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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
January: The Old Milt Stream
January 2020

By George Fels
[Reprinted from April 2000]

I knew this guy Milt, a player of near-shortstop quality with a fairly serious Jones for caffeine. Now, those two qualities would not normally have much to do with one another; after all, turning up serious drugs among proficient pool players is only slightly harder than turning them up at Woodstock, so what’s a little caffeine? However, Milt’s pool and his addiction — which took the form of pop only, no coffee — were approximately the only notable things about Milt. And in his case, they did prove to be one queer quinella indeed.

I admit to being more than a tad skeptical the first time, but who wouldn’t have been? Although Milt played mostly in bars, this was a poolroom, and he emerged from the john, where his habit sent him with some frequency anyway, and announced, “I’m gonna run 50-plus right here.” And he did. Fifty-four, to be precise.

“Nice shooting, Milt,” I noted. “Now about that trip to the john. What exactly did you do, and why aren’t you sharing?”

“I’m straight,” he said, with a brilliant but mirthless I-know-something-you-don’t grin, and I could see that he was.

“Then how’d you know? About the run?”

“Stick around,” he beamed. “The best runs are yet to come. In more ways than one.”

That evening, Milt pestered the pop machine out of its last four Cherry Cokes — a demon water maker if ever there flowed one — and visited the head three times, emerging on each occasion with a high-run prophecy, which he then fulfilled. The fourth time, I could restrain myself no longer, threw etiquette to the winds, and insisted on accompanying him. He balked.

“A man needs his privacy, now,” he protested. “Show some class.”

“Milt,” I pleaded, “I simply gotta know.”

“All right,” he said, looking around as if in fear of the feds. “But lemme warn you this: First of all, this is quite complex. And second, you’re gonna want me to wash my hands before we divide up this score.”

Milt had been timing himself in the head and had discovered a stunning and apparently direct casual relationship between the number of seconds spent in bliss and the number of balls he would run.

“In bars, the Milt Stream Theorem dictates barrels won, rather than balls to be run. Surely you agree that any good business theory has to have its pragmatic side. Think of the seconds spent as multiples of the bet, when in bars. Fifty-three seconds before porcelain is a sneak preview of heaven. But it also means I’m about to relieve, forgive the pun, my customer of $265 or thereabouts in a $5 game.”

“Remarkable,” I marveled. “You certainly seem to have your finger on the, um, pulse of things. And by the way, you were right. Wash your hands.”

So, I turned my serious action over to Milt and put my destiny in his, well, hands. We took down some heavy cheese together; I always insisted on high stakes, in good part to overcome the nut to feed Milt’s pop Jones. Milt swigged away happily, and things kept flowing our way. With the money we saved buying pop at volume discounts, I bought Milt a handsome digital stopwatch, with a to-the-tenth-of-a-second readout, to celebrate one of our first scores.

Sometimes I’d join the sessions late; Milt seemed to feel that it looked more innocent if we entered the spot separately. Especially if he could visit the gent’s room before I got there — and Milt would jubilantly whoop, “80!” or “72!” or some other statistical salutation, all the way across the room. “Where?” I would roar joyously. “On the table or in the head?” And lo, more often than not it would be both. Should suspicion arise regarding the nature of Milt’s timely breaks, we would make the grandiose offer of accompanying Milt to the head to ensure his pristine behavior, and we actually got a snoopy taker or two on that one. But that all became unnecessary one evening when Milt set a personal best of 2:32, and his ecstatic bellowings cured everyone of their curioustiy as to what he might be doing in there once and for all. The ensuing 154-ball run (Milt’s theory allowed for a modest plus or minus factor) made action hard to find for quite a while.

We met our Waterloo (sorry) one night when Milt got down with some nit whom he had tortured with a 1:52 hiatus, and a score of exactly $448 in a $4 game, a few nights before. For the rematch, Milt bypassed Cherry Coke and went all in on the dreaded Green River, the finest water maker since Noah incurred the wrath of the Lord. Now, this was some serious training; in fact, over-training would describe it better. With the first 12-pack, Milt had traumatized his bladder for the entire match; he couldn’t go, and he couldn’t drop a grape into the Grand Canyon.

The results were, literally and figuratively, a gas. Milt’s first burp wiggled object balls a full three feet away, while players shrieked “Foul!” at bewildered opponents. His eruptions grew, as strong men winced, and women fainted, and windowpanes rattled, in precise inverse ratio to our bankroll. And not long after that, I had to get off him.

Milt resumed his long and lonely vigil alone. Not improbably, he had never before found anyone to believe him, and he never would again. I agree in deep shame that it’s harsh to strip a buddy of his dream as you enter the cocktail hour of your life together. But how was I ever to feel certain again, in my heart of hearts, that Milt’s theory truly held water?