Day 34: Aurora, CO
Playing pool late into the night,
and beyond into the wee hours of the mornings,
and the necessary sleeping late into the day,
breakfast eaten at 2 in the afternoon...
all of this leads to a blending of one day with the next,
a continuous blur of tables, faces and food,
and any meaning of life seems to evaporate.
After more than a month on the road,
I have become a pool hall junkie,
an automaton driven into the night to seek out
colored balls and green cloth in dark and dirty places.
Can nothing save me now?
Last night I shot pool with "Georgia Boy",
who is also known locally as CJ and/or Carlton,
the 67 year old black dude with a slip stroke
and a quiet, easy, confident manner developed over 50 years
of shooting pool for a living... successfully.
The day before, after I met him and watched him play,
I asked him to give me a few lessons,
he tried to get rid of me as some pest
(as he told me later)
by telling me it would cost me 35 bucks an hour.
But, being addicted to pool,
I could not be put off so easily,
and I agreed to the price without question.
Now that I had called his bluff,
he had to deliver,
and we met up at Rack 'em Billiards in Aurora, CO
at 5pm, whereupon he said "Let's shoot some pool".
I told him that he would probably do very little shooting,
but mostly teaching and showing me what I'm doing wrong,
and how I should be doing it right.
He liked that, and we started in on my biggest weakness.
I told him I could not draw the ball,
and he said of course I can,
set up a short, straight shot and told me to draw the ball,
and sure I can draw the ball on a short shot,
but as the distance increases between the cue ball and object,
my draw wanes and eventually disappears altogether,
which I demonstrated to him.
I told him that Strickland and Fisher can draw the ball
the length of the table with apparent ease,
and that I was certain that there is some secret technique
or unpublished way of thinking that creates such magic.
So I asked him "What should I be thinking, to draw the ball?"
His answer was very Zen: "Draw the ball".
He also reminded me that Strickland and Fisher have
spent years of practice on this one shot alone,
and that the cloth used in their matches is new,
and therefore offers almost no resistance,
while the stuff we were playing on is like
wading through molasses.
I felt somewhat better, but still could not draw better.
Then he told me to focus on the bottom of the balls,
not just the cue ball but also the object ball.
That got my attention as a new technique,
and it seemed to help.
I hit a few dozen shots for him,
and my draw actually improved,
but there is no shortcut to hitting a million shots.
Practice, practice, practice.
We moved on to some of my other trouble shots:
Shooting over a ball, shooting from the rail,
break shots, reverse english shots...
I guess I have trouble with just about every shot,
except maybe straight in short shots,
and I've even missed a few of those too,
but I'm not going to waste his time
and embarrass myself by mentioning that.
He patiently watched me flub along,
and gave me pointers on each of these shots,
showing me how he does it,
telling me about variations of each shot,
and setting up the balls for me to try over and over.
I'm not going to get into the details of each shot,
and the secrets of how to shoot them,
as it would take too long for this forum,
and also because I ain't gonna give away his secrets!
We took a break for dinner at the local Olive Garden,
where he said grace before the meal,
and kept me fascinated with stories of all the names
famous and obscure, who he had the pleasure to
come in contact with over the years.
He lived and played in New York City,
shooting pool at Ames' before it was used in the
movie "The Hustler".
He was there in the audience when Luther Lassiter
beat Cicero Murphy (another black pool champion)
for the world straight pool title.
What is little known is that Cicero Murphy
had just previously beaten Lassiter in the tournament.
I'm sure the stories could have gone one forever,
and his language is colorful and funny
(he calls people he doesn't like "mammerjammers"),
but I'm more addicted to pool than I am food
(especially after I've eaten)
so it was back to the pool hall for more...
This time we just played 9-ball,
and as I would run a few balls
then screw up on position or miss,
he would set up the shot again,
we would have a little discussion about it,
and I would have another go at it,
several times if need be,
then continue the rack.
After 7 hours, he called it quits,
and I drove him home.
He asked several times if I felt I had learned anything
and if I got value for my investment in his time.
Of course, I did, and I just hope that I can
remember it and put it into practice when I need it.
We'll probably meet up again for more,
either in this life or the next.
If there is a heaven for pool shooters,
the cloth is new, you never miscue,
the tables are level and the toilets are clean.
And I'll be able to draw the ball
the length of the table...