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
So, how do you stay in the mood for pool when you’re nowhere near it?
No doubt callous millions would respond, “Why on earth would you want to?” But these unfeeling souls are clearly not obsessed as you and I are, thus I must reject their perfectly logical thinking a priori. The obsession frequently manifests itself first in the forming of perfect loop bridges around silverware or pen — this symptom’s potential for infuriating one’s parents must not be overlooked — and only gets worse from there. When you gotta have pool, you gotta have pool, and nothing else will do, not even at hundreds of dollars per ounce. So when classes, work, relationships, or other troublesome distractions make the game inaccessible, we bring its glow to us.
Some of us behold the deep grain of fine conference tables or elevator paneling, and try to see that wood in a cue. Some keep the game alive by visualizing shot patterns, especially those involving a lot of spin, so we can torment ourselves not only visually but with the sense of touch too. As most of my first custom cues were brass-jointed Rambows, I also delighted in polishing that brass, resuscitating that smelly tin of Brasso that I rarely if ever used when I was supposed to (in the Army). Another specialty of mine was spit-shining my leather cue case. And then there are those of us who yield (with no resistance whatsoever) to the shaft-conditioning fetish.
It must have been 40 years ago that somebody advised me, “Never try to get your shaft smooth with any brand of talcum powder except Johnson’s Baby Powder, because only Johnson’s has oil in it.” Today it sounds like something that might have come from the celebrated comic strip “Peanuts,” but I took it as gospel then and still would now, except that I seem to have replaced Johnson’s Baby Powder a dozen times over with other products.
Here’s what my accessories table at home offers me (this was originally an elegant marble end table, but a man has to have his priorities). I have no clue if most of the manufacturers are still around. For the life of me I cannot remember spending one thin dime on any of these; possibly I was given some to try at the trade show, maybe they came into the magazine along with their new-product releases, but otherwise they seem to have just appeared inexplicably, like mushrooms after a spring rain:
• A full 16-pad package of #0000 steel wool. It belongs to the steel-wool category only technically; this is baby’s-butt stuff, and one pad should last a lifetime. I have 16.
• One hard leather, c-shaped shaft burnisher, with its own plastic carrying case.
• One bottle of Shark Oil. This is a great product developed by Chicago caroms player Larry Moran, but it’s not easy to find. Seybert’s Billiard Supply has some. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
• 12 bottles of Shaft Silk (apparently down from 15); in other words, a whole box of the stuff. The vials are small, but the stuff is quite thick, and you only need a drop or two each time. My grandchildren — of whom there are none at the moment, and none on the horizon — will have plenty of Shaft Silk to indulge their own passions.
• David Hodges’ Quick-Clean, The Original 1st Quality Shaft Cleaner (that’s his claim, not mine). Never heard of Mr. Hodges before or since, but Quick-Clean works. All these products do.
• A tiny vial of NIC Billiards USA Cue Protection. I’m as mystified by that brand name as you are.
• Two bottles of Rx Cue Doctor Cue Shaft Cleaner & Conditioner. Not only can I not explain this product being with me, but two bottles is an even deeper mystery.
• Top Gun Ferrule Cleaning Fluid and Top Cue Cleaning and Smoothing Fluid. Talk about specializing! On the other hand, if you love diddling with your shafts, why not pamper the ferrules too? Each container is roughly the size of a lipstick, but you don’t need much.
• One Guido Orlandi “kit.” Just about every major tournament has a shaft specialist in attendance with his own portable lathe, and all those experts do a terrific job. But Guido is my personal favorite; I call him “Pristino,” because that’s how your shafts come back. Guido’s customers get a little premium, in the form of a Zip-loc bag holding a bottle of something called de-natured alcohol, a small pack of Kleenex, and a jar of Q-Wax. You spray the alcohol on and use the Kleenex to wipe it off until the Kleenex comes back clean, up to a maximum of four applications. Then you apply a light coat of the wax, buff, and that’s it.
• Brienza’s Ultra Cleaner & Protectant. At least here I can tell you who the maker is (was); Paul Brienza is a rarity, a genuinely good-looking male associated with pool. I don’t know how I came by this either, and I’d have to doubt Paul has been actively associated with this product since Reagan was in office, but the credit is still his.
• Two bottles of Pro-Glide, which keeps your bridge hand slick, to go with your pampered shaft.
The other thing I used to make a point of doing, in staying “pumped” for pool, was to re-read a piece called “Anatomy of a Pool Hustler,” by one Dale Shaw. It originally appeared in the ancient men’s magazine Argosy; subsequently, it was the first cue-games piece to be selected for the prestigious anthology, “The Best American Sportswriting,” back in the early ’60s (although this publication’s Mike Geffner has appeared therein several times contemporarily). The article brilliantly captured the exploits of the late Jack “Jersey Red” Breit on his home turf, the Manhattan room called 711. Shaw re-created the atmosphere so perfectly that I felt I was already in the poolroom. There was a point in my life when I wouldn’t play unless I had re-read that first; it was very much like a little 3,000-word Bible.
And that’s as close as I ever came to true belief.