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
MY WIFE told me it was pool or her. Sure gonna miss that woman." The moronic bumper sticker (with "golf" substituting for "pool" now and again) often has considerably more to do with truth than it does with hilarity, of which it had precious little to begin.
We've looked at pool's impact on relationships before. The results can be unpretty. Not only is there the unending financial uncertainty, but it's a boring life, and one frequently turned upside-down into the bargain by play-all-night-sleep-by-day. If you seek intellectual stimulation, you might as well quest after the sabre-toothed tiger.
But few if any of the couplings examined had their principals meeting in 4th grade, then successfully carrying the association through adulthood. Yet I - we - did. And pool came between us in a very different way than financially (I never bet very much, and held down a regular job anyway), nocturnally (that job again) or intellectually. You're welcome to pick the rivalry of your choice: Hercules vs. Samson (if indeed they ever fought, or even heard of one another), Yankees/Red Sox, Frazier/Ali, Carolina/Duke, Godzilla/King Kong, or even Godzilla/Bambi for that matter. None of those conflicts had anything on Dale Fels vs. pool.
At least it wasn't about the game itself. Quite the contrary, she correctly thought it was a great game, and enjoyed playing herself now and then, especially with each of our two sons. She was a good natural athlete, and I had little trouble teaching her to run a few balls. What unnerved her instead - and "terrified" may well be a better word - was my unfortunate dual passion for her and the game. Even though we met at age 8, she had never seen anything quite like it; she didn't understand what it was; for that matter, she really didn't understand whom I was when it came to that. And she wanted most of the game's share of that passion for herself.
So early in our marriage, back in the '60s, I decided that maybe one way to douse the apparently eternal flame of her resentment was to show her the very best the game had to offer. Tournaments wouldn't work; the last time I tried that, I caught her brushing her teeth as we watched, a somewhat subtle hint she was ready to be taken home. So instead I took her to a Willie Mosconi exhibition. (If you had a wife, or girlfriend, or both, who was indifferent to rock music, wouldn't you want her to see the Stones?)
This was not a decision arrived at casually. I had been watching the champion play for a bit over 10 years by then, and beyond the magnificence of his game, there were things about him I thought she would instinctively like. She was a fairly tough audience when it came to looks, but she'd appreciate his being beautifully dressed as always; I was sure she would note his unmistakable rhythm, and as she was a highly disciplined person herself, I was most certain of all that she would be wowed by his methodical approach to the game. I really didn't see how Willie-Mosconi-as-balm could miss.
The opponent on this night was our city champion at the time, a bricklayer by trade, well-tanned, trim, flirting with bona fide handsomeness. "Cute," observed the love of my life, as the challenger entered the playing arena.
"Wait'll you see the champion," was my advice, "and then tell me who you think looks good." And, almost as if on cue, no pun intended, Mr. Mosconi made his own entrance, lacking only trumpets, elephants and bearers, nodding loftily to the sparse applause. The familiar three-piece suit was not in evidence this night, but he was still resplendent in his light blue Brunswick blazer and gray slacks as he nudged in a few practice balls.
"Well?" I asked.
"Compared to some of the slobs you've shown me around this game, George, he might as well be Tony Curtis. But he certainly isn't very tall."
"He'll never play for the Celtics," I allowed. "But that's not what you were asked. Do you like his looks or don't you?"
"He's very short," she re-asserted. She was a tightly focused woman.
Then the match began and, Godlike in my knowledge, I attempted to point out to her what made the champion so unique. For one thing, while most top straight-pool players did up to 90% of their scoring in the bottom two pockets, Mosconi utilized all six fully and sent balls into the far corners much more often than his alleged competition. Because he was never without an "insurance" ball on his secondary break shots, he didn't have to hit those shots very hard, and in most of the racks he ran, the clustered balls didn't move much at all. Rarely did he have any ball much farther away than two feet at which to fire. He perpetually identified the four object balls nearest the four corner pockets, and connected such balls in his position patterns, his cue ball circling the field like a lone Comanche around doomed covered wagons. Now and then, a diagonal shot across such a circular pattern would open everything up for him, a move I referred to (very nicely, I thought) as "cutting across Midtown." All these concepts were available to be seen in just in the match's first few racks, which Mr. Mosconi ran exquisitely, and my quiet lecture to the woman I loved was not only thorough but artful.
"Now do you see why I'm so badly hooked?" I murmured in summary. "Have you ever seen a game as beautiful as this? When did you ever see such mastery?"
My one and only soul mate leaned over, and spoke to me in a tone I had never quite heard from her before, something approaching but not quite attaining genuine awe. "He's got a mend in the crotch of his pants," she whispered. "And he's wearing Jockeys."
Tightly focused, she was.