can’t sing, write, paint, dance, play an instrument or act, but this guy certainly can’t draw his stone, and that evens things out, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you love to give Mikhail Baryshnikov the call-7 and the crack?

The mindset tends to interfere directly with one’s appreciation of the art in question. Personally, I have mercilessly flayed so many singers, writers, artists, dancers, soloists and actors in my pool fantasies that their names and faces have become a blur, and I have not patronized their art since. Why should I pay good money to see someone who can’t even beat me at pool? As the late, legendary Johnny Irish said of Richard Nixon: “Howdya like dat bum? Can’t run six balls and he’s President of the United States.”

Exercise: One of pool’s more common victims, because of the rich plethora of rationalizations available:

“If I get pumped, I won’t be loose at the table.”

“I need to save leg strength.”

“I could miss five good customers in that hour.”

“If I run in the sun, I can’t play pool that night.”

And so on. There is validity to the claim that a muscle engorged with oxygenated blood — “pumped,” in the vernacular — is notably lacking in flexibility; thus the essence of muscularity is in feeling tight, while the essence of pool playing is in feeling loose. This may partially explain why so many players are built like laboratory flasks.

Work: One of the oddest collections of recreational players I ever saw got involved with the game only because their boss was. This was a group of ad agency creatives who sometimes ran fives and sixes, congratulated each other in terms like, “Nice concept,” and unanimously swore that they would leave their offices with problems unsolved and return with new ideas, despite their not having given the matter one conscious thought. They played from noon until 2:30 or so, then went to lunch, then went back to work.

Most of us, of course, have our priorities in appropriate order. And the hapless rest of us romance, study, enjoy the arts, exercise and work.