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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
September: Waiting for a Cue
September 2019

By George Fels
[Reprinted from June 1998]

Some of the cue game’s all-time records were meant to be broken, some not. No one has ever topped Willie Mosconi’s well-known straight pool run of 526 (not officially, anyway), and with that game’s popularity on the wane, it’s barely conceivable but highly unlikely that anyone ever will. It’s not even remotely conceivable that Willie Hoppe’s marvelous mantle of world championships 47 years apart will ever be approached. The dozens of records that overlay the exquisite but extinct balkline games are forever safe. But no matter how timeless the records in question, all those high-water marks the games have garnered over scores and even centuries of play have at least this much in common: I’m not likely to make much of an assault on any of them.

However, I have established one mark that, to me, seems every bit as unassailable as Hoppe’s: I waited almost exactly 26 and a half years for a cue. (It is implausible that anyone will come forward claiming to have topped this one, and least of all in writing, as that person would necessarily be denied access to anything sharp.) To put this interlude in perspective, the king of cuemaking waiting lists today is Pennsylvania’s Barry Szamboti, who cheerfully admits that he has customers lined up for a paltry six-years plus.

And to make certain that I was jerking my own chain in truly epic fashion, this was a cue that I designed myself.

The cue was actually born, then, before Leonardo DiCaprio was; when writers still used typewriters and even pad-and-pen; basketball players still wore shorts, not baggy Bermudas; rock music was still great. Who knows where the inspiration came from? I can’t even draw stick figures; it’s a very good day when I put on clothes that match. All I can tell you for certain is that in August 1971, I had just made a job change that had me as depressed as I can ever remember being, and from the bowels of my despair, a cue design magically appeared one day when I was supposed to be working. There’s no point to boring you with details of the design; like most sound graphics ideas, it’s simple. Yet, I had never seen it executed before.

It had only been a few months since California’s Ernie Gutierrez and his Ginacues had been profiled in Sports Illustrated, so he was the first wandmaker with whom I shared my vision. As is his custom, Ernie promptly sent me a four- or five-inch blank to show me what he had in mind and bid $450 to build the cue. I know that sounds like walking-around money today, but back In 1971, that was more than double what a Balabushka cost; it was approximately a week’s salary for me, and as I was a new father, putting a week’s pay into a pool cue was no option whatsoever; and I just didn’t have quite that much available on the side.

Thus, did inspiration metamorphose into mere obsession. Just to keep the tease alive, I did show the same design to other cuemakers periodically, getting reactions from “piece of cake” to “too difficult to implement except at an exorbitant price.” No two artists had the same methodology in mind, either. But what did it matter? The money, like Tantalus’ water and fruits, was always just out of reach. After all, life will present priorities other than pool, however disagreeable that reality may be. Also, as years went by, cue prices escalated to points approaching psychosis, and to complicate things, I was blindsided by a nine-year stretch of near-total unemployment. Somehow, the family survived, and although my dream cue was further away than ever, the dream survived too.

What forms does an obsession like that take? Well, first and foremost, nobody else’s cue fazes you regardless of intricacy, except to note, “Good. Nobody else has come up with my design yet.” It becomes an uneasy matter to watch commercials for Federal Express or UPS, or even to view their trucks, because all that says “packages,” and “packages” says “cue,” especially in triangular boxes or circular tubes. The junk mail credit card solicitations that arrive almost daily are a horrifying temptation because they offer the credit line that would pay for the cue. The burled dashboard of a luxury car, fine-paneling in an elevator or conference room, the marriage of woods in a fretted musical instrument are all in place not for their original function, but simply to torment you still further.

Finally, 25 years later, I came into a situation where some non-blood money was available. I contacted Paul Drexler of Connecticut. I’m in the marketing arena myself, and I admired the way he promoted his inventory, knowledge and love of fine wood. As any great artist would, Paul brought something of his own to the project and found a way to make my design not only feasible but better. The highest praise I can articulate is that the cue’s looks are fully worthy of the dream that spawned it, and its hit is worthy of its looks. He even achieved exactly the feel and hit I wanted, without my being able to put those right-brained preferences into words in the slightest way. Some dreams not only come true but attend to the details too.

Was it worth the wait? To a moonbeam the likes of me, sure. But it’s said a man’s happiness depends on having something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to, and re the third, exactly what do I replace that obsession with? What could I have accomplished with all the time I lost dreaming about the cue? And what do I do about the savage irony that between the cue’s conception and its realization, my best playing days went from well ahead of me to well behind me?

Would I do it again? Not in this life. There’s no time even if I wanted to.