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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
 
December: George, Man of God
December 2022

By George Fels
[Reprinted from May 2002]

When pool comes to choose you, she doesn’t always tell you where you’ll be going. In my case, of course, I would have liked to be the greatest player who ever lived, just as we all would. But it became hideously obvious in short order (and the ill-tempered destruction of enough maple to re-build the Ark) that that was just not meant to be. I was around the game for nearly 23 years before I ever published anything about it and found my niche; thanks to pool, I have seen the sun rise on the Grand Canyon and set on Manhattan and made some wonderful friends whom I otherwise would not have met at all.

But I never expected the game to lead me to the clergy.

Now my religious background, as loyal readers must be dying to know, is hardly the stuffs from which inspirational sagas spring. I never even attained Bar Mitzvah status; that requires four years of Hebrew-school study, and I didn’t quite finish two. Instead, I was expelled for pushing one Adrienne Asher down a short flight of stairs (and, to add to the irreverence, while she was carrying an armload of prayer books and tallits, or shawls). Inexcusable, naturally, but I really couldn’t stand how dumb she was.

Within three years of my encounter with the unfortunate Ms. Asher, I discovered pool, and until recently that was the only relationship between the game and God that I could point to in my life. But in the late ’90s, I reveled in yet another incredible friendship, and this one would change my theological leanings permanently.

There was a page on the Billiards Digest website featuring the magazine’s writers, with short bios. Out of the blue, a young woman from California, named Sally, selected me to ask some fundamental questions with regards to writing about pool. Because I answer all responsible mail, I fielded her questions as promptly and fully as I could. Then she asked a few more questions, and as part of my answer I faxed her a couple of my early columns. She said, “Wow!” and asked a few more questions. Before long, we were talking electronically three or four times a day about whatever occurred to us, whether it involved pool or not. We developed a very close friendship. Eventually, I did help her get published, reporting on Southern California tournaments.

But you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. She was engaged to be married when we met, and as her wedding date grew closer, she asked me to perform the ceremony.

“Why on earth would I want to do that?” I inquired ingenuously.

“Because there isn’t anyone else. My parents’ pastor said he’d do it, but he’s next to a complete stranger to me and that’s not what I want. The only one I love and trust enough to do this is you.”

“The public-speaking part is no problem for me,” I said. “But what about the traditionalists in your family?”

“Well,” she said, with a wisdom and finality well beyond her years, “It’s my wedding.” So, she instructed me to call a place called The Universal Life Church and explain that I wanted to be a minister. The Church listened politely as I did so, and responded, “Put the request you just made in writing, and you will be ordained.”

“And that’s it?”

“Yes, that’s it. Contributions are optional.”

Thus did the geezer enter the kingdom of God. I was flown out to Orange County for the wedding rehearsal and the ceremony itself. The rehearsal went about as well as you might expect from a Hebrew school dropout. The father of the bride, for one thing, appeared somewhat nonplussed at beholding his cherished daughter’s choice of clergy resplendent in Hawaiian pool shirt, loafers without socks, and giving everybody a lot of, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” And at one point, I forgot that (a) the Corinthians Bible passage which the bride had selected was tastefully bookmarked for me with a satin ribbon, and (b) that I was not only in God’s house, but was something of His sales rep there, and rewrote all known standards for bringing religion together with savoir faire. “Well, Jesus H. Christ,” I bellowed tastefully. “Now I lost the goddamn Corinthians!” The chape was not immediately struck by a thunderbolt, nor did I spontaneously combust, but if my Boss had handed down some form of Final Probation, I doubt I’d have had much of a beef.

The ceremony, on the other hand, was as flawless as the rehearsal was flawed. Since this was hardly an everyday experience for a layman, I made sure to put a taste of my own personal spin on things; the “speak now or forever hold your peace” bit became, “Nobody wants to hear it; put a cork in it, please.” But no one laughed harder or longer than the mother of the bride. And the rest of the attendees, having been told that I was ordained specifically for this occasion, no doubt formed images of deeply dedicated George waddling barefoot and reverently through the snows of the Himalayas to humbly serve the Tibetan monks teaching me. Their consensus seemed to be that it was definitely a shame that my theological career would dead-end after one appearance.

Robin Dodson has unabashedly stated that pool, far from representing the oft-cliched misspent youth referred to by alleged philosopher Herbert Spencer, was actually her salvation from such a youth. But with that said, the game still didn’t turn her into a nun. She, and everybody else (sorry, Boss), are going to have one hell of a time topping this one.

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