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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
 
October: You’ve Got It Bad, II
October 2019

By George Fels
[Reprinted from November 1998]


When you find yourself alone in an empty room, visualizing how to use the surrounding walls to score a three-cushion billiard into your forehead.

…When you can remember not only the title of the Fred Astaire “Dr. Kildare” two-part episode in which he played a dying pool hustler and insisted on playing his own pool on camera, but also which bonafide pool-world figure appeared in a cameo as his opponent. (Astaire was fascinated with high-stakes pool; two of his favorite players were Eddie Kelly and Danny DiLiberto, but for this episode the late Harold “Red” Backer was chosen. The title, by the way, was “Fathers and Daughters.”

…When the house announces lights out in the middle of your game, and you try to sell your opponent on diagramming the balls so you can continue some other time.

…When you catch yourself saving discounted table time coupons.

…When the accomplishments of baseball’s Cal Ripken Jr. that you talk about most is his once winning Kirby Puckett’s post-season charity pool tournament.

…When you consistently try to steer any conversation about any aspect of mysterious, majestic Asia toward the terrifying pool contingent from the Philippines.

…When you find yourself boring others with the original motivation for the invention of plastic. (The only reason chemists bothered experimenting in this area at all back then was to find a low-cost substitute for ivory to make billiard balls.

...When you can recite a modest list of show biz’ fairly decent players. (Paul Sorvino and Danny Aiello aren’t half bad.)

…When you remember books by their pool scenes, even when the books had next to nothing to do with pool. “From Here to Eternity,” “Cry Tough,” “Boys and Girls Together,” “Knock on Any Door.” No doubt many other novels had good ones.

…When you allow yourself to wonder if any of the taverns whose signage declares “Billiards” indeed have billiard tables.

…Similarly, when you allow yourself to wonder if any of the many motels advertising “Pool” really have it!

…When you fantasize about the heart-stopping cues that could be made from the same logs that produced the conference table around which the critical business meeting is being held that you’re supposed to be paying attention to. Or the paneling on the walls, for that matter.

…When you can find the billiard rooms in a strange city just by “feel” without either consulting the Yellow Pages or asking anybody.

…When you’re willing to take your coffee break in a poolroom. I actually once had a summer job where I could do that and, if I played fast enough, I could squeeze in three of four practice racks of straight pool into the 15 minutes. (And, if I couldn’t play fast enough, I squeezed an extra five minutes out of my coffee break.)

…When you rearrange your workout schedule so as not to come to the pool table too stiff or sore later in the day, week, month, year or era.

…When fine executive briefcases remind you of cue cases.

…When you frequent a room with no intention to play, simply because you’re known there and feel like being seen.

…When you watch the game more carefully than the women who are playing it.

…When you visit a Chinese restaurant and persist in focusing on an inappropriate use for the chopsticks.

…When you can remember the pool subplots, including the cast, from episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Gunsmoke,” “All in the Family,” “Ironside,” “Then Came Bronson,” “Homicide,” and “Hill Street Blues.” (Interestingly, “Gunsmoke” and “Ironside” each used the same fine actor, Jack Albertson, in the hustler’s role, and both he and his on-camera pool were excellent both times.)

…When you’re willing to devote a practice session to one shot. That’s the way “The Hustler,” in book form, begins and concludes, and I thought such an outlandish thing was simply a fictional figment until I heard about former national billiards champ and author Eddie Robin, who, as a player, used to practice billiards’ break shot, pool’s spot shot, or any other given shot, for hours on end. And New York cult legend Gene Nagy went him one better, often seen practicing his 9-ball break hundreds of times in a row without once stopping to pocket a ball cleanly.

…When you are willing to play within hours of getting off a plane. (Watching the baby Alien crack through your chest is more fun.)

…If you’re willing to endure that heavy-duty cloth that a lot of rooms put on their tables in the interest of economics. It’s like playing pool on a beach.

…If you’re willing to wait in line to pay up to $12 an hour, sometimes more, to play in a room that doesn’t care if you ever come back.

…When you want your favorite cue(s) buried with you. (How else would you explain where all those cues of early champions went?)

…When the ultimatum, “You can have me or you can have pool,” paralyzes you with indecision.

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